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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Aging Gracefully

Several years ago, I entered a writing contest sponsored by Real Simple magazine. As I recall, the assignment was to list 10 secret ways to age gracefully.

Now, I wasn’t quite sure why these ways—tips, really—were supposed to be secret. Especially as they’d be published in a national magazine.

As for gracefully, it didn’t dawn on me until I read the winning entries—I was not among them—that in this instance, gracefully could be equivalent to beautifully, well turned out, fashionably.

In other words, how can we keep our looks and our fabulous style as the birthdays and the decades pile on? "Hey, foxy lady, how can you outfox Mother Nature?"

Now, I’ve never been especially foxy, and certainly not beautiful or fashionable. Even when being courted in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s by Eddie and Philip and John and Bill, I didn’t wear much make-up, if any, and went in more for comfy than stylish clothes and shoes.

Now, in my 70’s, I realize that my definition of graceful aging reflects those life-long habits, having less to do with body and more with spirit, attitude, purpose, and, of course, good health.

So here's my rejected list, which I titled 10-not-so-secret ways to age gracefully. 

It almost wrote itself those many years ago, and now I offer it as a writing prompt to my readers. Have fun with it, and if you’d like to share any or all of your list, please email me at I may want to post some of the submissions on my blog.

1.  Be grateful.  

2.  Become a mentor.

3.  Write your family stories.

4.  Move your body. A lot. Walk, bike, swim, dance, whatever.

5.  Be grateful.

6.  Take risks, especially in love and in work (paid or unpaid).

7.  Learn a new skill or retrieve an old one: drawing, skiing, playing the piano.

8.  Stay outraged by injustice, no matter its form.

9.  Live in your body, not some idealized version thereof.

10.  Be grateful.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Compos(t)ing A Life

Because I apparently don’t have enough to read, I’ve yet another selection for my bulging bookshelves: Advice for Future Corpses (And Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying, by Sallie Tisdale.

It was reviewed in last week’s New York Times by Parul Sehgal, and, as the title suggests, is about dying. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the review:

But in its loving, fierce specificity, this book on how to die is also a blessedly saccharine-free guide for how to live. There’s a reason Buddhist monks meditate on charnel grounds, and why Cicero said the contemplation of death was the beginning of philosophy. 

OK, so not just about dying, but also living. No surprise there, I suppose.  Why even bring up death if you’re not going to eventually circle back to life.

Which puts me in mind of a quote from Henry David Thoreau in Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to diediscover that I had not lived.”

It’s the living deliberately part that I’ve tried focusing on for the past 15 or so years. And then when the dying part looms, I want to decide the where, when, and how.  This has been true for me since 1964, when I watched my mother die from breast cancer. She was 50 and I was 20. It left a lasting impression.

I had an essay published three years ago that includes a reference to that seminal event. Here’s an excerpt:

Years after my mother died, I imagined an alternative ending to her life, earnestly writing the intimate details in my personal journal. In that scenario, I, the awakened hero, steal into her hospital room in the dark of a May dawn, ease her small comatose body into my arms, then carry her out of there, into the car and home, to that particular place I know she’d have wanted to finish it: her own unassuming, but familiar backyard.

In this image, I place her carefully on terra firma, where she can lie with those things that had given her life its most elemental meaning—the garden, the flowers in bloom, maybe the dog and cat—to breathe her last. In this image, she now wears a faint smile in place of the awful death mask that covered her face on the day she actually died.

As for myself, I’d take this lovely fantasy a step further, saving anyone the bother of having to stuff my remains in a box. Because now, in this enlightened era, one can have one’s remains decompose, within certain natural areas, with or without the box.

In other words, one can opt for a green burial, an environmentally friendly way to leave our beautiful green planet, the kind of ending my nature-loving mother would have loved.

And so, not surprisingly: like mother, like daughter.


For more information on green burials:

To read the NYTG book review:

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Bull Jivin' at the CHA

The image of a bunch of oldsters staging a “die-in” in the lobby of the Chicago Housing Authority made my day. It accompanied an article written by Carlos Ballesteros in yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times, the subtitle of which was “Seniors take over CHA lobby to protest faulty elevators, demand oversight.” 

Here are the opening two paragraphs:

A vivacious* group of senior citizens occupied the Chicago Housing Authority’s downtown office lobby on Tuesday morning to protest what they say are dangerous living conditions at many of the agency’s senior homes across the city.

The action…comes two weeks after an investigation…revealed how the CHA failed to properly inspect and maintain hundreds of elevators at its public housing facilities since 2015.

In addition to the elevator problems, there was more:

The group also reiterated long-standing complaints about faulty heating and cooling systems in buildings operated by CHA and alleged retaliatory behavior against senior residents by building managers. Seniors also chastised the CHA for, as one resident put it, “putting the interests of wealthy and politically connected developers over the lives of elders.”

What resonates and rings true in that paragraph is the retaliatory behavior toward pesky residents who dare to both complain and chastise.

But, I mean, come on. You reach a certain age, guess what? You get to complain and chastise to your heart’s content. Why, in an given day, I chastise lots of people: drivers who try to run me over as I’m crossing the street; Starbucks customers who talk too damn loud on their smarty-pants phones; old men in bars who drop the “f” bomb repeatedly.

More article excerpts:

Three-dozen seniors and their allies entered the building shortly before 9:30 a.m. and plopped down on the floor, disregarding warnings from building security to leave the premises. At 9:37 a.m, the group proceeded to stage a two-minute “die-in,” followed by a rendition of the Freedom Song, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.”

Ooohhh, how I wish I would’ve been there, especially to hear that lovely and spirited song from my youth. Instead, I’ll have to settle for these two great renditions on youtube:

I also wish I’d been there to meet a fellow septuagenarian, Eugene Nelson, and hear his response to what CHA chief executive Eugene Jones, Jr. had to say:

“I’m tired of all the bulljivin’, Mr. Jones,” said Eugene Nelson, a 70-year-old resident of Flannery Apartments on North Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street. “I want to enjoy my youth — I want to be able to walk out of my building and know I’ll be all right.”

To read more of this inspiring article, click here:

 *(NOTE: It will surprise no one to learn that I emailed Mr. Ballesteros, suggesting a better word than “vivacious” to described this concerned and committed group of CHA residents. He immediately responded, and gracefully.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Living a Happy Life in Song

My newest journal writing workshop starts on Saturday at the Newberry Library. A four-week series, “The Purpose of Aging, Aging with Purpose,” filled at 15 people, and I can’t wait to meet and work with each of them. It’s thrilling whenever a new workshop finds an audience, especially one focused on this particular chapter of our lives.

In the workshop description, I describe four categories of writing prompts that we’ll use during our weekly sessions: mind, body, spirit, and story. I’ve designed each of these to help us “best define and manage our own aging process.”

Of course, much has been written about this “new” old age, and I’ve devoured many of the articles, essays, and books on the subject. One of them, from the March 4, 2018 print edition of the New York Times had particular resonance because it celebrates a passion of mine: singing. For me, all music, and particularly the kind I help make, goes on my list of spiritual experiences, and so is one of the ways I manage my own aging process.

Borrowing from online definitions of spirit/spiritual, I think of these as moments that “can be felt to be present, but cannot be seen.” They can relate or affect my “human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” Now I can’t tell you what I think the soul is, but I feel its presence whenever I sing—especially in my little church choir.

Now that choir is a long way from the 1,000+ retirees who sing in the Encore Creativity for Older Adults chorale program described in the New York Times article, but the experiences of three of them reflect my own.

Here are excerpts from “Singing Their Way Through Retirement,” by Noah Weiland:

Howard Smith, 89
“Music is life,” he said. “I know that if I keep going to rehearsals for what we’re doing this coming season, that everything will be fulfilled. It’s what I really wanted to do. I didn’t have that opportunity professionally, but I’ve had it here.”

 “Singing to me is the best medicine,” he said. “It makes you want to live a little longer.”

Tom Hoppin, 79
“We [in the chorus] are mutually dependent on one another,” he said. “There’s a sense of reliance.”

“There’s always an element of the spiritual side, in the sense that we’re living out of our own selves into a creative art.”

Tony Tambasco, 78
“We’re singing a piece now that says, ‘viva la musica,’” he said. “It’s a piece that’s very melodic. I get choked up when I’m singing it sometimes. It’s hard to even sing it because I feel like I want to tear up in the middle of it.”

The music “has an effect on mind and heart,” he said, adding, “It makes for a happy life.”

I agree, Tony, that singing’s effect on my mind and heart indeed makes for a happy life.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Blog's Story

I first started keeping a blog in July 2008, just days after my book launch. Not surprisingly, I named the blog after my book: Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories.

I’ve no idea whether the blog “drove” sales of the book, but it was fun to write, especially posts that described book promotion events. It is a milestone to have one’s first book published—and to take it on tour—so having a record of it all makes me very happy.

That first time out in Blogger Land lasted eight months, until mid-March of 2009, and I didn’t return to blogging until three years later, in the fall of 2012. When I did, I switched the focus to aging. Not surprising—again—as I was just one short year away from the big 7-0.

I called that one On the Geezer Beat, which I thought was kind of fun, my attempt to take aging less seriously, to find the humor in it. However, I got a bit of (friendly) blowback from some readers who didn't like the title, though they enjoyed the posts.

And so in the fall of 2014, I formally changed the title to For Boomers & Beyonders, which reflected both my target audience and the fact that I myself was a Beyonder. This title change also allowed me to write about aging with a broader range of voices and tones.

But no matter the title or focus, the blog format suits me as a personal essayist. And while I continue to write, submit, and publish essays in print and online markets, this weekly exercise of writing a blog has hopefully improved my writing overall. If nothing else, this regular practice has made me less fearful of the blank page, something most all writers, including the really famous ones, dread.

It also helps that many of my posts begin with or include a personal story. And how could they not? My book and workshops are all about telling our stories. It’s our stories, I believe, that connect us one to another. And so my hope is that my blog “stories” connect with those of my blog readers.

Especially around the process of aging, which, for all of us is equal parts challenging and rewarding. In other words, an adventure. A pretty darn good one, one certainly worth sharing.


NOTE: I’m thrilled to be returning to this year’s Printers Row Lit Fest, which takes place next weekend, June 9 & 10. Click here for information about the workshop I’m doing on Sunday, June 10, from 1:30 – 2:30 pm: