The Indian film, Water, by Deepa Metha [part of her trilogy that includes Earth and Fire] must have come and gone without scratching my consciousness. It was made in 2005 and nominated for a Best Foreign Film. I saw it yesterday as part of a free film series at the community college emphasizing films by or about women, of which Doris Dorree's film about which I wrote was a part.
This film is about widows forced into communal poverty and begins with a 7 year old girl who has just become a widow and is taken to live in an ashram with a very mixed society of widows. The story is deeply sad in many ways, although it was set in 1938 when laws were beginning to change and Ghandi and his followers were struggling for change -- a struggle the widows were barely aware of. The story was told in a lyrical, quiet way, the photography was very beautiful. This emphasized the feeling I had very strongly when I was in India several years ago: no matter how much poverty and want is abundantly visible, there is always striking beauty to be seen.
Little did I know when I moved here nearly two years ago that I would have available to me the amount of cultural experiences -- often free -- that I am enjoying. I think it's true almost anywhere that cultural experiences exist, but one has to watch for them, and make the effort of going to them. Only mediocrity comes to people easily via the TV and other media -- the good stuff must be sought out.
I went down to New York City this weekend, the occasion was the Empire Quilters Guild biannual show which I loved and have just written about on my other blog. I was there once last year but have now been gone for nearly two years. Changes always abound. As the Peter Pan bus [the only direct way to get there except for driving or spending a mint to fly] crawled through Harlem and then down Columbus Ave. and then 9th Ave., the changes I noticed were just a few of the ones I'm sure are everywhere.
First of all Harlem looks utterly middle class. I know that's not true of all of it but even Target has moved in, and some of the more upscale stores are there in the neighborhoods of well kept brownstones. On Columbus I saw a Brooks Brothers that was not there before but more importantly I saw a bike lane. These bike lanes are being added to many streets -- thanks to Mayor Blumberg. My friend Ellen, who is a very wonderful hostess, lives in Chelsea at the edge of the gallery area and really just steps from the expanding Highline park -- which we strolled on my previous visit -- when the weather was quite a few degrees warmer. New building abound, both residential and gallery spaces. I love, even when the wind is very nippy as it was, being on foot on the sidewalks of New York -- the variety of people sharing those sidewalks is a great pleasure and so is watching the commercial windows.
I will write in a few days about an unexpected experience that I am still digesting, I was reminded how those of us who are whatever we call ourselves "older", "senior" "been there" have long vistas of the changes that happen to people and businesses.
Meanwhile I urge anyone who reads this to click on the Purelandmountain blog in the sidebar here for an on-the-spot summary of what is happening in Japan.
I awoke to two inches of sticky new snow on the ground -- and car. It was pretty but -- jez-louise, last Saturday was the first day of spring! It disappeared by late afternoon and maybe we won't see any more.
I was out bright and early, brushing the snow off the car and on my way to take part, at the invitation of the teacher, in a sociology class at the community college. Three other senior women are also participating in two classes this week and two next week. We are vocal and thoughtful bunch with more to say, I think, than the teacher was prepared for as she went through her power point presentation about myths about aging. We all have actively thought about the aging process and are eager to dispel the myths with anecdotes and personal learnings. I watch the students who seem like pebbles in a stream of words, I have a feeling very little is penetrating, I doubt they're being enlightened. The teacher's specialty is gerontology so I don't think she had much to learn either. In short I think it's a futile exercise but perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps a few of the students will retain something if only a picture of four women over 60 who have thought about the subject.
Later in the day, in a short story class with all seniors, the subject of obituaries came up as one story was called "Obit". A very spirited exchange included some people wishing obits would show reasonably current photos of the deceased instead of ones that were obviously taken 30 or so years earlier; others felt they would prefer their own obits to have younger photos. I think I'm in the latter category. The photo on this blog, I admit, is about 15 years old and I haven't had a photo taken in most of that time that I would choose to use in its place. My favorite photo is from 1996 and I'd definitely prefer it in an obit. If I manage to live another 20 or so years, no doubt I'll look back at later photos [maybe something that will be taken in the next year or two] that will look very acceptable to me from that perspective.
She was my first and most enduring image of an ideal of feminine beauty I could never hope to equal. Nothing about me except the fact of being female ever seemed the equal of the perfection I saw in all those fan magazines I perused during my teenage years.
Then I read about the romances, the marriages and divorces, the furs and diamonds -- all of it was from a world I knew existed in some stratosphere far beyond the earthly world I inhabited. Eventually I gained enough education and experience to understand that sometimes she had an opportunity to truely follow her art, to act and act very, very well, so well that sometimes one could stop looking at that face, those eyes, those eyebrows and get lost in the booze addled Martha, or in other roles. But the magazines made me ache for her romances with the brilliant and impossible Richard and her several serious illnesses. Despite it all, she lived a relatively long life -- certainly a rich life, by which I do not mean financially although it was that too. Like millions of other life-long fans, I'm saddened by her death and will forever be glad she will live on in her films.
On Sunday I saw a delayed live broadcast of Lucia de Lammermoor from the Metropolitan opera with Natalie Dussay in a role that she had made her signature. She has the bel canto voice for it and is a fine actress. The production was costumed in an early Victorian era, the set was dark and suggestive and especially beautiful in the last scene. The stage director had added a ghost and even Lucia comes back as a ghost in the last moments. It was engrossing, beautiful and heart breaking. I love Donazetti's music which makes me feel weepy. Yesterday in my opera class we saw the Joan Sutherland production from 1983, which also has a dark set [this is a tragedy and set designers don't try to sparkle it up],the costumers were Elizabethan, therew as no ghost and Dame Joan was both a magnificent singer and a pretty good actress. Both singers' delivery of the renown "mad scene" were deeply moving and beautifully sung.
The contrast is not only set and costumes and ghosts: Dussay is a very small woman who plays vulnerability and fragility to the hilt. Dame Joan was six foot tall and hefty, there's no way she could look fragile. While the role is supposedly a very young woman of striking beauty neither had great beauty and Dussay is in her 40s, Sutherland in her 50s in this production. My head was reelling with comparisons and contrasts by yesterday evening along the magnificent music playing through my brain all evening. It was a kind of orgy of tragic beauty, I felt quite beat up at the end of the day. But in a wonderful way. I wish everyone could literally thrill to the wonder of grand opera -- it fills my experience with a wonderful richness.
I'm a little hesitant to post this because I'm sure it deserves attribution to whoever wrote it. This came to me in one of those forwards which told me this was the version of The Sound of Music song, Julie Andrews sang in October at Radio City Music Hall on the occasion of her 75th birthday celebration with proceeds going to AARP. He audience was mostly AARP members, of course and the song we all know "A Few of My Favorite Things". Here is it with apologies for non attribution to whoever revised the lyrics.
Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting, Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings, Bundles of magazines tied up in string, These are a few of my favorite things.
Cadillac's, cataracts, hearing aids and glasses, Polident, Fixodent and false teeth in glasses, Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings, These are a few of my favorite things.
When the pipes leak, When the bones creak, When the knees go bad I simply remember my favorite things, And then I don't feel so bad.
Hot tea and crumpets, and corn pads for bunions, No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions, Bathrobes and heat pads and hot meals they bring, These are a few of my favorite things.
Back pains, confused brains, and no fear of sinnin', Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin', And we won't mention our short shrunken frames, When we remember our favorite things.
When the joints ache, when the hips break, When the eyes grow dim, Then I remember the great life I've had, And then I don't feel so bad.
Aging With Grace is the assigned book for a portion of a sociology class I will be participating in over the next two weeks. The teacher of the class at the community college, has invited members of the adult learning division to come to classes and participate in discussions with her students. I have read newspapers reports about the Nun's Study for many years so the book held few surprises for me although it covered the many steps and iterations of the study which is ongoing. A great deal of valuable epidemiological and physiological information about Alzheimer's has come out of this study. The teaching nuns in several sister houses from Minneapolis to Baltimore and several cities in between, not only agreed to annual batteries of tests but they also agreed to allow their brains to be autopsied at their death. The later is the most remarkable part of the the study because evidence of Alzheimer's plaques and tangles in the brain can be correlated with the mental functioning, and, in fact with life histories because the sisterhood maintained very complete records.
What did they find? As many questions as answers. They found some brains with serious Alzheimer's evidence belonged to women who had no Alzheimer's symptoms even into their 80s and 90s, and they found women with full blown Alzheimer's symtpoms who had very little brain evidence. They found that having been read aloud to as children seemed to confer the ability to write complex sentences on their entrance essays and that those women had less disease later in life; but those also were usually the women with higher education, with multiple degrees. They did not find that any particular foods confered brain health. And much more. Dr. Snowdon writes for the layperson in this book. He points out how evidence shifts and that the many conflicting reports in general literature is rarely useful.
The only area he has apparently not considered about these women who generally live well over 70, is whether their stable and spiritual life style had an effect on both longevity and continued mental acuity. The nuns would have to be compared to a matched cohort [one thinks of the well known Framingham study] of people living "ordinary" lifes. I personally suspect their religious practices and the freedom from the complexities of typical family life are powerful factors. Most of us, of course, are not nuns and our lives have sets of emotional ups and downs their lives do not.
I will be curious not only how the teacher handles the classes but also what the students' input will be as well as what my peers' input will be. I think it is a good idea to let students interact with older people, especially if they are going to be socioogists and may well have clients who are older. As Snowdon, himself writes at the outset of the study, he was often surprised that the women belied his stereotypes of aging. There are a lot of sterotypes that need shattering.
The question for today's One Minute Writer was "If a movie were made of your life what genre would it be?" I knew immediately, it would be a documentary and it would discuss my four stages [or four lives as I think of them]. They are prototypical in Eastern philosophic thought -- although those ancients didn't really count women in their philosophies.
First was physical maturing and education, roughly to age 22. Thereafter came the nest building/procreation phase that included marriage, children, community involvement. That ended at 40. Then came a period of career/intellectual life -- largely writing plays while working to support myself, this one was about 25 years. And now I am in the fourth phase which is partly creative but also the period given to intellectual accommodation to the fact that life does not last. The period of understanding what it was about, what I accomplished [and didn't], what my life has been about and is currently about.
Like the Tibetan mandala in the illustration, I have a sense of these four divisions within the circle that is life, the circle that is the world. I have not always felt balanced, nor do I always feel that now. But when I take a long view -- when I'm asked to define a life I feel I have, in my totally individual way lived [and am living] the quadratic stages of life. If there were a documentary, my own life would be only one illustration of the many ways these four stages are lived and understood.
Standing back to take a broad view like this occasionally is very grounding and satisfying. I was at a birthday party this afternoon for someone turning 47; among the group were children and young people just starting the nest building stage. The four quadrant were represented. Of course, the subject was not discussed as it almost never is outside of formal settings. I find it comfortable to represent the oldest segment.
The world seems smaller and I pay attention to more and more of the news. I have corresponded for some months, both in an e-group and by snail mail with a woman in New Zealand who lives only a few miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that did great damage to Christchurch a couple of weeks ago. For even longer I have been reading the wonderful thoughtful blog of a man in Japan -- who fortunately lives well up a mountain. Yesterday's enormous earthquake and tsunami seemed all the more immediate because I could connect someone I've never met but whose thoughts I've enjoyed. Someone he cares a great deal for was a subject of concern as communications were impossible. Later in the evening my daughter, who lives int eh Bay Area told me that California's coastal highways were partly closed due to the warning of a counter tsunami. I've just read that they got high waves so far four people have been caught up in them but no deaths.
The so called Rim of Fire in the Pacific is unstable as has been known for a long time. The earth shifted four inches on its axis due to this newest earthquake. We live on a planet with geological forces beyond anything we can control. When one makes connections, even one-way connections, like simply reading the blog of an interesting writer, it is the nature of our natures to be concerned, to pay attention, to think about fragility and unpredictability. The corollary seems to me to be that appreciation of the positives of our own situation become more precious and treasured.
The sun is out today, after a day of rain, my little piece of the world looks beautiful and the crows are out calling to one another. The beginning of spring is a week away. For me it looks like a lovely day ... but through the scrim of news I know that in many places in the world, [e.g., Japan after the quake, Libya during it's insurrection] it is a day of despair. I've learned to balance what I will do with my small life today with what I know others must do with theirs.
Mickey Rooney's testimony about the elder abuse he has suffered may be news only to me -- since I don't see television I'm often behind. But I do read blogs and I just saw on the Sage's Play blog the information. She quotes: Rooney's emotional testimony put the issue of elder abuse on the national stage in a heartrending way. "For years I suffered silently. I didn't want to tell anybody. I couldn't muster the courage, and you have to have courage," Rooney said. "I needed help and I knew I needed it. Even when I tried to speak up, I was told to shut up and be quiet."
He told the committee, "My money was stolen from me, by someone close. My money was taken and misused. When I asked for information, I was told that I couldn't have any of my own information. I was literally left powerless." An April 5th court hearing will investigate charges Rooney is bringing against his stepson. The court filing claims that the stepson withheld food and medicine, acted intimidating and verbally abusive, and abused Rooney financially."
Rooney is 90 years old, he's a small man as we all know, but always seemed to have a lot of guts. But getting older, as they say, is not for wimps. And when there is money, there's temptation. I don't know about Rooney but a lot of actors preferred not to deal with money and had a manager. They never learned many financial basics, the successful ones always assume they'll have plenty of money.
Not many people think they will live to 90. Also many older women who always depended on their husbands' financial caretaking are very vulnerable to both financial and physical abuse. This is profoundly saddening but I am happy Rooney screwed up his courage and spoke out.
"We are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals who form relationships." David Brooks wrote this in his column in today's NYTimes and I've been pondering the difference for a few hours now. The emphasis here is not on our cherished and sometimes insecure individuality but on the fact that we are by nature social animals. We grow up in families because when we are born we cannot survive without caregivers. We are not like baby turtles who emerge from eggs laid weeks earlier and who are wholly prepared for life at the moment of our emergence.
On the basis of those social relationships in our earliest years we begin to recognize our individuality and our ability to form new relationships -- and sometimes our inability to form satisfying ones. Recent psychology about autism and about sociopaths tells us that some children are handicapped in their earliest relationships -- possibly because of an innate brain disorder. As we all know, before psychology many thought some children are simply born bad or evil. Handicapped usually means deficient in some way and a child may be born with various handicaps. We have stopped leaving those obviously handicapped children out to be devoured by wild animals as Oedipus was because he was born with a club foot.
None of this is what Brooks was writing about. I really didn't follow his financial commentary this morning, I got stopped by thinking about the many people who have trouble with adult relationship -- possibly the majority of people -- which is a sad thing to think about. The subject is a big one.
Sometimes it happens that something I read presents a question. As it did today. I don't have an answer; I have only a growing set of questions. Being a person who is not working by society's definition [although I am working by my own definition] I have time for pondering. That may even be one of the "jobs" of those of us in the upper percentages of the age groups.
I wrote about happiness recently but I'm going to write about it again. Some days ago my daughter told me she had answered a Gallup poll questionnaires about happiness and that she felt her answers may have been only partially correct as they were really off the cuff -- quick answers to quick questions. This made us wonder about the validity of the poll's results -- a question we both had anyway. Doesn't understanding of your emotional state take more than a top of the head reply to a set of questions? I have the profoundest skepticism about every sort of "epidemiological" research result -- that X% of people who drink green tea are X% healthier than drinkers of coffee, that sort of thing.
Anyway, the Sunday NYTimes had a half page of the Editorial Section on the most recent Gallup poll results about Americans and happiness. It became confusing whether the article was about "happiness" or "well being". Well being seems to be equated to family income -- usually at least $60,000 per individual per year. The map of the US with the article showed that we, here in Cape Cod, were among the most "comfortable." Duh! Those of us who live here know this is an affluent area. We know we have homeless and unemployed, we know there are social problems [like a drug-reated murder about a mile away from here last weekend]. But the people I see socially are affluent. I am about to work on my income tax statement this evening and I can see by the numbers that I am not in the affluent group -- and yet, because of circumstances I won't go into, in fact, I am affluent both financially and emotionally. Furthermore I am happy. But I am not happy because of affluence and thus I belie the conclusions of the Gallup people. I am healthy, I am a senior citizen who is at ease with the life I have lived and the life I am living. I am eager to get up every morning and do the things I have in mind to do that day. Most of them are creative expressions do not cost much money.
Frankly, I do not believe in polls. I think most of them exist for business reasons and most of those reasons have to do with commerce -- what can someone sell me. That doesn't cut much mustard with a senior, although it seems to be important to those who are younger ... but maybe not to my daughter who was only one of several million the Gallup people talked to. Happiness is a personal definition not a conglomerate of however many numbers of interviews. Ant it actually doesn't have a dollar figure attached.
Two films in two days so heavy on the effects of male testosterone I feel truly assaulted by the vicarious energy coming off the screens. Friday the documentary film class showed Murderball, a film about paraplegic men who play what they call wheelchair rugby [it looks more like mayhem on a basketball court] in international competition in the Special Olympics. The focus was the fierce competition between the US and Canadian teams. The game is fast, mean and nasty. The men are amazing to those of us who go all mushy in the middle when we think of paralysis for the rest of one's life. These guys are living more vividly and fully than 90% of their cohort. They even had a whole sequence talking about how they are still able to enjoy sex -- emphasis on "how". Some personal stories were told which were dramatic and both warm and full of challenge. It was definitely not a downer; it was saying: yes, you can have a whole life even when paralyzed, even without limbs. Lsat night's movie shown here in the community room of our apartment complex was one I missed a couple of years ago, Oliver Stone's, Wall Streett, with Michael Douglas reprising his Gordon Gecko role. Updated with the most recent Wall Street crash, there were many scenes of men on trading floors and in board rooms with the testosterone pumping and voices shouting, a beautiful and scary motorcycle race between two hotshots. The story was softened with a father-daughter conflict which left me wondering, must it always be the women with the irrational emotional ethics? And then the trendy gooeyness about the baby in utero that softens the hardest of hearts. Watching Michael Douglas was a great pleasure, so was watching Eli Wallach as a slightly daffy old geezer who hadn't lost any of his financial insight and meanness.
I think about both and simply mutter, "biology, baby!" It sells at the box office, and it's wrecked the global financial world -- ordinary Americans are poorer, and so are people in far corners of the world we don't even know exist.
Seniors are mostly absent from short stories and those in them are stereotypes -- or so I am finding. I'm taking a course in short story in which we are reading through two current books of "Best" short stories, three stories per class. We have lively discussions among the students, all over 55, most in the 65 to 75 range. Today's stories were the first so far -- after reading 12 other stories -- in which older people played important roles. One was a stories by William Trever, called by one critic, "our best short story writer." The older man in it was a cripple who could do nothing but tightly control the money spent by high live-in cousin/housekeeper [and she managed to cheat him -- and possibly murder him at the end of the story]. Not a shining example of old age.
The other was the "Valitudinarian," by Joshua Ferris, a highly acclaimed 30-something writer. The man had just retired so we assume he's about 65. He is a helpless couch potato who does nothing but complain of his health and feel sorry for himself. He has a neighbor lady who seems to have no life beyond her little yappy dog -- and later caring for our hero. The writing is broad, very witty, very clever and very broad. The plot is slender and not entirely believable. My classmates enjoyed the humor as did I when I first read it. But the guy has that slightly nasty satiric tone that I know well from writers I have met who depend upon their wit to win accolades and publications. One women called the piece a "spoof".
Both spoof and satire are attitudes of a writer who knows that he is drawing in broad strokes for the sake of humor. From all I could find about Ferris on the net, I don't believe his attitude toward his work is one of satire. I believe he was applying his wit to what he believes older people to be like -- that, in my book, is not only shallow, it is insulting and it deserves to be called ageist. I pointed this out and finally the conversation turned to the fact that older people are rare in short stories. At last someone said "we need some stories about older people."
I didn't start a revolution but in reading attitudes but I planted a seed of criticism. For this room full of seniors to accept these pictures without awareness of the messages inherent in the writing of younger people is not different from the way women accepted portraits of their gender in literature up until the 1960s when feminist studies came into academe.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!