Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • On Turning Sixty

    • Posted on Jul 13, 1993 by Scott Cawelti

    7-13-03

    A few words about aging from a near-sexagenarian.  I’m turning sixty next week and “sexa” refers to sixty in that Latin word.  Not sexy.   

     My get up and go has got up and went.  Who woulda thunk it, as Iowa poet and singer Greg Brown wrote.  Brown once worried that he was too old to die young.  He was probably thirty.

     Leonard Cohen too, reflecting on aging, made succinct sense with his “I can’t forget, but I don’t remember what.” 

    And Shakespeare, who wrote much about aging, exclaimed “Age, I do abhor thee; youth I do adore thee.” 

     Most of us agree with Shakespeare, and so many others who lament aging.  We adore youth and shun aging as though we can avoid it.  It’s almost as taboo to talk about your age as it is to disclose your salary. 

    Caught up in our youth culture, many try to stall the clock, and for a considerable fee plastic surgeons are more than happy to help.  They offer fountains of youth-producing procedures, from injections of botulism to all-out face and neck reconstruction.  It’s downright decadent, not to mention futile.

    People wonder whether I dye my still-brown full head of hair, a hereditary gift, and because I’ve actually lost weight in the past year, I don’t look quite sixty.  But on a scale of things that matter, this ranks at the bottom.

    Some people need to look young to feel better, and I feel sorry for them. Like time, wrinkles march on.   As our macho President says, bring ‘em on.  I’m happy to get older, and looks be damned.

    But it’s not easy to dismiss youth and looks.  We use youthful beauty to market everything, from Twinkies to toothpaste.  Old folks only appear on commercials as comic foils, or to sell laxatives and adult diapers. 

    For the most part, we warehouse and avoid our elders, aware of their frailty and their distance from our digitally-driven world.  Yet my 91-year old dad shows me more about life and living with his constant grace and humor than a dozen frantic kids searching for their right stuff.

    Truth:  I wouldn’t give up where I am for a waterfall of youth, much less a lousy fountain. I’m finally reaching a point where I know what I’m up to and enjoying most of it. Young means foolish and mindless; age means balance and perspective.   

    Understand, my life isn’t perfect.  I can’t handle caffeine, or much alcohol, or much serious work-stress without feeling utterly rotten.  I yearn for a daily nap, and when I don’t exercise I feel creaky. I take pills for arthritis and blood pressure.

    I can’t stay awake much past eleven, and can’t get up much before seven.  A night at home with a good book or movie seems like bliss.  I’m a bookagenarian more than a sexagenarian.

    I’m come to value friends and loved ones over work and busy-ness.   

    But most of all, I feel calm.  It’s something I’ve not experienced  much before, with obsessions and false certainties crowding my mind and life. 

    Woody Guthrie’s son Arlo wrote a poem about this welcome calm:

    The world is not my home

    Passing through me

    As clouds before the moon

    The great depths of the ocean

    Barely take notice

    Of wind upon the waters

    Therefore I from the depths of my soul

    Laugh at distractions

    Amusing myself with songs

    The shadows of clouds above

    Played upon the face of time

     

    Go comment!
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