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Say To-Da-Loo to your “to do’s
It’s been just about a year to the day since I’ve contributed an article to 50Plus-Today, and as you can imagine lots has happened in that time. I hope that your year gave you reasons to laugh with some frequency. It’s medicine, you know.
Graying with the kids
As for me, I’ve been busy, and if we were having a one-on-one you might well ask, so what have you been doing, Arlen? Well, if you take a look at the new photo that adorns my column you can see what I haven’t been doing, and that’s dyeing my hair. Yes, dear readers, I’ve set myself free from Clairol, L’Oreal and Revlon, the three horsemen of the hairpocalypse.
I transitioned from my signature ginger to my new au naturale. And I gotta say, I love it. I can walk into the wind without worrying about my gray roots showing. And, I admit that I got very lucky with the timing of this transition because as I grew grayer, gray hair became a trend. Not only with the 50Plus crowd who finally said: Eh, the heck with it – and found themselves a hundred dollars richer every month, but the twenty-somethings began dyeing their hair gray. Don’t ask me why, I’m still trying to figure out pre-torn jeans.
The to-do list that didn’t
As we became Covid-induced shut-ins, like lots of people, I began thinking about all the things that I planned to do and never had the time. Covid was going to make a big dent in my bucket list, at least that’s what I thought.
Near the top was learning to play the piano. I have the good fortune of housing a lovely Kawai with good action, so said my neighbor, a world-renowned pianist. Some years ago I swallowed any bit of intimidation that threatened to hold me back, such as learning the scales as she was playing Chopin by heart. I flexed my fingers and began to tickle the ivories. My “teach yourself” method got me as far as Ode to Joy and the gorgeous Aura Lee, more popular as Elvis’ Love Me Tender. Both are impressive sounding, but frankly pretty simple to play.
My pal Michael, a talented musician, told me to practice every day even for ten minutes, but every day, he emphasized. I’d stop playing for months on end, and then I’d have to start again from the beginning. Had I listened to Michael I’d have Elvis’ entire songbook at my fingertips by now. But I’m sad to say, Elvis has left the building, and I remain a novice.
High up on my list was learning French. I had no illusions about proficiency, my goal was basic conversation. You know, the limping along mastery that makes French people smile benevolently at us because we’re trying, but failing. I would have been content with that.
My ooh-la-la phase
Once again employing my “teach yourself” method of learning I began watching French movies, television series, news, panel discussions without subtitles, game shows. I bought books for vocabulary. Conjugating verbs and tenses weren’t important to me. I kept hearing the best way is to learn like a baby, and I was all over it.
Around that time I fell under the spell of a charming YouTube instructor named Alexa. Each lesson began with a tinny French musical number that sounded like an accordion was being strangled. Alexa is a creative teacher who uses props to enhance the lesson. She wore a slicker and umbrella to teach us il pleut. Sunglasses helped us learn il fait beau. I learned colors, days of the week, months of the year, body parts, and counting, of course. I was progressant, and then Alexa began talking conjugation. Oh, Alexa, we could have been so good together if only you stuck with my plan – no conjugation, ever.
|“I thought I’d learn Chinese brush painting, but ordered Chinese food instead.”|
During Covid I cleaned out a few closets. In one I found the elaborate Chinese brush painting set I bought in Beijing in 2010. Hmm… maybe it’s time to learn Chinese brush painting, I thought about it but ordered a delivery of General Tsao Chicken instead. I found the photos to be incorporated into the book I’m compiling of our family history. It seemed a perfect time to put it together, but are my relatives really interested? And it would be so time consuming that I wouldn’t be able to practice the piano or watch Alexa.
Time to cull the bucket list
In August, my birthday rolled around again, and it got me thinking. I’m naturally gray now – happily so – and yet it’s a reminder that I have fewer years ahead than behind me. There would never be enough time to do all the things I’d planned. It was time to cull the bucket list. I put our family history back on the shelf. I dumped the glass jars and Lazy Susans I had been collecting for an experimental art class I was asked to teach pre-Covid. I threw away the recipe for the English trifle that I would never make. I decided not to paint my Converse sneakers, nor stencil inspirational quotes on the archway to my living room, nor commission a Modernist version of the Sistine Chapel for my ceiling. It’s true, I’d been thinking about it for years.
Then I gave up learning French. And it was surprisingly easy. No more rules of liaison, or mysterious “x’s at the end of words, or conjugating for El, Elle, and Elles, which all sound alike. Giving up learning French was freeing, like letting my hair grow gray. What’s more, I found that I was very good at not learning French. I was much, much better at not learning French than I ever was at learning French. Letting go gave me a wonderful sense of accomplishment. And so much more free time.
About the Author:
Arlen Hollis Kane is a Manhattan-based award-winning writer. Memos from Manhattan, her regular column for 50PlusToday, is reflective of her love affair with her hometown. Her focus is on writing about the ever astonishing people, places and events that inspire the phrase “only in New York.”
After reaching 50, she fulfilled a childhood passion by enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Technology. She designs and hand makes accessories. Her abstract acrylics and photographs have been featured in a one-woman show in the Gallery of the Borough President of Manhattan, and in juried shows, including at the National Arts Gallery. Arlen volunteers as a Big Apple Greeter, which gives visitors the experience of seeing New York with a local.