Have you ever had a day where your to-do list was 15 deep but you just couldn’t do ANYTHING? I’m having that day. I sit down at my desk to write, and I tinker with my financial spreadsheet because I saw the pile of mail that I’m saving for tax preparation. After ten minutes of that I shake myself off to get back to the point at hand and then my cat poops in the bathroom next door so I get up to clean the litter box to save my nose. Then he follows me around crying, reminding me that I haven’t given him his elevenses (my cats have me on a very tight food schedule), so I go downstairs to do that even though it’s barely nine.
Then I come back upstairs and sit down FOR REAL but after three minutes of responding to email….
Two hours later of unproductive productiveness, I give up, throw on my coat, and walk to the local coffee/cafe/breakfast spot. Which is fortuitous because Michael and I had swung by there on Saturday for a small treat without either of our wallets. Small town kindness ensues, and we start a tab that we promptly forgot to pay on either Saturday afternoon or all day Sunday.
I order coffee, pay for our Saturday tab, and sit down, scootching in tight along the communal table next to an elderly gentleman reading a book, leaving as much room as possible between me and the freezing air surrounding the front door. He pauses and looks up at me.
“I’m so sorry! Am I too close?” I make to put a chair between us, eyeing the shrinking space between my new chair and the winter air.
“Oh no!” He smiles the kind smile reserved by this generation–twenty years earlier whatever’s about to come out of his mouth would have been wholly inappropriate, but he’s learned that with age comes indulgence from younger women, not outrage. “In fact, quite the opposite,” and he pats the chair next to him gently.
Thus ensues a delightful conversation. He’s filled with questions: what are you doing here, what are you working on, what’s your name and your life story, what’s your husband’s name and his life story….
In response, I fire them back at him: what are you reading? There There, by Tommy Orange, who is Native American, which triggers a fascinating chat about indigenous perspectives on Western culture. What’s your life story? As part of this, he admits that he’s 83, which surprises me because he seems much younger. He also admits that I look much younger than my 40 (thank you very much) and then probes me on the age thing.
“Well, my parents are in their late 70s and seem to be having a more difficult time than you, so I’ve lost my barometer of what age means.” This admission triggers one on his part: he’s been seeing a therapist for the last month (a new pursuit for him) to come to grips with his own aging.
“It’s hard because the world treats you a certain way when you tell them that you’re 83. I don’t feel like I’m 83. But also, how am I supposed to know what 83 feels like? I’ve never been 83 before!” We talk about milestones. And expectations. Our own and society’s. And how unfriendly our culture is to people who age. And how my experience of turning 40 (mild panic) differed from Michael’s experience of turning 40 (finally, now people will take me seriously) probably has a great deal to do with gender norms and how that’s frustrating as well.
We exchange information and dinner invitations. (“But it’s going to have to wait for my wife to come back from California.”) He tells me about the book his daughter is finalizing. And how his other daughter is getting a PhD in some kind of writing discipline. “Literary children!” I exclaim. “Like their father,” he jokes, with a twinkle in his eye.
He goes back to his book, and I turn back to my work, writer’s block resolved.