Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Memorium

"Memory is the thing you forget with." 
~ Alexander Chase    

Spend some time with any senior citizen and inevitably a comment (or dissertation) is made regarding memory.  Or more accurately, memory loss.  I hear myself saying, often out loud, "now, why did I come in this room?"....or "where did I keys, a book, my purse, that letter," etc., etc.   

Spend time with a group of senior citizens and a deeper conversation occurs.  "Are you experiencing the same challenges?" "Do you worry that this may signify something worse?"  "I hate this!"  Nervous laughter, reassurances usually follow.  

I remember having a brain scan a couple years ago and reading the report..."a normal, aging brain."  I didn't know whether to be relieved or offended.  I did some research, however, just to be reassured that I was indeed normal.  So, for the most part, I don't worry that my lapses in memory mean anything more catastrophic.

What is more intriguing to me these days is why I remember what I do remember and what triggers the memories.  Just two days ago, while watching Turner Classic Movie's day of musicals (Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly classics), there was a memorium for industry personalities that passed away this year.  You know, the kind of tribute done yearly at the Oscars.  Well, that one I've come to expect.  This one came as a surprise.  The list itself was also a surprise - Esther Williams, Dennis Farina, Jean Stapleton, Eileen Brennan, Michael Ansara, Karen Black, Eleanor Parker, Tom Clancy, Roger Ebert, Steve Forrest, Jack Klugman,  Peter O'Toole - at least 20 names I recognized and another dozen faces I have come to know over the years in various character roles.  The number stunned me.

And with it, a flood of memories - the TV series, the iconic roles (Edith Bunker, Hot Lips Hoolihan, Lawrence of Arabia, Cochise), the people I saw the movies or series with (some no longer a part of my life), the music, and the young woman, even the little girl I was when I first encountered them.  

In the couple days that have followed, I have seen this clip again.  Now, expecting it, some of the surprise, the sadness, and the nostalgia has passed.  And what has surfaced next is the awareness that many of these names no longer mean much to people even a few years younger than I - or other fans of TCM,.  Joan Fontaine, Audrey Totter, John Kerr, Dale Robertson.  Oh yes, I know that every generation has to face this phenomenon, but it is still a bit disconcerting whenever it happens.  Yes, it certainly has struck me before - who were the Beatles? What was polio? Did you really walk to school in the snow?  You didn't have.....!!!!??

So what makes this experience more poignant?  The sheer number of personalities?  The realization that many of these names may mean little or nothing to many Americans?  Or the recognition that they do mean a lot to me and that is another reminder of the passage of time, of my aging? Of my own mortality?

Maybe I'll skip the memorium segment of the Oscars this year.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

"Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old."    
                                                                            ~Franz Kafka

I love a good quote.  One that expresses what I'm thinking or feeling, succinctly, or lyrically.  One that inspires me to see the world in a new way.  Or captures an opinion with compassion or humor.  

I've started to collect quotes about aging, thinking they'd make great intros to these postings. Been amazed to see how many are out there, how many seem so apropos.  I don't memorize many - these days I'm lucky to remember why I've gone to another room!  But I glance over them now and then, usually when I'm being particularly reflective or when I'm considering something to write.  It still can surprise me to come upon a quote that seems to leap off the page, so perfect is it for the moment or circumstance.

Take this Kafka quote.  And this scene....

This is St. George.  This is our street.  This is the aftermath of 6 inches of snow, and the lowest temperatures recorded here in 74 years.  This is a city with one snowplow (assigned full time to the local airport) and many snowbirds who live here partime to escape these very conditions. A city with many  folks who don't know how to drive on snow.  Who don't own a shovel and don't want tol  Some folks who saw this storm only as an inconvenience, something to be endured.

And others who took it all in with wonder and joy.  Who delighted in watching children build snowmen.  Who took the opportunity to revisit the storms of their childhood that shut down school and brought with them tunnels and forts and snowball fights.  Who bundled up and captured the beauty as best they could.

Yesterday I attended an event where everyone was over 60 and the difference in the two points of view was glaringly apparent.  In the very absence of any negativity, any complaining from those who attended ...arriving in cars driven by those with four wheel drive.  Walking cautiously over ice lest they fall and break a hip!  Holding on to one another, and "laughing all the way." Greeting each other with "Isn't it beautiful?!"  Sharing stories of the snowstorms of their childhood or removing snow from their driveways with a broom, even a rake.  The room was filled with laughter, enthusiasm, and delight.  

This is my book club - 20 or so men and women whose company I treasure.  I would have said I treasure them because they are bright and curious, respectful of each other's opinions, diverse in life experiences, and rich in skills and talents.  They are. Today, I understand another contribution they make to my life.  They have the "ability to see beauty" and revel in it.  And so, without saying it, they refuse to grow old.  So do I!!!

p.s.  In case I don't post again before the New Year, happy holidays to all and may you be surrounded by beauty.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Aging Artfully

"The best part of the art of living is to know how to age gracefully."
                                                                                                                              ~ Eric Hoffer

It's been quite a trip down memory lane - reading the 20 year old journal that I recently uncovered.  Photos, essays, lists, images from catalogs and magazines.  Hopes, dreams and wishes for a future that is today.

Among it all a clipping about the veteran character actor, Jack Palance, who had just won his first and only Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, at the age of 72.  And stunned the audience by dropping down and doing a series of one-armed push-ups.  I kept the article because I didn't want to lose the reported comments he made before the Senate Special Committee on Aging - the subject "aging artfully."  Comments that struck me as wise and worth remembering.

Words that strike me today (now that I am 72!) as inspirational and worth sharing.

"Unfortunately, too many of us seek solace and consolation as a reward for getting old.  Since it happens to everyone, aging shouldn't come as a shock, and it shouldn't come as a surprise.  It's a perfectly natural sequence of life, a fulfilling completion of what was designed for us in the beginning... 

"And it has nothing to do with 'getting old.'...Don't get old, don't allow it to happen.  Don't let them think of you as old - and I mean your children, your grandchildren or those well-meaning friends who want to share their own physical decline with you.  Tell them all to go to hell!

"Look, one of the most important reasons for living is to do something - live outside of yourself and put together an idea, an idea that you want to explore and complete...Awaken your creative sensitivities."

The reporter, one Allen J. Sheinman, concluded by saying that it was doubtful that Palance left his congressional audience without a fresh perspective on the second half of life.  I'd like to think so, but if it did,  I don't see a lot of evidence that it has caught on.  Instead, anti-aging seems to be the prevalent message everywhere I turn. With an emphasis on image.  Not on health, not on purpose, not on learning or creativity.  At least not in the mass media. Even Dr. Oz uses the term.

I've been searching for some time for a better way to think about this phase of my life, a way to think about it that would support effective behavioral choices.  Anti-aging doesn't work for me, too negative.  And the more positive phrases that have been coined, like Jane Fonda's Prime Time, or the Golden Years, or even the Ninth Hole (which came to me via e-mail) haven't captured my fancy.  But "aging artfully", aging creatively - love it!!  Thank you, Jack.  And thank you, Eric.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Shifting Gears

Well, I'm back.  Have been traveling.  Nothing as romantic as a tour across Europe on the Orient Express. Or as altruistic as volunteering at a hospital  in a Third World nation.  I haven't even left St. George.

My journey has been an internal one, in retrospect similar to others I've taken every six or seven years of  my adult life, a journey marked by introspection, contemplation and reflection.  Marked by  reading marathons, and notebooks filled with lists and quotes and questions I didn't know I had.  Marked by a flurry of decluttering and reorganizing shelves and drawers  Marked by a sense that whatever the final destination, it would be different than I anticipated when setting out.

Years ago, Deborah Tannen labelled these journeys "passages" and her book of that title was particularly helpful during the aftermath of my divorce - and in the subsequent passages initiated by job changes, remarriage, moves, new careers, disease and the death of loved ones.  The external events that have been catalysts for the major shifts in my life.  This time, however, this passage crept up on me.  No significant external event.  

I didn't even recognize I was on the road again until I realized I wasn't journaling with my typical long hand prose, something I'd done faithfully for over 35 years.  I hadn't been blogging because I wasn't sure what I wanted to blog about.  Although healthy and busy with several interesting activities, generally satisfied, I also was vaguely discontented, aware that something was missing. This time, I decided to let things unfold, to idle in neutral so to speak, to just hang out with whatever was going on and trust that I would know when it was time to shift gears and get going again.  Not my usual style!

Then last week, during one of my decluttering binges, in the midst of culling through a box of old journals, I came upon a special volume I put together years ago on the heels of my 50th birthday, a volume of pictures and photos, of dreams and desires for what I hoped would be the future that is today.  And discovered an interesting essay, a description of how I wanted to age.  Clear, detailed, optimistic, validating - and revealing.

What has been missing has been a venue for continuing to make a difference, a contribution.  One that resonates with my values, my experience, my skills.  One that calls for stretching, for learning, for creating. That addresses something I am passionate about.  

The contribution I want to make is to generate a meaningful conversation about aging - a conversation that is realistic without becoming whiny and fearful, optimistic without being pollyanish.  I want to examine with others the challenges inherent in getting older in a society that is obsessed with youth, to raise questions and concerns that we too often avoid, and to consider alternatives with others who also want a meaningful conversation. The venue, this blog. I hope you will join me in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I normally don't rant,  even work at not ranting.   Typically I don't read rants. I try to stay positive and responsible, even when I'm upset, especially when I'm upset. But I HATE the new AT&T ad campaign!!!

The first few times I saw it, I was merely irritated - and confused.  What are they thinking?  Faster is better.  More is better.  Bigger is better.  Not preferable, but better.  Faster, more, bigger - not reliable or dependable. 

Using kids to promote their message -  the irritation became annoyance.   Normally, I enjoy seeing kids in ads, but these kids should be seen, and not heard!  "More, more, I want more." Ugh!

John suggests that the purpose of the campaign may be merely to get the audience to connect AT&T immediately to the ads.  If so, it's a smashing success.  But I thought that advertising was intended to convince you to buy the product or service.  Whereas I do find the ads using a panel of basketball icons to be an improvement over those using kids, I still find these latter ads to be especially grating and objectionable.  So objectionable that I would not subscribe to the service, even if I could, or would cancel it if we did.

Now, I recognize that I don't have to watch them.  If an ad appears during a taped program, I fast forward through it.  If it appears during a program currently airing, I mute the sound, even switch to another channel to avoid it.  Yet, its very appearance can get me muttering.

I also recognize that I could express my distaste to AT&T, but given that  4G service isn't available in our area - and I'm definitely not in their demographic target - I doubt it would be received as anything other than an amusing piece of trivia.  (And that irritates me, too!).

And I recognize that I may be in a very tiny minority of folks who dislike this campaign, but I can dream, can't I?

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Don't die until you're dead!"

"Don't die until you're dead" - the theme of the movie Quartet as encapsulated for its director, Dustin Hoffman, by Billy Connelly, one of the quartet that take stage center in this lovely movie that I am recommending to anyone over 50, and anyone under 50 who is caring for aging loved ones.

Quartet tells the story of four elderly British opera singers, who reunite in a home for retired, needy British musicians.  The reunion is strained, for three of the quartet have been there awhile, have created new patterns, new friendships, have settled in.  Then, quite unexpectedly, the fourth, the diva, the soprano played as only Maggie Smith could, arrives bringing her phonograph, the albums of her glory days, and a hefty dose of discordance and unfinished business.

The members of the quartet are veteran British actors and actresses who play off one another with a grace and sensitivity that helps you believe they could have performed together decades ago.  As you are asked to believe they did - the performance, the quartet from Rigoletto.  A performance they are asked to repeat for a concert to be given on the anniversary of Verdi's birthday, designed not only to raise money for the home, but to acknowledge the contribution and heritage of the home's residents.

The challenges that each member faces in order to perform are representative of the challenges many of us have faced already or will most likely face in the future - health issues, unfinished business with relationships, loss of skills and a sense of identity, loneliness.  All are treated with compassion and dignity.  Never harsh, never maudlin, but also never pollyannish.  Humorous, but not at anyone's expense.

The cast is supported by musicians whose scenes of practice and performance are as touching as those of the quartet.  Hoffman reported in an AARP interview that some of the musicians had not been asked to perform for over 30 years and were so grateful to be included that they showed up at 6 in the morning and would rehearse for 14 hours.  The music itself is worth the admission, and in case you are not a huge fan of classical music, not to worry.  My husband isn't either, and he enjoyed the film as much as I did.  Just watching the musicians, their concentration, their dedication and the sheer joy of making music together and having their skills enjoyed and applauded was such a pleasure.

So - though I understand Billy Connelly's synopsis and smiled when I read it, I also think this movie deals with themes of friendship and forgiveness, courage and possibility.  With characters who are aging, but not old.  I recommend it because I think you would enjoy it and also because I want to support these lovely, quiet films that celebrate rather than denigrate.  That tell simple stories well, that don't rely on special effects and gimmicks.  That leave you feeling better, more hopeful than when you entered the theater.  That could even leave you clapping in appreciation, as Quartet inspired our matinee audience. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

In the Pursuit of Happiness

I realized the other day that I am happier than I have ever been - and the realization surprised me.  Partially, because I've never really aspired to be happy.  Content, yes; satisfied, yes.  But the word happy has never been familiar.  So, it surprised me to be using it to describe how I feel. 

Being inclined to analyze my feelings, to reflect on my thinking, I have been journaling on this rather interesting state of affairs - did happiness creep up on me when I wasn't looking?  Have I been working toward it subconsciously?  How do I nurture this? 

Then the Feb/Mar issue of the AARP Magazine arrived with the article, "Give Yourself a Happiness Makeover."  Aha!!!  The article answered my questions - so well that I want to pass on the ten things author Dan Buettner recommends for improving one's happiness.  I think they are worth considering.

  1. Nestle in the Right Neighborhood - "where you choose to live is one of the most important determinants of your happiness."  Our decision to move to a smaller, more civilized, slower paced community is definitely one the biggest contributors to my personal happiness.  I don't think the size of the city is important - I do strongly believe that the safety, familiarity, and sense of neighborhood is.
  2. Stop Shopping; Start Saving - "research shows that financial security brings much more happiness over time than buying things does."   I know we are spending less, but of more significance is that what we are spending on is experiences rather than things - a cruise, musical performances - and oh yes, books.  The library is on my to do list.
  3. Make the Most of Your Morning - for a good breakfast and 30 minutes of exercise.  We are doing well with breakfast - but exercise?  Still a challenge for both of us.  I must admit, however, that I feel much better when I have walked in the morning and this reminder is inspiring me to get moving again.
  4. Trim Your TV Time - "The happiest people watch less than one hour of television a day, according to a study of 40,000 people who took National Geographic's True Happiness Test."  One hour!!?!  I've acknowledged for some time now that I am more productive with less tv time, but happy?  I'm taping all shows to eliminate commercial time, eliminating reruns unless exceptional.  But one hour?  That's not trimming, it's probably major surgery for many people - me, included.  I'm going to play around with this awhile.
  5. Get a Daily Dose of Friends -  the research of Jim Harter, PhD "shows that America's happiest people purposefully plan for social times and get at least six hours a day of interaction with friends and family."  Maybe this explains the power of social networking.  Perhaps because of my generation, I require less hours but more interaction.  E-mails aren't enough. One good telephone conversation can make my day, especially if it's with a sibling or an old friend.  A 'date' for lunch and a movie with John fulfills my needs for the day.  And since we've retired, we try to do this every week.
  6. Find Your Soul Mate - well, must admit I don't buy into the concept of soul mates, but I have seen the statement that "people in long term committed relationships suffer less stress and live longer with fewer diseases" enough times to accept it.  I would add, however, that the relationships should be mutually satisfying!  Enduring isn't enough for happiness.
  7. Meet, Pray, Love - "research shows that people who belong to a faith-based community - regardless of religion - and attend services more than once a week live as much as seven years longer than people who don't."  I'd like to know more about this as I am acquainted with many happy people who don't belong to faith-based communities.  I have become involved in a Unitarian Fellowship - for the fellowship, the support of like-minded people, not the faith.  Definitely would like to know more about this research.
  8. Create a Sunny Sanctuary - ah yes, I have done this with greater success than in any other home I've lived in and I know it has made a huge difference in my morale.  We've just completed the creation of an art niche where I indulge in a new passion, graphite drawing.  It is filled with supplies, inspiration, it.  Makes me smile just thinking about it - created it, bright, a sanctuary.
  9. Gain Peace with a Pooch -  a study published in 2011 shows "that pets foster self-esteem, calmness, soothing and a feeling of acceptance."  We don't have pets now because we prefer the freedom and mobility we have without them, but I have noticed how much satisfaction John gets from feeding a family of feral cats that have adopted us, as well as the colony of birds we keep alive over the winter.  And he always has to reason with me whenever I see a Schnauzer.
  10. Ignite Your Passion for Compassion - one body of research shows that "altruism stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as sugar and cocaine do."  And giving money away rather than spending it on self seems to bring greater happiness.  I would add that for me, at least, I am gaining more satisfaction by becoming more involved in a cause or concern than by only giving financial support.  That's definitely easier to do now that I'm retired, but I have known many people to have been involved while holding down jobs and caring for families.  They probably don't watch more than one hour of tv a day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's About Time

"Question:  How contrive not to waste one's time?

Answer:  By being fully aware of it all the while."                         ~ Albert Camus

I came across this quote last week while searching for quotes about time to kick start some journaling.  Why time?  Because I got tired of hearing myself asking, "Where has the time gone?".  And I seem to be asking that question a lot lately. 

There's been the obvious events that's got me thinking about the passage of time - an impending birthday, seeing friends we haven't seen in over 10 years (10 years!), underestimating a nephew's age, looking in the mirror and seeing my mother's face looking back at me.  But it's been the small, daily reminders that have been niggling at me - the arrival of a new edition of a magazine when I haven't read last month's yet, tearing off another page from the calendar, hearing that someone younger than I am has passed away, or simply noticing it's later than I thought on going to bed while having accomplished only half of what I had intended.

So I've begun to pay greater attention to how I spend this valuable resource called time.  And it is not easy!  Some things I already know - that I am easily distracted, that I spend more time on the enjoyable pastimes, and far less on something that I dislike (think cleaning toilets!) and that I lose track of time when talking with someone I love.  But I am also learning some new tricks for this old dog - that by simply paying attention, by being more aware I have more control of the distractions.  That my father was right - it is easier to avoid temptations than resist them.  That, perhaps, time means something totally different in your 70's than in your 30's anyway!  And, perhaps, the most valuable AHA - that in any transition, one of the greatest challenges is to learn new ways to spend time.

I wonder, can anyone really be aware of time "all the while"?  For now, however, I'm just trying to be more attentive.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

After All These Years....

After several years of setting goals over the holidays, using several (often laborious)approaches, I almost decided to forego the process this year.  After all, I'm retired now.  Why drive myself?  The main goal for the year - enjoy life!  Then I stumbled upon two questions raised by Patti Digh, author of life is a verb.  Digh doesn't write goals, but uses questions like these to guide her during the year.  The questions:

          What do I want to create this year?
          What am I ready to release this year?

Now, I love chewing on a good question. Love the sense of clarity that can emerge, the new possiblity that presents itself, the visceral satisfaction of discovering a powerful answer when most needed.  So, I've been playing with these questions for a few weeks now, just considering, listing ideas as possibilities.  Adding to the lists.  Some of my ideas:

What do I want to create?
  • an art studio
  • an organized garage
  • mini-scrapbooks of cherished memories
  • new memories, especially
  • a cruise to Alaska to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary
  • greater self-discipline - read "healthier habits"
  • etc., etc.
What am I ready to release?
  • clothes I don't wear
  • boxes we've moved for the past 10 years without opening
  • my tendency to worry
  • ten lbs. - the same ten lbs. I've said I'd lose for the past 10 years!!
  • habits that don't serve me well
  • etc., etc.
In the process of creating these lists, three things have happened.  First, I've shifted from thinking about what I should do this year  to what I genuinely want to do... a seismic shift in itself.  Second, I've already acted on a few ideas - the cruise is booked, the "studio" is underway, we've been working in the garage and...I've tossed out boxes of old journals!  All within 3 weeks!  And third, because these questions have been so helpful, I'm playing with a few of my own:
  • What do I want to learn this year?
  • What do I want to attempt?
  • What do I want to finish?
  • What do I want to celebrate?
Finally, in the process of creating these lists, I have also created some goals for 2013...after all these years, some habits do persist.  But this year, using these questions to guide my thinking, the process has been fascinating, easy and even enjoyable.  Thank you, Patti!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Gift of a New Year

It has been an interesting day - not what I had expected.  Not a typical New Year's Day.  In fact, I thought we'd be celebrating somewhere else, even had made the plans to do so.  But John has picked up a virus and I'm still hobbling a bit from the fall I took just before Thanksgiving.  We did manage to watch the Rose Bowl Parade together and were, as usual, awed by the color and the creativity, moved by a touching reunion of a young military family, impressed  by the precision of the marching bands. Then he disappeared into football games and I retreated to catch an old favorite, "Sleepless in Seattle."  A quiet day.  A tranquil day, virus included, hobbling included.

After this past year, a trying year of endless campaigning, dysfunctional bipartisanship, natural  disaster upon natural disaster, murder and mayhem, the loss of a family member - a quiet day, a day to just relax, to smile, and be reminded that people can come together safely and joyfully is a good day.  

Our holidays have, in fact, been a series of quiet days.  Reflective days.  Still affected by the tragedy in Newtown and our personal loss, and frustrated by the fiasco in Washington, our relationship, our home, and our community have become increasingly the focus of our attention.  Are we unusual,  I wonder.  Is this the silver lining in the pervasive thunder clouds of 2012?  That we can become more conscious of what's important to us.  That we can focus on nurturing and enjoying it.  That we can choose to focus our efforts on what we can impact.  That we can reject the fear and anger, the blame and insanity.  That we can hold the possibility that 2013 will be a better year, a healthier and happier year.