One warm and cool Saturday, I joined a writing session of the Hanoi Writing Group. Every Saturday, they meet at Bluebirds' Nest in Ba Dinh, Hanoi.
Being part of a collective shows that the quality of being different is in all of us...whether we belong to a religious, artistic, learning group. And that weirdness can turn into something beautiful, beautiful enough it's worthy of our precious time. Pleasing enough to get out of our pajamas, hop on that motorbike, and write together.
Our writing prompt for that day was:
Write about something uncomfortable to admit.
I wrote about two things.
That I'm getting older
I see my nephews and nieces striving to finish their studies. My high school students are beginning to feel conscious about the changes in their bodies. After all, they’re turning into adolescents. By the end of the school year, they would have undergone tons of changes and it all happened under my watch.
People I know, like my parents, who are in their 70s and 80s are now relishing the last few decades of their lives, making the most of what their bodies can do.
The young are starting in life, the elderly are getting ready for the end.
It’s starting to sink into my psyche. My images of the future, beliefs, my skin (!!) are changing. I am getting older. Not to drag you with me...but you are, too.
Before Grace Paley died at 85 years old, she and her husband wrote Here and Somewhere Else: Stories and Poems by Grace Paley and Robert Nichols
My father had decided to teach me how to grow old. My father wanted to begin as soon as possible.
Please sit down, he said. Be patient. The main thing is this — when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning.
That’s a metaphor, right?
Metaphor? No, no, you can do this. In the morning, do a few little exercises for the joints, not too much. Then put your hands like a cup over and under the heart. Under the breast. He said tactfully. It’s probably easier for a man. Then talk softly, don’t yell. Under your ribs, push a little. When you wake up, you must do this massage. I mean pat, stroke a little, don’t be ashamed. Very likely no one will be watching. Then you must talk to your heart.
Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood. You can whisper also, Remember, remember.
The greatest duty that comes with aging is keeping the gentleness within and for ourselves as we look in the mirror, while we listen and see what our culture and society are saying about old age.
That I am possibly destined for solitude
Before this gets wistful, I have to say this first in defense of solitude - it is freedom.
In the book "Walden", Henry David Thoreau wrote about solitary living in simple surroundings.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. -Henry David Thoreau
It's only through solitude that I can write, contemplate, make sense of my world. It's partly a release of creativity, partly an expression of the spirit, and most important of all, a way of staving off thoughts that all of this is meaningless.
Solitude means freedom. And while I can't predict the future, freedom could be the only thing I bring to the end. Not money, not good deeds.
According to my writing hero, Maria Popova, in this article about solitude (if you can't get enough of it!)
"...this solitary self-discovery becomes the wellspring of all the meaning-making that makes life worth living, whether we call it art or love."
But, as most people perceive it to be, solitude turns into isolation and emptiness. Empty of social activity, intimacy, and sometimes, love from another.
Solitude can be a benefit or a burden, a gift or a curse.
If you're wondering what I'm doing here in Hanoi, here's the story.
Here's the latest article I wrote for Amendo about our aging parents and treating them better.