Let me introduce author, editor and writing instructor, Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen. I had the privilege of taking a class with Mary and learned SO much. What a joy to have her visit, and to hear that she’s still writing, octogenarian or not! Please leave your e-mail if I don’t have it already, because Mary’s offering a free copy of her memoir to one fortunate commenter...I think we’re in for a treat.
I’ve never been one to hide my age—unless you call hair coloring an attempt to age alter—but since October 1, my birthday, I’ve noticed a strange clutch in my gut, a catch in my throat, a little stammer in my speech when, for whatever reason, I have to say, “Eighty.”
Eighty! It’s crazy. My parents died at 49 and 69, a brother died at 64 and a sister at 68. Cancer all. I’ve lived with the intensity of one who assumes her days are numbered, and the number would be below the national average. Also, this Annie Dillard quotation has driven me: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Spend. Time is like money. My supply is limited. Better make careful choices on how I spend it. Better not waste a minute.
But here I am. The celebration’s over. The shock settling in. And the existential question, “Why?” now haunting my sleep. Insurance predictors tell me that by living this long, I have dodged all the big killers and will likely live to be 98. That’s almost two more decades of days!
Two years ago, I had a health event that for a year left me in pain sliding from a brusque “I’m OK. I’ll be fine,” to a wordless gasp. During that year, assuming it might be my last, I began a practice I had never before attempted and wrote every night, wrote what I called “my Marvel,” wrote on small things and close to home things, on fragile thoughts or fleeting observations. I followed Jesus’ suggestion that we “consider the lilies of the field.” So, noticing what I noticed, I planted it in my mind, allowing it to take root and grow, considering what it had to teach me. Writing about it became my daily purpose.
For a year, I tended those thought seeds. And then for the better part of a year I pruned—trimming, shaping or cutting those daily writings. Consider the Marvels: Writings from My 79thYear is the result. The project filled the two years leading up to my 80th. Now, here I am, potentially looking forward to two decades of days, and my pain-free self, which has lost the passion for daily writing, wonders what of value I can spend my time on now. A question I will need to think about, to ponder, to consider….
Calling all Octogenarians! I need help! Tell us all about the marvels in your days.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard
Mary, it’s great to have you here…almost like a personal chat. Congratulations on your new release!
Love it! A lot of wisdom there!
Linda, Thanks for reading this post. And for supporting Gail in her writing career. It’s exciting to me to be connecting with her readers or, perhaps, her writer friends. Blessings on the day! Mary
I read A Time for Peace daily and trust that your new release is inspiring as well. Congratulations! Thank you for sharing your experiences!
dIrene, Good to hear from you and that you read A Time for Peace. Maybe you know that we have published a second edition of it–new cover, larger size, and some edits to the content along with a Foreword by the man who translated it into Portuguese. I still marvel at how far and wide was the scope of that book’s ministry.
May you find delight in the daily marvels of your life. Mary
SOUNDS INTERESTING, MARY. YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS DIED SO EARLY! EVEN I THINK OF THE “POSSIBILITY” OF DEATH NOW WITH SURPRISE, KNOWING MY MOM AND DAD DIED 6 & 7 YEARS FROM THE AGE I AM.
SEPTEMBER 1ST, I JUMPED OUT OF BED, GRABBED A PEN & PAPER, WRAPPED MYSELF IN A BLANKET, WENT OUT ON THE DECK AND WROTE :
How many beats will my heart beat?
How many raspberries will I eat?
How many hikes, up a mountain, steep?
How many flowers will I seek?
How many birds will sing so sweet?
How many “dips” in Lake Tahoe, so deep?
How many kids will I smile at and greet?
How many friends will I go out to meet?
How many breaths before my long long sleep?
Liv, How beautiful a sentiment–focusing on all that life still has to offer, not on losses, as so often becomes our focus at this stage of life. I was particularly taken with the line, “How many friends will I go out to meet?” As a writer, I prize my alone time and have not spent as much time as I would have liked “going out to meet” friends. If they come to me, I take time and enjoy. But… This will be a learning curve for my 80s.
THANKS, MARY…I just thought of another line…
“How many family of mine, will I speak?”
(b/4 the last line)
Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Mary. Your inspiration is contagious, your persistence energizing. Best wishes.
Thanks much! It was strange my response to chronic pain–as if my mind had to tilt way to the other side, looking for marvels, to keep me in balance. Amazing all the ways that Creativity can be stirred.
I thought I recognized Mary’s name. She taught at the U. of Iowa Summer Writing Festivals back when I was able to go to them. Bravo on your new book. Coming out of fibromyalgia in my early 70s, I hope to live long enough to “get all my writing done.” Thank you for your encouragement!
Yes, that was me. I think I taught there 20 summers and then quit when, after getting the job teaching at the Collegeville Institute and thinking I could do that intensive teaching three weeks in a row, I got sick and barely stumbled through my week at Collegeville. I had to choose and decided to stick with Collegeville until I got too old for those draining weeks–just two years ago. I am exceedingly thankful still that my best professional job began after I was 65 and lasted until I was 77. You never know what your Maker has in store for you.
I’m so glad Mary’s story can encourage you, Joy. I hope you get to write LIKE CRAZY!!! (:
What a very appealing introduction, Mary! I must read this book! I am so very grateful to your collaboration with me as I prune and tease and develop my current project. It will be far stronger and clearer for your participation and guidance.
Thanks, Jean. Just had a wonderful week with your friend and mine, Billie. Between the three of us, we will create a book that will touch many lives.