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