Holding On

Bona fide creativity is thick and bulky and as rare as ice on the surface of the sun.  Creativity—the real stuff, not the version made of artificial ideas bent and shaped to look authentic—is in short supply. Stand-in creativity, made of brittle plastic and glue that does not maintain its grip, floods the places where actual creativity has grown weak and unstable. Stand-in creativity replicates itself by capturing the reflection of the real thing when the real thing strolls in front of a mirror. Physically, fake creativity looks almost identical to genuine ingenuity—except the artificial stuff is almost as thin as a breath of air. Comparing actual creativity with a badly botched replica is akin to comparing Audrey Hepburn with Marilyn Chambers. Or George Clooney with Ron Perlman. Why is it that, when we try to illustrate a spectrum ranging from exceptional beauty or physical appeal  to appearances that are deeply offensive to the visual senses, we always dredge up actors or other public figures? Why not select from life-like drawings of non-existent ideals? That, it seems to me, would be more fair and reasonable. But that’s a question for another day or another lifetime. So many unanswered questions that will remain unanswered until the answer becomes irrelevant and annoying.


The outside temperature at the moment is 45°F. Inside my computer, a tiny electronic meteorologist sends me a note: “Today’s high will reach 77°F. Prepare for a rapid 32°F warming.” I am prepared. My paint-stained sweatshirt and old, worn sweatpants are easily set aside, replaced with a short-sleeved t-shirt or button-down and a pair of shorts or jeans. I am prepared for any microclimate thrown at me today. I could respond with just as much success if temperatures went in the other direction. Though I do not have a parka, I have enough jackets and blankets and other such instruments of warmth to protect me from blizzard conditions. I am ready for climatic engagement.


The increasing speed with which birthdays come and go grows more stunning with every passing year. I remember the health scare yesterday—or was it a year ago—which began with a blood test early in the day. Hours later, during the evening meal, I got a call from the nurse, demanding that I go to the hospital emergency room; the test suggested the possibility that I might be experiencing a pulmonary embolism. It all worked out just fine. But the fact that the experience took place a year ago is frightening. My memory is just as clear and precise a year later as it would have been just a day later. Time accelerates exponentially.

The breakneck speed, after age forty, of the aging process is mind-blowing. Fortunately, I applied the brakes at age fifty-one. That’s when I had a double coronary bypass. I vowed then I would not grow immediately and irrevocably old. And my vow worked. Mentally. In fact, I succeeded in turning back time. I behaved like a twenty-five-year-old in a forty-five-year-old body. And that worked for quite some time. Until the evidence of aging became too obvious to ignore.


Today is my birthday. Birthdays were not especially important to me when I was a child. They have grown increasingly irrelevant as the years have passed. But, for some reason, this one is catching my attention. This one has grabbed me by the shoulders. It has shaken me like a can of carbonated soda. And it is threatening to throw me against an unyielding piece of steel-reinforced concrete, just to watch me explode. At some point, if we reach an as-yet undefined “ripe old age,” each of us becomes conscious of our diminishing capabilities. Whether those capabilities involve walking or singing or thinking or speaking or writing or stepping up on a curb to avoid being hit by a bus, we watch and experience the diminution of attributes that made us what we were. Pieces of us drop off, almost unnoticed, until the legs that once were like massive tree trunks suddenly appear as if they were twigs. Thick, muscular chests wither into hollow vessels that barely contain what’s left of our lungs and heart and liver. Arms, barely held together by thinning bones that seem intent on turning to dust or shattering into pieces as fine as sand.

It’s all a matter of attitude that keeps us from dissolving into barely-recognizable goo. Attitude, coupled with actions guided by that attitude, can prevent the decay. But only if started early enough and practiced long enough. Though I suspect decay can be turned around with remedial intervention. We shall see.


Time to explore what, so late in the morning, this day holds.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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6 Responses to Holding On

  1. Thanks, Meg!

  2. Meg Koziar says:

    Happy Birthday, John, and happy new year.

  3. Thank you, Patty! Let’s get together soon to celebrate!

  4. Penny, thanks so very much for the poem. It does bring hope and a sense of serenity in the midst of chaos. 🙂

  5. Penny Beed says:

    Happy birthday, John! I give you the gift of this poem by Timothy Steele and hope it brings you hope for a fulfilling day with many joys…

    On the Eve of a Birthday
    As my Scotch, spared the water, blondly sloshes
    About its tumbler, and gay manic flame
    Is snapping in the fireplace, I grow youthful:
    I realize that calendars aren’t truthful
    And that for all of my grand unsuccesses
    External causes are to blame.

    And if at present somewhat destitute,
    I plan to alter, prove myself more able,
    And suavely stroll into the coming years
    As into rooms with thick rugs, chandeliers,
    And colorfully pyramided fruit
    On linened lengths of table.

    At times I fear the future won’t reward
    My failures with sufficient compensation,
    But dump me, aging, in a garret room
    Appointed with twilit, slant-ceilinged gloom
    And a lone bulb depending from a cord
    Suggestive of self-strangulation.

    Then, too, I have bad dreams, in one of which
    A cowled, scythe-bearing figure beckons me.
    Dark plains glow at his back: it seems I’ve died,
    And my soul, weighed and judged, has qualified
    For an extended, hyper-sultry hitch
    Down in eternity.

    Such fears and dreams, however, always pass.
    And gazing from my window at the dark,
    My drink in hand, I’m jauntily unbowed.
    The sky’s tiered, windy galleries stream with cloud,
    And higher still, the dazed stars thickly mass
    In their long Ptolemaic arc.

    What constellated powers, unkind or kind,
    Sway me, what far preposterous ghosts of air?
    Whoever they are, whatever our connection,
    I toast them (toasting also my reflection),
    Not minding that the words which come to mind
    Make the toast less toast than prayer:

    Here’s to the next year, to the best year yet;
    To mixed joys, to my harum-scarum prime;
    To auguries reliable and specious;
    To times to come, such times being precious,
    If only for the reason that they get
    Shorter all the time.
    Timothy Steele, “On the Eve of a Birthday” from Sapphics and Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986.www.uapress.com.
    Source: Sapphics Against Anger and Other Poems (1986)

  6. Patty Dacus says:

    Happy, happy birthday my friend!!!

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