Aging and other inconveniences…

This week, I’ve had an appointment with my dermatologist and two physical therapy sessions. Next week I’m back at PT for two more rounds. The week after that it’s an appointment with my primary care doc. Three weeks from now it’s a follow-up with the dermatologist. Then, four weeks from now, I’ll turn 44. 

I’m not saying all those things are in any way related, but I can’t help but feel like there is, perhaps, a vague connection between the never-ending parade of doctor’s appointments and the increasing number of times I’ve been around the sun. None of these appointments are for critical care issues. Just a bevy of regular appointments, follow-ups, and treating some minor issues.

My inner historian can’t help but note that our caveman ancestors right up through our dark age predecessors had a life expectancy of about 35 years. From the Tudor era right through the dawn of the industrial age, expectancy creeped up to almost 40 years. Over the last 200 years, expectancy has raced upward into the low to middle 70s. So yeah, we’ve managed to eliminate or at least mostly control many of the common causes of early death – ranging from accidents to disease – but we’re still walking around in meat suits that evolved over millennia with the expectation to get no more than 35-40 years of service.

From that perspective, it’s not hard to understand why there are occasionally bits and bobs that aren’t working quite right or how waking up in the morning so often reveals a new and unexpected pain somewhere. Sitting here looking at 44, I’m well past my warrantee date and from here on out will apparently need increasingly skilled mechanics to keep the whole thing cobbled together and running tolerably well.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here reading reviews on hyperbaric chambers and researching gene therapy.

I can vaguebook with the best of them…

It may not always be obvious, but I’ve spent a lot of time simplifying my life. With the exception of time spent working for wages, I do what I want, when I want to do it. I know my own mind and have things here ordered in just the way I like them. There’s very little now that catches me by surprise or off my guard. It is a remarkably peaceful way to get through life.

If you’re trying to fit into this little world of mine, though, there’s a singular catch: The amount of drama you bring can’t outweigh the overall level of improvement your presence brings to my life. Having spent two decades putting the bits and pieces in order, if your presence causes more stress than happiness, I don’t have time for it.

I’ve become something of an expert at excising the extraneous stress and drama from my life every bit as completely as the surgeon cutting out cancer. It is, to borrow a phrase, the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.

I’ll freely admit where I’ve been wrong. I’ll apologize for whatever shortcomings there may have been. I won’t, however, go about wearing eternal ashes and sackcloth. If that’s not sufficient, good luck on your journey and you go with my blessing.

Not bloody likely…

I think I’m suffering from annoyance fatigue. There are plenty of things this week that should have annoyed me to no end, but the most I’ve been able to muster is a shrugging dismissal. To quote a line from one of the great influential critiques of modernity, “It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.”

In a world increasingly determined to find new and interesting ways to agitate the living shit out of me, I find the number of things I feel compelled to dedicate any mental bandwidth to decreases every day. Where there used to be concern for global and national problems, my current span of concern regularly contracts to the point where it barely extends beyond the house, its residents, and whatever activities need done to meet our short- and longer-term goals.

Sure, that still leave plenty of space for being annoyed, but it’s as if somewhere in my head is a magical shrinking give-a-shit. At this rate, by mid-2035 maybe I’ll have reached some level of Zen consciousness where I truly don’t give a shit about anything and we can dispense with What Annoys Jeff this Week forever.  

That’s not bloody likely, of course, but it’s a happy dream.

Coming at you quick…

I spent a lot of the summer of 2000 driving around the state of Maryland interviewing for teaching positions. I had interviews in every corner of the state from the Atlantic coast, to the upper reaches of the Bay, and back down the western shore to southern Maryland. The only place I didn’t have an interview was anywhere close to my home county. No amount of family connections in teaching there could overcome the surplus of fresh young grads wanting to stay close to home that Frostburg turned out every semester.

I signed on with St. Mary’s County for the princely sum of almost $30,000 a year. I could say that it felt like making big money after four years of full time school and part time minimum wage work, but it didn’t. Not after all the bills were paid and $25 out of each check went to a retirement account, untouchable until a day then so far into the future that it didn’t even seem like a real mark on the calendar. Maybe all time feels imaginary when you’re 22 and on your own for the first time. Being three hours away from everything and almost everyone I knew felt like it might as well have had me living on the other side of the moon

I’m not sure what got me thinking about those days in the pre-dawn hours this morning, but something pulled me back there – to thoughts of what passed as a “splurge” in those days. The most unreasonable was probably a set of marble drink coasters from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, purchased on a trip to the “upscale” shopping venues in Waldorf. They might have set me back about $20 at the time.

Now here I sit, plotting large scale home improvement projects – the bathroom renovation about to get underway, the roof that’ll be due for replacement soon, the HVAC system I could squeeze some more efficiency from, the huge oaks that needed to be tended to sooner rather than later, lest they drop thousand pound limbs on the house, and the first twinkling of an idea for a bit of renovation in the kitchen. The scope and scale of what passes for a splurge these days is absolutely staggering – well beyond anything 22 year old me would have even imagined back there and back then.

I guess my point is life really does come at you quick. But I still have those old coasters, so they might turn out to be the best investment of the bunch. They’ve certainly proven to be just about the only tangible proof that I did anything at all in a time so long ago and far away.

Observations from an unpleasant week…

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one here when I say that I don’t, as a general rule, like new things. I like the same meals I’ve been eating for decades. Every object in the household has its place and should be in it. I mostly can’t control what happens outside the doors here, but what happens inside is done with good order and discipline. I suppose it’s the kind of thing that could make a person hard to live with, but the animals don’t seem to mind, so all is well.

Over this last week we’ve been adjusting, by necessity, to the new order of things. From that, I’ve made a few observations.

The most surprising of the bunch, is just how much water Maggie was taking in every day. I was refilling their gallon bowl at least three times a day. Now I’m averaging about a quarter of that. No wonder she wanted to go outside every two hours. I knew she was a thirsty girl these last few months, but the slow upwards creep of her water intake just didn’t seem overly alarming – except in retrospect. As always, hindsight is a bitch like that.

Jorah, fierce guardian and barker at of anything that moves in the yard or on the street has become terribly fearful of the backyard at night. For most of the last week he’s had to be trussed up in full harness and nearly carried outside for his pre-bedtime bathroom break. For these last two years, I had no idea that he was relying on a security blanket the approximate size and shape of a labrador retriever to cover him while charging off to bark at and chase anything that rustled during his nightly rounds.

The cat, not surprisingly, seems to be the most adaptive of us all. Hershel was back in the warm embrace of his own daily routine inside 48 hours. A week along, I’m quite convinced he’s starting to throw the stink eye at the rest of us who are still deviating, even if only slightly.

We’re still very much in a transitional mode here, but our wild ride over the last week is starting to settle into a new and slightly different rhythm. The sooner that comes together, the better, because new sucks.

A very good girl…

I remember the day I brought Maggie home like it was yesterday. I wasn’t even looking to add another dog at that point. It was a few weeks before Christmas and I didn’t want the inevitable headache of taking a puppy on a 1600-mile round trip drive. Then a friend at the office put up a “free puppies” sign. Mama had died giving birth and the large litter was eating the family out of house and home. It was a fire sale – everything must go – before they were dropped off at the shelter. Surely there wasn’t any harm in going to take a look. As I recall, people from our office ended up taking some if not all of that litter.

I came back after lunch that day with a sleepy chocolate lab snuggled down inside my coat. For the next almost 14 years, she was my shadow. Through the successes and failures of life, tens of thousands of road miles, changes of jobs, changes of houses, there she was with a wagging tail and a smile on her face. Maggie was one of the most consistently happy dogs I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

For the last few years, though, Maggie was also a very sick dog. Sometimes it felt like we were keeping her together with bubblegum and bailing twine, but she was always game for another trip to the vet and eager to greet everyone there. As long as she was up for pressing on, there wasn’t a test or procedure I was unwilling to try or a specialist I wasn’t willing to meet. Over the last week, despite some new meds, I watched that old spark slowly fade away. 

There’s more we could have done. The vet would have pumped her full of more meds if I’d have asked for them. It would have been so easy to go down the road of calling for extraordinary measures, but she deserved better. She deserved to meet the end walking in under her own power and while she still had some of the old nobility about her.

I couldn’t ask her to suffer so I didn’t have to – not after so long together, not when she’s done everything I’ve ever asked of her and so much more. 

From start to finish Maggie was a very good girl – a once in a lifetime dog. 

My life was incalculably better because she was part of it and is now the darker for her absence. I’m going to miss her terribly.

Irreplicable…

Over the weekend I saw three separate posts on Facebook saying some derivation of “They’ll replace you at work before your obituary is published, but you’re irreplicable at home.”

Based on my decidedly unscientific observation of human behavior, this has to be one of the greatest lies we tell ourselves. Not the part about being utterly replicable to your employer, of course. That bit is gospel truth. But being indispensable at home? Please. 

Looking around at the number of people who are regularly being cheated on, cheating on their significant other, getting divorced, meeting the 3rd “love of their life” in the last year, having kids they don’t see or support, barely functioning due to chemical dependency, or otherwise contributing nothing to their family or society at large, it seems to me that a fair number of us are every bit as dispensable at home we are to an employer. I suppose that’s the kind of thing we’re not supposed to say in polite company, though.

Look, I guess you’ve got to tell yourself whatever it takes to get through the night or to give some semblance of meaning in the face of a universe that truly does not give one shit… but realistically, we’re mostly just impressively complex electrochemical bio-machines designed to propagate our genes. Maybe it’s not as comforting, but it has the stench of honesty that I’ve increasingly come to appreciate.

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Shady book shops. I’m not generally the kind of guy who walks around expecting something for nothing, but when I spy a deal, I like to snap it up… Which is what leads to the frustration of online booksellers who don’t realize they’ve underpriced a particular volume by about 2/3s of its actual retail price until someone comes along and tries to buy it. At least they were nice enough to immediately repost it for sale at a much higher price. That’ll be a hard pass from me. I’ll buy it from a competitor and even pay a bit more for the privilege since they’re not doing shady shit.

2. For reasons surpassing my limited efforts at understanding, my Twitter feed this week has been filled with posts saying something like “Stop doing x thing that makes y people feel uncomfortable.” Ok, I guess, except that in this little passion project of theirs we find that “X” is an absolutely normal, everyday activity and “Y” is some random bunch of wackjobs with perpetually hurt feelings. I assure you, if you’re planning to go through life expecting everyone to make you “comfortable,” you’re in for a great deal of both butt hurt and disappointment. But hey, good luck with that.

3. Friends. Friends are good things to have, I suppose. The simple fact of being a friend doesn’t, however, make you immune from criticism. At least it hasn’t in my experience. Some of my closest friends are the first to tell me when I’m heading off the rails. It’s not always a fun experience, but getting a third-party perspective has often served to be awfully instructive to me. If you’re looking for someone who will be nice just to be nice or who wants to go along to get along, I might not be the one for you… and that’s OK, too.

Not quite a teenager…

I’m an early riser. I like to blame the yearly days of my career when crawling out of bed at four in the morning was the only way to (usually) beat the worst of the day’s traffic heading into DC. That old 6:30 AM – 3:00 PM is still my favorite, though I haven’t worked it in years because various bosses have seemed to want people in their cubes as late into the afternoon as possible. From my seat, it’s always been the earlier in the day you can get out of the office, the better the day overall. 

As much as I want to blame a job I haven’t had for almost 15 years for doing this to me, I really do like the mornings. It’s a few hours of enjoying the world before other people wake up and ruin the experience.

Maggie, an ever loyal and supportive chocolate lab, is usually game for being awake and moving. She’s never far from my side, gamely following along whether it’s cooking breakfast, sitting with a steaming cup of coffee on the porch on a cool fall morning, or working through email long before the sun’s up. Jorah, though, couldn’t be more of a contrast – a case study in “not a morning person.” He’ll grudgingly get up at 4:30 for the promise of breakfast, but lately he’s added a new trick to his repertoire.

After breakfast has been served and he’s patrolled the house while I’m showering, Jorah sneaks back to bed. Any of the five dog beds aren’t good enough, of course. He finds is way to my bed before burrowing into the covers and catching another hour or 90 minutes of sleep before really coming out to start his day.

We’ll see if this is a short-lived fluke or if it’s going to become part of his established routine. The only thing that’s certain is that the youngest member of the household appears to not share a love of mornings with the rest of us. Thank God he’s still fully supportive of our geriatric bedtime, so it’s not quite like having my own teenager.

Feelings…

Memories on Facebook are something of a two-edged sword. As often as they dredge up something I’d forgotten about from the recent past, they also throw up moments that seem like they should have taken place much longer ago. 

Two years ago, the internet was raging about the seating of then judge and now Justice Kavanaugh on the United States Supreme Court. It feels like it was both yesterday afternoon and about 600 years ago. 

We seem to be in a long stretch now where someone or another is constantly screeching, rending their garments, or taking to the streets for whatever cause of the day is ginning up popular attention. It’s hard to tell the days of the week in some ways because it has all blended together into one large, continuous mass of demonstrating how we feel.

I’ve long been fond of a phrase I first saw many years ago that says something to the effect of “The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings.” 

The universe is on to something there. I’ve been working hard to tune out most of the extraneous noise in favor of focusing in on those things I can in some way control or influence. I can’t quite shake the feeling that if we all would just spend a little more time tending our own garden, life would be less shouty and obnoxious. 

Then again, the universe doesn’t care about my feelings either, so do whatever.