Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Year End Round Up


I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what I've covered this year in the Sage's Play blog. Here's a summary, starting in January 2010. Blog posts marked the passing of human potential figure George Leonard, feminist theologian Mary Daly and gerontologist Dr. Robert Butler.

Some of the film and video mentions included:
Elizabeth Gilbert's TED.com talk on creativity
Dan Buettner's TED.com talk on longevity and cultures that support it
A new documentary on the life of local activist/artist Dot Fisher-Smith
The German film Cloud 9 for its fresh take on late life romance
A trailer from the film on women and creativity "Who Does She Think She Is?"

Book reviews included:
The Making of an Elder Culture by Theodore Roszak
The Longevity Prescription by Dr. Robert Butler
Audacious Aging, an anthology edited by Stephanie Marohn
The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
Somewhere Towards the End, Diana Athill

I think there were more book mentions and recommendations, but that's good enough for now. I spotlighted well-aged singers and often included film clips of their singing. BB King, Leonard Cohen, Etta James,Yoko Ono, Chavela Vargas and Judy Collins were included. I talked about a grandmother who has become a very popular international DJ-- Ruth Flowers, aka MamyRock and shared news about the work of 91-year old artist Vollis Simpson and dancer Twyla Tharp. Other posts featured 91-year old yoga teacher Tao Porchon Lynch and yogini Iris Lambert, who's a bit younger. I shared news about the theater troupe Crackpot Crones and talked about Peg Rubin's Center for Sacred Theater.

I suggested that we develop an Elder Hall of Fame and noted some of the folks I would nominate for it. The Elder Hall of Fame is still one of my favorite notions. In between all that, I talked about creativity and health, my own creative process and projects, mortality, Buddhism, poetry, friends, relaxing in hot springs, housing, travel and of course the weather.

I am not surprised by how many vibrant, creative, innovative older people I discovered during the year, whose work and lives I shared in this blog. But there are many people who might be surprised. They still subscribe to the Decline Model, and regard aging as a terrible time of life, something to be avoided at all costs. I hope the consciousness-raising music of the Church of the Radically Alive Elders reaches their ears soon.

Here's a quote from Malidome Patrice Some's Of Water and The Spirit, a book I really love. The book itself is about the power of initiation. This quote speaks about the place of elders in society. "Elders and mentors have an irreplaceable function in the life of any community. Without them the young are lost--their overflowing energies wasted in useless pursuits. The old must live in the young like a grounding force..."

This is what we must remember and live into. Otherwise, we will continue to buy into the values of a society where perpetual adolescence is the goal. As I've said before, I was young already. Now I'm in the new growth stage of oldness. It's a good, gentle, powerful, creative, compassionate, wild place to be. Let's "act as if" elders are already valued and respected. Eventually, it will catch on.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and looking forward to more friendship and collaboration in the fields and gardens of positive aging in the coming year.

P.S. I plan to take a bit of a blog break--that's good for the soul from time to time. Happy trails to you until we meet again.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Landscapes of the Inner Life

Music pours out, as if I was born to it, or it was born of me through dimensions, layers, lifetimes. I am searching through dreams, thoughts and memories for the words and soundlines to bring this story through. Long ago, before any maps were made, there were people who found their way across vast oceans, sensing and imagining their way over distances where none of their known ancestors had ever gone before. Of course, the ancient people used their ordinary senses, looking out across the endless water, feeling its currents, the movement of winds and the play of weather, day after day, month after month. Physically traversing those distances, with all the rigors of the body and the elements, they also believed themselves into the space, bringing the other shore to them magnetically. Way-Finding they called it.



We each have our own Way Finding. My own predilections always draw me back to the white marble room, an immense lustrous chamber with high vaulted ceilings and tall arched windows. It is a dear, familiar place, a refuge from the rush of the modern world. I have spent many days and nights there, reading, feeling the sun on my face, looking out at the stars and moon.

Sometimes I wish that I were still living in a time when we could bury ourselves in solitude, when the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge and the work of the soul’s metamorphosis had at least as much collective import as did outer successes. I yearn for that amidst the depredations of the current era. Inwardly, I yearn for leisure, spaciousness, and grace. Outwardly, I yearn for great forests, glens, prairies and all the undiminished richness and variety of Nature to sing out in ecstatic splendor, drowning the sounds of machines, drowning not only their sounds, but their imprint on our lives, our enslavement to them.


In this marble wonderful room there is a globe that stands on a long wooden table. Aside from the table and two chairs, the room is very empty. But it has a sense of space, light, and depth that never fails to refresh and renew me. Texts with gem-like illustrations, their pages edged with gold, fill one wall of the room. The instruments and substances of alchemy are also set out on the wooden table. In that room, I am the woman whose forehead shines with light. I am my own beacon.

My house has many other rooms. From the beautiful white marble room, a heavy wooden door opens out to a narrow hallway. I must take the lantern with me. The hallway winds and turns, its stairs descending deep into the earth. The air here is old and dry. I remember the first time I went down these stairs with this same lantern, arriving at a doorway covered with heavy, deep red brocade cloth. I gently pulled the cloth aside and looked into the room that appeared before me. It was not more than ten feet by twelve feet large, 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 all this instantaneously, the way the mind's eye takes things in. At the same time, 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. It took me many months to bring back the memory of the Queen who lay beside him like a still flower. She had a perfume, not of death, but of the ineffable.

The sheer wonder of the place drew me in. I was thirsty for the things that showed themselves to me there, though I cannot now put words together to explain what they were, nor would I wish to. I hope you do not want me to explain the subterranean chamber or the marble room. Every definition I fix on them confines their numinous resonance. I do not wish to flatten or inflate them. Let them be just as they are. Let them remain or fade away as they will.

Of course I have a Tower. To my mind, no house is well done without a Tower reaching out to meet the sky. This is a story of my house and my journey. Of course that makes me fall over laughing. Why? Because as Lorca once said in a poem, “My house is not my house, and I am no longer I.” It is not real or solid, none of it. It has no substance. I have no substance. The whole thing is dreamlike, as much a dream as the splendid and transformative marble room to which I return again and again.

As I approach my seventh decade, I return to these landscapes of my inner life and those that comprise my outer story and I reflect on their patterns, meaning and luminous, empty nature. Even when I am washing the dishes in my kitchen part of me lives in these mythically resonant rooms of dream and imagination, in the woods and fields, the white marble room, the Tower. Even when I am deeply immersed in my inner life experience, everyday activities draw me to them, reminding me that they too also have an unpredictable, mysterious depth. In the midst of family and friends, with the appearance of both invited and unexpected guests, the mythic drama of the present moment spills forth. Decade after decade, treasure accumulates.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bolinas, Village of the Whales


In the early Seventies,my daughter Danielle and I made our first trip to Bolinas. It was the kind of day that makes you forget that there is any suffering in human life, a day defined by brisk air, big blue sky, and all the freshness and movement of early autumn. In our pale blue Plymouth Valiant with the word POETRY painted on the driver’s side, we came over the softly rounded bosom of Mt. Tamalpais, winding down the hairpin turns of coastal Highway 1 until we reached the curved shoreline of Stinson Beach. We drove along the edge of the limpid blue water of Bolinas Lagoon, where white egrets nested in tall eucalyptus groves in a nearby canyon and flocks of pelicans circled and dove into the silky water. Past the lagoon, huge eucalyptus trees lined the road on either side as we approached the town.


Once I saw that place, I was done for. I couldn't resist its beauty. It was the fairytale town I had always longed for. Bolinas had a wonderful scent, a perfume mixed of the sea, pungent eucalyptus, wet earth, chaparral, seaweed, cows, horses, fish and roses. Its tiny downtown boasted a charming white clapboard church. There was an old-fashioned general store, a small cafe, a hardware store, a library, a seedily chic old hotel, a small post office, a bar that never seemed to empty, and a surfboard shop populated with a panoply of beautiful young guys. Bolinas was home to many poets and a mecca for artists, musicians, healers, cowboys, fishermen, craftspeople and unique wanderers. From the start, I felt very much at home there in that village of 1200 people, called by some a hippie arcadia and by others a bohemian outpost.

Bolinas in the Seventies was a heady place. I've been writing about my experiences there in Songs of the Inner Life, my current book-in progress. As part of my research, I thought it would be instructive to re-read The Town that Fought to Save Itself, a book written by Orville Schell and published in 1976. Schell became quite a prominent China scholar in the following decades. Schell's Bolinas book (in which he calls the village Briones--Bolinasians like to hide their town's identity and whereabouts--often taking the road sign down so that motorists can't find the turnoff) chronicles the town's efforts to develop and maintain a zero-growth policy, something Bolinas has succeeded in preserving all these years--an unusual and marvelous feat, to my mind. Forty years later, nothing has changed much, thanks to that zero-growth policy. There is still plenty of open space, natural beauty and wildness preserved there. Nothing can replace that. I wish more towns would do what Bolinas has done. How different Ashland, Oregon the town I've lived in for over 30 years would be now if that were true. As it is, new townhouse developments and impressively large houses continue to be built in fields and on the hills, which changes the natural environment drastically. People who move here from LA and NY think it is a quiet, laid back place, but it is far more speedy, impersonal and congested than it was 30 years ago because of growth.

I've had a fascination with whales since childhood so it was oddly coincidental that I wound up in Bolinas. I didn't have any idea that the name of the village meant whale when I moved there, but when I discovered that, it made me happy. In Bolinas, I became involved with Project Jonah, the first environmental organization dedicated to saving the whales, before Greenpeace began. The time I spent in Bolinas was filled with unusual coincidences and magic, and I've been enjoying writing down the stories.

When I opened Orville Schell's book and discovered one of my poems on a page right before the Prologue, I was taken by surprise. I had completely forgotten that my poem appeared in that book. It's strange to encounter something you wrote a long time ago and forgot about. It's a bit like looking at an old photograph or letter from many years past. Here's the poem.

POEM

Words themselves are medicine.
By telling the events of our time
we give meaning to them.
Words themselves are medicine.

It was considered a sacred place.
The mountain is considered a sacred mountain.

It is said that they lived here peacefully
naked, that they hunted quail, rabbit, deer.
By the bay, in the village that is now Bolinas
the people lived. They are
all dead now, sang songs no one remembers
nor can tell the things they danced to
when time was called moon of the black cherries
moon when the ponies shed their hair
moon when the deer shed their horns.
Olema they named, for the coyote.
Petaluma they named, that means flat hill.
Whales, then many whales
swam past the coast in the time
of water, in the time of darkening
light, swam south to mate.

The Miwok tribe lived here.
Before the Gold Rush, before the
lumbering started, when the land
was still people with giant redwoods
when trees still spoke, were revered.
Before Spanish, Portuguese, Irish or
Italians, before Chinese or Japanese
came here, the Miwok lived here,
or near here. Some say this place
was such a sacred place that no one
was bold enough to live here, but
came here only to get strong, be healed.


The wind is blowing here in Ashland tonight. I guess we're in for some weather. I enjoyed hanging out with some old friends yesterday on Thanksgiving. I appreciate my old friends even more as the years go by. I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving Day, too.

Oh, I don't want to forget this marvelous item about Super Mamika, in which a photographer grandson encourages his 91-year old grandmother to dress up as a super heroine. Great photos! You will enjoy them, I am sure.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Call to Creativity



I used to say that Rolling Stones drummer Keith Richards looked as if he was preserved in colorless nail polish-- but really that description relates more to Cher, whose beauty has remained delightfully smooth and wrinkle-free thanks I am guessing to a fair amount of cosmetic attention. Whereas Keith Richards' years show on his deeply lined face. Richards' just-published autobiography has been attracting media attention, and Cher's role in the movie Burlesque has, too. But of course one does not have to be famous to continue to be creative in later life.

Creativity is a wonderful asset at any age; it provides a meaningful, passionate way to enjoy and engage. The older I get, the more true that seems to me. I have two big projects I want to finish. My involvement with them enriches my life. I have written about my musical revue on aging A New Wrinkle here over the past year. I am also working on Songs of the Inner Life, a book which I began when I was in my mid 50s. I have written several drafts. I wasn't ready to finish it all the intervening years, but now I feel mature enough, and want to complete the book by 2012.

These two projects are very different. The musical revue is full of social commentary that is funny and sometimes scathing. It focuses on the value of aging as a stage of life and presents a more full, accurate view of the later years than our current anti-aging social perspectives allow. The book is much more reflective, exploring peak experiences, dark nights of the soul and persistent life lessons and patterns-- the life of imagination and spirit over time. Both projects are very exciting to me. I love working on them; the experience of bringing them to completion is quite thrilling, as it engages me not only with the solitary work of creating, but also with collaborating, meeting a steady stream of new people, and learning new skills.

It seems wise to me to continue to dream big, or if one never has dreamed big, to pull out the stops and go for it. What is there to lose?

I have a friend who is a dancer and she is holding a 70th birthday party tonight in our downtown community center. A vividly spiritual person who really comes from her heart, she teaches 4-5 classes a week, leads a dance company that offers regular concerts and does ongoing weekend seminars, too. Her engagement with her creative process and everyone she meets continues to be very alive. Her aliveness inspires us all.

The current blog post of IAHSA, the Global Aging Network, had a wonderful report on some older singers, one of them Chavela Vargas. "At 91 years old, Chavela Vargas, a well-known Costa Rican singer, continues to have a thriving music career. Vargas rose to prominence in the 1970′s as a singer of Mexican rancheras, boleros and corridos. These songs are like miniature operas, with over-the-top expressions of tragedy, heartbreak and redemption. For many, her interpretations of these songs are the versions that best define the power of these pieces." What a rich and powerful presence she is in this film clip.



As Gene Cohen wrote in his terrific book The Creative Age, creativity can have a Big C or a little c. The call to creativity embraces the whole spectrum, whether it's making jam, painting a room, writing a poem, praying or creating a pottery bowl. Creativity means opening our senses to the present moment. It gives us the opportunity to climb out of any boxes we may be habitually sitting in and simply play. Play and creativity involve spontaneity, letting go, being seen (to ourselves and others too), pleasure and enjoyment, a delightful bath in the immediacy of the moment. What calls you to creativity?

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving time. There is so much I am thankful for.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Autumn Splendor



When I saw these gorgeous photos of Lithia Park taken recently by fellow Ashlander Jeffrey Weissler, I was so taken with them that I asked for permission to share them here, with Jeffrey kindly gave.



This photo at left is of the Japanese garden, beautiful gem set in Lithia Park.


I took a walk in the park today, since we were graced with another marvelous sunny and refreshingly warm day. The autumn foliage has already moved past its most showy phase, but in the bright sunlight one big oak tree's leaves blazed golden.

Autumn is often described as a melancholy season, but this one has defied that portrayal. Still, I can't resist sharing three of my favorite Japanese poems about autumn, just to honor the elegiac tone.



Autumn has come
to the lonely cottage
buried in dense hop vines
which nobody visits.
--the monk Eikei

In a gust of wind the white dew
on the autumn grass
scatters like a broken necklace.
--Bunya No Asayasu

Deep in the mountain
trampling the red maple leaves
I hear the stag cry out
in the sorrow of autumn.
---the priest Sarumaru


I am still not over the cold I caught a week or more ago and am headed to bed to read and rest. So enjoy these three wonderful images and poems until we meet again.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recommended Reading: Two Memoirs on Aging

When Jungian analyst Florida Scott-Maxwell was 82, she began to write about the experience of aging in a notebook, not intending to share it with anyone else. Eventually, however, her reflections were published under the title The Measure of My Days.



I loved reading these ruminations, which are beautifully written and deeply insightful. "It has taken me all the time I've had to become myself, yet now that I am old there are times when I feel that I am barely here, no room for me at all..."

She notes, "So one has ample time to face everything one has had, been, done, gather them all in: the things that come from outside and those from inside. We have time at last to make them truly ours."

And in another note, she writes about the intensity of age. "But we also find as we age we are more alive than seems likely, convenient or even bearable." This book, published in the 1960s, is considered a classic. It gives a glimpse of the rich inner life of a very self-aware, spiritual woman as she confronts her experience of aging and mortality. Full of instruction.


Diana Athill's book Somewhere Towards the End, written when Athill was 91, is a vivid, compelling read. Athill talks about aging, illness, how the importance of sex declined for her. She describes wondering about when to stop driving, shares what it was like to care for her mother, describes relationships with old friends and what it was like never having children and talks about approaching death with a great deal of candor and humor. "Book after book has been written on being young...but there is not much on record on falling away," she writes.


For many years, Athill was an editor at a big London publishing company, and her clients included many famous writers. She didn't start writing herself until she was in her seventies. She has written several well-received memoirs. As soon as I finished Somewhere Towards the End, I read another of her books titled Yesterday Morning, which begins "Oh my God," said my mother, can I really have a daughter who is seventy? And we both burst out laughing.

In Yesterday Morning, Athill writes about her upper class English childhood from the vantage point of age. Both Yesterday Morning and Somewhere Toward the End are delightful reads from a very alive writer.

P.S. on The Artist's Life: Been feeling not very bloggish lately. Sometimes the darling blog just starts to feel too much like a duty. Know what I mean? I have been happily immersed in working on the manuscript for my book Songs of the Inner Life and am also working on another song for my musical revue A New Wrinkle, which I hope will be done by the spring. My composer collaborator Laura Rich just went to India for a month! What an adventure. Hope that you are all well and happy. Stay warm and enjoy this time of inner light and gratitude.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Full Moon Variety Show: Living Long, Long Silver Hair, Singing Out at 90



What makes people live to be 100? According to this wonderful commentary by Dan Buettner on TED, there are some valuable lessons to learn about longevity. Buettner is a National Geographic writer and explorer who studied long-lived peoples in Sardinia and Okinawa. The link to his 21-minute talk is below. Some of the important elements he discovered are: not exercising on purpose necessarily, but living a life full of ongoing enjoyable movement and exercise. Most of the long-lived elders he studied continue to do physical work. Social equity--living in close connection with others. Those elders are fortunate to live in cultures that admire and respect their age. They enjoy full participation in the life of their community. Their lives are relaxed and free of stress. They do not overeat. They participate in spiritual practice and religion. They are motivated by "the thing that makes you want to get up in the morning" as they say among the elders in Okinawa. Great talk. Worth the time. I mused about the importance of movement, inspiration, pleasure and social connection as I watched it. My lifestyle contains many of these elements, but I am always ready to pour in more enjoyment, relaxation, meaning and social connection.



I read a great article on older women with long gray/silver hair in the New York Times yesterday. It was written by Dominique Browning whose blog Slow Love Life I enjoy reading. Browning likes her hair long and wonders why there is such a reaction to long hair among older women. This morning, there were 351 comments on the article. Some readers remembered their mothers or grandmother's long, long hair. Others talked about how they love having long hair themselves as older women. And some spoke of how completely awful it is for older women to have long hair. In the comments, there was much talk of the power of hair, its sensuality, being oneself, etc. I enjoyed the conversation that ensued, but gave up reading the comments after about #80 or so.

Someone posted this marvelous film clip on FB. In it, 90 year old tenor Angelo Laforese provides sonic evidence of the richness and power of his voice. A testimony to the beauty of creative aging, to its opportunities.



In the variety show of my ordinary life, I find myself in the wash of the Full Moon energies today. I'm glad my dear friend Frannie is coming over for dinner tonight. I'm contemplating what to cook with the help of my Sicilian Home Cooking book.

Friday--full moon day--the day awaits with all its openness. Of course, there's the ongoing creative work. I think I'm nearly done with my new song "Death is Just around the Corner" and I've already started to imagine how to develop the next song. Then I wonder, should I go swimming at the Y? Take a walk in Lithia Park where the gold and red trees are still in magnificent color? The library is closed today, so I have to wait until tomorrow to pick up my reserved copy of Florida Scott-Maxwell's memoir The Measure of My Days. I am really looking forward to reading that. What is inspiring your life right now?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Portraits of Three Older Women





Dot Fisher-Smith

"Well behaved women seldom make history."--Laura Thatcher Ulrich, a history professor at Harvard who wrote a book with that title


That quote is one that people often apply to Dot Fisher-Smith, who has been a force of nature in my community for decades. As these two images show, Dot presents an iconic image of the older woman. The top image is from a beautiful card series called Wonder of the Mother. The image below shows Dot in 1996 chained by the neck to a logging truck near Croman Mills in Ashland, Oregon as she and others protested one of a hundred timber sales Congress had exempted from environmental constraints. Dot has a long history of nonviolent protesting. And that ongoing commitment to justice and nature is only one aspect of her life and work. She is an artist, a counselor, workshop leader and for years was a Zen practitioner. She has influenced and supported many people in many ways over the years. She is now 82.

One of her friends and admirers, Willow Denker, has been filming Dot for about 13 years. That long commitment to telling Dot's story has resulted in a wonderful documentary titled Dot: An Ordinary Life, An Extraordinary Person. I attended its premier last night and predictably the place was packed with an audience eager to honor Dot and her life. The movie is marvelous and it's even more marvelous when you consider that both of the women who created it are novices at filmmaking. The film did such a great job of depicting Dot's life history and the various facets of her personality and worldview.

"I'm very pragmatic and minimalist," Dot says. "At the heart of it, what inspires people is that I'm my own authority. I've never been conventional. I don't look to any outside authority. That's what everyone wants to be." I think that sums it up. The quote is from an article by John Darling which talks about Dot's life and the movie.

This is a film that deserves wide viewing. The producer and director are trying to get it accepted into the Ashland Independent Film Festival. I hope that happens, and I hope it is shown in many other communities, too. I will put a link up about the documentary here as soon as one becomes available.

Cloud 9

A couple of days ago I picked up Cloud 9, a German movie released in 2008. Steve at Video Explorer thought it was a comedy. But it turned out to be a very refreshing film about romance and love in the later years. The protagonist Inge, a woman in her late 60s, has been in a long, loving but also rather dull relationship for 30 years when she falls in love with a free spirit in his 70s. Inge is no botoxed/liposuctioned screen siren. Instead, she appears as a rather typical older woman, a seamstress, wife, mother and grandmother. I loved the real-life quality of the film--visits with the daughter and grandkids, life with the long-time husband, then the effervescent splash of adventures with a new lover. The New York Times review provides a good summary of what makes Cloud 9 so compelling. The reviewer said, "Filmed without gloss or glamour, using insistent close-ups and precisely calibrated framing, “Cloud 9” augments its modest narrative with unguarded performances and visual lucidity...Facing the cinematic taboo of twilight-years nudity head-on and upfront, Mr. Dresen and his actors create an atmosphere of reckless vulnerability that’s immediately compelling and artistically intriguing."

Vulnerability, passion, the complexity of dealing with the results of one's actions--nothing Hollywood-romantic here, just real portraits of real older people. In terms of portraying an older woman, there's not a stereotype in sight, although the film does include one funny joke about how 80 year olds make love. Excellent acting and complexity. Great flick. Recommend it.

Shopping Cart Annie and Gloria Wasserman

I read a rather eye-opening article in the New York Times about another iconic older woman. The article was titled Death of a Fulton Fish Market Fixture and it tells the story of an 85-year old woman known as Shopping Cart Annie, the profane mother of the Fulton Fish Market for decades--a woman who sold cigarettes, flashed her breasts and told dirty jokes. I found her life story astounding. There was her life as Annie, and there was her other life, the one she had been born into as Gloria Wasserman. She was a mother and grandmother who had been beautiful, spunky and sexually free. As her daughter noted, “I don’t know how you could put it nicely. But she had a flamboyant life.”

Annie/Gloria began her long association with the Fulton Fish Market in the 70s. "She cleaned the market’s offices and locker rooms and bathrooms. She collected the men’s “fish clothes” on Friday and had them washed and ready for Monday. She ran errands for Mr. DeLuca, known as Stevie Coffee Truck, hustling to Chinatown to pick up, say, some ginseng tea. She accepted the early morning delivery of bagels. She tried to anticipate the men’s needs — towels, bandannas, candy — and had these items available for sale." She made good money and she was regularly robbed.

Away from the market, she lived in a city-owned apartment as Gloria Wasserman. And she gave everything she earned to her family, often sending $4,000 a month to relatives on both coasts. She went to weddings and other family events and at the Fish Market was a good friend and helper to many street women, encouraging them and supporting them. When I finished this article, I just sat there confounded. What a unique, surprising life.

Aren't human beings amazing? Ah, the ways they choose to live their lives, the astonishing dimensions, facets and secrets each human being contains. It never works to assume you know the story or sum total of anyone. Although to come back to where I began with this post, I think that the documentary about Dot Fisher-Smith's life does a great job of capturing her layers, dimensions and complexity. It's a beautiful honoring of a full, vital life.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Artist's Life: Many Doors

“In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.” -- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Which of these three doorway do you like the most? I am asking myself that too as I begin this post. This marvelous ruin of a doorway in Greece that frames the Mediterranean appeals to me today. I am after all the gal who always used to say "It's nothing that a month in Greece wouldn't cure." Something I have never put to the test as yet. However, it rings true.

I like all of these doorways. Each has its own particular charm. Just as each day, each year, each decade has particular charm, qualities, climate and mysteries. Today I've been graced by sailing on peaceful waters. I appreciate the experience of openness and freedom, especially when it arises as fully as it did today.


I went for a leisurely walk in the park this morning. It was sunny and warm. The leaves are turning gold and red--gorgeous. I visited our wonderful Ashland Food Co-op and bought some beautiful pears, chard, persimmons and fresh mozzarella. The rest of the day I spent working on song lyrics. I am thinking of titling this new song Death is Just around the Corner. I'm pleased with the progress I made on it today. It was a good day, artistically speaking.

“When you follow your bliss... doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else.”--Joseph Campbell

Over the weekend, I went to Portland and attended a meeting of elderbloggers at Ronni Bennett's home. I enjoyed meeting the beautiful array of people who gathered there. We are all connected through blogging and as fans of Ronni's blog(which I read daily). Ronni set out quite a glorious spread of delicious foods and the conversation was lively. While I was in Portland, I stayed with my friend Clark, who is an old friend and now has been ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. His beautiful home, set high on the hill over Portland, houses a Tibetan Buddhist Dharma center called Dorje Ling. It was delightful to re-connect with Clark and to learn more about how Buddhism has taken hold in Portland, where several new Asian Buddhist temples have been constructed in the past few years. Clark's land is magical. The view is panoramic, and then the land goes down into woodlands that lead to Forest Park. Clark tells me that if you turn right at the trail, you can walk 12 miles and if you turn left, you can walk 10 miles. "I never see anybody there," he says. Amazing, right in the city. This doorway reminds me a bit of his woodlands, where coyotes and bobcats roam.


This last doorway is bright red, ornamented by beautiful red roses. I imagine I would enjoy that house. I have lived in so many houses over the years. Today I am thinking of the old farmhouse in Pennsylvania surrounded by cherry orchard. The house was painted white with yellow trim. It had a wonderful front porch and a cooling room under the house through which ran a stream. I lived there with my older daughter and my friend Jane many years ago.

I feel fortunate and grateful today as the evening falls. Hope you are similarly contented. It's one of the secret pleasures of aging, isn't it, the increased acceptance and contentment? Not that I am happy and content all the time. But I sure am much happier and more content than I ever was earlier in my life. It's a good thing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Artist's Life: Writing a Song about Death






“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived.”--Henry David Thoreau






Someday I'll be a weather-beaten skull resting on a grass pillow,
Serenaded by a stray bird or two.
Kings and commoners end up the same,
No more enduring than last night's dream.

~Ryokan

After an aha moment with playwright friend Carolyn Myers recently, I've been revamping A New Wrinkle, my production on the pleasures and predicaments of aging. The aha moment involved the possibility of moving the project from a musical theater format to a musical revue format, which I've decided to do.

That change solves problems that have dogged me since I started the project in January 2009--to wit, interesting character development and a compelling plot with the kind of dramatic impact needed in theater. Although I did make progress in those areas, thanks to the help of Carolyn and other skilled dramatic writers, I was never very satisfied with the overall result.

It seems I am much better at writing songs. I love the songs I've created so far, and it makes so much more sense to put the material out in a musical revue format. My composer colleague Laura Rich got very excited when I told her the news. "I think it will be even better this way!" she said with enthusiasm. Of course, that made me glad, because I needed her to be enthused about the change and interested in composing music for some new songs, which I will be writing to cover important topics that had been dealt with only in the play script.

This week I'm working on a song about death. It is a good time of year to do it, with Halloween and Day of the Dead already in the air. Lately I imagine Death as a Mambo King, quite attractive, with a long cloak and a big standup collar. I hope my as yet unnamed song about death is as good as some of the other lyrics I've written, which Laura has composed such great music for.

I've been wanting to get some of the songs in A New Wrinkle recorded with singers and at least piano accompaniment and get clips of them up on You Tube. That will help with fundraising, too. But it hasn't happened yet. There's just so much a gal can do, even when she is a semi-reformed Type A.

Today is our first cool, cloudy autumn day. I'm taking off in a little while to have lunch with my younger daughter who just got accepted into graduate school. Later today, I am looking forward to going to NIA dance at the Y. In between, I plan to work on the death song. October Monday, the menu for the day.

I'm heading to Portland on Friday for a blogger meetup with Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By and other elder bloggers. I'm really looking forward to it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Aging: Some Thoughts on Architecture, Place and Community



I'm your basic romantic type, and that extends to architecture and shelter. As I entered my 50s, I told my friends that I wanted to grow old living in the country in a teepee, dome or rustic cabin. Simondale, the beautiful (also inexpensively built, low impact) hobbit house in Wales shown in this photograph is my idea of a truly marvelous dwelling.

I've never lived in a teepee, but have enjoyed being at home in both dome and rustic cabin. My friend Mouna Wilson lives in a wonderful dome in the Colestine Valley where I myself lived in a rustic cabin for many years. I wish I had taken a photo or two of her place when I was there last week, as the full moon made its way across the sky window at top of the dome. I'll have to do that and post it here soon.




Right now, after happily living alone in Ashland for the past 13 years, I am sharing a place (still in town) with my friend Louise Pare. Louise and I get along well and it's been a good experience in terms of social engagement and affordability. But I have to admit, the impulse for country living is still strong in me.

Living alone or in community is a subject that I've been musing about quite a bit lately. According to the 2000 census, 30% of older Americans live alone and the percentage rises with age. It affects women more because they live longer than men, so for example, 57% of women 85 or older live alone. Poverty increases the impact for many elders who live alone.

Social isolation is a specter for many older people. You don't need scientific studies to know that the kind of severe social isolation that many elders live with is not good for your health, mental or physical. It makes sense to engineer a life that is socially engaged, and home is one place we can do that.

Because our aging population is increasing so quickly, there is a scramble to invent new ways to live in the later years. Buzz words include aging in place and aging in community. Most people want to live where they are planted or if they choose a new community place they want to be engaged with others.

(Being an educated person, you probably already know that only 5% of elders live in nursing homes.) Most of the over 60 population lives in their own homes or live with family or in elder co-housing, elder house share, the village movement and continuing care retirement communities, among others. The New York Times ran an informative article titled Living Together, Aging Together. Author Paula Span reported on several cohousing developments in California, Colorado and Virginia. I found both of these articles fascinating. It's great to see elders developing community together this way.

Co-housing options appeal to those who have sufficient retirement income. The ElderSpirit community in Abington, Virginia is the only one I've heard of that has included rentals for elders on fixed income in their model. These units are funded by federal housing money. I wish more co-housing groups would include options for low-income rentals. Not all elders can afford to buy into elder co-housing.

I found some interesting information on shared housing and home share options for lower-income elders. Increasingly, state and local agencies are investigating how to create affordable, community-based housing options. The National Shared Housing organization is a clearinghouse of information.

I am looking forward to meeting Raines Cohen, who contributed to the book Audacious Aging, and who with his partner Betsy maintains a website Aging in Community. Check it out for much more information on elder cohousing, village networks,ecovillages, intentional community and more.

What is your take on elder living arrangements--do you favor living alone or in community?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Harvest Moon Wakes Me at 3 AM



The full moon often pitches me into a state of non-ordinary reality. First, dreams that are like boats filled with the wind of imagination and creativity. Then waking at 3AM full of energy and a childlike delight, of the kind you can see in this wonderful photo by Laurent Laveder, who made a whole series of full and crescent moon photos with his children. When I woke at 3AM, I walked outside and put my face up to the moon. The stars were very beautiful.

"There they stand, the innumerable stars, shining in order like a living hymn, written in light." ~N.P. Willis




Now it is after 6 and the sky is lightening. And I can't say exactly how those three very light lunar hours flew away, as I looked at the sky, mused about my life and enjoyed the ardent, bouyant feelings the harvest moon ignited in me.

I am glad to experience a shift in the tides of the inner sea. For the past couple of months, I was feeling blocked about my musical play on aging A New Wrinkle because I was not satisfied with the script. I love the songs in the play, but the script itself has never felt right to me. The other day, I had a meeting with my playwright/performer friend Carolyn Myers (mentioned in an earlier post on her feminist comedy troupe Crackpot Crones) and she suggested that I might like the project better as a musical revue. Wow! As soon as I heard that, a weight that I've been dealing with for months lifted off me. Yes! This feels very right. Then I had a meeting last night with my composer colleague Laura Rich and she was very excited about the change and happy to compose more music. She agreed that the new format might actually be a much better way to present the material. So this morning I am refreshed and optimistic about going forward. I plan to write lyrics for at least 2 new songs and invent some narrative that flows around the songs. Yay!

Creating art is real work, and it can be hard work at times. It's not all marvelous dictation or initiation from the Muse. Having a community of support is very helpful. I went to two artist creative support groups this week, which was wonderful. I've been part of Artist Conference Network for a year. Our meeting was held in a dome in the country this time, and I could see the full moon in the sky window at the top of the dome the whole time. It was a very intimate, sweet meeting.

I went to another meeting of a group that uses the model of something that began as No Limits for Women Artists and is now called Artist Leadership Network. It was a powerful, intimate meeting. The two approaches are quite different in ways, but the intent is much the same. It is delightful and very useful to engage with other artists in a mutually encouraging way and I'm glad that's now part of my life.

Autumn equinox already. I am still hoping it is warm enough this weekend to swim at the hot springs.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Creative Aging and the Flowering of the Inner Life





Our annual fall retreat at Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies ended yesterday with a big tsok (blessed food) feast. What a blissful, happy, delightful time of spiritual practice this retreat has been. My spiritual teacher is now 86, and our time together is even more precious than ever. I found it difficult to leave, even after I changed gears by helping to clean and re-organize the temple shrine room, which needed it after a week of retreat practices three times a day, and even after Sarah and I swept and mopped the floor of our adjacent East Wing, which is our more social gathering place with a kitchen, dining room and bookstore.

I sat outside with a few lingering friends and watched the processional of deer. We have a congregation of deer it seems, in the meadows and hills, and all around the temple. They are safe from hunters here. I'm so accustomed to the trusting way the deer move around near the temple that when visitors show up and exclaim about it, it startles me. I finally got into my car and drove down to the Mandala Garden to circumnambulate the big Vajrasattva statue and contemplate returning to my so-called ordinary life. The top photo shows the Mandala Garden, and the temple is on the hill above it.

In the Mandala Garden I met my old friend Lama Bruce, an unassuming guy who is also a very good meditation teacher, partly because he has spent most of his adult life in meditation practice and retreat. Bruce was leading a tour for folks at Mountain Meadows, a continuing care retirement community in Ashland. They all departed after awhile, and I circled the statue and turned the prayer wheels by myself, while the clouds formed marvelous patterns across the sky and the tiny finches enjoyed the seeds in a nearby bird feeder. I could have stayed there for hours longer, but finally I got in my car and drove to town, reminding myself that integrating spiritual practice into everyday awareness and life is what it's all about because we sit on our cushions for only part of the day, but we are in our minds 24/7.

As I grow older, the inner life of spirit and imagination fills more and more of my experience. I remember reading an article by Jane Thibault titled Aging as a Natural Monastery. In the article Thibault points out how aging simplifies one's experience. "It was as if life had been stripped down to its barest essentials, so that the real could shine through and be appreciated, even if the real involved pain and suffering...In a very real sense the experience of old age, especially frail elderhood, is an experience of living monastically. Solitary life in one’s own home or common life in a nursing home is an experience of winnowing, of paring down to the barest essentials."

My own immersion in the natural monastery of aging has not reached that stage yet, but it will. Meanwhile, my natural monastery has more activity, in the midst of which beautiful gardens of solitude and contemplation bloom. I love being in those gardens. Being, simply being. Breathing. Remembering, recalling the pristine nature.

Last evening I attended a marvelous poetry concert by Kim Rosen author of Saved by a Poem. a gorgeous book which I highly recommend if you have any interest in heightened awareness and the transformative power of words and poetry. Her performance was thrilling as she shared poetry of many poets, along with beautiful mostly cello music. I couldn't take her workshop because I am doing a solo performance tomorrow, but I look forward to connecting with her more sometime soon.

Yes, my house concert In the Presence of the Sacred happens tomorrow at my old friends Rochelle and Rob Jaffe's home. I chose the beautiful image of an angel for the poster we created for the event. The image is taken from a Giotto fresco. I love its freshness and immediacy. Tomorrow I will be sharing healing voice in the form of wordless improvisational song and will also be offering hymns and prayers of St. Francis, Milarepa, Lorca, the Tibetan siddhi Gotsampa and others. I set some of the pieces to music myself. Some have traditional melodies, and some arrived with composed melodies when I discovered them.

All of my solo performances have at their heart a call to adventure, and that adventure is being in the presence of the sacred--opening up into an exalted, consecrated way of being or state of mind. But this performance is especially so, because of the nature of the hymns and prayers in it. I am looking forward to tomorrow, to sharing with the particular mandala field of energy vibration that is attracted to take part (also known as the audience). I also look forward to the opportunity to share this particular sacred constellation more with further audiences in other venues. So if you find the notion of sponsoring this work interesting, email or call me.

Oh, the photo in the center is a pathway in Lithia Park, where I often love to walk.

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Local Color







I know I said I would review Robert N. Butler M.D.'s new book The Longevity Prescription. But as an appetizer, how about these images? From top to bottom they are my friend Elizabeth Robinson's garden, then a series of images of the wonderful paintings on the walls of Morning Glory, a great local restaurant where my daughter Sophia and I had brunch today. The haiku by Basho is the last image, and it's what inspired Morning Glory's name.

I've been on a photographic jag lately. I also took some photos in Lithia Park today, but I'll save them for another time.

About Dr. Butler's Longevity Prescription book: It's completely practical, easy to read, full of very interesting medical and psychological research about aging, and at times it's inspiring, too. Dr. Butler was a living example of everything he explains here--keeping mentally and physically vital, having a passion or some kind of meaningful engagement, engaging your creativity, cultivating close friendships and intimate relationships, getting out of your comfort zone to learn or explore new things, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising in ways that are pleasurable, sleeping enough, taking care of medical and dental needs and last but certainly not least eliminating stress.

The book includes a Longevity Index quiz that is informative and useful. The quiz allows you to evaluate yourself in all the above-mentioned areas and check what's going well and where things could work better. Because Dr. Butler, who passed away in July, was an M.D. and a psychiatrist the book contains a fair amount of medical information, which most readers will find quite useful.

Definitely recommended reading. Maybe you're thinking my review is kinda blah. Well, I do read a lot in the area of aging, and I have read some of this material in other reports that Dr. Butler's International Longevity Institute has published. But don't let my been there-read that attitude deter you from checking this book out yourself, because it contains a variety of encouraging and sometimes surprising material on aging and its valuable opportunities. We are living a lot longer, and we all want to make those years meaningful.

One week to go to my September 19th performance gathering "In the Presence of the Sacred." I am really looking forward to it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Theater of the Crackpot Crones: Making Art of Aging




Two playwright/performers, Carolyn Myers and Terry Baum, have formed a theatrical duo they call the Crackpot Crones. Carolyn and Terry collaborated many years ago on Dos Lesbos, a prize-winning play, one of the first plays from a lesbian perspective. Now they've re-united to take a cronish look at growing older.

As they will tell you when they start up, Carolyn is a small town heterosexual, wife and mother and Terry is an urban lesbian. Since they formed Crackpot Crones, they have been performing in the SF Bay area and Oregon, but this summer they hit the Big Apple, too.

I've been friends with Carolyn for over 30 years. She has many wonderful qualities, and one of them is being hilariously funny. She also belongs to the Hamazons, (The Warrior Princesses of Comedy) an improvisational comedy troupe that has enjoyed a decade of happy success here in the Pacific Northwest. Carolyn is now the oldest member of the current Hamazons group because all the original older members have left and been replaced by younger ones. So even in the Hamazons, she maintains the crone perspective.

The other day Carolyn confessed that she felt like a theatrical bigamist, belonging to both the Crackpot Crones and the Hamazons. I think that is pretty funny, though I am sure it does have some of the elements of bigamy.

Here is a clip of a wonderfully inspired Crackpot Crones scenario titled Eve in Therapy. Be a little patient with the sound quality. I've seen this performed live 3 times and it always makes me laugh. Enjoy!


And please don't limit yourself just watching their clips on You Tube. Bring these artists to your area to share them with your community and enjoy their creativity and cronish insights in full bloom.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Healing Waters at Jackson Wellsprings



I wanted to share these photos of Jackson Wellsprings in Ashland, Oregon where I live. The herb gardens at the entry of the hot springs have grown more beautiful each year. I am appreciative of all the work community members contribute to make this such a beautiful place.












The invitingly delicious swimming pool is warm-- a mixture of hot mineral water and well water. I love swimming there in the morning before the crowds arrive. Lying in the water, looking up at the sky and clouds, watching the swallows swerve around in the sky...bliss...There is also a smaller and hotter soaking tub, where you can really loosen up and relax.

Bright flowers ornament the pool in hanging baskets and big standing pots. Sometimes my visits are quiet, and other times I meet old friends, people I have known for many years,or visitors from different parts of the country who are camping at the hot springs.

It is truly a restorative place. I have enjoyed myself here this summer, last summer and the one before that, etc. To me, Jackson Hot Springs is one of the best things about Ashland. And I don't want summer to be over. I hope we have a nice Indian summer so we can continue to soak and swim in these healing waters. Happy Labor Day weekend!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Longevity Prescription

I just got a copy of Dr. Robert N. Butler's most recent book titled The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life. In case you've never heard of him, Dr. Butler pioneered what has become the field of aging. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Why Survive? Being Old in America. Dr. Butler lived into his 80s, physically vigorous and with keen intellect. He passed away in July. His contributions were great and his death is a considerable loss for older adults and the field of aging he helped to create.

I'm excited because Ronni Bennett (who herself pioneered the genre of elderblogging) decided to explore this book chapter by chapter with her many readers. If you want to take part in that interesting discussion, go to Ronni's blog .I am a devoted reader because her blog is always interesting, with plenty of lively comments from her readers. (I will also write something here about the book when I finish reading it.)

My current learning curve involves fundraising. My goal is to raise $15,000 for development and production of A New Wrinkle, my musical play on aging. To that end, I am busy calling arts patrons--mostly people I have never met. It is unlikely that they know anything about me either. They certainly have no idea why I am calling. Have you ever tried doing this? In sales, it's termed cold calling. Thank goodness I have a script provided by the kind poet Robert McDowell, who is an expert in development, having raised over a million dollars for various ventures. I feel fortunate to have such wonderful friends-- and thank goodness I enjoy a challenge.

I've only spoken with 7 people so far, and have not yet raised a penny. But I have had some warm, informative and friendly conversations and the opportunity to discuss my play and why I wrote it. Overall, I am liking the experience. It feels invigorating. I am also calling local corporations and banks-- a bit of a different deal, because you know they have money that they have to give away.

Of course, you don't have to wait for me to call you! Call or email me if you are inspired to donate. Donations are tax-deductible thanks to the kind help of Ashland Community Theater, which is serving as a fiscal umbrella for my project.

I am also getting ready to present In the Presence of the Sacred, a solo performance of hymns and prayers from Buddhist and Christian traditions on September 19th in Ashland. The event will also include wordless singing, a kind of healing voice that I have done for over 30 years. This performance is very dear to my heart and I am looking forward to sharing it here in Ashland, and then in other cities.

It has been so cold here, but now it seems to be warming up. I may be able to enjoy some more beautiful hours floating in the healing waters at Jackson Hotsprings. It's good to have balance isn't it? Call some arts patrons and banks, and just float in the water some, cook dinner, meditate, talk with a friend or two. I am grateful for this life.

Friday, August 20, 2010

84 Things and Radical Self-Disclosure

I am writing this because I told Joanna Jenkins at The Fifty Factor that I would, and of course I am writing it because I think it will be creative fun.

1. I am fond of the phrase "radical self-disclosure," which my onetime lover Ponderosa Pine introduced me to.

2. I met Ponderosa Pine, aka Keith Lampe, in Bolinas, a little town in Marin County, CA. He was one of the Yippies. (Remember that? They were 60s radicals.)

3. I am writing a memoir titled Songs of the Inner Life.

4. Let's get the celebrity stuff out of the way. I typed part of the manuscript for The Armies of the Night for Norman Mailer in Provincetown one summer.

5. I went to listen to Jerry Garcia rehearse in Marin County.

6. I was part of the crowd the first time that Jimi Hendrix played in New York.

7. I never shook a politician's hand as yet.

8. I want to become a saint but have a way to go.

9. I published a best-selling book on herbs (Gaea Weiss, Growing and Using the Healing Herbs, Rodale Press) but it was a long time ago.

10. Many things happened long ago because I am 69 years old.

11. I used to tell my second husband "It's nothing that a month in Greece wouldn't cure" and I still think that is so.

12. I have studied with various Tibetan spiritual masters for 35 years, and have experienced by being around them what is possible in terms of human potential.

13. Through no fault of theirs, I am still at the threshold of human development.

14. I love the poetry of Rilke, Yeats, Lorca and Thomas Merton, among others-- including women poets like Dorianne Laux and Ellen Bass.

15. I am a Taurus with 6 planets in the 12th house and yes, I love astrology.

16. I am a late bloomer.

17. I miss engaging playfully with men.

18. I do not miss being married.

19. I love systems of divination and inquiry like the Enneagram, astrology and Myer-Briggs.

20. Solo performance is a wonderful high in my book.

21. I am dreaming of Oaxaca, India, Thailand and it's not because of Eat,Pray, Love.

22. Elizabeth Gilbert is a very good writer.

23. I guess I might be considered a foodie.

24. My morning starts with coffee and then meditation.

25. I love NIA, a form of dance that includes yoga and martial arts in its routines.

26. Yes to truffles, no to Milky Way. Yes to good Indian or Thai or Chinese food.

27. I still remember a meal in a Bay area Chinese restaurant with about 25 Chinese people. The Chinese people ordered and I ate wonderful things never tasted since.

28. I have lived in Ashland, Oregon for over 30 years. It is artsy but provincial and conservative too, or maybe I have been here too long.

29. All summer I thought of having some Pernod, and now summer is nearly over.

30. My creative aging venture, Sage's Play, focuses on the art of aging including creativity, wellness and spirit.

31. I belong to an artists' coaching community called Artist Conference Network.

32. It can be deeply moving to share our work during Artist Conference Network meetings.

33. I helped to start Tashi Choling, a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center 30 years ago, in a mountain valley south of Ashland and I still go there often to pray.

34. I love writing.

35. I would like to live in a culture where I could pray quietly on the street or wherever and nobody think I was weird or offensive.

36. Sometimes I think about moving to another country, because America gets to me.

37. Sometimes in a similar vein, I wish I could escape myself, but as has been said, wherever you go, there you are.

38. I love the spacious restfulness of darkness.

39. I would love to live in the country again, with a woodstove and a hot tub.

40. One of the best things about Ashland is Jackson Wellsprings and its mineral waters where I love to swim and soak.

42. I am a self-educated woman with considerable curiosity.

43. I discovered about 6 months ago after reading a book by Barbara Sher that I am a scanner, a person who has many passionate interests and capacities.

44. When I mentioned this to my younger daughter, she looked at me sideways and commented, "And you've just discovered this Mom?"

45. I knew it already but I loved knowing more about Scanners and finally understanding why my Mother used to say, "You never finish anything," which wasn't true but it was true that some things landed by the wayside because of new passions.

46. I want to produce A New Wrinkle, my musical play about aging, in many cities because it is a theater of social change, intended to catalyze a positive perspective on aging.

47. I am grateful for old friends and the love we share.

48. 84 things is a lot of stuff.

49. I believe in the power of Eros, which has loomed large in my life so to speak-- and certainly that includes the G spot, various forms of orgasm whose existence is debated by scientists, pleasure, ecstasy, the fire of the ecstatic impulse and the links between eros and mysticism.

50. The above was not an example necessarily, but people think I am funny. I think it is funny to be in a body, but sometimes not that funny.

51. Lately I have been contemplating the phrase, "entering the world."

52. And also "leaving the world."

53. Of course, I love reading and cannot cite a favorite author or book but randomly The God of Small Things, The Myth of Freedom, Speak, Memory come to mind at the moment.

54. I started examining my life and writing autobiographical essays about it when I was 54.

55. I lost a lot of teeth when I was 55, and it seemed to be practice for losing a lot of other stuff not long after.

56. I know what it is like to be buried in the sands of time like some old mummy from a long-dead civilization.

57. I have re-invented myself quite a few times, including at 57.

58. I have changed my name because of marriage and in a voyage of self-discovery from Gail Emaus to Gail Madonia to Blackbird, Laughingbird, Gaea Weiss, Gaea Laughingbird.

59. Sometimes surprising things happen when you change your name, and they happened to me, but those stories are too long to share here, so read my book when it is done.

60. The 60th birthday was not so much of a milestone as it seems the 70th may be.

61. I believe in taking risks and leaps of faith.

62. I like learning new things, like right now I am calling people I never met to raise money to produce my play.

63. I want to learn Spanish.

64. I never wanted to travel, but now the urge comes on me from time to time.

65. I am in the winter of my life.

66. And very alive-- as Florida Scott-Maxwell wrote--"As we age, we are more alive than seems likely, convenient, or even bearable."

67. I love custard, pumpkin pie, duck, carrot/ginger soup, fresh-baked bread, and the list could go on of course because I am a foodie.

68. Yes, I would like to lose 20 pounds.

69. I am 69 right now and recovering from 4 broken metatarsal bones in my left foot.

70. I am still walking gimpily but glad to be walking after the educational experience of using a wheelchair and walker.

72. I am grateful for my strong constitution and good health and energy level.

73. I rest when I am tired.

74. I am waiting for Dr. Robert Butler's latest book Longevity Prescription to arrive in the mail.

75. I am a fan of Dr. Robert Butler, who died recently. He coined the word ageism in the 60s.

76. I have not mentioned it, but I have two beautiful daughters, 20 years apart.

77. Kindness changes everything, and I am working on being kind.

78. I used to be a lot more rasty, aggressive and domineering.

79. I am not a nice little old lady though because I believe in being subversive or you will be worse off, and for many other reasons as well.

80. Sure, I would like to live to be 80.

81. I do contemplate dying and because Buddhists do that as part of their practice, I am used to the contemplation.

82. Death is a major life event and I believe in preparing spiritually for it.

83. Sometimes you have to play for a long time before you can play like yourself, is what Miles Davis once said, and I agree.

84. I love reading a wonderful book called Graceful Exits, which is filled with the last words of many spiritual masters.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

5 Great Things About Being Older


A few days ago I met a young chap of about 7 or 8 walking with a small woman about my age. He was blond, blue-eyed, bright as a new whistle. As I approached he said, indicating his companion, “ You are twins!”

I replied, “ I wonder if you are saying that because both of us are wearing blue, and because we both have gray hair.” “Yes,” he responded, “You are both elderly.”

“Well elderly is not the word I would use to describe myself,” I told him, already becoming aware that there were vast gulfs of experience and language proficiency and associations between us.

“But elderly is a nice way of saying it,” he responded in a sweet way. What a dear little fellow he was, and what a dismal idea he had of aging and older people, based upon his solicitous use of the word elderly.

“Is that your grandma?” I asked him, indicating my supposed twin, who seemed quite surprised by our conversation thus far. “No, it’s respite.” he responded. I didn’t know quite what to make of that. Was he in foster care, or was his family ill? I didn’t have enough information to go further, but his disclosure made me understand he was in some sort of unusual situation.

“Well,” I said to him, returning to his elderly gambit and hoping to set him straight, at least as far as I was concerned, “I like being old quite a bit. I find it quite a wonderful time of life.”

When he confided that he hoped he would die at 50 so he wouldn’t have to get old, I just wanted to wrap the little chap up in a warm grandmotherly embrace. Meanwhile, his respite companion just stood there looking rather stunned. I think she was not accustomed this type of conversation or to my perspective on aging.

I myself was wondering, are there millions of children who feel this way about aging? Oh my, that is pretty sad. “I am sorry to hear that,” I said to him. “There are a lot of wonderful things about getting older.” “Oh,” he asked, “What is so great about being old? “

“I am very free,” I told him. “ My children are grown. I’m a writer. I can write whatever I want. I can cook whatever I want. I can travel wherever I want. I can do whatever I want.” He looked as if he was doing his best to digest these new ideas. His respite companion, who had never said a word throughout, still looked surprised and nonplussed.

That conversation has made me contemplate how to talk with children and young adults about the pleasures and opportunities of age. Communicating the joys of age to younger people is challenging. They have not yet lived long enough to understand some of the richness of age.

So there’s more work to do. But these 5 statements are a beginning. I have to thank that darling boy and his respite companion for the opportunity to mull this over. I look forward to having more conversations with young people about aging, and to finding the right language to communicate to them (and to the 30s and 40s and 50s who are afraid of it, too) what a marvelous time of life it can be.

1. I feel free—Everything is open, like a big adventure. There’s nothing to lose and plenty to learn by opening new doors.

2. I have the perspective of a bird in the sky-- Having lived this long gives a bigger view of human life. You could call it the wisdom of lived experience or been there done that (many times)

3. I enjoy happiness, contentment and acceptance-- I’m happier than I’ve been at any time. I experience delight in the present moment, appreciation and gratitude—the emotional tides have calmed considerably. I experience the beauty inherent in people and the world.

4. I am comfortable with who I am-- I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I am free to be the person I have become.

5. I acknowledge the approach of death. I can engage with it as a fruitful territory to explore and relax into.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Audacious Aging


I just finished reading a marvelous book titled Audacious Aging, a collection of 30 essays by a fascinating group of contributors, including Larry Dossey, Jean Houston, Joan Borysenko, Gene Cohen, Gloria Steinem and Andrew Weil.

I have been recommending the book to everyone over 50 I meet, and I will continue to do that, because it represents one of the broadest and most exciting expressions of the depth and power of aging I have read. That's partly because of the diversity of perspectives, and the fields that are included.

Deepak Chopra urges us to wake up from the "hypnosis of social conditioning" and look at aging in a fresh, open way, including the spiritual dimensions which are timeless and ageless.

Ram Dass points out that aging is one of our society's last taboos, and reflects on how sad it is when people in trying to maintain youth pit themselves against time and natural law, and how market-driven images of aging are designed to make us feel as if aging is some kind of failure. Ram Dass says what I deeply believe to be true. "If the situation is going to change, of course it will be because we, the aging, work to change it...As older people we will have to initiate the change by freeing ourselves of this culture's bias, and remember the unique things we bring to the table."

Gloria Steinem notes in relationship to changing perceptions of aging," We may not have maps for this new country, but other movements can give us a compass." Yes!

Changing prevalent social views and prejudices about aging is only one of the themes here, though. This book is an incredible bouyant, expansive look at the potential for change and depth in many areas, including mind/body, health and medicine, diet and exercise, wellness through healing old traumas, potential for changing one's DNA, potent civic participation, the value of living in community as we age, and "going into the forest"--the power of stillness and the inner life.

Aging is audacious naturally, Patch Adams MD writes. Both Rabbi Zalman Schachter and dancer Gabrielle Roth start their essays the same way: "Aging is inevitable. Audacious aging is a choice."
There is such delightful, revelatory writing in this book. I enjoyed Dominick Dunne's essay I Want to Drop Dead on the Tarmac and Norman Shealy's contribution Every Thought is a Prayer. I just choose these rather arbitrarily, because I found 80% of the essays thoroughly fascinating and the other 20% very interesting, but maybe stuff I already know about, especially in the areas of mind/body and healing. Great material!

I haven't even mentioned the rich entries of some of the lesser-known contributors, which are stunning in their perspectives and implications. This is an inspiring, potent book, a real guide as we move into the authenticity and authority age naturally presents. When older adults let go of "the badly tailored suit of an outdated identity" as Ram Dass styles our cultural bias against aging, we are empowered to take these later years as an opportunity to share the wisdom of our lived experience. This book is a beacon for that journey.

Highly recommended. Many exclamation points. Must-read!

I know I will be re-reading these essays many times. And I look forward to hearing what you have to say about the book once you have read it yourself. Check out the website, www.audaciousaging. com and order your copy!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wearing Headdresses and Creating Art Events

As I believe I've said before, I live in an artsy kind of town, full of poetry readings, art openings, world music groups, drum ensembles, aerial artists, OSF and other theater offerings, a symphony, a variety of choral groups, an improvisational comedy troupe and a very successful independent film festival that happens each year. And that is a very partial description of the variety of cultural and artistic expressions that saturate this place.

My housemate Louise Pare and I had to try on two of our friend Betsy Lewis' beautiful Mother Warrior headdresses when we met at the recent Tribal Art Show in downtown Ashland. It was a great show of several local artists, plus excellent drumming and singing by a group of women, a big audience including many old friends. I reconnected with some people I haven't seen in awhile and enjoyed it all, including some way above average food. It had the old Ashland feel--interconnected, relaxed, unpretentious.

Then I attended another successful event that Betsy Lewis organized with Marla Estes and others at Rogue Community College. It included a showing of the film Who Does She Think She Is? a great film on women artists. Not only that, there was also an impressive art show that included quite a variety of local women artists. The event attracted another big, diverse audience full of interesting folks and many friends. There was food, but I have to confess that I didn't pay much attention to it. A panel of women artists after the film initiated an invigorating discussion and primed me to hope for a few more gatherings where we can talk about our creative process.

I think art events maestro Betsy Lewis should get a big round of applause! I am impressed with her creative/collaborative ability, and am looking forward to her next offering. Betsy, listen to this big round of applause right now! Hear it? It's full of love and appreciation of your unique talents.