Passion Till The Very End

The word of the day, harangue, a lengthy and aggressive speech. One could add “see Bernie Sanders”. I’m not a fan of Bernie’s oratorical style, but I’m in total awe of his passion especially given the fact that he’s 78 years old.

By 78, a lot of men are dead, hell, Bernie peered over the abyss last week. Elderly men and women in their eighth, ninth, tenth decades often struggle with more than just declining health. There’s the huge psychological challenge of having a purpose to continue living. Something beyond watching television and marking time.

That’s not a problem for Bernie, nor was it for Harold Bloom who died earlier this week. The New York Times described Bloom as the “most notorious literary critic in America” explaining:

“Chiefly he argued for the literary superiority of the Western giants like Shakespeare, Chaucer and Kafka — all of them white and male, his own critics pointed out — over writers favored by what he called “the School of Resentment,” by which he meant multiculturalists, feminists, Marxists, neoconservatives and others whom he saw as betraying literature’s essential purpose.”

I find his unabiding passion even more fascinating than his contrarian intellect for which he’s best known.

Dig this:

“Professor Bloom called himself ‘a monster’ of reading; he said he could read, and absorb, a 400-page book in an hour. His friend Richard Bernstein, a professor of philosophy at the New School, told a reporter that watching Professor Bloom read was ‘scary.’

Armed with a photographic memory, Professor Bloom could recite acres of poetry by heart — by his account, the whole of Shakespeare, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ all of William Blake, the Hebraic Bible and Edmund Spenser’s monumental ‘The Fairie Queen.'”

In junior high school I memorized some bible verses in Confirmation classes, I just can’t remember which ones.

The Times adds:

“. . . his output was vast: more than 40 books of his own authorship and hundreds of volumes he edited. And he remained prolific to the end, publishing two books in 2017, two in 2018 and two this year: ‘Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind’ and ‘Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism.’ His final book is to be released on an unspecified date by Yale University Press, his wife said.”

Further evidence of his all consuming passion, he taught his last class at Yale last Thursday.*

I texted an academic friend who followed Bloom’s work this humorous excerpt from the Times. Years ago Bloom predicted:

“’What are now called ‘Departments of English’ will be renamed departments of ‘Cultural Studies, where Batman comics, Mormon theme parks, television, movies and rock will replace Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens.”

“He nailed that!” my friend texted back.

May you live long, similarly passionate lives.

*Bloom looks really spent in the 2011 picture. For shit’s sake, can we please revisit mandatory retirement provisions? How about you have to hang em’ up at 88 years young?

 

 

 

 

How to Age

Emily Oster’s findings in the fitness essay I included in the previous post rest on the following premise—people exercise to lengthen their lives. I run, swim, and cycle quite a bit further and faster than the research says I should because I enjoy pushing myself. And as far as I know the research doesn’t answer this question: Are the costs of more extreme fitness habits lessened when one increases the volume and intensity of their activities over many years? My gut tells me yes. My gut also tells me cross training lessens the costs.

But I’m okay being wrong because I don’t care if I live to 100. The more familiar I get with the 80’s and 90’s, the more inclined I am to trade quality of life for quantity. Which leads to how to age.

There are two approaches, but I don’t know which is better. The first is to remind oneself on a daily basis that you’ll never be younger than you are at this very instance. Meaning carpe diem. Live with urgency. Do the iron-distance triathlon now because it’s going to be even harder in a few years. Travel the world now because it’s going to be harder in a few years. Hike the Wonderland Trail or the Camino de Santiago before hiking to the mailbox is all you can manage.

The alternative is to accept the inevitability of physical decline and embrace life’s limits. Reject “Bucket List” mania. Live more simply. Slow down, travel less, invest more in friendships. Find joy in daily routines. Watch nature. Enjoy coffee, food, and drink. Go gently into the future.

Two paths in the woods diverge. Which to take?

When to Retire?

Most people retire as soon as they think they can afford to. Every week personal finance periodicals run stories about people delaying retirement due to the housing correction, health insurance inflation, and in the end, insufficient savings.

Look around and you can’t help but see older workers. Prepare to see more and more. A boatload of sixty, lots of seventy, and even some eighty something half or full-time employees.

While tossing the majority of my mom’s office files last week, I came across a remarkable memo my dad wrote on December 3rd, 1990 to the two owners of the major corporation he was running at the time. Here it is:

The three of us should sit down and have a talk. I’m 65 in 1991, and as we have discussed pensions around the office we’ve used 12/31/91 as my retirement date. We should discuss the future leadership of S&E. I find myself ambivalent about retiring or staying on.

He then listed the “PRO’s for staying” including “we are an organization that works and we have good sales and profit growth.” Then he shifted gears:

The CON’s are: I will have been at the helm for 7 years, and a change in leadership could bring fresh ideas, a different approach and faster sales and profit growth.

Age slows one. It’s something none of us avoid. I find myself like the aging ballplayer—I don’t want to stay on when new leadership could take S&E forward more effectively. Others see the slow down before you do.

I feel too strongly about the company and its future to become an impediment. What are your feelings?

The more I reflect on this memo, the more unique I find it that he’s putting the company’s interests before his own. No one enjoyed his work more than my dad and no one out worked him. Yet, he acknowledges “new leadership could take S&E forward more effectively.” That’s like President Obama saying someone else might have a better working relationship with Congress and accomplish more on behalf of the American people. Or an aging college professor saying students might benefit more from an energetic, 30-something academic.

I don’t begrudge any older, moderate income person their decision to work past their prime, but for older, financially secure people, my dad provides a selfless example worth emulating. The question isn’t just what’s best for me, but what’s best for the company or even the community.

Footnote to the story. The owners did sit down with my dad. Shortly afterwards they extended his contract and also named him Chief Executive Officer of a second corporation they owned.

Breakfast With Marvin

Mother Dear just moved into a very nice apartment building for seasoned citizens in Tampa, FL. My Betrothed and I are ensconced in a guest apartment on the third of five floors.

Mother Dear isn’t answering her door and the Gal Pal is on a walk. So I’m recovering from my “hot as Hades” morning run by watching the Olympics in the internet cafe. Next, I head to breakfast with the Tampa Tribune sports page. Dallas Clark, the Bucs new tight end, is healthier than expected.

I eventually glance up, and when I do, there’s a grey haired man staring blankly at me. I set the paper on the floor and chat up Marvin, a former technical writer from New York City. He’s happy to answer my questions, but doesn’t ask any. Come on Marv, work with me.

On one level, Marvin is living large. There’s about four or five women for every man in this joint and he’s more mobile than most. But on the other side of the ledger, his memory is failing him. That, in combination with being surrounded by elderly people, makes me think about getting older.

I ask Marvin how old he is and the wheel in his head spins wildly just like when I asked about his apartment number and what his daughter teaches. He was embarrassed he couldn’t remember either one. He also couldn’t recall his age, but he knew he was born in 1933. I told him he was 79 and that brought a smile of recognition. In hindsight, given all the eligible women he’s constantly surrounded by, I should have written his apartment number down for him.

The end of life isn’t really funny. The body breaks down. And the mind. The past, a source of strength for most people, inevitably blurs. Friends die. Loneliness looms. And there’s no promise of watching future Olympics or seeing grandchildren marry.

But with the support of family and friends, it doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly sad either. My sister has pressed pause on her own life and taken my mom under her wing for the last month. Spending day after day wading through her too many possessions, the move would have been impossible without her. My sister’s daughter, my niece, decided to attend the University of Tampa in part to provide Mother Dear moral and practical support. She’s partnering with my sister to smooth the move.

Sitting here, post-waffle, back in the internet cafe once again watching NBC commercials interspersed with athletic competition, I can’t help but think about my own future. How long will I live? How about my Betrothed? Will I lose my ability to walk unassisted? To drive? To live independently? Will I lose my memory? The answer to the last four questions is most likely yes. The passing of time is the great equalizer.

I don’t want to be a burden, but when the time comes that I can’t remember my age, will my daughters press pause on their lives long enough to help me pass into the final chapter of my life as peacefully as possible? More importantly, will I live this next week, month, and year to the fullest given the limits of time? Will I take risks, teach well, love deeply, live purposely?

A sunny, early August Tampa morning filled with many more questions than answers.