JOY OF AGE Lennox Raphael Essay

person_pin JOY OF AGE

by Lennox Raphael

Published in Issue No. 153 ~ February, 2010

If I had known I was going to live this long,

I would have taken better care of myself.”

Eubie Blake, who lived to 100.

What therefore is age, or aging; knowing it happens every day, each moment, is happening now, we know, and, yet, we seldom take notice until (sometimes) too late; and, alas, we become question marks; and, in this sense, while age, a pop commercial construct sold in malls and pharmacies, remains companionable, as fear and blessing, blushing as middle-aged rainbows, one is never ever different from any other person, and, although we may not think of death, or even slowly dying of the hobble gobble hobble of being destined to be babies again, and have probably fooled ourselves into seeing immortality as a process of language and art, it is revenge that keeps one going, revenge against time, a rebirth of the spirit in dying alive between the lines of no return; and, yet, of course, one may be too old to be trusted; or, perhaps, old enough to be ignored; yet never believed; but by whom, certainly not by the messenger who insists no photograph fades, particularly the photographs of ourselves as, fleeing the horrors of life, its pleasures, and the promise of passage into butterfly wings, we disappear into the essence of our being; but, never despair; wonder is too precious a thing to be lost on regret: you are you, and no other: not the pre-ghost, or prosthetic deceit: and I am me, too; and the `no other’ is the mirror image of youth, our youthfulness as age-thinking, and those memories of aging & growing old, and older still, and the effort to restructure our focus and escape comfortable traps of body regret while, as willing participants in the joy of age, enjoying life and resisting being victims of the history of the body: or even the mind; especially our minds; remembering today is also yesterday’s future of speculative becoming: the same for everyone, man/woman; so, it’s true, perhaps even as a warning, when memories weep we do have to wet our dreams; we have to free ourselves from the ice of those memories: and move on¸ acknowledging we have lived for writing, and are glad to be old as we are, as I am now, old as we have always been; glad that age, for me, as for you, is a dream come true; although I never guessed it would be this difficult, these pages about age, as supposed to be, the appreciation of age, the age of wine, age of our dreams, old age: we never speak of young age: and I am so disappointed, in myself, that it has taken me so long to describe my intentions when I started writing JOY OF AGE, really not knowing what it meant, or even the feeling of it, having no answers, but starting out from the premise (and conviction) that age is personal, with all the meanings of this lone word, a journey that only one person (the you in me and we) experiences in the self, internally, dismissing the look, the outerness of age, how one looks, in the transformation/deconstruction of appearances, to oneself, and to others, in (these) times beyond the wrinkle-proof reflections of our lives; so, Age, I am discovering, is a process of memory rather than actuality, and it is memory that sustains the image of the self and prop up our bones and their cultural positioning, and also takes us thru squalor & innocence down the road of reincarnative fantasies; of course, this is an unfinished piece, exploring the Augean stable of Age as myth, endless, incurable, always under construction, our lives; my life; yours; we think centuries: before & after; which keeps us going: not how we look/feel, or the fact one set out to alphabetize the joys of age: from A to Z, from ending to beginning: how, to begin with, age, for me, as is everything else in this piece, has always been a simple thing, a careless curiosity; and, in many ways, as I approach the golden paradise of 70, awesomely beautiful, the emotional excavation continues, as does the inherited memory of being a wartime child from September 39, yet, in myself, feeling healingly peaceful; which has always been my meditation: that the joy of age for me be the way I feel right now, this spring of 2007, living in Copenhagen, born in Trinidad (Tobago), having lived in countries, such as Brazil, Morocco, Puerto Rico, the United States, now almost 15 years in Scandinavia, and almost the same time in Manhattan, during the sixties & seventies; and this living , and being, and influenced always by friends older than myself; and by some much younger, taking my cue of life always from memories of the conviction of belonging to a world family – however invisible at times; and have dated myself according to my writing, as a measurement of achievement, and of longing for bliss, remembering the visions of self, at age 6, deciding I wanted to be a writer; and embarking on a living as one soon after my 18th birthday, and never once stopping; dating myself by my writing, my ambition for the craft, and believing from early on it was holy, that one did better work as one became a better person, a strong belief, which still buoys me, that my understanding of life and its deeper implications will infuse the work with a simplicity and uniqueness beyond the imagination of time taken for granted; and, beginning with an awareness of standards and respect for the tradition, and for the work done by one’s peers and others; so my age is really in my writing; and I can tell how old I am, and how old I would have to become, by the progress I detected in my work, which is language and translation of the imagined impossible made simple by a clear observation of the inner environment; yet, again, as man, I am not too sure, because age is more importantly a process of thinking, how we think of ourselves; how we think ourselves thru the rapids of beauty, and I am too respectful of women to believe that they age differently in the elegance of themselves; sure, I know that beauty is popularly more than skin deep &, if we listen to the slogans, and we are supposed to be what we eat, what we drink, how we relate to the world and media-induced stress, and those measurements provided by reflections of our shared institutions and communities, especially when coming from our friends and close relationships; but Age, yes, with a capitalized a, personally speaking, after all these years of leading up to the youthfulness of 80, I still don’t know what it is, and, in this respect, consider myself a day-to-day expert; and, then, what is my day like: I write often 50 or so words a day, at whatever time of the day, but mostly late night: today, for example, I went swimming in the sea at 7; something I do every morning, have been doing all my life, except for those more than ten years I lived in Manhattan; with the only difference that here, in Denmark, the water is considered (by others) bitter cold most of the year; yet, for me, well, I don’t think about it, and swimming when below zero, or even under the ice, is a fond meditation; so some, who know of this, would say to me, “No wonder you look so fresh!” :but it is more than this, more than the freshness of a breeze in the soul, more than the fact I eat neither fish, meat nor eggs and drink sparingly and fast often; and love jokes, even a friend exclaiming at the birth of my daughter, Papaya, now 10, “O, my God, Lennox, you’re making your grandchildren.” : yes, I can enjoy the joke: “What do you do?” asked another, “have you made a pact with the devil?”: no, no, no, I haven’t; not yet, at least; I am just too busy catering to the positive in the unknown; and, besides, there is only one Dorian Gray; anyhow, what matters is that, suddenly, I am writing this after many jottings and putting off the actual crafting for the longest time, telling myself I would do it next week, then, forgetting, time passes as a ghost, and the very thought of betraying the deadlines ages me considerably in ways that are apparent only from the inside; and even now, out of desperation really, I struggle to illustrate the age journey/adventure, knowing I feel joyful, that I live spiritually, and my genes are constructed of language and have little to do with history/actuality: that, if anything, I inhabit a curious soul and have no fear of life or of the constant reincarnations/inventions within; so where are we now? and should I tell you how, at 40, measuring myself by the age in which my father sat down in the bathroom & never got up, I was deathly afraid I would not live past his 56; and, as tho trapped in an existential duel with time, I began to misdirect my energies and neglect the visionary possibilities of suffering as an art form; but my writing would soon take care of that; so, again, I wonder whether I should write too of the cycling I do, or the regular fasting, or that, after years of having it be my wings, I have fallen out of love of driving a car; or that I’ve done zazen meditation, since 1967, and yoga, particularly sun salutation, and do lots of walking in the forest every week, even in the snow, and spend two weeks skiing in Norway with my daughter & her mom every year; that I paint a lot and write a lot and read indiscriminatingly and believe in God and family life and community and get by on four to five hours sleep every day, that I have been married four times and have four adult sons, three with kids of their own; boys in Oregon, Miami, LA, Texas; but, still, who am I? am I man, spirit, person, or woman: or all these things including a part of you as I write between the lines? well, should I write then of the lies I told in my youth when I worked on newspapers in various countries and would inflate my age in order to receive larger salaries? should I write of the epic pain two years ago which led eventually to having my gall bladder removed? should I write of the time, years ago, on the break-up of a marriage, with kids involved, when I felt a pain even greater than the gall bladder experience, those early months of the separation when I aged a million years and died a thousand times and was kept alive only by the companionship of writing and the awareness I was yet to fulfill my debt to it? so, age, then: what is it all about? is it just geography of the body or people, when, they become aware of the range of things I have done, always asking me – how old are you? – you don’t look your age – look at you, you still have mother’s milk on your face! – you always look so young – tell me your secret: and when I tell them my age they think I am putting them on; sometimes therefore, to end the conversation, I say what they want to hear, that I am two score, or less: neglecting to share that I feel myself an ageless spirit that outranks maleness, a patient of Dr. Groucho Marx who prescribes “a man is as old as the woman he feels”; grief relief; however, to get back to the struggle to write about age, one’s aging, male-aging, the device of alphabetizing my feelings just did not seem to work; and, now, it is left for you to judge; and, luckily, we know already that, for one thing, practice makes perfect; and the longer you live the longer you see; but all this thinking didn’t help with the writing when, finally, I began looking at the alphabet structure I had employed as an escape from spontaneity, starting out, for example, with A: that Age is a number; you are as old as you feel; old as you look; or believe; old as you think; as we refuse to be who you are: Age philosophy: Age as a weapon against time; Age is only a manner of speaking; and, as one grows older, one stops being oneself; we speak of growing old in the Age of Paranoia; Age as the next monster we face around the corner; Age, like color, and gender, becoming a profession if one chooses to pursue it to the detriment of life as wholeness; Age as acceptance: acceptance of the mythology of time, the many levels of its playfulness and counter-reality; well, I’ve been a number from the get go, my mother saying the first time she laid eyes on me I was lying between two (2) angels; (“I was talking to your mom today and she said the first time she laid eyes on you you were lying between two angels with wings”) well, I was hearing this for the first time, and wasn’t too surprised because I have always felt protected, and had known all along, even before I could think mythologically, I would have to stop being a thought & accept my destiny of being a myth of Age as style & elegance and how, as men, we perceive ourselves, our destiny, the mythology of our lives; the being of seeing & believing that age is coming to terms with one’s responsibility to one’s time, and to the hereafter, even while never taking any of these things too seriously, and, yet, canonizing them as being funny at times; and, as one grows older, which is happening, slowly, inordinately, for quite some time now, even before we were able to account fully for ourselves; convinced always Age is personal and, like youth a habit; one man’s joy being another’s poison; and age, too, being how you feel; and both a question of numbers & being numbered among the silence (and noise) of generations, and I sat alone for months; before I knew what was happening, remembering I was old enough suddenly to be my father’s brother; and would one day be older than my father ever was, and old enough to be my grandfather; even as one gets mixed up in dreams and nostalgia; since there is always the temptation to look back: I don’t: in fact, I wished only to be tempted to look back more often; just as I am thinking now of how C too; and D: the missing letters of my life; + E & F & G & H; but not I, curiously enough: I don’t think age; have never felt old; I am not age; not Age/Mileage/Cleavage; not immortality as the inspirational trick we play on ourselves, forgetting/ignoring Age is the beast without; we know we are not going to live forever; history proves that; and we are not about to be ungrateful: not the we or you or hidden selves: so I have learnt over the years to accept the responsibility of my imagination; and I write a lot: over the years, loads of manuscripts; have lost novels in manuscript; 2; and, then, one day, I started thinking of age, that I wouldn’t be here forever, that I owed it to my work to make an intervention in its growing up, as I did at its birth, that it was time to stop `hiding’ and face–no, no, not face–the time had come to understand how best to misunderstand the things I had written, and then feared, simply because I hadn’t the courage to face the fruit and the implications of an imagined wisdom and carelessness: or nonchalance; but we would then discover that age creeps up on you–and one’s best response is to creep out of its shadow; that in this business, the grind of close observation and excavating the imagination, and remembering, writing, worrying unnecessarily, cultivating distractions, and being a writer, an artist, dreaming it’s the work that lives, that’s supposed to be Methuselah; not me, not you; when I am 80 on a sailboat made of green bones: memories: I keep telling myself this; because it is a wish; I have never been a successful sex maniac; that too ( and neither you); yet, after 5 kids & 4 marriages, this can easily be disproved; not the fact one is more easily aroused by language & etiquette (good manners): and, in addition to this deflowering of nostalgia, one refuses to believe age is a number, or that one could ever be too old to be trusted; and I wonder sometimes: where would we be without our contradictions; not me; there was a time when I always wanted to be older; that’s how I started out, how, from around 10, when I began realizing that older people had something I coveted: a certain glance (so no wonder I would love the company of older people) like Kafka’s shadow; but where was I all this time? and couldn’t I have written KEEPING THE FAITH IS THE SUREST BAIT? yes, of course, L would always be easy: Love goes hand in hand with loneliness, and age holds the tail of the pig and allows itself to be dragged across the quicksand; I am amazed; yet M, like mother, would always be there: reminding us, metaphorically, age is just a metaphor, and writing, too; and also a life; something I worked out at six when I wanted to be a writer for the rest of my life: and, in later teenaged years, to get through the time peacefully, I would fool my father into believing I could be the lawyer he always wanted me to be, and, when 10 years later, awakening with a start from a dream where I had been wrapped like a mummy in words painted silver and gold, I knew I would, from there on, be too busy writing (as living) to get lost in being the age that others might have been seeking as a Mask; so M had ended with Mask; and what was the meaning of this? was age a mask, and life a masquerade?: let’s see!; or no man an island, no matter how old, or young.; but, like I’ve said, I don’t think age; not since that wonderful start from the time of my birth on my parents’ cocoa estate, and I, knowing Only memories have the power (and insouciance) to age us, don’t wish to start all over again; I meet Thomas Kennedy, the writer, here in Copenhagen, and the first thing he says to me is, “I was expecting to meet a much older person” or, perhaps, “I was expecting a much older-looking person.”: nothing strange!; he had been hearing so much of CHE!, and CHE! had been staged 69-70, in Manhattan, … and here I was, walking thru his front door … and I didn’t know what to say; but what went thru my mind as I sat in his living room was the night during BLUE SOAP, a musical vaudeville, the second theatre production of my life, which ran for three months in Manhattan, right after CHE!, when a celebrated Italian cinematographer stayed behind, after the show, and the first thing he said was, “O, I’m so surprised. I was expecting to meet a much older person. Your work is so old, and classic!”: and, again, I didn’t know what to say; but that was 1970; and altho many words & images have flowed under the bridge since then, I am still eager to see what Q brought; but a p had somehow strayed out of line: and the word was Pleasure: the pleasure that life, in spite of the pain & joy & surprises, is the one thing worth its weight in dreams: so what then for Q?: just: Quest/Question: and it’s too late to add anything to this; and R was Roar like a lion, run like the hare, while S was Sex so what about sex?; and sexy?; even as one continues to thank God for large mercies; and for the help in saying (to age) until death do us part; not knowing, and perhaps not even caring, what age thinks of this, and of course, in no hurry for a reply, and who is? certainly not T standing alone like a grand oak tree; U too; and V was Vanity as a wonderful companion, with nothing about the victory of survival in these times, or W being Writing is my age; and I have always measured this age by the progress of my writing; and have always wanted to be 80; yeah!; not because I’m greedy, not because I want to live to be a hundred; just because I’ve always known that at 80 I’d be doing my best work; yes, wishes; old wine; and X was simply Xcept: which made me curious to know Y; and Y was you are as young as your imagination; with Z being Zest apart, to a point, we have always wanted to be: older/elder: to have dreams; and that boast about 80 is not me, it’s the being inside of us dreaming of the Beginning; the forever now as wish and punishment; that’s that: the important thing is to have a growing sense of ourselves, and to avoid becoming victims of expectations; for, as we grow older, even while growing younger, time becomes more circular, and things are not simply up and down, or mirrored in absences, or going to bed at 10, up at 2, without the help of an alarm, writing until 5, and, 30 minutes later, after yoga on the beach & fire meditation, having a lovely swim where, turning from opaque grey to purple, to splashes of yellowing red on the surface, the sea makes no effort to resist its gifts–or gloat; and all was quiet & restful and, deservingly, a private timelessness: and the only thought was to the beginning of the morning, and a swan looking back at me as I felt like a baby one more time in your arms; so, there, you have it, a piece as confused, and confusing, as age is at times, but rich, and overflowing with curiosity and vulnerability; reminding me of a very wealthy man, a relative, who, dressed to the hilt, in tails, spends hours each day in his chicken coop, chatting with his chickens; his only complaint being they do not understand him: which I do understand: and my one hope is this not be my fate … to be misunderstood by my imagination, and to have to rely on growing younger each day in the Age of Paranoia; and I hope you like this too: that the Joy of Age is within reach; and so are we.

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Lennox Raphael, a New Yorker Trinidadian, lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with his wife & daughter. A former staff writer for the East Village Other (EVO), his first play, CHE!, ran for over a year in Manhattan; and he has written & directed BLUE SOAP, WAITING FOR MICK JAGGER, and several other works for the theater. Raphael has published 5 books of poetry. He is the co-author, with Maryanne Raphael, of GARDEN OF HOPE, A MEMOIR, published by Hopewell, in 2006.