Saturday, June 27, 2009

Old, older,oldest

On Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, Japan's oldest twin Gin Kanie died, aged 108. She and her sister Kin (left) were national celebrities.

No doubt about it, she was chronologically old! She was also the oldest.

You can see the difficulty here. From Latin grammar books I learned that adjectives have three forms:
1. positive (e.g. heavy or sweet or old)
2. comparative (heavier, sweeter, older)
3. superlative (heaviest, sweetest,oldest)

Trouble is, the word old now has two meanings: chronologically old and old in spirit. Chronologically old has slunk out of use. We deny it, like fools, in favour of old in spirit.

It's funny, I can have an objective conversation about this semantic oddity with some of my friends but not others. Last Monday, for instance, a friend said, "You're not old. You're just older." It was clearly intended as a compliment, but since when was older younger than old?

It makes my head spin. Old is the new young? There's no such thing as old? Do we grow older, then old, and finally become the oldest — in our street, if nothing else?

Actually, it makes a kind of crazy sense when you consider the terms positively old, comparatively old and superlatively old. We don't progress in that order.

We start by being comparatively old, that is, a bit older than we were a few years ago, or yesterday. Then at some point, we can be classified as positively old. Finally, if we live to 108, that certainly qualifies as superlatively old.

But for most people, this will be the progression:
Positive: older
Comparative: old
Superlative: dead.

Being old is heaps better than being dead, surely. I think I'll join the Old Pride movement, if it exists.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Conference speakers over 55

I'm still digesting 15 fascinating talks I heard at a conference last week, The Future of the Book. Audience was a mix of book publishers, teachers and lecturers, with a smattering of authors and technical people. So, not an ultra-young audience; definitely older than audiences at the usual conferences I attend, which lean towards the internet. Perhaps not a cross-section of book people, because they all had an interest in electronic books (or the possibly terminal illness of P-books).

I asked a few speakers how old they were: 55, 57, 57, they said. I made my own deductions about the others and got this distribution, counting only those whose presentations I saw and heard:

Young speakers (40 or younger): 8
Medium age speakers (40s and 50s): 6
Over 50 speakers: 9

My point? Plenty of people who are pushing 60 are leaders in the everyday world.

This world of exploding ebooks is a lively one, with exciting new developments every week. You have to keep on your toes to dodge the shrapnel and find a good trail through the smoke. For me, that's a deeply attractive feature. Nothing beats learning new stuff when it comes to keeping a live brain. (Apart from the luck of the genes.)

Oh yes, and they gave us this dessert of mini-pavlovas and fruit. Very nice.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

You look young

Since we are looking at hands, here's a naked one. If you're wondering how old someone is, look there.

I wrote this poem in exasperation when yet another person protested that I am not really old. How am I supposed to get used to being old when most people deny it?

But confusion is understandable, because...

Some people look old when they're young. Some people look young when they're old.

When old people were young, all old people looked old. But now, most people look young when they're what was once considered old.

Old has changed. Young has changed. Old is the new young.

But if you're not old when you're (nearly) 70, then who is old?

And if 70-year-olds are still young, then where are all the old ladies?

Old ladies are an endangered species. Somebody has to be them. We need volunteers. I volunteer.

You look young
“You look young.
For your age, that is.”
That’s cool?

Worship my wrinkles,
you fool.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The prodigal glove

I'm wary of gloves. Why buy something that invariably escapes after you've worn it twice?

On the one hand, gloves are an excellent device and they perfectly fulfill the purpose for which you bought the darn things. They keep your hands warm, doh.

This glorious red glove is new. I've worn it (and its mate) three times. Icebreaker. Fine merino. Perfect.

Then I lost them, as you do. I'm so used to this that I barely blinked. Sure, I performed the ritual search of house, bags, pockets, drawers, filing cabinets, toybox, bathroom, shoes, refrigerator, photo album, sewing kit, oven, pot cupboard, litter box -- all the usual suspects. When the gloves failed to materialise, I barely blinked. Vanishing gloves? I'm over it.

But today I succumbed and searched one more time. And yay! Emanating from the depths of a bag I use only on Wednesdays, only for Crows Feet dance practice, was a bright red glow. Yessss. That's why I bought them red, not black.

Today's joy is the joy of finding lost gloves. They ran away from home, they had a spree and then they slunk back. It doesn't happen often in a century. Chalk it up.

Frost on the roof

Last week we had a frost. In Wellington. It's a little unusual, and just up the coast (where it's warmer, as a rule) they had snow. The edge of the sea froze in the Pauatahanui Inlet.

I love frost for nostalgic and sensuous reasons.

Scenes scramble like penguins up through a hole in the ice. I remember as a child waking to a gorgeous layer of crystallized ice on the windows. (Imagine a home that chilly. The horror, the horror.) Walking to school through brittle white grass that crunched underfoot. Jumping on frozen puddles, of course. Paddocks steaming as the thin morning sunshine floated between macrocarpa trees.

Being cold is not very comfortable, I suppose. But it can be exciting. It's not a coincidence that people shiver with excitement or shiver with sexual thrill. One of my early love poems has a couple of lines:

Shiver, man, shiver.
You move like a river.

I photographed my frosty roof. I couldn't help imagining touching it with bare fingers... Would the frost freeze my fingers to the roof and peel off a layer of skin? Or would the finger melt the frost? But the photo didn't work. You can't see its cold fur. You won't shiver.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Joy of not-shopping

Sunday I went shopping with my daughter Diana. I "needed" a smaller dining table, because I'm getting a new gas heater. Shape of room, location of heater etc. meant my table was now too large. So I thought.

We had a fine time, including lunch at the French Market, and eventually found just the table. One more shop, just for luck, and it all fell apart. An intelligent salesperson cocked her head when we rejected one table as too large. "Why do you say it's too large?" she asked. "If you have a long table, you don't have to seat anyone at the ends. So it may take up less space, including the people, than a small table."


After all that earnest shopping, something dawned on me. My very large table was fine. It was the chairs that were the problem. They always seemed awkward, so we can't seat three a side comfortably. My posh chairs are always jangling and crashing against each other, spoiling sociable dinners. They colonise the carpet and attack the legs of other chairs.

Back home, I measured up. Sure enough, the chair legs splay out by 10 cm in two directions. I shoved two into the equivalent of a dark cupboard and promoted two little wooden folding chairs, relics of the 1940s Rigg Zschokke social hall. I love them. They are so cute. And they free up a lot of elbow room and leg room.

All this was fun, but the biggest thrill is that moment when I realise: No! I don't need to buy a new table! I spent nothing! I saved about $1500! The Not-Shopping-Aha-Moment is an exquisite chocolate rush.

That night I dreamed an Indian feast. Scores of people at an ashram, seated on the ground around bright cloths spread with yummy dishes. Goodwill and good cheer. Everyone wearing brilliant colours. No tables required.

The dream was a second reward for not-shopping. Perfect.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fish make you smile

Sunday is market day on the Wellington waterfront. That's where we shop for fresh veges, fruit, bread, eggs, lamb and fish.

We didn't always have this fish market but you can see why we love it. Today I got blue cod. Baked some veges, then turned off the oven and added fish in a dish. The flakes opened wide. I added green salad and a smudge of anchovy paste. My most heavenly mouthful was the last juicy bit of fish. My second most heavenly was roast mushroom with roast beetroot. Perfect.

My god, are we lucky or what?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ukulele laughing

The ukulele has got to be one of the funniest instruments ever. And I thought, if 5-year-olds can play them, surely I can too. Our very own Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (whose awesomeness reaches the ends of the known universe) runs a beginners workshop each winter. They're like that: famous collectively and individually but still with buckets of energy to spend on humble Us. We get 4 lessons, and number 5 is a public performance. (True, that's more like a sherry glass than a bucket load, in terms of the 10,000 hours practice necessary to reach awesomeness. But they can't hold our hands forever.)

So, we divide into groups according to the song we want to play. Iko Iko and Buckets seem to have about 20 each. I choose Whaling, which we have never practised. And the group consists of 5 or 6... and I can't spot any other beginner beside myself.

Now either they cheated, and were quite cool ukulele players before the workshop. That happens a lot. You can't blame people for wanting to bask in the aura of the WIUO.

Or they are younger than me, with more dextrous brains and fingers. A likely tale. Yes really.

Or they practised more. So I've got to practise like mad all week. Then on the day, I might just hit C in time with the others, and finger-sync the other chords.

What's not to smile about? :-)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The cabbage flower

Today's newspaper has 50 things you can do to have a nice life despite the recession. That sounds much too energetic for a lot of us old or nearly old ladies. We don't need to summon up the energy to do anything special, like play board games or volunteer at the zoo. We do plenty of stuff already, and we have lifetimes of experience in making ends meet. Make our own lunches? Puh-lease!

Oh no. I'd better not do any more stuff, because then I might stop just noticing stuff. Looking at stuff. Smiling at stuff. And I get a big kick out of that.

Yesterday, for instance, I noticed some newly planted flower beds. Or were they vegetable plots? These silly plants don't know whether to be a cabbage or a geranium.

In times like these, I am openly advising careers as cabbages. I'm sure they can find a vocation for this in their hearts.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Aspiring to a smile

I've been thinking about my next destination. My aspirations. I was about to start a blog specifically related to a book I've written, because in a few weeks it will be ready for sale as an ebook. (That'll be Rude Stories for Mrs Palin, when it happens.)

But hang on a minute, mate. What a bore, starting a new blog just to sell something! I know I should be marketing, but (like most writers -- like most small business owners in fact) there's always something I'd rather do. And when your heart's not in it, writing a blog or a book is a bore -- both for the writer and any unfortunate reader who stumbles upon it.

So I stopped. And thought for at least half an hour about this: what message would I rather explore? Every blog is, in a sense, a business blog. And every blog should have a central message. I know these things because I've just written an online course on that very topic.

Then it dawned on me that I do indeed have a "message" that I broadcast every day, almost every hour. It's not expressed in words, but in body language. It's not wise or deliberate or inspiring: it's involuntary.

I'm hopelessly addicted to the smile. I don't smile when my heart is breaking but a smile is my default facial expression. Time and again I don't even know I'm smiling until a complete stranger smiles back. For example, today I walked to town and back, and in one hour, four strangers hit me with big, broad, eye-contact smiles. That's a good score. What a buzz.

To get to the point. I concluded that my smile is my message, and my message is a smile.

I have no moral or philosophical reason for broadcasting my smile. I was just born with the happy gene.

On the other hand, there is heaps of scientific evidence about smiling, and I may explore some of that -- for instance, the physical act of smiling, no matter how artificial, tends to make you happier and even healthier. The beauty of this knowledge is that even people without the happy gene can practise smiling and reap the benefit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Here come the Old Laughing Ladies

Neil Young singing Old Laughing Lady could be the theme of this blog, as long as you don't actually think too hard about the lyrics. Instead let's celebrate all old laughing ladies, and remember the irresistible whining tones of Neil Young back in the days when there were no music videos. Or we missed them as we rushed around doing housework. Or something.