I recently had reason to recall an Andy Griffith monolog from 1953. It was funny then and it is funny now. Back then, I actually had it memorized. I hope you like it!
“How did it go?” I asked.
“I had a blast!” She replied
This as my wife, Rebecca, returned from her piano lesson. She has played the piano almost all of her life, and I will never forget her playing Unchained Melody after our wedding. But she was getting bored. She had made some of the most beautiful quilts you will ever see, and was, in her opinion, ready to branch out to other things. Thus once again, at age 69, piano lessons. Now our house is echoing Brahms Hungarian Dances and Chopin Nocturnes. Like Pablo Casals, she practices every day, and every day, makes progress.
One is never too old to learn. A friend who lives as an assisted living center has invited me to teach improv there. “We need to learn new stuff,” she said. Classes start shortly.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, learning is an essential. If you are looking for something new to learn, and you live in my neighborhood, come join me at the NOTO Arts District where I’m teaching creative play the last Monday evening of every month.
And if you really don’t want to learn new things, keep improving on your current skills. You may notice some progress.
This is the third in a series of blogs about aging. In the first two I encouraged so called aging people to acknowldge their age with pride and to keep their focus forward. Today I want to talk about the third way we can avoid being “old” by emulating youth: Keep learning.
Think about children, their whole beings are caught up in learning. It’s why five-year-olds annoy us so much with “why?” They are learning. Much of our early life is dedicated to learning, even when we are not engaged in formal schooling we are learning. When we get a new job, we learn our job skills. Why stop when we retire? Keep learning.
Learning opportunities abound. In my home town, Washburn University has a program that allows people over 65 to audit any class free, and art classes are offered at a reasonable cost through the NOTO arts center. . The Great Courses offers scores of classes for download, on CD, and DVD. But wait, there’s more! You don’t need a college, a webpage or even a community arts center. You can learn on your own. The point is so long as you are learning, you are growing; so long as you are growing you are living, and as long as your are living, live young.
Discover the joy of learning. It will keep you young.
This is the second installment of my thoughts and observations about aging. In the first, which I cleverly titled “On Aging: Part One,” I acknowledged that I am 73 years old, have survived all sorts of health problems and, although retired, stay very busy with a variety of activities. I suggested that the best way not be be old is to emulate young people, and noted that young people are not ashamed of their age. Today I want to talk about the youth’s second characteristic, forward focus.
Young people look forward, not backward. If you think about youth they are always anticipating the next milestone, whether it’s going to “real” school, getting into college or that first job. Their focus is forward. I can specifically recall anticipating junior high. “Wow, you get lockers, and you don’t stay with the same teacher all the time, you go from class to class. It’s going to be so cool!”
But at some point, unless we are careful, our focus shifts backward. Memories become as important as anticipation, and finally replace it altogether. Instead of looking forward to the next milestone, we anticpate the next reunion. Our conversations shift from “what we are going to do,” to “remember when we did.” When we do this we have surrenderd to aging.
While this may be typical, it is not necessary. There are lots of things to look forward to. The next trip; the next new activity; the next class; the next volunteer opportunity. Life is much more enjoyable when one has positive things to anticipate.
Satchel Paige, the seemingly ageless baseball player famously said, “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” He also said, “Aging is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
So, be proud of the age you have achieved. Keep your focus forward. You don’t have to be old.
Next: Keep learning.
As I write this I am 73 years old. I have survived three types of cancer, a heart attack, and a knee replacement. I am working as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I am currently appearing in a play at Topeka Civic Theatre. I am in two improv comedy companies, Laugh Lines, and The Senior Class, and I operate Laugh2Learn where you are finding this blog. I am “retired,” and I am not old.
Today I want to begin to share with you my thoughts on aging, and why I believe that “old” is a state of mind that is easily avoided.
The secret, if you want to call it a secret, is acting like young people act. There are several facits to this and I will discuss them over the course of several blog posts.
The first one is to accept your age. Young people don’t deny their age. As a matter of fact, they often exaggerate it. “I’m almost 16.” When you deny your age, no matter how cleverly you do it, (“I’m 39 again this year.”) you are telling yourself your age is something to be ashamed of. If you are ashamed of who you are, how can you be happy?
So accept it. Embrace it. Be proud of it. Not everyone has the privilidge of achieving the years you have achieved. You are in a special class. You have lived to be ___. Be proud. It’s a great accomplishment.
A word of caution here. Don’t fish for, “Oh my, you don’t look that old.” That’s what old people do. As a matter of fact there is no need to go around announcing your age. Young people don’t, but then they never avoid the subject either. So if someone tells you you don’t look that old, the best response is, “This is how 73 looks. What did you expect?”
So, first lesson in acting young, accept your age.
Next up: Focus forward.
It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday and I’m alone in my office. It’s my birthday and two days until Thanksgiving and I stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers. It’s my birthday and I won’t be celebrating this evening because I’m in rehearsal for Inspecting Carol at Topeka Civic Theatre and Academy .
Life is good. We make adjustments. I celebrated my birthday and Thanksgiving with my wonderful family on Sunday. Our house was filled with love, laughter and the aroma of roasting turkey. Tonight we will refine our performance of Inspecting Carol so we can bring laughter to audiences throughout the holiday season. I get to work with a group of talented actors and dedicated crewmembers to make funny.
Last week I was contacted by Nancy Gershman who interviewed me for her series, Tragicomedia. Today, on my birthday the results of that interview appeared. Life is good when you can offer your experiences as a possible help to others.
So I’m celebrating.
Happy Birthday to me.
I was living in Texas when O.A. Bum Phillips was the coach of the Houston Oilers. We were big fans.
This week Bum Phillips died and I was reminded once again of how much we enjoyed his homespun wisdom.
I googled Bum Phillips Quotes and ran across this bit of pure wisdom:
“You fail all the time, but you’re not a failure until you blame someone else.”
In improv based training we emphasize the importance of failure, and I have written in this space about it before. This bit of wisdom from Mr. Phillips adds to the lexicon of failure literature.
So go ahead and fail. and keep trying and you will keep failing until you succeed. But no matter how many times you fail, you are not a failure until you blame someone else.
And, just as failing doesn’t make you a failure, doing something stupid doesn’t make you a stupid person, and doing something bad doesn’t make you a bad person.
Remember: no one is perfect but the widow’s first husband.
I had a great time last night at Vida teaching the intermediate English as a second language class.
Several weeks ago I discovered a book by Matthew McMillion on using improv to teach foreign languages. I have been using his concepts for some time, but had hesitated to use his suggestion of simply giving a line of dialog to a one of a pair of students and letting them run with it.
Wow! It worked so well. I was pleasantly surprised. The students got right into the dialog, and along the way exposed some areas for improvement in their English. Naturally there was lots of laughter too. I went to class feeling tired and a little bit down and left feeling exhilarated.
My students never fail to amaze me.
It has been a long time since I updated my blog. Did you miss me?
Well, here are a few things I’ve been up to lately:
- In late September I provided a two day mediation and conflict resolution skills training to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Infant Toddler Program;
- Then, on October 3, it was down to Tulsa, Oklahoma for an improv based keynote presentation to their Child Care Licensing Staff followed by three breakouts on Difficult Conversations; I still have warm memories of 250 Child Care Licensing professionals improvising a rock and roll song.
- October 10 found me in Junction City, Kansas for the annual meeting of the Kansas Association of District Court Clerks and Administrators. We did two hours of improv and one hour of difficult conversations.
- October 14 will find me at the Jayhawk Area Council on Aging retreat for 90 minutes of improv fun.
- Finally, I spent some time developing a short video for Justice Institute of British Columbia. You can watch it here. (You will have to push the “play” button to start.)
I continue to teach in the Master of Public Health program at the University Of Kansas Medical Center, and I also enjoy volunteering as an English as a Second Language teacher at Vida Ministry.
No wonder I haven’t posted here for a while.
Ah life’s little adventures.
Three weeks ago, on May 8, I gave in to a childhood dream and traded my little pickup for a bright yellow 2001 Ford Mustang Convertible.
Someone suggested it must be a midlife crisis. Ha! If this is a midlife crisis, I’m going to live to be 140 something. No it’s more like a second, no, third, no, fourth childhood.
At any rate I am thrilled with my “new” car. So, on Thursday the 9th, I’m driving it, top down of course when I approach a line of traffic waiting for a light to change. I step on the brake, the motor roars (This car is designed to roar.) and I slow down very little. I pull on the hand brake; slow down a bit more, then thunk, I hit the car in front of me. Seems the floor mat was over the brake and accelerator at the same time so when I hit the brake it didn’t stop.
Good news: no one is hurt, both drivers have insurance, and the damage to my pony is minimal. So I take the car to the body shop, and they predict it will be fixed by the 15th. Good. I’m disappointed of course but I can wait a week to drive my car. I have very little impulse control, but I can do it. I can wait. I have no choice, so ok, I can wait.
So on Monday, the 13th, I’m carrying some stuff down the back stairs to the patio when I step half on and half off the sidewalk. Down I go, and I hear a distinct “pop.” Long story short, I have broken a bone in my foot. I get a temporary splint at the emergency room, and some crutches.
On the 15th I have a training scheduled in Wichita. My loving and long-suffering wife, Rebecca, volunteers to drive me. (She also volunteers to bring me my meals, and anything else I need.)
In case you don’t know it, when you aren’t used to walking on crutches it is very painful. Today as I write this (May 17) my ribcage is still tender from where they dug into me.
So, yesterday, I went to the orthopedic doctor and got good news: No surgery needed, the foot will heal on its own, we just need to keep it immobile. More good news: I’m fitted with a boot that permits me to put weight on my broken foot.
I can walk without crutches! Well, it’s a bit painful, and I use crutches most of the time but since they don’t have to bear my full weight, using them is much less painful.
“How long will I need to wear the boot, Doctor?”
“Probably five or six weeks at the least.”
“And can I drive with the boot on?”
“You really shouldn’t.”
Wait a minute. I bought a “new” car. I drove it one day. And now it’s gonna be five or six weeks till I can drive it again?
OK, lessons learned. (I’m a teacher; I can’t just experience something without turning it into a teaching moment.)
One: I am reminded of Victor Frankl’s maxim “You can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you react.” I am choosing to be grateful that no one was hurt in the accident; that I had good insurance; and that my car is fixable. I have also chosen to be grateful that my fall didn’t break more than my foot; that the injury is minor and will heal without surgery; and that I can walk without crutches.
I am also grateful that I have a wonderful supportive wife who is so willing to help me while I recover.
That leads me to the second lesson: I have discovered that not only is it “more blessed to give than to receive” it is easier. I absolutely hated not being able to carry a cup of coffee into the living room. When I was in Wichita, I discovered I couldn’t open the bathroom door. I had to ask for help. I couldn’t get a bottle of water and carry it to the front of the room. Someone had to bring me my box lunch.
Asking for help is not easy. Giving help is.
So I’m grateful that I’m recovering. This morning I got my own coffee. I managed to climb the stairs to my office. Life is good.
But I want to drive my Mustang! Now!