Coasting on the Fumes of Childhood
One of my oldest friends, sixty-two years to be precise, called me the other day while I was out running around town. She wanted to thank me for all the years of friendship and advice and talk we have shared. But she added this caveat, “I’m tired of coasting on the fumes of our childhood. I want to make a space now for a new friendship for us, one based on our place in today’s world and our own unique age; one that allows us to grow onward together and make new inroads into a new friendship and maybe make space for new, age-appropriate, friendships as well.”
I pulled the car over.
That first phrase, “coasting on the fumes of childhood” struck my ear as poetry and my soul as a bell-tone of truth echoing through the years and anchoring me firmly in the moment.
It has been a rough few years, in all families and for mine, in particular. Siblings and matriarchs passing like dominoes, falling into a vast void of the unknown and the un-grieved-for, per pandemic rules. Understood, but yet. I lost a sister and a mother on the same day. How do you put that into ANY set of rules and social miens that feels anything other than alien? I will never get to go back and experience those particular losses in real-time so they pass, day by day, into a void of another kind; one that closets the overwhelming sadness and dulling grief into an unseen cabinet that I fear may someday spring open and yet, at the same time, I worry that it may never have the doors flung wide and allow a cleaning of the emotions inside.
Which Would Be Worse?
During the height of the pandemic when we were all overwhelmed, over-stimulated, and over-isolated, all at the same time, I decided it was once again appropriate to find a professional mental health person, the shrink, to help me refill my toolbox with coping mechanisms. I have visited a LCSW at several points in the last few years as my husband and I have dealt with way too many age-related health issues. This time I went full monty and found an actual psychiatrist to hear me out.
We started talking initially about my history. My past. The past. I suppose that’s where all stories have their genesis; where we rooted as sproutlings, how we came through the fears and the years and the tears and became the adults we were put on earth to grow into. None of us were given a handbook. There were no course syllabuses, no on-line, in library, or Cliffs Notes to even try and synopsize what to expect. We had only the thrill and disappointment of a slow dawning that this, right here, right now, is all there is…..
Until it’s not
Somewhere along the way those of us of this age (70) discovered our own vital mortality. We tested it frequently and somehow survived it because today, we live to reconsider those days and their meaning and therefore our meaning in these lives we have lived thus far. I give credit where it is long overdue but where it firmly laid my foundational personality all those years ago.
Bow down to the Sixties all ye who enter this phase of our eighth decade on earth. Drugs, we did them, often and irresponsibly, but with a vengeance flowered more by our youthful need to know than our teen innocence would lead others to have believed at the time.
The mind-expanding nature of the potently pure and unpolluted LSD, and Psylocibin, and Mescaline of those heady years still jangles my juju, haunts my head, and gratifies me yet today. I am grateful for the vast amount of revelation I was gifted through them that, at the time, I was sure was preternatural and permanent. Turns out I was right. It’s all still here, in my head, but most importantly in my core, what I consider my soul. Specifics blur over time, minds age along with bodies, and things that were paramount then are now secondary, or even farther from reach. Yet those Cosmic Truths that gob-snacked me into another realm back then are implanted in me in subtle and everlasting ways.
But still…the past.
Exactly where does the past lie in each of our specific lives? Where are those memory chips now and what purpose might they serve if we were to only stop…….
Listen to your heart, hear what it’s saying
Love, love, love”
The Stylistics, 1971
OK, I have a Motown chip. Move on.
I also have a music library that forces me to introspection and reverie at the drop of a note or the inkling of a lyric; all of which helped mold and massage the me that is still here today and can recite every word of every song even, when I can’t find my keys or my glasses (which I now no longer have thanks to cataract surgery!).
I listen to music as I hike. It takes me away to foreign lands and forgotten places but then it yanks me right back to my pressing present where I must consider the value of what I learned then and how I may, or may not, be putting it into play today. Synchronicity in the Circle of Life. They are echoes of time and place that flicker in and out of view and out of mind. But mostly they are markers; markers of who and where we were and where we are now. Our duty is to pay attention to their echoes, our lessons, and remember…..
“Don’t let the past remind us of who we are not now”
Crosby, Stills, and Nash
Really, I mean it, don’t do it!
I have given up the Farce of Facebook now for almost a year. I never looked back. I thought I needed it to promote my photography, my writings, my…….life? When I realized it was merely a self-fulfilling ego gratification mechanism and that it was designed to make me think about me, well, I got real. I had no choice. I needed to unplug from a tool that had yes, brought me in touch with old friends and connected me to new ones as well, but one with a sinister algorithm that once embedded, bent quickly into a destructive habit that, almost like alcohol and opiates, hooks us into anxiously waiting for the “likes” to pile up like some sort of faux Monopoly bank account in our brains.
Dopamine for a Dopey World
(Sidebar: I read a lot of history and right now I am reading a book called “The Hidden Hindenburg”. It is revealing in that not even one hundred years ago tyrants were using an airship as a means to whip up indignation, hate, and fury in support of a fuhrer. We know how that ended. History, being destined to repeat itself, has us on the brink of another despot using subterfuge and aggression as a substitute for critical thinking and a tool to greater power. Putin or tRump; take your pick.)
I have been talking to some of the few old friends that I still see and communicate with now, post covid, about this concept of “coasting on the fumes of childhood”. Are they having the same experiences sorting through their friend vs. acquaintance rolodexes? Are they open enough to looking for new friends? New ideas? New activities based with age-appropriate folks?
Or Are We Just Too Tired?
A few of my friends have said they’re open to exploring new ideas for new experiences and people but where to start? We are still in this hazy no-man’s land of “post covid” mania. Where I live, the local infection rates went up 738% last week alone after the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals left town. Nice that they left their cash for our local economy, but the microbial gifts were uncalled for. At this age, with these pre-existing conditions, how do we balance the need to reach out in new directions and somehow quell that pandemic fear that was installed into our operating systems virtually overnight and we did not order it from the App store.
And, as in my case, if we remove ourselves from social media (and for me ALL media), how ARE we to connect with others. The phone calls of fear, the check-ins from nearby friends’ unseen, in many cases for two years now, are receding into an ethereal void. What is there to say? How many times can one say “I’m fine. Nothing’s new. How are you?” It is tiresome in a physical way, a sapping of desire; desire to put ourselves out there because we can’t, desire to explore and extend but we can’t, desire to be normally routine once again…because we can’t.
Nothing is Normal and There is No Routine
The only media I do occasionally follow is NextDoor which, in all honesty, is becoming FaceBook-lite. I dip my neurons in once in a while to get advice on a tree trimmer or weigh in on an annoyingly loud motorcyclist. The rest is devolving into a foam of bitchy blather and uniformed experts on all thing political and social. But today a notification caught me. I am going to use the entire post, quoted, but without attribution to protect their privacy.
“I am eager to make friends in the neighborhood! I am very open to invitations and events. Thank you to those who have reached out warmly…I really value your friendship. I grew up with amazing neighbors…..they had the key to our house……and we had the keys to their house. We really could count on each other…for anything. (Rude and negative people need not apply…I avoid those characteristics and people at all cost.) So……my fantastic neighbors……please hit me up! Lets plan a meeting while walking our dogs……or coffee….or lunch!”
So yes, there are others, most like many, many, others out there who, like my old friend and me, are pondering what’s next in our lives and how can we jumpstart our friendship battery. I don’t have the answers or even the questions when I consider this daunting task, this finding new friends at this age conundrum, and in this pandemic hangover of a world. And so, I revert to one of my oldest friends ever, song. I pray her words will lift me up and that those few old friends I have can carry the burden that my dependence on them weighs.
When you’re down and troubled
And you need some lovin’ care
And nothin’, nothin’ is goin’ right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
You just call out my name
And you know, wherever I am
I’ll come runnin’
To see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend
Carole King, 1971
4 thoughts on “Coasting on the Fumes of Childhood”
When my friend Robby mentioned this phrase to me “coasting on the fumes of our childhoods” I paused as a reel of spotty 8mm film displayed my past. I was able to see in a black and white flash all of the things I’ve done to get here. But… that’s not who I am.
As we sit on the rickety front porch of our lives rocking in dilapidated chairs that are the only thing that keep us from falling to the floor of reality we speak grandly of who we were.
“ I was a dancer and could lift my leg up over my head “.
“I was the best football player this town ever saw”
“ I could stay up all night and still get to work on time”
These are the fumes we speak, but it is not who we are now.
I say get up off of the porch while you still can and go make your new age appropriate self and don’t let the fumes smoke you out of what more there is left.
I love this, especially the last line fume-smoke analogy!
The real question now is “what is age appropriate?”
If it’s you asking? Fuggeddaboutit