Thursday, July 4, 2013

Stories from the First Week in July

Fireflies, a small boat on a river. Lantern light. Stillness. The magic of summer darkness. An idyllic scene that appeals to me for many reasons--the picturesque boat, the still openness of the river, the mystery of the night and of course, the fireflies.

We have no fireflies in Oregon, sadly enough. In my childhood summers on the east coast, the big jar of dark summer evenings always contained their magical dances.

It's July 4th, and the big, wackily original parade will be starting in an hour or so. I've attended many, many Ashland parades. I'm just not in the mood this morning. So I sit here drinking my coffee in the quietly pokey little town of Phoenix where I survey the back garden, hoping that today will be cooler. The heat has been on here with temperatures over 100, and it would be quite delightful if it cooled down a bit.

Dr. Rick Moody, the gerontologist/author who is a mentor to me, tells me to find ways to "get in front of people" as he puts it. Turns out that getting in front of people is one of the things I love most to do. That's one reason why my book reading on June 28th was sweet. The other reason is that I knew most of the people who attended quite well and it was great to experience all of them in one room. I began with some wordless singing, (which is one of my very favorite things to do--singing, wordlessly and improvisationally--an unusual form of vocal expression and a topic unto itself) talked about aging, read from Songs of the Inner Life and gave away a few door prizes--a book, an audacious aging kit and a copy of the preview CD from A New Wrinkle. Afterwards, some folks made fascinating comments about what I had read, and then of course, people bought books and I signed them. Quite refreshing, especially considering who attended--some of my dearest and most favorite people.

I will be doing another reading on August 3rd at the Ashland Library, sponsored by Friends of the Library. I love presenting at the library.

I wanted to share a few things that I enjoyed this week. Two of them are essays, and one is a film.
A friend posted on Facebook this wonderful essay by Danielle Prohom Olson which appears in her Body Divine Yoga blog. The essay is titled: The Great Belly: A Yogini's Lament.  

In it, Olson talks about how our attitudes about the female belly have changed drastically. In ancient times, the female belly was honored as a chalice of fertility and abundance. As Olson points out, today we want abs and flat bellies.

I used to have a belly so flat that when I lay down my hipbones stuck up in a rather alarming manner. Now, however, I resemble the earth, because I have a bulge at the equator. My belly is ample in other words.

Yes, sometimes I mourn the loss of my very slender body, and the time when I actually had a waist. I like being pregnant with wisdom, but does it all have to settle in the belly? That's my little joke about it. Olson's essay points out the positive qualities of the belly and the ways in which we have forgotten its sacred nature.

She writes, "The belly is home to our body centered wisdom – our gut knowing, our instinct for self-preservation. So what does it mean to us as women that the life affirming presence of the belly has been replaced by a flat fat-less concave expanse between protruding hip-bones?"

In her essay she points out that we actually have two brains--one in the head and one in the belly. These days, most of our attention goes to the brain, ignoring the belly's knowing.  "Because while the brain rules thinking and doing, it is the abdomen, the gut that is the center of being. And what we have lost is our connection to that most feminine aspect of being – feeling. This is not a metaphoric claim, but a physiological fact."

There's more juicy stuff in that essay and you can read it all by clicking the link above, if the spirit moves you.

Another essay I enjoyed this week is Why I'm Giving Up the Anti-Aging Battle by Portland, Oregon writer Kristen Forbes.

In her essay, Forbes talks about how fear of aging is instilled into girls from adolescence on. She writes, “Anti-aging” is my least favorite term in the English language. It may as well be anti-human. Anti-reality. Anti-the-normal-course-of-human-existence. I see the commercials touting the virtues of youth and I understand their appeal, but I still find them disturbing. My stomach churns when I see that overused image of the hands on a clock turning backwards."

She continues, "The older I get, the more I’m told that in order to be more attractive (and therefore more successful and more admired), I must be more youthful... I should get makeup advice from women who are still in high school or college. I should downplay the significance of wisdom that accompanies aging and instead recognize the importance of perpetually looking and acting like a 15-year-old girl."

"Maybe it’s because I work at a retirement center. Maybe it’s because I’m with residents in their 80s and 90s every day. Maybe it’s because I witness the fragility of the end of life on a daily basis and I can assure you that if you make it that far, wrinkle cream will be the least of your worries."

Then Forbes gives us the punch line and asks the big question. "Getting old is a natural part of life. Getting wrinkles is natural. Sagging skin is natural. Thinning hair is natural. Why do we fight so hard against the things that are just a natural part of life?"

Why do we? I've certainly been exploring this in the songs that comprise A New Wrinkle, our musical revue on aging. I loved both of these essays and the landscapes they explore.

This week I went to pick up a foreign film to watch. It turned out that I had already seen The Wind Journeys or  Los viajes del viento, a 2009 Film Movement offering.  Watching it a second time, I relaxed into it even more fully, and greatly enjoyed it. If you need a fast paced film, this one is not for you. It is slow. Gorgeously filmed in 84 amazing natural locations in Columbia, the film tells the story of  Ignacio Carrillo an older man who spent most of his life traveling the villages of northern Colombia, playing traditional songs on his accordion-- a legendary instrument said to have once belonged to the devil.

After the death of his wife, Carillo decides to return the accordian to his old maestro. He sets out on a real hero's journey,  accompanied by a young man named Fermin, who longs to become a troubador like Ignacio. Their adventures, the landscapes they traverse and the final scenes at the home of the maestro--all are mystical, austere and moving.

Well, that is my report for now. I just finished writing an article I plan to send to Jenny Sasser for possible inclusion in her Gero-Punk Project blog. Jenny is the director of the gerontology program at Marylhurst College in Portland. A nationally recognized expert in the study of aging,  Jenny co-authored the textbook Aging Concepts and Controversies, seventh edition. My mentor Rick Moody is the other author.

Enjoy the holiday! Enjoy all the various levels of freedom we experience with each breath.

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