“Magical Realism” & Aging Upward

What a great term – “magic realism,” a phrase used to described the critically & commercially successful author Isabel Allende’s writing.   It also describes what I believe about aging upward, what I saw my mother, other adults around me live every day.  Magical realism.

In fiction, magical realism is not escapist – it is engagement.   It takes us outside of the everyday experience to experience every day’s reality & our personal deeper truth.  It escorts us from where we are situated in the world to see our place in it.  Where science fiction  & fantasy often interweave the serious with escapism, magical realism is always serious, always striving to convey different experiences, perceptions, views that actually do exist, or existed at some point.  It is different from what we or our culture experiences as reality, so we can’t lump it under realism.

In the same way that Isabel uses magical realism in her writing, she brings it into her talk on living passionately, given at TED2014.  She shares stories about people who are living in our country, our world who experience LIFE in different ways, as a different reality.  The woman whose red patterned shoes announce on her feet the free spirited activist in her heart.  Sophia Loren looking the way she does at the age she is due to … spaghetti.  The old woman who saves young girls from parents selling them into slavery.  Different worlds, different experiences, different perspectives than what’s outside my door, yet they ARE real inside my head.  Magical realism.

In her stories, Isabel may interject a ghost, not to create a frisson of fear but to manifest a reality I believe but  been spooked into hiding or silence;  to show  a reality beyond anything I could experience, yet can feel through another’s eyes.

Isabel weaves just such a tale at TED, making the audience – and viewers – see her exotic world through our own eyes.  She takes the kid of twenty-five by the hand to show what being seventy-one can be, reminds the 90-year old of the richness of aging upward.

For too many years, the magical realism spun around aging was a horror story, burdened with limitation loss liability.  Isabel invites us into her life, to feel its passion, to experience it (including erotic fantasies) as if it is our own.  Then to weave our tale of magical realism, welcoming others to enter the story & help us celebrate the years!


Goosebumps – NCCA

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NCCA – the National Center for Creative Aging.  I have no memory of how the NCCA first came into my life, how I came up with the cockamamie idea that it made sense for me – at that time virtually penniless – to go to the first NCCA Conference & Leadership Exchange in D.C., but the monies were raised for the conference & transportation costs, lodgings (with friends, outside D.C., in what turned out to be challenging to access Herndon VA) was arranged, and down I went.

Will never forget sitting in the intimate, circle-in-the-round auditorium in  the Arena Stage performance space, of having it hit me for the first time that the NCCA was based 4-square on the work of Gene Cohen, a man whose book, The Creative Age, drop kicked me into seeing the WHY for the vibrant oldsters elders ancients all around me in our little hometown.

Had I researched the conference at all online, it would have been OBVIOUS,  but I apparently went down, flying blind.

So, why did I go, if I didn’t even take a moment to check out the conference schedule? I arrived with a vague idea of where the main event would take place, virtually no understanding of where the pre-conference workshop I’d signed up for was happening, basically no knowledge of what was happening.  Mind you, I got my first smart phone (yes, in 2014) immediately before it so I’d have Internet access;  alas, I hadn’t a clue how to use it, had to keep asking smartly dressed young people bustling along the sidewalks for their aid with Mapquest.

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Long walks – those I remember.  Not having a clue of the shortest route from one spot to the next.  Hadn’t thought to get familiar with the area, to actually map out where event locations, to look over the schedule.

Had never been to a conference before.  The first time I saw the program was looking at the registration materials, the day AFTER the wonderful pre-conference workshop.

My most vivid memory of the entire conference was hearing Wendy Miller introduced, realizing she was Gene’s widow, having it HIT me right between the eyes – – DUH!  ‘Creative Aging: Exploring Potential in the Second Half of Life’ screamed Gene Cohen & yet I’d missed it!!

What made me think about goosebumps I’ll forever remember?  Dipping back into the wondrous book given to all conference attendees – Creativity Matters: The Arts & Aging Toolkit.

Confession time –  Gene’s book, The Creative Age, no longer sits next to The Mature Mind on my bookshelf – lent it to someone who never returned it.  That fate will NEVER happen to Creativity Matters,  because it will NEVER leave my possession!

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Talk about goosebumps – that priceless book continues to astound me.  It is packed with priceless information & inspiration ~  looking at how creativity nurtures an abundant older age, at the value of incorporating the arts into our  life, of the profound advantage of senior centers & residences, adult-day care programs & long-term care facilities, of families & friends in seeking, offering participatory arts programs that go beyond the “arts & crafts” that so often seem the norm.  To REACH &, in reaching, to satisfy.

It was in 2014 – at the pre-conference workshop? – that I first heard “Like” (Elizabeth) Lokon, director & founder of Opening Minds Through Art, explain that with older people, especially ones facing the challenges of cognitive impairment, “simple is complex, complex is simple” – trying to to duplicate an actual image was a struggle, frustrating, but to create a beautiful abstract painting looked difficult but was simple.

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Which brings us to last month’s IAGG World Congress & the wondrous talk by Marilyn Raichle, who spoke about the enjoyment that her mother – who has Alzheimer’s – drew from painting.  Although the subjects were defined, the delightful images her mother created were deliciously abstract, showcasing the processing from the delineated start to what showed up on the page.

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Which takes me to feeling sad.  Sad that I never asked for one of of the beautiful paintings that Anne Davis Hyatt created over her closing eight years.  Like Marilyn’s mother, from one moment to the next Anne could not remember the day or the date, but she did paint evocative hillsides & rivers & skies capturing her wonder & love of the sense of it all.

That’s what I learned from the NCCA, why I continue to get goosebumps remembering that I haven’t the vaguest recollection of how we first connected – – it shouts from the rooftops the importance of helping people of all ages stay anchored in the glorious sense of living, that the arts, from painting to poetry & performance & beyond, open the way & present a path to doing what I aim to provide for all my own clients friends family – living as expansively, as fully themselves, as possible in any given moment, feeling the thrill of goosebumps at the joy of it all.

IAGG ~ let the play begin!

Deep breath – the Inernational Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics quadrennial 21st World Congress kicked off with registration today, with the full-blown program from tomorrow through Thursday.  In San Francisco!!

Blessings on the small but mighty circle of supporters whose big & small contribution$$ got me here & for the side trip to Auburn to visit my brave cousin, Bob Ripley, who’s doing all he can to have all the time he can with family & friends.  The short trip made a BIG difference I never tightening broadening deepening family relationships at a time when they matter most.

Mega thanks to the many whose best wishes, blessings & “You go, girl”!! encouragement helped power the AWEsome forces that got me here.  Never underestimate the POWer of invisible but mighty positive energies.

Put in a lot of walking today to spots that hold great memories of trips with Scott & Mom, with just Mom, solo.  Photo shoots with Sissy, Stephie & Sissette at Aquatic Park, breakfast at the Buena Vista, drinks at The Fairmont’s Tonga Room, dinner on Tiburon.  I don’t have the spare $ to indulge, but oh I can recall the playful times & the ab fab memories that helped Mom stay power-ful to the last moment of her life in this playground.

Let the mega moments that are sure to fill the IAGG begin!!

Wednesday – Powerful Play Day

Okay, am rested & revived & ready to talk about a delightfully play-filled day that modeled the sort of typical day I hope every human regularly enjoys.

John & I started out our day breakfasting with older friends at a local senior community to which we’ve developed long, deep ties over the past eight years, then moved onto a local library to pick out videos for a lunch feast & film fest with another older buddy (NOT headed out, even on a walk around the property, ’cause it is miserably hot & massively humid),  set up a movie & left my two guys watching Marilyn Jack Tony while I skedaddled over to Feast & Fancy to pick up the lunch yums, back for the lunch & the 2nd flick, grocery shopping on the way home with a blip to the post office, then left my hubster at home feeding the cats & working on a commission while I high-tailed it to Glencairn for a delightful reception in the cloisters featuring old friends & new pleasant acquaintances followed by a presentation on our local college’s IMPRESSIVE building arts program that features s summer workshops in blacksmithing, stained glass, stone carving & mosaics, home to make a totally YUM dinner, a day capped off with John’s gin & tonic (almost as famous as his coffee) & a couple of Pecan Sandies. Oh, and dashing off a teaser about the day that was so rushed as to include nary a single link nor tag.

It was a day filled with friends & engaging conversation that kept us at Rydal Park LONG past our usual adios time (lots of origin stories batted back & forth), good food (from RP’s Wed sticky buns to F&F’s decadent butterscotch cookies to Morningstar Farms’ bbq riblets with mashed potatoes & a toss of broccoli/cucumbers/roasted beets), great films (can’t beat Some Like It Hot & Swing Time), an unexpected mind soul spirit WOW, dashing off a great pre-planned supper that was super healthy & took all of 20 minutes to make & serve, savored some lovely down time with just the two of us reflecting on how the day hit all the high notes of old & new, fun & practical, a cross-section of ages, a play day for all our senses.

The high part for me was bidding our adieus to our film fest friend & having him playfully beseech us to “Stay!”  said it with a sparkle in his eyes & a lilt in his voice.  Not long ago, it would have come from the depths of a lonely, bed-stranded soul, but he knows we’ll be back tonight for an after-supper visit, we’re slipping in another extra Monday visit next week –  while he was sorry to see us go, more fun times are ahead.

He’s the beneficiary of John (even less a techie than I), having to learn how to play DVDs for the two Wednesdays.  Made my heart flutter, John reminding me he needed to learn the ins & outs of which buttons to press, which order, suggesting we log in extra time with our amigo so that he can master it rather than just try to remember what he thinks I said.  He is an ab fab life & business partner!

The primary reason for going to the event at Glencairn was because a friend – Kenneth Leap – mentioned it yesterday as we exchanged greetings waiting to order at Be Well.  I went for friendship & was blown away by how many aspects of what each of the master craftsman does fits into, embodies what inspires me & imbues my purpose of spreading the gospel of play.  In brief – from Warren (blacksmithing), that you need to strike while the iron is hot; from Claire (mosaic), that many little pieces combine into beautiful images & pictures; from Jens (stone carving), that wondrous things lie within, waiting to be released; from Kenneth (stained glass), that it’s the shading of the materials that brings out the beauty of the piece.

It was a day that modeled the ideal of variety, old friends & new ones in waiting, laughter & knowledge, great tastes & textures, expected pleasures & surprising connections.  Although every moment of it was gratis – we not only didn’t make any money, we paid for our own breakfast & treated to lunch – it’s hard to imagine a better investment of our time & energies.  Paying gigs will come in time, maybe force us to cut back on our Wednesday play dates, so we are taking great care to get as much out of this precious time as possible.  These merry moments will not come again – make the most of them.

These Wednesdays don’t make us any money, but they enrich us beyond description.

When we leave the breakfast table at Rydal Park, all of us rolling out of there feeling lighter in spirit & stronger in our sense that life is good & having friends is great ~ ~ it is priceless.

When we scour through DVDs at the Abington Library, looking for a comedy or drama balanced with a musical, when the friendly faces at return/check out ask how he liked last week’s selections, comments on the day’s selections, connecting connecting their energies with ours around his well being & happiness ~ ~ it is priceless.

When the ladies & Eric a Feast & Fancy spot us walking in, immediately shouting out greetings & setting to work making our Wednesday order – two cheddar & havarti sandwiches on wheat (John) & pumpernickel (mine) with lettuce & tomato, a thick seafood salad on white with lettuce & tomato for our dear amigo, asking about when they can expect to see him back rather than settling for take-out –  their happy, caring energies connecting with ours & are included in the order as we head out the door ~ ~ it is priceless.

When we greet the welcoming staff at our friend’s senior residence, then see his face light up the moment we hove into sight, when we feel his unbridled joy at being able to eat when HE wants, rather than having to stick to a scheduled meal time; when we hear the soft sound of his “yum….” as he bites into his thick seafood sandwich, his satisfaction at getting a bag of potato chips all to himself, his anticipation of the home-made from glorious scratch butterscotch cookies that he KNOWS will cap off the lunch spread – – to experience all that is priceless.

Perhaps it is somewhat lunatic that we spend our own limited resources doing things with & for non-clients, but we don’t do the work to which we have been loud & clear called.  We do it because it has become one of our very favorites forms of play, because we have the Universe has outfitted us (separately & together) to enter into it with all of our separate & conjoined hearts, because we derive as deep abiding pleasure from interchanges exchanges engagement – – because making that our vocation & avocation, paid or gratis, is priceless.


In the children’s (okay, all ages) classic, Alice in Wonderland, the heroine finds a bottle labeled “DRINK ME,”  decides it’s probably not poisonous, drinks every drop (it tastes of a blend of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, with overtones of hot buttered toast) all mixed up) – – and shrinks to 10″,  just the right height for that moment in time.

Found myself thinking about DRINK ME this afternoon, visiting an older friend at her senior residence.  I stopped in the open, spacious dining room to ask for a clear plastic glass so I could grab some cold water for her.  “Oh, you don’t need that, honey,” a helpful aide informed me,  “They leave a glass of water in her room at the start of every shift.”

Indeed, they do.  In fact, John & I were still there when they took out the large glass that was there  when we arrived & left a fresh one.  (We’d finished TOP HAT over lunch & were about 1/3 into AMERICAN IN PARIS.)

If we had not been there, encouraging him to drink is water, I’m pretty sure the old glass would have been almost full when it was tossed, just as I’m pretty sure the current one will just have a few swigs out of it, if any.

The water is served in a lidded Styrofoam glass, with straw.  The problem is that nothing about the white glass does anything to entice anyone to want to drink, let alone all.  This is no small matter,  as we lose our thirst mechanism – the natural desire for liquids that helps keep our bodies hydrated – as we age upward.

Dehydration is particularly nasty for oldsters elders ancients; an older friend of mine almost died twice from dehydration-related pneumonia, a client developed psychotic symptoms due to it & my own mother was SURE that she was being tossed out of our house, all due to dangerously low electrolytes, all thanks to dehydration.

Here’s a suggestion – any facility institution residence that works with oldsters elders ancients should have glasses that say, in big bold letters on both sides, “DRINK ME!”  If they leave bottles of water, stick DRINK ME labels on both sides.  Go a precious step futher – when aides take a cup or bottle away, have the record if resident finished less than 1/4. less than 1/2, less than 3/4, all.

A little extra work make such a huge difference!  Alice’s DRINK ME potion made her the right side for that moment in time.  It doesn’t take Lewis Carroll’s imagination to picture the difference having DRINK ME on the glasses & bottles we give our older loved ones, friends & care receivers, that  keeping simple records of their intake, can make in their health, welfare, happiness.