Monthly Archives: March 2017

Getting Older

Really Old

I am 74.  I retired in 2011 at age 68 when I started noticing I wasn’t as sharp in responding to problems.  I also noticed my co-workers giving me the easier jobs when on a project,I was used to wading right in, sometimes literally.  It was a water plant, after all.

Now, other things have manifested. If it doesn’t hurt, it itches. I have arthritis and allergies.  My balance problems keep me off the third step of the ladder.  I was falling off.  I fell on the stairs, broke two ribs.  I gave up motorcycling, given my desire to stay alive (Just go to motorcycle crashes on YouTube.).

People are dying.  Yes, they have  doing it all my life, but now it’s old friends, classmates, a guy I was Best Man for.  Not people I viewed as Old People, but my contemporaries.  Does that mean I am an Old Person?  Yep.  Old people see their friends dying.  You can also tell if you are old by falling down in a public place.  People laugh if you are young.  You are old if they rush over to help.

Then there is CRS.  I have always had a poor memory, but this is getting ridiculous.  When I hear someone’s name on meeting them I tell them I will forget it.  I head downstairs to get something, do two or three things I see need doing, and go up without I went after.  Also, people my age tend to be terrified when they start forgetting.  Is it Alzheimer’s?  Am I going to be a drooling vegetable?  I try to stick to my rule about not worrying about things I have no control over, but it doesn’t always work.

A good thing: after my ADD diagnosis at age 59 with the therapy and medication I have more focus.  I can even manage to focus on stuff I don’t like to do.  I used to put off paying bills until my anxiety level forces me to sit down.  Now, I can plan the time and actually follow the plan some of the time.  I can write.  I don’t have to go to work.  I just spend my four pensions and watch our investments slowly diminish.

Writing is a good thing for an old dude to do.  I can do it most any time, usually mornings.  I go to a coffee shop where I am something of a regular and do some extroverting along with the writing.  I always wanted to write, but could not maintain the focus to write for myself.  With a deadline, the anxiety level activated my prefrontal cortex enough to allow me to get the words down.  In college I wrote papers for Forestry majors and the like for $10.00 per page (long time ago).

Now I write for myself.  I almost always write nonfiction, like most of my reading.  As you can see from this website, I have a wide range of interests.  That’s  probably a function of an ADD shifting his attention all the time.  I need to know.  They say ADD’s occupy an evolutionary niche because their shifting attention enabled them to spot those brutes from the neighboring tribe or the saber-toothed tiger.  Sentinels.  Of course, we are also smart and charming.  Someone has to keep the place stirred up.

I have written a little fiction, some very short stories and a longer short story when taking a class at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver.   Good people there, students and faculty.  Naturally, some English majors, more interesting than engineers, although impoverished.

For me fiction is hard work. You have to create the world of the story and invent the characters.  Good fiction also uses lots of metaphor.  I am not very good in that area, mostly because it takes lots of practice.  I usually write about shifting tectonic plates; not so much need for metaphor there.

I have taken to reading novels aloud to Carol just before bedtime.  She likes mysteries written by women, she calls them novels of manners.  Much of their focus is on character development and scene setting, so they are a good light reading genre.  The reading is fostering an interest in fiction again.  Can I produce a story about geologists?  Maybe a story about 19th Century naturalists and biblical literalists.  Have I mentioned I like history?

I will have to work on producing pieces longer than 550 words, however. I can do the short essays in one coffee shop session.









The ostensible purpose of mindfulness meditation is to stay in the moment.  One does this by watching the breath.  Just watching the breath.  Not thinking about breathing, not planning the week, not obsessing about ice cream.  By watching the breath only, one is in the moment.  Not the past, not the future, just now.

What the Buddhists call the self is that portion of our brain which wants to stay busy.   So, we think.  Thinking about most anything.  Some people have feelings, but I mostly think about feelings.  We are to note the thought of feeling, and return to the breath.  The goal is like cleaning the garage, getting rid of junk and having the other stuff organized so we don’t have to think about it.

Carol and I start our mornings with fifteen minutes of meditation.   We both agree about considering the meditation a success if we are able to watch more than two breaths.  I beat myself up about this.  What the hell am I doing this for if I can’t stay with my breath more than two times.  I must be some sort of failure.  When I complain about this to accomplished meditators, I hear “That is just where you are.”  That is no help, thank you very much.

Can’t they wave their wands and create an enlightenment spell?  Where is Hermione when I need her?  In fact, I am making some progress.  Some mornings I can stay with two or three breaths several times.  During longer meditations I sometimes can sustain for several minutes.  If I can’t stay with the breath, I pray.  I pray for others, I pray for myself, or I just pray with gratitude.

I also use mantras.  I justify them by believing my ADD doesn’t allow me to meditate like normies.  After all, people have used mantras for thousands of years.  I also blame my addictions, as if people haven’t overcome addictions with meditation for thousands of years.

Well, despite my resistance and whining, I am actually getting somewhere with this mindfulness business.  I have tried lots of stuff, trying to get myself somewhat lined out in life, and mindfulness meditation is what works for me.

Now, this mindfulness is not a standalone thing.  It is Buddhist.  That means The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  They explain why we are always thinking, mostly for no good reason, and provide guidelines for going through life without doing harm.  I dodge them by telling myself I can’t find a clear, brief explanation, as if Mr. Google doesn’t exist.  Well, I do a fairly good job of following them.  Most of the time.

At age 74 I feel I am finally on the way.  What more is there?

A Mountain Retreat

Estes Park

People living on Front Range Colorado are so fortunate to live here.  The big attractions, of course, are the mountains, right up the road.  I am just back from a retreat held at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park.  No matter the weather or time of year, that hole in the mountains is a spectacular place, the T-shirt shops notwithstanding.

The retreat was an Insight Meditation retreat held from Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning.  Friday and Saturday were silent, something of a challenge for an extrovert.  It is normally hard to get me to shut up.  I had a good experience.

It snowed on the way up Thursday, and I helped several people get their cars up the hill to our cabins.  By Friday morning, there were six or eight inches of white stuff.  Estes Park is a Ponderosa Pine forest, and the trees had a thick frosting of show.  Beautiful.  Then the wind blew.  It really blew, as it often does on the east side of the Rockies.  The wind comes from the west, hits the mountains, shoots up, cools off, then descends, blasting across Estes Park.

The wind from the west blew the snow off the ground and trees and shot up the ridge on the east side of the park.  It snowed uphill.  Now that is something I had never seen before.  One of the themes of the retreat was impermanence.  The reality is change.  It snows, it blows, and it stops.  You are changing, different than you were ten minutes ago.  The mountains offer a powerful illustration of change.  They rise, wear away and are gone.  The snow and rain come, and then there is drought.  It floods, carving the canyons a bit deeper.  The glaciers arise, grind their way downhill, and change the landscape.From the window of the cabin I could see four climate zones.  Ponderosa in the park, then spruce on the slopes with lodgepole a bit higher, then timberline.  Timberline: tundra and pikas.

Those zones are not static, they’re on the move, responding to the changing climate.  The ponderosa are climbing the slopes, and timberline is heading downhill.

Lodgepole Beetle Kill

The lodgepole pine zone is changing the fastest.  Winter is less cold, not killing the Mountain Beetle larvae as usually happened fifty years ago.  The beetles kill the trees, millions of acres of trees.  All those dead trees are fuel.  The fires clear the land, opening it up for aspen to move in.  We think of change in the mountains being a slow process, but this has happened in the space of fifteen years or so.

The bare ground means much more runoff, making the floods Colorado sees roughly every twenty years or so larger and more violent.  Erosion is increasing, sending more mud to Mississippi.  The bare ground blows, and the dust and sand deepen the soils east of the mountains.  Next, the aspen move into the bare ground in the mountains, making fall even more spectacular.

Change is more rapid these days.  I am changing too.  This Insight Meditation is accelerating a process of inner change I began years ago.  I have dealt with lots of personal issues in the past, and am now cycling back through some of them.  Fear arises during the meditations, moving to anger.  My response is addiction.  Food.  Alcohol.  My personal climate zones change, the midsection growing as I eat to dull the feelings.

During my meditations, those old feelings arise, I note them, and watch as they fade away.  The past is gone, I have no need to hold on, and I see it passing away, replaced (slowly) by more time living in the moment.  After all the present is all we really have, the rest being a construct the ego brings up to have something to do.  I am working on training my ego to be OK with emptiness.  That also means giving up trying to live in the future.  The future isn’t there.  It never is.  We need to look ahead enough to make conditions favorable to staying alive a bit longer, but that’s all.  The rest is just ego busywork.  That busywork occupies most of my consciousness.

I want to stay in now, the present moment, but then I look up and see the pastries in the case here in the coffee shop.  I thrust myself into the future, eating them, even though I am not hungry.  There just might be more fat in the future.  I still have a lot of work to do.


Sherlock and Watson

Two years ago I wrote about The Buckner Banner.  I rode the USNS Simone Bolivar Buckner to Germany and home two years later.  For some reason known only to the military gods, I was chosen to edit the ship’s newspaper, The Buckner Banner, although I was a lowly private.  It was great fun, and our nine issues were a big hit because we serialized a Sherlock Holmes novel.

There were civilians aboard, military dependents, and lots of troops in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for nine days with little to do.  The Banner was printed on a worn-out mimeograph machine, and the result was lots of gaps and unreadable copy in the paper.  Passengers got involved in the story and had great fun trading issues back and forth to be able to read each installment.

I got lots of compliments, and had the run of the ship as newspaper editor.   Strangely I have never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s works until now.  Sherlock is one of the best-known fictional characters in English.  He is probably better known today than in the Victorian era because of movies and television.  Basil Rathbone starred in seventeen Sherlock movies.  Robert Downey Jr. starred in a movie, and there are two current TV shows, Elementary, set in New York and starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (Dr. Watson a woman!); enjoying a five year run, and Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, also with a long run with just a few episodes each year.  At least 99 actors have played Sherlock.

We are steeped in Sherlock Holmes.  Barnes and Noble has a two volume edition of Doyle’s Sherlock stories, and I am well into Volume One.  The story I just finished is set in London and Brigham Young’s Utah.  The Mormons had a lot of bad press in Doyle’s era, what with polygamy and Brigham’s Theocracy.  The story reflects that bias, featuring three murders.

Doyle gives the Saints a bad rap, but a lot of their infamous deeds were a response to the persecution the saints endured in Missouri and Illinois, which led to their trek west.  2017 is not the only time people in America have faced religious discrimination; hate directed against Jews, Catholics, and Mormons for starters.

This was part of Doyle’s appeal.  He made the events of the Victorian era come alive for his readers then. They come alive for us now, here in a land of Anglophiles.  I am going to have a lot of fun with Sherlock, Watson, and company.