Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Live & Learn

In case you’ve lost count, I’m 52 years old. Not “old” by modern definition, but certainly “oldER” (second syllable intentionally stressed). Older – in the sense that my life is very probably in its second half. Older – in the sense that my physical (and probably mental) potentials are past their peak.

The first question, it seems to me, is – So what? That is followed quickly by a few more specific questions, such as – Does this mean I’m on the downward slide now? Can I honestly hope to accomplish both deeds and thoughts that I haven’t figured out how to accomplish up till now?

The really good question is that last one, and I’m here to tell you something – there’s a lot left for me to do, a lot of unrealized ideas that are entirely achievable. This isn’t just me imposing false optimism – it’s something I see in action right now. A few gentle examples —

I’ve always craved travel. My greatest journey to date has been my month in Greece in 2000. Since then, not much. But that is changing. In the near future, I will be spending several days visiting friends in California. Oh yes, it’s happening – my flights have been booked. A couple separate trips to cities in Canada are in the early conceptual stages, but these will be realized, sooner than later. A more ambitious trip to England is similarly in the early stages, but believe me, it’s going to happen.

A skeptic in the crowd might well sniff that one could send one’s pet gerbil all over the world and it wouldn’t result in the acquisition of much more than an impressive array of passport stamps. All I can say is, I’m not here to judge anyone’s gerbil. I’m also not here to talk about the value of travel to anyone else – just to me. And for me, it is a wonderful thing. It fills my head with new ideas and possibilities and makes me feel liberated. In short, it’s a growth experience for me.

An example from my past: In 1989-90, I went on a national tour with a production of The Wizard of Oz. Before then, I’d never been further west than Chicago nor further south than Pittsburgh. The tour took us from Vermont to Florida to Texas to Colorado to California, and cities big and small in between. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it is clear when I look back now that this touring experience was directly linked to my pursuit, two years later, of a job in Chicago – a pursuit that was successful, as you may know, and which put me on my own far from family and most of my friends; a pursuit that led me (forced me really) to forge a new world for myself and expanded my horizons in ways I never could have predicted.

There is another very good example in my life of the potential for growth I still harbor. It’s this journal you’re reading. I began writing it almost six years ago, just a few months after my mother died. Deciding to do this is one of the best choices I’ve ever made in terms of stoking my own personal growth and gaining personal insights.

There’s an old saying that if you want to become a good writer, you have to write. I’d always wanted to believe that saying, but I’d never found a way to get myself to write on a consistent basis. This blog has done that for me, and I’ve actually been able to observe the difference in my own brain. When I’m writing regularly, the words flow. Paragraphs seem to assemble themselves. The process becomes easy and fun.

A dark truth behind this observation is that I haven’t been writing so consistently in recent months, and I can feel the creak in my mental joints when I write that tells me my brain has gotten out of shape. If you look back at the dates of my entries in the past year, you’ll see that I’ve been commonly going weeks between entries, though I’ve been on a bit of a tear the past month or so.

But back to the theme that got me talking about the craft of writing – I’m now able to feel myself capable of doing things in the art and craft of writing that I wasn’t able to do when I was younger because I hadn’t found a way to discipline myself.

I’ve learned through direct experience that the choices I make ultimately reshape the brain that makes those choices. The person I am today has been shaped by the people I’ve chosen to spend my time with, the work environments I’ve put myself into, and the diversions I’ve chosen to dwell upon in my leisure time. I’m not speaking metaphorically or poetically here; when I say that these choices have shaped who I am today, I’m being literal and factual. And this knowledge is a source of hope for a personal future that will yet contain more new choices, more growth and more surprises.

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