Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Old at Heart: Reframing How We Talk about Aging and Being Old

It's not like anything
they compare it to--
the summer moon.

Though that poem has nothing to do with this photo, I had to start out with it. Summer, and we are moving toward the full moon. Glorious. Now let's proceed.

I am a fan of Tao Porchon-Lynch, the nonagenarian yogini and ballroom dancer, whom I have written about before in this blog. She is a wonderful example of vitality and joy in old age.

But what is wrong with this picture, or rather the quote that is included with it? Like Tao, I believe in energy, certainly. Energy. Vitality. Being uplifted. All that.

But I believe in age, too. And isn't Tao's comment a bit off key? To me it is. Perhaps it just needs a few more words. I think it would read better this way.

"I don't believe in stereotypes about age. I believe in tapping into cosmic energy."

I think that is what Tao is wanting to say here. I am sensitive to how words are used about aging. I don't really warm up to being addressed as 74-years young. I will not be happy to be called young at heart. I have live! live! lived! as Auntie Mame exhorted a repressed character to do in the wonderful old flick of that name.

I have 74 years' of life experience. I am old at heart. I don't want somebody who believes that youth is the main stage of life to be telling me I am young at heart. No thanks. Youth is not the pinnacle of life experience necessarily. Perhaps for some it is the peak and everything afterwards is downhill. But for many of us, life after youth contains a great deal of uplift, ecstasy and richness.  I am happy to be old at heart, with everything I know at this age. Which is certainly a great deal more than I knew when I was in my twenties, thirties or forties or even fifties. Just writing that line and taking a brief retrospective reminds me of how I have changed and matured. I am not perfected, but I have certainly changed and matured.

The experience of maturing, the depth a person can come to in maturity is something worth recognizing, not one to deny or ignore. I aspire to more maturity, to being even older at heart. To becoming more altruistic, kind, to having a more integrated, panoramic awareness, to being more loving.

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know I am on a campaign to reclaim the word OLD from the trashpile of corrupted words. Old has a lot of power, a lot of rich qualities. Be happy to be old at heart, my friend. Young at heart has delightful qualities. Old at heart is another territory, one whose qualities are deep and worthwhile--let's honor it!

Meanwhile in the Laboratory

"Into the Mystery," the 4-week online course on life review I've developed, will have its virgin run in July. Folks are arriving to register and it is  fun to do the last minute tweaks on the course material, preparing to send it out. Life review is considered one of the important tasks of later life, and I am happy to be able to offer this course, which I plan to offer again online  this winter.

I am developing a talk titled "In Praise of Old Age" and will offer it for the first time on July 12th at the Unity Service in Ashland. Looking forward to this new way of sharing the Sage's Play pro-aging perspective--at churches and synagogues.  And it may be that a song or two from our musical revue A New Wrinkle makes its way into these church presentations. That would be fun, too.

With my focus on connecting with people through their church, one of my current adventures is meeting with ministers and rabbis.  I had a delightful meeting with Nan White, the minister at the Unitarian Church. She is so direct and down to earth. I really liked her. I am looking forward to more conversations about creative aging and aging as a spiritual journey with clergy.

Next week, I am getting together with Daniel Sperry, a cellist. I have never met him, but like the things he shares about music and poetry on Facebook. We are going to play music together, with his cello and my tamboura and voice. I want more singing and music in my life now.

I've been experimenting with Facebook ads. Right now I have one running to let folks know about the Audacious Aging Kit I've developed.  It's a process, it's a process, and one must have patience with the unfolding of it all.

Another event I am offering in July is "The Poetry of Aging" which I will present on July 19th at the Ashland Library. I did a similar event there two or three years ago. In it, I will share poems by many wonderful poets and talk about the experience of aging as a poetic and spiritual journey.

Living here at Kate's place as I am these days is quite wonderful. Though I do find myself in daydreams walking on the streets of Oaxaca at times. Yesterday morning, a beautiful fox darted out at the far end of the garden and darted here and there-- looking for fallen cherries probably--before disappearing. There are many many birds here and the variety of their songs and forms fill my days with delight. The deer appear daily, nibbling this and that and moving on. There are blue dragonflies and red ones, snakes, butterflies, and the old lavender bushes are bursting with bloom at this very moment. The fenced garden is filled with vegetables and flowers. I will take some pictures in a few weeks and share them with you. Every night as I lie in bed I can see the stars in the skylight directly overhead. It is quite glorious. Hope that your summer is glorious, too. Right in this very moment.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

In Praise of Oldness: Longevity, Vitality and the Fulfillment of Meaning

Since I returned to Oregon from Mexico in early March, I have plunged back into the creative development of Sage's Play, and in the process of that, I have naturally found myself immersed in contemplating and considering our culture's perspective on oldness, aging and elders.

Desmond Tutu dances at the Dalai Lama's birthday party
"Why does our society believe old people need help?" asks author James Hillman. "They are the ones who would be, in some other society, passing on help to others: teaching skills, telling stories, leading rituals, caring for children. They have a contribution to make, and instead they are segregated as sick people who need to be nursed. This is ridiculous."

With all this I wholeheartedly agree.

When I am sitting here with my Sage's Play hat on, and my Sage's Play glasses on, I am often inspired to sing praises to oldness, to its value, richness, depth, and the essential resonance of oldness, which we find so powerful and comforting. Oldness, staying power, lasting, the accumulated pile of life experience, of knowing, caring, leading, setting a good example, keeping the faith, passing on the old stories, showing how to plant the seeds and cultivate the garden of this life.

Maya Angelou
As I have said before, I believe it would do us all good to create an Elder Hall of Fame!  I have a list of many people I have been collecting and all of them are worthy candidates. Of course there's the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu, both of whom are great examples of sages at play.

And poets Maya Angelou and Stanley Kunitz. Comedian Betty White, along with Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Pablo Casals, Pablo Picasso, Bernie Sanders, Tao-Porchon Lynch, teaching yoga in her 90s,  Robert Redford, Leonard Cohen, Jane Goodall, among others. Because I am interested in art, many of the elders I chose are artists of one sort or another.  Who would you want to add to the Elder Hall of Fame if there was one and you were on the panel?

Perhaps you might find it useful, as I have, to take a long look at the old people you admire. What is it that you find most fascinating or touching about them? What kind of oldness do you want to embody? What qualities do you want to continue to cultivate in yourself as you age?

Twyla Tharp
This morning, I listened to a great talk by Ashton Applewhite, a pro-aging activist based in NYC whose work I admire and support. In her talk, Ashton discusses prevalent stereotypes about aging and how they impact older adults and society at large. Because let's face it, not all older people are as clear in their life mission and work as are those I am mentioning here. Many elders find it difficult to push through the age prejudice in our society to contribute their valuable skills and knowledge.

Age discrimination and prejudice are bad for our health and the health of our world. It's as simple as that. You can watch Ashton Applewhite's incisive, information-packed talk on ageism here. I highly recommend it....you can also take a look at her website This Chair Rocks.

Incidentally, I post a lot of great articles and observations about aging on the Sage's Play Facebook page.

Well, that's a collection of links for you to explore...and here is one more,  just for good measure. Have you taken a look at our revamped Sage's Play website? There are some delightful changes and additions you might like to see.

Right now, I am revising Your Audacious Aging Kit and  developing a new e-course titled Into the Mystery: The Healing Power of Memoir and Life Review. I feel rejuvenated and filled with fresh inspiration from my sojourn in Mexico. Stay tuned...and enjoy the magic of the approaching full moon!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Return: Rediscovering Home

“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
                                       --Charles Dickens

People tell me that that have enjoyed following the tales of my travels, and I am glad that my reports afforded them some pleasure. I have cured myself at least temporarily of severe museum deprivation after visiting so many marvelous museums in Guanajuato, Puebla, Oaxaca, La Paz and Ensenada.
Japanese quince and white flowers of  mystery

I certainly refreshed my imagination with new vistas, music, architectures and colors. I took in the astonishing beauty of the brown people of Mexico, and was touched by their warm, courteous ways.  How mystifying and delightful it was to have my ears and heart saturated with the Spanish language, so eloquently suited for poetry and romance.

I had memorable meals of new foods, sometimes pushed myself out beyond what was comfortable and met some new friends along the way.

A flood of forsythias

As I have probably said at least once, I am not one of those glamorous gypsies who is always poised to head out on some new travel adventure. My own travels are mainly of an inner nature.

When I say that to people, some of them look at me quite quizzically, wondering what in the world I mean. In the US, we are not a culture that elevates the inner life. Ah well.

Having tasted the expat fantasy and found it was not for me right now, here I am again in the town I sometimes call Ashlantis, where I have lived most of the time since 1977.

Ashland, Oregon is a place of much beauty and deep community connection, a place ornamented with artists, healers and real estate agents. Property values are high, white is the primary skin color, and for such a small town, there is plenty of culture, punctuated with a bit of pretentiousness at times.

A photo of the Rogue Valley by Penny Roberts

With close to 40 years' experience living here, I have witnessed a great deal of change. I have lived on a great many streets. I have many longtime friends. There are people and places about which I have definite opinions.
I have decided that it would be enjoyable and good to look at Ashland as if I were newly arrived. To appreciate it in the way a visitor does. To take a fresh look at the place and at the people I meet, and as much as possible, to engage the kind of openness and curiosity that I had while traveling, and do that right here in the home place.

In the Midst of Real Life: The Heart's Calling

Fortunate me. I have been welcomed into the large, comfortable home of a woman around my age, who has lived in the home for 30 years. She is a gregarious, warm, generous person who loves kids and loves to travel.

My new abode is up in the hills, near a big nature preserve and close to many hiking trails. My room is airy and spacious with a high ceiling and a big window that looks out onto pines, willows and manzanita. Stairs lead up to a small sitting area. The carpeting is confederate blue. My bed has a skylight over it and if I want, I can lie there and look at the clouds or the stars. There's a deck right outside my door. The whole house is welcoming and relaxed. It's a very good place to land.

Four months of travel gave me the opportunity to air out and in the process I discovered afresh what is really important to me. My spiritual path. Being close to my spiritual community. Creativity. Art.

I am a woman who from youth has always settled down in the midst of a community of artists, and here I am.  Hallelujah.

If you are a romantic fool like me, you know what it means to go to extremes following your passions.

Perhaps that is what it takes to shake things loose at times.

Sage's Play Full Voice Revival

Before I left for Mexico in late October, I had sold my house and car and sold or given away most of my belongings. I was convinced I was Finished and Done with Everything. Everything!

I closed my Sage's Play website down, closed the Sage's Play bank account and disconnected from the fiscal sponsorship that had allowed me to receive tax-deductible donations for creative aging projects.

Now I discover it all afresh, as I  I return to the work I believed I was done with it for good.  I am in the energy of revival, and in the gospel spirit, that can be a powerful thing.

I am working on creating a one-woman show featuring a juicy collection of some of the songs from our musical revue A New Wrinkle. I also plan to develop some online courses based on themes and issues from my book Songs of the Inner Life. (Check out the link for more about the book.) I'll be talking more about these projects here, and also in my long-resting newsletter, which I will be reviving as well.

As Mr. Fred Rogers points out, kindness is the way to ultimate success, and of course that includes being kind to oneself.  I find it interesting and a bit amusing to reflect on some of the ways that I learn and grow. It is all just fine.

Older and Wiser

As I've reported in the past, scientists are starting to get a handle on what has been known for centuries. In the past 10 years, researchers have been discovering more and more about the remarkable integrative and altruistic capabilities of the older brain. There was a good article in the New York Times recently that reported on some current research in that area. Their headline was Older Really Can Mean Wiser. (Speaking of no-brainers, duh.) You may find the article interesting.

 So here's to spring, to home, to creativity and playfulness and to embracing aging with resilience and the deeper knowing that comes from having lived quite awhile.

P.S. I have a Sage's Play page on Facebook, in case you would like to connect with what I post there.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Some Slow Travel on a Budget

A restaurant in Oaxaca
“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” 
       – Frank Herbert

I left Oregon at the end of October, feeling I had been there too long. I needed some fresh vistas. I wanted to escape the snowy clutches of winter and engage my Idyllic Beach Fantasy somewhere in Mexico.

Slow travel was on my mind, and to me that meant spending weeks in one place for much of the journey.

I was also thinking I could get some dental work done at much less cost than in the US, visit some ancient cities and soak up the culture there and in the process, check out whether I wanted to live in Ensenada, a town in northern Baja. 

The Idyllic Beach Fantasy never did manifest, but everything else came along just fine.  I spent just under a month in Guanajuato, 5 days in Cholula, then 6 weeks in Oaxaca and finally 6 weeks or so in Ensenada. Slow travel suited me well. It gave me enough time to relax and live more easily in each place. In fact, I found that a month was just barely long enough to begin to know a place. I could appreciate even slower travel, I thought to myself. Two or three months in one place.

At an art museum in La Paz, Baja sur

As one bumper sticker notes,  “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance.” 

Merry-go-round in Oaxaca
And I was on a budget. I didn't want to do the hair shirt and self flagellation form of thrifty travel, but I did want to move around on the cheap.  I booked most of my accommodations through Airbnb, with two exceptions--the affordable, delightful Al Sol Apartments in Oaxaca (highly recommend) and the petit pad I am living in now in Ensenada, which my friend Iridea found for me. My lodging averaged out to $15.50 a day. 

My Airbnb experience was varied and mostly good. All of my hosts were great people. The lodgings were all comfortable, though some were spare and lacked aesthetic appeal to put it nicely. Once I had to endure a long night of very drunk loud Germans who lived in a room nearby. But overall it was good.  I had an enormous view from the big deck at  Aunt Lucy's in Guanajuato, and enjoyed some marvelous country time at Amalia's Rincon de San Agustin outside of Oaxaca. 

Here's my Airbnb advice. Make sure to have conversations with your potential hosts to get an idea of what kind of folks they are. Look at their profiles. Talk via email. 

If I were going to do it again, I would have asked a few more questions of my Airbnb hosts, including: Do you smoke? (my host in Cholula did, though he kept it outside) 

Is this your only rental, or are there others on your property? Can you tell me more about that? What kind of cooking facilities are available?

A restaurant in Ensenada
I was fortunate that I connected with such good hosts, most of whom were older. In fact, that was one of my criteria. I figured it would make things easier and more interesting to live near some older people in Mexico. I am happy I did it that way.

“What am I doing here?” poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote home in a letter from Ethiopia. This is a question that naturally pops up when traveling and maybe even more so for the solo traveler, who is alone in a foreign country and not speaking its language except in a primitive fashion. Sometimes you become tired of traveling or you find yourself in a place you would rather leave, or both. 

Sunset, San Agustin Etla

With a medical tourism chaser

I have been getting some important dental work done in Ensenada and it is nearly finished. 

I was fortunate to get the recommendation from a woman who has lived here for over 20 years, whose husband is a retired orthodontist. I love the dentist, Dr. Marco Antonio Sam P. whose office is called Nova Dent. He is a lovely person and is providing world-class care for far less money than I would have to pay in the US. I was quoted $6,000 in Oregon, and am paying $1,650 here in Mexico.

Aside from the dental process, I have been attending some Buddhist practices and teachings, and trying my best to uncover the elusive (to me) charms of Ensenada. Maybe there are some beautiful villages nearby which I have not yet seen. It's possible, and I hope to check that out over the weekend.
“As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.”--Margaret Mead

Ageism in the News

Both Yoko Ono and Madonna have spoken out about ageism recently, especially that directed towards older women. Check out what they have to say in this article.