I crave the cosmic and the common,
refusing to sever half my soul.
I choose to grow in all directions:
to grow both fruit and edible root;
to glory in the ground and desire the sky;
to stretch roots across acres
and reach for the bedrock;
to rejoice in the changing shapes of the seasons.
I eschew the single minded vision.
I am all Eye.
I wrote this when I was in my mid-thirties, when life was an adventure. At almost 80, my life now is a different kind of adventure.
And it’s more than the eyes. The WordPress I used more than a decade ago is a different animal. I’m on a very slow learning curve. But they say that learning new things is good for the brain. Maybe so, but it’s not always good for the stress..
As I get older, I need things to be more simple. Only nothing is simple these days. Even though the “Ayes” had it in Washington and voted to impeach the Big Orange Turd, it’s still complicated, and it’s not going to be easy.
“It was fun while it lasted.” I guess I could say that about many periods of my life, especially when it comes to relationships with men.
I am thinking about that as I read Jack’s obituary. Our relationship lasted about three years, back in the 80s, and it was fun while it lasted. One of the legacies of that relationship, oddly enough, is friendships I formed with a couple of the women whom he dated after me. He had a knack for seeking out smart, creative women.
I kept in touch with Jack on and off over the decades. When, after he moved to Portland OR and my pedestrian son needed a ride from the oral surgeon’s office, I called Jack and he took care of it all. He was a good, imperfect guy. I am glad that I knew him and sad that he is gone.
More than ever, these days, I am painfully aware of the relentlessness of time – which really does seem to accelerate as one ages. And, here I am, at age 78, still trying to figure myself out as those relentless sands continue to carry me along.
It is all about the journey. Slogging through the sands of time. It’s all about the metaphors. Baba Bogina. The Raven. The knight with the swan helmet crest.
My Jungian therapist often uses “sand play” to stir and spur our conversations. I find that I intuitively pick out figures for the sand play without consciously knowing why. And then we work on the why.
I am still pondering why I chose the warrior with the swan helmet crest. It is the only figure I chose that was not obviously either male or female. Its face and body are covered with armor. Its stance can be interpreted as aggressive, defensive, or protective. It is blocking my path. Welcoming? Warning? And then there’s that anomalous spread-winged swan sitting on the top of its head.
My therapist did some searching before I had a chance to, and she send me a link that explained: a medieval tale about a mysterious rescuer who comes in a swan-drawn boat to defend a damsel, his only condition being that he must never be asked his name.
Does that help or not. I don’t know. I will need to ponder this a lot more as I wait for some synchronicity to spark an epiphany.
Is there someone on my path waiting? To lead me to the authentic “me”? To accompany me for a while on my journey? Or is it me in there, under the armor, my wings wanting to escape the hold of the protective helmet.
This is what my “journey” looked like in sand play.
The ancient Hanged Man is the center of attention, oddly modern in straight lines and upright, bloodless repose.
I am at a funeral mass in a church that is a testament to privilege, from the pale polished wood of vaulted ceilings to the delicate stained glass windows, graceful allegories of allegiance and ardor.
My dead friend rests in a simple urn among flowers and photos. I am here to honor him, but the incense filled air and steady droning of apocrypha ease me into images from my past life.
I am in fourth grade, sitting next to my classmate, Stanley Szymanski, enthralled by the drama and special effects of a Black Friar production of the “Stations of the Cross.” As our bones vibrate to the crashes of recorded thunder and our hearts flutter to the rhythmic flashes lightening that signal the death of that Hanged Man, Stanley reaches over, grabs my hand, and whispers “Let’s get hitched.”
I am somewhere in my pre-teens, standing next to my father, who smells vaguely of Old Spice and who subtly hums along with the inspiring choir. He is tall and strong next to me, and, for the first time, I feel stirrings of some kind of desire. Someday I will learn about Electra, and I will take courses in psychology, and I will understand.
When I return home after the funeral service, I finish reading a book I requested from its author because, these days, I am even more fascinated by death and the processes of dying than I was as a child growing up above the viewing rooms in my father’s funeral home.
I also am a fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, so I tend to have an affinity for archetypes, and Polishing the Bones by Jungian Analyst Penelope Tarasuk tells of a journey that embraces both of my passions.
It is a unique story – one that can only evolve between two very creative, introspective, and unique individuals as they embark upon a shared journey to unravel and understand, first, who they are as patient and therapist and, finally, as companions on a final pilgrimage.
Tarasuk invests eight years in partnering with her “client” to prepare for the inevitable, which comes later than sooner and provides a richness of inner growth for both.
Theirs is not an experience that can be easily duplicated, but it does offer tremendous insight into how it is possible use the limitations of mortality to spark creative energies and insight.
More than 25 years ago, I was fortunate enough to pair with a therapist who used Jungian and Shamanistic techniques to help me explore my own dreams and demons. I wrote about it in an essay that was published in 1990 in a psychotherapy journal, Voices.
If you are interested, you can read it here: shadows2
I have a unique relationship with death. My father was an undertaker, and we lived in an apartment above his business. Contemplating death and dying — my own and others’ — has been a part of my life since childhood. I have sat vigil during the hours and days of the deaths of both of my parents. At the age of 77, I am closing in on my final years. I have no control over when or why I will die; but I am learning about the choices I have about “how”. What I have come to believe is that it doesn’t matter what one believes about an “after-life”; what is important is to live fully while embracing the fact that we, after all, are all “terminal.” Those individuals whose religious beliefs preclude them from participating in such a process can follow the dictates of their religions, but those of us who have different beliefs should be allowed to make our own choices.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is once again considering a Death with Dignity bill. Modeled on the Oregon law, H 1991, Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act, would give terminally ill people more freedom, control, and peace of mind at the end of their lives. It is called “The End of Life Options Act”. I noticed that both the Northampton City Council and the Amherst Town Meeting passed resolutions in early November that called on the legislature to enact “The End of Life Options Act” (H1194 and S1225). I urge other municipalities to become familiar with the intent of this bill and take action to lend their support.
Seven out of 10 Americans who support the end-of-life option allowing qualified terminally ill people to end their lives through physician-prescribed medications support having a process to enable terminal patients to choose how they want to die. Such laws have enacted and practiced successfully in other states. I believe this bill has strong safeguards to ensure that no one – including people with disabilities, the frail elderly, and the low-income –could be coerced or pressured to end their lives rather than live longer or seek continued treatment for their terminal illness.
This is NOT assisted suicide, but rather an option to give people the right to choose to end their suffering (and that of their family) when faced with a prolonged and painful dying process.
I support this bill because I have sat by the beds of both parents as they suffered through their last days and hours of pain before death took them. When my father was in the last stages of pancreatic cancer in 1984, thankfully, we were able to use the services of Visiting Nurses (this was before Hospice was available) to give him drops of morphine while he lay in his bed, gasping for air and enduring a level of pain I can’t even imagine. It took him three days to finally die.
My mother, who died at the age of 94 in the “Comfort Care” unit of a hospital, hung on for a week with renal failure, until I finally insisted that the doctor increase her morphine dosage. A “Death with Dignity” Act would have spared both my parents painful deaths that, at that point, were inevitable anyway.
Please join me in contacting the co-chairs of the Joint Public Health Committee: Sen. Jason Lewis (firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-722-1206) and Rep. Kate Hogan (email@example.com, 617-722-2130). Urge them to pass H1194 before the deadline in early February.
My assignment to my writing group was to write a ode. Here’s mine:
Ode to Hecate
Even though you exist only
in the deepest shadows of our psyches,
your warnings persist in the stories
that drive our most ferocious dreams.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
Claimed by countless cultures,
re-created across eons of fear,
you resist easy efforts to define you
as other than the maternal primal force.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
I sense your counsel in the stirring of autumnal oaks,
hear your sorrows in the howling of midnight dogs.
Those who fear their longings, call you witch;
those who live your bounty, call you Crone.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
Isis, Kali, Lilith, Astarte, Brigid, Hecate.
You are who I need you to be,
standing with me at each challenge of choices,
listening for your call to wonder and power.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
You are who we women need you to be,
relentless truth-teller, fierce warrior,
stand with us at this dangerous crossroads.
You are what we need to be.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
For those without Netflix, Grace and Frankie is into its third season as a comedy about couples in their seventies. (Warning: this post includes “spoilers,” but I don’t think they will take away from any of your enjoyment of the series.)
Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and Grace (Jane Fonda) are two very different women in their 70s living together at a beach house which they used to share when they were married to their husbands (who have come out as gay).
I will get to the “M” word eventually, but first I want to comment on the beautifully developed elder characters that the two actresses portray. They are feisty, quirky, impatient, forgetful, caring, independent, irreverent, maternal, and forgiving. They are the Golden Girls for this oldest generation of the 21st Century.
While very few women in their 70s are as wrinkle- and cellulite- free as Fonda (who looks and dresses like a model in a Neiman Marcus ad), she is believable as a traditional retired businesswoman. Tomlin, with graying hair, a few wrinkles, and outfits that must come from the Gudrun catalog, is an ex-hippie artist – about as opposite from her housemate as possible.
Sally Field & Penelope Wilton
There is a part of me that would rather have had someone play Grace who is less physically “reconfigured” than Fonda – like maybe Sally Field or Penelope Wilton, who, although not yet in their 70s allow themselves to realistically portray elder women wrinkles and all.
However, Fonda has won me over, despite her almost flawless skin and size 2 body. She and Tomlin play off each other with excellent timing and consistent characterization.
Frankie smokes weed and gets Grace to admit she MASTURBATES. Yes, that’s the “M” word that brings the women together to invent and produce a vibrator for elder women, whose arthritis often impedes their pleasure.
Grace and Frankie hilariously find ways to deal with just about all of the emotional and physical challenges faced by women over 70. There are three seasons available on Netflix, and it’s the only contemporary series I have found that is appealingly honest and charmingly irreverent about life in its last quarter.
Sheen and Waterston
While I am focusing on the female characters, they are given a run for their money by their gay ex-husbands (a sweet, believable, and delightful pairing of Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen).
We need to insist that Grace and Frankie start a trend of movies and series about elder women.
Kate Burton in “Grimm”
After watching the last episode of Grimm, in which the eldest female of the Grimm family (played by Kate Burton) pulls a sword from her cane and lops off a piece of the monster, I am rooting for a character like that in a new fantasy series.
Because this blog focuses on the lives of American elder women in the last quarter of our lives I will not try to be overtly intersectional in specifically mentioning people of color, of poverty, with physical challenges, and who seek gender equality, because, in truth, “elder women in the last quarter of our lives” is intended to include all marginalized women in that age bracket. So, when I speak here, I speak from my own – somewhat privileged – experience. After all, I am white with a limited retirement income that I should be able to live within (with, granted, limited but livable choices).
Access to unlimited funds pretty much gives you unlimited choices because it eliminates one of the prime restrictions to making a choice: the money to pay for it and whatever consequences result. For 98% of us, that’s a crucial restriction, and we try to live within our means. That means we live with limited choices.
The Equal Rights Amendment did not get approved because it was not ratified by ¾ of the states. That Amendment to the Constitution would have benefited all kinds of people, but because of the options it would open for women, it remains controversial, with religious conservatives opposing it because of their pro-life stance. They continue to work toward limiting many women’s choices by demanding that we restrict ourselves to their choices.
While women, in total, make up more than half of American citizens, it is mostly men who are in power to make the laws that limit our choices. Take, for example the (thankfully unsuccessful) effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A wonderful recent piece by (of all things) the United Church of Christ blog covers this issue beautifully, ending with
All this new-found talk of “choices” is a mockery, a betrayal of Christian values, a scheme designed to lull the most vulnerable into supporting a health care law resulting in worse coverage for them, at greater personal expense, to the benefit of the wealthy who will continue to enjoy Cadillac care for less.
Again, this is an example of our predominantly male (and conservative) lawmakers giving us “choices” that do not really give us much choice.
Somewhere between oligarachic patriarchy and total anarchy there has to be a system that will minimize the limits of our lawful choices. “Lawful” is the key word, here. From wearing a hijab (or not) to getting an abortion (or not), these are choices we women should be able to lawfully make for ourselves. And the folks making our laws do not understand the meaning, the importance, and the social structure necessary in making choices that minimize negative personal consequences.
I am a democratic socialist, which means that I would like to see America evolve into a system of a modified form of socialism, achieved by a gradual transition by and under democratic political processes. There are responsibilities to its citizens that every democratic government has. The piece on this page written by Alok Pandey, a young man from India, says it better than anything else I came across.
He ends with this. And so will I.
If it isn’t for people, what good is it for anyway? Now when I say for people, it doesn’t necessarily means doling out freebies to poor and giving a carte blanche to the rich. Any method is good if it is consensual and is in the better interest of the people. A democratic government must seek the approval of the common masses and later should be ready to receive the feedback for its acts.
There are about 2.5 million women in America whose challenges of aging makes it difficult for us to participate physically in many of the RESISTANCE activities. As a 77 year old who doesn’t drive after dark (and so can’t attend any evening meetings), has bad knees and can’t march, I am limited in how I can contribute. We send letters and faxes and postcards. We make pink pussy hats for marchers to wear. And we agonize on Facebook and among ourselves about how we will be able to survive this last quarter of our lives in a nation with an administration made up of individuals who have no empathy for anyone who is not rich and powerful? How can we make our collective elder voices heard?
I believe that we need to get angry. Very very mad. Nasty. Irreverent. We need to embrace our nature as wise, experienced, intelligent elder women. CRONES. It’s not a bad word. It’s a powerful word because there’s both mystery, and fear, and respect, and — even — awe, historically associated with the image of a sword-wielding, gray-haired woman, with a crow companion. They once called us witches, but we know better. CRONE. WITCH. WISE WOMAN. We need to figure out how to make ourselves visible and heard — because, indeed, elder women are virtually invisible out in society. (Unless they are rich and powerful, and even then, they cannot expect to be treated with respect and admiration.)
I invite all progressively-minded elder women, all Crones tired of being ignored and marginalized, to come here and rant with me. We care. We care about fighting for the rights of people, of animals, of our endangered planet. We care about adding our issues and voices to those of all of the other marginalized folks in our American communities. What can we do to add our strengths to further the Resistance?
Use the comment option to suggest topics to rant over (your lazy doctor, the disrespectful bus driver, the impatience of store clerks…) I do not delete expletives because I use them myself. And also suggest ways we can join our significant talents and creativity to fight the powers that are destroying all we have worked for all of our lives.
I moderate comments, so trolls will be ignored.
Spread the word among the Crones you know and love. This is one place where you can let your power growl and rant. A place to gather and share what we know, what we hope, what we demand.
Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
No one can hear with beans in their ears.
After a while the reason appears.
They did it cause we said no.
(from The Fantasticks)
Like most folks over the age of 50, I have a problem with violent computer games, such as “Grand Theft Auto.” I’ve never played any of them, but, like many young folks, my 13 year old grandson does.
On one occasion, I look over his shoulder as his avatar – a strong, white, adult male, – climbs into his Super Sport Bugatti and sets off on a heist. The bank robbery hits a snag and he and his partner have to shoot their way out, killing the security guard. He makes it back to his virtual apartment with the designated “payout” stashed in his virtual account. He will use those earnings to buy more cars. Or maybe a helicopter or a yacht, depending on how wealthy he becomes. The graphics in this virtual world are realistic and compelling, a quantum leap in design and process from the “Space Invaders” arcade game of my generation.
“Hmpf.” I say to him. “I don’t like these killing games.”
“Grammy,” he says, with a patience that belies his age. “It’s like playing a part in a movie script. It’s fantasy. I know the difference.”
I know, and his parents know, that if he is forbidden to play, he might find a way to do it anyway, and the stress it would put on family relationships would not be worth it. The answer to this dilemma is not for the adults to say “No,” but rather to try to understand what this gaming culture is all about and how to ensure that the young players don’t internalize a wrong message.
For my home schooled grandson, well versed in morality and ethics, his gaming goal is not to kill anyone but to complete the assignment (although characters can get killed along the way). Granted, there are other gamers who get delight in escalating the violence just to see what they can get away with. That’s what I have a problem with out of a concern that they will become inured to the horrors of violence and start confusing fantasy with reality. Hundreds of contradicting studies have been done – and continue to be done – that both affirm and deny the ill effects of playing violent computer games.
The culture of my family is to try to understand where the other person is coming from before any decision is made, so my grandson has explained to his parents his approach to gaming and they have shared their concerns. It reminds me of when my 10 year old son became obsessed with comics during the time in the 1980s when many of the publications began to use illustrations with hyper-sexualized female superhero bodies. I remember having a long talk with him, expressing my feminist disapproval of such depictions of women and reminding him that it’s all fantasy.
I have embarked on a long learning curve that involves my grandson explaining how the game works, which is a complex process, on the part of the gamers, that involves planning, coordinating, and cooperating in setting up each heist. While the game program itself establishes parameters, the gamers make specific choices and have to deal with the consequences.
There are other modules that are available for GTA, my grandson tells me. His favorites are the ones in which his character is a fireman or policeman or emergency medical technician. While the scenarios for those modules can include violence, it is always because the protagonist is trying to rescue someone.
What I am learning gives me a more informed appreciation and understanding of why my otherwise non-violent teenage grandson likes to play “Grant Theft Auto.” And the conversations continue.
I see that what he is taking away from playing these games is so much more than I would have ever considered. For example, he has to budget and manage his virtual money so that he can afford to buy the new luxury items that he wants. In the process of researching cars, he has developed a knowledge of automobiles – both ordinary and classic – that is encyclopedic. He experiments with designing the appearance of his cars, playing with colors and shapes. He has forged online friendships with other players his age from around the world as they work together to develop strategies for their heists. He is honing his reading skills as he keeps up to date on understanding the evolving rules and improvements in the game.
Because he was not told “No” and instead was invited to share his gaming experiences with the family, the problem other families might have with the issue of violent computer games is not a problem for us — although I still really don’t like them. It’s probably a generational thing, as it often is with music, fashion, language, and etiquette. But I learn to appreciate it all. Like Walt Whitman, “I contain multitudes.”
(I started posing this on Mother’s Day ten years ago, and I try to remember to re-post it every year.)
Some women take to mothering naturally. I had to work at it. And so I wasn’t the best mother in the world. I would have worked outside the home whether I had become a single mom or not. And because I did, mine were latchkey kids, with my daughter, beginning at age 12, taking care of her younger brother, age 5, after school. I left them some evenings to go out on dates. Oh, I did cook them healthy meals, and even cookies sometimes. I made their Halloween costumes and went to all parent events at their schools. My daughter took ballet lessons, belonged to 4H (but I got kicked out as Assistant Leader because I wouldn’t salute the flag during the Vietnam War). I made my son a Dr. Who scarf and took him to Dr. Who fan events. I bought him lots of comic books, invited friends over to play, and taught him how to throw a ball.
But most of all, I think/hope I did for them what my mother was never able to do for me, — give them the freedom and encouragement to become who they wanted to be — to explore, make mistakes, and search for their bliss. I think/hope that I always let them know that, as far as I was concerned, I loved them just the way they were/are.
Not having had that affirmation from my mother still affects my relationship with her. I hope that my doing that right for them neutralizes all the wrong things I did as they were growing up.
So, you two (now adult) kids, here’s to you both. You keep me thinking, you keep me informed, you keep me honest, and, in many ways, you keep me vital. I’m so glad that I’m your mother.
So, in memory of those not-always-good ol’ days that you two somehow managed to survive with style, here you are, playing “air guitar and drums” — enjoying each other’s company sometime in the late 70s and bringing so much delight into my life.