On Being An Old Fart

“Secret O’ Life”
James Taylor

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.

The secret of love is in opening up your heart.
It’s okay to feel afraid, but don’t let that stand in your way.
Cause anyone knows that love is the only road.
And since we’re only here for a while, might as well show some style. Give us a smile.

Isn’t it a lovely ride? Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.

Now the thing about time is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view, how does it feel for you?
Einstein said he could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space, the smile upon your face, welcome to the human race.

Some kind of lovely ride. I’ll be sliding down, I’ll be gliding down.
Try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.
Isn’t it a lovely ride? Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

******************************

How does one become an old fart? Simple…well, maybe not that simple. First, one must become old, and thinking on that, it can be a fairly neat trick in itself. Living an active life into one’s 70’s and 80’s is not really a “sliding down, gliding down” as James put it. Let’s get real about it, and throw in some scraping, scratching, fighting,  some winning,  some losing and some “holding on for dear life” in there. Now, that’s better. Living to old age is not a walk in the park by any means, though that usually becomes one’s main activity for their day.

But what does an old fart do with their time, I mean besides that? Why, read the paper, listen to some music, read a little, listen to the news and grouse about how poorly one’s favorite sports team is doing these days. And remembering. And remembering.

When I first became “old,” I made jokes about it all the time, like, ‘Wow! A new frontier, this getting old business! No one writes any books about getting old… we’re going to have to wing it! Ha ha ha!” Well, of course there are books out there on getting old, I just didn’t go looking for them. I had lived my whole life by winging it and it had worked out nicely, why quit now?

So yeah, I decided to blast head on into this old age thing, this dark time of life that could strike fear into the hearts of so many. And here’s what I found.

“I have grown old, but my heart is young. We always have the same years in our soul. …I know it’s the perfect age, every year is special and precious, and we can live in every one. Don’t regret getting older, it’s a privilege that not everyone has.” * Richard Gere *

What It’s Like For Me…

For starters, it’s weird, that’s what it is. Activities I used to think were stupid, and only for old people, somehow have “suddenly” become enjoyable.  I had to get used to little aches and pains, and had to deal with the frustrations of not being able to do most of the physical things I had done all my life! That was a biggie. I found that replacing some of those activities with easier stuff worked pretty well. We built a model train layout, then a few dioramas. We began taking more trips around the state of Washington, and naturally I began writing more.

Everything seems to be moving fast, except me.

Here, in the midst of this beautiful, sunny morning, 45 degrees, little dog asleep in front of the fire, my coffee working its elixir magic, quiet jazz piano in the background…

The time to think, the time to reflect… what an incredible freedom!

I am reminded that I must, indeed, have become an old fart… a really old fart, as I am so damned contented with the peace and quiet! A curious, almost out-of-body mixed blessing. Sure, I’d love to still be on my snowmobile, or riding along the beach on my motorcycle. I was able to snowmobile until I was 68. But those activities aren’t in the cards now. And I love not having to deal with the daily pressures of making a living any more, yet there are still a few embers glowing, way in the back, that long to be blown back up into a flame of accomplishment… maybe even just one more accomplishment of some sort.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
-Hunter S. Thompson

To the questions most of us ask ourselves at this point in life, “Did I really DO enough? Did I accomplish all I could?” I answer, “Yeah, yeah, I did. I went full bore for 45 years… surely that counts as enough!” And yet, every so often, the question resurfaces again and I have to convince myself again, that I did indeed do all that I could, and that it had to be enough. I retired professionally at 66, and pretty much burned out energetically at age 75. Now whether that is due to genetics or simply running out of steam, I’ll probably never know.

I do know that it was age-related… that the younger, hungrier composers and players were passing me by, that I wasn’t the shit anymore. And in that, one must think that at least I had my run. To this moment I’m sure that this kind of delving into the past, this questioning ourselves, serves no meaningful purpose whatsoever… yet it seems to have to be done from time to time, much like some sort of egotistical house cleaning.

“The best advice I ever heard in life was from my aunt – the great singer Rosemary Clooney: Don’t be afraid of waking up in your 70s, afraid you didn’t do anything you set out to do wanted at 20. Do everything without fear of failure. That way you’ll know you at least tried. These words have been ringing in my head a lot in recent years. “George Clooney

Usually I either convince myself (all over again) that I did fine, that I “left it all out there.” Then occasionally, I have to simply say, “You did what you did, Hulse. Let it go. Besides, it couldn’t matter less, ultimately. There are already two, maybe three generations of people who could never relate to the music you did and the songs of the day that you loved.  They would have no earthly idea who Oscar Peterson was. And Burt Bacharach? Who the hell was that? And Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin? Well, maybe Gershwin…

While I’ve not yet found a “bottom line” to all of this, or even an “at the end of the day,” it always ends up with “Well hell, at least I’m grateful to still be alive. When one lives this long, everything changes, usually several times. Just be grateful, you dumb shit!” Yeah, just like Richard Gere said.

And that works… temporarily. Then I almost always think of the Las Vegas crooner, Jerry Vale. An interviewer asked his wife once what Jerry did, now that he was retired and living in his apartment in New York.
She laughed. “Oh, he sits in his den all day and listens to his old records.”

I found that extremely funny for years, how foolishly self-indulgent.Yet lately I have to admit that, usually late in the evening, at the end of my first Jamison’s, I have found myself scrolling through some of my own music, the jingles, short film scores and jazz that I’ve saved over the years. I usually find a few that seem fun to hear again. I pour myself a nightcap and sit back to listen, almost always smiling and remembering. Sometimes I have to wince, wishing I could take another, better crack at that one. Occasionally I’m surprised by the quality of a piece, and wonder for a moment, was that really me? Did I actually do that?

I hear youth, energy, a love for doing it, and always a hint of jazz, even in the jingles! I hear that my playing actually peaked around age 45, diminishing in technique and energy little by little after that. At the same time, however, my soloing, although becoming simpler, became deeper, more meaningful, more understanding of the song it was involved in. It sounds like, in my later years, I finally discovered the silence between the notes. That part of it I’ve really enjoyed.

It has become evident that the technique of it all became unimportant to me, that my harmonic and rhythmic thinking became more thoughtful, more colorful, the result being… more emotional. That makes sense, as I’ve become more emotional, especially since those damn Buddhists got hold of me back in the ’90’s. Messed me up good, they did… I haven’t been the same since.

No, I haven’t been the same since, and for good reason. To become any sort of pleasant old fart, one must learn to roll with many changes in one’s life, as gracefully as possible. Often that process changes us as well. Rolling with the changes can be a challenge, can be character-building. You other old farts out there know this.

Let me share this quote –
“Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”
– Ben Franklin

Frankly, Ben,(pun attempted) none of that is necessarily true. Yes, it feels that way, but in reality (which I still visit from time to time) we don’t get old too soon. Sure, it feels like it, but I kept a diary for 14 years, and just to scroll through a few pages is to remember whole sections of my life I had forgotten, barring a snippet or two. It’s been a long-enough life, we just can’t grasp the whole thing at once.

Also, Ben, “wise too late,” while true for many of us, is way negative, old sport. To finally become “wise” at any time in our lives is a huge blessing. Why taint it with a time spin? Real wisdom comes, I’m told, with experience; and being painfully mortal, it takes time, lots of it, for us to find ourselves and what our particular meaning of life actually is. So there, you negative old coot! To become wise is never too late, if it comes at all.

As a practicing old fart, I don’t feel particularly wise, but I do feel one hell of a lot smarter than I used to be. Should I criticize my younger self for all its blunders and stumbles along the way? God no! Instead I should thank him for doing stuff, trying things, being willing to fail. That’s where experience comes from for most of us.

In the larger view of life and ourselves, I feel we get old just right. Blame our lame memories if it feels too soon. Your body damn sure knows how much you’ve done, and what time it is in your life.

A gracious acceptance of having already lived most of our lives is so important. And of course it’s easier when we feel we’ve lived well. Gratitude is important as well, for it’s all too easy to take a long life for granted. That is, until we remember how many friends and loved ones we’ve already lost.

If, along with a gracious acceptance of our “old fartness,” we finally come to truly enjoy the peacefulness and quiet that can slide in with old age, it becomes okay, perhaps even a reward of sorts, to finally become an old fart.

Steve Hulse

 

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