Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pumping Mud

I just finished reading a novel called Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes. Given the subject matter, Present Imperfect or Future Imperfect might be more apt.

Fellowes' previous novel, Snobs, was equally good. True to it's name, it was about social classes in Britain, and where you might think Past Imperfect is about social class distinctions, since the bulk of the characters are of the upper class in Great Britain, in truth it's about youthful dreams and time and and what time does to our lives...and our hopes. So many of Fellowes' characters wind up with flawed lives and crushed promise. That won't lure you in?

There are so many changes in social mores that he nails. Ascot. Debutante balls. Toeing parental lines. The death knell pain of being at a party with a controlling personality. In one passage, at a debutante ball Fellowes, like a social anthropologist reporting on tribal mating patterns, describes the pain of trying to engage someone in polite conversation where there is a complete lack of interest, no matter what topic is touched on. He says a friend always said of this type of social interchange, that it was like "pumping mud." Far more vivid than the proverbial "like pulling hen's teeth."

The book opens with a scene that was very painful to me, because it strikes at my heart at this moment. The protagonist is reflecting on the London of his boyhood, versus his middle age, and he says, "London is a haunted city for me now and I am the ghost that haunts it. As I go about my business, every street or square or avenue seems to whisper of an earlier, different era in my history. The shortest trip round Chelsea takes me by some door where once I was welcome but where today I am a stranger. I see myself issue forth, young again, and as I watch beside that wraith of a younger me walk the shades of departed, parents, uncles, aunts and grandmothers, great-uncles and cousins, friends and girlfriends, gone now from this world entirely, or at least from what is left of my own life. They say one sign of growing old is that the past becomes more real than the present, and already I can feel the fingers of those lost decades closing their grip round my imagination, making more recent memory seem somehow greyer and less bright." Washington holds many such losses and ghosts for me.

I remember my father telling me that if you live long enough, you see your friends go away, or even more so, die off, until there is so little left of what was your life. Making new acquaintances is not that easy with the passing of decades, and if it's hard in youth, even more so for the isolated elderly. I can remember in the later years of my father's life, I drove him to a funeral viewing of a man that he had known for decades, that he rode to work with for decades, and when we arrived, and he had paid his respects, he said to me, "Get me out of here. I cannot take it anymore." This from a man always present and accounted for to honor his peers. But he had finally hit the wall. No more. And that...was that.

The next piece I write is going to be about one of my own personal walls, and my ghosts, and how going through something like that can now haunt me, and level me.

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Blogger Cyndy said...

I'm not sure I can put it all into words just yet, but your post helped me to feel what I've been feeling about certain things with a little more focus.

I just spent a few days at my parents' house doing some painting and things are not as rosy as they would have me believe. They are becoming more and more socially isolated and depressed as their friends gradually die off and they are definitely past the point of wanting to have new friends. Obviously your dad went through that and then some.

I think that those of us who don't have kids to watch over us in our old age especially need to prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally for what might lie ahead. I think it has got to be much more difficult when it takes you by surprise. So far I'm lucky enough to not know that for sure - I can only imagine.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Cyndy: First of all, thank GOD you are still out there. I thought, "All of my delays and not writing. I've lost them all." I am so glad to see you here.

About what I wrote. That book threw me into a tailspin. It bounces back between his youthful past and sadder present, but it sure drives home your youth dreams, everyones...and how few of us ever get near achieving them. I thought he created a "cheat." One member of their group achieved massive wealth, and in the end, left them all something to cushion the rest of their lives, or make other choices: like leaving abusive spouses. In reality, that would never happen. You'd be stuck in the mud.

Now to the meat of it. Aging. Having been the responsible child and stuck to it with caregiving and sitting through death (and the aftermath,) I've been going through real turmoil this year in terms of what I did. I "used" to say, during all of that, and still..."At least I did the right thing. They may not have treated me well, or no one may ever do the same for me," but I did what I needed to do to be comfortable in my own soul." Now? I'm not so sure.

I wrote a friend about this, and she (who slammed both of her parents quickly into a nursing home, btw...too soon me'thoughts) said, "No. We have to do the right thing." Again. I am still not sure. At what price? Losing a huge hunk of your life? This last estate entanglement I am trying to finish with? I lost unrecoverable thousands in terms of repair work I made/or paid to sell her home. In truth? The old lady should have put herself into assisted living ages ago. The only way she achieved living on her own until 96 was through my sacrifice, and a few others. But is it fair to do that to people, because of your own desires?

I think loneliness and depression are the big "don't go there" dark secret of growing old. I've seen the abuse of the elderly. Who wants to sit in a room listening to the repetition of old stories and the room reeking of feces and urine? And trust me. I've sat there. Like you, I hate to imagine my own old age.

I hate to say it, but my father lost his mind when my mother died. Completely unmoored. Did a lot of stupid, horrible, hurtful things. All out of the desperation of facing a sad end.

Did you see that article in the Post about the concerns with a growing, aging population and the abuse of the elderly? If you go to The Washington site, and search for a June 20th article called, "How to spot the red flags of a senior being conned." Not that it's nothing we already didn't know, but it shows how people will relinquish power, out of loneliness and fear. One more thing to make you fret, right? You'll love my next "story" which I intend to write today.

As for your parents? Continue to be with them and love them. I suppose that's the best I can offer. There are no easy choices.

P.S. Have you been watching Treme on HBO? The final season episode ran on Sunday. Tons of musicians on display during the series. The actor who played Lester on The Wire plays a Treme Big Chief in this show. In one scene, he picks up his standing bass and starts a riff. His son, a noted trumpeter, joins in, but they keep arguing about who's losing time. His father says he's keeping tempo. Son says "no." Father says, "You keep playing this Chinese shit. You youngin' need to sit your ass down and listen to some Count Basie or something." Not a verbatim quote, but close. So funny. Just that generational music divide...and yet united, right?

4:49 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

Cube - I'm glad you're back! My own blogging existence has been pretty aimless lately. Thank you for everything you said. There's a lot to think about there and I see many parallel application to my own life, not just in terms of my parents. Fortunately my two brothers live just five minutes away from them.

I haven't seen that show but I agree with the old guy. In fact, I think everyone should sit their asses down and listen to some Count Basie!

10:11 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Cyndy: I picked up more information on the "Chinese shit" comment. Apparently when Dizzy Gillespie was playing once, Cab Calloway told him, "Stop playing that Chinese shit," and it's a common slang now between old school and other.

12:24 AM  

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