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Adapting to life or not: The downside of doing nothing | Chuck's World

The older we get, the more we get tired of learning new stuff


Last updated 1/27/2021 at 11:23am

I’ve concluded that over the past year, I’ve deleted far more words than I’ve published or posted. This might make me sound like a very careful writer, someone who measures twice and cuts once, but I’m not this way at all.

I’m really not. Ask me for a couple of tightly written paragraphs and I’m likely to give you 14, and nothing will be tight. I’m at least self-aware enough to understand that this is how it is, and adjust accordingly. I tend to write until I’ve run out of room, time, or caffeine.

My theory is that I’ve lost interest in anything I have to say. You’re going to have to come up with your own theory.

It makes sense to me. I’m bumping up against 11 months at home, and I no longer charm myself. None of my stray thoughts strike me as compelling or amusing, and yet here we are.

I also no longer cook, apparently.

I was never Ina Garten, but I always enjoyed fooling around in the kitchen. For years, I’ve baked a couple of loaves of bread weekly, and always had something bubbling in the slow cooker or sous vide pot.

Now I reheat things. I make sandwiches, I get takeout, I eat ice cream out of the carton and if I spill some on my shirt, I know that eventually it’ll go in the laundry. It might be a couple of weeks, because I proudly wear my stains as a badge of chocolate honor.

It’s just all different. Regular exercise, as obnoxious as this sounds, used to be instinctual for me, a habit so ingrained that I’d get edgy if I skipped a day. I was arrogant about it, proud that I was fighting decline by getting energetic as I aged, in better shape at age 60 than I was at 40.

These days, I walk like people I used to make jokes about. I lurch, I limp, I weave, and I miss out on conversations that I can’t hear because my knees are making too much noise.

Well, let’s be honest. I wasn’t hearing all that much in the first place. Still.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting a different result, at least according to Albert Einstein, at least if you believe that, which you shouldn’t.

There’s no record of Einstein saying anything like this, and it appears to be an aphorism that originated in 12-step groups in the 1940s.

I’ve always sort of rolled my eyes at this saying. It strikes me that the definition of insanity, or at least dysfunction, is thinking that making no changes results in no change occurring. Try not cutting your hair for a year and see if there are any changes.

Oh, wait. We’ve all done that now. Never mind, point made.

I read an article the other day that irritated me in a familiar way, which is to say I resented that it existed in the first place. The headline stated that older Americans were embracing online shopping during the pandemic. People “over 60” were getting help from their kids and learning to navigate the mysterious ways of the World Wide Web, because it is always 1995 somewhere, apparently.

I’m 62. Amazon came into being when I was 35, and was a global player by the time I was 40. I can’t remember when I didn’t shop online, and even though I understand how people can opt out of technology and decide the old ways work just fine, they’re really not people my age, not most of them.

But I think I understand. It’s news when people alter their routines, especially older people, because our resistance to change hardens along with our arteries.

We’re all different, and there are plenty of exceptions, but in general I get the sense that as we age, we just get tired of learning new stuff. The old stuff is fine. In my experience, aging is more about subtraction than addition. Something about old dogs and new tricks has already been noted, I believe.

So I guess it’s newsworthy if a whole swath of our population makes a significant shift, although I still think the piece was a stretch. I’d never ordered groceries online, for example, preferring to head to the store several times a week just for the socialization practice, but it’s not much different than buying new headphones.

In fact, I think that despite the changes we’ve all had to make, life during a pandemic is turning out to also be about subtraction. Concerts, movies, trips, restaurant dining, and hugging have all been taken off the table, and Netflix will never be enough. We all have less now.

It just seems prudent, then, that we keep making changes, even in this time of stasis.

And if you need inspiration, I’d point out that five years ago, on a whim, I walked across Puget Sound one day, 30 miles in total, just to see if I could, and the other day my wife noticed I was breathing hard and sweating.

“What have you been doing?” she asked, and I explained that I’d just gone out to get the mail. It turns out that not doing something the same way is the definition of something bad, or can be, although I’ve deleted this column twice already so maybe pay no attention to me.


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