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.


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.