Being old is not like being pregnant

Chocolate bunny with apple
Chocolate bunny with an apple: highly allegorical illustration for a poem about being not pregnant but elderly

Preparing for old age is scary
scarier than getting pregnant
twenty thousand miles from home.
Now my body has to face
the prospect of extreme old age.

What scares me most is the unknown
and so I study hard.
But hey, old age is not like pregnancy
One ends with life, one ends with death
and when I said I’m getting old,
nobody said to me, “How lovely!
Congratulations!
Is this your first old age?
When is it due?”

Oh no, they told me:
“You’re not old.
You’ll never be old.
I’ve never met anyone less old than you.
It’s all in the mind.
Age is just a number.
Try homeopathy.”

MP3 recording of this poem

Poem, photo and recording by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0: free to share as long as you cite my name as author—please go ahead!

My boot camp for the bonus years

Pink felt slippers like jester's boots
Boots for the elderly boot camp

I gave myself one task per month to prepare
for the terrifying job of being old until I die.
I was confused, but I was committed.

  1. Adapt my housing for old age
  2. Get my finances in order
  3. Establish an exercise regime
  4. Audit my eating habits
  5. Commit to hobbies
  6. Make two new friends this year and every year
  7. Banish ye oldie voice
  8. Learn a new skill this year and every year
  9. Cultivate meditation
  10. is a terrible phrase: Align happiness factors
  11. Be who you are
  12. Come to terms with old age and death

That was the plan, you can call it obsessive
call it silly or selfish neurotic excessive
misguided or negative
but hey it was systematic
and a plan gives you power, a sense of control.
You can’t control death and it’s coming regardless
but you can get to grips in advance with small things
so you know
you can still be yourself and the boss of yourself
you’re getting the gist, keeping up with the play
making decisions and having a go—
all precious and familiar things
that slither away as you grow old.

Want to listen to this poem? Play the MP3

Poem and recording by Rachel McAlpine, CC BY 2.0

We are your templates

pigeon

When we bang on about our trips
and our memoirs and our blogs
and our grandchildren (the best of kind)
and our ills and pills and volunteering
and our hearing aids and hips
pay attention, don’t switch off
because
this is the first time we’ve ever been old
and we’re wondering how to do it
not just for us but for you.

I state my age out loud and often
not because I’m proud
but to populate the middle ground
between the ones you know:

the marathon-running nonagenarian
and your tragic memory of someone
whose ending was unbearable
as far as you could tell.

I’m a middle child, an average, a sample
squatting on top of a bell curve
and my name is Legion.
You don’t notice us but we’re OK.
Look at us and know
old age has many faces
let’s keep our options open.

MP3 recording of this poem

Poem and recording and photo CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine. Feel free to share, citing my name as the author.

 

Middle age

Middle aged person shaking a towel on a beach
The new middle age for the lucky ones: travelling, active, and pretty darned healthy

Middle age” became a thing
when I was middle aged
a snorty phrase
as if that dazzling time of life
is a nothing, not even a noun
but a joining-word
a tottery bridge between youth
and the ghoulish land of old.
By now I should be getting meals on wheels
but something strange has happened
the middle ages stretch and stretch
the line of demarcation
has become a DMZ
wider ever wider the buffer zone expands
of age without labels, age without clues.
I’m old by the old arithmetic
but not by the new biology.
I planned to write a simple bio
(as in you live and then you die-oh)
but hey I’m still alive
and my bio is inflating
it’s a trilogy—tetralogy—pentalogy
and I wonder if this miracle of life
will ever end.

MP3 recording of the poem

Poem, audio and photo by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. Please share freely, with a link to this page.

The Value of Book Reviews

So sad. So true. Even the simplest review is gold for Indie writers on Amazon.

INDIE BLU(E)

Book.png

Book reviews are currency for the indie author, especially when reader feedback appears on Amazon and Goodreads. That makes sense, considering the weight of word of mouth marketing. I read an article on Impactrecently that stated consumers are 4x more likely to buy goods and services when referred by a friend, and 63% of visitors are more likely to make purchases from websites with reviews/ratings.

Why then, does word of mouth seem to fail so many fantastic indie writers? Because the number of Amazon book purchasers who go back to leave a review, or even a star rating, are few and far between. Derek Haines at Just Publishing Advice says listing your Kindle book as free for a promotional period can help stimulate readers to leave a review; however, reviews of free books are even lower than for actual sales. This rings true for me. I ran a week…

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Once upon a time there were six little girls

Wedding photo of David Taylor and Celia Twyneham
Wedding photo of David Taylor and Celia Twyneham

Once upon a time there were six little girls
(all my stories start that way)
and we all lived happily giggling and squabbling
and jumping and wriggling
and running wild and running free
or hiding away in a hedge or a tree.
And our Daddy David was a country vicar
and he always said “Be kind”
and he was kind, he was always kind.
Now from the grave our dear dead Daddy
still reminds us to be kind
and we try, we do our best, we try.
As for mother Celia, every day
she pushed us out the door and whispered
“Go on! Have an adventure! Go!”
and decades dead she still says that
and we obey, it’s easy, it’s OK.
Six old women on the same seesaw
have a primer for life with just two rules
one to be and one to do
and when things start getting out of whack
the sing-song say-so of our parents
can ease us up or down or back.
I need my mother, I need my father
I am my mother, I am my father now.


PS I’m interested to know which lines resonate with you, if any. Maybe you are thinking about your own parents, and the messages that still ring in your ears…

Image and poem and voice by Rachel McAlpine, CC BY 2.0: that means feel free to share them, but always attribute them to me. Thanks!

The power of names and nicknames

child sitting on a ram in front of an old army tent
Robin the tomboy about to become Rachel the ewe lamb: the summer before high school

To name a child is brave,
or foolhardy; even now it shakes me.
Lauris Edmond

How many names and nicknames have you had? Have they stuck, do they still work for you? I had a baby nickname, a kid nickname, a couple nickname, and a wife nickname. I’m wondering whether they still hold some truths, some messages for me as I blunder towards the void. If I talk about these nicknames, maybe you’ll be thinking about your own…

But when I think about them, one inescapable truth astonishes me: all my names and nicknames were given to me by other people. None of my names or nicknames were actively chosen by me or even endorsed by me, except for adopting and keeping my husband’s surname, and even those were default decisions. A name plays a powerful part in building your identity, especially when the name-callers have strong opinions about the kind of person they believe or want you to be.

Who am I—a person who accepts and conforms with barely a twitch? Looking back, I think maybe so.

Baby Jigger jigs on forever

As a new baby I was Jigger, so-called by my big sister Jill, because I never stopped jigging and jumping. My mother pinned me into a sleeping bag and pinned the sleeping bag to the mattress of the pram, and still I jumped right out of the pram at the ripe old age of three weeks. Does Jigger still work as a nickname for me today at seventy-eight? Possibly, when I go prancing and even jumping around the dance floor. And possibly not, as I am lazy for much of the day.

Robin a-bobbin’—wistful hint of a former self

This nickname was discarded for Robin, and so I was Robin Taylor all through primary school. Why? The story goes that I could not be a Rachel, because a Rachel was mature, a grown-up woman. They said I was a tomboy, running wild, up trees and in creeks, grubby and fearless and happy outside. (All this is relative, of course—I had my partners in crime.) I was forever making huts up trees, under hedges or in the fowl house.

How does Robin work today for me? Robin Taylor is a delightful name, round and cheerful and honest, don’t you think? And the South Island robin is very cute and it hops around your feet as you walk through the forest stirring up insects—a wild bird that poses as tame for the sake of dinner. I love little Robin Taylor but I think of her as someone from my past.

I carried on making huts and homes in unsuitable places for much of my adult life, but today I look through windows at Wellington’s Green Belt from within the solid enclosure of an apartment. I do love a brisk walk to the top of a hill, but I prefer a strong roof  that does not leak. Nobody would call me a tomboy today, although perhaps I have remnants of rebellion.

As a child I rejected the very idea of being a woman, I wasn’t having a bar of it, and when the symptoms appeared, I was wracked with horror. (Some years later I grew into my destiny as a woman, even embracing it with a certain glee.)

A dignified first name is imposed on an unsuitable child

B&W photo of 11-year-old Rachel in Christchurch Girls High School uniform
Hair cut, school uniform: the day Robin became Rachel. Mission: get some dignity!

My parents believed that I wasn’t dignified enough for a Rachel. When I was about to start secondary school, my godmother stepped in. “Why do you call her Robin? She has her own name, a fine name, and that’s what she should be called.” She, whose own name was Phyllis, won the battle. I was not consulted.

So I had to stop being my own self and become somebody else’s construct of me. The new me had her long blond plaits cut off, wore an ugly gym tunic, spent her days scuttling around a scary corridors full of tall strangers, and had to answer to a spiky new name.

What sort of a person was a Rachel? I was a grubby talky precocious little blonde kid and the only other Rachel in my entire world was a tall Plymouth Brethren girl at school, with a heavy black plait roping down her back: a quiet, calm, grown-up woman who was always clean and tidy. In other words, an alien. And this was to be my role model? Apparently Rachel meant a ewe lamb: luckily I could identify with that instead—running around sheep paddocks was normal behaviour. Baa!

So Rachel was my grown-up name: I had to grow into it. That’s odd, isn’t it? Usually a name grows around a child and the two become one. But Rachel still didn’t fit, apparently, because at university my future husband’s friends called me Tosh, while he called me Pud. Tosh was half of Mac ’n’ Tosh, and Pud was—perhaps my shape, perhaps my cooking? I quite enjoyed these marks of affection at the time. Do they still apply to me? Not on your Nelly.

To the rest of the world I have been Rachel McAlpine ever since.

Switching from patronymic to maritonymic

What? McAlpine? In 1959 a bride’s identity was swallowed by her husband’s: we took their surnames at the altar without blinking. When Grant and I got divorced twenty years later, I looked aghast at that custom. If only I had remained one of the Taylor girls, or renamed myself McTaylor, or Taypine, or Celia!

Too late. By D-day I had been McAlpine for more than half my life, and my four children were McAlpines, and my first three books of poems had been published—as an author I was already Rachel McAlpine. It all seemed far too complicated so I chose to keep my married name forever. I’ve put my mark on McAlpine: I’ve earned it. I know I’m Rachel McAlpine and I’ve grown to like the balance and pointiness of these two words.

Many years later, the role that I’m resisting is that of an old person who happens to be a woman. Another round of forcible growing up is in process. So maybe I need a new name for this phase; how about Griselda Old?