Getting older is learning to let go,
to let go of all the things that seemed
so important and necessary in youth.
It is the nature of life that all things
A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world. – Leo Buscaglia
Recently I attended my 40th High School class reunion – yes, it amazed me, too. 40 years. Where does the time… well, you know. I had actually never attended a reunion before. I was in town for my 20th, I think I had even signed up but I chickened out while I was ironing my outfit. Somehow it felt like I couldn’t compete with the success I imagined everyone else already had achieved. I wasn’t in a relationship. I was struggling to get work as a singer but was actually making my money working as a secretary. Somehow the pressure felt to great and I didn’t go. Spent the evening with my mother watching TV. She wasn’t unhappy.
Now, 20 years later, all of that success stuff didn’t seem so important anymore. I just wanted to see some people, to reconnect. A Facebook page for the graduating class made me feel more connected to everyone there than I have felt in years and as my pragmatic brother said, “If you want to see any of these people alive, you better come now.” That was part of it. Mortality is making itself known. The list of people I have had to say goodbye to – or even couldn’t say goodbye to – is getting longer. So I signed up and I went.
I was nervous, probably just as nervous as 20 years ago but I am older and wiser now and I still showed up. It was great to see people, some of whom I haven’t seen in those 40 years. There were even teachers there who were teaching when we were in school. It was great to see them again, too. I spent a lot of time with one of my best friends from high school who I haven’t seen for 30 years. Somehow it was like we had only separated a couple of months ago.
But the most fun was the presentation with photos that some of my classmates spent time to put together, bringing up memories of times gone by, buildings that no longer stand, people who are no longer here. It made a sense of community, a sense of belonging to us all, I believe. Something we share, something that those before us and behind us didn’t experience in the exact same way as we did. Maybe because we were all about the same age with similar dreams and ideas about how the world was going to be. That was an exciting time to be young. The violence of the late 60s was over, the feeling of freedom and power of the 70s was in full swing. A different world and even if we didn’t all know each other back then, we all were there, together and we remember.
It was a special moment. Glad I was there to share it with you all.
If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers. – Doug Larson
I have a theory that the English language is changing. Well, I am probably not the only one but I have a theory why. Actually I think there are several reasons.
As a native English speaker speaking 70% of the time in a foreign language, I have found that once you get fluent enough to be generally understood, it isn’t easy to keep learning or correcting yourself. Most people get to a certain level of fluency and then stop learning. On top of that, it seems to me that the people who teach foreign languages – this was certainly true in the States when I was studying – are not native speakers of the language and there are subtleties of expression or pronunciation that just don’t get corrected. For example the English “V” is often taught here in Germany as equivalent to the English”W”, which gives us “wampires” and other such creatures.
Where it becomes most alarming to me is listening to non-native English speaking diplomats speak in English. They will be running along, mostly with abominable pronunciation and grammatical inaccuracies and false analogies and wrong use of metaphors and it doesn’t seem to bother anybody! In fact, clips of their speeches are replayed on television as if these people really know what they are talking about. I sit there and think, “what is he/she trying to say?” Out of that gobbledygook, I can hardly hear a sensible sentence. When other people who are non-native English speakers hear these people on television, they probably think that speaking like that is absolutely ok and they can do it, too.
On sharing networks like Facebook, incorrect grammar is rampant. Just this morning I saw “a song… that last a lifetime”. The teacher that really taught me grammar, Mr. Nichols – who impressed on us the idea of the “gentlemanly C” (you work as hard as you can and you still end up only getting a C) – would probably roll over in his grade. I suppose a lot of people just rely on spell check and figure it is ok.
In the movie “Cloud Atlas” they have the characters speak a kind of patois in approximately the year 2510 (100 years after the Fall). Guess what guys, it is already here!
“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
― 14th Dalai Lama
My mother was a very creative person. When she was younger she would paint decorative designs on cupboards and trunks with designs and she did a lot of handwork. When she died, there were several boxes of fabric and several unfinished needlework projects left over, some of which I am planning to finish for her.
When I was young, she tried to teach me everything she knew but I wasn’t an especially good student. I still remember the first sewing “lesson”. We bought a beautiful glazed cotton and cut out the dress together. Being the impatient person I was and still am, it was all going way too slow for me and so I tried to finish it on my own, ending up sewing together pieces that weren’t intended to be together and generally making a mess of it. My mother lost patience with me at that point and sent me to my fraternal grandmother – who worked as a seamstress out of her home – to help me repair the damage and get the thing done. She complained bitterly that I was frantically trying to finish the outfit I planned to wear for my wedding just the day before. Definitely not her style of doing things.
My mother was a master at embroidery and would always sigh very loudly over my French Knots (still can’t do them and so I avoid them altogether). For knitting, we started a sweater together when I was 13 or 14 but again it all went way too slow for me and I gave up somewhere in the middle of the front piece. There were still the arms to go. I don’t know whatever happened to that yarn or the pieces. I did finally get the hang of knitting when a co-worker in New York who used to hide behind her cubicle wall knitting with needles about the size of pins explained to me that knitting is something you do with your hands to pass the time and at some point you end up with a garment. That seemed to make sense and I have happily knit quite a few things since then.
Needlepoint and crochet I learned from friends. My mother knew how to do those things too but maybe she was just too frustrated to try and teach my after the other experiences. But when I was older and was doing my own handwork, she loved showing me her newest projects and the kits she was thinking about buying from the stacks of catalogues that she received. These are memories I cherish. The needlepoint pillow I made for her a few years ago with her colors of moss green and rust and covered myself with cotton velvet came back with me to Germany when we emptied her house.
Back when I was young, doing handwork was still something to be proud of, at least I never thought of it any other way. I’m not so sure that anyone really appreciates it anymore. At least that is how it seems to me. But maybe that is just the crabby old lady talking.
Ann Johannsen died on June 5, 2011. Love you Mom.
Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.
Since I was 18, I have been working to be a singer, working to be a better singer, working to learn repertoire, working to get ready for auditions, working to learn the roles I was hired to sing, working to learn the roles I would like to sing, trying to figure out how to get up to the next level of house and engagement, thinking of strategies, thinking of plans, thinking of timetables, thinking of how to get where I thought I wanted to go career-wise, thinking about how and what I would need and want to do when the call came. The dream to be on stage was a passion, an obsession. It was all I have ever wanted to do.
Now after 40 years, all that has stopped, suddenly, with a bang. No, not with a bang. Softly, quietly, unheard by the world. The judgment has come down. Somehow I have crossed over the line that says, “you are too old.” It’s my choice to accept that judgment or not, but there it is. The thing is, I also apparently have nerve damage in my face and neck that effects my ability to sing. All of this combined have come as a shock.
The thing is, in my head, I still feel like there has to be more time, that I am still learning, that there still has to be time to get this right, time to make up for all the mistakes, time to really show people what I can do. And now suddenly there is no time. I have hit the wall without seeing it coming or at least without wanting to see it come. Believing that my will and my desire were enough to break through any barrier that might come up, except perhaps the barriers in my own head that made me do all those stupid things over the years that held me back or stopped me in my tracks and kept me from being all that I knew was inside me.
It is a special pain, that pain that you feel when you look back on your life and you know that you could have done more, could have done better but that you didn’t for some ridiculous reason. A reason that at the time seemed unbelievably important, like there was no other choice. But you always have a choice and I have made mine in the past. Now I have to make another one. Let go. Or not.
I’m not sure I am ready for this but maybe you never are. It might have been different if I felt like I had made this decision for myself. Or maybe not. I never really thought about what I would do, what my life would be “after”. I was always working to keep working. My mother once asked me – at a time when I was especially struggling to find work – “What will you do if this doesn’t work out?” and I answered – ever the arrogant know-it-all that I am – “Work at McDonalds or something. What would it matter?” I don’t think that flipping burgers is what I will do. Hard to know at this point. At the moment I am just dealing with what is there.