949: Thirty-Fifth Year

949: Thirty-Fifth Year

949: Thirty-Fifth Year

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Shira Erlichman.


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

When I was twenty-six, I taught creative writing once a week in Manhattan at SAGE, a national organization which offers advocacy and services for LGBTQIA+ elders. I don’t know what I expected, exactly, of that classroom. But I didn’t expect one of the most provocative, sexually explicit, and boisterous rooms I’d ever teach in.

There was Bunnie, with a mop of shrieking white hair, a fiercely intelligent seventy-something-year old who’d survived breast cancer and carried her bike all the way up the bazillion flights to our classroom. There was Debra who, during her week of workshop, fiercely advocated, “It’s not smut! It’s erotica!” There was dapper William, whose memoir excerpt surrounding the ethics of a childhood sexual encounter sent the class into gay mayhem.

My grandparents died when I was fairly young, so I didn’t grow up around elders, let alone Queer ones. I didn’t expect that these students in their late sixties to late eighties would be so…passionate? Inquisitive. Opinionated. Our culture doesn’t reflect elders as still growing. I didn’t expect that some of these elders would become friends, attend my dinner parties, and still be a part of my life ten years later.

As each birthday arrives, what do we expect from our new age, its vantage point? Today’s poem unspools a wealth of questions, both practical and existential. I love the transparency of the speaker’s effort to understand his new perch, and too, the soft commentary that comes at the end from a compassionate, and older, perspective.

Thirty-Fifth Year
by Charif Shanahan

Dread remains. I keep looking
For a thing I can’t name, though I try
“Purpose,” “meaning,” “presence.” 
I circle my worst fear in life, which is my life:  
What to do with it, how to shape it, and so on. 
It’s something like a tiger circling a cage 
Inside a cage that I circle. It’s a privilege,  
I know. Still, I can’t land on a five-year plan 
So I return text messages and look 
For doors: to the laundry room, 
The basement, the self. I ask questions  
I can manage—How may I be of service?—
And questions I can’t—Why are we here?  
Do “you” think of “us” as “here” “together”? 
I try a new city every two to four years, 
Then complain about a lack of continuity,
Of roots. Every morning, I stretch out
On my foam roller, make a protein shake,
And take a shot of apple cider vinegar 
To lower my A1C. I moisturize. I sip tea.  
At night, when my body begs for a range 
Of macronutrients, I stretch out across 
The couch and eat a handful of jellybeans,  
A domestic glamour shot, with anything 
On Netflix that runs long enough to be 
The background noise I need to avoid 
Returning to those questions, or looking 
For the name of the thing I’m looking for.  
And what I can’t understand is that I know 
A dear older friend was right to remind me, once, 
Though it’s returned to me again and again 
And again: You are actually very good at joy—

“Thirty-Fifth Year” by Charif Shanahan from TRACE EVIDENCE © 2023, Charif Shanahan. Used by permission of Tin House.