Friday, September 19, 2014

The Eyes of Aging

After more than a week where my weight remained on the same plateau, I was 2.4 pounds lighter at this morning's weighing.  I didn't believe that so I got off the scale and tried again.  I got the same number.  How is this possible?  Life is full of little puzzles that we never solve.  The next couple of days will show whether this is real or an aberration.  If it is trustworthy, it marks the crossing of one threshold and the nearing of another. I'm now marginally lighter than I was in high school.  And with another half pound loss, it will be 30 pounds since I started on this regime, which is getting me close to halfway on the ultimate goal, to weigh what I did when I got married.

In my Econ class I talk about monitoring as a way to overcome opportunism. The idea is that monitoring is a cost incurred to reduce other costs that the organization does not want to incur.  But I'm aware that much monitoring happens for no reason other than obsession, particularly when its our own performance to consider.

Those who are old enough will recall the ad campaign from 40 years ago, The Special K Pinch.  If I start doing that but then move my hand forward toward my belly about an inch or so, I can do something I call the Special K grab.  I could do that easily before I started the diet.  I still can.  It's a reminder that the more things change...

The last few weeks I've come to do a different sort of grab, under my arm between the elbow and shoulder, seemingly all flesh with no muscle whatsoever to be found.  This to me is an unmistakable sign of age.  You'd think you wouldn't want to be reminded of the point, but I find myself unable to stop grabbing at certain times of the day.  The feel varies from time to time.  It is never supple.  Sometimes it sags miserably.  I've come to understand that at those times my blood sugar is low and perhaps I need to drink some water too.  At other times there is more substance to it, but it is still a far cry from a young person's skin.

One other such grab I try is while I'm sitting.  The object is the area under the hamstrings.  In this case, there is far less loose skin than in my upper arm and you can't really pull it away from the hamstrings.  But the skin is droopy there too.  The inner thigh, for whatever reason, I don't measure nearly as often.   It's an area where no muscle is apparent, more like the upper arms.

Before the diet started, the notable skin wrinkling was on my eyelid and just above, particularly in the early AM.  Goodbye boyish looks.  Hello to the rest of your life.  Recently I've found a different place to look for the wrinkles.  I rotate my left hand a quarter turn outward and then swing the arm, from the elbow down, to the left a few inches.  Sometimes the look is like an aerial view of the Badlands from on high.  Other times the wrinkles are present, but barely so.

I am getting exercise pretty regularly and I do try to stay hydrated.  These consequences are happening anyway.  It is impossible to tell now how much of this is the diet and how much is aging.  Because my dad, who was never overweight, had the droopy skin in some of the spots that I've mentioned, at least since he retired, I suspect that aging is the primary cause and the dieting may be accelerating its effects.

With these external changes readily apparent, I asked myself what sort of internal changes are happening too.  One is that fatigue seems to come more frequently and then even from modest exertion.  Yesterday after teaching I felt exhausted.  It was a glorious day so I took a brief walk before class, 10 minutes or so, nothing more.  During class I'm on my feet when at the board, but nobody would mistake this for high physical exertion.  It may be that it's the emotional stress from being in the classroom which is getting to me.   Yesterday a student, who is otherwise diligent about doing the coursework, started to pack up her things about five minutes before the end of class.  That irked me and I asked her to stop doing it, a bit out of character for me, though maybe not. I'm more apt to be crotchety now.  As for the students, it's a symptom of a more general issue.  Too many of the kids are going through the motions and not really getting into it.  Youth is wasted on the young.

Another internal change, this one for the better, is that the arthritis pain seems to be less.  When it first started to get colder outside I noticed it in my joints.  That feeling has gone away.  The main purpose of the diet was for me to take a positive step on my own to keep the pain from occupying my thoughts.  For the time being that seems to be working.  Let's hope it lasts. 

I have been procrastinating on a post about Vincent Van Gogh that I hope to return to over the weekend.  From time to time I've wondered what lessons the rest of us can take from the lives of very creative people.  Van Gogh spent years and years perfecting his art and did so with an enormous drive for self-expression.  The first few years of writing for this blog I was aware of trying to do something similar, but more recently I haven't seen improvement in the writing itself, nor do I now feel impelled to experiment with technique.  I'm aware of my analyst disposition, as an INTP, and that sometimes I can provide value add by giving an analysis of issues others haven't thought about at all or have considered but less than fully.  It is still absorbing for me to analyze a novel situation.  But I'm far less sure if at this point there is growth for me in doing these exercises or if it is merely forestalling the inevitable feeble mindedness that comes with age.

Yesterday after teaching, tired but not yet napping, I got into a reverie about being a grandparent, singing to the baby - songs from Fiddler on the Roof, holding the baby close till fast asleep, surprising even the parents with my willingness to change the diaper.  This will remain a fantasy for the time being.  I will have to wait till it becomes a reality.  The over and under for the real McCoy is upward of ten years.  Arvan men are slow in this department. 

This is an odd way to construct a time window for what should come next.  But it is the way I now think about things.  So I asked myself, what might be done in that time window?  Two imperatives arise from that inquiry.  One is more income generation.  There is no immediate need.  There are only potential threats down the road.  The biggies in this category are that the State of Illinois might fink on its pension obligations and long term care needs might emerge sooner rather than later.  My wife and I have some buffers to address these contingencies.  Those buffers could be more amply funded.  The other is to find something sufficiently substantial to occupy my thoughts when I otherwise feel productive.  For the last half dozen years or more, I've mainly been doing that by playing a latter day Paul Revere vis-à-vis residential undergraduate education, particularly at public research universities.  The need is still there for somebody to do that.  But it is getting stale for me. I would like to see somebody else take up the mantle. 

A different theme that I could see occupying my time is how society is now wasting the human potential in people like me - old enough to have already had a full career, yet young enough to still have something left in the tank.  With the current labor market softness I doubt anybody will pay much attention to these issues in the near future.  But given current demographics, these are issues society will be grappling with for the indefinite future.  I have written about this in the past, multiple times.  This was my first stab at it, where I tried to tie the issue to the schools.  Yet that early thinking is fairly primitive.  And it is not sufficiently pragmatic.  There is a need for a more sophisticated line of thought as to what can work.  Nowadays, particularly in academia, many people hold onto their jobs for too long.  But who can blame them?  There isn't anything next to look forward to and thus encourage the graceful bow out. 

All of this is too somber thinking on which to conclude.  I have a need for lighter fare.  Almost immediately, that triggered thoughts about the Sunsweet Pitted Prunes commercial from almost fifty years ago.  They got rid of the pits, but haven't yet gotten rid of the wrinkles.  I hope they're still working on it.

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