Sunday, December 15, 2013

How to Not Burn Out

In the rock and roll world, we think it's "better to burn out than fade away." We love geniuses who shine bright and fast; stars who are snuffed in their prime.

We look at the really old with a mixture of dread and pity. We feel sorry for the ones who are just alive but not really living, hoping it won't be us in that chair, staring blankly at an inane TV show with dozens of other drooling, mumbling ex-human beings.

But here in this tiny beach town, we have a little enclave of octogenarians who defy common preconceptions about aging. They are fit, both physically and mentally, some more so than people half their age. And they are fearless.

"When you start to get really old, you worry about anything that will hasten your way to the end," my mother wrote. Not only does this prevent you from doing something new, it also stops you from doing some of the things you really enjoyed. In my mother's case, she stopped driving decades ago. "My eyesight is too bad," she said.

One by one, you give up something that you used to be able to do until there is precious little.

No wonder we think it's better to burn out than fade away, but watching our local octogenarians, I see that you don't have to burn out OR fade away. This is what I have learned:

- Don't use up all your fuel at once.
- Keep a steady fire going, but be sure you keep stoking it constantly with fresh fuel.

I think I've developed very slowly -- I am only now understanding things that every 30 year old seems to knows. I was a complete geek in high school but have slowly become more and more athletic as I grew up. Since leaving Japan in my mid-40's, I am constantly learning new things. I learned to drive, ride horseback, speak another language, farm, do construction work. I keep forgetting a lot, too -- like, I am no longer the Music Trivia Person nor do I know much about films anymore -- but I have gained just as much knowledge about nature, physics, history. I've learned to make my own sourdough bread, tofu and miso. I'm running and climbing trees and digging trenches and…

My fire started slow and weak. Thank god it didn't die. Thank god I learned how to stoke the flames, add more oxygen, and now, every day I am finding new fuel to not only keep that fire going but to make it burn high and bright -- without burning out.

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