Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baba Yaga is My Homegirl

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” --C.S. Lewis

I guess I am qualified, because Baba Yaga, the Russian fairytale hag, is my homegirl. The Urban Dictionary defines homegirl as "The girl who's always there to talk to and who can talk to you back about all kinds of stuff. You've been through a lot together." And that sure applies to Baba Yaga and me.

I'm already on close terms with Coyote Woman, who is mythic and often mischievous. Now Baba Yaga has appeared, too. Perhaps I should be concerned to be associating with them this way. But I'm not. Nothing like a Kali type figure to stir things up. And Baba Yaga is that, an archetype that moves between the visible and invisible worlds. She's a crone, a Black Goddess, a dark woman of knowledge. She can be a bit dangerous and unpredictable.

When I began writing A New Wrinkle (a musical play on aging, which you may have already heard me say) I was looking for a character that could take part in the action in an unconventional way, without being affected by or caring about what anybody thought of it. I wanted a character that could move between ordinary and magical reality. That's how Baba Yaga showed up. Well, actually, who knows how she showed up. This stuff comes in via the Orphic Radio.

And she has done a good job of playing her part in A New Wrinkle. As an additional bonus, from hanging out with her so much for months, I have developed my inner Baba Yaga!

Wishing you all a new year full of joy and adventure.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Call Back the Sun

Ashland, Oregon--a small town with a lot of artists of all kinds. Sometimes it seems to me that our town's population is mainly composed of artists, healers and real estate agents plus those who aspire to being artists, healers and real estate agents. That's my little Ashland joke.

The dance community in Ashland is quite large and varied. Dancing People Company magnetized many dancers and a big audience of dance lovers last night for its 4th annual "Call Back the Sun" Solstice celebration.

First, I will say that I could not find any reviews of Dancing People Company performances. This proves I live in a small town, even if it is pretty saturated with all manner of art and artists. No proper dance reviewer in sight. (if there are any reviews hiding somewhere, I would like to read them to see what others have to say.) Second, I will advise that I am no dance critic. I am also rather reticent to discuss wine's finer qualities though I do know good wine when I taste it.

The performance began with the room completely darkened. Dancers appeared one by one, illuminated only by the candle each carried. They moved slowly through the space. More dancers appeared, and together their movements conjured up a mythic, ancient rite. I was mesmerized, enchanted. My heart was moved; the audience/performer boundary was erased.

In dance, things move fast. It's not like looking at a painting or reading a book. What a no-brainer, you may be thinking, but bear with me, I am not a dance reviewer. Watching dance is more like watching a football game, except that nobody is doing video replays of what just happened so the mind and emotions reel as ecstatic gestures and movements cascade through eyes, brain and heart minute after minute. You want to stop just for that particular gesture or jumble or leap, but you cannot. It's already gone.

Of course the sheer physical power and grace, that beauty, was astounding at times. The leaps, raises, balancing, catches, such evocations of flight, lightness, power, freedom and trust, such vulnerability were at times completely breathtaking.

The performance included aerial dancing too. It was stunning. To watch those beautiful beings suspended in mid air, curling and uncurling like flowers, revealing all their strength, delicacy and skill, well what can I say except Hallelujah! Bravo brothers and sisters! You filled my heart. All of our hearts are full.

Mythic, primal, Dionysian/erotic, lyrical, powerful. Somebody write a proper review of these folks, please! The musicians were wonderful, too.

Photo by Hennie Van Heerden,the Netherlands, via Flickr

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter: Time to Go Within

It's looking as if it might snow tonight up in the mountains. Last year at this time I was in Mexico near Puerto Vallarta. This year, I am happily ensconced in my sweet place in southern Oregon, contemplating the tropics from afar. White narcissus flowers on the dining table fill the room with their fragrance. I've just finished writing a very funny song on drugs and medications for A New Wrinkle, my play on aging. It is Baba Yaga's farewell song in the play. Now all I have to do is conjure up the play's finale, and I'm done with a good first draft of the script. Laura Rich has already scored three of the songs and today she is working on Scintillating Secrets of the Older Brain, which was inspired by the work of Dr. Gene Cohen and his book The Mature Mind.

I never knew how much I loved writing song lyrics until I started creating A New Wrinkle. I find the process of discovering great words, rhymes, near rhymes and rhythmic patterns really pixillating. It gets me going. The potential in ironic/pranic/sonic/harmonic or ecstasy/remedy/bimini or medicine/reticent, it does something to me. I start to feel a bit elfish or puckish. Regrettable, heretical or health-wise antithetical? No, it's not regrettable at all. I like it.

In terms of seasons, winter is likened to later life. A slower pace, more time for reflection. By the time you reach your sixties, you naturally become more reflective (unless you are one of those folks who takes "active aging" to aerobic extremes and never allow yourself to look within,which is sad, because reflection is a key element in aging.)

Winter is a great time for going within. Don't get me wrong. I love hiking around in the snow or getting out in the nippy air of winter. But I appreciate the opportunity to rest and reflect in the colder days and longer nights of winter.

I'm "living in the past" during some of my reflections. I reflect on my life experience, my relationships, the people who have crossed my path or filled my life with their presence, how things went,the patterns of my thought, emotions and behavior. Sometimes I am forgiving myself and others. During some of my reflections I am contemplating, meditating and praying, letting go of the solid reality of everyday life and welcoming the radiant essence. Sometimes I reflect upon the world, the Earth and its myriad beings, the future of the planet. Sometimes I reflect upon the cosmos, the constellations, the galaxies, vast and awe-inspiring.

Sometimes, right now for instance, my mind turns to what I'm about to cook for tonight's dinner, when my friend Betsy comes to visit. Now reflection must turn to action.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Googles-Eye View of Aging

How about using Google for some impromptu anthropological research? For instance, enter the keywords "pro aging"-- 13.5 million possibilities. There's a few think pieces scattered throughout that examine what pro-aging might mean. There's some maniacal life extension entries (does pro aging mean living forever?)and a lot of entries on Dove Soap's pro aging campaign, which used photos of older women. **SHOCK**

How about "anti-aging?" 11 million entries focused on life extension, anti aging medicine, exercise, supplements and how to look younger. UNICEF capitalized on the fascination with anti-aging in Germany to launch a cosmetic series the purchase of which provides funds to help children in Africa, where so many children die before they have a chance to grow to adulthood, much less age.

If you want to get into the anti-aging market in Dubai, check into the 2010 Dubai Congress on Anti-Aging and Aesthetic Medicine, whose website Dubai Anti-Aging tells us that "the region is a major force for change in the burgeoning anti-aging market." According to the site, The Middle East anti-aging market is valued at *US$5.58 billion by 2010. Wow. The anti-aging market.

How about abandoning pro and anti and just going for "positive aging" which has a mere 2,870,000 entries. There are a lot more interesting sites to explore here--books, conferences, newsletters, retirement coaches and more of a focus on happiness and personal growth. I liked this site and the services offered. Revolutionize Retirement

Here's a real interesting one--ageism, with only 181,000 entries, while sexism has 879,000 and racism has 4,580,000. Hmmm. Ageism-- the most ho-hum form of social discrimination. What is it going to take to ignite some real change?

Some people are focusing on doing just that. Check out this interesting site where filmmaker Patrician Sahertian discusses her documentary film on ageism in the workplace titled Cut Back: Fighting Ageism. Documentary on Ageism in the Workplace

Of course, you can always take your own Googles-eye view of aging and see what you come up with.

Photo of an Apatani Woman in Arunchal Pradesh India is by Rudi Roels, from Flickr.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December Full Moon

On full moon nights, I love driving out to the Tashi Choling Tibetan Buddhist temple in a mountain valley outside of Ashland. When meditation practice is finished, a wonderful experience in itself, there's something else to look forward to--the drive back to town with the full moon's splendid light radiating over the expansive valley. Tonight though, it's cold and foggy and I chose to remain home.

This painting by 19th century German painter Carl Anton Joseph Rottman is such a beautiful evocation of the energy the full moon pours out over the landscape. The moon streams through the inner landscape, too. I couldn't sleep last night because of the way the energy of the full moon spurred recollections, ruminations and musing. I usually appreciate the disturbance of being moonstruck. But I'm glad to get a rest from the intense luster of the full moon for the rest of the month, or who knows what the heck life would be like.

I lie on my couch by the front window
and watch the moon rise
like a pearl held between two cloud shells
like the luminous center of a flower of cloud petals
like a jewel appearing in a round cloud window

just the full moon
above a mesa and canyon
composed of cloudbanks

I wrote that poem in December 2004. The moon waxes and wanes. The months and years pass. Now here we are nearly at the end of 2009, which has been for me a year of deep invention, acceptance and expansiveness. As the composer John Cage once said, "Everything we do is music. Everywhere is the best seat."

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Gene Cohen, author of The Creative Age and The Mature Mind, both marvelous and inspiring books. I have been and will continue to be a big fan of Dr. Cohen's pioneering work in the field of aging. I wanted to share this tribute to Dr. Cohen from the December 1st issue of the Human Values in Aging Newsletter published by the AARP Office of Academic Affairs, H.R. Moody, Editor.


This month the field of aging lost one of its giants,
with the passing of Gene Cohen, M.D., on Nov. 9, 2009.
Gene Cohen's life was a stellar string of "first's":
At the National Institute of Mental Health in the 1970s,
he was the first chief of the Center on Aging. Later
he became President of the Gerontological Society and
Editor of the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Since 1994,
Gene served as the first director of the Center on Aging,
Health and Humanities at George Washington University.

Gene was a prolific scholar and writer. His book, THE CREATIVE
AGE: Awakening the Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, and
later THE MATURE MIND: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain,
have become classics expounding a vision of "positive aging"
based on solid empirical inquiry.

While at Harvard, Gene was a student of Erik Erikson and
he carried on Erikson's legacy of adult development. Unlike
Erikson, Gene lived only until age 65, and, as with Moses, he
glimpsed the "Promised Land" of old age, but did not himself
live to enter it. He has left us a legacy and I hope we live
up to it. For those who knew him personally, Gene was, truly,
a giant in his field, but a gentle giant-- humble, funny,
endlessly creative and accessible. In a word, he was a mensch.
He will not be forgotten.

Thanks to for the full moon image

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wake at Dawn with a Winged Heart

"Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”--Khalil Gibran

Two days ago, the morning sky was rosy coral orange with violet accents. This morning it was a pale lemon yellow with gray splashes. Both were very beautiful. Now the sun pours into my little sunroom here, casting shadow patterns from elegant jungle cactus fronds on the brick wall. Ah, here it is, another day of loving. How marvelous!

My heart is very full and I am content. I am in the midst of creating some wonderful artistic/social change projects. The experience quickens me and fills me with joy. I am part of a beautiful spiritual community, many of whom I have practised with for 30 years. I treasure this. I have a gorgeous bouquet of friends, collaborators and allies, and two dear daughters. I live in a beautiful place. This is the season of harvest, both outwardly and inwardly.

"No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night." -Elie Wiesel

It's taken decades to come to this deep contentment. I had my own version of prison and torment. But that has faded back in my experience and awareness. Life challenges along with the process of aging has changed me. It's been a process of surrender, acceptance and opening up. What a great blessing.

Today, I'll continue to work on a very funny song for my play A New Wrinkle. It's about Drugs and Medications--from LSD to Prednisone-- and it will be sung by Baba Yaga, the fierce archetype from Russian folklore. The play script is nearly done! Now comes Laura Rich and the musical score. Of course, today means a celebration of food for tomorrow's feasts. My daughter wants me to pick up a flat of very ripe persimmons for her at the Farmer's Market. Sometime today,I will be making some delicious fig/olive tapenade for one gathering of friends and some scalloped potatoes for another Thanksgiving gathering.

In the late afternoon, I am looking forward to some ecstatic movement at NIA, a marvelous dance form that combines movement from dance,martial arts and yoga. Through it all, love pours.

Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live. --Jackie Windspear

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Joy of Playing

Tube tastic in Vang Vieng
Originally uploaded by B℮n

The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said "Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will." I have that quote posted right near my telephone where it reminds me every day about the nature of creativity and the imagination, the play of bringing something out of nothing.

The renowned dancer Martha Graham insisted that "There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others." Hmm....I ponder her words from time to time, too. Yes, I recognize the blessed unrest and divine dissatisfaction that is part of creativity. But no satisfaction at any time? That just doesn't resonate with me at all. To me, there's a marvelous joy that's inherent in the play of creativity and it is something that is deeply satisfying. It's as if we are singing "I call you to me" to the empty canvas, the as yet undanced dance, the blank page ready for filling. And that experience of calling something up out of empty space is magical, playful, shot through with strands and sometimes streams or bolts of joy.

No blog post from this gal since mid October. Why? A whole lot of blessed unrest has been blessing my days. I spoke to groups about creativity and aging twice in October, once at the Ashland Food Co-op classroom and then again at artist Charu Colorado's OLLI class for older adults.

In the first class, I was talking about ageism, and when I finished, one attendee wanted to speak. "I hate living around those old people," he began. (He himself was fit and in his 60s). They are so fat and slow. In the time they take to get out of their cars, I can run around the block twice." He insisted he would kill himself before he ever got to that. When I pointed out that his comment was ageist, he seemed surprised and after a few moments chose to leave the classroom. The rest of the group was rather stunned and commented on how much they appreciated having the vivid example of ageism on the part of an older person toward other older people, and how ageism is something that one can internalize without even recognizing it.

In the second talk, I discussed why creativity is such a vital part of life, how it contributes to well being. I shared some of my favorite books including The Force of Character and the Lasting Life by James Hillman and two books by Gene Cohen, The Mature Mind and the Creative Age. I was very moved by 89-year old Charu's passionate and clear way of sharing about the value of creativity. "My physical eyes are not so good, but I can really see these days," she said at one point, describing the deeper vision that comes with a certain kind of open attention. Charu is a great example of someone whose commitment to creativity fuels her life and inspires others. Both talks were a lot of fun, and I intend to develop a seminar format so that I can continue to work with groups of older adults on creativity, wellness and spirit.

In late October, I had the pleasure of being in a group of 21 very creative people as we all became members of Artist Conference Network, a coaching community for artists of all kinds. There were photographers, graphic designers, singers, painters, writers, environmental artists, fabric artists, costume designers and book designers in the group. It was two days of creative action and joyful play. What a pleasure to share so intimately with people so committed to their creativity.

"I am a magical surprise!" That's the artistic statement which I discovered for myself that weekend. Sometimes I am a surprise to myself, of course. That is part of the delight and growth.

Right now, I am magically surprising myself with a variety of creative adventures--including developing a website for Sage's Play and finishing two songs for my play A New Wrinkle. I have the pleasure of meeting with my collaborator, the composer Laura Rich, to hear what she is doing with the lyrics of some of the songs, and imagineering some clips for You Tube--my goal is to have those up by the end of January.

I am grateful for the support and love I experience in this process. My work since April with my friend Melanie Marx, a wonderful life coach On Purpose Life Design has given me tools that have enhanced my life in many ways, including leading me to join Artist Conference Network.

Yesterday I had my second weekly coaching session with my ACN coaching partner. Tonight I am looking forward to a full-out gathering of the whole ACN group, which occurs every 3 weeks. It's an evening of delicious food offerings followed by a heady time of sharing our creative work with each other. As my friend Edeltraud often says, "Life is good."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Art and the Deep Song

"The artist appeals to that part of our being... which is a gift and not an acquisition, and therefore more permanently enduring."--Joseph Conrad

On a gray autumn morning, with the trees gold and red outside the windows, I'm thinking about the gift of art, its heightened gestures and how it connects us to the deep song, the song of our heart, our essential self.

Art whether in the form of dance, music, singing, poetry, literature, painting, sculpture, film, theater gives us a way to move out beyond static, habitual perception and experience.

Suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of some kind of astounding beauty, heartbreaking in its immediacy and fullness, and it's vibrating, cascading, pouring through us in the stillness of our focused attention.

What rites of passage, nourishment and initiation art proffers, what gifts it brings. This is certainly as true for the artistic process as it is for experiencing the finished work. Creating art reveals you to yourself.

When I was a child, I took incredible delight in reading the dictionary. On any page, some words stood out more than others. I was attracted to those words; they opened up beautiful worlds of feeling, color and meaning. And then I discovered something that seemed even more magical-- from those disparate, exotic, tasty, brilliant, moving words I could create, through some type of magnetism, concentration and ecstatic discovery, whole streams of words that formed a poem and told a story.

Creating art occupies me with the same sense of delight and discovery many decades later. It presents beautiful challenges and allows me to share myself with others in ways that so-called ordinary life does not always afford.

When I was in my early 50s it began to dawn on me that if I lived long enough I would grow old. Then I noticed the vitality of older artists--among them dancers, painters, blues singers, classical musicians. It's beautiful--and it makes sense not to retire when you are so richly immersed in what you love to do, and what brings such joy to others.

That's something to pay attention to, I told myself. Pay attention to the vivid links between creativity and well-being; pay attention to the generous nourishment and rejuvenation that art provides. Pay attention to the joy of offering up the deep song.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Full Moon after Autumn Equinox

I went down to the old railroad district part of town today, and there were bright red leaves on the maple trees and lovely golden leaves on gingkos and aspens. It was first Friday, which means a big social scene at the art galleries.

When I lived in New York, I never missed the Friday art openings. Art openings and jazz at the Five Spot were my mainstays in those days. The art scene in New York was heady, competitive, and very creative as painters, photographers, writers, designers etc all gathered together in a swarm at art openings and bars like Max's Kansas City.

I enjoy living in this small town of Ashland, Oregon, where I've lived for over 30 years, but I have to say that the art scene in Ashland is usually pretty ho-hum. It's not that there are no good artists here. There are some. But there is no real art scene, which to me is a scene composed mainly of engaged artists. First Fridays in Ashland bring a variety of folks out on the town, and you can catch up with friends as you drink a little wine and eat morsels of this and that.

Today at the currently favored gallery there was a guy with little horns on his head and a very pretty coral and white snake around his arm, and another fellow in full evening dress with a tall top hat. Such pale artifice! I really am a curmudgeon today. I did see one very striking piece at that gallery, made of thorny mesquite branches, copper and feathers.

I went to one show of about 130 postcards from all over the country, which followed the theme "Dark Night of the Soul." The tiny gallery was up a long flight of stairs in a very old downtown building. There were four or five beautifully outstanding pieces. The exhibit was refreshing to me because it had no commercial focus. It was egalitarian. You see anybody can be an artist and say something about the dark night of the soul, or anything else for that matter. Some people called Betsy Lewis, the show's organizer, to tell her that they thought the dark night of the soul was the work of the devil. I suppose they had no idea the the phrase dark night of the soul came from the mystic poetry of St. John of the Cross.

This week I read two books. One was Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Fascinating stuff --enjoyable writing as usual from Gladwell. Success, it turns out is about 10,000 hours of focused practice and a fair amount of good luck in the form of helpful alliances with others and just being in the right place at the right time.

I also read The Third Age: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. Well-written and often inspiring, this book is based upon interviews with many people 50 and older about how they have redefined their lives through travel, new forms of work, learning, mentoring and loving. A significant look at the emerging new paradigm of aging.

The moon is coming to the full. I like lying in bed and watching it move across the sky, sometimes radiating a rainbow nimbus, sometimes covered by big billowing clouds. The moon waxes and wanes, the seasons change. Here is a poem I wrote about autumn in 1994.

Song of the Autumn Moon
for Carolyn Myers

Another autumn evening
moon nearly full
leaves blowing off the oaks.
The sounds of the owls and coyotes
wakes me and I cannot
fall asleep again.
Year after year and always
the autumn to conjure the ache
and the spring to conjure the itch.

"The bamboos outside my window
sob like the broken heart of autumn,"
wrote Chu Su Chen in the 13th century.
Nothing definite is known of her they say.
Is it better that way?
Lifetime after lifetime
coming, going, returning again.
My hair has grown silver since we met
my body has thickened
and the beauty I never knew I had
has changed.

"The autumn constellations
begin to rise," Tu Fu wrote.
The moon toad swims in the river
and does not drown.
The moon rabbit pounds the bitter herbs
of the elixir of immortality."

I often think of those bitter herbs
and the pounding it takes
to prepare the elixir of immortal life.
Everything presses me
from one thing to the next
as if anything were real
as if we would live forever.
I want to pull myself away
to open up the space between thoughts
until the primordial nature
appears unobstructed.

Nai-yuine has entered
her fourth year of retreat
in the cabin where you once lived.
From my kitchen window
I see her light way into the night.
The prayer flags around her house are green;
the color is auspicious for our teacher's long life.
In the cabin behind my house Bruce
sits on his cushion for hours day after day
meditating has been his job for years
whatever room or country he finds himself in.

And in the morning outside my window
juncos peck at the blanket
of golden rice hulls
I have spread over the garden.
I walk up the hill
to the little forest
that you have always loved
and think of you. Old friend,
it's love that brings me to this poem
and to the years we've shared.
It's simply love, as good as
"women laughing together for three days on end"
love that makes me glad when I see you
it inclines me toward you
the way that branches of trees
incline toward each other
forming a shady path.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Inspiration and Creative Ferment

"Your vocation is that place where your deep joy meets the world's great hunger." --Frederick Buechner

In January, I started to write a musical play on aging, titled A New Wrinkle. Being a somewhat naive/optimistic (choose one or both) woman, I guessed I would be done writing by June and be ready to go into production by fall. Ha ha ha, the Universe laughed.

I have never written a play before and the process has been and continues to be a wonderful learning experience on many levels. It turns out that writing song lyrics was the easiest thing. I've written some rather funny songs including "I Passed for Young" sung by an aging Barbie, "Sex after Sixty," sung by the cast ensemble, "Baba Yaga's Raga" sung of course by Baba Yaga, whose unconfined magic figures large in the play, "What Should We Do with the Rest of Our Lives?" a song about retirement/refirement, "Scintillating Secrets of the Older Brain" which was inspired by Gene Cohen's book The Mature Mind--and right now, I am working on a song about how grandchildren would act towards elders in a culture that recognizes the value of older people. I also am musing about writing a song about medicine or doctors or the health care system. I've written one scalding song, "Hip Hop Elder's Rant" which covers ageism, dismissing and warehousing elders, etc. And there are two choral pieces, one at the beginning of the play and one at the end. These pieces are lyrical and a bit mythic. There are a couple of other song fragments, one about gerontophobia, and a fragment of an old blues song by Memphis Minnie. Musicals usually have from 20-30 songs, so A New Wrinkle is atypical in that way. I am not dismayed by that because the play doesn't have to fit into the existing mold.

Many days and weeks have been like feeling around in the dark, something I am familiar with, but it's still uncomfortable at times. Where am I? Where is this going? Is there anybody/anything out there, or in there? What wants to happen here? Can I do it? Sometimes it calls for letting go and lying on the couch to look at the sky for awhile. Daydreaming.

The Muse can arrive unannounced or at inconvenient times of course, especially when you're dealing with a character like Baba Yaga. There's a great talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love" on TED about the imagination and creativity. You might like it. I sure did.

It's impossible to imagine the process of developing "A New Wrinkle" without Helpful People. I've been blessed with Helpful People, like my old friend Carolyn Myers, an award-winning playwright and humorist who is part of an improvisational comedy troupe called the Hamazons. What a combination of diplomacy, profound support and deft insights she has given me. "And you're so close," she said during the last two sessions we had. Hilary Tate, a woman with well-honed literary and theatrical awareness, has also been of enormous help to me. Melanie Marx, a friend and life coach with a bouyant expression of love and chi, has helped me with reframing old habits that used to dog my creative life. And I feel the love and support of so many friends and acquaintances who tell me, "I can't wait to see it!"

Gaelyn Larrick introduced me to Laura Rich, who arranges music for Warner Brothers. Laura is a beautiful woman, sensitive in so many ways, loving, artistic, filled with humor--and she believes in what I am doing with A New Wrinkle. Keep her in your hearts as she recovers from surgery. Laura is composing the music for the play. I am going to her place tomorrow to talk more about that with her. Another aspect of the learning.

Developing characters and a plot line, what a concept. Yes. Big learning curve. Lots of fun. Eureka! Magical, how characters and plot emerge, as if they were just hiding around the edges of what was already created.

The experience of writing A New Wrinkle takes place in the midst of creating Sage's Play, the artistic venture of which this blog is a part. For Sage's Play, I am planning to write a little book to accompany A New Wrinkle, or be read on its own, and will also develop some formats for seminars and talks. I will be developing a website soon at

I am about to join a group called Artist Network Conference which provides a supportive structure for artists in terms of coaching, planning and development and artistic breakthroughs. ANC developed 25 years ago and has chapters in several places. The website is

For so many years, my creative life has felt rather isolated, and when I started to write A New Wrinkle, I began to pray that I would find a supportive creative community of other artists. ACN has appeared in answer to that prayer. I'll be attending a weekend orientation for ACN at the end of October and I am really looking forward to it.

P.S. Check out a site with many interesting audios and videos related to aging. There is one audio of Gene Cohen talking about creative aging, which I found enjoyable.

Photo courtesy

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ageism in the Workplace

I'm a fan of Ronni Bennett's blog As Time Goes By.

Ronni's focus on political and social issues is very useful to any progressive older adult who wants to stay informed. Yesterday Ronni blogged about ageism in the workplace. This is not the first time she has discussed the subject. She is one of those older adults who was pushed out of a beloved job field because of age, so it is a subject she returns to. Check out her September 2nd blog on workplace discrimination.

I especially liked pro-active interview suggestions from Rick Gillis' book The Real Secret to Finding a Job, which Ronni included in her post yesterday. They are:

"Look your interviewer straight in the eye, don't blink and in your most pleasant, professional voice, ask:

  • Does this company maintain a mixed-age workplace?

  • How do you weigh the skills of younger and older workers in deciding whom to hire?

  • How do you train young managers in dealing with subordinates who are old enough to be their parents and grandparents?

  • Is my age an impediment to being hired at this company?"
Gillis maintains that asking some of these questions in an even, professional manner positions the job seeker as someone who is savvy and valuable. His website is

I have never encountered this type of ageism myself because as I've aged I worked in a family medical clinic, had my own healing practice and have worked part-time for the past 9 years for Medifecta Healthcare Training,, an elder-friendly company where I help to write and produce educational materials that train caregivers of elders. But I know that ageism affects many older adults in limiting and demeaning ways.

Studies show that older workers have a lot to offer in terms of accumulated experience, capability and reliability. Not only that, but as the population ages, we will have workforce shortages, and need at least some older workers to continue to work. Many older adults have a financial need to continue earning, or want to contribute and participate through the workplace.
So older workers are qualified and reliable, and we need them in the workforce.

Yet ageism in the workplace is endemic, in spite of federal anti discrimination laws. Patronizing, condescending attitudes about older workers continue, and many older workers never get interviewed much less hired even though they are well qualified. Ageism in America, a report from the International Longevity Institute, describes ageism in the workplace (as well as media, health care and society in general). I highly recommend getting educated about ageism and challenging ageism when it shows up in your life, whether it's in the workforce, medical office, or retail store.

My new play has a little anti-ageism kit contained within it. Can't share those tactics yet, but when the play is done, they will be available for review, adaptation and real use. But don't wait till then to create some imaginative, nonviolent and skillful responses to ageism. Show up, and together let's make social change happen!
Photo of nice dried up old apple courtesy

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Ravages of Time

There is an album titled The Ravages of Time by the British progressive metal band Threshold, and there is a manga comic series titled The Ravages of Time by a Hong Kong artist. It describes the three kingdoms period of Chinese history after the Han dynasty collapsed 2000 years ago.

Neither of those ravages of time is what I am thinking of right now. My contemplation is much closer to home. Yesterday in the parking lot of a shopping center (which is to my mind a garish place to meet a mythic presence, but we cannot always meet in sylvan glens, apparently) I saw a woman I've loved and admired for over 30 years. She's a profoundly gifted astrologer. I've always thought of her as a liminal figure, someone who moves easily between the seen and the invisible worlds.

When I first met her she cut a romantic figure, wafting through the streets of our little town swathed in long cloaks and capes. With her pale skin, wildly curly red hair, slender body, and a potent gift for poetic speech, she conjured a sense of wonder in me. I brought this up to her during a reading she gave me several years ago. "Oh, my high priestess phase," she laughed, dismissing it with a wave of her hand. We were all beautiful then, though some of us may not have realized it. Beautiful with the freshness and vitality of youth.

Yesterday I met her in the parking lot. There she was, a slight older woman with a little beige hat and quiet colored clothes, pushing a shopping cart. At first I did not recognize her; she had changed in the months since I had last seen her. She was moving slowly. There was a cane in the shopping cart.

I was happy to see her. I walked up and greeted her warmly. Being a rather direct person, I asked her about the cane after our introductory remarks. She gave me the news-- she has a hereditary neurological disease that progresses slowly. I found myself suddenly falling out of time somehow with this information, and I registered the understanding that this kind of news is something I will be hearing a lot more of regarding those I love, including myself.

"I don't intend to become a person of interest to the medical community," she told me with a smile. And so we began to speak of illness and letting go. "So many surgeries or medical treatments give you a year or two more, but is that what we are supposed to do at this point, just hang onto the body? As a Buddhist, isn't it about letting go?"

Yes. I agreed with her. It is about letting go-- at this stage of life especially. But that didn't ease the sinking feeling that I had. I love her. I don't want her to suffer. Isn't that one of the most painful aspects of the earthly dimension? To me, it is.

I told her so. How I wished she did not have to go through this. But she gracefully sidestepped my attempt, which we both knew was futile. It was clear that she embraces her illness with acceptance. I felt very sad, yet her attitude inspired me. Of course acceptance is the attitude I wish to have myself.

So there we were, two old Buddhists talking about illness and dying in the parking lot. Nothing new about that, I can tell you after 30 plus years as a Buddhist. Especially the death part. Buddhists talk about death routinely, even when they are young. Buddhists practice to prepare for dying, which I'll save for another story.

Something happened during the time I studied with Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche in Berkeley in the 70s. Many things happened, but this one thing in particular affected me deeply. Several houses up from Tarthang Tulku's, the father of a neighboring family had died with a horrible expression on his face. His body was contorted. Soon after his death, his daughters came to ask Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche if there was anything he could do to help. They couldn't stand to see their father like that. They weren't Buddhists, but maybe they thought that a Tibetan lama might know something mystically efficacious. Which it turned out was true.

Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche gave them a metal disc with prayers inscribed on it. He told them to place the disc on their father's heart and to repeat a mantra. I don't know which mantra it was. Within a couple of hours, the man's body had relaxed; his face assumed a peaceful expression. His daughters were very happy. I was very happy, too. I still feel happy when I think of it. It was one of the experiences that led me to become a Buddhist.

So here at the end of summer as the days shorten I contemplate the ravages of time, the piercing qualities of love and loss, the transitory nature of this human life. This is part of the work of age.
Photo: Ruins of an ancient Roman column--courtesy

Monday, August 17, 2009

Character and What's Revealed Over Time

I took a picture of this 20 foot tall boulder by the edge of the sea two weeks ago. It has a lot of character. Strata. Pattern. Complexity. Beauty. Age. How old? How long has it been standing there at the edge of the Pacific? I have no idea, but I do know how happy I am to see it there.

Everything in nature has character of course. It's all a beautiful panoply--ferns, massive geologic formations, lakes, oak groves, elephants, whales, foxes, beetles--each living thing has its own distinctive, marvelous qualities.

In human beings, character is usually something that develops over time. Though character development in psychology has largely focused on children. Sometimes young children appear who seem wise beyond their years, but on the whole, it takes decades for human character to develop fully or mature.

"We become characteristic of who we are simply by lasting," James Hillman notes in his book A Force of Character and the Lasting Life, which I mentioned in my last post. I am re-reading the book. When I read what Hillman writes I think of how many friends have said to me, "Now I feel comfortable with myself." As they age, they relax and settle into being themselves more fully. In the process, they embody and share their distinctive qualities more easily. Their character--what has accumulated and been learned over time-- becomes easier to see and know.

"What ages is not merely your functions and organs," Hillman writes, "but the whole of your nature, that particular person you have come to be and already were years ago. Character has been forming your face, your habits, your friendships, your peculiarities, the level of your ambition with its career and its faults. Character influences the way you give and receive; it affects your loves and your children..."

What is revealed over time? What is most deeply important? What is unfinished and wants to be released? What is unfinished and wants to be completed? What healing, reconciliation and life repair cries out for attention? What wants to be shared? These are some of the questions I ask myself these days as I sail towards 70. I have character, and sometimes I am a character, too, less confined by social convention and expectations than I was in earlier decades. This is relaxing. There's still plenty of work to do. My character development is incomplete. The alchemical process continues.

I've always been an artist and it has taken many forms over the years--journalism, environmental activism, experimental music, healing work, theater, (last but never least) poetry. Since January, I've been working on a musical on aging titled A New Wrinkle. I probably could have finished it sooner, if I had ever written a play before. But I never have written a play. I have done some one-woman shows, but that is another creature entirely. So writing a play has been quite a learning process. And without help, especially the help of my playwright friend Carolyn and the help of good lady Hilary, a woman with highly developed literary sensitivities, I never could have gotten to the place where I am, which is close to being finished with a good first draft. That includes the lyrics to 7 wonderful songs. I am working with a marvelous composer on the music. It is a very exciting project.

Couple of weeks ago I went to a playwrights meeting at the local library. When we were introducing ourselves I shared that I was writing a musical on aging. One man (far more obvious in his reaction no doubt) laughed out loud. And let's face it, it is funny. A musical on aging. Most people think aging is pretty awful, laughable, ridiculous. I can't say that's why the guy laughed at me, but I can say that's one reason why I am writing this play.

It is time for the emergence of a new paradigm of aging and old age, with millions of people aging, living longer and staying healthier.

Have a wonderful end of summer. My next blog post will be in September.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reclaiming the Word OLD

An old forest is different from a young forest. It is fuller, deeper, more complex. When we enter an old forest, we feel nourished, rejuvenated, inspired. It took a long time for that forest to mature to the point where we feel embraced so fully by it. That's oldness.

The mysterious winding paths of very old cities are satisfying to us in ways that new cities cannot be. We find in old manuscripts and statues, old brandy and old gardens a kind of pleasure and sustenance particular to oldness.

Here's something strange: an ancient redwood forest is wonderful, yet an old person is laughable. Nobody wants to be called OLD. The word OLD when used to describe an older person is as genuine a dirty word as any 4 letter word, even though OLD has only 3 letters.

Yesterday I was imagining what it would be like to create a T shirt that simply said OLD and wear it around town. After I thought about it for awhile, it seemed that the whole thing would work better as a piece of performance art, with a troupe of kindred spirits and a bit of fun choreography. I smile to imagine this happening in cities all over the country. It's quite possible and it would be quite wonderful to see that flower.

In his marvelous book The Force of Character and the Lasting Life, psychologist/scholar James Hillman takes a look at the word OLD and our ideas about oldness and old people. I love Hillman's writing and his keen and poetic mind; I highly recommend this book, which will provoke and inspire you to explore aging in new ways.

"Since 'words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind', as Virginia Woolf put it, the old mind is lowered by the lowering of "old" to its present undesirable condition: old maid, old fashioned, old guard, old boys, old witch, old fogey, old fart," Hillman writes.

The word old, he points out, is itself a very old word, deriving from an Indo-European root that means "to nourish." Oldness nourishes. We know that. As older people, we know the ways in which an old forest is different from a young forest.

It seems to me a very good idea to reclaim the word OLD. Personally I don't want to be describing myself as 70 years young, if I have the fortune to live to 70. Which of course I hope to do. I was young already. Why would I want to settle for being called 70 years young, the description of an earlier stage of life, which does not take into account everything I have thrown into the alchemical retort over the years?

When did you know you were old? one of my friends asked me the other day. It reminded me of how for many years I was uncomfortable about being a woman in a male-oriented culture. I wanted to be masculine, which I identified with successful. So I am quite familiar with the sense of not being the highly accepted one. It was a struggle to find and accept myself, to understand the unique and valuable qualities of being a woman, a particular woman, and to let go of trying to be one of the guys. I did that and at this point I don't need to do it again, in terms of trying to imitate youth. I was young already. Young people have not yet experienced being old. They still have that to live into.

It's only recently I feel comfortable with being old. I knew I was old when I felt comfortable with it. I acknowledge and value where I am now. I'm an activist of OLD these days. I'm coming from the OLD days, singing the OLD songs. Reclaiming OLD.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Waters of Memory, the Sky of Dreams

When I was in my mid 50s, the past, which had never much interested me before, became fascinating. I spent almost a year reading and musing about the ancient Silk Road and the oasis cities that flourished there so briefly before being buried by the sands. Thinking of those lost cities and the civilizations they contained was a kind of doorway that spoke to me piercingly of impermanence, and also led me to aspects of my own psyche that up until then had been buried in the rushing torrents of life.

It's sometimes said that with age, qualities of reflection naturally arise. This has been true for me. Yes, I continue to show up in the outer world. I do the laundry, work, pray, cook good food, enjoy my friends, music, dancing, plunging into nature and the elements just as I’ve done for years. Yet as time passes, I find myself “living in the past” something that has been widely vilified as a sign of elder dottiness, but which I find to be a worthy task. What have I lived through and what is the meaning of the patterns, impulses, events and people that have filled my life? We live as the Christian mystic Jacob Boehme pointed out in two worlds. The material and the immaterial.

And as one grows older, it is possible that one may live more in the immaterial world--In the past, in the imagination, in prayer, meditation, spirit. Though I may be conjuring much consternation perhaps by putting all those things together. It works for me. If it does not work for you, adjust as you will to valences your psyche finds harmonious.

Every stage of life has its peculiar dreams. So during my mid 50s I found myself dreaming of a big white marble room with tall, narrow windows. The room contained a long table with a globe on it, ancient manuscripts their pages edged with gold, and some instruments and substances I associate with alchemy. In that room, I was a woman whose forehead shone with light. I was my own beacon.

In what we think of as the ordinary world, one doesn’t describe oneself this way. That is a bit of a problem with the ordinary world, because all of us have mythic, archetypal, immaterial qualities and when we ignore those, we are diminished.

From the beautiful white marble room, a heavy wooden door opened out to a narrow hallway. I had to take a lantern with me. The hallway curved, its stairs descending deep into the earth. The air was old and dry. I arrived at a doorway covered with heavy, deep red brocade cloth, gently pulled the cloth aside and looked into the small room that appeared before me, which was illuminated by votive candles set on a ledge that ran along its walls. Its ceiling was low, its dark walls were hewn from black rock. Three icons hung on the walls-- one of Jesus, one of the Black Madonna, and one of St. Michael. In the candlelight, their golden halos blazed out from the dark backgrounds of the paintings.

I saw an ornate, jewel-encrusted coffin in which lay an old King, strong and undecayed. His deep red robe was embroidered with flowers sewn of golden threads. His beautiful golden crown was set with rubies and emeralds. His Queen lay beside him like a still flower. She had a perfume, not of death, but of the ineffable.

Was it this dream that led me to begin excavating the archeological layers and the brightly lit memories that comprise the way stations of my life experience? I do not rightly remember if it was. But it was around that time that I started reflecting on and writing about my life in an effort to understand, reconcile and let go.

“I come to the fields and spacious palaces of memory, where are the treasures of innumerable images, brought into it from things of all sorts perceived by the senses,” as St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions. It takes both fierce focus and soft trust to enter the territory of the soul with both eyes wide open, to describe the seasons and stations of the inner journey. It is a task and opportunity that can be taken up in the elder years, if one is drawn to do it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Don't Let Old Age Catch Up to You!

I'm not telling you anything new when I say that modern industrial culture is obsessed with vigor, youth, production and consumption. When people are not productive or consuming, vigorous or young, they no longer fit into what's valued.

That's why I saw an ad the other day (I forgot to note what it was advertising or where I saw it) which depicted a forlorn old woman under the headline, "Don't Let Old Age Catch Up with You." Because I am a curious woman, I soon found myself on Amazon perusing descriptions of two books I have no intention whatsoever of reading. One was titled "How Not to Act Old" and the other "How Not to Look Old."

Imagine living in a culture where people wore white wigs in order to look older and more authoritative. Forget the wigs even. A culture where people were reading books How to Look Older and How to Act Older. With millions of people aging, a change in how we regard age is inevitable.

Sometimes I wonder whether "active aging" touted by retirement communities and the aging network is just an extension of our obsession with youth and vigor, our disinterest in the inner life and our unwillingness to consider death. If older people are pushing themselves to keep busy in order not to let old age catch up with them, I would say yes, it is just another kind of shallowness, a frenzied avoidance of some of the deeper aspects of life's tapestry.

So many people are living longer and staying healthier. Imagine the positive impact of millions of older adults who choose to mature altruistically, harvesting their accumulated life experience and setting out a feast to share with others. Older adults who recognize the power of their numbers and the value of their accumulated experience for the common good. This is what I visualize and imagine. Not old people running from age and death, old people filling up their days with distracting activities or old people withdrawing as if they are useless or already gone, but millions of old people like a wave of peace--loving, caring, enjoying and contributing to the welfare of others as their review their own lives, forgive, heal and let go into the bigger picture.

Photo by Rick Z/Flickr

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thinking about Three Isms from the Sixties

Did you like this poster when it first came out? I did, and it turns out I still do.

I've been mulling over three isms that got going in the Sixties--racism, sexism and ageism. Yes, ageism is a word that was coined in the Sixties by Dr. Robert Butler.

A lot happened with racism and sexism--words that were associated with vigorous movements for social change. After all the consciousness raising, protests, marches, dialogues and confrontations, people understood what was racist and what was sexist. They got educated. There were words you shouldn't use and ways it was not right to act.

No education of that kind ever happened with ageism, not in the Sixties or in the 40 plus years since then. It's as if the word and the social issues it represents just went into hiding for decades. So people are still uneducated about what constitutes ageism. And that includes a lot of older adults, too. Some older adults seem unwilling to acknowledge ageism, or pretend it doesn't exist. With a growing older population, isn't it time for some positive change? I think so.

Ageism was one of the main issues that propelled me into writing the play I'm currently working on, a musical about aging. The play explores social attitudes towards aging, sexuality in later years, retirement, and the surprising secrets of the aging brain among other items. It is a piece of social change theater, in which stereotypes, issues and themes can be displayed, often with humor, and sometimes with a bit of an edge. I hope it will help people to incorporate new ideas and behaviors about age and aging into their lives and the world they live in. I'm interested in changing the current Decline Paradigm of aging, and all the stereotypes about older adults that accompany that paradigm. It's a matter of self defense to begin with. All those ads--"don't let old age catch up with you!" and so forth and on and on. Who needs it? Not me, and I'm guessing, not you either.

This time of life has tremendous value. Old people have tremendous value. That's my rant and I'm sticking with it. I would rant on but it is a very hot day and I am ready for a picnic in the park.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Appreciating the Happiness Factor

There are people who believe that happiness is the province of the young and that old people are sad and lonely. This seems to be another example of those strange and untrue concepts about beings of the older vintages. (ageism: prejudice against and strange stereotypes about old people)

In fact, a spate of recent studies confirms that people actually grow happier as they grow older, and that old people are the happiest adult age group.

I know I'm happier than I've ever been at any other time of my life. I feel much more relaxed and comfortable about being myself. I accept and love myself more than I ever did. I am more emotionally flexible and resilient (and am grateful that I am also physically flexible and resilient, too). I'm much less influenced by what others think. I am more calm and accepting. I appreciate life, people and events more, and at the same time, I feel more detached.

You can read more about the studies of happiness and age in this New York Times blog.

The brain has something to do with it, of course. Now that researchers are finally paying attention to the aging brain they are making some exciting discoveries.

Scientists used to believe that we stopped producing new brain cells during adolescence. But now they've finally discovered that the brain keeps on producing new cells throughout life.

Psychologists used to think that cognitive abilities peaked in early adulthood. Unfortunately, a lot of people still believe this, though research shows that cognitive abilities actually peak in midlife or even later, depending on the person. There are so many examples of people in their 80s and 90s who embody this truth, people who create marvelous and original art, literature, philosophy, psychology and social activism in their later years.

The limbic system, which processes emotional experience, calms down with age. We are less affected by negative emotions and pay more attention to positive emotional experience. That certainly contributes to the happiness factor.

Researchers discovered that older adults use both hemispheres of their brain simultaneously. That's pretty interesting, isn't it? Powerful and holistic.

And let's not forget "dendritic density," the accumulated forest of dendrites from everything you've experienced and learned, all dancing and communing with each other happily.

All that adds up to mean that older people are capable of more complex, nuanced thinking and have great reservoirs of creativity.

If the subject excites you as much as it does me, pick up The Mature Mind by Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D. It's an inspiring read, full of fascinating research, interviews and cutting edge insights on aging and creativity.

I'm a fan of Dr. Cohen, who is very brainy, bighearted and also looks a bit like a leprechaun. As the founding chief of the Center on Aging at the National Institute of Mental Health, he interviewed and worked with thousands of older adults over a period of 20 years.

His upbeat perspective is a refreshing antidote to some prevailing attitudes about age. Here's what some authors have to say about The Mature Mind.

"Gene Cohen nails it: The brain can get better with age! With authority and warmth, he demolishes the myth of inevitable mental decline and explores how the brain expands and develops in the later decades of life."
— Abigail Trafford, author of My Time

"Cohen has coined the term 'developmental wisdom' to describe the emotional growth and wisdom that many adults acquire as they age. His book is sensible, useful, and hopeful—he is a developmentally wise man himself."
— Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia

"Gene Cohen teaches us that the rich possibilities of life—including the life of the mind—continue well into the latest of our years."
— Robert N. Butler, M.D., President and CEO, International Longevity Center

Dear readers, there you have it. Even though the culture suffers from an under-appreciation of the positive contributions and qualities of age, older adults are happy. Even though they experience various kinds of losses and limitations, they are happy. There's plenty that all of us can learn from this, I do believe. And plenty to appreciate about the marvelous way that we human beings evolve and grow over time.

Monday, July 6, 2009

First Time Journey in the Blogosphere

I like the word blogosphere because for some reason it makes me think of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea—traveling in a strange contraption into an exciting new world.

And that just naturally makes me think of child’s play, which continues to be marvelous at any age. People may say “that’s just child’s play” about something that is very easy to do. Sure, child’s play is easy-- guided more by imagination than by fixed rules. Remember that magical sense of wonder, when everything else faded back until nothing remained but gazing at the amazing shapes of clouds changing in the sky, or the pattern of fireflies in the dark, or the moment of throwing the ball into the air, or the smell of the garden near the old house after rain?

Sage’s play is very similar to child’s play. It’s just that there are years of lived experience stirred into the sauce. In the later years, if one is just lucky or chooses to make it so on purpose, there are moments or hours when time opens out, slowing down into the eternal moment as it did in childhood. Then, the inherent magic shows itself.

Old people with all their faculties quite intact thank you, can be childlike, spontaneous, free of conventional rules, absorbed in the magic of the moment. This is one of the unsung beauties of aging, and I want to sing about it some here.

Sage’s play can take many forms, from social change through creative expression, nurturing, mentoring, passing on the stories and the more invisible work of healing, integrating life experience and letting go.

I want to affirm the profound value of age and old people to individuals and society. I want to explore the benefits of creativity and wellness in age. I want to participate in changing our cultural perspective on age and aging to a happier, more real and respectful one.

That’s why I have named my blog Sage’s Play. Here's to making the most of the beautiful experience of being alive.

The Pew Research Center recently published an interesting study that describes how younger people view old age, what they expect from their own old age, and how their beliefs or ideas differ from the reality of older adults’ experience.

Generally, younger adults have unrealistic beliefs regarding the prevalence of memory loss, inability to drive and sexuality in age. In other words, older people have better minds, drive more cars and have more sex than younger people believe they do. (But I’m not telling you anything new, am I?) Fascinating.

P.S. Don’t buy into the decline model of aging! And if you don’t know what that means, stay tuned.