I forget why I ordered The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning from the library. Why did I need Margareta Magnusson’s advice on de-cluttering when we already did our drastic clean-up, moving cross-country and into an apartment? But I suppose it’s like perusing reviews of books you’ve already read or plays and concerts you’ve already attended: was it the same for you as me? And there it was, arrived to the Holds shelf, and since it’s short, interesting, and funny, I read it immediately, in about an hour.
Magnusson, now “between eighty and one hundred,” moved often and cleaned up her parents’ place as well as the family home after her husband’s death. Her ideas resonate with current de-cluttering messages from tidy-gurus like Marie Kondo, but this isn’t about folding T-shirts as much as sparing the kids. (“Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful.”) Well, yes, why not spare the kids? I don’t know if it’s certain personalities or my generation in particular, but we definitely don’t want to be a bother or a burden!
And it’s about getting started, since we’re older and slower and it all takes time. (Her place took a year.) So, clothing first, photos and letters and personal papers last, lest one get stuck in reminiscence and never clean up anything else. And drop expectations that that thing you really treasure will be wanted by children or grandchildren. Just find someone else for it.
“Aging is certainly not for weaklings,” Magnusson writes, but she makes it sound cheerful and a pleasure and she has some great ideas, so I’m glad I read her book, even if I can’t remember why I thought I should.
“Chronicles” assumes a report about birthdays. I celebrated mine last week. The weather here was a balmy 9 degrees so we had a pleasant walk along the Boundary Bay dyke (eagle spotting is one of my husband’s favourite activities) and greetings popped into my email box and phone and Facebook feed all day and there were phone calls with a son, daughter, sisters, my mother, a friend, and just the day before I’d received some good news from a publisher (which I’ll say more about later), so I was buoyant and grateful and contented and feeling very much loved. (Love has an agelessness about it that’s especially welcome on birthdays.) Later we enjoyed a delicious roast beef dinner and cake with our Tsawwassen children and grands at their house, followed by a lively game of Apples to Apples. A couple days later H. and I went out for a belated birthday dinner of our own and I had a dish of chicken livers which in addition to the conversation was simply perfect. The card drawn for me by a granddaughter demonstrates that 69 candles requires a rather large and multi-levelled cake, but I quite like the number, actually, with its multiple triads/trinities. And that was the birthday, happy and tucked in for another year.
On Sunday after church, a friend mentioned this blog and since he’s the kind of person one admits stuff to, I told him that lately I’ve been hesitant to get too vulnerable here. I wondered if it was something about the medium itself and being known by many of my readers versus a journal essay where I’m essentially anonymous. My friend (who blogs here) listened, then quoted Abraham Maslow:
In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.
Alright… since I’ve committed to speak of my aging, I’ll step forward with this. Currently I feel as if I’m wrestling with this business of older. It pushes into every role and unsettles it, most particularly the writer role, but really every aspect of life. It’s like all the good and bad of this stage — freedom, envy, discontentment, limitation, gratitude, belovedness, uncertainty — jostles in me simultaneously.
A few pictures: In an exercise inspired by Ignatian spirituality I found myself identifying as a woman in a crowd near Jesus, placing myself in the front to see, because I was too old to be noticed anyway! I was startled at what I’d thought. One night I dreamt I’d signed up for academic courses but panicked because I hadn’t attended classes and would have FAILURE on my record. In another dream I slipped into a deep icy hole by the path and clung to the icy ledge, which began to crack, though I managed to grab a fence and get out before it broke. In yet another dream I was ordained, of all things, without prior examination and by a circle of women!
All muddled and weird in the moment, but here’s to stepping forward… hopefully into growth.
Before we moved to Tsawwassen, B.C., I visualized myself researching and reading and exploring the place, going deep and wide in putting down new roots. After all, I’d done it before, both in Paraguay where we lived a couple of years in the 1980s and over the decades in Winnipeg. I wrote novels set in both places, so that was part of it, but the writing meshed with my own desire to know and belong.
We’ve been here two years now and we love it, but I confess I haven’t done much about the roots. I’ve been living like a cut flower in a beautiful vase.
Is my inaction a factor of aging? A sense there’s too much material in “new” for the available energy? Do I even need more roots? I recall reading of a pastor’s disappointment that people weren’t enthusiastic about an exciting new discipleship program on offer; he saw it as resistance to growth. I didn’t know the situation but my first thought was, I bet he has a lot of olders in his church. For olders, enthusiasm often resides in what they already possess, rather than in quest for the new.
Nevertheless (there’s always a nevertheless), I can’t let myself off too quickly. Pondering my resistance, picking at reasons for it, I find my curiosity waking to the history of where I live, especially in awareness of being on traditional territory of the Tsawwassen and Musqueam First Nations. I went on a bit of a local tour the other day and learned there’s evidence here of human life going back some 9000 years. Wow! That’s overwhelming; it’s humbling. Paradoxically, it makes me feel I belong here too, for all flesh is like grass…its glory like the flower…the grass withers…the flower falls.
How’s your aging going this week?
Mine slips along, almost unnoticed at the moment, and I’m rather glad about that. An ordinary day, this day, bit of a breeze. Company for supper last night. When it got dark, we searched the sky for Mars, close and visible now, and earlier I’d scolded myself out the door for a walk to the Bay, because I need to keep walking and it’s always better when I do. Today I’m going into Vancouver with Daughter, chasing a shopping list and hoping to slide in a professional foot massage. (My feet ache with excitement at the very thought.) My Saskatchewan sisters visited last week. It was such a treat to be together. One of them a recent widow though and I wished I could lift her sadness. Impossible, of course, for he’s gone and all I can do is carry a tiny corner of that. And Monday — was it Monday? — we tuned into the now infamous Helsinki press conference and we didn’t quit watching until it was over. Which more than used up a day’s supply of indignation. Husband’s radiation treatments are done, hallelujah, and best of all they’ve helped: pain alleviated, some return of equilibrium. Further results to be known in September. Time in better proportion now. The first months after diagnosis pressed us into the present; we couldn’t make plans beyond the moment. Living in the moment is touted as good, as in mindfulness, but realistically some measure of future beyond “we’ll see” makes for a happier time. And I’m writing these days. A life writing project. For myself, I say, when talking back to the familiar Inner Resistance (“who’ll care about that?”). Besides, I say, writing is the way I think. And remember.