Another ‘take’ on the ageing process, memory, and the pull of the past
Peanuts cartoonist Charles Shultz remarked, ‘once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.’ My funny partner Jon, like Shultz, makes light of ageing. Plenty of jokes: ‘I won’t be going to his funeral as he certainly won’t be coming to mine’ etc. He has a great attitude about his aging and his eventual demise. He enjoys pretty good health at seventy-eight, but each such remark triggers unease in me. To date I think I share his good attitude to the ageing process and feel far from being ‘over the hill’ though I harbour some fears around outliving him, how it might play out, especially in the absence of family.
Recalling teenage years, like most, I was in a hurry to ‘grow up’, to gain greater independence, obtain a driver’s licence, stay out late without my mother ‘secretly’ lying awake awaiting my safe return. Fast forward fifty years. With good health and genetics on my side – both parents having made a century- it seemed that life would proceed long into the future. But this sense of unease at Jon’s jokes is telling, a turning point has been reached, the slippage of years too fast-as the past lengthens, so the future shortens; this feels like a new place I am just beginning to experience.
The psychology of aging states that there is a kind of magic in recollection that gives us a sense of the person we were at one time within a context we did not have at the time. The quality of our future changes as we age, from an indefinite and infinite one to a definitive and finite one. To advance psychologically, we must acknowledge the evolution that inevitably has taken place in us (and others) over time—I am not the same person I was before. While patently true on one level-we gain wisdom, we change- this statement lacks nuance because much also remains unchanged. For my own part, so much of who I am at seventy-six, was clearly recognizable from a very early age. I include these photo galleries to illustrate before moving on- a delight in the natural world (plants, animals, the environment), and characteristics such as curiosity, determination, adventurousness, a desire to communicate, connect and document (whether verbally, visually or through the written word) and valuing love and friendship.
ALWAYS ANIMALS: my parent’s first ‘child’ was the cocker spaniel shown below. There has barely been a time in my/our life without pets.(hopefully if you click on individual images you will find info about each if desired)
EARLY CHARACTERISTICS: love of sea, flowers and plants, a certain independence and determination…
AND LOVE OF LANDSCAPE AND ADVENTURE: A tiny sample-see TRAVEL on this website if interested, though that also represents only a tiny sample!
DOCUMENTATION: I have always felt the need to documente experiences, people and place through writing, photography (my father being a professional photographer might be telling) and a wide range of artworks. Here are a few examples.
ALWAYS LOVE OF PLANTS, FLOWERS AND THE NATURAL WORLD: My parents loved both. Picking flowers from our garden with my parents was always fun but I learned much about plant names and gardening from my dad. Plants/landscape/the natural world impacted significantly on my art in a variety of guises over many years.
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP: when searching for photos of myself together with those close to my heart, I found that there were gaps. A few of my very close friends, including the special children in my life are sadly missing! Please do not take offence! You know who you are and that you are loved.
The human brain and the process of memory is fascinating. Memory involves three major processes-encoding, storage, and retrieval. We have learned to store seemingly forgotten long-term memories until some unexpected trigger activates the brain within which they have lain safely, subliminal, drawn to consciousness when needed. Our past was experienced at a time when innumerable potentialities were open. Reflecting on a (still) rich and fortunate life, people, and experiences from earlier years, some as far back as early childhood, retain a potency yet are somehow frozen in time, unchanged through the intervening years. The past holds increasing fascination for me, and I have reached out in recent years to a few people in different places and from different eras. In turn I have been contacted by a few people from my past, perhaps the subject of another piece. But now to the most recent ‘encounter’.
It is April and I am watching an online discussion by two pre-eminent Jewish scholars, Sir Simon Schama & Professor Deborah Lipstadt about how our understanding of history shapes our current reality, how this plays out in a fractured Israel and a divided America, amidst challenges to democracy and an increase in nationalism and racism around the world. After the event I receive an email signed by Liam G., the Sydney-based Executive Director of the sponsoring organization. His German surname matches that of a boy, Ian G, from a Jewish youth group I was briefly affiliated with in my mid-teens. My curiosity is peaked; it has led me down a variety of interesting paths of late, and as it’s an unusual name, I immediately wonder if Liam and Ian might be related. I flick Liam an email asking if perchance they are related and within minutes receive a reply: I am! Ian’s late father, Leo, and my grandfather were first cousins. Ian’s in the US now – and we are in touch each week to talk about the most important thing… football! I reply telling him that Ian and I, aged fifteen, met at the youth group. I ask him please to send my greetings when next they talk, informing him of my maiden name by which Ian would have known me.
A week or two later an email arrives from Ian G.: Jill (if you still go by that-
I got your message via Liam. Good to hear from you. Looks like you are well and doing some fascinating artwork. I’m glad. I live in Oregon in the U.S.
BB: Hey Ian! I so remember your name but can’t put a face to you…figured there was a good chance you were related to Liam…. if you feel like being in touch and sending a pic of yourself then and now (anything else also welcome) that would be great. I have been known as Bonney since I was 22. I mention a few people I am still in touch with from that era and go on to say: Curious about you, your life, what you did/do and Oregon. Although I have seen a fair bit of the USA as I have relatives there and Jon, my very long-term partner is American, I have never been to beautiful Oregon. Are you in Portland? Thanks for getting in touch.
A fast exchange of emails zips across the Pacific. Ian G.: Well, that was a blow to my ego (just joking) – can’t remember what I looked like! I remember a lot about you – your father was a photographer. I have a photo of the two of us together – will send it later. We live in a suburb of Portland. I still follow the footy (St Kilda) and watch games every week. Good to hear from you. He signs off with just his name. I reply referring to a couple of other people I associate his name with, and that I look forward to the photos.
I get the picture-he writes in short, punctuated sentences telling me where in Portland he lives, who he has kept in contact with from the youth group days, that all those in Australia with his surname are related.
He is a master of concision and I, the mistress of elaboration.
Of course, I have already provided Dr Google with Ian’s name and immediately learn that he has written a book. The term bipolar transistor appears. I wonder what on earth this is. Science was never my forte. My darling dad helped me through school maths with many frustrations and much (teenage, graceless) irritation on my part. When studying Social Work at university, Social Biology was a compulsory subject. I scraped a pass in that with assistance from my best friend Janet. I seem to remember committing to memory something she had written in the hope that it was relevant to the exam. Happily, it was! I somehow scraped through Statistics also.
My area of ‘specialization’ and interest at university (and in my subsequent ‘first life’ profession an aeon ago), was philosophy, psychology & psychopathology. Thus, I associated the word bipolar with bi-polar disease, referred to as manic-depression at that time -1960’s. So, is Ian a psychiatrist? The trusty Mr Google enlightens me further and it becomes apparent that we are talking not about psychiatry but about electronics- (transistor as in transistor radio my science-deficient brain explains to me). I then find that the company of which he is the business director has won some prestigious prizes for manufacturing things geothermal, and others. Impressive but of course gobbledygook to me. The lively, outgoing, teenager has obviously channelled his boisterous energy and intelligence and made a significant mark. He had not indicated any of this to me; thus, I presume he is a modest man. I like that too.
And then the photos arrive. Ian G: Here are two photos-taken several years apart, you may not recognize the girl in the first picture 😊 (Good blackmail material since you wouldn’t want it to be shown around!) The first is of the two of us both in our mid- teens. Ah, so that’s who he is! He is immediately recognizable. For all the world we look like boyfriend/girlfriend, draped around one another, all smiles and youthful energy though I have no recollection of being boyfriend/girlfriend. He adds: should be enough for you to say, “Oh my god, remember/recognize that idiot!” He has not lost his sense of fun and good humour.
I am curious as to what has prompted the remark about my not wanting the photo to be shown around. I am comfortable with my past. And my ageing. It’s probably just a joke, yes, a joke. Well, we will see. Perhaps he is not comfortable with it. He finishes the email saying: By the way, I do like your art – my style. He has obviously visited my website so no need to send him a photo of myself. He knows how I now look. The second photo is of Ian at a reunion of the youth group some twenty years ago with Peter and Tony. I find no hesitation in recognizing them. He signs off: Keep well, Ian
So, I reply commenting that it is sweet that the three men seem to have kept in contact and go on to say: I looked you up and found you associated with the words ‘bi-polar transistor’, meaningless to me, of course. I wondered if it referred to psychiatry but as I proceeded, I saw its electronics, pertaining to sound…life is mysterious, I love the chase…now I want to know all about you and the intervening yrs. Curiosity killed the cat, but it won’t kill me!
As to the blackmailable pic…well, weren’t we cute but we do look like girlfriend boyfriend, yet I don’t recall that. Pls don’t tell me I have forgotten or done you an injustice! But yes, I recognize you immediately. You were so lively and bright probably are still the same…our essence doesn’t change much, does it? I thank him for his positive response to my art and explain my shift to writing. And sign off: Fond Regards, Bonney
Now I am thinking about how amusing this is, another connection from the past walking through the door metaphorically and I have an urge to write about it. I flick off another email.
Can’t help myself…want to write a little story about all this…well have made a start. As it would end up as a Post on my website, I am wondering if you would prefer me to refer to you simply as Ian G. rather than using your full name, whether I can mention the name of your company as I have read the tiniest about it to enlighten myself (most impressive, my dear!), and if you are comfortable with me using chunks of our email exchange.? Let me know your thoughts. Additionally, I can run it by you when complete before publishing. It might be titled Curiosity Killed the Cat. (: Bonney.
The following day he writes:
Yes, I am an electronics engineer. Got my bachelors and masters at Univ. of Melbourne, then my PhD at Berkeley, then went to work in a company here in the Portland area. Been at several companies since then, based here. Working from home for a company in Arkansas now. Bipolar transistors are a type of electronic transistor, and I wrote a book about them – the surprising thing is it still sells today (almost 50 years later – which is rare in engineering since things get out-of-date quickly).
Yes, it looks like we were girl-boyfriend in that picture but, to be honest, I don’t remember that either. I suspect we were for a very brief time at camp. I was hoping you might remember. So, we can both apologize and laugh about it! He signs off, Ian.
BB: Well Sir if neither of remembers not much was happening. But it looks affectionate. Sweet. I was still only fourteen, no experience with boys though I remember having a bit of a crush on someone called Bernie G. Do you remember him? He looked like a bit of a ‘bodgie’, to use the parlance of the day. (Bernie had an Elvis-style hairdo and jacket sleeves rolled up- very cool!) I only lasted that one fun year in the Youth Group cos then I met and fell in love with my first boyfriend who wasn’t Jewish and that was that.
Presumably you are retired. Other than the footy, what is your life? Married, kids, grandkids, life in Oregon, COVID safe? Christ you must be glad to have seen the back of Trump! We are about to get Astra Zeneca shot, no options but am sure it’s fine. A little sadly, no kids but ultimately our choice so can’t now complain. I am too affectionate to use the term ‘cheers’ and never found my handy emojis on my phone, only iPad, so here is a hug.
And he replies: No, I don’t think it was much. I do not remember Bernie G. I thought you were more than a year in the youth group – that’s surprising. I am not retired – still working for the company in Arkansas. Keeps me off the streets. Married, 2 kids live here, 2 granddaughters (12 & 14). All within 2 miles of us. Moved 2 years ago into a 1-level house with a kind of apartment downstairs that the girls use when they come over. We’ve had our shots (Moderna). Taking it easy. Ian
And that’s the last of our correspondence. He has disappeared into the ether, me offering hugs and he signing Ian. It’s so funny, a ‘boy’ thing.
Quite some time later I write asking about using the photos but, in the absence of a reply from him, have decided to keep him anonymous. We subsequently agree I will run the finished piece past him before publishing. Now is the time so here goes! I send him what I assume will be the final email as I continue to read about the terrible fires and storms afflicting much of the USA (and of course elsewhere):
Hi Ian, trust no storms will sweep you off your feet or fires burn your home down…the world is in a sorry state! We remain lucky thus far though Liam will be in lockdown and only one lot of our Melb. friends made it up here as planned!
I think the attached is about finished so please let me know if you have any issues. Also, are you happy for me to include the two photos you sent? There will be quite a lot of other photos too.
I am so appreciative because next day I receive a reply of which I include the following:
Ian G: Well, that was an interesting document. It’s very rare to see what someone is expecting to get from your emails and to see how well you met those expectations. Or should I say how poorly I met those expectations? 🙂 I am terse because I don’t like talking about myself. I prefer the wisdom of others – I’m known for my collection of sayings. Sayings (good ones) are wisdom expressed efficiently. One of my favourites is: “Whenever you point a finger at someone, Stop. Turn your hand over. There are 3 fingers pointing right back at you.” Before you get your daily exercise by jumping to conclusions, that was not aimed at you – it is just an illustration of a great saying. I have done my exercise for today Ian, as every day, so don’t worry about my jumping to conclusions-no need!
In any case, I was correct in my presumption about his modesty, and it is somehow gratifying that he ends on a note of wisdom about not judging others. So here are a couple for Ian by way of thanking him for playing this game with me. It has been enjoyable and perhaps, post Covid, we may meet up here or in the USA.
But, nattering on as I do, you might want to tell me to zip up or take myself to the dunce’s corner! Still, I have had fun working on this piece and hope you enjoy it too.
And thank you to all those who responded to my previous Post which seemed to have amused many! While I will continue to avoid tall ladders, there’s no stopping me on the 2-step and 3-step ones. And I have discovered how truly unresourceful I actually was while stuck on that kitchen bench. I visited a friend’s building site yesterday and the same thing happened, too big a step down. She unhesitatingly suggested I sit on my bum first and from there it was easy peasy. We live and learn, still!