Weekend Reading
January 30, 2023

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

This week, I read Jancee Dunn’s thoughts on a new book, which is titled The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly.

The author, Margareta Magnusson, has written previously about “death cleaning,” which is a little less grim than it sounds.

Basically, it’s the practice of clearing away unnecessary belongings, so that nobody will be tasked with doing it after you’ve passed away. The idea is to reduce burdens, both physical and literal, so that you can grow older unencumbered.

I’m excited to actually read this book and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, rather than gather my thoughts from another person’s commentary. But in the meantime, I found value in Dunn’s takeaways.

Three central messages stood out to Dunn when she read The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly. The first was to embrace kärt besvär. 

Dunn writes,

This Swedish phrase blends kärt, meaning “dear or cherished,” and besvär, which means “pain.” So, one kärt besvär might be paying your bills — an annoying obligation, but you’re still grateful that you have the money to pay. Or, it could be taking care of someone who is sick . . .

. . . As you get older, it’s easy to be frustrated and complain, Magnusson said. But kärt besvär helps her to live with joy. “There seems to be no other choice than to see every nuisance as something that I must find a way to cherish,” she said.

Of the three takeaways mentioned in Dunn’s summary, this one is probably the greatest challenge for me. I’m prone to overwhelm, and when I’m in that state just about any small nuisance becomes something to wring my hands about.

But nuisances never cease, and much of our time will be spent dealing with them. If one’s goal is to embrace life fully—and that is my goal, regardless of how successful I am with it—then there’s much to be said for learning to approach our burdens with a sense of gratitude.

Another message that struck Jancee Dunn was Magnusson’s encouragement to “say ‘yes’ whenever possible.”

This one has historically been a challenge for me. A long history of perfectionism and the desire to control my circumstances have made spontaneity and embracing new, unexpected experiences difficult.

After lockdown in 2020 and 2021, however, I made a vow to myself that I would experience more and hesitate less. And I can say happily that I’ve been making good on that goal.

I could stand to be even more open than I am, but I’ve become more social, more eager to try new things, and less painfully deliberate than I used to be. It’s been tremendously rewarding to say yes more often, and I’m going to keep pushing myself toward that space of enthusiasm.

Finally, Dunn was struck by Magnusson’s entreaty to “surround yourself with the young.”

“This is Magnussen’s simple definition of happiness: being around young people,” Dunn writes.

Not only do they supply fresh ideas and perspectives, she said, but hearing about their plans and prospects “is a way to stay in tune with the young person you yourself were at some point.”

When I read this, I recognized it as being factually true; cognitive health studies show that friendships with younger people can reduce the risk and impact of dementia among older folks.

But I hadn’t considered that being friends with younger people can help us to stay connected to our own younger selves. It’s such a lovely idea, and it feels especially relevant for my life right now.

A lot of my friends are younger than me. It’s a development that’s happened for many reasons: moving to a “younger” neighborhood, the influx of new people who come into my life through yoga and food, and the fact that my social life often involves being out and about.

Many of my friends who are the same age as me now have a lot of family responsibility. This can make going out —especially spontaneous outings—difficult.

I want a family. For years the way I handled this was to sit at home, alone, waiting for the moment when my life would be magically transformed into the life of a person who was domestically settled and familially connected.

This did nothing but keep me trapped in a space of loneliness and longing. It decreased the chances of my life broadening to include new people, which ironically made it even more difficult for me to find and seek partner connections.

It also made me forget that “family” includes chosen family, the tapestry of people we meet through our passions and experiences and ultimately welcome into our lives as kin.

I have a small biological family, but I’m blessed with an extended chosen family. To lose sight of that was a huge loss for me. New friendship in the past couple years has made me remember it and give thanks for it.

It’s funny that I’m so often the oldest person in a group these days, because for a long time I tended to inhabit the opposite space. I was a classic “precocious” teen and young adult, always close to teachers and mentors, always eager to fill the role of being wise beyond my years.

There were definite upsides to that way of being, one of which is that I developed perspective on the whole of life at a young age. Strong connections with my mom’s friends, my teachers and professors, and later, my older colleagues, broadened my horizons beyond the here and now. It reminded me that there was a lot of life ahead of me.

The downside was that it played into my desire to have everything figured out as early in life as possible. This was connected to my preference for feeling in control.

I think it also was linked to my desire to feel special and unique. There were definite cross-currents between my outsized sense of being mature for my age and the anorexic yearning for exceptionalism.

It’s so wonderfully liberating to now be at a place in life where I actually feel less mature than a lot of people my age.

I’m less financially and domestically established, for one thing. Emotionally, I’m still working through a lot of old stuff. I learn something new about myself at each stage of the excavation.

At some point, I’d have regarded all of this as evidence that I’m “behind” in life, and it would have been an affront to my ego.

I still have moments of shame about this, the sensation that I ought to be further along. Increasingly, however, my self-consciousness is giving way to a sense of joyful humility. There’s so much I don’t know, and there’s a lot of future fun to be had in figuring it out.

In the meantime, I’m learning so much from my younger friends. I’m struck by their solidity and self-awareness. They’re socially engaged, interested in leaving the world a better place than it is today. They’re thoughtful about their careers and also interested in having well-rounded lives. They seem to date with a much stronger sense of self-respect than I had at their age.

These connections are inspiring. They give me hope. And they are indeed helping me to live with exuberance.

Happy Sunday, friends. And here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

Amanda’s vegan lemon scones look so fluffy and elegant!

I cooked for a crowd tonight, which got me searching for vegan charcuterie board ideas. This one in particular stood out to me.

These carrot fries will absolutely be the next thing that I prepare in my air fryer.

The greenest of vibrant green kale pesto recipes.

I love cheesecake, I love cookie dough, and I love all of my friend Britt’s recipes. So I think it’s safe to say that I will love her vegan cookie dough cheesecake.

Recipes

1. This article is about the beauty of friendship as a source of feeling seen and understood in parenthood. But I think that the sense of camaraderie that it describes can apply to friendship between non-parents, too.

In particular, I loved this bit:

“Same” is the most important word in our vocabulary. It’s just a shorthand expression of empathy, I guess, and it means: “I know how you feel.” It means: “You are not alone.” It means: “You are not insane.” Or maybe: “You are insane, but so am I.”

2. Regardless of how you feel about Kraft mac n’ cheese, perhaps you’ll be touched, as I was, by Ivana Rihter’s reflection on the iconic blue box.

The article describes this pantry staple’s relative stability through economic upturns and downturns, and Rihter also weaves in thoughts about Kraft’s meaning to immigrant families.

3. A beautiful examination of how humpback whales use air bubbles as multifarious tools. The photos alone are worth clicking through for.

4. The New Yorker reviews a new book that chronicles our centuries-old effort to fight distraction, using Medieval monks as an illustrative example.

5. And finally, via the New York Times, take home messages about the Swedish art of aging exuberantly.

I’m posting super late tonight, clearly. This is because my young and wonderful neighbor and I cohosted a party this evening.

It was a lot more social activity than is usual for me on a Sunday, and it was a ton of fun. I’m glad that I said yes to doing it.

Till soon,

xo

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    1 Comment
  1. Well done for saying ‘yes’ Gina! Your posts resonate with me, week in and week out.
    Finding my own way to my youthful self bit by bit. Having my daughter at 18 made me grow up real fast and I have been willingly putting her above ever since. Now that she herself is 18, I’m slowly trying to capture a bit of my lost self with a more confident stride.
    Have a beautiful week xoxo

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