Improbable beginning – WBUR & WQED

Listening last night with my hubster to Are We There Yet?, an episode of NPR’s On Point (we are big radio fans), it hit me that two of the most influential public television stations – WBUR/Boston (where On Point originates) & WQED/Pittsburgh – are rooted in wildly improbable beginnings.  In a large-boned, effusive woman with a singular way of addressing her audience & a duck ~and~ a soft-spoken, kindly man who conversed with a king & kids.

Yes, it’s a bit of a flip from radio to television, but my mind managed it nicely, thank you.

Julia Child & Fred Rogers were beyond improbably, “Are you kidding me?” television stars.  Speaking to them at a party, the term “paradigm shifter” would probably not have crossed your mind.  Yet both were.  And both took their respective television & affiliated radio stations into BIG time broadcasting.

That touches me deeply, inspires & gives hope.  At this moment in time, I am excitedly diving into wondrous new projects, taking me in directions that have beckoned for years.  (One of the great advantages about being 66 rather than 33 & certainly younger is the ever-present thought, “If not now, when?“)

It’s a good time for me to ponder Mr. Rogers & Mrs. Child.

Consider the incomparable Julia.  Last year’s book, The Gourmands’ Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy, is a marvelous meander through post-war Paris & how a “ragtag band of passionate epicureans  (with an assist from a certain Francophile First Lady) transformed American cooking.”  Hands down, the greatest transforming factor was Julia Child, who entranced & inspired the masses to master the art of French cooking.

The current film about Fred Rogers vehemently underscores the amazing fact that this man not only had/has an astonishing impact on our American culture, but that he was successful from the very first, not in spite of, but due to his modest demeanor & soft-spoken ways.

Both Julia Child & Fred Rogers became the most super of super stars by just being themselves.  WBUR & WQED, both of which achieved fame prominence power thanks to their marquee stars, were founded on a woman & a man committed to quality integrity authenticity.

Quality integrity authenticity – as improbable as it may sound in today’s slap-dash, short shelf life, helter skelter culture, those three qualities are still the basis for genuine, long-lasting, satisfying accomplishment.

My thanks to Mr. Rogers & Mrs. Child for the well-timed reminder to carve out my own path, to set whatever it is I serve on the table with confidence & verve, telling all & sundry, “Isn’t it lovely?  It’s JUST the way I like it – dig in!”

 

Chip Conley’s “mutual mentoring” sets my heart aflutter

Even as I put out a welcome mat to Chip Conley, who promises to be a core disruptor of our current woeful culture around aging, felt a tad cautious that his Modern Elder Academy  would “boutique” the challenges & opportunities of bridging from middle age into older adulthood.  Optimism was tempered by caution.

So I dug & delved.  And became a true believe.

I love what is promised in Wisdom@Work, the making of a modern elder.  Am totally in synch with his view of olders feeling invisible by today’s youth-focused work place,  devalued & openly threatened by a forces that put us on the outside.  Chip believes the day of being redeemed & restored is at hand, that corporate power brokers recognize the folly of dismissing – figuratively & literally – crucial core sources of the humility, emotional intelligence & (gasp!) wisdom it once found woefully archaic.

Dear to my heart is his dedication to  intergenerational mentoring – both ways, with olders as both teacher & student, master & novice.  Amen & hallelujah!

For all to succeed, youngers have to open up to NOT knowing everything on the face of the Earth & olders have to open up to learning something whiz bang different than what made them successful in earlier careers.  Cross training that’s intergenerational outreach.  Gotta love it.

Over-the-moon with his term “curious learner” – – such a need on all sides for that quality.

Reading the various interviews, listening to Chip speak, am struck with how we all need to revamp expectations of mentoring, of what passes as crucial within a business model, what defines success & what’s needed to achieve it.  Take it deeper, richer, MORE.

His comments about how thirsty young professionals are for tutoring from old hands brought to mind The Intern, a film that was basically panned but which I found pretty spot on.  The 20- & early 30-somethings were hungry for what they considered the cool vibe wisdom for an old codger, who went from relic to revered.  And he got as much as he gave.

When Chip says olders have to repackage themselves – bring it on!  I’ve seen people embrace that challenge, rise to the occasion & ace the new opportunities around them, or brush it off & sink.  It’s not reinventing as much as furthering a remarkable evolution, one that reaches out in directions I never considered.

Let’s see – Chip gets involved at a incredibly young age developing successful boutique hotels, gets burned out as he approaches his fifties, sells them off at the bottom of the market, is recruited by Airbnb to lend his depth of experience to their successful but young, on all counts, business model, which he does & discovers his impression it’s a growth-minded model – leadership was as open to learning as they were to leading.

(Chip cracks me up when he notes, “Carol Dweck wrote a book Mindset long ago” – – it was published in 2007!  Eleven years is apparently an eon to him!)

How Chip describes Airbnb’s three leaders – freely admitting there’s a lot they don’t know & willing, eager to be life-long learners – describes the quality I’ve found in folks who age with enthusiasm & joy.  They are okay with not knowing everything & curious about what’s around the corner.

Still, it was his talk of “mutual mentorship” that set my heart racing.  The angels sang, trumpets sounded!

What was his example of mutual mentoring?  Airbnb connected with its most prolific users, which turned out NOT to be a pair of millennials but a 72 & 62-year old husband & wife traveling the world, staying solely at Airbnbs home.  The company promptly invited the elders in for a 10-week “senior internship program”!

And voila – Chip was taken even deeper into the importance & impact of intergenerational connections.   Deeper into the awareness of what has become Wisdom@Work & the Modern Elder Academy.

I was nervous, reading about the Modern Elder Academy.  Seemed more like a cool two weeks hanging out in a gorgeous place with beautiful people who are hardly in dire straits if they can afford the experience.  But instead of popping off, I kicked back & did my research & discovered that Chip tied his newest interest with a core strength.

This posting didn’t turn out at all how I expected when I started writing.  I was horrified that such important insights would be offered in such an exclusive setting.  It ended with me being mega impressed with the workings of Chip’s mind & its interaction with his heart, with being blown away with him tying it back to his early experience with hotels & his clear love of hospitality.

Which brings me back to mutual mentorship, which connects in my mind with Chip’s core sense of hospitality – he wants olders to feel welcome in the younger world & for them to welcome youngers to theirs.  Intergeneration symbiosis.  Deep chills & keen anticipation!

From zilch to ZOWIE!

Return with me to 2010, more or less the year it first fully hit that my life path had doubled back, taking me to one-on-one social enrichment work with olders elders ancients.

John & I discovered that the active, engaged, fun lives our mothers had experienced weren’t the norm for too many olders.  Mom M. was fully independent, except for the help John gave with heavy shopping, right up to her sudden death, at home, at 87.  My mother had her final fall hours before she was to throw a brunch down in Virginia for metro-D.C. based friends & family; five weeks later, as she was being discharged from a suburban-Philadelphia hospital for home & hospice, her doctor begged me to take one of the other patients, to leave Mom – “I know that if I’m feeling down, a visit to your mother’s room will leave me smiling.”  Oh, and she spent that last week answering e-mails from a local college’s Psych 101 students.

That was 09/2001.  Over the next 15+ years, John & I slowly discovered – to our great surprise – a gift for helping people be as fully themselves, whatever their situation or circumstance.  The challenge was finding information on helping olders connect to their creative cores.  There was LOTS of info on day-to-day functions, on diseases & cognitive impairments, on PROBLEMS associated with aging up through our 70s 80s 90s, but ZILCH on ways to support people without age-related conditions to STAY that way.

Determined to learn more, I looked to child-focused research, articles, book, because they sort of seemed somewhat close to what we sought.  And I was right!  Lots of material on engaging, connecting & growing relationship that related to both youngsters & oldies but goodies.

Over the years between our awakening  & today’s relative bonanza of books (think This Chair Rocks, Disrupt AgingEnding Ageism, or how not to shoot old people), I read countless unrelated books that somehow related directly to our goal of assuring older friends that they’re built to keep engaged energized empowered to their precious last breath, that they’ve sold themselves down the river with the myth that life after a certain age is destined by The Fates to be, at best, chronically tinged with soft lens depression.  The energies that lead me to them would lead me to The National Center for Creative Aging, to George Mason University’s Leading to Well-Being Conferences, to Positive Aging, to the IAGG World Congress – – to myself &  my full calling.

Business books were surprisingly helpful.  A lot about nurturing – in spite of perceived barriers – teams hit home.  I remember listening to some guy named Chip Conley give a TED Talk on a business model he’d developed using Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Having taught Maslow for five years to at-risk high school students – – who gave “needs” a whole new meaning to me – – it caught my eye & fired my imagination.

Some six years after hearing that TED Talk, am set a-shiver with chills & thrills – with thanks to Kari Henley – to hear that the very same Chip Conley is bringing karmic capitalism to sharp & savvy eldering in the guise of the Modern Elder.

Circle SEPTEMBER 18 on the calendar of everyone even remotely interested in living as vibrantly expansively wondrously as possible – – the date Wisdom@Work is being released!

From 2010 to 2018 – – how far attitudes about growing “O-L-D” have come, from “seniors” to seriously AWEsome.

Would say “Let the wonders begin!” – – but they already have!

From zilch to ZOWIE – and John  & I are right there, immersed in a movement no longer on the cusp but moving full throttle to fabulous.

Next For Me – Modern Elderhood (link)

Mega thanks to the great Kari Henley for introducing me to Chip Conley, which connected me to Jeff Tidwell.  Three people who personify the awareness needed to help youngers start thinking about the opportunities of aging ever upward rather!

MUCH more to follow!

 

Play as an Rx against loneliness

Am jazzed beyond imagination by an article by the great Jane Brody in today’s NY Times that lead me to an earlier opinion piece in the Boston Globe by Jeremy Noble & Michelle Williams.  Both speak directly to my current across-the-age-spectrum playfulness work.

As a society, we thrive when we are connected. Strong social bonds play a causal role in long-term health and well-being. Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health.

The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too,” said Dr. Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an ongoing research project since 1938.” 

 

As a nation – world – increasingly oppressed by a mounting wave of chronic depression anxiety unhappiness, how do we combat the two chief culprits:  loneliness & isolation?

First off, what are they?  Social isolation is defined by researchers as something with objective, measurable markers such as living alone, lacking a social network & regular ties to other people.  Loneliness is harder to measure – it’s more subjective, something we perceive & feel, a sadness over a lack of desired social connections, companionship, close connection.  Social isolation often leads to a sense of loneliness, but being alone often does NOT.

Who’s affected by the emotional fall-out of isolation & loneliness?  Over 1/3 of American adults, with another 65% reporting feeling seriously lonely some of the time.  Yikes!  Current research pegs the toxic effects of the two as matching obesity, alcohol abuse & smoking 15 cigarettes a day as health risk factors, upping the chance of an early death by a whopping 30%.  And the internet, which most people think of as a communication tool, more typically increases both – ironically, heavy use of social media more often lead away from engagement connection happiness to increased feelings of loneliness depression anxiety.

As a society, we thrive when we are connected. Strong social bonds play a causal role in long-term health and well-being. Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health.

And what combats depression loneliness isolation?  a sense of PLAY!  The too-often overlooked power & importance of PLAY is at the root of the connect creatively monthly discussion circles I’m kicking off tomorrow at Be Well, turning The Hive into a play pen as we toss around Stuart Brown’s thought that the opposite of depression is… natural PLAY!

Taking a moment to express my heartfelt thanks to & gratitude of an abundantly generous & awesomely present Universe, an invaluable partner & inspiring side kick in the work before us (aka my John et moi), for two great articles that showed up in my cosmic news feed JUST in time to include them in tomorrow night’s premiere Bodacious Building Blocks – connecting creatively  back & forth.  Was excited before, beyond zoomed now!  For a over-the-top unimaginable connection between Stuart Brown & Adam Steltzner’s JPL.  Freakishly fabulous!

“I don’t think it is too much to say that play can save your life. It certainly has salvaged mine. Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.”   ~Stuart Brown ~ 

Death loosens its spectral grip

No, am NOT getting kick backs from the NY Times for leading my readers to its articles!  Can’t be helped, with some of the best writers on living expansively issues on staff.  All hail Paula Span & John Leland, with a special place in my heart for two Janes –  Gross & Brody!

Going analog – at home – is a whole new world for me, especially on the weekends, when our local libraries cut back the amount of time someone can fritter… I mean spend on their computers.  Assigned 40 minutes yesterday, so didn’t dig deeply enough into my digital subscription to find John’s article on America’s changing attitudes toward death.  Praise be, he has a dandy short piece in today’s issue, spotted while perusing the print edition this a.m. at Be Well, my beloved café/away-from-home office.

In Sunday’s lengthier piece, John discussed attending Shatzi Weisberger’s FUN-eral.  As the 88-year old former nurse explained,  “I have been studying and learning about death and dying, and I want to tell people what I’ve learned.  Some people are coming because they love me, and some people are coming because they’re curious about what the hell it’s about.”

John was there because covering a revamped/revitalized funeral was a natural build on three years of becoming friends with & writing about a variety of seriously-old (85+) New Yorkers.

The centerpiece of the standing room only party, held in the commons room of her Upper West Side apartment?  A biodegradable cardboard coffin on which enthusiastic guests were writing greetings, from  “Go Shatzi! (but not literally)” to “Shatzi, many happy returns … as trees, as bumble bees, as many happy memories.”

At 88, Shatzi has become a prominent voice in the “positive death movement.”  My heart leapt at the description – didn’t know there was a movement to describe what I experienced seventeen years ago with Mom, three years ago with my sister Mim & even with Dad, who died in 1973 before the first wave of integrating more humanity into death & dying yet still held a remarkable attitude toward what he was experiencing rather than crumpled & devastated at the prospect of dying at 62.

Shatzi & her “Go, Death!” compadres speak to my concern that American culture finds death to be icky, a topic to be avoided rather than embraced, resulting in a silence that diminishes the lives that lead up to it. 

I think about my oldest brother.  After decades of a relatively distant relationship, they became close over the last twenty years of Mim’s life.  But he still has not seen her online memorial service – the first of its kind in our church, inspired by the unescapable fact that the best minister to capture my sister’s unusual persona was retired & living in Arizona.   I can’t understand WHY Peter has yet to see it, but he hasn’t.  Which is too bad, since it is a wonderful collaboration,  a heartfelt tribute to a creative & complex spirit.

Schatzi would understand the inspiration behind Mim’s tribute, honoring a woman who exited this world cracking up hospital staff who’d swing by for a visit if they felt down in the dumps, knowing that a patient facing death within days would make them smile at her jokes & feel awed by her “bring it on!” attitude.

More & more people feel like Ms. Weisberger, who simply got fed up with Death American-style after sitting with a dying friend who was was so terrified at the prospect of her death, “she couldn’t even talk about it…  And then she died.  So that was a problem.  We had not dealt with the issue – myself, herself and the others.

Schatzi Weisberger used her FUN-eral to educate her friends about having a positive death experience.  She showed them the burial shroud she plans to have cover her for burial (she considers cremation to be environmentally unfriendly), which she got from Amazon.  Friends have agreed to was her body, in keeping with Jewish tradition, and another will bring dry ice to preserve it before burial.  But she assured one & all that she’s in good health, good spirits, and will wait her own good time to have the good death for which she has so carefully prepared!

Schatzi Weisberger does have a final wish – “I really want to experience my dying.  I don’t want to die in a car crash or be unconscious. I want to be home, I want to be in my bed, I want to share the experience with anybody who’s interested.”   She doesn’t expect death to take her hand in a spectral grip, but with a friendly touch.

 

John Kotre nails it! “For wisdom to operate in old age…”

For wisdom to operate in old age, it must blend with the world of youth.  It must be open to the knowledge  & innovations of succeeding generations.  ~ John Kotre ~

I’ve seen what happens when olders elders ancients have regular access to a cross-section of ages with whom they are comfy cozy discussing interesting things & I’ve seen what happens with those who don’t.  It’s in no way a scientific cross-section, not even close to objective, but I’ve seen both enough times to know the wisdom of John Kotre’s words.

He went on to emphasize this is especially true with technology, where the capabilities are so vast & change is the norm.  Mom kept up-to-date through me & my friends, other older amigos keep active on tablets & smart phones thanks as much to grandchildren then their kids.  Being computer literate is the secondary blessing – the first is the connection between teacher & student and how often a session of accessing information turns into opportunities to share/glean wisdom.  Think of a generation ago, a grandmother sharing stories with as she showed how to stitch together a skirt or bake a peach pie, a grandfather spending a leisurely afternoon showing how to attach a fly to a fishing rod or use a drill.

How do we blend the generations when children live a distance?  When an older never married or has not children, no younger relatives?  What off-the-wall, out-of-the-box ideas are itching to be tried out, social experiments in nurturing, presenting, honoring wisdom waiting to be set in motion?