Tag Archives: aging

Writing in a Mobile Age: A Dinosaur Learns a New Trick

I am fifty-seven. I grew up in a time of pencils, ballpoints, fountain pens, and typewriters.

I have, in the past, used (preferred) pencil or pen on legal pads to compose stories or poems. I felt that push and pull of the writing instrument on the page to be inspiring and rewarding.

In recent years, I would hear about young people composing entire chapters of novels on their phones and think they were absolutely insane. How can you track, mentally and mechanically, your ideas on a tiny screen? How can you be connected to your words and their taste, smell, texture, when you are clicking on glass that has almost no tactile feedback at all?

Then, in 2019, I had a crisis in my twenty-nine year marriage and couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t watch tv. Couldn’t read a book. Couldn’t write a letter. Yet, the emotions of the crisis were vast and overwhelming. How do I deal with them?

I picked up my phone one day while out on the deck overlooking the beach and allowed my thumbs to skip over the glass.

In moments, I had the first poem I had written in years. The next day, another. Then a blog entry. Then another. Then more poems.

So many words I had contained for months (in some cases years) were spilling out of me. I was feeling, if not full relief, at least not so bundled up in pain.

I was surprised at just how much I connected with the words. How quickly they fell onto the screen and how cleanly they fell. At times, they felt (and still feel) much like they had in my youth, as if I was not the one writing them at all but some greater force had taken over (and I am not the spiritual sort).

I still write with my pens and pencils. I edit with my favorite fountain pens and bright, cheerful inks. However, the best flow comes on the little 3”x 6.25” computer in my hand.

This blog entry began its life just so. All my blog posts now begin and are fleshed out on my phone, move to my laptop, are sometimes printed for review/editing, then are posted.

Somehow, it connects. Somehow, I still sense these words as I did when writing with pen and paper. I still feel as linked to the words, ideas, and emotions as I ever did through a nib on fiber. I am a bit humbled by this realization. I am fifty-seven and I have been forced to recognize that art is not lost or bastardized in or by technology despite the protests of many of my generation (I am on the Boomer cusp). At the same time, I hope this also shows that we are not all floundering dinosaurs, insisting that “the old way is best.” Nor is the new way superior. It’s the typewriter vs. computer argument of old which was once the pen vs. typewriter argument. And that was once the quill vs. fountain pen argument.

Ultimately, the way that works best is the way that works for the individual in the moment. When my heart was calmer I could sit in a quiet room with those seemingly gentler implements and “compose.” Now, in this moment of my life, my heart is panicky and wild and my thumbs need to spatter my creations across the glass instead.

The Joy Between Naps: facing mortality.

When you walk beside someone daily, you don’t always see the subtle changes in their bodies and faces as they age. Perhaps, now and then, you take a step back and look critically and realize they’ve put on ten pounds or they’ve developed lines around their eyes or their hands are age-spotted. But you don’t typically pay attention to these details day to day when you love someone. It’s a human trait, this blissful blindness to the truth about aging. We are all young in the Garden forever—until we aren’t.

It’s no different with our pets; we might see them slowing down, sleeping a little more, playing a little less if we really stopped and thought about it. But most of the time we still see the young dog we’ve seen since we got it past the “destroy everything in the house” stage or the playful cat we have cuddled since we convinced the rescue kitten that humans weren’t all bad.

I have watched our Big Dog (BD) age and been aware of the little things: the scars from this scrape or that, the increasing number of skin tags, the thinning fur. His muzzle has been graying since he was five. He has lost muscle mass both due to age and due to decreased mobility caused by his heart condition, but I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought. Then some months ago as we drove down the interstate and the old boy slept soundly in the back seat, my husband said, “He’s looking old.”

I hadn’t noticed up to that point. More accurately, I had chosen not to notice.

I take pictures of Big Dog several times a week, desperately trying to capture him in these waning months, and I had not registered any significant difference in appearance in the BD of that day versus the BD of pre-heart disease. Slower, yes. More confused, definitely. But “looking old”? No. He was still my puppy. He would always be my puppy—the boy we brought home at nine months, healthy, happy, playful.

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Almost two and “helping” Daddy plant a new flower bed. (Spring 2007)

A few days later, I screwed up the courage to look at him with the eyes not of a person in love but a person who admits that pet dogs don’t usually outlive fifty-four-year-old owners.

I saw the sunken temporal area above his eyes, the crown of his skull turned pointed and prominent, the spreading gray, (endearingly, even on his hindquarters). There is less and less muscle on tired old bones. His coat has become rough and wool-like in spots rather than the smooth, soft fur that it once was. I also found a lump on his left cheek (we later learned this is a tumor that can’t be removed and continues to grow into his neck and ear).

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Big Dog at just under thirteen years old. (Summer 2018)

What I didn’t see that is common in large old dogs were callouses on elbows or knees. The boy has had a pretty cushy life. Or should I say, “cushiony”?  He’s always had at least one good bed wherever we lived, yet usually sleeps on the couch. We have loved and spoiled and medically cared for our dog with as much compassion (and dollars) as we would any child. Some might argue, more so.

About thirteen months ago we almost lost Big Dog to congestive heart failure. The kinds of heart medicines that have been developed by researchers (like those I used to work with developing medicine for humans) saved him and have kept him not only alive but happy. Then as now, we don’t know how much time we have with him.

This time with loved ones is always an unknown and this year that has been made excrutiatingly clear to me with the death of a beloved human sister. Now, perhaps because that loss remains so raw in my heart, I’ve begun to see, every day, these incremental changes in Big Dog as he walks into furniture, stares at walls for long moments as if they contain answers, and follows our voices in the wrong direction.

He is not ready to leave yet. He bounces and woofs when he wants a treat and gets excited about his nightly apple bites from Daddy. He still enjoys exploring the edges of the dunes and the street in front of our house and he delights in sunbathing on the deck on a warm day. There is still joy between long naps.

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I am happy to see him enjoying such seemingly small things without the anticipation of his own mortality.

I am sad for us and our keen awareness of it.

The fruit of the tree of knowledge, were I a believer in such a thing, surely held that we are all finite creatures and our “downfall” was that we would forever struggle against that limitation, unlike our pets that simply love and live.

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Still beautiful to us, Old Man. We love you.