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