05 April 2014

My get-up and go is alive and well

by Elizabeth Zelvin

Back in the Fifties, the Weavers used to sing a song:
How do I know my youth is all spent
My get-up and go has got up and went
But in spite of it all, I’m able to grin
When I think of the places my get-up has been.

I’ve been unable to find the songwriter. Most references I googled said “Anonymous,” and the book Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul claims it’s copyrighted material without saying who holds the copyright. I sang that song myself many times long before anybody took chicken soup out of the bowl and put it between book covers. And I had the impression it was written by Lee Hayes, the legendary bass vocalist with the Weavers.

As I get older…and older and older…the song, which I always thought was fun, gets more and more relevant. My father, who lived to 91, used to be the living embodiment of the final stanza:
I wake up each morning and dust off my wits
Open the paper and read the obits
And if I’m not there, I know I’m not dead
So I eat a good breakfast and roll back in bed.

I reached the mid-sixties, an age at which my contemporaries were just starting to die of what’s sometimes called natural causes, at around the same time as my first novel was finally published. I’ve had interesting friends all my life. Even if I hadn’t seen or been in contact with some of these people for decades, they remained vivid in my mind. I always assumed that one day they’d pick up the phone or I’d shoot them an email, and we’d pick up exactly where we left off. It’s been a shock to realize that with some of them, that isn’t going to happen.

I admit one of my many feelings on learning of the passing of these friends from junior high and high school was disappointment that they’d never know I’d finally achieved this lifelong ambition or get to enjoy the book.

But of course, that wasn't all. I felt cheated of the catching up and schmoozing we could have done. I wanted to know how they were affected by the civil rights and antiwar movements of the Sixties and by the women’s movement later on. I wanted to know if they got to write their books and paint their pictures and play their music and travel all over the world. I wanted to know if they had fun. I wanted to know if they were happy.

Several of the friends I lost at that age were academics. To some extent, they lived the lives that most of our parents back in Queens expected us to. I’m in the other group, those that jumped the rails—and believe me, for this old English major, running off with genre fiction was an act of rebellion—and reinvented ourselves every few years.

On the other hand, academics of our generation could be and often were political firebrands. Having survived all that, they should have gotten to retire—a state that no longer means golf and bridge and Florida as it did in my parents’ day, but a turning of their energies to a new set of dreams and ambitions. One high school buddy, whose career was even more checkered than mine—poet, therapist, and stand-up comic (“I’m not a shrink, I’m an expand!”)—got cancer shortly after finally inheriting enough to relieve his endless scrabbling for a living.

Now I'm staring 70 in the face. I'll have passed that milestone by the time you read my next blog post. I've lost many more friends, and others are dealing with life-threatening and debilitating illnesses as well as losses of their own. I've also published more books and short stories, released an album of original songs, helped a lot more people in my other role as a therapist, and gotten to enjoy my grandchildren as they grow.

Grandkids are the payoff for all that showing up for adult life we have to do and what our kids put their parents through. If I live as long as my mother did (and let the planet please not fall apart by then), I have a good chance of dancing at my granddaughters' weddings, cradling their children, and maybe even holding their first published books in my hands. In the meantime, I've decided that 70 is the new 39. I'm old enough to remember Jack Benny, and his shtick was that no matter how many years went by, his age was always 39. So if I feel like it, I can stay 70 forever.


  1. Happy upcoming birthday, Liz. I can identify with a lot of what you said, and I agree that neither you nor I are the kind to sit around just because of a number on the calendar, but we have reached the age that I read the obits daily. I was 60 the first time I went to MWA and was asked how old I was. I answered as I still do. I'm 93. Don't I look great?

  2. Happy birthday!
    Although it's to really true that 'you're only as old as you feel', its a pretty good working attitude.

  3. I am working on my first book, and am 61 years old. Your column today gave me real hope that I should feel proud about my effort and my hope of success in the venture, instead of just feeling foolish about it all. THANK YOU!

  4. Just put a reminder on my calendar to call my Aunt Hilda on the 11th and wish her a happy 102nd birthday. She's still full of beans!

  5. Anonymous, you're in plenty of time! My first novel came out on my 64th birthday and thanks to Amazon Publishing picking up my latest novel and planning to put some effort into promoting it, my career may actually take off after I turn 70.

  6. Birthday greetings!

    That wonderful Weavers song is featured in the 1981 reunion movie that they filmed entitled "Wasn't that a Time." The verses quoted are sung there by Lee Hays. The movie itself is a great documentary about the group and well worth a "search and watch"!

  7. Happy Birthday Liz. And yes, you have the right attitude. We may as well all laugh, sing, dance and celebrate in this life, because, to paraphrase others, we're not getting out alive anyway. As long as our actions aren't hurting anyone, what difference does it make what we do now or what new interests we may decide to start up in our slightly advancing age. Keep on trucking.

  8. Jack Benny was right in style. I had a friend in the Norfolk Navy Base several years ago, married to an officer there, who had all her IDs made so she would be 39 for many, many years! Way to go! Thelma in Crime Laden Manhattan, who refuses to give out her age!

  9. Hi Thelma! Long time!

    Anon #1, best of luck to you. Writing (writing well) is a lot of work, but it can pay off.

    Liz, happy birthday. As my father used to say: Consider the alternative.

  10. Many happy returns, Liz! The song you quoted reminds me of what Joan Rivers said on Jimmy Fallon the other night in reference to her bucket list: "Item #1. Wake up!"

    Recently an old friend whom I've known for 40 years, but haven't seen in 25, got in touch by way of my daughter's Facebook page. I called her & we talked for 2 hours & will get together this summer. I was so happy to hear from her again.

  11. Happy Birthday!! You sure have the right attitude when it comes to friends and time!

  12. Sorry to be so late to the party, Liz, but happy birthday anyway! Great article and attitude. See you at the Dell cocktail party, I hope.

  13. Happy birthday, Liz! I'm not all that far behind you.

    Keep up the good work and great writing!


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