Knowing Up From Down

Kip Rosser

© Copyright 2022 by Kip Rosser

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo at Unsplash.
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo at Unsplash.

There’s a word that troubles me. I think a lot about this word. I’ll tell you what it is in a minute. But first, there’s a different word you need to know. The word is contronym. A contronym is a word that, strange as it seems, is actually its own opposite.

Take the word off,” for example. It can mean to shut down or deactivate, as in the sentence, I shut the light off.” But it can also mean the opposite -- to turn on or activate -- as in my alarm clock just went off.” How bizarre is that?!

Just a few more.

The word “out” is, astonishingly, a double contronym. Since “out” has more than one meaning, it contains its own opposite twice! First: “out” means both outside and inside, as in the sentence, “I never have time to go out [outside] because I run a business out [inside] of my home.” Second: “out” means both off/visible and on/visible, as in, “At first, I couldn’t see a thing when the lights went out [off], but I was able to find my way to the car because the full moon was out [on].

Here’s one of my favorites: the word, “left.” It can mean something that’s gone, as in, “He just left the room.” Yet, it can mean something that’s still here, as in, “There’s only one piece of pie left.” Finally, the word, “dust.” It can mean to remove something, or, it can mean to apply something. “I dusted the furniture” – remove. “I dusted the donuts with powdered sugar”— apply.

I love this stuff, but what’s this got to do with me?

I just reached the age of sixty-nine. And, as I said, there’s a word that’s giving me trouble. The word is downhill.” As it relates to aging, I’ve dedicated significant time to nailing down its meaning once and for all, so that older adults everywhere can join me in sticking to that definition. Downhill” is one hell of a contronym.

Think about that word. Downhill can describe both something that’s hard and something that’s easy. It can mean that things are going to be good, but it also can mean that they’re going to be bad. Take bicycling. Everyone knows that pedaling uphill is hard, but afterwards it’s all downhill from there.” Downhill means easy. We use this analogy all the time. Get past the difficulty of installing the operating system on that computer, then it’s all downhill.” “Once you master those guitar chords, playing that song is all downhill from there.” Excellent definition. Going downhill is easy, it’s great – after the hard work of going uphill, you’ve earned a reward. You can coast. Downhill’s wonderful.

Unless you’re talking about aging.

On my fiftieth birthday, people were full of congratulations, as if I’d achieved something. What a milestone! The Big Five-O!” Then, with a sigh of dismay, these same people added, It’s all downhill from here.” And they did not mean easy.

Wait a minute! Now downhill’s definition has just flipped? Downhill’s going to be hard? It’s going to be bad? All these people are patting me on the back for making it a half-century, and yet they can tell me in the same breath that I should consider myself in a state of steady decline from now on? Who likes to be told something like that? I flat-out reject that definition of downhill regardless of my current age, and so should you. It’s uphill that’s hard, takes all the effort; it’s uphill that’s the struggle.

Let’s get something straight; aging is not an achievement. It’s a fact of life. Aging itself is, remarkably, just like coasting; you don’t have to do a damn thing. It happens by itself, easily, over time. In fact, the words, “age,” “aging” or “aged” are themselves contronyms. We’ve decided as a society to make “age” mean decomposition, something in decline, devalued. “These old photos of my great grandfather are yellowed, fading and crumbling with age.” At the same time, we’ve decided that all sorts of things (as opposed to people) are to be treasured, that things inherently acquire more value as they get older, as in, “my 1909 S VBD penny is valued at $2,277.00 and it’s worth more and more as it ages,” or, “this whiskey is fantastic; it’s been aged over sixty years!”

I have made a conscious decision to separate the uphill side of aging from the downhill side. I resolved to see the uphill side of aging for what it is, and when I did, what do you know -- most of the things associated with it are the same struggles that I (and everyone else on the planet) cope with throughout life, regardless of age. Physical ailments and injuries can happen any time. Mental illnesses can take hold when we’re young. Financial difficulties hit us without considering how old we are. Sure, there are some challenges specifically associated with aging that can be devastating. They, too, are the uphill obstacles we have to surmount.

Can we agree that from now on, anything difficult that happens as we age is uphill? They’re the things we have to overcome so that we can reap the rewards of aging, enjoy life fully, and discover joy in the ease and exhilaration of the downhill ride.

What’s the downhill ride? It’s the sum of my experiences, the people and things that I continue to value through the years. I routinely take stock of everything and everyone that sustains me, keeps me happy. They’re all part of my downhill ride. I’m married to the love of my life -- together (so far) for fifty-two years. I have relationships with friends that span decades. I’m never bored, there’s always something I’m involved in, and there’s never a shortage of things I want to learn about.

And yes, I do feel every passing year, I see the marks each one leaves. When the 2016 diagnosis of cancer was handed to me (again, something that can happen to anyone at any time), it was necessary to start pedaling uphill. Five years later, I’ve reached the crest of the hill. And now, with my definition of downhill, I spend most of my time coasting with the sun at my back, my face in the wind, and more life right there, ahead of me.

Kip Rosser lives and works in Morrisville Pennsylvania. He began writing plays while in middle school. Since that time,
he has authored a novel, short stories, poetry, several screenplays and over a dozen plays ranging from musicals to
full length dramas to numerous one-acts. All are unpublished. Equipped with a BFA in Acting/Directing from Ithaca
College and an MFA in Directing from Northwestern, Rosser moved to New York City and worked as a director,
playwright, graphic artist, Art Director and copywriter. In 2003, The Dallas Theater Conference’s Plays for the
Twenty-First Century awarded him First Place for his play, Rare Times Altogether. His play, Keepsakes was a finalist
for the Stanley Drama Award. He took third place in the San Francisco Playwright’s competition for his original drama, 
o Sleep She Alice Toklas Goes. Stage West in Fort Worth Texas produced his outrageous, surreal comedy, Foxcodd.
2005 saw his original full-length production, Unholy Secrets of the Theremin, presented with concert pianist, Jef Anderson,
at the New York International Fringe Festival, receiving overwhelming critical praise. His works have received dozens of
readings and staged readings. Also a skilled performer, Rosser’s most current writing takes the form of solo performance
pieces featuring the Theremin. Invented in 1919, this grandfather of all electronic instruments is played without being touched; these fully staged productions, award-winning musical compositions and industry recognition have earned him a reputation  as one of the most accomplished thereminists playing in the world today.

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