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.