Transcending the River

BECOMING AN ESCAPE ARTIST FROM THE CHAIN OF NUMBERS. AND THE FLOW OF TIME.

Ken Taub

SOMETIMES IN YOGA CLASS, I can feel every blessed stressed joint and frayed cartilage. The accumulated hitches speak up, and loudly.

But there are other times when I’m merely a body in motion, and there’s just muscle and bone doing what muscle and bone are supposed to do.  I swoop into another pose, the body flexes with finesse, and it might as well be any random day in 1985 or 1999.  Or yesterday.

While the river appears to flow only one way, there are times we can providentially step out of it, and so doing, step out of time itself.  There are moments, and more than a few of them, when 30 feels like yesterday, and even the body seems to forget where it is in its own chronology.

Sure, a voice from high up in my own dusty balcony shouts out:  “You’re fooling yourself!” So fine, you old buzzkill in the mezzanine, call this a willful ignorance of the hard facts, if you want.  But I prefer to call those moments timeless, or a transcendence of time as we know it.

And no, this is not akin to piling on the platitudes (age is only a number, you’re as young as you feel), like some sort of fortress of affirmation.  And yes, every day the weathered face in the mirror and the cranky, arthritic knee argue otherwise.

But then….

Then there are those who simply say to hell with the wrinkles, the sore back or the stiff shoulder, and go out mountain climbing, surfing, skydiving, or sculpting large objects. Or posing naked for Rolling Stone.

I’ve been doing a bunch of surfing myself, of late.  Call it that, or inspirational skimming–finding stories about people over mid-century who are still fully immersed in some demanding work, sweaty athletic pursuits, the arts, and the art of living.

I’ve been reading about 67-year-old Robert Davidson’s nearly single-handed effort to revive the art and totems of the Pacific Northwest Haida culture.  Or, Alice Mackler, a New York-based painter and sculptor, who had her first one-woman show last year.  At 81.  And the artwork was not in the simpler folksy mode of Grandma Moses;  it was wholly contemporary, and highly regarded by critics.

Closer to home, here in my small hamlet 50 miles east of New York City, we had this local craftsman, long bearded Chuck Grodski, who at 65, upon quitting work as an antiques dealer, was told by his wife to do whatever he pleased, so long as he stayed out from under her feet.

That very day Chuck built his first birdhouse, and he did not stop.  Ever.  365 days a year he labored.  Some small, colorful ones at first.   And then bigger ones.  Replicas of local churches, the old general store, and on from there.  The Parthenon birdhouse.  The Capitol Building birdhouse. The Taj Mahal birdhouse.

Well, it is safe to say they were no longer birdhouses at that point.  Giant bird palaces is more like it; well-constructed and beautifully ornamented.

I would stop by at least once a year to see what Chuck had recently built; his multi-acre property had become an entire village of various grand and colorful bird dwellings.  It was a singular exercise in amazement.

Then, after many visits–having gone from age-unaware to pushing 50 myself–it finally hit me smack in the forehead that here was no mere hobby of post-retirement.  This was something else entirely.  This was life reimagined.  A new life.  An existence reengineered in overalls and ZZ Top beard, powered by a wellspring of imagination and ornery passion.

Way to go, Chuck.

Me?  My wife, previously an urban architect, and I, an ad man for much of my work life, opened a yoga studio at the turn of the century.  It not only keeps us off the streets, it keeps the joints well oiled.  Now and again, it helps us to feel fifteen or so years younger.  Who knows, maybe it makes us look less awful naked as well.

Speaking of which…while compared to the other artists discussed earlier, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a veritable nipper at 53.  Still, it’s more than simple cheekiness to pose nude for a national magazine cover when one has passed mid-century.  All the same, she looks good in her birthday suit.

Of course, it’s not like the Boomers are Leif Erikson and crew.  We did not discover The New World of Vibrant Living past 50.  It’s just that there’s so damned many of us, we’re numerically inclined to redefine what it’s like to be 55, 65, and past that.  On the highway of life, we youth-craving codgers keep moving the markers.

For instance, NBC just sacked Leno in search of a younger demographic.  But tallying the latest Nielsen numbers is quite a statement in and of itself.   The median age of this “younger” Tonight Show audience is 58.  Letterman’s audience average is 59.  But then L.A.’s own Jimmy Kimmel attracts a far younger crowd.  They average 56.

Surprised?  I was.  It’s like going to a party, scoping it out, and then quickly asking yourself, “Hey, what’s with all these old people here?”  This is, of course, before it strikes the cerebellum’s self-image needle (perpetually stuck at 32), that whoa, these are my peers!

Come that wobbly point of realization, I usually reach for another glass of red wine.  I hear it’s good for the heart.

Ken Taub is a New York-based independent advertising and marketing consultant, copywriter and freelance writer, and co-owner of a yoga studio, with a background in philosophy and a degree in Chinese Studies. Contact: kenja@optonline.net or go to www.kentaub.com.

Ken Taub, Associate Editor

Ken Taub