- There was an article in the New York Times today, “How to become a Superager” by Lisa Barrett. It’s about growing old and staying mentally fit. Which depends, to a certain extent on staying physically fit as well. The crux of the article had to do with willingness to work hard, hard enough for it to hurt, even. Apparently, the hard work keeps the brain from shrinking. Areas actually get thinner from disuse, much like our muscles. I can feel myself slipping into senility all too rapidly these days and it’s because I’m not now, nor have I ever been, willing to “feel the burn,” not physically, not mentally and I’m not sure about emotionally. In fact, I may have been a little too willing to burn emotionally. But maybe not. It’s complicated. I have a hard time understanding myself emotionally, even though I’ve been trained professionally and have been the professional’s client at many times over the course of my life. In any case, I don’t like to work hard enough to hurt. The Times article talked about working hard at challenging activities, be they running or swimming or math problems or whatever. I tend to give up when faced with an obstacle to easy success. I’ll work hard in pursuit of a dream, but only as long as it goes according to plan. Certain setbacks are accounted for in the plan, but those that come along unanticipated or not readily surmountable generally stop me in my tracks and usually send me sliding down a hill. Or over a cliff. Depending.
Giving up is not a character trait of which I am especially proud. In fact, there are times I feel ashamed of my lack of stick-to-it-of-ness, and it may be that because I give up on my ventures, I end up in episodes of depressive illness. Conversely, it could be that in struggling to overcome a challenge, my stress levels and hormones increase, precipitating the precise chemical cocktail in my damaged brain that tips me into the depressive illness, undercutting my chances of successfully overcoming the obstacle. It’s most difficult to function with a creative mind when the brain is in depressive free-fall. The brain sort of takes over and wipes out other thoughts, and that’s where my words come from. My thoughts. My paintings don’t depend on thoughts, and are affected differently by depression, in the shapes, colors and textures I produce on the canvas. And paintings exist in the eye of the beholder, interpreted differently by each person who bothers to interpret. And my painting is easy, just like my writing. I don’t require inspiration to paint or write well enough. What I require to write well, though, are thoughts that are not produced from depression chemicals.
I fantasize about having a partner, an agent, an angel who will complement me, who is good at doing the things I can’t do, and who wants to support me and my work and will do what’s necessary to get my stuff out there, published and exhibited. Like many wives do for their husbands. A loving personal assistant who has me and my works’ best interests in mind. I would pay the right person, if need be, but I don’t want to hire a whole bunch of people to do the different jobs, just one, and Svetlana already cleans my house. This assistant can’t be too expensive, either, because I don’t have that kind of money, or if I thought I did, wouldn’t want to invest it so generously in myself.
I’ve come to see myself as profoundly lazy, and believe I’ve always been so. I wonder why I was so lazy as a youngster. Now that I’m older and have suffered many defeats, I can speculate that those defeats wore me out and sapped my motivation to put in the extra effort, but I’ve been lazy for as long as I can remember. For instance, I used to get a stitch in my side during physically exerting activities like running or playing tennis, so I sat out those activities. Enough things came easily to me, I never really learned to work hard and apply myself. I achieved high grades in school without much effort, and was talented in several arts. But without the willingness to break through barriers that arise, I’ve led and continue to lead a mediocre life, never reaching the heights of glory to which I aspire. And I do. I’d love to be famous, and a little extra spending money would be nice, too.
I want to be rescued. Knight in shining armor, compassionate angel, patron or benefactor, I’d take the help in any form it presents. I want to be discovered and supported. I will work hard at the things that I can do. I’ll show up and put in the hours and the pain on the activities where I can engage with all my being, but the stuff that overwhelms or bores me, both emotional states intolerable for me to navigate, that’s where I long for a fairy godmother to make it all happen.
There was once a time it did happen and my own personal angel came along. It was when I presented Spirituality and the 12 Steps retreats in Wisconsin. A very satisfied member of my second or third retreat weekend stepped up and volunteered to manage the administrative and marketing aspects of the retreat, tasks I’d been feeling burdened by. Her name was Jane and she was no ninny, either, but rather, a middle-school principal in the city of Madison. It was a fantasy fulfilled for me, but something went wrong, I don’t remember the circumstances anymore, but she quit her position after managing only one retreat. And so far, that’s the only fairy godmother intervention I’m aware of.
I don’t like being lazy, but what to do? As this person ages, it’s more difficult than ever to change my character traits, if ever it was possible before. I make jokes with my friends about my laziness and it amuses them, but I know the hard reality. Life is not much fun when not fully engaged and my laziness is another way of saying I disengage. I prefer to feel passionate about my activities, to live my life with zest and enthusiasm, wide-eyed with wonder. Wouldn’t you?