Not meaning to sound too much like a grinch, finally these endless holidays are done and good riddance. They last nowadays forever – my first Christmas catalog arrived in August – and one of the things I have come to value at this advanced age is routine.
(Although, if the time allotted to end-of-year holidays expands much more, it will become our new routine: all Christmas all the time.)
One of the new-ish reasons I value routine is that it helps speed things along when what needs to get done each day expands with the years:
”An increasing part of living, at my age, is merely bodily maintenance, which is tiresome. But I cannot find anywhere in my life a time, or a kind of time, that is unoccupied,” writes 88-year-old Ursula K. Le Guin in her latest collection of essays, No Time to Spare – Thinking About What Matters.
She goes on to list all the things with which her days are filled – it takes up half a printed page – and she doesn't even mention any of those bodily maintenance chores that, especially since my cancer diagnosis, take up two to three hours a day.
Did I say Le Guin's new book is a collection of essays? Well, I'm wrong. It is, instead, a book of blog posts from, roughly, 2010 to recently. (Did you know she keeps a blog? I didn't. You'll find it here.)
But then, blogs generally are essays and Le Guin's have always been thoughtful, ironic, funny and often get within easy shouting distance of real truth, especially about everyday life.
The first section of the book is mostly taken up with growing old and it is nice to find that a well-known person whose work I admire reinforces my own beliefs and point of view.
”It can be very hard to believe that one is actually eighty years old,” she writes, “but as they say, you'd better believe it...If I'm ninety and believe I'm forty-five, I'm headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.
In one essay, Le Guin lobbies earnestly for a return to respect for old people:
”Just coping with daily life, doing stuff that was always so easy you didn't notice it, gets hard in old age, till it may take real courage to do it al all. Old age generally involves pain and danger and inevitably ends in death. The acceptance of that takes courage. Courage deserves respect.”
She explains further as she speaks to the value of elders:
”...an old intelligence may have extraordinary breadth and depth of understanding. It's had more time to gather knowledge and more practice in comparison and judgment.
“No matter if the knowledge is intellectural or practical or emotional, if it concerns alpine ecosystems or the Buddha nature or how to reason with a frightened child: when you meet an old person with that kind of knowledge, if you have the sense of a bean sprout you know you're in a rare and irreproducible presence.
“Same goes for old people who keep their skill at any craft or art they've worked at for all those years. Practice does make perfect. They know how, they know it all, and beauty flows effortlessly from what they do.”
As much as I appreciate Le Guin's thoughts on respect for and value of old people, her realism is equally important:
”Existence in old age is progressively diminished by each of these losses and restrictions. It's no use saying it isn't so, because it is so.
“It's no use making a fuss about it, or being afraid of it, either, because nobody can change it...
“A lot can be made of a diminished thing, if you work at it. A lot of people (young and old) are working at it.
“All I'm asking people who are not really old is to...try not to diminish old age itself. Let age be age. Let your old relative or old friend be who they are. Denial serves nothing, no one, no purpose."
This section on ageing is small. Le Guin has pulled together blogs posts on a wide range of topics – her cat “the Pard,” the literature business, anger, belief, “the Pard,” music appreciation, even the Oregon high desert and more about “the Pard.”
When I started reading No Time to Spare late one evening, I expected to get through one or two of Le Guin's blog posts before turning out the light. Instead, I read half the book before sleep overtook me.