An old writer’s day: angles and reflections

My blog is about aging and the creative life. On most days my own aging and my own creative life are unthought-about parts of myself, they’re just who I am, they’re everything I am and do. So I forget to reflect on them, I forget that this is why some of you drop in to my blog. Instead I write about other things that happen to take my fancy.

So—focus, Rachel, that’s the way! Let me tell you about my day and why the story of my day is automatically a story of me as an old person, and me as a creative person. (Many of you fit that description 50% or 100%, and so you’ll have your own version running through your head in parallel. I like that.)

We are what we do. So why do we do it? In our 80s and beyond, there’s an inevitable integrity to our days: it’s too late to kid ourselves that we have values out of sync with our habits.

Going to the gym because I’m an old poet

  • Because I’m old, at 8:30am today, I walked to the gym for a Pump class.
  • Because I’m me, I enjoy this particular class for its top-of-the-range instructor who combines lively music, personal idiosyncracies, and training that I trust. So it looks like an ordinary weights session but is anything but.
  • As an old person, I can chat to friends beforehand, I can go half speed sometimes, I can do a bit of disco with the biceps and shoulder routines, I can fake it at the end when I’m pooped — and still get a good workout.
Photo of blue sky reflected on a glass wall reflected in the water of a marina. the sky is grey, one person walks between the sea and a small blue and white building.
One blue bounces from sky to glass to water.

Another reason for enjoying this Pump class is the glorious building it’s in, Wellington’s Freyberg Pool Building. (I know! It’s not the first time I mention this beloved building and I dare say it won’t be the last.) On my way I skirt the Wellington Marina and lap up the combined aesthetic thrill of yachts to the left, little boat sheds to my right, and the Freyberg Pool building up front. Look what I saw today — blue bouncing from the sky behind me to the glass wall and down to the water. (See the photo at the top.)

Because I’m old I now seem to make a meal of every beautiful or odd visual flash to my eyes. Many old people report the same thing: we’re appreciating what we see, hear, and otherwise sense even more than we did when we were younger. It’s partly to do with not being in such a rush all the time. We have the luxury of time. Look at those blues! Look at those angles! Look at those shapes! And look at that parcel of blue wrapped by grey, as some morning cloud swoops in from the north.

An old writer goes to the GP and the hairdresser

Well, after Pump class I walked around the harbour on this beautiful sunny day. I saw a photography group staring into the water. I looked in and saw a criss-cross of chains below, and barnacled piles, and starfish and little fish. I didn’t take a photo because it seemed sort of mean to steal someone else’s image.

Then because I’m old I went to the GP for a flu injection.

  • Because I’m human I had lunch in the public library
  • Because I’m a writer I thought about a knotty problem in the play I’m writing
  • Because I’m old, the play is based on interviews with eleven remarkable nonagenarians. I’m interested because one day I will be like them, and it will be different from being 82, that I know.

Then I had a haircut, because although I’m old, some hair keeps growing.

An old writer contemplates hyphens and adjectival phrases

Street with cars but no people. Footpath sign says TUATARA OVER 60 GINS IN-HOUSE COME IN AND TRY!!
Are the gins over 60 or are they for customers over 60?

On the way home I saw a sign saying “OVER 60 GINS IN-HOUSE COME IN AND TRY!!”

  • Because I’m old, I thought they were offering me free gins. Tempting!
  • Because I’m a writer, I thought about hyphens and the placement thereof.
  • Because I’m old, I thought 2pm was a bit early for free gins.

Loving vitality and grace because I’m a person

Then I got home and looked out the window at our rampaging Tecomanthe Speciosa. It’s all or nothing with these plants. I took a photo intending to try and persuade a new gardener to come and help us. I love this plant for its glorious energy. Why? Because I’m old or because I’m a poet? Sorry, no idea.

Two vigorous vines with glossy broad bright green leaves smothering an invisible wire fence in a back yard.
Two tumultous tecomanthe speciosa plants in our back yard

After lunch I noticed my brown cat Ursula had arranged herself artistically among shadows below the table.

  • Because I’m old I have a cat—I think.
  • As I said, because I’m old I’m hyper-alert to beauty.
Sharp shadows of windows and chairs almost hiding a dark brown cat
Cat blending into shadows

We are what we do: old age and the writing life

So that’s one little day in the life of an old person, moi (so far). It’s a pretty silly blog post but I’ve had fun doing this mini-analysis of the background reasons for doing what I did. It’s good to remind myself that — whether we like it or not — our actions reveal our values.

And I’ll get myself back on track, focusing more on strategies for achieving a good old age and the way we adapt our creative projects to encroaching old age — if at all! Maybe we don’t. What do you think, I wonder?

37 thoughts on “An old writer’s day: angles and reflections

  1. Oh Rachel . What a lovely city in which we live . I can never get enough of the way the light reflects of the Freyburg Pool. I didn’t know they had pump classes there. What I need is balance class. So tomorrow I will check it out.
    I think many of us take the beauty that surrounds us for granted. And on a lovely Saturday evening as the sun decides to take off her hat for another day, i am looking across our valley and marvelling at how the sun hits three houses but not the next.
    I have written posts about my day in the past, but never thought to connect what I do and why and my creativity. Do you mind if I steal this idea? Looking forward to a time when we can meet IRL.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Please do use it,and share it out! And I’m meeting friends now, favoring outdoor tables, so say the word.

  2. You continue to be an inspiration, Rachel.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That is a surprise after this post, but it warms me, Kay.

  3. What a delightful post! I enjoyed reading about your day and your keen observations of things around you. You have a zest for living that is truly remarkable.

    I used to play a game that I haven’t thought of in a long time. It was to pick out one word that best described the person I was thinking about. As I read this post, your word flashed through my mind. Vibrant!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That game is one I should try. More exacting than finding a bunch of words. I’m touched by your word for me.

      1. I love your enthusiasm for living and your sharing of ways to get the most out of life.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Anne, I have learned something important from just writing this piece, and even more from the generous and thoughtful responses of readers.

  4. Chris G says:

    Judith from Wellington sent me this and I am thrilled she did. The poetic simplicity of your day has enriched this septuagenarian. Chris

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Poetic simplicity: I’ll take that with thanks

  5. Your post made me reflect on how my day has changed through the decades. Even this decade is different from the last one and I was already retired then. It’s not more sedentary, just different. Some were adjustments from the pandemic (both of my gyms closed completely) and some are because I moved but we can always find ways to be active and creative no matter what!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      How interesting. This is the kind of response that makes writing so rewarding. We say, “Enjoy your day,” and mean it. Reflecting on our day is another layer of enjoyment. Thanks, Kate.

  6. BrainWars says:

    You’re certainly an inspiration. Demonstrating mindfulness with every step, you demonstrate how life can often be perceived as a lovely adventure.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I think you give me to much credit — but I can be mindful after the event. Writing helps.

  7. Dan Antion says:

    I like seeing how the different parts of your day appeal to different aspects of who you are. I suppose that’s true of all of us, but I never thought about it much. I think if I could exercise in a place like that, I might consider it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Ah but you exercise your mind in countless ways, Dan.

      1. Dan Antion says:

        That’s the fun part of life

  8. Some days I do, some days I do very little, some days I sits and thinks, some days I just sits!
    And, although I was taught never to start a sentence with and, this post was just perfect!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I especially connected with the comment that with age seems to come an enhanced appreciation of beauty in the things around us. In a way it is a return to the view that small children have when you take them on a walk. You just want to get to the store but they want to watch the ant and the leaf and the shadow and the crack in the sidewalk. Maybe that is why grandparents and grandchildren can sometimes really connect.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes! I see that with old people and small children all the time. What a delight that is for both. I hope you have managed to see the doco series Old People’s Home for 4-year-olds. It epitomizes what you describe, although some needed a good push from the little ones 🙂

      1. Elizabeth says:

        Never heard of it. I will look for it.

  10. Alan Ralph says:

    I’ve also started taking more notice of the sights, sounds and smells around me when I’m out walking or in the garden. The calls of the birds, the background noise of my neighbourhood, the kids at play in the nearby school. Some are pleasant, others not, but it’s always a reminder that there’s life around you. And when I’m at home working at the computer, I’ll pause from time to time to get up, stretch and look out the window onto the garden and nearby houses and trees.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      This intensity of sensations… Does it come from years of practice, from the shrinking of our geographical life, or a biological change?

  11. Abigail J Schweber says:

    I’ve been thinking about this since I first read it yesterday and wondering if I am becoming more aware of beauty as I age. I don’t think it’s “more”, but it is different. I used to consume beauty, somewhat voraciously. I went to as many museums and beautiful places as I could, listened to music constantly, cooked something delicious for nearly every meal, trying to fill myself with the wonders and beauties of our world. Now I consume it slowly. I’ll listen to a piece of music and think about it for a day or two before I try another one. I’m reveling in the tiny changes in my view as the shadows shift across the day, the cloudscape changes, and the land gets greener with the coming of spring. I have a lot of meals that are just a sandwich or a bowl of soup, but I put a lot more thought into special meals and make it a bit of an occasion when I cook something special.

    It hadn’t occurred to me until I read your piece that this is all of a pattern, and that my relationship with beauty has really changed. For me, it has come to feel like a warm, joyful embrace rather than voracious consumption.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Beautiful, beautiful reflections, Abby. And do you know, Doris Carnevali (aged 100) in her wonderful blog Engagingwith Aging, talks of savoring sensations, says time has a differ rent quality, and echoes what you say. So does one of “my” nonagenarians, who says that every experience is “deeper”. Love. Music. Beauty. Lovely to connect with your mind here, Abby.

  12. Alan Ralph says:

    I suspect part of it is down to our modern culture, where we’re almost always bombarded with sounds, messages and images from our devices. Stepping outside of that digital fog can be liberating, or jarring depending on how thick your fog is. I’m in a bracket that has lived with digital technology for most of their life but not all, so not a ‘digital native’ more a ‘digital colonist’. So I think that has a bearing on why I find it easier to live without social media, for instance.

  13. I loved this post – it inspires me to look at my day differently (Because I’m old? Because I’m a writer? Because I’m human… who knows?). I think I do many things differently now and I find myself noticing so much more of my world. I loved what you said about the group of photographers (“I didn’t take a photo because it seemed sort of mean to steal someone else’s image”) because I’ve felt the same way (although I often circle back after they are gone).

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m glad this triggered your own thoughts about your day. Nothing could be more interesting when we reflect on it from a new angle. I’m amused by your confession because secretly I expect to peer into that harbour front spot again one day… With my phone in hand 🙂

  14. cedar51 says:

    Today, my friend, who has “helped me a lot since the starting lockdown” either dropping things at the door of things I needed – the later coming inside for various reasons. Of late it’s been about taking me for medical kind of things BUT NOT TODAY – as we arrived back home she said “hasn’t been nice not to be going to said appointments…just out doing something together” – we had been to an fibre-craft exhibition at Corbans Estate Gallery…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What an excellent point to reach.

  15. alison41 says:

    A very thought provoking post – you’ve really made me think. No conclusions as yet, still thinking. I’m in awe of how physically active you are. Not quite sure if I’m motivated to do more, or depressed. More thinking required.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thinking, for me, gains power when I write. It is most mysterious.

  16. Damyanti Biswas says:

    As the saying goes, “Age is just a number!”, It’s the heart that need stay young and beautiful forever!

  17. granny1947 says:

    Delightful post.
    I will be back!

  18. mistermuse says:

    I’m an old man, but I’m not at sea….
    Because I am who I am, and that is me.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I believe you.

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