Sunday, October 19, 2008

Staying Healthy to the End

If you're not in good health, it's difficult to focus on achieving your dreams.

Take my dad. He smoked three packs of unfiltered Camels a day and drank like a fish. Tray upon cardboard tray stacked with empty cans of Shaeffer ("the one beer to have when you're having more than one") piled up in our garage each week for the garbage man to haul away. By the time he was in his 60's, my father's arteries were so clogged and his lungs so weak that he could barely walk a city block without stopping to rest. He died at 71.

My 85-year old mom is the opposite. She walks almost every day, gardens seven months a year, and has eaten well her whole life. Her sense of balance is a little iffy and her hearing is shot, but she's still agile and active.

The other night, someone asked me what I think I'll be doing at age 75. "Gosh, I hope I'll be writing my third or fourth novel," I said.

There are no guarantees I'll still be healthy at that age; but like my mom, I take care of myself. I exercise faithfully, cook by color, eat low on the food chain, and generally avoid unpronounceable ingredients. In other words, I'm trying to increase my odds.

As Jane Brody writes in a recent NY Times Personal Health column I highly recommend titled Living Longer, in Good Health to the End, "[H]ow people live accounts for more than half the difference in how hale and hearty they will remain. . . ."

Note: Although my friend Ann two years ago gave me the skirt I'm wearing above, this week is the first time I've been able to fit into it. I haven't gained or lost any significant weight since I was last pregnant in 1983, but I recently stepped up my home exercise routine to combat the effects of menopause on my waistline. I should knock on wood (health, after all, is influenced in part by genetics), but I feel great.

Oh, and just for fun, here's one of those old Shaefer ads:


  1. Anonymous1:08 AM

    Hi Prill - You look good, a little skinny maybe. I think that your novel about the widow is your Mom's story. That might explain why it feels "stilted" to you. I spoke to Dr. Khalid Hosseini the other day. He writes what he knows, Prill. He's had an interesting life. I remember how spontaneous and mirthful you were when you were young. Did you read The Syringa Tree? The reason that I recommended it to you was to broaden your sense of justice. I think that you may be trapped in your mileau in the First World. It is difficult to write meaningfully unless you have context, Prill. Where are you going to find the outrage and purpose necessary to declaim, evoke, portray and teach if you don't leap off your safe front porch? Most novels die on the vine. In order to distill yours into wine, you need to first crush the grapes. There is no wine without the juice of the grape. Could it be time to stomp some grapes beneath your feet, Prill? That is the beginning of the process, Prill. Good books like good wine require discipline to make. You could easily rest on your laurels, Prill. Menopause should not give you pause but it could. I think that the eight year old Prill is the protagonist, Prill. Or perhaps she will be in your third book. Good skill and hard work, Prill. Evening.

  2. Anon—

    Once again, interesting food for thought.

    The idea of the widow originates from a woman I met briefly at a talk I gave in Maine. Her husband had just died and she kept speaking about her life in the past tense. It made me wonder what kind of future she would ultimately create for herself.

    As I’ve been pulling the thread of her imagined story, I’ve been surprised to see how much of myself I’ve woven into its fabric. The story, I’ve come to realize, is not just about my protagonist’s unbearable loss and what she learns about herself and life from dealing with it. It’s about my own grief in losing a dear friend two years ago. It’s about my relationship with my father and mother. It’s about my values and my hopes. And, yes, in a way, it’s also about bringing my shadow self to light, which is the exhilarating part of the process and where I stumble.

    Khalid Hosseini writes what he knows. He grew up in Afghanistan in a caldron of contradictions, both cultural and political. He comes by his outrage naturally. Still, I imagine that the outrage we readers see on the pages of The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns bubbles up from within the context of the story. When Hosseini sits down to write, I doubt he starts with the idea that he wants to teach anyone anything.

    What I’m doing is the only thing I know how to do when it comes to writing, which is to try and tell the story I have inside me as honestly as I can and see what bubbles up from that. If the story ends up being about my outrage and sense of justice, so be it. If it ends up being about love, so be it. It will be what it is.

    And, yes, I’m in the middle of the Syringa Tree and am enthralled. I’ll let you know my thoughts once I’ve processed them.

  3. P.S. I'm going for fit, not skinny. Maybe I'll indulge my inner chocoholic today. :-)

  4. I think you look FAB-U-LOUS! love that skirt and with those tights and boots... way cool!
    I love your philosophy on staying healthy to the end... I feel the same way. I walk 45 minutes everyday and do pilates everyday (alternate upper and lower).
    I want to live to be AT LEAST 100!
    Even with all the political talk about healthcare, etc... bottom line is that it is our responsibility... not governments. We have to each be responsible for our own lives.

  5. Barb,

    You sound like a kindred spirit!!

    I couldn't agree more that we have to take responsibility for our lives. Government has a role to play--in health care, education, etc. But just as parental attitudes toward education make a huge difference in childrens' academic success, so to do our health habits affect not only our well-being but insurance rates, etc. I'm not sure if I want to be 100 (though I love that you do!); but however old I live to be, I'm hoping against hope to remain healthy to very near the end.

  6. Well, this one hit home! My novel was published when I was 61--a time when most are thinking about retiring. I've packed a whole career into those years since then. So, Prill, I'm pretty sure you'll be working on your fourth novel by then. I have a few years to go until then. Maybe I'll have my second published! If I can work it into the file of other books I have planned. Ha!
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson

  7. CinderPrilla--you look adorable. I totally agree that it is our responsibility to take charge of our health. I charge mine all the time, at the bakery, the donut shop, th----whatttt? Okay, okay, just teasin' ya hun...

  8. Queen Jaw Jaw-- YOU are adorable!! (What have you been up to?) As always, your note brought a smile to my face.