Thoughts on Becoming Eighty

little girl typing

I’ve been eighty for five months now. In some quarters that’s ancient. I’m fine with it.

When I turned eighty, back in September, I thought I should be sad, or horrified, or at least exhausted, but it came just days after I finished 30 hits of radiation to keep the dread cancer away. Turning eighty seemed like a victory to me.

I’ve found since then that there’s something about turning eighty that begs the inevitable navel-gazing among octogenarian writers. (See below) I felt the urge myself on that auspicious day, but thought better of it. What could I say that didn’t sound like bragging? Not dying beforehand is really my only contribution.

The big deal about turning an advanced-age milestone is not just the need to explore the life we’ve lived to look for something worthwhile; sometimes it’s a reminder to use the limited time left to Do Those Big Things.  To this I plead guilty.  I might say it’s a bad thing but I’m convinced it’s what keeps me hanging around.  I have to believe I’m not done yet.

The writer Ursula LeGuin died last week. She was 88 years old. A brilliant writer who, in her later years, still had plenty to say. She wrote often about aging, no doubt because it was something she woke up to every day. (I know the feeling.)

Here she is, at 81, after answering a Harvard alumni questionnaire. One of the questions was, “What do you do in your spare time?”: (Lifted from Maria Popova’s wonderful “Brain Pickings“.)

The opposite of spare time is, I guess, occupied time. In my case I still don’t know what spare time is because all my time is occupied. It always has been and it is now. It’s occupied by living.

An increasing part of living, at my age, is mere bodily maintenance, which is tiresome. But I cannot find anywhere in my life a time, or a kind of time, that is unoccupied. I am free, but my time is not. My time is fully and vitally occupied with sleep, with daydreaming, with doing business and writing friends and family on email, with reading, with writing poetry, with writing prose, with thinking, with forgetting, with embroidering, with cooking and eating a meal and cleaning up the kitchen, with construing Virgil, with meeting friends, with talking with my husband, with going out to shop for groceries, with walking if I can walk and traveling if we are traveling, with sitting Vipassana sometimes, with watching a movie sometimes, with doing the Eight Precious Chinese exercises when I can, with lying down for an afternoon rest with a volume of Krazy Kat to read and my own slightly crazy cat occupying the region between my upper thighs and mid-calves, where he arranges himself and goes instantly and deeply to sleep. None of this is spare time. I can’t spare it. What is Harvard thinking of? I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare.

In that same Brain Pickings article, Maria Popova asked: “What is it about eighty being such a catalyst for existential reflection? Henry Miller modeled it, Donald Hall followed, and Oliver Sacks set the gold standard.” What, indeed. I’m finding this stuff all over the place now. If I thought I was unique, forget about it. It’s been done.

When I was around 50 I read May Sarton’s “At Seventy, A Journal”. I remember thinking how brave she was to still be pondering and writing and worrying about her future. At seventy!  I imagined, I guess, that at seventy I would be sitting in my rocking chair, wrapped in a shawl, just….sitting.

That was thirty years ago. How young and foolish that girl was!

Age, of course, means nothing. Living does. At eighty my time is probably more limited than yours, but none of us survives this world. I could waste a lot of time planning for at least another 10 years, only to throw the whole thing out of whack by being tossed out of a rollercoaster.

Today I’ll no doubt do my usual things. The time is not so precious, now that I’m eighty, that I’ll work to make every moment meaningful. That would be silly. But always in the back of my mind there’s a count-down calendar somewhere with my name on it.

This is new for me. Two things–having cancer and turning eighty–woke me up to the realities of unexpected happenstance.  Fourteen months ago I was feeling pretty smug about my health; about how strong and alert I was for my age. Then came the biopsy and the diagnosis, the surgery, the chemo, the radiation. Add to that Donald Trump’s insane and unpredictable rise to power, and I should be cooked by now.  Steamed to mush. Fried to a crisp.

But the truth is, I feel good.  I’m not in my rocking chair wrapped in a shawl, just sitting. I’m out there fighting the good fight politically, determined to get my writing skills back to where they were pre-chemo brain. (Which could be pure delusion, but still…)

I’m traveling, I’m cooking, I’m cleaning, I’m walking the terrain. I’m writing. I’m loving the love I’m feeling from family and friends and sending it back a thousandfold.

Am I  old? I can’t tell. Some days I feel pretty damned feisty.  I love what Madeleine L’Engle (who also lived to be 88) said about age: “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

Or, as George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, can you come play with me? It’s not dark yet. Plenty of daylight left.

Posted in aging, Art and Artists, On Writing and Media | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Looking Inward, Outward, Onward

The last post I wrote here was called. “The Case Against Using Your Blog as a Journal”.  It’s a piece meant for writers, warning them against publishing what amounts to first drafts, but the title is coming back to haunt me now.  I’m about to use my blog as a journal.


I can’t get away from it–something has happened that will change my life forever: I am now among the multitudes of women who have had a mastectomy. It’s new and I’m still trying to get used to it. The stitches and drains are still in and I spend at least 10 minutes crying every day (I’m blaming it on hormones throwing tantrums over being tossed into utter chaos).

But what surprises me most is that for much of the day my life is as ordinary as it ever was. It goes on. I can laugh, I can find joy in the little things, I can make beds and mop floors. I can marvel at the latest treasures at the art museum. I can still be mad as hell that a major doofus like Donald Trump is now the President of the United States.

None of that has changed. But I have. I know it and I can’t go back.

Once I heal I’ll have chemo and then radiation. This is not a short-term gig.  It’s not what I asked for and, until a couple of months ago, it’s not something I’ve ever even consciously thought about. I’ve been relatively healthy for a 79-year-old. That, I’m told, will go in my favor, but nobody is saying, “You’ll go on to live a good, long life”. In their eyes I’ve already lived a good long life.  (Insert laughter here.)

I have lived a good long life and much of it was and is made infinitely better by reading and writing, by observing and putting thoughts into sentences and then on paper. (We oldsters, hanging on for dear life in an increasingly alien cyber-century, still quaintly say it that way: “Putting words on paper”. Something deliciously satisfying about it. You can’t take it away from us. Don’t even try.)

I have spent much of the past eight years publicly fussing over politics. I allowed it to become who I was, thinking–foolishly, it turns out–that I might say something someday that would make a difference. Something that would keep us from the ludicrous reality we now find ourselves experiencing here in the United States. Something so powerful maybe the very earth would tilt on its very axis. (Insert exclamations!)

It wasn’t a complete waste of time. I like doing it, and that says something.  I’m working on taking my political blog in a different direction, but for now it’ll stay. I need it, too.

But here. . .here I want to be myself. I don’t want to write about medical stuff as much as I want to write about what life feels like now that it has shown itself to be vulnerable. Cancer is the universal unifier. We’ve all been touched in one way or another by cancer, either in our own lives or in the lives of others we care about.  It’s so common it’s no longer called the “C” word. We spell it out now.  Cancer.  I don’t wish to diminish the impact it makes on our lives but I also don’t want to allow it to take over.  That would be awful.


I want to look outside all this and see what I can see, now that I’m looking at the world through different lenses.

So here I go.

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A case against using your Blog as a Journal

Note:  This piece is from my archives (January, 2013).  I’m putting it up again because I think it bears repeating.  See what you think.

I love reading the diaries and journals of famous writers and artists. My interest in how they think, and thus create, borders on the obsessive. I want to know how they did it so I can do it that w…

Source: A case against using your Blog as a Journal

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Donald Trump Horrifies Me


I write a political blog called Ramona’s Voices, where I often feel the need to rage on about the insanity of a man like Donald Trump getting even this close to the presidency.  I’ve tried to keep my opinions corralled in the spaces where political opinion are accepted and even welcomed.

This is my personal space, and up to now I’ve kept politics out of it.  I can’t do it any more.  I’m taking this particular race personally, and it gnaws at me day and night. There is nothing even close to normal about it.

I deliberately haven’t asked my family or friends if they support Donald Trump because I’m so afraid some of them will say they do and our relationship will never be the same.  Yes, I feel that strongly about this candidate.  I’m a Democrat who has only voted Republican once or twice in my life, but because of Donald Trump I’m shocked at how  nostalgic I’m feeling about all of the Republicans before him. My consolation is that Donald Trump is not really a Republican.  He’s an opportunist who will be whatever he thinks people want him to be.

Suddenly he’s a Christian, even though everyone knows religion has never been a priority for him.  He pretends he’s a hater because he saw a niche and worked to fill it.  He’s an empty vessel, an opportunist, a vile human being who shows so little respect for this country he doesn’t even feel the need to study up for the job he’s applying for–incredibly, the highest job in the land.

He knows nothing about the constitution and doesn’t care. Rules are his to make and if you question him he’ll tell you that the polls show he’s right and we’re wrong.  He’s winning hearts and minds and since he sees the presidential campaign as nothing more than a popularity contest, he can do and say anything he wants and to hell with the rest of us.

I don’t just want him to lose, I want him to lose so badly nothing he ever says from now to eternity will ever be broadcast again.  But I know it won’t happen.  I won’t get my wish. And I’m terrified about what this says about our country and what we’ve become.

I have no solutions. I don’t understand what’s happening enough to have solutions.  We’re not a country that hates but that’s what it’s looking like.  We built our reputation if not on kindness, at least on tolerance.  We’ve learned something from our past transgressions. We are each different enough to understand the need to accept differences.  We’ve grown, or at least I thought we did.

Donald Trump is not representative of who we are.  He can’t be.  He won’t be.  We won’t let him be.

I wanted to keep this space a sanctuary against the insanity that is our world now, but the world seeps in wherever I am.  You’ll notice that I rarely write here anymore.  That’s because I can’t retreat to a sanctuary when there are such pressing needs in the real world.

As I said, I take this personally.  This presidential race is like no other.  It will be my obsession from now until November because I can’t sit back and let Donald Trump get away with this.  I don’t hide from it anywhere else, and I can’t hide from it here.  Reality strikes, even in sanctuaries.

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On a Marriage 60 Years in the Making

On July 14, 1956, Ramona Gracia Caporossi, age 18, married Edward Jay Grigg, age 23, in a Lutheran church in Royal Oak, Michigan. The date was chosen, not because it was Bastille Day or because the date, 7/14/56, had a nice ring to it, but because every summer in the middle of July the factory where Mona was an office worker shut down for two weeks for retooling. If she worked until then, it meant she would get her two weeks vacation pay before leaving to become a housewife.

They met on September 29 the year before and were engaged on Christmas Eve. She was a few months out of high school and he was a few months out of the Marines. They lived on the same street, five houses apart, but the five-year age gap kept them from knowing the other even existed until that day in late September when they met and began to talk. He loved FDR and so did she.  As a Marine he had been based in the segregated south and he told her stories that brought her to tears. He was smart but quiet about it. He was funny but not mean. He was honest and loyal and surprisingly shy. He was sexy as all get out.

He had a happy childhood and so did she. She fell madly in love with his family, and he fit in with hers almost right away. (There was that time her mother got hold of a rumor that he had been in prison instead of the Marines, but it passed.)

She had dreams of being on Broadway and thought she would spend years on her own before settling down.  She told everyone she would never marry anyone who smoked or drank. He did both. He had no real ambitions beyond working in some capacity in electronics, a trade he learned while in the service.

They had three children; a daughter born in 1957, a son born in 1959, and another daughter, born in 1966. (Between them they eventually produced three adorable grandkids. A real perk, and well deserved.)

His work–the work he loved and was good at–would take them to California, where two of their children were born, and later to Maui, where their infant daughter learned to walk, to swim, and eat poi. But Michigan was their real home; the Midwest fit them best.

And so ends the biography. This story is about a marriage that lasted against all odds. My marriage. I won’t be bragging and I won’t be complaining.  I’ll be trying to figure out how two very different people could make a life together for more than 60 years and still wake up each morning happy to find the other still alive.

It’s impossible to be married for 60 years without growing old. That’s the downside.  And with aging comes memory loss, so, lucky for us, we’ve forgotten most of what happened and how we felt during those six baffling, volatile, life-changing decades.  

I do recall some mighty fights, even to the point of wishing out loud we were anywhere but there. But what stopped us? A lack of funds? An impasse about who had to take the kids? Inertia? Could be, but I’m going with abiding love.

He spent many years traveling, the kids grew up, and I found my voice as a writer.  He was doing what he loved and I was doing what I loved, both of us thriving in communities far removed from our lives together at home. It could be that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. It could be that those times apart renewed a lagging interest. Or it could be that all those naysayers who said it would never last were wrong: We really were meant for each other.

I don’t have to tell anyone who is or has been married that marriage is hard work.  Only newlyweds think “marriage” and “idyllic” are words that will hang together forever.  They’re like those parents who think they’re having a sweet little baby when what they actually have is a pre-adult requiring years of sacrifice and patience and lots and lots of attention.  It takes an inordinate amount of love to get through it, but once those kids have latched on there’s no letting go.

The two of us started out as strangers, created a family, and made a life together. We marvel sometimes at the sequence of events that had to take place in order for this to happen.  We had to be born to parents who chose the exact same street to live on. He had to come back to Michigan after the service and not stay in California with the girl he thought he would marry.  I had to turn down my long-time boyfriend and be ready to move on.

When we met, something had to click. And then something had to hold us together. We had to adjust and tweak and redefine our love many times over the years, because the nervous intensity of young love is far different from the old-shoe comfort of love between the aged.  (The who??)

But beyond that–no small thing–we had to stay alive.

If someone had told us on our wedding day that sixty years later we would be congratulating ourselves on a job well done, hugging our special day away, thankful to be together, we would have thought. . .  Well, we wouldn’t have thought.  It was the day of our wedding; I giddy and glowing in my beautiful gown and he miserable in his rented tuxedo.  The thought of growing old together was a dream neither of us could take seriously. And the crazy thing is, we’re in the midst of it and we still don’t. Take it seriously.

So this is what my husband cooked up for our anniversary:  We should call the papers and tell them after sixty years we’re getting a divorce. The news would go viral. Producers of reality shows would pick up on the story and fight over getting us to live through it on camera. At last we would be rich!

This from the guy who still shudders over the speech he had to give in community college on the GI Bill. This from the two of us who are so private we shut the bathroom door even when no one is within miles of the house.  

I told him if they could airbrush out the jowls and wattles and cellulite, I might think about it.

And then we had to laugh. Man, wouldn’t the kids and grandkids be embarrassed?

Serves them right.

So that’s how it is. Sixty years and counting.

Ed and Mona at Belle Isle sq

While we were dating

Ed and Mona wedding kissing

The Big Day!

Ed and Mona 35th Anniversary

Our 35th Wedding Anniversary

Mona and Ed fairly current

Fairly current

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How Danged Fools Celebrate April First

Well.  Where did the time go?  My last post here couldn’t possibly have been exactly three months ago!  I thought I said I was a blogger!

So what brings me here today?  I want pity.  Lots of it.  I fell down go boom yesterday and split both lips and BROKE MY NOSE!  I now have two black raccoon eyes and a bruise across just half of my top lip, looking for all the world like an absent-minded man who forgot to shave off the other half of his mustache.

You’ll be looking for pictures of my ridiculous face, I know, but that’s not going to happen.  This is NOT an April Fools joke.  You’ll just have to take my word for it. I have the x-rays to prove it, and when I get back up north, I’ll be taking them to some doctor who knows about these things. Since I fell flat as a pancake my nose didn’t bend, it smooshed, so it looks like it’ll heal on its own without having to be straightened.  I hope.  I’ve never broken my nose before but it sounds like straightening is optional.  It’s going to heal, no matter what I do.

We’re leaving So. Carolina in the morning, heading back to Michigan after a three-month sabbatical from the frozen North.  Which, come to think of it, is the exact amount of time since I’ve written here.  But, never mind. . .

When I get back to not feeling so sorry for myself, I’ll get back to writing stuff that somebody might want to read.  In the meantime,  some visuals:

How I’m feeling:

sad pickle

In a pickle and sad


What we’ll be leaving tomorrow:

sunrise balcony

Sunrise from our balcony


What’s happening in Michigan:

Michigan road in April

Michigan road in April

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Resolved: To Make 2016 A Year I Manage To Get Through

Here it is, 2016, a fresh new start.  Things will be different this year, and not just different, but better.  Way better!  So much better, next year at this time we won’t even have to do a New Year’s resolution.  Everything we resolved to do will have come true.
Perfect!  Can’t wait!
I’m lying! Not true!
But you knew that.
Let me say once again that New Year’s Resolutions are a fun way to pass the time but are meaningless in the real world.  Not wishing to burst your feel-good bubble on the very first day of the new year;  just telling you, in case you woke up this morning actually believing that all it takes to do some serious life-changing before the next year is out is to sincerely resolve to do it on New Year’s Day.
Some people believe a resolution is not legit unless you say it out loud to someone who might actually remember–and care–later on.  I’ve done it myself in the days when I couldn’t have started the year without a list of resolutions.  It was a good luck gesture I almost really believed in.  Sort of like not stepping on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back.

But over time I realized the surest way to disappoint myself in the worst way possible was to promise myself (most sincerely, because no other way would do) that I wouldn’t be a complete failure again.  This year I would finally do what I’ve been meaning to do, and this time I mean it.
Sometimes I would even make a list–actually write things down:

Lose 20 pounds.
Make a lot of money with my writing.
Travel to that place I’ve always wanted to go.

Okay, lose 10 pounds.
Okay, make any money with my writing.
Okay, at least get out of the state.

Then, thankfully, I would lose the list, and any remnants of any long ago resolution would drift away, never to be heard from again until next New Year’s Eve, when those long-ago resolutions would come back and hit me like a ton of bricks.  I promised!  I resolved!  I said them out loud!  I didn’t do any of them!  (Except to get out of the state.  I did manage to do that.  But who couldn’t when you live 20 miles from the border?)

So this year you could follow my lead, save yourself a lot of headaches, and just bypass that tradition.  The world won’t come to an end.  The year will start, the days will go by, one by one, and nobody will notice that you didn’t make a resolution.

I didn’t know that when I was young.  I went along, sheep-like, because everyone else did.  I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t keep her resolutions.  I know better now.  It’s the most freeing thing in the world to know my promises to myself are meaningless and therefore totally unnecessary.
You too can be free.  Just say no.  No resolutions!  (If you think you can’t do it, write me.  I’ll talk you down.  I’ve been there.  I know.)

So Happy New Year!  Health! Prosperity!  Love!  Joy!

Carry on. . .

(Did some of you notice a similarity to last year’s January 1st post?  It’s because I stole it and altered it slightly.  Next year I’m hoping to be better at writing something original on the first day of the year.  Hoping, but not promising.)
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