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.