Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Fiftieth Year

How pivotal is that number? It seemed huge on the way in, and still lingers on the way out.

A year ago (way back here), I lived with my three kids, and now I just have one left at home. The house is quieter and cleaner, and I talk to the older two about as much thanks to texting. With one in the attic and the other in the basement, I admit we used to text each other within our home. I'm not really sure why I'm sheepish about it; it's damn handy. Now our face-to-face time is limited, so I think we pay more attention to one another when we're together. And they're still close enough to get me to hang pictures for them. This is definitely a time of life of changes for anyone with a family. Spending twenty-plus years with people who then move on can be a bit disorienting.

I've written some stuff this year, but not as much as I would have liked. Collaborating on a book was a great experience! I rarely get writerly feedback on articles or blogposts. I spent far too much time distracted by elections this year. I'm not sure how much they matter. There was scant time for a brief sigh of relief before I started questioning Trudeau's leadership. Notley seems owned by corporations, and I don't think JT's off leash either. I think over time I'll care less, but right now I still operate under the illusion that my letters and marches can possibly make a difference. It gives me something to do.

After years and years of begging friends to take up long-distance cycling with me, I finally got brave enough to go out on my own. I still haven't been hit by a car or attacked or stranded too far from home to walk. It's such a commonplace thing to say, but I really regret all the time I spent unsure and fearful. I regret all the bike trips I could have taken but didn't because I couldn't find someone willing to come with. One benefit of growing older is that people don't look down on me when I cycler slower than they expected. The expectations diminish to the point that getting out there at all gets you kudos.

I'm falling apart a bit. A year ago it was only my knees giving me grief. Now I've got arthritis in my toes and have been saved by orthotics. I miss walking in bare feet though. A few years back, I dislocated my pinky finger. Months later it still hurt, and my doctor said, "Yup, everything takes longer to heal now." The little aches and pains make me think of this...

My feminine bits are turning on me, and a few procedures will be in order. Nothing too frightening, but life-altering none-the-less. It kinda makes me wish I were married but only for utilitarian reasons, which isn't enough for me to regret never marrying. Drinking buddies aren't really up for hanging out during one boring, sober appointment after another. They have spouses and families to take care of and lives to live on a path that doesn't include me. Appointment buddies require someone who's gotten in a share of good times already, and who's had some prior care-taking give and take with you to establish the requisite temperament. It helps if they've seen you at your worst already, maybe even helped you out of your clothes on more auspicious occasions. I'm not ready to lean on my kids for that kind of care yet.

This too shall pass.

I always found it unsavoury when people suggested I need to find me a good man because I'll want someone to take care of me later. Practically speaking: men tend to die first, so I'd likely end up taking care of him. And morally speaking: yuck. That is to treat someone as a mere means to an end. Kant would shake his sickly old head at me, and I can't have that. It's not right to snag a partner just for financial gain or to have someone hang on your arm or to get laid or to get some hospice care. They have to have a draw that makes you want to do right by them, makes you want to be a better person for them, makes you want to share your life with them. Maybe my parents' idyllic marriage just ruined me for anyone. I feel like it's too late at this point, but life's full of surprises.

This has nothing to do with mid-life, but this year, I was struck cold by the number of colleagues and students we're losing to suicides. Possibly up to five educators in our board took their own lives in an 18-month period (see here after the passage).  It took the death of seven indigenous teenagers in Thunder Bay within a ten-year period to spark a national inquest, but we're not talking about these local "sudden deaths" as if there could be any pattern. They're each seen as isolated events. Nobody's mentioned contagion effects or anomie or changing relationships in schools. Maybe it's just as well. But maybe we need a more personal inquest of our own. I'm not sure this one will go away quietly. I'm much more accepting of death than earlier in life, but these are different.

But actually most impactful this year, something that has changed my thinking and outlook profoundly, was being forced to teach Native Studies. I had no idea I was so ignorant. I didn't want to teach it because I knew so little. Now that I know, there's no turning away from it all. I'll be spending time over the next month developing easy-to-teach curriculum that could be incorporated in other specific class, and working on convincing other teachers to teach about all of Canada in any Canadian-linked courses. This shouldn't be a token course for a few interested kids; it should be general knowledge necessary to graduate high-school! I love that there's still so much to learn. It's easy to get settled in with our current level of knowledge, so it's important to shake that up a bit.

It's useful from time to time to be reminded of the gaps in my education, of the tenuous nature of our lives, of my strengths like a burgeoning courage and tenacity, and of my weaknesses.

There will be time...


Lorne said...

An insightful and well-written post, as usual, Marie. I am older than you, and retired for some years, but one part of your essay resonated with me, the part where you talk about probably reaching the stage where you will care less about the marches and the letters. I have to say that is the point I think I have reached over the past few months.

One of the blessings and curses of getting older is the wider context that the years give you, enabling you to detect b.s. much more readily than in younger years. For example, while I was temporarily buoyed up by Trudeau's victory (and am still very glad it is his rather than Harper's government leading us) certain things are emerging about his government that I have seen repeatedly in the past, hence becoming part of that larger pattern one is able to detect with the passing of the years.

I have not totally surrendered hope for this world, but I am becoming increasing convinced that what you or I or hundreds of thousands of others may want for this world, we aren't going to get it because ultimately, we do not matter. Our governments do not exist to advance our interests, but only those of the powerful. True, every so often we are given an ort from the table, but that serves only as a temporary expedient to perpetuate the illusion that we matter.

When I see the world becoming increasingly engulfed by the effects of climate change, I see little reason to believe that the worst won't happen. Both our corporate masters and our own shortsightedness and selfishness will do us in. I think of such things whenever I see the array of unneeded pickup trucks and SUVs on the road, as I do when I see how few people view walking or bicycling as alternatives to the car for short trips. And I think about it when I see countless cars idling in parking lots while someone is awaiting his/her spuse in stores. In winter it is to keep the heaters going, and in summer the air conditioning.

Anyway, I'll stop here less i spiral down. Keep up your excellent and insightful writing. Your thoughts are always well-worth reading.

Larry Hamelin said...

Welcome to 50. :-) I'm 52, and I still feel 18 inside.

Owen Gray said...

I, too, taught Native Studies, Marie -- and found out just how ignorant I was.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Lorne. I told my son I'm giving up today after telling the neighbourhood (via a facebook group) that I was putting old toys and books at the end of the driveway, free for the taking. One by one families came by in cars and idled in front of my house while little ones got out of their car just long enough to pick through the choices. Nobody on that group lives more than three blocks away. We are doomed.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks Larry - I hit 51 this year. I was just reminiscing on the year as a 50-year-old. I feel 18 when I'm biking. But then I feel 100 when my ankles and knees crack going down the stairs in the morning! We are ageless!

Marie Snyder said...

I'm amazed that this still isn't part of every lesson on Canada in grade school, why it's an extra only for those interested. It's like if in the states they just teach about the northern states and you have to take a special course to learn about Texas to Florida. The territories and the northern half of many provinces barely exist in our classes. My daughter's in grade 6, and she can tell me all about the holocaust, but nothing about our own history.

The Mound of Sound said...

Congratulations on making it to 50, Marie, so wonderfully intact where it matters most. The physical stuff, yeah that happens. Nobody gets out alive. The important stuff is in the mind, the spirit, and, on that score, you're very much alive and well. I've seen many others for whom the flame goes out when they're barely 30 and that includes plenty who are highly educated and professionally accomplished.

My dad made it to almost 92 but he remained young because he never lost his sense of curiosity. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and that meant he always had his head up, looking out to the horizon.

You got this far, you'll do well for the second half. It'll ache a bit, sometimes a lot, but it won't stop you. Happy birthday.

Marie Snyder said...

I think second half is a bit optimistic! My dad's 93 right now, but he's losing touch with his surroundings - with people and time. He's like a cat happily staring out the window all day. I sometimes think I wouldn't want to keep going if I couldn't read and think, but then again I might not be cognizant enough to notice the change.