Saturday, February 25, 2017

Age appropriate... What's that ?

Rules should be frowned upon as they tend to prevent us from experimenting or venturing into new terrains. Nonetheless I have set some rules  as reminders for taking on the vintage years ahead. Voila.

Rule 1   Don’t chide yourself for getting old when you forget names or things.
Rule 2    Don’t pigeonhole how you must present yourself.
Rule 3    Remember you can still be bold, spontaneous and unpredictable .
Rule 4    It is Okay to put yourself first.
Rule 5   Allow yourself to make mistakes or erroneous judgments.
Rule 6   Don’t fret when things are not perfect. If things must go wrong, they will.

I like to keep an open mind in every situation but some previous experience might have become so ingrained in my head that I cannot break out of certain thinking and operating mode. I have to resign to the fact that age has something to do with it. I must say age creeps up on you in various forms.

Recently, I travelled to London with my elder daughter who is in her mid- 20s. I realized that I had become such a worrier indeed. When we arrived at the local airport to catch the domestic flight, the queue was surprisingly long.  I became rattled while my travelling companion was steady and calm. All we wanted to do was drop our bags when we had already printed out our boarding passes. At 6a.m., there was nothing we could do but to wait in the only queue there was for the airline that we were travelling with . About five to ten minutes to boarding time, the airline staff asked the passengers who were on our flight to move to certain counters, it was only then things started to move. I was anxious that the flight might be delayed and we would not make it in time for  our connecting flight. At the check-in counter, I asked if  the attendant could make sure that  our luggage would  make it to our connecting flight  as the transit time between the two flights was barely an hour. It had happened to me that the luggage did not follow through when the transit time was longer than what we had this time. The attendant cleverly responded that she would not be able to ensure that the bags would make it to the connecting flight but she could try.  I then saw that she had placed a red ticket with the words ‘hot transfer’ to my suitcase before she sent it off.  I have no idea if she would have done that if I had not voiced my concern.  When I was young, I was such a laid back person so much so that on reflection, I appeared to be sleeping walking through my varsity days. I believe age and the legal practice must have made me what I am now. I do not know how I have become somewhat a person who tries to prevent things going wrong and I have a tendency to  anticipate that things might not go as planned. I have become the pessimist that I have avoided to be.

It is not a big deal with luggage, it is just a bit of inconvenience if our luggage do not arrive in time. Why couldn’t I be more relaxed when I was just about to embark on my vacation?  I generally do not like to micromanage a process as I like to give a free hand to others just as I want to be given a free hand to handle a task. However I find that with or without automation, there is a constant need to get  involved with the process of achieving a certain result if it is a matter of urgency particularly so in the present era when everyone is distracted and reliant on automation.

Helen  Walmsley-Johnson  feels strongly about raising the profile of the middle- aged and she is a freelance writer and the author of the Guardian's style column, ' The Vintage Years'. click Thanks to the wide web world, she  managed to use the social media to  raise her profile as the way she used it ‘ became more personalized and more a way of keeping up with what was relevant' to her future plans. She used it to build a network of like-minded people. According to her ,‘It solves the problem of where you find other people like yourself to ‘talk ‘ to when you live alone.’ For  her,  social media has really come into its own because as her real- life social universe shrank, her virtual one grew and became a vital contact with an outside world she often didn’t feel like facing.

 I stumbled upon Helen Walmsley-Johnson's book when some of my secondary schoolmates were organizing a reunion dinner with a view to celebrate their 60th birthday and the term " vintage years" came to mind. Thanks to technology, I googled and found that the term 'vintage years ' has already been coined to describe the senior years. 

Walmsley-Johnson writes in her memoir entitled ‘ The Invisible Woman Taking on the Vintage Years’ ,
Age, the traitor, crept up on me. For a very long time it seemed as though nothing changed and I might remain in my heyday forever after all, but then , quite suddenly , things began to creak and fall apart, like kitchen appliances before Christmas. Which bits of me had been physically where became more of an abstract memory; as did their size, shape and the existence of clothes that fitted properly. In some ways it was easier for me, as a woman, to acknowledge the onset of natural decay and disintegration because biology conveniently provided a few helpful markers, large arranged around the business of procreation and therefore largely to do with hormones. Men- and I think most women think this –seem to get off quite lightly with a smattering of relatively minor stuff. Hormones play their part here too, but the general perception remains that men improve with  age while women start to crumple up like Dracula on a sunny spring day. For the most part men seem to weather the years in a pleasantly worn and crinkly way, like a comfortable old sweater, but whatever happens to the exterior there is still the younger man, just there, twinkling away behind the eyes.

            Traces of a younger self still reside in every middle-aged person, of course. ......’

I definitely resonate with most of  Walmsley-Johnson’s musings and here is another example .
I don’t mind being alone. I enjoy the selfishness of it and the peace, and it’s true that ‘alone’ is not the same as ‘lonely’. All the same, I feel the loss of my sweet, funny little girls, who are now grown-ups themselves, and occasionally I feel it very acutely. What I’m feeling, I suppose, is nostalgia. I miss the more certain time when I was sure of my role in life, whereas now I am a middle-aged single woman adrift in a world that doesn’t know what to do with her. I have to remind myself that this life without ties can be whatever I want it to be . I have to remind myself of what I want and what makes me happy.
Motherhood is only part of who I am but it is a big part and it’s hard to put your heart and soul into nurturing something and then let it go……

Walmsley also writes this :
In all this mountain of quandary and Younger Me-inspired daily torment, there is one other thing that I can’t work out at all, or rather I can but I don’t like to admit to it: why does the sight of the young and carefree provoke a funny feeling around my heart and an urgent need to weep gently into my coffee? I ‘ve been feeling that for a while, I just wasn’t sure what it was –I thought it was hormones or panic. Now I know it’s a mixture of all sorts of things, including happiness, regret, envy and wonderment. The young take their youth so much for granted and , bless them, they don’t know what they’ve got. Then they can’t imagine a time when they won’t have it or when they’ll be grateful they used to have it because others in their heat of life’s race didn’t pass the 100-metre flag. No wonder I’m surprised by photographs of a Younger Me—I’m still here after all, at an age I couldn’t imagine myself being when I was 30. I can uselessly speculate that perhaps I should have been less susceptible  to flattery, less eager to please or less willing to put up with the unacceptable because it was the only thing I knew…but in that not-so –distant past, what a girl looked like was almost more important than anything else so I sued what I had to get me where I wanted to be and that’s why it’s so hard to let go.

Now, at a time when we should be feeling more comfortable and confident in our own skin, what seems to matter most is not how pretty we are but how young we look, prettiness can be added later. Like icing a plain and ordinary cake, we can have every crevice filled , frozen and lifted. We can have our eyelashes extended, our brows tattooed, our lips permanently lipsticked, our hair lengthened, shortened or augmented. ……..’

 Walmsley-Johnson described the woman who had the most remarked upon and admired facelifts of the last decade when she saw her leaving the room.

Or it was until she stood up to leave the room- because there is no surgery ( at the moment) to make you move like the 30-year-old you’re pretending to be. Her posture and movement revealed her as the 66-year-old she was .

It is natural that we are all afraid of losing our looks.
Half of us are worried about what’s coming (or going) while the other half have experienced it already and had their worst fears confirmed, apparently. But who says it has to be a bad thing? The more we worry , the more it becomes a self-fulflling prophecy. The more we worry, the more we erode our confidence and self- esteem; and the more we do this, the more we fade from public view because we accept a biased and arbitrary judgment about our physical currency once we pass 50. And so it continues. But now more than ever, it’s the person inside who’s important and becomes more so as time passes. Whatever magazine, films, advertisers and the media preach at us about doing all we can and more to maintain an increasingly generic ‘beauty’ (doesn’t everyone look more or less the same when they’re enhanced’?) it is always that unique inner person who makes us who we are, even as the outside gets crow’s feet, uneven eye brows and age spots.

As we age, we  have to accept that there will be physical and physiological changes  but I believe that our cores ultimately remain the same and we will continue to  evolve as we  endeavour to improve our cores and adapt to our constant changing self and the environment . I believe when you ask a senior woman if she would actually want to be young again, I am not sure if they want to go through all that pains of becoming grown-ups.

Meanwhile I shall endorse what  Helen Walmsley- Johnson writes in her introduction : 
 The term ‘age appropriate’ What is that ? 
‘Old age is no place for sissies’  --Bette Davis
 Soldier on….

I definitely recommend the book The Invisible Woman  Taking on the Vintage Years’ to anyone who is taking on the vintage years. Kudos to its author and hope she continues to write more .

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Dreamers

I should really hit some tennis to  get the adrenalin rush as that usually helps to rid of the feeling of the blues . It is not easy to stay optimistic in light of uncertainties and the conflicts that  I deal with in my line of work and all that awareness of limitations and mortality looming  over me as another birthday is fast approaching. Can one dream and be grounded at the same time? I believe they are not mutually exclusive. One must work hard towards achieving one's dreams and stay hopeful no matter what happens.

The month of January literally flew by. It feels like the earth is rotating faster as the sun rises sooner, the hours flash by and it is noon and then the night falls and it is midnight . Last month my hairdresser held an art exhibition and  gave away all the paintings that he had spent the last two and half years created. Altogether there were one hundred and eight paintings.When  I go for my hair appointment, I see him working on his canvas and I will try to make out what he is drawing and he  says,  ‘I’ll see where this leads to, slowly, bits by bits…’ I ask him about the work that has been completed if I see them sitting around in his living room. He set out to draw hearts in all colours and sizes as he wanted to spread the message that we must open our hearts for only the hearts can see clearly. It reminds me of Le Petit Prince where the fox tells the Prince : On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. You can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye. Charles has invited his family, his friends and  clients to the  exhibition at Botanica Mansion where afternoon tea was also served in conjunction with the event. Everyone was happy to take home a piece of his work of 'hearts'. It is very generous of him to give all his paintings  away and it was a joyous tea party. 

A Hologram for the King written by  Dave Eggers has taken me longer than what I intended to. Eggers’ writing is direct and unadorned, reminds me a little of Hemingway. Reading the novel is like drinking Burgundy wine that is light, fresh and uncomplicated. But the contents of the fiction are far from light and straightforward, the  novel  deals with uncertainties  in the commercial world.

Alan Clay is a consultant who  has been sent to Jeddah by Reliant, a huge conglomerate to pitch for the IT infrastructure contract for King Abdullah Economic City ( “KAEC’). It is going to be a massive new development somewhere in Saudi Arabia. Alan and his team hope to impress the king by showing him a cutting –edge holographic teleconferencing system which can make a colleague in London appear in 3D in a tent in Saudi Arabia. Alan  started as a door- to–door salesman and his recent venture in manufacturing bikes failed miserably when he tried to outsource the whole process to Asia in order to get away from the unions in America. He cannot afford his daughter’s college fee unless he can pull off the one big job he has been engaged by Reliant. Alan is no longer optimistic like before. As he and his colleagues wait for King Abdullah to show up, it is like waiting for Godot in Samuel Beckett’s play.  When he is waiting for King Abdullah to show up, he starts writing to his daughter to persuade her to forgive her mother , Ruby. Alan and Ruby are divorced.
‘Dear Kit, You say that your mother has always been “ emotionally unreliable,” and still is that way. That is true to a certain extent, but who among us is the same in all seasons? I’ve personally been a moving target for years, wouldn’t you agree?’

No , he needed to be more constructive.
‘Kit, your mother is made of different stuff than you or me. More volatile and flammable materials.’

He crossed that out. The greatest tragedy about Ruby was that talking about her made him sound like a bastard. She had done  him great harm, repeatedly ------she’d torn him open, thrown all kinds of terrible ruinous stuff inside him, and then had sewn him back up --- but Kit couldn’t know that . He took another sip. A numbness overtook his face. He took another pull. My God, he thought. He’d had the equivalent of two shots and already he was feeling weightless.

 Like Alan in the story, I have this habit of looking through photographs that are stored on my laptop and I try not to let nostalgia take over me.

 He was already in the photo program, the vast grid of his life in thumbnails, so he scanned backward. Everything was there, and it terrified him. For Alan’s last birthday, Kit had taken a few dozen photo albums from his garage and sent them away to a service that scanned all the pictures within and put them in a disc. He’d dumped them all onto his laptop and now they were all there, photos from his own childhood, from his life with Ruby, for the birth and growth of Kit. Someone, Kit or the digitizens, had arranged them all more or less chronologically, and now he could, and too often did, scan through the thousand pictures , a record of his life, in minutes. All he had to do was keep his finger on the leftward arrow. It was too easy. It was not good. It kept him in a dangerous stasis of nostalgia and regret and horror.
The author cleverly describes a character that is jaded and very much a fragile human being in a world that is going virtual. The story was set in 2010 and it  is about the expatriate life in the Gulf states and how globalization has brought about outsourcing of manufacturing process to anywhere that can do it cheap and Asia is  where these cost conscious manufacturers go to for their productions.

On the plane from America to Jeddah, he has to put up with his seatmate’s malaise.
People were done manufacturing on American soil. How could he or anyone argue for spending five to ten times what it cost in Asia? And when Asian wages rose to untenable levels --$5 an hour, say –there was Africa. The Chinese were already making sneakers in Nigeria. Jack Welch said manufacturing should be on a perpetual barge, circling the globe for the cheapest conditions possible, and it seemed the world had taken at him at his word. The man on the plane wailed in protest : It should matter where something was made !
But Alan did not want to despair, and did not want to be dragged down with his seatmate’s malaise. Alan was optimistic  wasn’t he ? He said he was. Malaise. That was the word the man used again and again.

Dave Eggers’ subdued style of writing conveys emptiness in a deliberate way. The overall feeling is bleak and transitory about our planetary
Venice Sept 2014