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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:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

When What's Old Is Relative

The following five letters to the editor appeared in the May 13 issue of the New York Times. They were written in response to an essay by Pamela Druckerman, “How to Survive Your 40s,” in the May 6 issue.

What I was struck by was the age range of the letter writers—from 42 to 87--with four of the five over 50. I’m guessing there were more letters on the topic—I mean, it’s about aging, after all—and would like to think that the following more or less represent the total submitted.

Here’s a link to the original essay:

To the Editor:

In “How to Survive Your 40s” (Sunday Review, May 6), Pamela Druckerman captures the essence of being 40 with humor, acceptance and a comic sense of loss. Ask her to promise that she will write again when she’s in her 80s.

Silence on the fun of being old is nearly total, and so I weigh in. When we lose the lives we have loved, it’s time to hold the memories but find something new. I’m living in the heart of a blooming arts district, still working as a weekly movie reviewer for papers in New Jersey and Vermont and writing a memoir.

When you arm yourself with new tools that don’t require physical action, life opens again. Writing, painting, music or memoir will do it. And the best: the gift of being able to blend the rhythms of your long life with the cultural voice of each decade.

I promise Ms. Druckerman that when she’s 87, people will be calling her by her first name again, and she will be loving the perspective that only decades can bring.


To the Editor:

This is a brilliant article. I laughed and shed a tear reading it. I am turning 42 next month. I am a mom to a 9-year-old and sort of a “boss.”

I can relate to so many things Pamela Druckerman says. Visiting France is on my bucket list. I am sure that the French will call me “madame,” but I will be prepared to take it in stride :)


To the Editor:

If Pamela Druckerman thinks that it is disconcerting to be called “madame” in Paris at 40, imagine my reaction to being constantly addressed as “miss” at 87 in New Jersey.

For more than 50 years I was “ma’am,” and now everyone behaves as if he wants me to believe that he thinks that I’m 25.

The messages I’m getting are mixed: “How do you want your groceries packed, Miss? If I put more in this bag than the quart of milk and the two cans of chickpeas, it might be too heavy for you.

I suspect that the reason these grocery store clerks behave this way is that they think that I am flattered with the “miss” title. I’m not.

So Ms. Druckerman’s defensive reaction against the recognition of her age bewilders me. A woman’s 40s can be the most satisfying decade of her life, and the title “madame” is to my mind a great compliment.


To the Editor:

Do not despair, Madame. My earning power peaked at 44 until it crumbled from a corporate layoff that coincided with my having gone from being the youngest person in the room to being the oldest, like the aged-out “wunderkind” TV production company head whom Pamela Druckerman quotes in her fine eulogy for her mademoiselle years.

But after that middle-age reckoning, in my late 40s and now into my 50s, I’ve written my first book, written and directed my first film and begun teaching.

Certainly, as Ms. Druckerman notes, many of the milestones I’ve celebrated in this period have been those of my children, but I’ve also been inspired to understand how many more milestones are still possible for me to achieve.


The writer is the author of “The Man Who Couldn’t Eat,” a memoir.

To the Editor:

How to survive your 40s is for me the absolutely wrong question. More important is how you survive your 70s.

A female friend once told me that after 50 you become invisible whether you are a man or a woman.

I tested that theory once in my 50s when I interrupted a little argument at a bar in the Hamptons between a twentysomething guy and a twentysomething gal. When she walked away from the argument, I chimed in and asked the guy, “Are you really gonna let that girl get away?”

He turned to me and said, “What’s it to you, Pops?”

I was instantly cured of any fantasy that I still lived in the same world as people under 40. It became painfully clear to me that my face had indeed far outpaced my mind.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Lure of the Real

Who knows what will pop into my head while walking a tree-filled park, the trilling birds overhead? Apparently this poem by Walt Whitman.

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
By Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

I can’t recall when I first read the poem, maybe 30-ish years ago, but what struck me was Whitman’s need to know the world, particularly the natural world, through actual experience, beyond the symbols and words used to describe it.

I call it the Lure of the Real, a phrase that came to me one spring morning several years ago. I’d been sitting in the living room reading, when I “unaccountably” got up and went to the open window, to breathe in the sight and smell of flowers in the front garden.

But it’s not just the natural world that I need to experience; it’s the sights and sounds that surround me on my daily walks through the city; on buses, trains, and at the grocery store; at the public library where I go most days to write, and at my local bar where I go to watch night games and visit with the regulars.

As I’m wandering hither and yon, observing my surroundings, I notice all those people who are not, including those on their “devices.” And I often wonder if over time, they will become “tired and sick” of staring into them, scrolling endlessly through them, seemingly held hostage to the sheer number of symbols and words displayed on them.

I ask myself: What exactly is all that the lure of?

Then I wonder: Who's doing the asking? The Luddite or the Fogey? Either way, I don't want to miss one more moment of this very real, if ever shorter, life-o-mine.