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.

Ignition, Take Off

Yikes!  Launch Day has arrived!  Am still a total novice at WordPress, but decided to let my rocket take off, even if in very primitive shape & stage.

Am very much partnering in this endeavor – as I do in all my work with older friends – with all the awesome oldsters elders ancients whose paths I’ve been blessed to cross.  First & foremost, my mother, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart.

Friends & pleasant acquaintances would often say to me, “Well, I’d have my mother live with me, too, if we got along as well as the two of you.”

The reality is that we did NOT mesh well.  Among our many challenges, was our similar dissimilar natures:   we were ALIKE in very visible ways – love of family & friends, love of church school community, love of a good party & always ready for a celebration, BUT when it came to things that lead to peace in the home – how we defined family, what we expected from ourselves & others, how we interpreted the similar terms we used – we were poles apart.  It was difficult, challenging & I came darn close once to a breakdown, BUT WE MADE IT WORK.

My deep personal belief about families – we are created to be tribal.  Sadly, it feels like everything in our current culture works against that, leaves us separated, not receiving the support we are meant to be giving & getting across the ages.  It’s not meant to be easy – it’s meant to draw all of us closer to wisdom.

What a forever blessing that John & I were able to pair up to give both of our mothers the sort of aging upward that suited them best.  My O Best Beloved & I were as well-suited for providing care & support to our long-widowed mothers as we are for doing the same with each other.   FYI ~ you can’t plan for that sort of connection, like there is some secret sauce that will cook up the sort of connect that made it possible to pamper the Moms;  we both acknowledge it’s in Greater Hands than ours.  (My not-organized-religion hubster blew my socks off when he told me, “You didn’t plan this & I didn’t plan this, but SOMEONE planned it!!”)  Praise be, we knew at the time it was a blessing, never ever took it for granted, never forgot to say & offer up our thanks.

Since Mom is my most active, albeit in Other Realms, partner, am sharing this launch post with her.

Background:  Mom became active on the internet in the late 1990s.   She started because there was a lively discussion taking place in our church organization, with Mom agreeing with points held by very different camps.  Born at the very tag end of the Gilded Age, she was pretty daunted by computers but she really really really wanted to be part of the to & fro.  So, since the computer studio was right next door to her bedroom, Mom would haul a chair into the room, sit next to me & dictate as I transcribed.  As she would say, “It war a pleasure!” to help.  Mom was open to accessing the wonders of the internet because she’d gone through major MEGA changes since 11/97 & going online; connecting with scores of women & men of all ages who thought she was absolutely the cat’s pajamas, took her stunning evolution zooming into the stratosphere!

The following is an article Mom wrote in 2000 – at 90! – for an alumni journal.  It cobbles together a bunch of e-mails she wrote to a devoted & ever-growing dist list (her version of blogging, which was still basically unknown – she would have taken to it like a duck to water).  Enjoy!

 

THE VELVETEEN GRAMMIE

Margery Williams’  classic story, The Velveteen Rabbit+, includes an exchange  between two nursery toys, the Skin Horse and the Rabbit, who has asked the horse, “What is REAL?”  The Rabbit wants to know if it happens all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit.  

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t  happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your fur has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and  very shabby.  But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real  you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

 I relate to that passage.  I turned 90 in May.  As the years tick by and  my fixtures and fittings become unglued and the “fur” is loved off, a  stronger sense of being Real has moved forward.

 It’s said that timing is everything.  The issue of aging is no  different.  From the  mid-1960s to recently, the culture in the USA did not  give much value to older people.  The times today are a’changing as the  generation of revolutionaries who declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” now  find themselves eligible for AARP* membership.  I have found that the voice of wisdom is increasingly sought out by a generation that has no intention of becoming invisible or going softly into that goodnight.

When I was a young whippersnapper of 50 and 60, I did not think much about  what life would be like if I lived to be a ripe old age.  If I had, it would  have fallen short of the mark, nowhere near what my experience has been,  especially as I tripped the “old”ometer into my nineties.

 A favorite saying of mine for many moons is “Old age ain’t for sissies.”   Actually, managing to get to 90 relatively sound of heart, mind and body (or  any one or more of those three) indicates some grit.  As I inch closer toward  triple digits, being old has gotten a lot easier.  Somewhere around my late  80s, I began to see the humor and humanity more in things, to take upsets  less personally and put them more easily into perspective.

Looking back, the toughest years were when my energies were beginning to flag  and my body started slowing down.  The proprium – sense of self –  feels  threatened  as it becomes clear that an individual is far more than just the  sum of physical parts. To get to the light, we have to work through the  darkness.  Moving out of that hanging-on state to one of accepting that the  body is a temporary shelter designed to house our eternal soul could be  compared to moving out of darkness and confusion toward lightness and the  light.  Ideally, the concepts of physical being, of time and relationships,  are liberated as we get older and older.

 My own awareness shifted when I suffered a small stroke late last September.

That small stroke speeded up the process.  My mind feels strong, my spirit  feels strong.  As my body continues to head south, it no longer has the  energy  to kick up a fuss about being temporary or to even try to fake being  permanent.  My feet drag somewhat and I move a lot more slowly than I did,  but most days my spirit soars,  making itself felt more and more.

Just as little children look at their parents as really old, not-so-young  people can see their own parents as shutting down as we age, gong into some  sort of benign hibernation  It is true that nature brings us, willingly or  not, into more meditative states and slower tempos.  Am I bored to tears  sitting in the big chair in the living room or in my soothing rocking chair?   No, it is surprisingly rewarding.  The problem is that young kids – looking  through the eyes of a still preening self – feel sad and think, “How dull her  life must be.”  Too many Ancient and near-Ancient Ones fall for that line.  Truth be told, growth keeps right on going, ideally right out of the ceilings  of our cramped opinion. This old biddy believes that the Lord intends us to live fully – whatever our physical or mental condition – right up to the  moment we traipse across the threshold of our spiritual home.

 For whatever reason, growing feeble, infirm and even forgetful is part of the  Lord’s grand scheme.  As I  edge closer toward triple digits, it is easier to  let go of timebound prejudices and expectations.  Many women of my generation  anchored our identities on others,. those we took care of and nourished.  Personally, I balked at sparing time or energy to think and act for myself.  Luckily, I had taken some proactive strides toward becoming more aware well  before the stroke.

Today. my body constantly clues me in that it is merely temporary.  It is  breaking down.  That is in the order of things, however rotten it is to  experience.  I take two strong pain pills a day and I have excellent and open  doctors.  I live in a supportive household with two “youngsters” who love me.  My daughter badgered and brow beat me to think for myself rather than  constantly trying to mirror back what I thought she or others wanted me to  say or do.  She was the burr under my saddle for change, but the catalyst was  my son-in-law, who is remarkably gifted in the ways of healthy communication.

My online “family” brings unexpected and incalculable blessings, fulfilling  in this life the promise that “with thought brings presence,”  all at the click of a mouse.

It is not all “beer and skittles” – there are rough patches. The changes  that come   with old age are scary, especially changes in life roles.  I have  not enjoyed the hands-on role of wife for over 26 years.  At ninety, I cannot  even manage the role I played as a parent.  The resources just are not there.    I cannot provide massive emotional or even minor financial support.   I  cannot wash a floor or do the grocery shopping or even dust my own room. (I   can still shell hard boiled eggs and clean mushrooms!)   Changing roles and  changing identities can be rough, especially on children, no matter how old  they are.  Imagine the upset at finding that good old Mom is not what she  used to be.  That discovery could make even an adult feel like a kid lost at the department store.

Whoever is ME is changing so fast it is hard to keep up at times.  It feels  like more is bubbling up to the surface than ever before – well, since I fell  in love, married and became a mom for the first time.  As I write this in July, we are even thinking about putting together my very own web site, which  seems … well, I do not know what it seems, but it does.  Talk about “the times today are a’changing”  ~ I would not have dreamt that I would set foot  anywhere near a meeting of people considering the role of women within the General Church, but there I was on July 8, feeling right at home, sitting  front and center, and enjoying it immensely.

Of course, there is the fear of dependency.  In January, I was diagnosed  with acute degenerative arthritis of the right shoulder.  Nothing can be done  to alleviate the condition.  It will get progressively worse and worse.  Luckily, aside from the pain, the only effect at the moment is that I cannot  get out of bed without a helping hand.  Still, instead of being a custodial  parent, I am the one needing care.  That took me down a peg at first, but  dependency has turned out to have unique blessings.  A passage from the book  Still Here ++ expresses my experience over the past year  – “When there is  true surrender and service between people, the roles of helper and helped,  and the boundaries between those in power and those who are powerless, begin  to dissolve.”  That has been my experience with my daughter and son-in-law and with, it seems, most of the other people in my life – the old limiting  boundaries have begun to dissolve.

Lots of things I loved to do are just memories.  Instead of gearing up into  depression over what is no longer, I find it simpler to shift perspective.  Picture going to a favorite restaurant and ordering a favorite dish, only to  told it is no longer on the menu.   There are two choices – get in a funk  over what is not availabIe or grab the opportunity to check over the menu for something new.  My personal menu of possibilities seems like one of the  oversized diner menus.  There are many things that my physical condition  keep me from doing, but there are a lot of new experiences just waiting to be  given a whirl.  On the physical level, life stinks.  On almost every other  level – emotional, mental, spiritual –  the world is my oyster and every  month has an R!

 A friend urged me to write about old age and make all the younger folks  envious of us Ancients.  Growing old, even some of the sadder aspects of it,  is part of the Lord’s grand scheme.  Let go of time-bound prejudices and fears  of growing older.  Marianne Williamson says that to get to the light, a  person has to work through the darkness.    In middle and early old age, life  can seem dark and scary as we move out of the familiar into the unknown.   Work through it toward the light. 

A key lesson learned over the past few years is that even unhappy events can  bring unexpected opportunites.  Going back to Margery Williams book, if the Boy had not gotten sick, if the beloved but germ-infested Rabbit was not doomed to be burned, if he had not been able to wriggle a bit to get out the sack,  if great sadness had not caused a real tear to trickle down his shabby velvet nose, the Rabbit would  not have come at that time into the fullness of being REAL.   

You could say my eyes come close to dropping off (cataract surgery is scheduled this fall) and my physical appearance is certainly getting  shabbier.  Take heart!  This Velveteen Grammie holds the happy hope of one  day being reunited with her O! Best Beloved and – together – seeing the REAL light.

 

 +     The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams  1922

 ++   Still Here, Ram Dass   2000 

 *     American Association of Retired Persons (open to people over 50 years  old)