What I’ve Learned So Far by DeWitt Clinton

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shot of florence italy by jon rawlinson riverOkay; this might be shorter than expected, but I keep forgetting most of what I’ve learned and don’t have too much incentive to go back and learn whatever it is I forgot.

I’ve learned a lot more than I want to know about what’s tight—as in tight hamstrings—but that’s only important when bending over. How often do we actually bend over anymore?

Ladies might not be as interested in this, but I had so little hair, and most of it looking too snowy, so one morning after a race, I decided to shave what little remained. Now I’m a dome, and ladies like to rub the dome. I’m not sure why, but they all smile.

About bending again. It might be helpful to just wear a pair of knee pads.

Why are small animals, babies, and silly Youtube videos so amusing at this age? Is that an early sign of something more frightening?

After awhile, though not at first, you won’t wonder about your parents as much, or perhaps they’ll just stop following you around so much since they left long ago.

Please, don’t serve anything in a purée. We’re much too young for that. But be careful with the apples, especially the skins, as sometimes they get stuck on the way down, and that’s never good.

Trips to the grocery store are not as appealing as they once were. Now your spouse is looking at cruise brochures with comments like: “Wouldn’t this be nice?”

Sleep is something that’s way over-emphasized as hardly any of us are getting any. Naps in the afternoon are very pleasant. It’s very quiet at 4 a.m. I’m starting to like the dark.

By now I think I have all the clothes I’ll ever need, but when I drive my wife to Goodwill, I always find something there I can wear.

Waiting rooms begin to look alike since—sooner or later—you’ll visit quite a few. Some have better lighting than others. For appointments, you can catch up with all the old magazine issues you no longer subscribe to. With ER waiting rooms, the lighting is brighter than anywhere else at night. Nodding off is almost impossible.

While younger actors are always enjoyable, it’s a treat to see an entire cast either your age or older, and even more so if someone laughs.

Why are there more than 500 plastic grocery bags stored in the pantry? This is one of the great puzzles.

Up until this time, we didn’t think about what we did, we just sort of pitched in and went about whatever we were doing. Now we’re asking, “Is it meaningful?”

About that bending again. Yoga really can open everything up, the back, the legs, the chest, even the neck. Don’t try leaning over backwards on the first day. Just learn to stand as straight as you can, even if you have a diagnosis in your back.

It’s OK and perfectly acceptable to talk to people who are talking to you in the television. Just be careful when guests are over.

Yes, we once baked an entire week before inviting everybody over for high tea in the middle of winter. Now, we pick up bottled tea and try to stay away from the cookies and cakes in plastic containers.

I’m still trying to learn what I learned in Vietnam. I know, every now and then, when a Huey buzzes the neighborhood, that I’m still not over it. The snakes over there are not as long as the snakes over here.

Why have childhood memories started floating back now and then? Why is that infernal Brahms tune still playing around in my head with a metronome clicking away like it was just this morning?

Take a big breath of air every day. More if you can. Blow into one of those plastic gadgets and push the ball up and up with your air. Air is good.

Don’t look into the mirror that often. One of these days you’ll start talking to the mirror. Not a good sign.

Plan something next year. That’ll give you confidence you can still make something happen.

If you haven’t started writing poetry by now, don’t. It will just be embarrassing.

It’s true, you could watch movies all day, but, instead, try thinking about the movie you’re already in.

Learn to like broccoli; it’s a wonder drug.

Be very careful about selective hearing. It’s a bit like poker. This can’t ever be misused, ever, as it’s potential quicksand.

Listen, or, if you’re in better shape than I am, keep listening. Don’t stare at the floor or ceiling as that will make it worse. Eye contact is key.

Seriously, stop judging immediately. That includes you and everybody else. You’ve got leaves to rake, dirt to turn over, tomato plants to get into the ground. When someone acts a certain way, and you imagine the situation would be better with your pontifications, just stop having thoughts like that. All life is a mystery. Keep it mysterious.

Oh, and stop folding your arms when storms approach. Put your arms down, palms open. That will help with keeping your blood pressure down. Don’t look down.

Get a cat. A big dog is a good substitute, but don’t get a little snippy dog. In Europe they’re called foo-foos. You don’t want to be walking a foo-foo.

What do you want, really want? Forgetaboutit. Instead, where are you right now? Turn your hearing aid up a bit. Clean your glasses. Inhale. What’s in front of you is all that matters, no matter what. Repeat: it’s the only thing that matters.

When on the stage in your first community players production, remember to always appear on stage when the script calls for your character to be on stage. If you forget, the others have to continue their lines, and make up something you might have said. Show up.

Your mom or dad taught you how to ride a bike, swim, and walk. Time to learn how to do that again, only with a bigger road bike, a wet suit, and a pair of running shorts. Soon you’ll be signing up for local races. Do another one.

Start making dinners. Start making breakfasts. Start making lunches. You’ll never know when these skills will come in handy, just in case. I’m not saying anything will happen, but you don’t want to be looking at the kitchen one day and wondering where the tasty meal comes from.

Oh, and look inside a washing machine, for both dishes and clothes. It’s not that hard to load and unload. You’ll be appreciated.

Don’t always see movies you like. You’ll be surprised how interesting and satisfying those movies are that you are certain you won’t like. Everything is an experience. Stop scripting, go improv.

You don’t need to take anatomy again, if you did the first time, but it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a chart and start seeing where your bones and muscles are, or once were.

Go to Florence. Have some gelato. Find that restaurant around the corner from the square with all those statues. Look at some of the art. Have an espresso. Start kissing. Continue kissing.

Keep looking up, everybody. Don’t let those texters run into you. The view is thrilling from up here. Down there are your shoes, or toes, and the path you think you’re on.

That path? Ha, it keeps changing all the time. And we never really do get to where we want to go, do we? And then, when we do get somewhere, we want to go someplace else. Long road trip, much to see. Mother said, remember where you are.

Find a lake in the summer. Start swimming in the lake. Sometimes it’s choppy, sometimes flat. It’s better than almost anything else. Watch where you’re going. You don’t want to get lost out there.

Remember: everything you once did, you’re doing it differently now. Keep that in mind when you say how you hate change.

Don’t just look at the trees and birds. Start identifying them. Look them up if you don’t know. Bartlett pears taste different than crab apples. Don’t get so easily confused this early, as we have much more spotting to do.

dewitt-clinton in officeDeWitt Clinton is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, and lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin. His essay on travelling in Poland was recently published in Cultural Studies<=>Critical Methodologies. A few poems from a book length adaptation of Kenneth Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese have appeared in Cha: An Asian Literary Quarterly, qarrtsiluni, and Verse Wisconsin. He is a teacher-in-training at a Milwaukee Iyengar yoga studio. Find him on Facebook (DeWitt Clinton) or visit his blog at www.dewittclintonblog.blogspot.com
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Jon Rawlinson


  1 comment for “What I’ve Learned So Far by DeWitt Clinton

  1. Love this, like a graduation speech for folks of a different age. We still need this type of advice/reflection, don’t you think? It should not be reserved for the coeds.

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