A dream of eventual retirement. What does it mean?

Cruising in Fiordland, New Zealand
Cruising in Fiordland: just be there

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In which my eyes are opened by a dream to the necessity, meaning, and value of so-called retirement and old age.

 

Do I want to retire? Do I want to grow old, even? Frankly, no! But in the end, it won’t be my decision. Some of my friends adore retirement. They have loved it from day one. But I love my life just the way it is. I feel more or less in charge of my own decisions, and all is well.

Looking ahead to the later years of life is a risky thing to do. In me, it has apparently stirring up feelings I was unaware of. They erupted last night in a dream with a message to myself about retirement.

It was an anxious dream. This is unusual: most of my dreams have a contented or hilarious emotional tone, regardless of their content.

As usual, my dream was loaded with a take-it-or-leave-it meaning and a message from me to me. As usual, they seemed pretty obvious the moment I woke up.

A dream in three acts

ACT 1. I commute to work by boat. I work in a grand corporate complex. I have high status and a good pay packet even though I do not have a law degree. (Gee, how can that be? Must be a dream…) My work consists of throwing special red satin bean bags to other staff members. (As you do.)

ACT 2. Time to get on a ferry and go to an important meeting. I can’t find my canvas shoulder bag, which contains very important professional items: mobile phone, wallet, pen, and a notebook—for taking notes at the meeting, obviously. The ferry is departing, I’d better get on. Maybe my bag is on the ferry…

ACT 3. On board I search for my bag, with no luck. I look back at the wharf and plan how to get back. The silky turquoise water is tranquil and crystal clear. I can see kelp and sand and fish and the peak of an underwater mountain about 100 metres behind us. So, I could swim back there and rest before someone fetches me, or I could just swim the whole way back. OK, decision made. I’m about to dive off the ferry when common sense hits. The water is icy cold. To try and swim back to land is madness, suicide. And what for? I don’t need a phone or a notebook here. I’m with friendly, colourful people. All around me, the world is beautiful, beautiful.

What meaning do you take from this dream?

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Rules for aging well are just aphorisms if they can’t be enforced

olgaToo much information? That’s good, in a way. It means we are forced to be highly selective about the truckloads of advice that come our way about aging in style. Our BS detectors are always at the ready.

I’m left cold by tips on improving my character. (Whaddya mean, ‘Be opportunistic?’) I am interested in practical tips, stuff I can do and know when it’s done.

Glance at the Nine Rules for Living (abridged) from Olga Kotelko, a 95-year-old superstar of track and field. Do they resonate with you? Only Rules 1, 2 and 9 could be implemented and measured. The others … doubt it.

Olga herself was astounding, an inspiration. However, the secret of her success cannot be deconstructed this easily. She might just as well have told us, “Be Olga.”

  1. Rule One: Keep Moving
  2. Rule Two: Create Routines (But sometimes break them)
  3. Rule Three: Be Opportunistic 
  4.  Rule Four: Be a Mensch  
  5. Rule Five: Believe in Something
  6. Rule Six: Lighten Up
  7. Rule Seven: Cultivate a Sense of Progress 
  8. Rule Eight: Don’t Do It If You Don’t Love It 
  9. Rule Nine: Begin Now 

And so begins my boot camp for the bonus years

EliseSerafinLuftman-1830

Below is the first post of my boot camp for the bonus years, in which I decided to bully myself into making 12 lifestyle changes in a single year, hoping to increase my health and happiness in old age and reduce my chances of getting dementia. This was my attempt to prepare for the bonus years that we never expected or desired—bluntly, the years of visible aging and then old age.

In 2015 the blog was posted on another site which never got any traffic, so I have republished all the posts here on writeintolife.com. Read on, dear friend! And tell me, was I nuts or what? You be the judge.

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In February of 2015, I turned 75.

In itself, that’s no big deal. I’m healthy, happy, busy and brainy. Young for my age, blah blah blah. Now what?

Life is long!

My official life expectancy is 98 or 99, so I have probably completed about 75% of my allotted span. Maybe in 10 or 20 years time I will accept the label of old age—that stage of life so dreaded, and so mysteriously maligned, mocked, defied and denied.

In January I began to think seriously about the remainder of my life. I noted the strange conflicting attitudes of other people and myself towards old age and old people. I looked at the current tsunami of scientific studies around the topics of old age and especially dementia.

We used to think of dementia, including Alzheimers, as something out of our control. We were told in our youth that brain cells die and cannot be revived, that no new brain cells would spring up in their place, end of story. I believed that 99% of my delightful life style was due to sheer luck—I had lucky genes, lucky time and place of birth, lucky family circumstances.

New research into the brain shows luck has less influence

Since then, a revolution in brain science has turned those old beliefs upside down. The brain is plastic, capable of reshuffling tasks and healing itself in ingenious ways. It’s now clear that we have far more control over whether we get dementia in old age than we ever imagined. And by now, we know pretty much what we should do to achieve maximum physical and mental health and strength well into old age.

Add to this the message that a greying population is already pushing the cost of health care to frightening levels, and a 75th birthday took on a weighty significance. As a result, I had a modest epiphany.

A good moment to audit the lifestyle

I determined to use my 75th year to take stock of my own health and life choices, study the evidence, and make a to-do list—actions and commitments that would maximise my chances of living well and happily into my almost inevitable old-old age. Then I would tick off one goal every month.

So began my year of preparation for old age. I would make this year a personal boot camp for old age.

Because I’m a writer, I can’t help writing about this. We’re almost half-way through the year, I’ve worked through one goal per month as planned, and my notes are in chaos. (This is not my day job.) Fleeting thoughts and terrible videos and  random articles are scattered all over the house and the internet. Now I shall try to catch up with myself and focus. Wish me luck!

Image: Elise Serafin Luftmann, strongwoman from a German-speaking region of Bohemia, she performed all over central Europe. Luftmann was famous for her ability to lift heavy weights and to juggle cannonballs. This illustration dates c. 1830. Public domain.