Tag Archives: aging

Does a Tattoo Ward Off Old Age?

I’m calling Nakana, my new cat, Kana more often than Nakana. She’s been having some tummy and ear issues, so the vet gave her a full work up and thinks she has food allergies. She also said she thinks she is probably older than the eight years the shelter suspected. She might be 10 or 11. So not just a senior, but definitely an older cat! She’s a sweetheart, no matter what age she is. She also has a very bad spot of arthritis mid-back, probably caused by an earlier injury. I am so glad that she’s now part of our family so I can take good care of her.

But does it mean anything that she isn’t just barely a senior, but is instead, an old cat? She’s actually in a different stage of life than I had thought, although I recently had begun to suspect she might be a little older. Or it could be because of the arthritis. She is more stiff, less flexible, and more fragile than a younger cat.

I can’t help but relate the life stages of cats to . . . me.

When I was in my early 30s and in grad school, a professor referred to me as middle-aged. I had an idea that I looked a bit on the young side for my age, plus I still thought of myself as young. My children were little, I felt I was still too identified as my parents’ child, and I hadn’t even begun to do what I wanted to accomplish in life. I was shocked and spoke up. She said, “Well, you’re in the middle of the average life expectancy.” She was figuring that the average was 78 and 36 is half of that and that I was within a few years of 36, so hence I was middle-aged.

I actually hated hearing her say that. I didn’t agree at all that that was what middle-aged meant. And I still don’t agree. But what does middle-aged mean?

And what does elderly mean? I saw a news story once where the 69-year-old victim was identified as an elderly woman. I have never in my life considered a woman in her 60s as elderly. And now that I’ve crossed the decade threshold, I sure don’t. My mother is 80, and I’m not sure she’s elderly. Her community does have a lot of elderly people, but my mother in her red sports car and cute, trim appearance doesn’t seem elderly.

I asked Wikipedia about elderly, and it was no help, conflating elderly with senior citizen which by some accounts I am. Interestingly, museums and events I bought tickets for on our trip did not consider me a senior citizen. That way they could get more $ from hubby and me.

What do you call life before middle age? Is it youth? My son is 31 now, and he no longer considers himself young or youthful. Youngish, maybe. But squarely in the thirties decade where he will accomplish a lot and his life will become more “set.”

When you hear the words youth, middle-aged, senior citizen, elderly, old person, kid, child, teen, do you conjure up standard images? My elderly image is stooped and frail and in need of help from others.

Am I, at sixty, a senior? Not according to the Chinese Garden.

Middle-aged? Not according to people who think middle-aged is 40.  Am I approaching being elderly? Am I an old person?

I saw a couple on a ferry-boat that caught my attention. Their physical bodies were nearing elderly. They weren’t frail, but starting to slope over toward being stooped, with thin white hair, and heavily wrinkled faces. But she was wearing white jeans and a cute sporty top. Did this mean she wasn’t planning to be elderly?

Are all the 20 to 40 somethings covered with tattoos going to still give an impression of youth when they are 90? 95? just because they are tattooed?

Is it about what we think of ourselves? Or do our bodies decide?

Or are these stages of life set at certain ages, no matter how fit or frail one is. No matter how youthfully one dresses or how maturely one styles one’s hair.

Forget what you think you ought to think. What do you really think about identifying with the stages of life?

By the way, I’m not making myself into a tattoo gallery, no matter what.

Neither is Nakana.



Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

The Rice Exercise

I plunge my left hand into the bucket of short-grain rice.  It’s not an actual pail, but a lidded Tupperware container I once stored Lay’s potato chips in, and the rice feels dusty, malleable, offering some pressure, as if my hand bathes in a giant stress ball.  I breathe in the starchy scent, envision bread dough. 

After I saw the rheumatologist three years ago, I bought several bags of rice at Albertsons and poured the contents into the Tupperware.  When the grains first sifted and slid onto themselves they were alabaster white, but after three years, exposure to air and my body oils have withered and darkened some of them.

As I begin to move my fingers through the rice, I wonder if the new bone Dr. E, my orthopedic oncologist, created eight years ago in my right foot has aged like the rice (story is here).  Since the tumor—a Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma—had eaten away the meat of the central bone of my foot, as well as one end piece, he had had to build a navicular bone from scratch, using bone harvested from my hipbone.  I’ve seen pictures of Dr. E’s creation at each visit to him.  X-ray and CT films clearly show me the bone.  At first, it looked fresh as a new bag of rice.  By the last visit, the bone had been fired in the kiln of time.  It no longer changes.  It’s as good as it is going to get.

Not long after I had mostly recovered from the surgery, I noticed my hands.  It’s not often that I take the time to notice anything about myself.  I certainly don’t shave my legs until the hairs on both calves war with each when I put my legs together.  But I caught sight of my hands when I was washing dishes, and that glimpse gave me pause.  They were starting to look like my mother’s.  I could see the beginnings of the gnarled and knobby persimmon tree look of my mother’s arthritic fingers.

Dr. H, the rheumatologist, recommended that I fill a bucket with rice and perform hand exercises twice a day, using the rice.  And so every day I do what I am now doing.

I grasp a small imaginary ball in my left palm–clenching and unclenching ten times.  Then I pinch the ball between my fingers and my thumb another ten times.  The third part is waving the hand upside down in the rice ten times.  I switch hands and repeat.  Then I perform the whole series one more time.

I tried to teach my mother to use the rice to exercise her hands, but her crooked hands are too weak and rigid.  She can’t push the weight of the rice with her fingers.  When I pull my right hand out of the bucket at the end, both hands tingle with energy.  They buzz with joy at their own movement. If I keep working the rice every day, I hope to keep them just this way, as if I can ward off the aging of my fingers indefinitely.

I wiggle my fingers to feel their increased flexibility, a looseness I used to feel in every joint after jazz dance class.  In that freedom, the endorphins used to diffuse throughout my body like shooting stars saturating a movie screen.  This experience is only left as a memory because Dr. E says I can no longer dance or exercise on my feet because the re-created bone is fragile, formed by accident with bumps and crevices, even gaps.  I imagine that it has aged like the dry rice hulls in my bucket.  But I can’t see it hidden inside the bent and stiff foot.  This foot can no longer arch in a soft leather dance shoe, but rests inside its magic shoe, the New Balance W992.  This shoe and the orthotics the elves at Swiss Balance build keep the foot moving throughout the day.  Inside, Dr. E’s creation holds the other foot bones in place as the spine does the limbs of the human body.

My left hand is the opposite extremity from this healed foot.  The fingers connect to the palm, and framing the palm, the pads are firm and even.  I’m not sure, but think that the fingers seem straighter than they did three years ago.  I snap the lid on the rice bucket and shove it back into the cupboard.  Then I walk to the computer and open up a blank page on Word.  My fingers begin to move along the keyboard, marking the choreography I create for them.


Writing prompt: describe a daily ritual you perform.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing