A Sense of Place
Monday, 09 May 2005
Dear Sophie Merrick, susan, Tamar, Setya, Mary, Cop Car, Blogin Idiot, Laura, Deejay, Jean, Marja-Leena, Rana, Always Question, Cowtown Pattie, Nina, Mrs. R., kenju, Millie Garfield, loretta, Jamie Dawn, Gordon Coale, Zuleme, JimR, Melinda, Ned Smith, joanna, M Sinclair Stevens, Lillium, Jen and the others of you who sent email notes…
The Timeline notwithstanding, mostly I keep personal stories on this blog to anecdotes in service to larger issues about aging, leaving emotional components for you and other visitors to read between the lines if you are so disposed.
Time Goes By was never intended as a diary or journal. What I wanted here, and still do, is an exploration, an explication, of the mystery of getting older, an effort to pull away the veil behind which our culture uncaringly hides old people.
But that final, painful decision to leave New York City, reached during the long, dark hours of the two nights before my Friday post, seemed very much part of the story of what it's really like to get older. I wrote Forced Retirement in Crabby Old Lady’s third-person voice because it was too close that morning, too wrenching in my sleep-deprived state of mind, to do in my own.
You might have discerned over the past weeks that I am taken with a book titled What Are Old People For? written by a compassionate and understanding geriatrician, still quite young, named William H. Thomas who has made aging and improving life for older people not only his profession, but his passion. Indeed, his ideas and goals are as radical as our president’s determination to gut Social Security. But unlike Mr. Bush’s proposal, they are humane and life-giving and good.
No matter what I have been writing about here since I read his book the first time, Dr. Thomas has had something wise to say about it. And many times, he explains for me the changes I go through as events unfold on this journey toward elderhood. He says that old people’s pleas to remain in their homes are not, as many suppose, a distaste for the new:
“…far more powerful is the older person’s attachment to place. This should not be confused with nostalgia or simple habit. A sense of place is woven into the being of an elder in ways that adults have a hard time understanding. A sapling can be dug up and transplanted with little difficulty. Uproot a mighty oak and it will die…
“The gift of place is the gift of meaning. Human beings possess a remarkable ability to unite meaning with the material world. This is how a person, place, or thing becomes sacred. Is a Bible, a Torah, or a Koran made of paper, ink, and glue? Yes. Is it much more than paper, ink, and glue? Yes, again. Holy books are different from telephone books because the former are enriched with meaning while the latter have none…
“For the elder, a loss of place carries with it a potentially lethal loss of meaning. Taking meaning away from a person or place is a form of profanity…”
These quotes are from Dr. Thomas’s lead-in to a set of chapters on his excellent ideas for new kinds of residences for elders who cannot live entirely on their own anymore, which is not my circumstance. But they go a long way toward explaining my despair at leaving my home, my friends and my life in New York City. And for me, understanding is crucial for getting to the far side of hard times.
I will make a new home somewhere and this move will not be a “lethal loss of meaning” for me. I have lesser, though still formidable, emotional obstacles to overcome: I never had a sense of home, of roots, of belonging, even in childhood, until I came to New York. I had lived in six or eight cities before and when, after I had been here about 15 years, I bought this home in 1983, I swore they would take me out feet first; 42 moves in a lifetime is enough. Yeah, yeah - never say never and all that. One more move won’t kill me; I have a lot of practice.
But it ain’t easy.
So I took the weekend off from communication - the internet, blogging, email, the telephone - to wallow in my misery and let the idea of leaving New York begin to settle in.
And when I returned, here you all are with love and support and ideas and encouragement. I’ve read your comments now several times, weeping through the disorderly jumble of feelings they beget - of your care and concern, of my loss - and my gain.
Sophie Merrick, Tamar, Mary, Laura, Deejay, Nina, Mrs. R., Millie Garfield, Loretta, Jamie Dawn and JimR: To know my sadness and anger are shared is a blessing.
Setya and Rana: You reminded me that there is a whole country is out there for me to choose from, though my preference is for blue states, a nearby ocean and four definitive seasons.
Cop Car, Marja-Leena, Always Question, Cowtown Pattie, kenju, Melinda and Ned Smith: Your belief in my ability to endure is already helping to make it so.
Susan, Blogin Idiot, Jean, Zuleme, joanna, M Sinclair Stevens, Lillium and Jen: If I had my druthers, I would make my living writing books and/or for magazines and it’s not for lack of trying that I don’t. It’s been a rough year for all my endeavors toward paid employment, but now there will be more time to pursue this one.
And Gordon Coale: You said it! - more succinctly and more pointedly than I dared.
To say thank you seems a puny response to the gift you have bestowed on me over this weekend: My sense of place in the physical world may be disrupted, but I’ve never felt so solidly placed in my virtual world.
Now let’s get back to kicking some ass so the generations behind us, when they get old, won’t be forced into retirement or displacement against their will.
Good morning Ronni, and welcome back ... back to where your REAL home is ... holding court among your friends.
Posted by: Jude | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 04:28 AM
This phase-shift in your life will be exciting for you, I'll wager. Not that I don't honor your senses of loss, anger, and displacement, I share them. But, I know that you look for the positive in your life's happenings. Since it will be exciting for you, it will be exciting for us readers. You didn't know how you would love NY. You do not know how you can/will love your new home. Go for it, Ronni!
Posted by: Cop Car | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 05:14 AM
I'm sure I'm not the only one who was worried about you over the weekend.
My husband and I talk about the issue of having to move when we are older, wondering if we will be able to maintain and pay taxes on two large buildings, home and studio. You're right, it is a sense of place that we grow into, 15 or for me, 30 years in a place I wasn't born in.
You have inspired me to start a blog and one of my main topics will be a sense of place as it is something I have thought over all my life. I'll tell the story in my blog!
What do you think about starting a personal blog to let your friends know how you are doing as you work through this? Maybe ask for suggestions as you decide what to do? I well understand the reluctance to be personal on the web, for me it was a con with even adding comments to a blog. But we are writers and are going to be known one way or another.
I'd love to have you come produce videos with me but the business just isn't big enough to hire anyone. If you were an independent producer you could come edit here and we could shoot for you.
Have you been to Portland, Maine? It's a very vibrant small city. Aging is an important topic in Maine, the Portland Press Herald is always running stories about the greying of Maine. Maybe you could write for them.You might want to visit. Let me know if you do! There are lovely condos for sale downtown and the city is right on the water.
Posted by: Zuleme | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 05:38 AM
I am glad to read the ground under your feet is a little more solid than it has been for the last couple of days. Take it slow.
Posted by: la peregrina | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 05:53 AM
Ronni, no matter where you go, you're taking all of us along to set out on your walls and make them home.
Posted by: susan | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 06:25 AM
"Now let’s get back to kicking some ass so the generations behind us, when they get old, won’t be forced into retirement or displacement against their will."
Ahhh, this is quintessential Crabby!
Posted by: Cowtown Pattie | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 08:09 AM
Ol' Hoss is just catching up. I'm truly sorry you're in that fix. But there is a bright side to not working: rest, writing for fun, going where you want to, when you want to, etc.
So, near the ocean, 4 seasons?:: Oregon, of course. (But I grant the Maine lady has good spot, too.)
Posted by: Old Horsetail Snake | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 11:19 AM
Where-ever, whenever, however, you’ve got a friend in me.
Posted by: Blogin Idiot | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 11:56 AM
Yes, Ronni, you will endure and you will prosper! Give yourself time to find the perfect new home that will give you that special feeling of a "sense of place" - I think you will come upon a town or city and home that will just "click" and feel like a place you were meant to be.
Relocating is always stressful, especially if the relocation is not your choice. After you leave NYC, you will mourn, and grieve, for this will be a true loss...so be kind to yourself and give yourself the time to heal from the loss.
I felt such a tremendous loss when I moved to the east from Arizona...I left my "sense of place", my "dream" home (a little ranch in the country that after a divorce I could no longer afford). I believe you, losing your "sense of place" is a great loss that tears at the heart. But I endured and so will you....and with time, the loss will not hurt so much, and sometime in the future you will look back on those glorious years in New York with happiness and be glad you were blessed to have experienced them...and you'll write about it all for the enjoyment and enrichment of others.
You have a wonderful future ahead of you in your "elder years" - believe me!
Best wishes always,
Posted by: Melinda | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 04:22 PM
While I missed your posts this weekend, I concluded (correctly, as it turned out) that you were thinking things through some more, so I didn't worry too much about it. But I also felt a sense of relief when I saw your posting of this morning (sort of like when someone is a bit late getting home, then the headlights at last pull into the driveway), and I was glad to see Crabby as her usual feisty and unsinkable self.
"A Sense of Place": that sums up so well the reasons I used when choosing to stay here and "retire in place" when the time came. Not the specific house I had, for I changed that readily enough, but the social and cultural environment surrounding it. Like you, I also prefer blue states, not so much in the strict political meaning of the expression as in people's attitudes, in their tolerance and acceptance of diversity, indeed the entire social atmosphere of a place.
Once again, you've given me the inspiration for an entry in my own blog, and I intend to discuss this topic there more fully soon.
Posted by: Deejay | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 05:12 PM
I posted on this on my blog: http://steves2cents.blogspot.com/2005/05/sense-of-place.html
Posted by: Steve Sherlock | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 05:30 PM
AMEN! You will endure and prosper. I just know it.
Posted by: kenju | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 08:34 PM
In my technical line of work, the ageism us pretty rampant, if disguised, Younger workers are cheaper and presumed to be more techbically up to date. Sure, but the technical problems are always trivial compared to the structural and people problems, and they like to chase off we older people who know how to fix those. Hah, the fools.
We are way too tied to what we "do" in this country, and far too unaware of who we are. Those of us who know we are just sort of smile and feel a bit bemused by all of the scurrying about looking for money or status or whatever the heck people think it is they are gaining by their frantic efforts.
If you have enough to make a living, you have a life. Retiring is merely a beginning, an you'll find lots of ways of staying busy and even makng money, should you feel the need. You have a wonderful career here, in this place of yours, and we all appreciate the work you do here. Of course you need to be able to make a living, or have something to live on, but to think you are retiring and don't have a career? Please.
What the world thinks is irrelevant. This career of yours, this sharing of your life with us, is worth so much more. The experiences of your life are amazing, and I'm honored you've shared them. Thank you.
Posted by: Donna Woodka | Monday, 09 May 2005 at 10:38 PM
A sense of place isn't only for the old -- maybe only for the lucky. For me it's living on an island in Puget Sound. Too many don't have a sense of place -- a place they belong too. Maybe this mobile society we are in works against that. Maybe that's why we have the degradation of our places -- no attachement. The place isn't just the dirt our houses sit on and the trees that surround it. It's also the people and life that the a place supports. I live on this island for the trees and water that surround me. (Whidbey Island -- the suburb with a moat!) But as important are the people and businesses and cultural institutions that breath life into a place and make it viable -- make it life supporting. Whidbey Island has those things. So does the Village. I had the incredible good fortune to spend a few days in the Village a year ago. (This link has an unfinished trip report: http://www.electricedge.com/gordon.coale/familystuff/pilgrimage/index.htm. I must finish it.) My father grew up in the village in the 1930s. It was an incredible experience to walk the sidewalks my dad had. But being in the Village was way more than that. From the moment I walked up those subway stairs and exited the Christopher Street/Sheridan Square station I fell in love with the Village. It wasn't just the buildings -- it was the life and vitality and incredible people I met. I was there five days and I miss it very much.
Posted by: Gordon Coale | Tuesday, 10 May 2005 at 10:21 AM
Ronni, you are never too old to face a new challenge! ;)
And I trust that you will face this challenge as you faced the previous ones. Avec panache, as we say in French!
Posted by: Claude | Wednesday, 11 May 2005 at 04:01 PM