Barbara MacDonald: A Pioneer Theorist of Ageism
Of Politics, Blogs and Deadly Diseases

The Paradox of Age and Time

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Coming up is the final weekend (at last!) before the presidential election next Tuesday. Perhaps, in anticipation, you have a final blog post with your thoughts about all that has transpired in this campaign. If so, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Until not so long ago, there was an urgency to many parts of my life. As is common to many young people, NOW! was the optimal timing for seeing a newly-released movie, finishing a book, buying the latest cool fashion item and adding another new city, state or country to my travel repertoire.

Even housecleaning had a deadline. I operated on the assumption - although I didn’t think of it in such stark terms - that I might not be here tomorrow, so I had better meet my obligations and grab my pleasures while I could.

Sometimes, I imposed time limits even on tedious chores. When, in my twenties, a relative of my godfather committed suicide, I was surprised to find a half-finished copy of Clea on the woman’s bedside table. The Alexandria Quartet had been such a slog for me to read, I couldn’t imagine how anyone who got through all of Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and half of Clea wouldn’t at least finish the final few pages before offing herself. (On the other hand, to my mind, it’s conceivable the Quartet led her to that final act.)

Although there was no list to tick off, no specific goals to my forward urgency, I did have a sense that I was racking up points each time I finished a self-imposed “NOW! assignment.” Something had been accomplished. I was even in the game, if not ahead, but if I didn’t keep moving I might fall behind.

Perhaps the pressure was genetic. Late in her life, my Great Aunt Edith told me that it wasn’t until she was 70 that she understood if she had something more interesting to do, housecleaning could be postponed because certainly the dirt would wait for her.

It is a lesson that didn’t take me quite as long to learn as Aunt Edith. In the past few years, that long-familiar urgency has (mostly) evaporated and it is astonishing how long I can now tolerate dust in the corners. These days, I’m happy to wait for a new movie until it hits the cable channels. I no longer need to own the latest style in clothing and in fact, I don’t even know what’s fashionable anymore. Nor do I care.

It feels good to have let go of the need to be au courant and speed through each week, but none of it makes sense to me. Why, I have wondered, just when my time left on Earth gets shorter by the day, do I feel I have plenty of time to finish that book, see that town in northern Maine someone recommended and get back to Paris or New York City for a visit?

Now, I may have found an explanation for this paradox. Perhaps my rush to be done with one pursuit and get on to the next was to pile up experience, which is one of the jobs of the young. Sheltered by our parents through our teen years, we’re eager to get out and see the world on our own terms, to experience all the things that were forbidden in childhood and to discover our personal sensibilities.

But after a few decades of that, it could be a matter of “been there, done that,” and of knowing how fleeting new things are, rarely more than passing cultural fancies that may collectively change the zeitgeist over time but are individually unimportant.

I spent about six decades plagued by time - not enough of it. Although I’m not convinced yet that my recent explanation for the paradox of expanded time in old age holds water, it’s a less stressful way to live. Sometimes, nowadays, I can even let my mind wander where it will without reminding myself there is something I ought to be doing.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson tells a story of modern technology everyone can relate to these days titled, The Beep.]


Jaded, is a word that I find applies to me. Isn't it nice to relax a bit?

I am still not where you are.
I wish it were a fact. I am getting better. But still have my to do list and a number of projects I am planning.

I wish I could slow down but I can't. However, I don't beat myself up anymore if things don't get done on my list. It's all still there when I find time.

"it’s conceivable the Quartet led her to that final act."

Hilarious, Ronni!

Unlike your aunt, I didn't wait to learn that lesson about housework. In my younger days, I thought I was a terrible failure if there was a bit of dust anywhere. I had a very clean and neat home all the time. Now, I wait until it absolutely has to be done before getting motivated enough to do it.


Re The Alexandria Quarter, someone told me, when I was too young to know better, that no one could consider themselves educated without reading it. Wrong!

Regarding housework: I no longer see the point if I can't see the difference when I'm done. And it takes a lot longer in Portland, Maine for dust to build up than it did in New York City.

I kind of envy you your former drive, Ronni. Correction: I *do* envy it! I expect I'll die with my to-do list unfinished--especially considering that I figure I'd need a 3rd lifetime to do it all!--but I feel very little pressure about it. OTOH, I haven't passed by all that many roses. Of course, maybe I'm just a lazy slob!

The older you get the more relaxed you are about less important things. My theory is, we simply don't have the energy to waste on minor issues. I have certain household duties, like the kitchen floor, that I'm faithful in doing, but most things have to wait until the mood or a good day hits.

Your thinking would fit with the theory that being young is for doing and being old is for being. I think it might be about digesting what it all meant in terms of who we are today. What kind of person did all that past activity make us into? It explains so many memoirs that pop out with old age.

The freedom to not 'have' to do is a wonderful thing at any age. It's harder when younger but even then if you do what you want, what makes your life better, then you are living life most fully. Not all are so fortunate as jobs aren't always what one would prefer but as much as possible to live with what feels good inside, it's a good way to live at any age. The problem with so much of our life is the need to do what others think is good and the pressure from our inner dictator to fulfill something that we aren't even sure why but it's not the 'feel' good kind of why.

thanks for reflecting on another reason that old people matter: ours is the long view. especially important as technology makes faster-faster the everyday mode.

Ronni, they say having leisure time is no fun if there isn't something you "ought" to be doing. I love being more relaxed about things. Who did we do all those unimportant tasks for, anyway?
After retirement, I dress for comfort, not fashion. Haven't worn a pair of pretty but painful shoes for years and don't miss them at all.
As for housecleaning, one neighbor used to say "Thank goodness for company!" When houseguests are expected is the only time I worry much about it. Otherwise, a few dust bunnies don't hurt. Maybe the cats can dust them out from under the bed.

It took me a long time to learn how to not only slow down, but how to enjoy it. I didn't retire until I was 67 and I was still going full speed. Now at 75, I've finally discovered the joy in having no schedules, no deadlines. A little dust isn't the end of the world. Thanks for the reminder of how much more enjoyable my life is these days.

Hence the Buddhist saying, "There is nothing to accomplish"....


Ah, thoughts that strike a chord with me. Just this morning I allowed my mind to wander from what I could/should do and spontaneously took advantage of going to the special $3 rate movie "Duchess," where even my latte was free.

When you mention time, I always think of my husband who took a time management class in his early college years and never forgot it even as his life time line ran out. I guess it worked for him, but I wonder about the effects of the pressures he created for himself.

I had so many years when time was of the essence because so many other people were involved. I remember becoming aware something had to give and determinedly deciding having to routinely put the house in order at 3 A.M. would no longer be my priority. From that day forward previously regularly scheduled household tasks were subject to irregularity.

I'm a strong proponent of prioritization. Some activities require rather rigid adherence to a time schedule, but others do not. Once another person is involved in an activity the whole time issue generally takes on more gravity, unless one is lucky enough to be involved with someone of similar views as your own, or who is as capable of flexibility as you are. There is much to be said for being a loner in this regard, though it is often pleasant to share experiences with others.

During the past couple of years or so I have jumped from one extreme of time pressures to another of too much laxity seasoned with some guilt. This can probably be detected reading between the lines in my current celebratory second annual blogging anniversary post.

Maybe major life changes tend to accentuate such time matters such as my becoming a widow, or your professional work life changes and then move to Maine.

I have needed these years to find some sort of solid time center from which to work outward. The days I have had patients to see have been my rock. Now with more days completely open, though always subject to daily change, I'm finally actually engaged in more of what I consider necessary time intensive long overdue constructive activities to enhance my house's interior -- think walls and floor including massive cleaning.

In retrospect I see I have deliberately kept having guests here to a bare minimum as I've felt I had all I could handle with just myself.

I have recently started visiting a therapist to find out why I am what I am? At age 65 I am looking for self acceptance from within and hoping to end the need for approval from others. I just want to know that I'm OK in whatever I choose to do today-that I don't have to go with the flow. Say the word psych Dr. and pills are attached. I don't want to shape my self acceptance with pills...the saying To be is a Blessing - to live is Holy and to accept what I am and what I choose to do without hurting anyone else - should be ok!!! Thanks Ronni for letting me loose a bit...this place is good for me!!!!

Alexandria Quartet - never heard of it but have noted it for future reading when I am done with Ayn Rand's Fountainhead. So much to read so little time....

I feel quite fortunate to have learned quite early on in life that dust will wait for you, but a lovely sunny day won't. Great post, as always.

Oh Yeah! That never ending list.
Always in a hurry to complete the tasks. But are they all that important? The ability to live life each day without that daunting list, how much freer and more relaxed we would be. Let the dusting go, play with the kids, go on a date with your spouse, watch a funny sitcom and just enjoy life. No more pressure, things will get done eventually. Focus on the joy of living and live strong.

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