While the folks in New Orleans are still celebrating Mardi Gras (today is Lundi Gras and tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, the final day of the Mardi Gras celebration) and Western Christians (mainly Catholics and Protestants) begin Lent the following day with Ash Wednesday, Orthodox Christians (like me) all over the world begin our Lenten journey today, with Clean Monday. We prepared for the launch of this season of spiritual renewal with last night’s service, “Forgiveness Vespers.” At the end of the litany of prayers, everyone present exchanged the kiss of peace, asking one another for forgiveness and responding with “God forgives and I forgive.” As we formed a line around the inside walls of the nave, exchanging hugs with our fellow parishioners, we stood together against enmity, jealousy, anger, pride, and everything else that often keeps us divided. We stood together for love, forgiveness, acceptance, and community. We did this not only for those of us present in the church last night, but for our families, our neighbors, our communities, and the world. It’s a powerful service.
Great Lent is a time for reflection and repentance, of drawing closer to God by removing some of the shackles that keep us away from Him, which is why fasting is part of the ascetic struggle. We also have many extra church services, and redouble our efforts with our personal prayers. All of this can feel overwhelming at times, and it’s often hard for me to approach it with a positive attitude. The fact that it happens as winter is slouching away and spring is arriving doesn’t help. Our non-Orthodox neighbors are outside firing up their grills and the aroma shouts “fun” while we’re fasting from meat. Spring break vacations and other events are scheduled and often conflict with the added church services. It all goes against the grain of our culture. And yet, I choose to participate, although I have in the past called my participation “Lent Lite.”
This year I’m calling my participation “Happy Lent.” I’m choosing to be happy. Matthew 6:17 instructs us to anoint our heads with oil and wash our faces when we are fasting, which pretty much means don’t make a show of it. Don’t look all sad and talk about your self-denial. I know some folks choose to go off social media during Lent, and that’s fine, but don’t tell everyone on Faceback that you’re doing it to be more spiritual. Drawing closer to God shouldn’t make us sad, and certainly shouldn’t cause us to shun the company of others, unless we have need of solitude for a period of time in order to take stock of ourselves. Even as I write these words I realize I can judge others who choose to do this, and that judging is wrong. We each have our own paths and may God bless us all in our struggle.
I just started reading two books (because I’m not sure I’m going to continue one of them) that don’t sound like “Happy Lent,” but I guess I’m searching for something. This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, a memoir by Daphne Merkin and The Dark Flood Rises, a novel by Margaret Drabble aren’t spiritual books. But they both talk about aspects of our humanness that I care deeply about—emotional health and care for the aging. I’ll post reviews if I finish either or both of them.
Meanwhile, I’m thankful today that our son was several blocks away from the nightmare that happened near his apartment in New Orleans on Saturday. A drunk driver ran his truck through a crowd at the Krewe of Endymion Mardi Gras parade injuring about thirty people. People who were celebrating life. Thankfully Jon and his friends weren’t close enough to get hurt, but the incident was jarring, so today he’s too concerned to ride his book the short two and a half miles to a friend’s house for a cookout. There are just a lot of crazy and irresponsible people in New Orleans right now, making the celebrations dangerous for those who are just finding some happiness in the festivities. May God protect him and others during these final two days.
I’m also thankful today for my first (FIVE STAR!) reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I don’t know the reviewer personally, but she asked for a copy of the book and offered to review it in a couple of newspapers and online. What a nice way to start Lent.
May God help all of us who are choosing to participate in Lent—at whatever level we are able and willing.
The waiting room at a cardiology imaging center is a microcosm of the medical world of Baby Boomers. This afternoon I spent three hours getting an echo cardiogram and a nuclear stress test. In between each phase of these tests, patients return to the “interior waiting room” (in our hospital gowns) to wait for the next part. Today the two men and four women in my group shared interesting stories and bonded in a way you wouldn’t expect strangers to bond in a three-hour period. Especially knowing that you’ll probably never see each other again. And although I was a bit anxious about having the tests done (because of an irregular EKG of unknown cause at my annual physical recently) my anxiety was lessened by the company of these men and women.
Most of us were in our sixties, although one woman must have been in her seventies since her grandchildren are in college or recent grads. But she looked so young. Sadly, her mother died of a heart attack at age 36, and she had her first one at age 40. She’s got stents in her heart, her legs, even her kidneys. Also a new-fangled pacemaker (dual chambers?) So she was used to having these tests and more (like cardiac caths). She had a beautiful smile (loved those dimples!) and was calm and cheerful all afternoon.
One of the men was nervous about whether or not he could do the treadmill test, since he had a hip replaced a couple of years ago. When he returned to the waiting room to tell us he aced it, we high-fived him like old friends.
The hot topic was the injection they give to stress your heart if you can’t do the treadmill test. My husband had this done about ten years ago and felt like he was dying—I guess he had a strong reaction to it. He claims they have quit using that drug, but I was scared to try it and was determined to do the treadmill test, although I have screws in my right ankle and haven’t done anything more stressful than the elliptical (no impact) or walking 5-6 miles a day in Paris last May, so I wasn’t sure how I would do. NO PROBLEM. Sure, my blood pressure got up to 180/something, and my pulse hit 160 (which they wanted it to) but my ankle never hurt and I wasn’t huffing and puffing too badly. More high-fives when I returned to the waiting room.
A 62-year-old black woman who looked ten years older and was too impaired to do a treadmill test was also anxious about the injection. She also has a pacemaker. The last time she had it she got nauseated and threw up, feeling like her heart was leaping out of her chest. Today’s experience for her was much milder, thank God. They must have changed the chemical they use.
The other gentleman also has metal in his foot and leg (like me) from falling out of a hunting blind and wasn’t sure he could do the treadmill. Another ace. Another high-five.
The last woman in our group was a bit overweight and unable to do the treadmill, but she weathered the injection fairly well, telling us that her blood pressure bottomed out and they had to deal with that, but otherwise, no problem.
I left three hours later greatly relieved (and feeling healthier than others in the group) although I won’t know what’s causing the irregular EKGs until some time next week. I’m always more anxious about the tests themselves than the results (I know that’s irrational but I’m a wimp) so for now I’m just glad this part is over. Next up? A colonoscopy this June. I’m three years overdue and finally getting my courage up. (I have done the FIT test every year for the past few years.) I’ve heard they’ve made the prep much easier (I threw up doing the prep last time, which was 13 years ago) so I’m getting ready to schedule this for early this summer. I don’t think the recovery room at the GI Center will be nearly as much fun….
In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.
At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:
Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….
So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:
The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.
Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!
Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management. So how do I move forward?
Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.
I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!
Turner Classic Movie channel is playing old Oscar-winning movies leading up to this year’s Academy Awards. I’ve been recording some of them to watch, and this weekend I watched “Goodbye Mr. Chips” with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. I had never seen it and really enjoyed it. And I haven’t been able to get the theme song out of my head… I keep humming it and singing it over and over. Here’s a video showing the boys at the school where “Mr. Chips” teaches singing it in assembly, when Mr. Chip’s wife bursts forth enthusiastically to join them. And here are the lyrics:
Fill the World With Love
In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through
In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through
In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only God can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?
It’s not just the music that has captivated me; it’s the words. They reflect thoughts that have guided me for the past year or more as I put together the anthology, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, which releases on March 1. The essays in this collection reflect on the various stages of life—not only the “first and second halves” but all the in-betweens. Kind of like this song:
In the morning of my life… when the world is new, I ask God to help me be brave and strong and true, and to fill the world with love.
In the noontime of my life… I ask God for the same blessings.
And finally, in the evening of my life… I ask God if I have been those things—have I been brave and strong and true? Have I filled the world with love my whole life through? I think I may be somewhere between the noontime and the evening of my life. Maybe I’m in the afternoon?
This song from 1969—the year I graduated from high school—is a wonderful anthem for people of all ages and in all stages of life. If only we would all have it as our goal to fill the world with love. Or at least our marriages, families, neighbors, and communities.
Since my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, is coming out soon (release date is January 31!) and I have numerous events at which I’ll be reading and discussing the book in the coming months, I’ve begun preparing for those events a bit. I’ve chosen which excerpts from the book I might like to read at various events, but I’ve also been thinking about how much is NOT included in the book. About the questions I might be asked during discussion times—including questions for which I might not have answers.
To that end, I’ve created a list of books I DID NOT WRITE about Alzheimer’s, which might serve as resources for those wanting to read/learn more. I’m going to print the list off and give out copies at readings. This is a very short list. If you Google the topic, you’ll find dozens, possibly hundreds of other books and articles. And while you might wonder why I have not read more widely on the subject, all I can see is that I was too busy living the very personal journey with my mother.
Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius
The Living End: A Memoir of Forgiving and Forgetting by Robert Leleux
Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me (an illustrated/graphic memoir) by Sarah Leavitt
Still Alice by Lisa Genova (movie starring Julianne Moore) “Alice” is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s….
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (New York Times bestseller about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia.)
Families Caregiving for an Aging America
Follow this link to purchase the report or download a free (PDF) copy of the report:
The books on my short list aren’t included in other lists I found online, like these (for those who want to read more widely):
I’m reading my fourth and fifth books of 2017 simultaneously, as I often do. Especially when they’re so different. That way I have choices: which book to read with my morning coffee? What am I in the mood for with a cocktail in the evening? Which one will I take to bed with me?
One of my current reads is Angela Doll Carlson’s Garden in the East: the Spiritual Life of the Body. Two years ago I reviewed another of Carlson’s books, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. There was so much I could relate to in that book, so I was excited to see her book on the body. See, I’m a bit obsessed with my body. Always have been. Maybe because of my childhood sexual abuse. Maybe because my mother always told me I was fat. Maybe because I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the beauty queens on the Ole Miss campus when I was a student there in 1969-70. If you’ve been reading my blog very much, you know that I always struggle with weight. I worked so hard to lose 17 pounds in the last few months of 2015 and early months of 2016, only to gain back most of it last summer. I’ve been stuck with it ever since, and it sends me into bouts of depression and self-loathing on a regular basis. Not to mention the discomfort of my clothes not fitting. I don’t know what I’d do without my extra large yoga pants.
This morning I went to my annual physical exam—my first since turning 65. I am so grateful for my wonderful internist. She’s (1) smart, (2) communicative, (3) energetic, and (4) non-judgmental. I bubbled over with an apology for the weight gain before she could even bring it up, and she made no comment at all. No lecture. She knows that I will do something about it when I can. Or I won’t. But her words won’t make a difference.
But Angela Carlson’s might. Using the metaphor of our body as a garden, she writes about the importance—and the joy—of tending that garden. Of loving it. These words remind me of how I feel when I remember that I could be dead or paralyzed after my wreck in 2013, which left me with pretty continuous aches and pains (broken neck, leg, and ankle, all full of permanent hardware):
In my best moments, I am grateful to be walking around, upright and active. In those moments, I am not noticing the forward jut of my head, misaligned form age and bad postural habits built up over time. I am not worried about the creaking of my knees or my elbows. In my best moments, I am thinking about deep issues like world peace and schoolyard bullies and what’s for dinner.
Oh how I love those moments when I am not obsessing over my body! For me, those “best moments” usually involve writing, editing, reading, or watching an excellent movie or television drama. Sometimes they involve music. Or taking in the beauty of a spectacular sunset, at the Mississippi River (three blocks from my house) or a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I can easily pour out my love and appreciation for these things and places that bring me joy. So why can’t I express that same love for my body, my garden I’ve been given to tend? Carlson says:
This body is a garden and it is mine. I am responsible for its care. I am responsible for the words I use when I describe it, even to myself, even when I’m alone.
Carlson continues the garden metaphor, even laying out for us parallels involving loving and caring for both, which includes the way we speak to our garden. I’ve never been much into growing things, and I’ve certainly never spoken to my plants. But I used to talk to my cat all the time. And the tone in my voice told her she was loved, just as the tone in our voices sends a positive message to our children, our spouses, our friends. So how should we speak to our bodies? Carlson says we should tell our body that we love it. That it is good and strong and beautiful—an amazing mystery created by God and given to us to cradle our spirits and allow our souls to grow and be happy and at peace.
Maybe if I learn to talk to my body, I’ll eventually learn to love it. Or at least not to hate it.
It’s been almost six months since my mother’s death on May 24. I wrote about my grief process back in July initially, and then again in August. Both of those posts included reflections on the series of booklets by Kenneth C. Haugk, Journeying through Grief. This week I received the third of the four books in the series, from Mary Lewis, the Stephen Minister and Grief Ministry Coordinator at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi—the church my parents helped establish in the 1950s. The church in which I was confirmed as a communing member when I was twelve. The church in which I was married in 1970.
This third booklet is titled Finding Hope and Healing. I found two sections to be especially helpful. The first is “Talking Is Healing.” Haugk encourages those of us who have lost a loved one to talk about it—to share our feelings:
Talking is healing. Talking helps you locate your pain, bring it to the surface, and let it go. And because your grief doesn’t suddenly go away, the pain recurs, and you need to talk about it again an again and again. That’s why grieving people need to talk about the same feeling or memory over and over.
I remember one night a few weeks ago when I was a bit depressed and my husband asked me what was wrong. I simply answered, “My mother died.” He smiled gently and embraced me, making himself available for my words. Talking helps. And for a writer, that often means writing. It’s almost ironic that just before my mother died I finished writing a book about my years of caregiving with her. Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s will be published in February. But this summer I read all the way through the manuscript again, not only proof-reading for errors but also letting my words into places where my heart needed healing. I read parts of it aloud, which felt like sharing those words with a friend, or maybe with the little girl inside who had lost her mother to Alzheimer’s years ago—the little girl who had always been grieving for a different kind of mother, for one who could love her unconditionally.
Another section in the booklet spoke to me—“Letting Go of Guilt.” I’m sure my feelings of guilt are shared by everyone who has ever been the caregiver for an aging parent. It’s that feeling that you can never do enough—that you could have been a better daughter. One thing that I found helpful in this section was this:
View your guilt as someone else might. It may be helpful to look at yourself as if you were a third person. You may see how unrealistic your expectations are. If you wouldn’t blame another person, why are you blaming yourself? If you’d have compassion on another person who is grieving, why wouldn’t you have compassion on yourself?
I actually experienced this from real, living “third persons”—close friends who reminded me not to blame myself. Friends and family who told me that I had been a good daughter. That what I had done was enough. Again, Haugk says:
Remember the good that you did…. Take a fresh look at your relationship with your loved one and recognize the good things you did as well. Commend yourself for those.
One of my favorite memories of “good things I did with Mom” is from six years ago. I wrote about it here: “Coloring Violets With Effie.” Mother was very artistic, but I couldn’t get her to draw or paint in her latter years. So I took a coloring book and crayons to the nursing home and we colored together. At first she was shy about it—perhaps she was thinking it was childish. But once she got into it with me, she started remembering things she loved and talking about them—her favorite color (purple); how much she loved flowers and making flower arrangements. It was one of my favorite visits with my mother.
So today I’m again thankful to the folks with the Stephen Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson for this gift, and I look forward to the fourth and final booklet in the series when they send it. What a blessing for my grieving heart, which is healing.
My book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, will be out in February. I’ve been researching ideas for marketing, and I’m especially interested in speaking to groups who have a special interest in Alzheimer’s, like caregivers.
My husband, who is a physician, just sent me this link to a report called “Families Caring for an Aging America,” from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (from September 13). The report was written by Richard Schulz and Jill Eden, Editors; Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults; Board on Health Care Services; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Here’s a summery of the report from the National Academies:
At least 17.7 million individuals in the United States are providing care and support to an older parent, spouse, friend, or neighbor who needs help because of a limitation in their physical, mental, or cognitive functioning. The circumstances of individual caregivers are extremely varied. They may live with, nearby, or far away from the person receiving care. The care they provide may be episodic, daily, occasional, or of short or long duration. The caregiver may help with household tasks or self-care activities, such as getting in and out of bed, bathing, dressing, eating, or toileting, or may provide complex medical care tasks, such as managing medications and giving injections. The older adult may have dementia and require a caregiver’s constant supervision. Or, the caregiver may be responsible for all of these activities. With support from 15 sponsors, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened an expert committee to examine what is known about the nation’s family caregivers of older adults and to recommend policies to address their needs and help to minimize the barriers they encounter in acting on behalf of an older adult. The resulting report, Families Caring for an Aging America, provides an overview of the prevalence and nature of family caregiving of older adults as well as its personal impact on caregivers’ health, economic security, and overall well-being. The report also examines the available evidence on the effectiveness of programs and interventions designed to support family caregivers. It concludes with recommendations for developing a national strategy to effectively engage and support them.
On the one hand, it’s sad that we need a national strategy to support caregivers—which speaks to the fact that so many people are living longer and therefore need help, whether they have Alzheimer’s or other issues. On the other hand, I’m glad to see the National Academies focusing on developing the support so many caregivers need now, and will continue to need in the future.
In Appendix G of the report, “Caregiving Stories,” one daughter expresses frustration about issues similar to what I faced when Mom broke her hip:
I am so angry that my head might explode. At about 5:30, I was handed a bunch of papers by the head of the rehab department at the hospital where my mom has started physical therapy. We all thought this was a great idea. But apparently her Medigap policy denied this coverage. I have requested a ‘fast track’ appeal. She has already started the rehab work 2x a day. I hope they keep going with the treatment while this nightmare unfolds. I hate this.
And later, the same daughter deals with her mother’s risk of falling since she ignores the alarm on her bed and wheelchair (which I also went through with my mother):
Mom did well in physical therapy, on her second day. She walked up and down the hall with a walker, according to her roommate, a former home health aide herself. I have one question. She keeps getting up out of bed, even though her bed and wheelchair are alarmed. The alarms don’t phase her. It doesn’t seem to stick when she is told to stay in bed, or not to stand up…. The staff come in to help, but a momentary delay could produce another fall (god forbid) …
I’m so glad this report is coming out, and hope that it will be helpful to many people. My mother’s journey is over (she died in May) but millions of others can benefit, and I can’t help but wonder if I—and other caregivers—will be the on the receiving end of this care one day.
A few weeks ago I got a comment on my blog that said something like, “It’s great to see older people blogging.” Needless to say, I didn’t allow it to be published on my site. Instead I allowed myself to be slightly offended—why did this person think I am old? Does he know I’m only 65? Does he think 65 is old? Has he seen my picture and thinks I’m a curmudgeonly grandmother-type? Hmmph!
And then yesterday I read Barbara Cawthorne Crafton’s “Almost-Daily eMo” from The Geranium Farm. Although the piece was talking about an image of the Mother of God and Christ with angels, St. Francis was in the corner of the picture, and she focused on his appearance. From that she morphed into why she was having a new picture made of herself, and why we care what someone looks like—or why we want to know what someone looks like.
We really want to know what people look like. Radio announcers—you have a vision of them in your imagination, and it can be disconcerting meeting them in person. Some people only SOUND tall, dark and handsome.
Authors, too: we think we know who they are because we have read their words. We picture them in our minds, and when we see photographs of them, we’re slightly shocked. She sounds so sexy and gorgeous. How can she look like my grandmother?
One answer to this, of course, is that you may have seriously underestimated your grandmother. And the other is that the mind itself is beautiful, and far more potent in its beauty than anything the body can summon. Young people receive this news with minimal interest, but older folks are counting on it.
Yes, I want to be considered sexy and gorgeous, and I think that my grandmother (my mother’s mother) was beautiful, and my mother—who died at 88 this past May—was gorgeous, even as a great-grandmother. I paid good money for a professional photographer to capture my best look for my author photo (which I use as a profile photo on Facebook) and I carefully screen and crop any photos before posting them. I guess I’m pretty vain, but growing up as a woman in the South teaches us to always put our best face forward. (I love the title of Southern author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson’s book, Suck In Your Stomach and Put Some Color On!)
There’s nothing wrong with caring about our physical appearance, so long as we care more about what’s on the inside. And so long as we spend as much time and energy cultivating generative lives—reaching out to others and being active in our creative lives—as we spend on our physical bodies. I think this becomes more prominent in our thinking as we get older, which is one reason I decided to put together the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (coming from Mercer University Press in March, 2017).
Now that I’ve discovered Crafton’s Almost-Daily eMos, I’ve become a fan of her writing. I just ordered her book, The Courage to Grow Old (Moorehouse Publishing, 2014). As I consider what she might have to share, I glance over at the books on the turntable beside my “reading chair,” and I remember discovering—about this time two years ago—Nicholas Delbanco’s wonderful book, Lastingness: The Art of Old Age. And then I re-read my blog post about the book, “Tribal Elders and a Hopeful Genre,” and I’m delighted to see my progress since then! I was still plugging away on my novel (a six-year work in progress for which I now have a contract pending… more on that soon!) and I hadn’t even conceived of Tangles and Plaques or A Second Blooming, my two books coming out in January and March of 2017! I wrote about my sadness at not having achieved my goal of publishing a book by age 60… and now I’ll have two books by 65. Just barely, as I’ll turn 66 on March 8.
If it sounds like I’m rambling now, that’s because I am. What started as a post about physical appearance has morphed into an emotional outpouring from my “old” soul. So, if the reader who commented that he was glad to see older folks blogging is still reading my blog, please forgive me for not publishing your comment. Send me another comment, and I’ll try to be less defensive. Today this old blogger is feeling thankful to be doing what I love. Thanks for reading!
My husband recently sent me this link to a fascinating article in MedScape: “From Jazz Bass to Impressionism: How Brain Disorders Influence Art.” He knows I’m a big fan of abstract expressionism—especially artists like Willem de Kooning (and his wife, Elaine, who is actually one of the three main characters in my novel, Cherry Bomb)—and that I’m always fascinated by connections between mental health/illness and creativity. (De Kooning is one of the creatives discussed in the article.)
In the introductory paragraph, the author John Watson explains his reason for delving into this “collection of painters, writers, and musicians whose neurologic conditions informed, and sometimes interrupted, their life’s work.” Watson believes these observations “can help achieve one of art’s greatest objectives—to shine a light on human experience at the very place it is created, understood, and expressed: our brains.”
Of course I was most fascinated by Watson’s evaluation of Willem de Kooning’s later works, which he excelled at for several years after he was unable to perform routine daily tasks due to Alzheimer’s disease. de Kooning and his works were evaluated by clinicians, who were astounded at the complexity of the work he did fairly late into the disease process, saying “his productivity may indicate the preservation of the artist’s working, procedural, and episodic memory, and other neurologic underpinnings crucial to seeing out artistic concepts.”
The preservation of his procedural and episodic memory well into Alzheimer’s disease? This reminds me of the importance of keeping things like music and art available to Alzheimer’s patients as much as possible, which I wrote about in this post in January of 2015, “Alive Inside.”
Watson also explored literature, citing Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “searching depictions of individuals facing stark moral crises in otherwise unjust societies are regarded as foundational texts to the fields of psychoanalysis and existential philosophy.” Dostoevsky suffered from epilepsy. Watson’s research showed that “modern imaging attributes ecstatic auras to activation of the anterior insular cortex.” Another mental health issue possibly resulting in creative genius.
The article shares insights into the struggles and creative successes of a dozen artists, including:
Frida Kahlo—spinal injury and related neurologic disorders;
Woodie Guthrie—paranoid schizophrenia;
Chuck Close (contemporary American painter)—dyslexia and prosopagnosia (face blindness);
Stevie Wonder—colored music synesthesia;
Friedrich Nietzsche—oscillation between euphoria and deep depression, possibly caused by syphilis;
Lovis Corinth (German impressionist painter)—right hemispheric stroke;
Charles Mingus (bass player)—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis;
Charles “Buddy” Bolden (jazz cornet player)—alcohol dependency and schizophrenia;
Vincent van Gogh—more than 30 retrospective diagnoses.
I was fascinated by every reflection. If you’re interested, just click on this link and scan through to the artists that interest you and read the short stories about what they suffered and what they shared with the world.