the Kreative Blogger Award!

This post is about the Kreative Blogger Award and fulfilling the seven obligations of a nominee.

I was delighted recently to receive a Kreative Blogger Award from a very kreative blogger in Australia. So, what, you may well ask, is that? As you can see, the award has an especially attractive logo.  I like that. And it’s a way of thanking bloggers that you find provocative and worth reading, blogs you visit frequently and feel a connection with. It’s something like chain mail but without the guilt and strings attached. As another kreative blogger put it, it gives each blogger a chance to reflect on what matters and take the time to look at why.
Everyone who receives an award must perform seven tasks when they accept it. So that’s what today’s post is all about, my performance of those tasks.

Here’s how it works

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award. I want to thank Marilyn Kay Dennis (Splatter) for nominating me. I have no idea how she found me, but she did. She’s a fascinating person and so is her blog which is mostly about sometimes arcane but always amazing histories from the middle ages and early renaissance, with occasional pieces on Australia, health, et. al.

2. Copy the logo to your blog (that’s it, no link or anything). I did that. It should have been simple but I managed to make it complicated.

3.Link to the person who nominated you for this award. I am putting Splatter on my new Blogroll of special bloggers.

4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
I earned a B.A. in philosophy from San Francisco State University (then College). I studied philosophy because I wanted to be a writer and our mantra in those days was that studying writing would probably ruin a writer. I went to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania to pursue religious studies because most philosophy programs at that time were devoted to logic and I was more interested in the meaning of life.

I earned an MA and an ABD (All But the Dissertation) when I decided my dissertation topic didn’t make that much sense and so, never wrote it.
No one was hiring philosophers back then, so I became a freelance writer-producer with national and international church organizations with a leftwing bent: the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the United Presbyterian Church, the World Council of Churches…. I wrote magazine articles, a book, made slide shows and multimedia productions and eventually, when the technology evolved, videos about farm worker, environmental, economic, feminist and other social issues.

I lived for 23 years on New York City’s Upper West Side, and traveled briefly to the Caribbean, China, India, Europe and Russia – as well as many places in the U.S.

I lived for another 13 years in northern Vermont where I tried my hand at gardening, desktop publishing, and coordinating an education program for kids at the Old Stone House Museum. (Look for them on the Internet!)

I now live in Santa Rosa, California with a partner I first met in 8th grade.

I was the co-owner of a toy shop in Philadelphia in the 1960s. We strove for enchantment, but came up broke.

I started wanting to be a writer at the age of 9 when I decided that I probably hadn’t the ability to be a composer (I was thinking symphonies!) I’ve never stopped wanting to be, although I haven’t always worked at it.

5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers. This was a difficult job, but here goes.

My first nominee is Mad Silence, a blog written by a father-daughter team. He lives in the U.S. and she is in Japan. They write about almost anything, especially art and culture, but the subject is almost always put in a new perspective. There’s always something to discover.

My second nominee is Art Blog by Bob because he reports on out-of-the-way art and it’s always exciting.

My third nominee is Jeane-ArtIt. Jeane, the blogger, is a “contemporary abstract artist working in mixed media.” I suppose she doesn’t do anything with her blog that other artists don’t do, but I love her work. She posts it, she talks about how she did it, and I like looking at it.

My fourth nominee is Urbandon who scavenges for junk metal and other obscure odds and ends and makes art of it. His writing is fun and his objects are delightful.

My fifth nominee is Advanced Style. The bloggers (two women – young and old) scour the streets of New York to find the city’s most stylish and chic older folks, people with real style and glamour. I’ve never been one of those people, not even at a young age, but these people make me want to be, even at a late age.

My sixth nominee is a bit odd. Morbid Anatomy is put up by a graphic designer and photographer. I’m not especially morbid, but the site is full of quirky stuff about death, and ends by telling us more about the living. It’s also a pleasure graphically.

The seventh and last nominee is Birds on a Wire. She’s a chatty blogger, and there are a lot of those, but she’s always provocative at the same time as she’s local – that is, writing about people and places she knows well.

“And now in age I bud again!”

Are the aging freaks of modern medicine, destined to live many fewer years than they do?

A modern addition to the medieval sculptures on the face of Salisbury Cathedral depicts the 17th-century poet and clergyman George Herbert, who served a tiny parish in nearby Bemerton. Photo by Philocrites. Under a Creative Commons license.

As I search websites, books and magazines for illuminating ideas about old age and the arts, I keep running into a quotation from English poet, George Herbert: “And now in age I bud again!” It’s a lovely sentiment, simply but wonderfully expressed. So I was chagrined to discover that Herbert’s dates are 1593-1633. The poor man only lived to be 40 years old!

Well, yes, but average life expectancy at birth for English people in the late 16th/early 17th centuries was just under 40 -39.7 years.

But no again! From a Plimoth Plantation article debunking myths about people in the past, I learn that the low figure is mostly because of the high rate of infant and child mortality—over 12 percent of all children born would die within their first year. A man or woman who reached the age of 30 could expect to live to 59.

Still, his 40 years wasn’t our 40 years. Far from it. The statistics may lie because of rates of infant mortality. Nonetheless, writes Atul Gawande in the April 30, 2007 New Yorker, “for most of our hundred-thousand-year existence-all but the past couple of hundred years – the average life span of human beings has been thirty years or less. Today, the average life span in developed countries is almost eighty years.”

The author goes on to suggest that “If human life spans depend on our genetics, then medicine has got the upper hand. We are, in a way, freaks living well beyond our appointed time.”

Our aging is fraught with problems, of course-late onset Alzheimers, for example. As scientists learn more about the whys and wherefores of aging, some things will get better, but we may come up against others just as hard.

Nevertheless, I, for one, am grateful to be “a freak.” We have been given a great gift, years more to explore, to learn, to grow. We can “bud again.”

Budding can take many different forms, I presume.

“I am not an old lady!”

Why am I -why are we – so eager to fight old age when many of us are likely to spend decades of our lives being old?

A decade or more ago, when I was still in my fifties, I was walking across an icy Vermont parking lot on a dark snow-bright night with Jim, a thirteen-year-old boy of my acquaintance, when I slipped and came down hard on the ice. Since I was unhurt I got up quickly, a habit of independence I picked up long ago. Jim was staring at me wide-eyed. “I never saw an old lady fall down before!” he exclaimed. “Jim,” I snapped at him, “I am not an old lady.” I think he was surprised: why had I denied something that was as obviously as true as the snow was white?
Of course, to Jim I was an old lady, and when I was thirteen any woman of fifty or more would just as certainly have been one. I’ve wondered since, what did both Jim and I think an old lady was? Why was I so quick to refuse the description?

I’ve had time since then to observe my growing older, to notice how my first senior discounts made me squirm, and squirm again when more and more people junior to me jumped to open doors. My mother was also aging over this period of time and, needless to say, had a good many years on me. I scoffed inwardly when she worried whether she still looked younger than her several years younger sister. Why couldn’t she just accept that she was old? When she began to show symptoms of dementia and moved to her first assisted-living residence, I found myself surrounded by very old people and noticed with some chagrin, that they often assumed I was one of them, just as I had assumed I wasn’t that far removed from Jim in years, just an adult to his kid. I was fighting off old age the way I had many years before pushed away my lesbianism. Acting young was like acting straight. Don’t let anyone see that you’re not quite as agile, not quite as infatuated with the hunk in the office, as they are.

There’s the obvious thing about age, of course – that it’s closer to death. But what is it that makes us hate it so, when we will probably spend decades of our lives being old? Again, of course, there’s ill health. Even though we’re told now that old age is not a disease and that, as we learn to cope with illness, being elderly will seem more attractive, most of us know that we are terribly vulnerable to all sorts of micro-organisms, cancers and god-knows-what.

The vaunted wisdom of old age is no solace. Wisdomless old people surely outnumber the wise.

Nonetheless, more and more of us are leading productive and interesting lives. And for at least some artists, there are definitely benefits that come with being elderly, and that will enrich all of us – which is what this blog is all about.

I think we can assume that we hate and fear getting old because of illness and death. We live in a culture consumed with the worship of youth and fear of death. We believe every malady should be curable. Recently, Ronnie Bennett, the proprietor of Time Goes By, the most comprehensive blog about aging on the Internet, decided to sit down and watch TV two or three hours to see whether or not there were as many ads about care and cure as she thought:

That much time was not needed. I was shocked to find that in the period of one, three-minute commercial break, remedies for the following diseases and conditions were advertised: COPD, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, dry skin, headache, insomnia, allergies, nasal congestion, foot problems, heart disease, constipation and depression.

We don’t want to feel vulnerable, and that’s exactly what the culture assumes old people are, almost by definition. We were all raised to be independent, self-determining adults. So, when someone is of a certain age, we assume they’re doddering and assign them a certain vulnerability. That’s why there was an automobile accident; that’s why she fell down. The stereotype becomes grotesque. The irrational old lady and her house full of cats. The absent-minded old gent who can’t find his way from point a to point b. Less is expected of old people, since we’re on the very brink of decrepitude, if we’re not already there.

So many of the programs for the old condescend. When my mother was in her last residence, she was cared for by feeling, kind people. But the same people, in particular the director of the program, had a bad habit of exclaiming, “She’s so cute,” when she sat down to play the few tired chords she could still muster on the piano, when she threw her food across the room, when she fought taking a shower. Sometimes, it was “She’s so sweet.” And I knew my mother was neither, just a human being in a bad situation.

I think that what we fear in old age even more than death is the condescension that’s reserved for the vulnerable. Like my mother before me, but I hope with fewer strikes against me, I intend to battle it to the end.

“….We must be still and still moving, into another intensity.

“We must be still and still moving, into another intensity.” Maybe. Is that what it’s like to be an old artist?

In my last post I asked what my subject, Steve Dansky, had to teach me–to teach all of us–about aging and creativity.  Some of the answers to that question may be obvious. For example, and not surprisingly, there’s a continuity between his past work and his present. The photography may be new, the fictional prose may be different, but the same passion for social justice animates it. Nevertheless, something else has changed, or is changing. Something more profound. I’m reminded of this verse from T.S. Eliot (“East Coker”)

Old men should be explorers
Here and there does not matter.
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity.

(I know Steve won’t forgive me if I don’t first apologize for Eliot’s use of the word,“men.” The poem was written well before the ’60s and ’70s when “men” became “men and women,” “humanity,” “people”….)

The verse came back to me when I studied Steve’s photographs. “Another intensity.” When I first found Eliot’s verse, I was so struck by the phrase, so in love with the idea of it, that I almost gave this blog that name.

There are various descriptions of what may make old age especially creative, and why. Consider this quotation from best-selling author Julian Barnes (not as old as me, but getting there), who recently spent a whole book worrying about death, especially his own. (Nothing To Be Frightened Of) After considering a late piece of music by Rossini, Barnes wrote, “The artist is saying: display and bravura are tricks for the young, and yes, showing off is part of ambition; but now that we are old, let us have the confidence to speak simply. . . . This is not just humility in the face of eternity; it is also that it takes a lifetime to see, and say, simple things.”

Again, Steve’s photographs. They say something so simple. They exemplify humility in the face of eternity.

But not everyone sees the subject of creative aging that way. Consider Edward Said’s last book, On Late Style, published after his death in 2003. “Each of us can readily supply evidence of how it is that late works crown a lifetime of aesthetic endeavor. Rembrandt and Matisse, Bach and Wagner. But what of artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution, but as intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction?” How far a cry is that from Eliot’s “another intensity.”

Said’s thought on the subject seems to me (and some reviewers), complicated and abstruse. I’m still reading, still trying to figure out what he means. I’ll try to report on it  later. But I’m afraid it may be more like me than Eliot’s fine phrase.  I’m not  particularly “still” in my old age. Certainly not as still as I think Steve may be. My stillness is an unquiet one. I seem to stew about small things much as I always did, and I can’t say I’m simpler or that  my confidence in myself has been bolstered by growing older.

And so, you other aging people out there, help me out with this post.  As you age are you filled with “another intensity?” Are you simpler? Or are you experiencing “intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction?” What words best describe the fruit of your later years?

Old Artists

Not long ago, as I was getting it together to write my first post for this blog, I stumbled across two editorial comments about aging that make a first-rate context for what I want to say. The first was by Nancy Perry Graham, the editor of AARP The Magazine in its January/February issue. The occasion for it was her attendance with some other editors of the magazine—all of them wearing AARP T-shirts embossed with their publication’s September/October cover of “the Boss”—at a Springsteen performance at Giants Stadium in New York.

Staring wide-eyed at them, a curious woman asked: “Why would you wear an AARP T-shirt to a Springsteen concert?” The editor explained who they were, adding that Springsteen himself was 60.

But why would you want people to know you’re old?” she replied.

The story is made more poignant by the fact that she was a 60-something-year-old.

On the same day I saw that item, I read Roni Bennet’s post in her blog, TIME GOES BY. She remembered that she’d been depressed after years of research into aging when she found the same theme again and again in the culture- “that getting old is entirely about debility, decline and disease.” She began her blog to write about what growing old is “really like.” Now, five-going-on-six years later, in a country with an exploding population of people over fifty-five, she finds that the culture is enthusiastically pitching elixirs to make us young again, and potions to cure us of all the maladies of growing old. Aging continues to be defined as deterioration.

“Nothing has changed since I started TGB,” she concludes. “So much for any influence it might have.”

In another mood, Roni Bennett, who hosts what is probably the most influential blog on aging on the Internet, might not be so pessimistic. Late in the last century, the world began to discover that aging didn’t have to mean decline-that many of the so-called problems of aging could be overcome. Surely, some of the marketing of cures has its genesis in this more optimistic view. But what’s really exciting is what the late Gene D. Cohen wrote in his report, “Research on Creativity and Aging: the Positive Impact of the Arts on Health and Illness.” “The next step was another big leap…,” he said. It was about “the potential of aging.”

Elliott Carter

Old age can be something to look forward to. It can be an especially fruitful time for people in the arts. Take composer Elliott Carter who, last year-at the age of 100-attended the premiere of his latest work in Carnegie Hall. Alex Ross in the January 5, 2009 New Yorker, declared, “He seems finally and fully himself.”

Carter is one of many elderly composers, and others only recently deceased, who have dominated classical music in the United States for the last several decades. If you would rather talk about folk music, there’s always 90-year-old Pete Seeger; or jazz, singer Etta James; and rock, well, don’t forget Bruce Springsteen. There are elderly artists of every kind everywhere.

The Inaugural Concert. Photo by Sam Bailey, January 19, 2009 Flickr

We’re legion-old people doing art—some of us more accomplished than others, some better known, but many of us exciting, and even better, excited.

And that’s what this blog will be all about.

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