To some things, and now it’s time to say yes to more.
In that achingly slow way that we move forward at times, I am making some very big changes in my life. I recently announced to my Medium readers and fellow writers that I was beginning the move to my own site, which is getting all gussied up for guests, and already boasting a small community. I am also pushing myself to take more risks in ways that are considerably harder for me that leaping out of an airplane, something I have done 131 times.
I am finally writing for other magazines. For whatever reason, that particular demon in my basement has been a big one. It’s been far easier to write for Medium than to pitch a story for a slick mag. This time, however it was right up my alley. Parachutist is the industry rag for the skydiving community. I recently renewed my ancient “A” License, the first tier for those of us who jump.
The reasons are not relevant here, but when I read their submissions area, I realized that one of my tales belonged in this magazine.
I fired off an 800-word piece and it was promptly accepted. This will get you there:
There are several bits to this. First, when you walk back through your own life and tease out various parts of your own history, it’s quite remarkable what you learn. And what you might have forgotten. In this case, I hadn’t really considered how learning how to skydive as my first major sport informed much of my life, but writing the story caused me to consider that.
As a result, many other sports were much less intimidating. There’s something about being willing to run from one end of a cavernous airplane to go hurtling out the open door at fifteen thousand feet, trusting that not only you’ll be perfectly safe but that you’ll have a helluva good time with everyone else up there with you, well. Look. It’s not for everyone.
For a few years it was right for me. I still love air sports. Always will. The extraordinary confidence I got from taking on skydiving opened up a lot of doors. Sexual assaults closed a lot more, in ways I am still discovering.
In such ways are we sculpted in our lives by our early experiences. The rest of life we either learn to deal or learn to avoid, and costs and advantages come with both. Because of the latter, it’s been expensive in terms of my unwillingness to take the same kinds of risks in certain parts of my life that I was perfectly willing to take with my sports.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but only if we’re willing to use it as a tool to make now and our future better.
For my part, I’m assessing how playing small in some areas has been costly. To that: I’m still far less willing to tolerate rejection of a pitch for a story of mine than I am taking on a huge physical challenge. Go figure. I guess my head is less important to me than my heart, with twenty-two concussions as testament to that fact.
Perhaps that was why, in reading today’s published story, it was validating at a different level. As I mark the time moving towards seventy, there are new things that are worth risking. The last year and this one have been full of setbacks, physical ones, one surgery after another and two more on the horizon. Being faced with sudden roadblocks that need addressing, I am also faced with a plethora of new choices, as brand new doors swing open while a few are starting to squeeze gently shut.
Here’s what’s up:
Right now my left hand is so painful that after about mid-afternoon, all I can do is stuff it into a battery-heated glove. I can get that fixed, but it will take surgery, physical therapy and down time. CMC arthritis strikes women after forty more than most, mine got me nearly four years ago. I can no longer manage it; it’s managing me.
I have developed arthritis on the tops of both feet, from all the hiking, running and exploring as well as more than a few horses who decided that my foot was a fine place to plant a hoof.
Fifty years of lifting, sports, constant writing. Running, hiking, getting a foot caught in a stirrup. Arthritis. It’s just life. It finally caught up with me all at once, but I’m not down, just waylaid for a while. I’m finding ways to work out with bands, staying active. The body has to get repaired in order to move on to what’s next.
Which right now is unknowable, and that’s just fine. It’s perfectly all right to not know. That leaves time for imagining and dreaming while I’m learning to work around casts with bands. I just invested in a brand new plyo bench which will allow me to put in serious leg time while the upper body is on the mend.
While I knew that at some point this was inevitable, I’m not sure that I was prepared for how much my athletic abilities defined my life the last decade. That’s a lesson in and of itself. I can get an awful lot of that back, and I will, but the between time can be challenging. Some of the intensity of my beloved adventure travel has to be dialed back, and in doing so, I get to explore other areas.
One is pushing myself to look at saying yes to other things that frighten me. Being down for a bit while I get repair work done and am not in full training mode is a perfect time to think about what is worth exploring in the decades ahead, and what is required of me in order to be able to do those things.
My story in Parachutist focused largely on how saying yes to jumping opened up a brand new world. Writing it reminded me that the adventure athletic world is just one of many which are just as available.
For example, I used to study jazz, I also studied salsa and ballroom dancing. Somewhere in all my gear is the bag with my dancing shoes in it. That’s a door I’d love to reopen, and why not? There's a competitive salsa dance studio in town. I've actually done salsa demonstrations at local fairs. Who knew, right? Oh what we forget about our own lives.
I’ve also wanted to learn martial arts. Never did. Why not now? I don’t have to compete. I just want the strength and balance work.
Okay, okay, and the next time that guy lets his dog poop in my yard, it would be nice to have some moves. There is that.
It’s also time for me to start researching exp-pat communities and finding a country where I can reinvigorate my embarrassingly awful Spanish, find a horse culture, live a few months out of the year. I can do that while recuperating from these surgeries. I’ve been thinking about this for several years. Covid sidelined those plans. Now, it’s time to really dig in (while avoiding the dog poop) and get going.
Those of my Medium peeps who have commented on my stories and who have moved solo to France at 68 (two of you) or as a couple to a small island in Central America (you too), and another regular who moved where I plan to spend a lot of time (you know who you are, Dave) are my inspiration. I moved to Oregon under Covid, you moved overseas under Covid. We can do this.
We are doing this.
There are a thousand ways to be in the world without taking extreme physical risks (albeit I will be right back at it when feasible, as the body allows). Horses, absolutely. The rest, who knows? Everything depends on my hands and my feet.
The surgeon I chose for my hands is the same one who worked on my shoulder. He has repaired the hands of retired NBA players who have every intention of staying active. That’s why he’s doing mine. It’s a long recovery time and lots of physical therapy. PT hurts, but you don’t get results if you don’t work through the process.
Vibrant aging isn’t for people who give up easily.
One of my inspirations is fellow aging athlete and gym rat Jay Geary. Last year Jay wrote me a comment that listed some of the late-in-life challenges he’s had.
It was quite a list, including a bout with cancer.
Bet you can relate if you’re over sixty.
And yet Jay is still working out, training others how to work out, staying after his best health after all that. And recognizing that he may well have more ahead.
Me too. I won’t quit, and there may well be more ahead. After all these surgeries and all the PT, my new 100% is not going to be some bionic supersonic body. It’s going to be a properly-repaired, strong, well-toned and aging body, a biological age much younger than my peers but still an aging body.
My body isn't Teflon. What is Teflon is my will to keep going, keep challenging, and find new ways to laugh, be in life and fully engaged. I am not Superwoman, but my heart sure as hell is. I am willing to fail, flail and falter, do it all the time. Hell if I didn't I'd have no comedy material.
I am tired beyond tired of all the messaging that says we can beat aging. Anti-aging. There is no such thing. We age. The BEST things we can do are so damned simple, but it begins with recognizing the brutal inevitability of our demise, developing a sense of humor and perspective about the process, and then working to make the journey the best it can possibly be. That is why I write so much on the topic.
Our attitudes about aging, the willingness to keep working, the discipline to eat well and move often have everything to do with our ability to manage the curve balls. And there will be curve balls. I’ve had a few over home plate myself this past year. This is where all those articles I’ve been writing about wellness and workouts are being lived out daily.
My head and heart are incredibly youthful. My attitude is what determines my quality of life. I have rough days like we all do, like when my hands hurt so much all I can do is sit with my hands in hot gloves. It happens.
What motivates me so much about Jay’s comment is that he keeps on going. That’s the whole point. You deal with the hand you’re dealt and you keep right on going. There is no way we get this late in life without wear and tear, angry old injuries flaring up and garden variety annoyances, and sheer bad luck every so often.
You learn to laugh, work with what you have, and trust that above all, your conditioning will see you through. Because it will. That is precisely why I write what I write about aging vibrantly, why I love to quote people like Jay and Penny Nelson and all the others who share their stories. Because those stories inspire our stories. They inspire ME.
I said yes to skydiving at 21 and it changed the trajectory of my life. I said yes to a great many other difficult things. I’m ready to say yes to some new things while I’m “in the shop” this year and next, getting much-needed tuneups and a chance to consider what looks like play for the next few chapters.
Learning to say yes is just as important as exercising the boundary-setting muscle of learning to say no, no to the people who want you to do their work for them, no to social media’s mind suck, no to all the parasitical demands on our lives that cost us life. I let too much of that happen, too. Life is all about learning what to say no to, what to say yes to, and how to carve out the life we love to lead along the way.
Penny said yes to workouts. Others have said yes to better diet and conditioning. Each one of us who says yes to such things opens a brand new door to new options.
Today I am going downstairs to locate my dance gear bag. I’m also going to sort through loads of gear that I never used and sell it, for it acts as a burden, stuff I have to store and keep and protect from deterioration. Really? I need that extra work like I need more arthritis. I already have plenty, thanks.
When we shrug off burdens, be it pain or weight or worry or stuff, we are lighter, freer. I’m smack in the middle of this right now, given that I have enforced down time. That’s a gift. I plan to use it to my advantage.