My friend, Maggie, has done tai chi for several years. I have seen women up early morning in the parks in China and in Thailand doing tai chi. I used to walk through Central Park on a Sturday or Sunday morning and see a group in a certain lovely clearing doing tai chi. I understood it was easy, peaceful, good for the blood pressure and quiet. This picture epitomizes my general impressions about tai chi.
So I enrolled in a tai chi class for three months at a senior center. Happily we are in a room with large windows that look out through trees to a small kettle pond -- for winter time in New England this is as "outdoor" as it gets. (To digress, kettle ponds abound on Cape Cod they occur anytime there is a depression in the land slightly lower than sea level; it naturally fills with water. Around me there are three in less than a six block radius.)
I did yoga many years. Hatha yoga, as I did it, is largely static. One assumes a posture, holds it stretching or balanced or usually both and then you move on to another. Tai chi is dynamic; the body moves most of the time -- gently, yes, but with harmony and balance and symmetry of all the body parts all the time. This is new to me. I have never had dance lessons and am not a good dancer. I am not accustomed to moving my body with the kind of awareness and deliberation needed in tai chi. The classes are a challenge to me -- quite a challenge. And that's good.
Learning new things at any age is good; learning to use the body gracefully is always good. I'm a bit sorry the teacher -- who is half the age of we seniors in the class, is not better at explaining what we should be doing. This was my fourth class and I am slowly beginning to understand what I should be doing ... not that I do it well. But I have learned to have patience with myself and my undertakings so I think I'm doing the right thing by adding this to my life at this point.
Who would-a thunk it? In my mid-70s I'm as delighted by a first week of a new semester as I ever was with school or college and I loved both school and college. Around the country there are many Academies for Lifelong Learning and even more adult education programs. Cites of all sizes have them, some are organized on a semester plan and some otherwise. Some are a bit pricy so they aren't for everyone, others are inexpensive or even free. Some are fairly academic and some are more arts and crafts. All encourage lifelong enjoyment of doing new things, keeping the gray matter churning and making new acquaintances and friends.
I came to Cape Cod four years ago knowing only my immediate family and a few of their friends. Four months later I discovered the Academy for Lifelong Learning housed at Cape Cod Community College, a 5 to 7 minute drive away. Its fees are modest, its class offerings quite varied, it is entirely volunteer, including the teachers (known as class coordinators) nearly all of whom have either been teachers at some level or have special skills they enjoy sharing (like wine appreciation or gathering and cooking local seafood). The class offerings change from semester to semester although some remain much the same for many years. For instance, I began a course in Monday with one of our most erudite and respected scholars who teachers various Shakespeare plays and yesterday I went to a poetry class which has remained much the same for about ten years. But today I will go to a class never given before about myths and lies in American history.
By now I have met many people and made new friends. I constantly meet new people. And I constantly learn new things -- which includes my personal challenge in the writing skills class I teach which is different every semester depending on the people in the class. I'm back to school this week and loving it. And I'm eager for Friday to come when I will meet my new class of writer, some returnees, some new to me or to the organization.
We are in the midst of what I believe The Old Farmers' Almanac calls a"cold snap" or "cold spell". For many parts of the world a week of temperatures that do not get above freezing is not a big deal. I realized this as I looked at photos in a National Geographic of reindeer herder children with brilliant red cheeks wearing huge coats of reindeer hide, furs side inwards. I admire the reindeer people but am very glad to live in a more temperate zone. This will end, probably some time this week. Skies have been clear and blue and a great full moon shines upon us. Lovely and wonderful as it is, I envy a friend who is headed of Barbardos in a few days.
In an abstract way I like weather but, like most people, I take weather very personally depending on how comfortable I am. In that same National Geographic is an article about the growing numbers of shamans in Mongolia. With all the climate changes, I understand people turning to traditional ways of understanding the world. Many of the shamans now practicing are women -- again, not a surprise. The magazine has a photo of a Taatsen shaman, a woman who I met briefly in Mongolia who showed our small group into her tent and pointed out her drum and talismans. When I think of those hardy, brave people in this season living in tents -- very much as the American plains Indians lived, I shiver and am in awe that in this age of cell phones and jet travel, still tribal people live in a traditional, nomadic ways. And they have wisdom that eludes us. We do not envy their hardship, but I, for one, am in awe, of their traditions. That moon shining on me in an hour or so, shone on them twenty-four or thereabouts, hours ago. Something about that is comforting but I can't define it.
I have to say that travel gives one a wonderful sense of balance. The world is huge and the more of it we can managed to see in our lifetimes, the more we realize we are all one under the light of the moon and the sun. We live in very different ways, we can barely understand one another. I am always very distressed when I talk with people who have no concept of the variety and wonder of the people who share our planet. I feel relatively certain I was merely one of a group of foreigners to that Taatsen shaman woman, but to me she was a representative of numerous groups who live very differently than I do and an indication of all I do not know about our world. I cannot be the Eurocentric thinker I find in so much of what I read in our western papers and magazines.
This is little Stella Winslow's first portrait, with her mother, Cory. To me this photo of my grand-daughter and third great-grandchild is very amazing. Stella arrived via c-section about three weeks early -- it had been a long painful day for Cory but she looks to me like she's just won the Miss America contest. Or, from a different point of view, considering the surgical look of the picture it seems the most 21st century new baby and mother picture -- could have been on a space ship on the way to another galaxy ... maybe? But then many hospitals DO seem a lot like space ships and operate a bit like alternate galaxies, I think.
As the great-grandmother I have absolutely no doubt that little Stella will some day be as beautiful as her mother and before that a cute as her two little brothers already are.
This is a new era at the Metropolitan Opera, they are doing updated productions, simulcasts and everything else they can think of to attract new audiences. I understand that but I don't always like it. I hated their new La Traviata last year. Other new productions I've liked, sometimes hated and sometimes deeply admired.
Today I saw Donizetti's Maria Stuarda which the Met has never done before for some strange reason. It is a beautiful opera, based to a large extent on Schiller' poem which posits a meeting between Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I that never happened. For me, seeing a simulcast today, this was a perfect Met experience. The sets were modern in their simplicity and did not use elaborate technial as staging several new productions have. Set and costumes were designed by the same man, costumes seemed lifted from court pictures of the period. In way, mostly thanks to Shakespeare's popularity, we are more familiar with the Elizabethan period, 500 years ago, than with many more recent historical periods. Elizabeth I is a familiar figure and so are the courtiers. Many movies have told this story of the rival queens.
Best of all, it is an opera of gorgeous bel canto music and it was sung by wonderful soloists -- all of them but Joyce Dedonnatio, especially, as Mary. Acting is now important in Met productions and the acting of the two queens in their confrontation was wonderful. In the intermission Dedonnati explained its power because "they were both right" in what they hated about one another. The second act's pre-execution scene was very long but music, singing, acting were so affecting I know i wasn't the only one in the theatre in tears. Two instances of brilliant design at the end left me, and surly the whole audience, with indellable visual memories: Mary was stripped of her severe black dress just before she mounted the scaffold to the block -- and was gowned in a brilliant red shift (Elizabeth had been in gaudy red in the opening scene), and at the end as she walked forward and lights faded, a spotlight hit the big, cruel, silver blade of the executioner's ax. This is stage craft as I expect it to be at the Met. A production I will never forget! I'm so glad simulcasts exist.
A sort of mini-film festival this week, starting with the heavy stuff -- two films made by and about Native Americans. Both showed some lack of finesse, especially the acting in Georgina Lightening's Older than America. But it and Skins by Chris Eyre were deeply affecting, honest movies, written, directed, acted by Native Americans.
Older than America had the more complex story. It was set in Wisconsin, and dealt largely with the schools to which Indian children were consigned early in the 20th century. It was made from Georgina Lightening's novel of the same name and had the plot complexity of a novel. [Also directed by her with herself in a lead role.] It included ghosts, a complex back story and a complex current day story. Although the ghost elements rev-ed up the story it reflected very honestly the horrors to which Native American children, and their families were subjected when forced into special schools -- I've read about this in both fiction and nonfiction.
Chris Ayres, Skins, was set on the derelict, shamefully neglected Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and was a cleaner, simpler story of an Indian cop and his end stage alcoholic brother and their families. It was direct, extremely moving and dealt straight forwardly with the conditions at Pine Ridge (which should make every American citizen deeply ashamed -- we talk about billions to clean up after Hurricane Sandy and do nothing year after year after year to help the Native people a Pine Ridge] The acting was more professional, the punch to the gut deeply painful. But it levened it's sadness with the gallows type humor that is typical of down and out but clinging to dignity people.
Discussions after these two movies were well meaning and displayed considerable ignorance on the part of 50 or so intelligent, concerned senior citizens. I have just read a quote and do not remember the author -- "a citizen is responsible for what he knows .... and for what he doesn't know." The citizens of America have a willful blind spot about what has been and is being done to Native Americans. It makes my heart hurt.
I have a pile of packages and letters ready to go to the post office tomorrow -- yes, letters. I do not hand write them because my handwriting is very difficult for people to read. -- Although a mini fuss has been brewing for a couple of days about the series of loops that the proposed new Secretary of the Treasury calls his signature. My writing is not that ridiculously bad -- his is so bad it appears to be an arrogant joke. Mine just appears to be speed and laziness in forming the letters that become mere squiggly lines.
I belong to an online group call Swap-bot which is really a group for people who like a variety of crafts, from traditional -- like me with quilting -- to faddy, like the craze for zentangle style doodling. And everything in between--embroidery, scrapbooking, jewelry making, artists trading cards, collage, paper crafts, on and on. Among the members of this fairly large group are people who like to write -- some write poetry, some prose. A great many like to exchange postcards and a slightly smaller group like to write letters, either with an eye to finding a pen pal or just for the joy of writing letters, and for the possibly even greater joy of getting letters in the mail. I'm in that latter group. Actually I like the writing of letters even more than receiving - selfish though that is. I love to have an opportunity to put my observations, recollections and peeves down in black and white -- not out there on Facebook to share with batches of people. I do write these blogs to share with whoever might happen upon them. But mainly I do it because I don't want to burden friends and family-- beyond what I already do--with my opinions about what I've read, seen or am mulling over.
Those are not my hands in the photo. The nails are too perfect and I don't wear blue polish. I think there will always be those who don't want to fast forward to use of all the latest gadgets but are happy to stick to old fashioned writng, old fashioned books and old fashioned home cooked food.
Coffee and chocolate -- two "indulgences" I have most days. I read various magazines and blogs and papers that like to print advice to older people about how to stay healthy. Suddenly a new wind is blowing, the stern old proscriptions against these lovely substances has turned to grudging smiles. I'm reading about the things we should have: yes, coffee and chocolate, also wine. In moderation, of course, a couple of cups of coffee -- the good caffienated kind, none of that wimpy decaffienated brown water -- and dark chocolate, just an ounce or two, but that's enough to satisfy. Also a glass of wine, occasionally even two. And nuts, those yummy little morsels that we were warned have such high calories. No pigging out, of course, but surely we at or beyond the Big 7-0 have learned some self-restraint and the lucky ones have even gained some good sense.
The frowns from the autocrats with the stats about what's good for us come when they talk about red meat -- only a little once a week. But fish two or three times. Otherwise lots of salads, fruits, veggies, whole grain cereals and bread. One of these days they're even going to admit that butter is probably better for us than all that tasteless margarine -- but not yet. So this new year the advice for living long and healthily and happily is eat, drink and be merry (but skip the burgers and roast beef. fried chicken and such) and enjoy crunchy apples and beautiful green foods -- I mean green in both the senses. Sounds good to me. Oh, and keep those feet in motion -- it's usually stuck on as an after thought as I've just done, but it should be up front and shouting loudly. MOVE IT! Walk, exercise, play active games, shovel snow, push the vacuum, etc. That's what "THEY" say. I think it works.
Responding to a suggestion that I note some of the 65 books I read last year, I looked through my list and chose a few to tell others about. Quite a few of the nonfiction books were on the craft or art of writing or history and art of quilting so I won't mention those.
A fascinating bit of unknown history: Jack Weatherford's The Secret History of the Mongol Queens. Genghis Khan's daughter and granddaughters ran his empire while he was enlarging it and after his death as well. The most powerful one was only 16 when she began her administration.
I read poetry most nights in bed, mostly anthologies, sometimes just a single poet. I enjoyed Charles Wright and Tess Gallagher this year, and read two of Garrison Keeler's collection of American poetry. The latter are accessible poems, no heavy delving for meaning, but they are not light or frivolous.
About half of what I read is fiction: here are some I enjoyed. I read half a dozen novellas by American women, of them I read before. I was glad to read Kate Chopin's The Enlightenment,
a portrait of the infantilization of upper class women in the last 1800s. Edna's rebellion was psychologically still adolescent -- we've come a long way, Baby! Thank heavens.
Long fascinated by the name Haldor Laxness (early Nobel winner from Denmark), I read Iceland's Bell and enjoyed the historical view of Denmark's enslavement of their Iceland colony, the mores, and one woman's odd life story.
I've read a lot of Mario Vargas LLosa's work (he's Peruvian and I think a Nobelist too). I discovered his saga The War at the End of the World, about a cult's uptopian settlement in the far west of Brazil and the determined destruction of it by the government.
I finally finished a book by Orhan Palmuk (A Turkish Nobelist), The White Castle. His style is a little mind numbing but the story was worth persevering. I've given up on two previous attempts. This was a out a Italian captured by the Turks and made as slave. His owner is fascinated with the science the Italian knows. It's about an exchange of personality and even place in society.
A (mere) Pulitzer winner, Steven Millhauser's Martin Dresser, was a facinatingly different American novel, about economic development of NYC at the end of turn of the 19th-20th century.
Two novels by Louise Erdrich whose work I've been reading for years: A Plague of Doves and The Antelope Wife, both mix modern Native American live and myth, magic realism and her personal cast of characters (likened to Faulkner's denisons of Yaknapatalpha Country)
As one will see, I like to read about things that are outside my own realm of experience, or I could say I like to widen my world through books whether fiction, nonfiction or poetry. I read newspapers and magazine and get many views of the world in which I lived. These are not escapist books except in that they take me to times and places I could not experience otherwise.
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!