Feeling Both Old and Young
I started the new year with one of those big glorious optimistic lists in my head – you know the kind, the list about other lists you'll be making. I'm fond of a good list, I tell you. But it was not meant to be. I'm just now coming out of the fog of unwellness that was the first week of the year. I have the remnants of a most attractive cough, but other than that, I'm on the way. And not that the week was a dead loss. There was after all, Netflix. Finally, I watched Hidden Figures, and season 2 of The Crown. I watched North and South.
But I didn't find a word for the new year. I made no resolutions. No goals. I didn't clean out my pantry. I made no plans to eat healthy or be more fit. I looked up no vacation spots on the internet. Usually I clean old files from my computer, straighten my desk drawers. I read a few books from the teetering pile. But none of this was going to happen.
It was just me and the couch and the dog on the nearby rug. Me, aching, sniffing, coughing, moaning, napping. (Quite honestly I've never had anything quite so drainingly harsh). It all left me feeling old. Which is sort of an interesting phenomena. The way you can feel both old and young at the same time.
Older, Younger, Both
I feel older, younger, both
at once. Every time I win,
I lose. Every time I count,
I forget and must begin again.
I must begin again, and again I
must begin. Every time I lose,
I win and must begin again.
Everything I plan must wait, and
having to wait has made me old, and
the older I get, the more I wait, and everything
I’m waiting for has already been planned.
I feel sadder, wiser, neither
together. Everything is almost
true, and almost true is everywhere.
I feel sadder, wiser, neither at once.
I end in beginning, in ending I find
that beginning is the first thing to do.
I stop when I start, but my heart keeps on beating,
so I must go on starting in spite of the stopping.
I must stop my stopping and start to start—
I can end at the beginning or begin at the end.
I feel older, younger, both at once.
I find myself thinking a lot lately about how I don't really feel, in a lot of ways, any different now than I did in my early 20s. Some days I feel a bit wiser, but not that much wiser. I am now, who I was then. Nothing truly substantial has changed. How does one keep track of oneself? There's the line from Joan Didion, of course: “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
When I was in my 20s I worked in a university library, and a number of my co-workers were women in their 40s and probably 50s. Now I work at a public library where I'm the one in my 50s, and I work with people in their 20s and 30s. (And some are my age, too). It's this funny reversal. I think I'm on fairly okay terms with the person I was in my 20s. I wasn't perfect. I was lucky, though, to have worked with some really kind people back then. Everything seemed so far off, and now here it is. Yet it's still all beginning again, all the time.
Which is why I sighed deeply in recognition, reading the Sutphen poem, and felt known by it. And resolved to read more poems this year and maybe even write some. Which is as far as I got in doing anything at all new years-y.