Saturday, September 13, 2014

Might as well start right here....

In 1977, my then husband and I bought this house in Ashland, Oregon. Our next door neighbor, a colorful, crochety old guy, called it a railroad flat because it was built when the railroad came through, but actually it was the parsonage of the church next door. It is now honored with a historical building plaque, but when we moved in, it lacked that kind of special notice.

I recently listened to an interview someone did with a friend about those times. In it, he described my ex-husband and I as "new age proslytizers." I had to laugh. He has a funny sense of humor. We certainly were passionate about natural, spiritual and holistic healing--of that there is no doubt. We created a healing center and brought a variety of healers to teach and work, as well as doing healing work and workshops ourselves. Our center was called Gathering Together. Many of the classes and healings happened in the house.

When we first bought the house, with the generous help of a family member, we heard about a woman named Anne. She had a new baby and no place to live. It seemed natural to invite her to live with us. I loved having them in the house. It was nourishing for all of us to spend that time together.

I hadn't seen that baby for many years-- until yesterday. He came over to my friend Franny's house, where I am staying for a couple of months. 

He was hired by the landlady to install new linoleum in the bathrooms. 

Now he's a tall, handsome  37-year old blond guy with a 4-year old daughter and a son on the way. He told me that his mother, who died a few years ago, always told him how much she enjoyed that time with us. I guess I have done a few kind deeds in my life and that is one of them.

Some wonderful art projects celebrate aging, and this is one of them, a stunning collection of photographs focusing on older womens' visibility. Visible: 60 Women at 60--check it out!

It's very smoky here again because of a BIG wildfire in Sunny Valley, which has burned over 110,000 acres. They say it will be like this for a few days because of the way the wind is blowing. I took a ride out to Emigrant Lake the other day. The only water left in it is a long puddle right in the middle. All the lakes here are the same. It's scary. And having said that, should I go into a big rant about the state of the planet? I certainly could. But I will spare you that. Most everyone alive today can see what kind of severe difficulties we face.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming People's Climate March in New York City on September 21st, and its associated events across the country. I know several elders that are traveling to the east coast to participate. May this and other forms of activism propel the kind of changes we need to protect all beings on this earth.

In spite of everything, the natural world continues to be astonishingly beautiful. This photo by Grants Pass photographer Jasman Lion Mander shows an aurora he captured the other day at Crater Lake. It may be the first time we've had an aurora in Oregon.

Word is that the sale of my flower cottage will conclude in a few days. The buyers have already moved in, thanks to an agreement we created. They needed to move in. They were without a home. They had already moved out of their previous home, thinking that the sale was about to close. But repairs delayed the closing. I'm glad they are in my old house now. That makes me feel happy.

Sometimes people say to me, "Now you are free." While being free is a relative and changeable thing, I certainly am free of home ownership, or will soon be, and I am free of family responsibilities.  It's true that I do think about my musical revue, A New Wrinkle, as yet unproduced. And my book Songs of the Inner Life, which I have neglected to market as it deserves. I am not free of wanting to complete and propel those efforts forward to connect with others.

But I am taking a break from that and other creative projects to explore who I am now and what my life is about. And that is something  learned through experience. As part of the process, I am re-educating myself about how to float about without a home of my own, as I did in my late 20s, when I journeyed in the Pennsylvania countryside and then traveled west to California and Oregon. We called it dropping out in those days.

Now it feels more like dropping in. Dropping in, settling in, getting more comfortable with the inner home and the way that it manifests in the world. No doubt I will have more to say on the subject soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Giving It All Away (or most of it)

I love this painting. What an atmospheric room!
I've downsized from a 2 bedroom house to a room in a house because I had the bright idea to give most everything away before I pop the cork.

I do prefer the phrase "popping the cork" to the word "croaking" or even the phrase "kicking the bucket." I mean--croaking? That is not at all celebratory. And kicking the bucket has the feel of a person who is sullen about leaving and who is taking it out on the bucket.  Whereas "popping the cork" is a bit more spirited. I prefer that approach.

So I got rid of many things. My younger daughter took what appealed to her and the rest I sold, gave to friends or trucked to Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity.

The result is that my stuff is all over the place now. I see my pretty pencil holder by the phone when I visit Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies. My Chinese vase is at Linda's, beloved art prints and wine glasses at Frannie's, a turquoise pitcher at Barbara and Renato's and...well you get the idea. My stuff has been shared.

It felt exhilarating to do that giveaway. I think it's good practice for the moment when I will have to let everything go.  I've lightened my load quite a bit. Okay, I do have some boxes stored in the garage of a friend's house. I kept a small Tibetan rug, some books, objects that I use in meditation and prayer. Pots, a futon, linens.  It's a lot less than I've had for years, but it is still a collection of stuff.  Let's face it, one needs some to make daily life work comfortably.

I still am planning to head to Mexico this winter, after the sale of my flower cottage is completed, which it should be very soon. Meanwhile I am living with various friends until the end of October.

Currently, I am living with Linda. Her place is near an historic cemetery.  I often walk there, contemplating the state of the world, the state of my  heart and the transitory nature of life.  The state of my heart is generally salubrious. I feel good. But the subject of popping the cork is never far away. Friends are becoming ill, and some have died. We are stunned and saddened at the loss of them.

During a recent visit to San Francisco  one of my dear friends and I were sitting at the table eating some dinner. It was a beautiful summer evening. We're both Buddhists and Buddhists have no qualms about talking about death. Our conversation went like this:

When I walk in the Eastwood Cemetery, I muse about human life--how brief it is, how challenging, and what opportunities it presents.
"I don't know if I will be alive in 10 years," I said to her and she replied, "I'm pretty sure I will not be." From there we both acknowledged how strange and inevitable it was to confront the truth of our mortality.  I know that  I am somewhere towards the end and that gives everything an edge. 

P.S. I read a wonderful book recently by Anyen Rinpoche called Dying with Confidence. It's a guide to preparing for death from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective. I recommend it.

To change the subject ever so slightly-- moving the veil from one side to the other-- how about the topic of living with confidence? It seems easier with age. I feel a lot more confident in my 70s than I did in my 30s or 40s or 50s. I've already digested a great deal of experience and some things have lost their glamour. Am I jaded, world weary, or it is just because I've been around the block quite a few times? Yes. And my varied life experience makes me appreciate the spiritual essence of human life even more.

It's a paradoxical business, aging. As the body begins to dismantle itself in one way or another, the spiritual aspects of being emerge more fully.

Most days I think, "If only I were more like the Dalai Lama."
Now there's an elder worth emulating.

Oh, that's it for today. If I keep on writing, I will just get preachy and that is so tedious. How about this: by the time one is older, one's character is fully developed, or one is a character--or both.

The sacred and profane
danced in the rain
and there were times when
they looked quite the same!

How's your end of summer? It was delightful here today. Delightful.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Roundup: Bigotry, Beauty and Being Fully Alive

Poet W.S. Merwin

My Montana friend and yoga teacher Cache Hartzell posted a link to an interesting article this morning.

"Prize-winning poet still at work at eighty-six"

proclaimed the AP News article's headline.

The prize-winning poet featured was W.S. Merwin, who has had a long, distinguished career.

"I think of one of my greatest heroes, (William Butler) Yeats," Merwin says in the interview. "He wrote at length - although nothing of Yeats is too long - about old age. He came to it with real anger, as though it was an outrage."

Merwin's attitudes about aging are different from those of Yeats.

Merwin says,  "I think of old age as being a time like the others. It has its revelations of its own that you can't come to any other way. I don't have any of those feelings Yeats had at all. I accept it with a certain amount of curiosity."

It is cause for celebration when humans remain vitally engaged in their gifts and the work that brings them joy, no matter what age they are. Merwin is an outstanding poet,  passionately engaged in writing poetry in his late eighties. Hallelujah. That enriches each of us, even if we never read any of his poems.

But back to that headline, which proclaimed that he "still" writes well into his eighties. Is this surprising? Not really, unless you are one of those who expects aging to equal complete disintegration of all talents, interests and passions. May Sarton, W.B. Yeats and Stanley Kunitz are just a few other poets who lived long lives and continued to write in their old age.

Many, many human beings continue to thrive, flourish, create, share and contribute in marvelous, rich ways though they are truly Very Old. Is this surprising? No, but it is wonderful and I sure wish that the majority of people in our culture would wake up to the truth that the vast majority of older adults are healthy, full of life experience and capable of wonderful contributions to family and society.

Right now, it is not that way. Instead, we as a society believe that if an old person is "still" dancing or or "still" creating gigantic welded sculptures or"still" doing complex mathematical equations in late life,  they are an anomaly or an exception. How sad, this belief.
Old people are expected to sit back, shut up and stay out of sight. How sad to see the way that so many older adults collapse into noxious stereotypes about being old and begin to embody them. What a gigantic waste --all that soul, love, creativity, life experience eroding from disuse. May this shift, and soon.

This week, I read a couple of other articles about our cultural attitudes toward aging that I found interesting. One was posted on Facebook on the page called Confronting Ageism. It was written by Alice Fisher, who works in the office of a New York state senator, and who in her private life runs consciousness-raising groups for older adults, to help participants investigate ageism and create positive ways of confronting it. That's good news, don't you agree?

Apparently, they are creating a manual that can be used by others to create similar groups, and I look forward to seeing that once it is completed.

Fisher writes, "Ageism is an interesting prejudice. Aging is the common denominator for everyone who is born. If fortunate, we are all going to get old. We are all going to die. So being judgmental about people just because of their age, or their wrinkles, or their slower pace, is sowing the seeds for our own internalized ageism."

We have been educated about racism and sexism, but many of us are not very aware of what comprises ageism, either in society or within ourselves. It is largely unconscious.

Another piece that influenced me this week appeared in Ronni Bennett's Time Goes By blog. In this post, titled "The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations," Bennett featured excerpts from an article from the Montreal Gazette written by Daniel Nonen. 

In his article, Nonen notes,  "It continues to be acceptable to patronize old people with low expectations...

“Old people need a liberation movement like the great North American movements of the past 60 years that are improving the lot of blacks, women, gays and lesbians..."

Later Nonen states,"...the most important accommodation that society should make doesn’t cost anything, People should simply start to expect more from old people. They should reject the 'soft bigotry of low expectations."

Yes indeed. Of course, that kind of change must take place within each one of us. Consciousness raising involves investigating our own attitudes and beliefs about aging and growing old.

What are your key motifs, beliefs or mottos about this time of life and yourself living through it? Where did they come from? How realistic are they? Are you collapsing into self-created stereotypes? If you were to define your main characteristics as an older person, what would they be?

I would love to hear back from you on any of these, too.

Sending warm regards to each of you. Here in Oregon's Rogue Valley, the wildfires are dying down and the air is clearing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Life is the Ultimate Art Form

The creative act is a courageous, ancient gesture, a dynamic exploration of the dark mystery that is human existence.
                          - Adriana Diaz

A few nights ago, I had a potent dream. In it I received a sacred bundle composed of an archaic compost with wonderful regenerative powers. That archaic substance was a kind of homeopathic medicine. Even in small amounts, it enriched and rejuvenated the earth wherever it was placed.

The numinous figures that gave me that bundle told me that the archaic compost was as old as time itself. They said that it came from the deepest recesses of the richness of the Earth and was filled with all the knowing experience that had accumulated from aeons past to the present.

The archaic earth was soft, dense and dark, fragrant and of course deeply mysterious.  I took a tiny pinch of it and cast it out over the landscape, which was enhanced, enriched, beautified. Just a small pinch rejuvenated a vast territory.

Whenever I took a small pinch of the earth for healing, the delicate membrane that covered the bundle repaired itself easily. I was astounded and full of joy to have been given this gift and this responsibility, which felt so buoyant and healing for myself, the Earth and all beings.

Since that night, I have been contemplating this dream. How does it translate into my everyday life, to my creativity and my deeper purpose? I have no answers yet, but the dream has lifted me up and provided me with a reminder of the powerful nature of the subconscious mind.

The past 7 months have been very difficult. In January my younger daughter and I traveled to rescue my older daughter,  whom I have seldom seen for decades. So began a rough and consuming ride on a rocky road as we did our best to support her in dropping her long-standing addictions.  It was heartbreaking. And piercingly sweet at times. Now she is gone again. She left a week ago, returning to the city where she had been living. 

That was a gigantic effort for me, one in which I discovered deep wellsprings of love and acceptance of my daughter's very difficult life. It has also been very hard to come right up against the truth that I cannot fix my daughter's life, no matter how hard I try or how much I do. It is up to each of us to live our lives, make our choices, construct a reality that we inhabit. She has her own journey, and I pray that it goes well. My heart feels very tender these days, even raw at times. I am in a time of self-healing.

Then there is the business of selling my flower cottage, which I put on the market at the end of March. It attracted a buyer quickly, but that first sale fell through. Again, buyers quickly appeared but at the very last moment, a second sale fell through. My realtor tells me she has never seen anything like it. Well, I am happy that not too many have to go through anything similar.

I was so confident about the second deal, I  got rid of almost all my furniture and moved into a room in a friend's place.  That was a month ago. Now I've lowered the price on the cottage and we are focusing on magnetizing the right buyer and completing the sale successfully. May it  be so, and soon.

Every time I go there to water the gardens, I feel what a delightfully welcoming place it is. Somebody is going to love living there as much as I did.

Attitudes about Aging --- OLD as a Word of Power

 As you no doubt are aware, many people are afraid of aging and being old. In our culture,  there are many noxious ageist stereotypes.  People seem surprised when someone over 60 is vital, vibrant, creative, happy and capable. That's because people buy into stereotypes. Older people buy into them, too. They start to collapse into and become those stereotypes.

Well, I'm too old to do that.
That's what happens when you get older.

It's bad enough that people who are not yet old have unreal, unkind and prejudicial attitudes about aging, but when older people themselves take on those limiting beliefs and perspectives, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I may be too old to do certain things now. That could be true. But why should I focus on that, rather than on what is good, rich and enjoyable? We are all subject to the ravages of time (a phrase I happen to enjoy). I have less energy than I did 10 years ago. I cannot easily drive at night. These are age-related limitations. Others I know are grappling with chronic illness, neurological conditions, things that bring even more significant limitations. No matter what, I notice that when a person brings positive self regard, acceptance and optimism into their life situation, it benefits them and everyone around them.

Lately I've been thinking about Elaine Stritch and Rabbi Zalman Schachter, two elders who passed recently. Such different lives, but so similar in the way they poured their creative joy into everything they did. That's attitude.

And I've been thinking of Olga Kotelko, a nonagenarian athlete from Canada who passed recently. She was outstanding and passionately engaged. We don't have to be famous to be engaged, passionate, creative and joyful. We can just be ourselves fully.

I think that is good news.

OLD is a word of power. It really is. It's time to reclaim the word OLD from the junk heap of language. Be old and proud of it. Set a good example. Leave a meaningful legacy, of whatever genre or type. Don't get caught up trying to maintain the superficial facade of youthfulness. It's demeaning and it doesn't really work either. We were already young. Let's plunge into the waters of oldness. There is a lot to learn and share in this time of life.

In the midst of this world so full of conflict and war, may we find peace within ourselves and may that peace radiate out to others. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bulletin: Adventures in House Sharing

I've had three house share experiences in the past 5 years. First I shared a town house with Louise, who has a Ph.D. in womens' spirituality. The year we lived under the same roof ignited a friendship that continues to be a source of pleasure and richness in each of our lives. While we lived together we shared meals from time to time, watched movies, enjoyed each others' intellectual and spiritual interests, and provided valuable emotional support for each other.

Then I bought the flower cottage and after mishaps with two unsuitable housemates, Anne appeared. We had already met through a mutual friend and knew we liked each other. She moved in to the back part of the house, which is a self-contained apartment. Anne and I had fun together too on walks, in dance classes, eating at the local taco joint and of course talking about our lives.  After a year, Anne moved north with her daughter Angela and started putting together a new business, Travel That Matters. The mother-daughter duo are developing tours and trips that satisfy the wish to experience a country more deeply. "When being a tourist isn't enough" is their website's tagline.  It has been fun watching Anne move into fulfilling this dream of hers. What she and Angela are doing is exciting. I think it would be great fun to do a creative aging trip with them for a group of older women.

Both house sharing experiences were full of surprises, new insights and a beautiful quality of community. Now I've moved in with my friend Linda, who I've known for over 30 years. I expect to be here for a few months and am very glad that we are having this opportunity to be with each other.

Many older women are choosing to find house share partners. This New York Times article  talks about the trend and the experiences of some women who have engaged in house sharing in various cities. It makes sense to me both in financial and emotional terms.

Have you tried house sharing yet? What is your experience?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Riding The Chariot of Disappointment

I have moved out of the flower cottage into my friend Linda's house, which is perched high on a hill with expansive views of the mountains and sky. This is the view I see each day from the balcony of my room.  It's beautiful here, and it has the panache of a new environment for me. In spite of having lived in this valley for decades, this particular area is one I never explored before now. It's full of gorgeous old houses, beautiful trees and elegant gardens. There's a big historical cemetery nearby, which is a great place to take a walk and contemplate the transitory nature of life. Or just have a good time walking with a friend.

I moved out of the flower cottage on June 20th.  The cottage was as good as sold, or so I thought. But at the 11th hour, the buyers pulled out because of an IRS lien whose total for some reason they didn't know. Go figure. It seems one should know the status of debts when trying to buy property. Rant, rave, etc. This is the second sale that has fallen through.  So I am disappointed. Very disappointed in fact. My disappointment led me to re-read a section in Chogyam Trungpa's book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.  In it, Trungpa says,

"We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our 
fears, and march directly into disappointment, work with 
disappointment, go into it and make it our way of life, which is a 
very hard thing to do...Disappointment is the best chariot to use on the path of the 
Riding the chariot of disappointment as a way of life. Okay. Okay.

I have to put some oil on the axles.  It's great to have a chariot, I tell myself, so enjoy the ride. Having a chariot of disappointment is not the same as dragging your tail in the dust of disappointment or crawling through the stinky mud of disappointment or rolling around in the garbage heap of disappointment.

I mean, you have a chariot!

I went to the coast for a few days and it was glorious, even chilly at times, amidst the redwoods at the ocean.  I found these sunflowers backed by a wonderful corrugated curtain just as I was leaving town.

It is very hot here in the inland areas--over 100 degrees many days in a row. The air conditioning at my new abode is not working at the moment either. Which is of course disappointing, stickily so.  But there is a pool close to the house. If I had any sense at all I would stop typing this blog and take a dip. Yes, I had sense and took a dip which was refreshing. Some neighbors were poolside with their granddaughter.  The condo complex where I am living is populated with older people, so I expect I'll witness many grandparents in action while I am here. As an an elder with no grandchildren, I like seeing the interaction that grandparents have with their grandkids.

I am expecting to be here for a stay of about 3 months. Then I am planning to head to Mexico, but right at the moment with the cottage unsold, still recovering from the move to Linda's and a nasty cold that came along with that, I don't want to think too much about Mexico. Not today anyway.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter died on July 3rd at the age of eighty-nine. He was famous as a pioneer of Jewish renewal. I read a number of obituaries, which confirmed his vitality, originality, ecumenical perspective and lovingkindness. He had a profound influence on many people, not only because of his innovative style of Jewish prayer and worship, but also because of his work in the field of aging. His book From Aging to Saging has become a classic. Have you ever read it? If not, I highly recommend that you do.


 This Japanese art involves repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer so that it is more beautiful for having been broken. I think that the transformed, enriched vessel depicts character, the way wrinkles do on the faces of old people. If we are lucky in our later years,  we take the time to repair and restore whatever has been broken from the deeper perspective age can bring.  And when old people make those efforts, they often appear to be very beautiful, just as this bowl is beautiful.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Moving, shifting, inventing, letting go

News from the flower cottage

The gardens are marvelous here right now. The climbing roses adorn the swing, peonies, poppies, love in a mist, Jupiter's beard, Japanese iris and many colored roses are blooming profusely.

It will be my last spring here, because the flower cottage is on the market.
Click here if you'd like to learn more and to see the wonderful photos that realtor Patie Millen took of my lovely place.

I had a sale cooking, but it fell through. Such is life. Life is often like that.

You never know what is coming next. I mean, seriously. I should understand this by the age of 73, but am still surprised by it at times.
Here's an example. In December, I made a decision to let go of many of my Sage's Play projects, including the musical revue I spent 4 years developing with composer Laura Rich. the Audacious Aging Kit I created and which needed a marketing strategy and creative aging workshops I wanted to develop.  I had grown weary of my change the paradigm on aging mission. I see that there are others, many of whom are marvelously brilliant, who are working in this area, and so I reasoned, I don't have to hold onto this mission, which I no longer enjoy, but can move into other areas of life. I have always been afflicted with a save the world disorder, and it seems time to shift how I relate to that.

My plan was simple. I would sell the flower cottage and head to Mexico.

Then, in January I found myself immersed in a consuming and challenging family situation, wbich still occupies my focus and heart. I really can't say more about that here or now, but I will say that these past months have been very difficult, heartrending, tender, and full of opportunity.

Of course, you might think it's difficult for me to let go of the flower cottage. But compared to the work I have been called to do to support a dear family member, letting go of the flower cottage is pablum.

Fantasy and Reality
My house is not sold.  So meanwhile, I am sorting things, packing them up, giving them away, selling and bequeathing them--just generally unloading almost all I own before I pop the cork. This seems like a worthy goal to me, though of course it does have its sharp edges. It's wise to get comfortable with uncertainty, because that's really a constant element in life, as far as I can tell.

In the process, I revisit many icons of my life, such as these prescriptions, which I found in my baby book. They were written for me when I was a baby by poet William Carlos Williams, who also practised medicine in New Jersey. My parents took me to him when I was less than a month old because I cried all the time, and it turned out that the reason I was crying was because I was hungry.

"Just feed her more," the doctor/poet told them, and gave them prescriptions on how to accomplish that goal.

I am grateful for his help, and for this early contact with poetry magic.

 I have thrown out so many records and mementos of the life I've lived.  I like getting rid of things. I feel a marvelous exhuberence when I am flinging them into the recycling bin.

But I could not throw out the file folder with the press clippings of my trip to Japan in the 70s.  That was an incandescent time of my life. I was the first Western activist to travel to Japan on behalf of the whales.  I was working for Project Jonah. It was before Greenpeace appeared on the scene. My mission was to magnetize international media attention, to talk with cultural movers and shakers, meet with government and whaling officials. I really had no qualifications, but that didn't deter me in any way. And I did succeed in all those goals. I got enormous media coverage internationally through articles posted by two wire services, AP and UPI, plus cover articles in the Japanese version of Business Week and Fortune.  I did meet with government and whaling officials, artists, activists, poets.  I've written about the capstone of this experience, which occurred after I left Japan, as well as the place whales have inhabited in my imagination since childhood, in my book Songs of the Inner Life.

 So I threw many things out and they are gone. Posters and press clippings of one-woman shows and performances and workshops--all gone. Because they are in the past. Not that I am laboring under the assumption that if I get rid of everything, it will automatically free me from whatever constrains me. If only one could do that. But it is not the way things work here on the Earth Plane.

I have a folder of photos taken to illustrate my various endeavors. Here is one from a one-woman show I did in the early 90s, whose title was Forces of Nature.

I like this picture. My costume was red, with a fringe of colored ribbons on the sleeves.

That was a long time ago now.

I want to honor the past, which has allowed me to mature into the woman I am now, but that doesn't mean I have to live in a museum of my assumed identity. I can let go of some of the mementos of the past.

I want to live in the present.  No matter how uncomfortable some aspects of it may be.

Toward the end of life, it is important to pay attention to everything, to make reparations, to heal, to extend love, to let go, to go within and connect with one's deeper spiritual wellsprings and sources. That is the work I am engaged in. It is not easy at times. But it seems essential.