The Delights of Distraction No.73: The Gifts of Age

Last week we celebrated Viv’s mother’s 70th spin around the sun. 

It was a milestone birthday, and in the midst of COVID, a large celebration slid to the back-burner for a future time when family could be in town. Instead, we had an intimate gathering, to celebrate the Straight shooter, Bullshit slayer, Force for fairness and good that is Viv’s mom - to help rock this latest, and maybe greatest, chapter of her life. 

As Bette Davis said, “Aging is no place for sissies.” It’s hard and it hurts and you don’t look like you used to and the societal systems work to make you feel invisible and irrelevant, especially as a woman. But as with most things that are hard, aging is worth it. It is also a privilege - everyone doesn’t get a chance to grow old. Viv’s father didn’t make it, which made this celebration even more poignant and meaningful. By 70 - you’ve earned your stripes. It’s important to remember that one has not just grown older - the operative word is “grown.” It has granted my mother two gifts that age bestows: wisdom and not giving so many f*&%s. At 40, we can imagine what a relief and unburdening that must be. 

On the day of her birthday, my mother was dressed in a beautiful Kanjeevaram sari with a Heat-tech turtleneck to protect from the cold. I have a picture of her, with a bouquet of lilies, smiling away from the camera. Beneath the image, is a deeper, complex, ever-changing version of a woman, made from my imagination, her stories, photographs and my memories of her when I was a child. I see a bright-eyed little girl, pored over a book lit by a streetlamp from a room she shared with seven other family members; a determined, yet delicate college girl; a young woman falling in hopeless love with my father, brimming with hope for the future. A strong, independent, fierce single woman, fighting for space. A woman of incredible grit and stick-to-itiveness, with an artistic heart trapped by the limitations of opportunity; a curious learner and a solid rock-steady friend. I see her pottering around her plants, pickling oranges, playing Bridge, laughing, and texting incessantly. I see her dap lipstick on her mouth and then her cheeks. I see, in that photograph, all this at once. I glimpse what no photograph can quite capture, the spirit flashing out across the years. It reflects a beauty that is not just skin-deep, but life-deep. 

And now - our favourites of the week: 

To quote: As a tribute to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist Monk, Vietnamese Zen, Peace activist, Poet, and author of over 100 books, who passed away last week; we’ve chosen a quote apropos to our intro above; on the rewards of growing old.

"When you are a young person, you are like a young creek, and you meet many rocks, many obstacles and difficulties on your way. You hurry to get past these obstacles and get to the ocean. But as the creek moves down through the fields, it becomes larger and calmer and it can enjoy the reflection of the sky. It's wonderful. You will arrive at the sea anyway so enjoy the journey. Enjoy the sunshine, the sunset, the moon, the birds, the trees, and the many beauties along the way. Taste every moment of your daily life." 

To joy/scare scroll:  This is lovely. A series of gorgeous illustrations that are haunting and delightful. In the artist's words: “Behind You is an ongoing series of illustrations made by me, Brian Coldrick (hello!) I’d call it a webcomic but there are no panels and each image is essentially a separate story so that might be a stretch. The whole thing sprung out of my love of horror films and books, and particularly the reading of spooky internet stories. My favourite type of spooky internet story is the real life account. These barely function as narratives as much as scary scenarios. There are so many gaps in the stories there’s lots of room for the reader to fill them in with their own conclusions. This series is essentially my attempt to purposefully do the same. Each page is simply a character with someone, or something, behind them and one line of text.” 

To read: Irina Dumitrescu, whose sharp, cutting style has made some of her articles into our favourite reading last year - has written another belter. The professor is about her relationship with her father, and her teacher, and the blurring of boundaries between teacher and lover, and how the shifting nature of these relationships changes us. It’s superb prose, and peppered with keen wisdom such as this: 

“In my first year of graduate school I read Shaw’s Pygmalion, the story of a professor of phonetics who teaches a common flower girl to speak like a duchess. I have always loved the myth of the artist entranced with his own work, but this play brings home its cruelty, its impossibility. No matter how much Eliza Doolittle grows under Henry Higgins’ mentorship, she remains an object to him, worth only the five pounds he paid her father for her. She learns to speak, but he never learns to listen.” 

And this : 

“One of the things I have learned from reading medieval literature is the price of a gift. In the old epics, kings distribute riches to their guests and followers. Rings, hauberks, steeds. The anthropologists tell us the power of the gift: Give something to someone, and it forces them to give you something back. Give them an object too magnificent ever to be repaid, and they will remain in your debt. You will have demonstrated your might. The most powerful person is the one who can give something that can never be paid back. Maybe the most powerful person is the one who dares to refuse the gift.” 

This one’s a short piece of fiction about a woman whose boyfriend gets a Neuralink. Nicely-observed and just creepy-enough to leave you unsettled about what it’s going to be like when a certain subset of men all have Elon Musk in their head all the time. If you like Black Mirror, please read this. 

To listen: If you’d like to replace the algorithmic curation of your musical taste with something a little more human, you might enjoy this site. It’s “a random sampler that serves up recommendations from musicians, music critics, and lists of albums I thought were interesting. Filters can be added manually using search, and they can be combined – you can filter on African music from the 70’s, for instance, or Norwegian black metal, or jazz guitar.” What’s nice about this is that you can follow recommendation trails – albums come with notes about who recommended them, and users can click on the names of those recommenders to enable you to follow their taste rabbithole. It’s a great way to discover interesting, unusual musical gems. 

To try: Shazam but for cheese! This is such a clever/fun idea – take a photo of some cheese and this site will use AI to identify it for you. Perfect for those moments when you don’t know whether it’s a Roquefort or a Stilton and your life depends on getting it right. Absolutely Brie-lliant :) 

To cook: We searched for a non-paywalled version of what are called, “Bestfriend Brownies” by baking folks on the interwebz - because apparently they are THAT mouthwateringly good, that any receiver will think they’re obviously your bestie (hope you’re not allergic to peanuts though - that might signal something else). Joanna Gaines of Magnolia Table combines the best of a brownie, a chocolate bar and an ice cream sandwich in this recipe; the only exotic ingredients you’ll need are marshmallows and a tub of peanut butter. Go

To lexicon: Hiraeth (noun)

A Welsh, untranslatable feeling - hiraeth is loosely described as homesickness for a home that you cannot return to anymore, or that never existed in the first place. 

Connotations of sadness, yearning, profound nostalgia, and wistfulness are imbued into the state of hiraeth. Overall, this beautiful but painful longing is an expression of an empty desire or grief over a past life or place. It is the ultimate signifier of a bond, which has ceased to exist. 

Pair this word with, Saudade, that we’ve mentioned in one of our top words of 2020; “A longing for something so indefinite as to be indefinable. Love affairs, miseries of life, the way things were, people already dead, those who left and the ocean that tossed them on the shores of a different land all things born of the - soul that can only be felt.” Anthony De Sa, Barnacle Love 

To ponder: 

What was your great great grandfather called? …..? 
In 4 generations, no one will know your name. 
Not even the people who share your genes. 
So - stop taking everything so seriously, put your phone down once in a while, and just enjoy the ride. 


To end: 

Forms of Love by Daniel Baylis 

Sometimes I wonder, 
what’s the point? 
Why be good? Why care? Why try to change things? 
Why—when we continue to wreck each other? 

Yet I keep moving forward. 

Not because I am confident of any outcomes, 
But because I am still susceptible to sweet things: 
a sunset, 
a cup of coffee, 
a warm blanket, 
the smell of lilacs, 
the sound of my mother’s laughter, 
and all the other common forms of love. 

Sometimes I wonder, 
what would the world look like, 
if each of us decided to become,
a form of love? 

Till then, have a joyous weekend and week,

Viv & Ami

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