Celebrating the Gateway to Who I Am

“I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Take This Anymore”

(Rallying cry shouted by anchorman Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network)

For decades, I have gifted myself with special birthday gifts. I always buy the gifts months in advance. I always enclose a special note, reminding myself of how special I am. I always wrap the gifts in extravagant, over-the-top gift wrap. And, then, I hide them. With any luck, when my birthday rolls around, I’ll remember not only the gifts that I bought myself but also where I hid them.

This year, though, I decided that one gift to myself would come a few days before my birthday and that I would share it with the world, right here in my blog.

Actually, on November 20, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. (Cards. Chocolates. A Viking Cruise. Any or all of those gifts are welcome. I used to include a 4-door Jeep as an option after the Chocolates, but these days I feel like a gladiator in the Jeep Gladiator that I drive. So I tossed in a Viking Cruise as a gift option. Just saying.)

So let me tell you about my birthday gift. I mean, after all, my life in general is so public that talking about one of this year’s gifts shouldn’t be a big deal. Right? Wrong. I had to think long and hard before deciding whether to go public.

Now, I’m betting that you’re scorching to know what my gift is. I certainly hope so. I promise you that the big reveal shall come in just another candle or two. After all, 75 candles make quite a virtual glow, and I hate to blow them out too quickly. Oh, what the hell. I’ll go ahead and blow them out. No doubt, they’ll all light up again.

All right. The candles are out, so let me get glowing with my gift before they flame up again and distract me.

Simply put, I’ve had one too many: “How are you, Sweetie?”

Simply put, I’ve had one too many: “Can I help you, Dearie?”

Simply put, I’ve had one too many: “Did you find what you were looking for, Honey?”

Let me pause to reassure you. I do not think, not even for one nanosecond, that the people who greet me with those terms of endearment are being mean-spirited or rude. They have good intentions.

And let me pause to give you another reassurance. Greetings such as those often have strong regional ties, especially in the South. I grew up there. It’s my home. I know.

Others who grew up in the South know, too. For example, one of my students in the Virginia community college where I teach had this to say when my class and I had a rich and robust conversation recently about Sweetie, Dearie, and Honey:

“I work in a grocery store, and I greet everyone that way.”

“Even customers in their twenties or thirties?” I queried.

“Hmmm. No.”

“How about forties or fifties?” I pursued.

“Fifties, maybe. It depends on how old they look.”

So there. We have it. “Depends on how old they look.”

As for me, I was born old, and I’ve always looked old. But it wasn’t until my sixties and seventies that others started calling me Sweetie, Dearie, and Honey.

And, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter whether the greeting is a regional, hard-to-break custom or not.

And, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter whether the greeting is well-intentioned or not.

Such greetings fall into a category of their own–side by side with Racism and Sexism. The category has a name. Ageism.

All three–Racism, Sexism, and Ageism–diminish our humanity and push us toward being “lesser-thans.”

Sweetie, Dearie, and Honey are especially diminishing in settings where the name is right there in front of the person who isn’t calling you by your name.

Here’s a perfect example. A few years ago, I had to have a CT scan at a nearby medical center. Obviously, I was feeling more than a little anxious. I needed to feel that regardless of the outcome, the person I was when I walked in would be the same person when I walked out. I needed to feel that regardless of the diagnosis, I would still be me. I needed to feel that I would still have my identity.

The diagnosis was a good one. But, sadly, during the short time that it took for the CT scan, I was called “Sweetie” two times, all the while that I was asked each time to verify my date of birth and my full name. Duh. I have a name, dammit. Why not use it? The check-in specialist as well as the radiographer were looking right at it while requiring me to verify it. By not using my name, I felt diminished and robbed of my unique identity.

More recently, the same thing happened when I went to my local pharmacy for my annual flu shot, the same pharmacy where I’ve been vaccinated for the last 24 years. I know everyone who works there. They know me, too. I’ve had many of them in one or more of my classes. The pharmacy technician approached me with the syringe and band-aid mid air.

“Name and birth date, please” was followed with, “Which arm Sweetie?”

Duh. I have a name, dammit. Why not use it? The technician was looking right at it while requiring me to verify it. By not using my name, I felt diminished and robbed of my unique identity.

Quite frankly, I’ve been identity-diminished and identity-robbed one time too many. And like anchorman Howard Beale in Network (1976), “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.”

Here’s why I’m mad as hell. And here’s why I’m not going to take this any more.

At this point in my life–as I approach my 75th birthday–my father is dead, my mother is dead, my oldest brother is dead, many of my closest friends and colleagues are dead, and my partner is dead.

One of the few things that I have left to remind me of my humanity is my name. My name is the gateway to my identity. My name is the gateway to who I am.

Without my name, I’m just another Sweetie.

Without my name, I’m just another Dearie.

Without my name, I’m just another Honey.

So here’s my birthday gift to myself this year.

I will no longer allow others to call me Sweetie, Dearie, or Honey. I will no longer allow others to diminish my identity.

Whenever those well-intentioned terms of endearment grate my ears and pierce my being, I will rise up to the full height of my politest best, and I will do my utmost to turn those ageist moments into learning moments.

My come-back might be as simple as:

“Why, thank you, Elliot. I’d love it if you called me by my name: Brent.”

Or maybe I’ll try something like this:

“Thanks, Skyler. Do you know the most beautiful word in any language?”

“In any language? No idea. What is it?”

“A person’s name.”

“Really.”

“Yep. Isn’t that amazing. By the way. I’m Brent. Next time we meet, feel free to call me by my name.”

Now that I’ve unwrapped my gift in this blog–right here in public–I’m thinking that this might just be the best birthday gift that I’ve given myself in a long, long time. I can’t think of anything better than celebrating the gateway to who I am. Who knows. It might just be a gift that keeps on giving.

The Other Side

Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling an emptiness we didn’t ever know we had. 

–Thom Jones (1945-2016; American writer, primarily of short stories)

What can I say about the dogs in my life? Well, for starters, I’ve had quite a few. Now, stop it already. I’m not talking about those dogs. I’m talking about real dogs, the four-legged ones. You know. Our pets. Our best friends. Our confidantes.

The first dog in my life was Brownie. All that I remember about him–tapping into nothing more than my own memory–is his curly brown hair and his wonderfully large, black, wet nose. I was hardly more than a toddler, and he was my mother’s dog. Anything else that I might know about Brownie, I learned from my mother. Dog memories run deep. My mother saw Brownie through.

My dad brought the next dog into my life. Spotty was a coal-mine foundling. All mine. He had the spotted coat of a brown-and-white Beagle, but his stocky frame, unusually large ears, large paws, and short-but-wavy hair barked Collie. Spotty lived outdoors and slept in a doghouse that my dad and I built, outfitted with a bed that my mother made. Since I was a grade-schooler, he spent more time with my mother than with me. He followed her around all day, especially when she was outdoors, hanging laundry on the clothesline. My mother taught Spotty to sing, and she enjoyed mimicking his operatic accomplishments. I never heard Spotty sing, but I learned that love is not diminished when shared. My mother saw Spotty through.

My next dog, Lassie, leaped into my life right out of the popular television series Lassie. Both Lassies were Collies. Somewhere I have a Polaroid of me, summer-sun-bleached hair, holding my prize-winning sunflower. Lassie was surely nearby, but she’s not in the photo. I discovered quickly after one short season that she would be far happier running the wide open farm fields that became her new home. Sometimes love means letting go. I wonder who saw Lassie through.

After that summer of 1959, I didn’t have another dog in my life for many, many years. Actually, I was a graduate student, and the name Brecca caught my fancy as I studied Beowulf. I decided to buy myself a dog associated with water and swimming. A Saddleback English Springer Spaniel seemed perfect. Brecca was my first pedigree dog, and he was the first dog in my life to live with me indoors. Brecca watched over me through thousands of hours of graduate work–the endless cycle: Reading. Research. Writing. Repeat.–and never grew weary. When I completed my doctoral work and returned to DC, I was the winter caregiver for my mom and dad for a decade. Brecca followed my dad up and down the hall as he walked to regain strength after a stroke left him partially paralyzed. And when my niece/goddaughter, Janet, came along, Brecca followed her as she crawled all around the house and up and down the stairs, always positioning himself to ensure her safety. When his ear cancer proved untreatable after a first surgery, he would patiently lie on his side as I applied homeopathic compresses. His follower-trust triumphed to the end. I saw Brecca through.

Sparky–a Dalmatian–came next, followed by Maggie–a Blue Tick Coonhound. Grief can be sudden as I came to learn and as the speaker in Robert Frost’s “One More Brevity” had learned long before:

I was to taste in little the grief
That comes of dogs’ lives being so brief,
Only a fraction of ours at most.

My family veterinarian saw Sparky through.

I saw Maggie through.

After those two doors closed, Hazel entered through an open one. My late partner, Allen, and I decided to adopt a dog. Since we both worked and were away from home during the day, we planned to adopt two dogs so that they would be company for one another.

As we started the adoption process, “Must play well with other dogs” topped our list of requirements. The animal shelter assured us that Hazel loved other dogs, so we brought her home. She was a mature, nine-months-old puppy. She was house trained within a week. She jogged right past her chewing stage. She never jumped up on chairs, sofas, or beds. She was well behaved, even off leash. Then came the day when she ventured to a neighbor’s house and started a fight with a dog twice her size.

At that point, we knew that we would not adopt another dog to keep Hazel company. She adjusted beautifully to our mountain home and to our professional schedules. We found ourselves molding our lives around hers, taking more and more vacations at dog-friendly VRBO destinations. Though calm and serene, Hazel always looked like the reddish blonde Husky-Lab puppy that we first fell in love with. She played the part flawlessly right up until the night of her last day. Allen and I saw Hazel through.

We both knew that we would bring another dog into our life. But we were both quiet. For some reason–inexplicable to me, even now–I wanted Allen to take the lead in finding our new best friend, so I waited for him to initiate the conversation. When he did, he agreed to do the solo search, even agreeing to my single stipulation: no black dog. He understood why after I explained that one of my sisters had a black dog that died tragically.

After a week or two, Allen came home and gave me his angelic, twinkly-eyed smile.

“I’ve found the perfect puppy for us!”

“What kind?”

“I’m not sure. She’s a mix, about seven months old, and she’s been spayed.”

“Photo?”

“No. But I met her today. You’ll really like her.”

As I found out, “Perfect Puppy” belonged to one of the hospital surgeons with whom Allen worked. Allen had arranged a visit for both of us the next afternoon.

When Dr. Stevens opened the door to greet us, a black puppy–yes, black, all black except for a small, white brushstroke on her chest that an artist might have forgotten to color over–made her escape and raced down the walkway. I sat down on the stoop and watched. The puppy turned, saw me sitting there, and came charging back–a whirlwind of short-haired, shiny waves–and sat down, smack dab on my feet.

The black puppy won my heart then and there.

I beamed Allen my widest smile. “She’s going home with us.”

We worked out the details with Dr. Stevens. Allen wanted to bring our new best friend home in his Toyota Tacoma. I headed on home in my Jeep.

When they arrived, I was sitting in my reading chair in the living room. As if she knew exactly where to find me, the black puppy ran to where I was and sat down, smack dab on my feet, just as she had done at Dr. Stevens.

Allen sat across from us on the sofa, and the three of us stayed in position for the next several hours.

Finally, Allen got up. Without invitation, the black puppy jumped on the dark brown, leather sofa and put her head on a ruby-colored throw. The color contrast was striking, and, in an instant, I knew.

“Husband, I’ve got a name for our puppy.”

“Yeah? What do you have in mind?”

“Ruby.”

He came back into the living room, looked at her, then at the throw, and, finally, at the sofa. He knew, too. Ruby became our Valentine’s Day gift, one to the other, each to the other two.

Ruby has the general build and gentleness of a Labrador Retriever; the face and solo-bonding bent of a Boxer, and the strong-willed temperament of a Beagle.

Whatever she is–and she’s all of those things and more–she’s the perfect dog that Allen sized her up to be when she was just a perfect puppy.

From the start, she knew how to show each of us equal love. She was always with Allen while he sipped his morning coffee and perused his various digital newspapers. She was always with me while I pondered evening academics online. She was always with both of us when we watched Star Trek or, her favorite, the Great British Bake Off. When Allen and I cooked, she always watched from the dining room door where she stayed until we finished our meal and Allen put his last bite in her dish. When we gardened, she ran back and forth between the two of us.

To Allen, the joy of feeding Ruby. To me, the joy of having Ruby smack dab on top of my feet whenever I sat down, or, as time went on, on my lap. To me, the joy of brushing her.

I usually brushed her in my office after finishing my evening academics, the two of us sprawled out on an Oriental rug. As I brushed, she would give me knowing looks from a far-off, far-away land. Invariably I felt the need to talk with her.

“I don’t know who you are, Ruby, but I know that you are an old, old soul come back to see me through. Who are you?”

Ruby never seemed to mind my one-sided conversation. In fact, she seemed to nod in knowing affirmation. And I became more and more convinced of what I felt from the start. How can it be that I don’t know who she is? And, yet, I have known her. And, yet, I know her.

The three of us continued our daily routines and rituals from February 14, 2018–when Ruby entered our lives–until January 28, 2021, when Allen lost his life, after a short, three-month, lung-cancer battle. I saw Allen through.

The rituals and routines, though not the same, go on and on and on. Ruby still likes to sit on the deck of an afternoon around 4:00, fully confident that once more she will see her other “daddy” driving up our mountain road in his Toyota Tacoma. Some days, I wait and watch with her.

What the three of us once did together, Ruby and I now do as the inseparable Dynamic Duo that we have become. She is always at my side, always by my feet, always within earshot. Listening. Watching. Waiting.

I hope that the rest of our journey–Ruby’s and mine–lasts for a long, long time. With every passing day, I am more and more convinced: Ruby is an old, old soul come back to see me through to the other side.

Writers: Our Forever-Friends

“Day by day and night by night we were together—all else has long been forgotten by me…”

Walt Whitman, “Once I Pass’d through a Popular City” (Leaves of Grass, 1855)

Whenever I teach a literature course, I tell my students that aside from celebrating their achievements as they master the course content, I have one special hope for each of them. I want them to find one writer who will be their friend. One writer who will never unfriend them as other friends sometimes do. One writer who will be with them through all the storms of life, for a lifetime. A writer who will be a forever-friend.

What I have in mind is similar to the handful of real-life, forever-friends whom we might have, if we are lucky. It’s never many. At least it has never been many for me. I have perhaps one handful of such friends. All right. Perhaps two handfuls who are in the friends-forever category. With us, we’ve shared so many past experiences that even if we have not seen one another in years, when we reconnect, we pick up magically on the same conversation that we were having when we last met, and we do so without missing a beat. Friends. Forever-friends.

Writers can be our forever-friends, too, with an added bonus. We can have lots and lots of them. As we read more and more, we discover more and more writers who might end up as our friends. We like them. We like what they have to say to us. We like how they inspire us. We like how they make us believe. We like how they make us feel…unalone. We like how they heal our…brokenness. Before long, we want to hang out with them. We can. Whenever we want. For as long as we want.

The great thing about writers who are our forever-friends is that when they pop up unannounced and uninvited, it’s never a problem. We don’t have to clean for them. We don’t have to cook for them. And we don’t have to clear our calendars for them. They can tag along with us just as we are. And they will do just that if we let them.

All that we have to do is be attentive, smile when they arrive, and even smile when they leave, knowing that they will come back to visit us again and again and again.

Their arrival coincides with something that we are experiencing that makes us think of something else. It’s the power of association. Robert Frost captures it best:

“All thought is a feat of association; having what’s in front of you bring up something in your mind that you almost didn’t know you knew.”

That’s the beauty of having writers who are forever-friends. Their arrival is based exclusively on what’s right in front of you or something that you’re thinking about. Something that you almost didn’t know you knew.

No doubt, you have your own writers who are your forever-friends, just as I do.

Obviously, I don’t know about yours, but mine visit me multiple times throughout the day, every day without fail. I never know which writers will visit or when. But I go forth daily, confident of being strengthened and girded up by their company.

For example, Walt Whitman shook his silvery locks right in front of me as I was writing this post. I was thinking about the fact that only a snippet of a writer’s work comes to my mind during an association, while all the other details of the work are seemingly long forgotten. Instantly, the lines from Whitman’s “Once I Pass’d through a Popular City” flashed across my mind:

“Day by day and night by night we were together—all else has long been forgotten by me…”

Here’s another example.

When I met with my Creative Writing class for the first time this semester, I had a slap-stick time promoting this blog. It was nothing more than nonsensical banter aimed at entertaining my students, but they picked up on it.

Not long after I managed to restore myself to a modicum of seriousness, one student raised her hand as if to ask a serious question.

“Professor Kendrick, did you say that you have a blog?”

I started laughing, as did the rest of the class.

A little later on, her hand went up again. I was on to her by then, but I was having far too much fun, so I acknowledged her.

“Professor Kendrick, did you give us the name of your blog?”

(When our laughter died down, my forever-friend Edward Albee paid me a momentary visit. He has chummed me since the 1960s when I was in college and he was a controversial Broadway playwright.)

“Very funny! You know, Caitlin, my hell-bent banter to promote my blog to a brand-new group of students, reminds me of the first line from Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story.”

In the play, Jerry approaches Peter, a total stranger, sitting on a bench in Central Park.

I’ve been to the zoo. [PETER doesn’t notice.] I said, I’ve been to the zoo. MISTER, I’VE BEEN TO THE ZOO! 

I was thrilled by Albee’s visit, especially since I was able to share it with my class. He came as he did and when he did because of my dogged determination to tell my students–a group of strangers, if you will–all about my blog. In the process, I remembered Jerry’s insistence on telling Peter, a total stranger, that he had been to the zoo.

My students got it. They saw the association with great clarity.

On another occasion, something similar happened at the start of the same class.

As I drove on campus. I was aware–painfully so–that the grassy, undeveloped acreage all around the college was being gobbled up by townhouses.

At the start of class, one of my students shared the same observation.

In that nanosecond, former United States Poet Laureate Phillip Levine appeared. Immediately, I walked to my teacher station, googled his poem “A Story” and flashed it on the screen for students to see as I read it aloud.

It captures perfectly what my students and I had witnessed with pain that morning.

Levine chronicles the life and death of the woods that once surrounded us and ends with a chilling doomsday prophecy:

where are the woods? They had to have been

because the continent was clothed in trees.

We all read that in school and knew it to be true.

Yet all we see are houses, rows and rows

of houses as far as sight, and where sight vanishes

into nothing, into the new world no one has seen,

there has to be more than dust, wind-borne particles

of burning earth, the earth we lost, and nothing else.

And right now as I typed the above quotation, Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell popped into my head, chanting a few lines from her “Big Yellow Taxi”:

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

Till it’s gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot.

My writers–my forever-friends–visit me far more in my alone times than they do when I am teaching or, for that matter, when I am socializing.

Maybe they appear then because they know that in my alone times friends can add a richness to any moment, even ordinary ones.

Ordinary moments like weed whacking. Somehow, I end up doing that chore on Sunday instead of going to church. That’s no big deal to me. I consider myself Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR). Emily Dickinson must be SBNR, too, because she is always with me on my Sunday morns. Her “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church” overpowers the Stihl noise through all the stanzas, rising triumphantly in the final one:

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

I’m going, all along.

Or sometimes it’s as simple as visitorial moments that occur when reading emails from regular friends who aren’t writers. Recently, a friend who is my age wrote that his hands had grown old. I sensed his sadness and immediately thought of a poem about aging by former United States Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz: “Touch Me.” It includes the poignant lines:

What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.

One season only,
and it’s done.

[…]

Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

And then I immediately thought of Ben Speer singing “Time Has Made a Change in Me.” The title alone was touchstone sufficient. And that led me to W. S. Merwin reading his “Yesterday” with the ever-chilling line:

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time

It’s amazing: the rich literary company that embraced me, all because of one single solitary email sent my way!

Sometimes, though, my forever-friends arrive as I try to make sense of all that’s going on in our world. The ongoing COVID pandemic. The invasion of Ukraine. Recent SCOTUS decisions. The January 6 Hearings. Global Warming. Poverty. Food scarcity. Gender inequality. Homophobia. Transphobia. Growing humanitarian conflicts and crises. The 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on America.

Need I go on? Sadly, I could. Gladly, I won’t. It’s far too sobering.

But in those dark moments when I find myself spiritually staggering under the weight of it all, I take strength from William Faulkner’s Nobel Acceptance Speech, delivered in 1950 when the world was staggering under the burden of the Cold War:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? […] I decline to accept the end of man.  […] I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

Maybe, just maybe, the need to have writers who are our forever-friends, boils down to nothing more than this. They come regardless of what we are facing. They reassure us that goodness and mercy shall prevail. They remind us to grapple with our soul, to grapple with our spirit.

They come, as Robert Browning came to me just this second, to calm us and anchor us in the full and steadfast belief that despite all the injustices, all the wrongdoings, all the travail, and all the sorrows,

God’s in His Heaven,

All’s right with the world.

Pippa Passes, Song I (1841)

Wrapping My Head Around Age

Age is a matter of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. 

(Ascribed to the Mark Twain)

Come on now. Tell the truth. Are you aware of your age? Do you feel your age?

I know. I know. You could really nail me on that question. It’s far too vague.

I agree. But, after all, talking about age is always vague, and it’s sometimes downright uncomfortable if not painfully disquieting.

I’m guessing that you immediately thought about your chronological age.

That’s a solid and smart place to begin, but it’s only one type of age.

What about your appearance age?

Or your biological age?

Or your psychological age?

Do you have an awareness of those ages? Are they all in sync? How do you feel about those different ages when you think about yourself?

While you’re processing those thoughts–don’t think too hard or too long, though; spontaneity works as well with that question as it does with maneuvering life itself–let me toss out some other ways that we can look at or avoid our age.

Let’s start with life stages. I like a fast pace, so we’ll skip right over prebirth, birth, infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, and late childhood.

Let’s move right on to subsequent stages, the ones that matter most to me and this post.

You probably know them all already, but in case not, I’ll toss them out with a word associated with each stage.

Adolescence (12-20): passion. Early adulthood (20-35): enterprise. Midlife (35-50): contemplation. Mature adulthood (50-80): benevolence. Late adulthood (80+): wisdom. And death/dying: life.

In case you’re wondering–and I certainly hope that you are–I fall into the “mature adult” stage. It’s great being in a stage with 30 years to fool around with, whether I’m 50 looking toward 80 or 80 looking back at 50. And it’s great knowing that I am benevolent. (I knew that already. But reinforcement always works well.) More important, “mature adult” is far more melodious to my ears than the ageist “Sweetie” or “Dearie” that I and other mature adults suffer far too often by far too many people who should know far better.

With those life stages behind us, let’s have some linguistic fun. Let’s explore some single words for each decade of our lives.

Brace yourself. They’re dreadful words. Just dreadful, especially when they’re all hanging out in the same place together all at the same time. Any one of them makes me scratch my balding pate, trying to figure out who on earth would use such words in regular talking or in regular writing. (Don’t tell anyone, but I just checked. The terms that I just dissed–and am about to diss more fully–are used in the medical field. I might have known it. But, again, don’t tell.)

I’ll start with the one coined most recently. 1991. Supercentenarian–110 years or older.

Then Centenarian–100 or more. I like that one a lot, especially since I completed an Estimated Longevity Test a few days ago. It was free. So why not? I didn’t even have to give an email address. It calculated the results right on the spot. According to the test–which, btw, seemed medically well-grounded and super scientific–I should live to be 105. Imagine that! I’ll take it, especially if it comes with good health, a sharp mind, good spirits, and faithful family and friends lifting me up. (I had to pause here to correct a plethora of typos. Glasses go hand in hand with aging and I’ve had my multi-focal lenses since midlife. OMG. I wonder whether I made typos on the Estimated Longevity Trst and that’s why ut told me that I wuld live to be 501. I’m absolutly sur thet I did knot.)

I’ll combine the next two. Nonagenarian–90s–and Octogenarian–80s. I lump them together because when people ask me my age, I sometimes tell them that I’m 88. At other times, I tell them that I’m 98. It just depends on my mood and how much I need to be pumped up. I love looking at them as they look at me. They smile. They beam. Then they declare, “My goodness, Professor Kendrick! You sure don’t look that old. And to think that you still manage to teach. How on earth do you do it?”

What an ego trip those comments give me, all because of my playful exaggeration. Of course, I still teach. Of course, I don’t look 98 or 88–well, hopefully I don’t–because I’m a Septuagenarian–70s. I exaggerate my age for a very good and highly legitimate reason. When I tell folks that I’m 74, I get puzzled looks or no comments at all. What can I say? I’ve left folks looking puzzled and speechless more than once in my life. Trust me. It never had anything to do whatsoever with my age.

Then we have Sexagenarian–60s–and Quinquagenarian–50s.

Oddly enough, the terms Quadragenarian–40s–and Tricenarian–30s–are not in common usage. Somehow that strikes me as an affront to both groups.

The same can be said of Vicenarian–20s–and Denarians–10 to 19.

All that I can say is this. Perhaps it’s not an affront after all that those terms are not in common usage for those age groups. I should know. When I was someone in those age groups, I wouldn’t have wanted to be called those things either, any more than I would want to be called a Septuagenarian now. I mean, come on. Who wants to be called something that the person doing the calling can’t even pronounce, let alone spell.

I warned you nine paragraphs ago that these terms were dreadful. Candidly, they ended up being more dreadful than I ever dreaded that they would be dreadful.

Nonetheless, I suppose those terms might come in handy from time to time to add an aere distinctionis to what, in reality, are downright insults. And we might just get away with it. Let’s see.

“He’s an old geyser” might morph into “He’s a sexagenarian geyser.” That might even be mistaken for sexy.

“She’s just an old broad” might become “She’s just an octogenarian broad.”

Truthfully, though–and I am all about truth and transparency–I’m not sure that either insult works any better, all garbed and garbled in Latin as they are.

No doubt, you’re still pondering your varying awarenesses of your various ages.

In case you’re wondering what I’m pondering–Please tell me that you are wondering. You are, right?–let me tell you that it’s not my age.

Actually, I’ve never pondered my age because I’ve never had a clear awareness of my age at any age.

I guess you might call me an Age Chameleon. (Go ahead. I’ve been called far worse.) How old I “feel”–regardless of how I slice it and dice it–changes based on those who are around me.

When I was a kid, surrounded by older folks, I felt wise beyond my years.

Now that I’ve grown up to be one of those older folks who surrounded me when I was young, I feel like one of the younger kids who surround me now that I am older. (I know what you’re thinking, and you can just stop it right now. I have not become my own grandpa.)

Let me explain. When I’m teaching traditional, right-out-of-high-school students, I feel exactly like I felt in my late teens. Independent. Not averse to risks. Extraverted. Romantic. Confident that a full lifetime lies ahead. Confident that my full head of hair will always be full. I like feeling like that. 

Sometimes–especially since I teach in a community college–I have some students who have been out of high school for a while. With them, I feel exactly like I felt in my twenties: strong bones, strong muscles, ready to run life’s marathons, and ready to make lots of moves– career or otherwise. I like feeling like that, too.

Sometimes, my students are in their thirties, and, around them, I feel just as I felt then: hitting some high notes in my career; thinking about settling down. Or maybe they’re in their forties, making me feel as I felt then: climbing toward career peaks; reaching financial security; discovering the power of progressive lenses.

Hopefully, you’re getting my point. I see myself pretty much the same age as those with whom I interact.

Dare I tell you the truth? Of course, I will. I always do. I interact with me more than I interact with anyone else in the entire world. And in those interactions, I feel just as I felt when I was 27. Unstoppable. I feel that way, that is, until I walk past a mirror. I hate mirrors because they shatter the unreality of my 27-year old self. I do not blush at all to tell you that I have considered removing all the mirrors in my home, but if I did, how on earth would I manage to comb the hair (that I have less and less of) or check to see that all the wispy strands (that I have more and more of) are in place?

But let me bring me and you back to my point before you and I both drift off to parts unknown.

I like the fact that I am an Age Chameleon. I think that it might be a blessing in disguise.

It gives me the best of all the ages. Potential. Hope. Vitality. Playfulness. Imagination. Ingenuity. Passion. Enterprise. Contemplation.

Toss in to that fantabulous mix two more things. Benevolence. Wisdom.

I don’t mind at all that I am not aware of my age and that it doesn’t matter to me.

Here’s the way I see it. As I work at wrapping my head around age, maybe–just maybe–I’ll end up wrapping my head around life.