Monday, February 04, 2019

'Good Bones'

I can't figure out how to download my photos. So this post, written 30 minutes ago, is the best I can do. Thanks for coming by even though I'm not reliable. love, kj

I’ve been thinking about this for the last year. Sooner or later I end up writing something about how I see life. I lean on the optimistic side of things. 

Maybe not so much this time. In the last year some major events took place for me. For one, my back gave out. I saw a half dozen doctors and psyched myself for surgery. My brother died, the end of my childhood family. And I turned 71 in August. Seventy-one. That is not an age easily fudged, inside or out. 

The result of these events is that I dropped out of my cushy active confident life and stayed quietly on the couch, uncertain how I”d end up. ( I still don’t entirely know.)

Now, just a year later, to my surprise, the treatment I did to avoid surgery seems to have worked! I walked a full block this week and today I made it to the bay beach with Janet and Mattie, where before I couldn’t tolerate ten steps. I’m not a fan of exercise and I actually like time on the couch. But it’s now within my control to decide how much I help myself through movement and weight and diet and good energy.

The other major event—age 71—is something else. It’s weird to be this age. It sounds old. And based on the number of medical discussions I seem to now hear and have, ‘old’ includes more physical problems and more lost objects. (It’s okay to smile at that last point.)

I’ve worked in a number of different careers and jobs but mostly I’m a Counselor and a Writer so over the years I’ve had a lot to say about life and stress and happiness. I’ve seen people change and grow in giant ways and I’ve always felt the world is more beautiful than savage. But now, at 71, I’m less sure. 

The poet Maggie Smith wrote a poem I wish was mine. She called it “Good Bones:”

“The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, 
Though I keep this from my children.”

It’s a great poem: worthy of googling and reading.

I’ve wondered A LOT if I agree with this. Fifty percent terrible. That’s A LOT. 

There’s also a third major and troubling awareness that’s grown quite large for me—not just my back and not just my age, but how should I name it? Trump. Incivility. Racism. Wars. Refugees. Harmed Children. And damn Cancer. 

Maybe it’s my age now, but I’m not as likely these days to jump into the big picture to change what I can. My family, my friends, my neighborhood—that’s different. In those cases I still do what I’ve always done: offer my skills, help how I can. But I’m not choosing to ‘make a mark’ anymore, at least not in the same way. That’s not to say I don’t hope to have a publisher pick up my novel-manuscript this year. But I’m increasingly comfortable enjoying the company of wonderful children and interesting adults, cooking up new recipes, reading and writing, watching Wheel of Fortune and the Great British Baking Show. I’ve begun to travel again, because I can walk again!—and I’m glad of that. But I don’t mind sticking close to home either.

So I ask myself a BIG question. DO I think the world is fifty percent terrible? 

I answer with great sadness. Yes. Yes I do. BUT:

The end of Maggie Smith’s poem is also true:

“Life is short and the world 
is at least half terrible, and for every kind stranger
there is one who would break you,’
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones. This place could be beautiful, 
right? You could make this place beautiful.”

Yes, says me. Yes We could.


  1. I remember a question that we had to answer in an essay in school: Are people mostly good, bad or indifferent? I quoted Anne Frank who said in her writing that she believed that people were good at heart. If she could think so, then how could I say otherwise?

  2. I often think of Thich Nhat Hahn's explanation that everyone of us has the capacity in us to do great good and great evil, given the right circumstances. My takeaway is that we need to be mindful of that so that we, to the best of our ability, contribute more to the good.

    I'm curious about why 71 seems so much older to you than 70?

  3. friends, I'm having a heck of a time posting--not sure why. I'll be back when I figure it out. xoxo

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  5. If we are being truthful, the world contains both dark and light. Smith's poem reminds me of Joseph Campbell's quote: "Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world."

    I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. From the previous post, it sounds like you were able to be there for him fully at the end, which is a blessing.

    I have not been able to leave comments with my google profile for months and finally figured it out, hence my absence from blog visits.

    So happy that the treatment for your back has been successful. That is something to be grateful for. xoxo

  6. KJ, thank god the treatment worked! Yay, yah, a thousand, a million times yay!

    Yes, the downside of Trump isn't so much the person (like Pelosi, I can't bring myself to call him a man), but the fact that millions support him, yet still expect me to regard them as sane, intelligent, well-meaning and compassionate, yet I can't even come close to giving them my high regard. I recently lost my last reader who supports Trump (Marion), and I fear that I have even lost my last supporter who, while not a Trump supporter, is a Republican (Rhymes). Both of these people had been with me for a decade or more (the latter of the two continuously and enthusiastically so), but the less able I am to distinguish between a Republican and a Nazi, the more likely it is that I will alienate people. Another blogger chastized me for this, arguing that it helps no one to be insulting. She is no doubt right, but I'll leave it to the politicians to "reach across the aisle) because I'm too consumed with loathing to pull it off, so I'm not even going to try.

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