Friday 17 February 2012

Thoughts At Sixty via @McGuireHimself

One of the things I find amazing about social media is the fact you can get to know people from all over. The internet has opened up the world, made possible social connections that would have been all but impossible before. Personally this is a life changing experience.

In my own journey, I have viewed much of life from the sidelines. I have two passions, writing and educating people about child abuse. This week my guest is writer Patrick McGuire.

Patrick McGuire is a writer of fiction, poetry, drama, and essays.

He has been teaching English at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside since 1986. He has received various teaching awards including the prestigious, career-achievement University of Wisconsin Regents’ Award for Excellence in Teaching. His university offerings include courses on specific authors–Chaucer, The Gawain Poet, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, W.B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Toni Morrison–as well as general ed. courses such as Intro to Literature, Intro to World Literature, Intro to Modern World Literature, American Literature to 1850, American Literature 1850-1920, American Literature 1920 to Present, British Poetry, British Literature to 1800, British Literature Since 1800, and Three Irish Poets: Yeats, Kavanagh and Heaney. He also has taught a panoply of writing courses: Developmental English, Composition and Reading, Advanced Composition and Advanced Composition for English Majors, Creative Writing: Fiction, Creative Writing: Poetry, and Playwrighting. He has also taught Intro to Language, History of the English Language, Modern English Grammar, and Grammar for Teachers and Writers.
He is married to Chicago theatre director Anna Antaramian. They have five children, all grown and mature and on their way to wonderful things

Please welcome Patrick to my blog.

A few days ago, I celebrated my sixtieth birthday: the Big 6 and 0. It is one of those milestones that gives one pause. Two things have been uppermost in my mind for the few weeks preceding this birthday. First, I have become keenly aware that I have lived more days now than I may expect to live in the future. Even with our advances in medicine and genetic engineering, I'm fairly sure that I do not want to have a one-hundred-and-twentieth birthday. And the second thing is that when I evaluate my life--the mix of disappointments and failures with the joys and successes--it has been a good life, but it has been a seemingly inconsequential life.

I believe in the idea that small actions ultimately have huge consequences. This idea is sometimes called Chaos Theory. I give my current students an example by telling them about a fellow graduate student at NYU asking me to share notes with him when he knew that he would miss next week's lecture. I did share them, and to thank me he suggested we have a cup of coffee at a nearby shop. His name was Josh, and we became friends and were friends all throughout graduate school. About four years after we met, Josh gave my name to the Chair of an English Department in Paterson, New Jersey. I got the job, and over time met a woman named Anna. Anna and I sometimes bumped in to each other on the commuter train between Paterson and NYC. And then eventually we discovered that each of us had let a train go by just to make sure we would bump in to each other again. Well, Anna eventually became the mother of my five children, and we have been happily married for more than 30 years. Anna, a native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, had moved to the Big Apple to pursue a career in theatre. We lived in Manhattan, but often vacationed in Kenosha. As the family grew, so did our need for space. We had four kids when we eventually returned to Kenosha to set up house. I got a position at the local university and Anna became a professor of theatre at a university in Chicago. I tell my students that I am their instructor simply because a man named Josh asked me to share my notes on Medieval English Literature.

This brings me back to my introspective birthday. I realize now that my inconsequential life will never end. I will die, but my influence on the universe will never end. I have affected, positively and negatively, thousands of students. Some I have made a real impression on; others have forgotten me and what I had to teach them two minutes after they left the final exam. Whatever I gave them became theirs; they became themselves, and their presence in their small world touched others, who in turned touched others.

What I say about my students is true of any other professions or jobs. People meet people and affect their lives. I was checking out at the grocery store recently, and one of the baggers came up and announced, "Oh, one of my favorites is here." I asked him what he meant, and he said, "You. You're one of my favorite customers." I didn't even know the kid knew of my existence or had taken any note of me. All of us affect those around us, and those effects continue on.

It sounds like I'm preaching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE; I'm not. Life is hard and dangerous. We have disappointments and failures, as I said earlier. But I believe we are each of us immortal in the way I've described.

My immortality is most assured in the lives of my children. They are a wonderful mix of Anna and me. There was a pose my father unconsciously took whenever he read the newspaper at the kitchen table. He sat with one hand on the table and the other, the left, on his knee. His left thumb pointed inward on his thigh, and the other four fingers pointed down on the outside of his leg. One night many years ago, I discovered myself in the same position; more interestingly, however, about two weeks ago, I saw my youngest son in the same configuration.

That pose, that position, must go back in time. Perhaps my father saw his father reading that way. I know now that that pose, that position, is also going forward.

My children carry me into the future. We older folks perhaps teach our children about the past; we drag from our memories family stories--every family has its myths--and attitudes and recipes and gestures. And our children carry us and those stories and gestures into the future.

So, at sixty, I feel myself immortal. What about that mix of disappointments and failures with successes and joys? Well, this milestone birthday is a reminder that, if we had to live our days over, we would most likely make the same mistakes. I say that because the failures I regret most are the ones of character.
I contend that the life I have so far lived is the only life I could have lived. I am me, for better or worse. Luckily, I found a woman who accepts that, who knows when I am insensitive and who guides me in that moment so that I do not seem so. Luckily for me, my five children can utter with complete love and disapproval when I say something stupid, "Oh, Dad" or more ironical, "Oh, Papa." Luckily for me, I have a daughter-in-law who accepts how absurd and thick I can be. And hopefully, she and my son will raise their beautiful daughter to be patient to her grandfather.

The only real problem with being sixty is the disparity between mind and body. In my mind, I can still run like the fastest kid on the block. But when I call on my knees and ankles, they don't respond. I decided a year or two ago that I will never change a flat tire again. I don't shovel snow. And when I mow the grass, I ride rather than push.

One bodily change has suited me perfectly, however. With age and experience, I now can distinguish the difference between a fine whiskey and a great whiskey. Can it get any better than that?

(The photos are of me at 27, 43, and 58.)

I am Patrick McGuire.I teach writing and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. One can read my fiction and poetry (and my famous soup recipes) at can follow me on Twitter @McGuireHimself


Patricia Singleton said...

60 for the two months that I have been that age has been great. Like a ripple in the water, we do have an effect upon so many more people than we realize every day. Since I left my 20s each decade has been so much better than the one before. Enjoy your year of being 60. I plan to.

Dump Him Love said...

I am here at 3.47 in the morning reading this post because I was unable to sleep. I am well past 60 and to be honest I wasn't hugely concerned when I reached that milestone. I have been concerned recently. The reason is I retired in December last and have been struggling to come to terms with not working. Your post has reminded me that I have had a positive impact on other people's lives and that this continues. You have helped me in the grieving process. Thank you - enjoy your 60th year :)

Susie Clevenger said...

I am 62 and my mind thinks I am 22. Life is in my spirit thus I celebrate. Great wisdom here!


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