Tuesday, January 29, 2013

News Roundup

"For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of harvest."-- Traditional saying from the Hasidim

Wow, the articles on various aspects of aging are proliferating, with the New York Times bringing forth quite a bouquet of them. I imagine this is a trend that will continue, because after all we are in the midst of an age wave, called even more poetically a silver tsunami.

Anyway, here are a few of the articles that have caught my attention recently.

Here's a delightful article on silver-haired women, some of whom flaunted their natural hair on a Silver Sisters Strut in Times Square. Silver hair is becoming more accepted, though we still have a way to go on that score. For a lot of women, and for men too, coloring their hair still seems like a necessary procedure.

There was another wonderful article in the New York Times. It is the story of a late life romance. Beautifully written, touching and well worth the read.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a review of The Quartet, one of several new films about aging.
The Quartet appears to be much more lively than Amour, whose focus is the decline and death of a beloved wife. I want to see both of these movies, which are jam-packed with great actors and thoughtful material.

Back to the New York Times and an opinion piece by Tim Kreider. Kreider explores our jaunty way of facing aging, avoiding sadness. I love this quote from the piece.

"Segregating the old and the sick enables a fantasy, as baseless as the fantasy of capitalism’s endless expansion, of youth and health as eternal, in which old age can seem to be an inexplicably bad lifestyle choice, like eating junk food or buying a minivan, that you can avoid if you’re well-educated or hip enough."

Finally, a touching article from the New York Times New Old Age blog about a group of long time friends and how they chose to support one friend as she developed Alzheimer's. It is wonderful to read some of these positive articles about aging and how people are responding to it.

Paradigm shift! It's happening and it's about time!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What's so great about growing older?

What is so great about growing older? This is a topic I think about often, and since I am giving a talk with that title on February 3rd at the Ashland Library, I've been thinking about it even more, and I've been poring over some of my favorite books on aging for passages to share in my talk.

I visited with a dear friend recently and our conversation turned to how people age, or more specifically how in our society people don't necessarily grow wiser as they grow older.  I was very touched when my friend shared her experience of how elders are treated in Brazil.

"Sometimes you will see them coming down from the hills," she told me, "accompanied by their family members. The family members will each be holding some article that belongs to the elder, and you can see that they are very happy to be given that honor, the honor of accompanying the elder, of holding something for the elder. There's a great feeling of love and respect. Everyone thinks of the elder as wise, and in fact the elder is wise."

I've been thinking of this ever since. Yesterday when I was reading Zalman Schacter-Shalomi's book From Age-ing to Sage-ing, I found something that resonated with our talk. It involved a study done by psychologist Ellen Langer at Harvard University. A group of elders over 75 were encouraged to act as if they were 20 years younger. Study results showed that memory, manual dexterity, muscle strength and flexibility increased while hearing and vision improved.

"In general, our negative expectations make us age faster than nature intended," Schacter-Shalomi writes. In our society, many elders have negative expectations. They get the message that they are over the hill, useless, etc. and they internalize these messages. When we buy into negative self-images about aging, whether consciously or unconsciously, we set the stage for disempowered old people.

We lose many possible sages. It's important to shift social attitudes about aging, both for the sake of elders and for the well-being of society as a whole.

Positive self imaging is very powerful. Positive self-imaging does not deny aging; it does focus on the innate life force, and the powerful quality of our thoughts and emotions, including joy, appreciation and a sense of engagement.

Octagenarian blues musician B.B. King

These are some of the things I think are great about growing older.

Maturity -  It comes from Latin word for ripeness. It implies that we have fully developed. Of course there is still more to learn and integrate but if we have been paying attention, we have become mature. Maturity is a great gift, both to oneself and others. It is useful and inspirational, too.

Character - Our character has developed, too. That's one aspect of our maturity. We may be characters, too. We don't care as much about what others think about us. We are not trying to please others the way we were in earlier years. We have the authority of our life experience and what we have learned from it.

Resilience, adaptation, creativity - We have learned resilience and adaptability in the course of life, and if our hearing or eyesight etc. is affected, we learn how to work with it.

Panoramic perspective -The older brain has an integrative capacity that the younger brain does not have.

Contentment, happiness - The majority of older adults are happier in their age than they were earlier in their lives. Paradoxically so.

Spiritual deepening, altruism, transcendence - Psychologists such as Erik Erickson and Carl Jung have written about the natural turning within that occurs in the later years, when we become more reflective, altruistic, and detached.

These are a few of the things I think are great about growing older.

News Flash!

This article  and its accompanying video clip tells about a 93-year old Portland woman, Willa Asbornsen who decided that she wanted to move out of the nursing home where she was living in order to live alone. To reach that goal, she started to work out. Take a look at what she has to say-- she's inspiring and her story offers inspiring evidence of the benefits of exercise, and the truth that it's never too late to start working out.

Love the new look of the blog! Thanks so much to Betsy Lewis Consulting. Betsy is a social media whiz, and I love what she has done to beautify, update and connect this blog.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Artist's Life: Little Playmates and Current Projects

My friends the horse, frog and monkey

The red fairy Sophia painted long ago
The tiny elderwoman Helen made, with Betsy's mandala nearby

I am in the midst of several substantial projects.

I am preparing to publish Songs of the Inner Life, "first in a series of short memoirs." To that end, I sent the manuscript out to a group of people, asking for them to provide reader comments that I can use for publicity. I also talked with designer Robert Frost about creating a cover design for the book. I should have that to share soon.

I am preparing for a talk, an OLLI class and I'm updating my website with information about solo performances, speaking and workshops.

I'm working on two final songs for our musical revue on aging, and then will review the script with our script consultant Carolyn Myers.

So in the midst of these creative endeavors, I took time to visit with my little playmates, who live in my house with me.

They may seem as if they are just sitting there on the shelf, wall or counter, but there's more to it than that.

The monkey reminds me to play and swing freely in the midst of everything I am developing. The frog tells me to persevere --he assures me that my work will add up and bring positive, fertile results.

The horse brings the thought of adventure, a painted gypsy wagon, summers in the meadow, running unbridled.

These particular little playmates have other things they share too, depending on the day.

The red fairy has been with me since my daughter Sophia painted it in Grade II of Waldorf School. The red fairy reminds me of the beauty, magic and innocence of real aliveness.

I feel quite happy when I gaze at her amidst the big red flowers and green grass.  

I have a lovely little elder woman with braids in my kitchen. She carries a basket and has fetching green shoes and old-fashioned country clothing.

I got her from Helen Jucevic, who makes Kinder Dolls in the Waldorf style.                          
In the background is Betsy Lewis' mandala titled Grief. When Betsy gave it to me, I couldn't resist asking her why she was giving me grief.

You can see more of Betsy's work at the link above. I recommend taking a look.

I have other little playmates, too, like the chap here on his ox, with his flute in hand. He doesn't talk much, being a rather quiet fellow, but he does play the flute very beautifully.

I'm sure I am not the only person in the universe who has an affectionate relationship with small beings who live nearby. Do you?

Well it's out for a walk for me, before I head into two exciting meetings. At least I imagine that they will be exciting.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Living Arrangements

Winter tablescape in the kitchen, with the sun bright on the wall

I haven't written about living arrangements since September 2010, when I posted a blog essay that explored elder co-housing, house sharing, intentional communities and other possibilities. With millions of people aging, it certainly is timely to think about ways to live that increase community and make life easier.

Here's the link to my earlier reflections on the subject in case you want to take a look.
some thoughts on architecture, place and community 

I've lived alone a great deal in the past 15 years until I spent a year and a half sharing a townhouse with my friend Louise. Living with a person can deepen your friendship. That is what has happened with Louise and I.

While I was living with Louise I found this cottage, where I presently abide quite comfortably and happily. When I first saw this place, the garden particularly enchanted me. I was drawn to the house, too. I could imagine feeling quite comfortable in the cottage, which is welcoming and a bit worn. A bit like me perhaps.

It seemed a great bonus that the place also had a garden suite, composed of two rooms and a bath in the back part of the house. That meant there would be enough room to have a housemate. I liked the idea of having a housemate.

When you are older it makes financial sense to share your abode. Friendship and mutual support are other attractive reasons to share a domicile, if you can find a compatible person.

Women live longer and women in their 80s and older are more likely to be living alone. This can increase isolation, depression and other factors that affect mental and physical health. Of course, there are many possible pitfalls for older people looking for housemates. When city or county agencies help by screening and matching people up, it can be very helpful.

I had two brief, unsuccessful houseshare experiences before my friend Anne moved in. Neither of the encounters was dangerous or terribly unpleasant, but they weren't much fun, either.

What a difference between those experiences and being here with Anne. It is a great pleasure to share the cottage with her. It feels very good-- very relaxed, safe, comfortable and companionable. We respect each other's privacy and we also get together fairly regularly.

My friend Anne
Here's how I met Anne. My dancer friend Robin was going to see a movie and asked if I wanted to join her. She told me that she was meeting someone at the theater, a woman named Anne. Yes, I wanted to go so I headed downtown.

I was early and I decided to sit in front of the hotel and people watch. That's always interesting and fun. After awhile, I looked down toward the movie theater, which is not that far away. There I saw a woman standing.

"That must be Anne," I thought to myself. I got up and started to walk toward her. She began to walk toward me, too. When we met, I asked her, "Are you Robin's friend?"

"Yes, I am," she told me. "Well, I'm Gaea and I'm looking forward to going to the movie with you and Robin."

"Oh," she said. "I'm Anne."  We kept chatting as if we had known each other for years.

Today I was thinking about that first meeting.

"Did you know I was going to join you and Robin?" I asked Anne.

"No, I had no idea," she answered.  "You started to walk toward me when I began walking toward you," I said.

"Yes, I did," she responded. Anne didn't know why she walked toward me and I don't know how I knew who she was.

I have no idea how these things happen, but they do.  Now we are friends and we are sharing a house. So there you have it.  It is a happy circumstance.

These are two books I am using in my upcoming class at OLLI, "Retirement, Refirement and Successful Aging."  The class will take place in February. I'm looking forward to it.

I will also be presenting a talk at the Ashland Library on February 3rd. It's titled "What's So Great About Aging?"

Cold and wintry here. So many of my friends are in Hawaii and Mexico, giving me the chance to practice mudita, or sympathetic joy.

Hope you are enjoying life, whatever the weather patterns.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Are You Pro Aging or Anti Aging?

Wanting to stay young is nothing new. Remember Ponce de Leon and his search for The Fountain of Youth?  Ponce de León discovered Florida and his fabled search for The Fountain of Youth is commemorated by this plaque, which marks mineral springs in St. Augustine, Florida. We don't hear about thousands of hopefuls making a pilgrimage to those springs though, so we may assume that while they may be lovely healing waters, they won't give us the blush of 25 again.

People have looked for ways to remain vibrant and youthful since ancient times, but our society has brought obsession with youth to a new plateau with plastic surgery  and the many nostrums in the $80 billion anti-aging industry that promise to keep the dreaded signs of aging at bay.

According to an article in the Huffington Post,"Anti-aging enthusiasts contend that life spans can be prolonged through interventions such as hormone replacement therapy and dietary supplements. Critics, including much of the medical establishment, say many anti-aging interventions are ineffective or harmful."

Even without the anti-aging industry's products, we are the beneficiaries of a "longevity bonus"--with many healthy years predicted after 50. How will we use those years and how will we view the process of aging?

Anti-aging generally applies to methods for slowing, preventing or reversing the aging process. I am anti-anti-aging because I am pro aging. I completely support older adults being as healthy, vibrant and attractive as they can be, and I want that for myself, too. I just do not want to be expected to judge this stage of life by the standards or values of youth. I am not aspiring to be youthful. I am old, and I am okay about that. I do aspire to be radically alive. To me, expressions like "young at heart" are anti-aging with a sugar coating. What is the problem with being old at heart? I've already been young.

Anti-aging may be partly about preserving perceived beauty, but it is also about exerting control, and staving off fear of dying.  Old has advantages, including a bigger, deeper perspective from decades of life experience. I don't like anti-aging. I like pro aging. That means embracing the beautiful opportunities and inner tasks of later life and valuing later life as a profound stage of evolution and development.

Dr. Carol Orsborn

 I wanted to share two womens' pro aging messages, because I find each of them useful and inspiring.
In this You Tube video, author Dr. Carol Orsborn talks about ageism, noting that growing older is either romanticized or reviled  in popular culture, but never shown as it really is. She says to the boomer generation, "Yes we've done a lot about sexism and racism but why haven't we done anything about ageism?"

(Since this is one of the questions I've been asking through Sage's Play, I recognized Dr. Orsborn as a kindred spirit from the start.)
 Dr. Orsborn suggests that the reason that boomers haven't addressed ageism is that they have internalized the message that young is good and old is bad. Older adults don't want to be associated with being old. They want to pass for young.

Take a few minutes to watch her talk. It's worthwhile.

I follow Dr. Orsborn's reflections on aging at her digest Fierce with Age. where I am happy to be among the contributors.

Another writer I follow is Barbara Hannah Grufferman, a very pretty, fit New Yorker who writes for the Huffington Post and AARP. Check out Barbara Hannah Grufferman's article on embracing aging written for the AARP blog. In it, she writes,

"Isn’t it time to change how we view aging? Have we created a society of “haves” and “have nots” based not so much on how much is in our bank accounts, but on how much we spend on trying to look younger? Have we completely removed any opportunity for a level playing field? Have we fooled ourselves to the point where we actually believe we are younger just by erasing crow’s feet with Botox? And do we think we fool others?"

Barbara Hannah Grufferman
I don't know if we are trying to fool ourselves or others with anti-aging strategies, or whether we are simply trying to stay above water, to remain visible and engaged in the pressured confines of our ageist society. There are lots of ways to remain engaged and visible. You can even do it with silver hair.

I am very glad to see a grassroots pro aging movement growing. Ageism is unhealthy for all of us. It's time for each one of us to develop effective strategies to counter it.

I don't want to fight aging. The mere idea tires me out. I want to enjoy this time of life in ways that feel fulfilling. We will age; it's just a question of how we will do it. As Grufferman points out in her article, it's possible to embrace your age AND to place your attention on being fit, healthy and attractive. They are not mutually exclusive. Putting all of one's attention on trying to pass for young could even mean that one is so busy with outer appearances, one doesn't take the time to engage in some of the meaningful inner work of later life. This is a sure-fire recipe for avoiding wisdom. I myself would rather place my attention on becoming at least somewhat wiser as I age. What about you? What is your vision of aging?