The stories swirl and wind/
wind in the changing light
Seeping from the seven-gated body; flowing
Through family/tribe/district, through the teeming,
Milling city streets.
In the course of my explorations of creating a new map of aging, and inevitably writing a new story of aging for myself, I find people talking about recreating stories in a number of important areas including politics, environment, racial and cultural identity. Of course, there are many more but these are where my path takes me. And they are all interconnected. It seems that, at least in my part of the world, this is the era of stories to increase understanding and, by providing visions, to improve the quality of living for the individuals of human and other species and of the planet as a whole. It is this feeling of being interconnected with everything and everybody that brings all the efforts together and somehow makes the contribution of each one of us important. So I am encouraged in my work to write a different story about aging that empowers people and contradicts the ageist propaganda.
I feel heartened by knowing that the people working in many different fields and countries who attend Fritjof Capra’ s class on the Systems View of Life (http://www.capracourse.net/about/), as I did, are just as dedicated in their efforts to make our world liveable as those working with the Frameworks Institute (http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/), and with George Lakoff (1) (https://georgelakoff.com/blog) to re-invent language and improve communication. The Pachamama Alliance (2) (https://www.pachamama.org) training activists who are working towards preserving the beautiful bio-diversity,as well as honoring indigenous rights, in this world are as dedicated as the Arts and Ecology practitioners in Europe (https://www.facebook.com/groups/artsbasedenvironmentaleducation), and the artists at the California African-American Museum of Art (www.caamuseum.org) who are exploring their racial and cultural identity through their creative processes. I am hopeful because even though the individuals in these organizations might not even know about the others, their efforts eventually will come together to create a transition to the new world we so desperately need.
My bias towards the arts as useful tools for all of these endeavors runs through all of these posts. It is my desire and belief that it is now time for the arts to be spread around society where they can do a great deal of good.
Shelagh Wright (Mission Models Money) in her introduction to PROVOCATION by Tim Kasser Ph.D.**writes:
“Arts as cultural practices are some of the most participative, dynamic and social forms of human behaviour,(sic) are, in our view, integral to this process of transition. The capacity to trigger reflection, generate empathy, create dialogue and foster new ideas and relationships offers a powerful and democratic way of expressing, sharing and shaping values.”
I visited my local African-American Art Museum yesterday to hear Dominique Moody speak. (She and her work have been featured in earlier posts and she is always an inspiration to me (dominiquemoody.com). As I wandered through the exhibits I saw how different artists’ explorations of their racial and cultural identities inspired the museum visitors and encouraged some deep conversations. With a small epiphany, I learned the name for the work – Art as Social Practice- and now have a name for my own work of 35 or more years to change aging with the help of the arts.
My latest work is with a local university on a couple of arts and culture projects. Our team hopes to contribute to the new story of aging and also to strengthen cultures and increase respect for the many cultures in our area, which even though they enrich our society, it is a time when they are under attack in some places.
One of our projects uses storytelling and visual art to connect young people with their grandparents’ generation. The stories are a way of passing on a legacy of experience that is often dismissed as irrelevant in this highly technologized age where we tend to judge others and ourselves by familiarity with the “latest tools”. The truth is that human behavior lies behind all the technological tools now available and influencing young people in particular.
When I was a very small child of 3 or 4 my grandfather introduced me to gardening. We planted seeds together and he described all the wonderful things that were going to happen. The next day he was amused to find me digging up the seeds to see if they had grown yet. I don’t remember what he said exactly but it has remained with me as a truth “It takes time for good things to grow.”
It may have been my first step in valuing process as much as end result. I am sure it acted as a magnet for other similar experiences. But I don’t remember any of those – I remember my grandfather, pipe in mouth, smelling of wood shavings from his workshop, kneeling and looking with me at the place where the seeds would mysteriously grow in their own time.
In the same way, the stories we are now gathering from older adults are about human behavior, life and what they have found useful for living.
The young students illustrate the stories and, by using various non-verbal ways of learning, gain a different kind of understanding. In making the pictures and developing a relationship with the stories, the students will also take ownership in their own way.
The second project uses the tools of storytelling to explore and illustrate cultural values. The stories come from a group of older people of different cultural backgrounds. They may perform their stories or in pictures show values that have strengthened their cultural identities. Their stories will be videoed, the pictures displayed and shown to the public. Through the processes of reflecting either verbally, or visually, we will give them the opportunity and encouragement to appreciate the importance of their legacy of experience. To be approached by a team from a well-known university to tell these stories because they are important to younger people, we hope will increase their pride in their own heritage and perhaps also see the values that they hold in common with people of other cultures.
Reflecting on these projects I am aware that I too am acting out of my family and cultural values and at the same time bringing a sense of purpose to my own life.
**Tim Kasser, Ph.D. Professor & Chair of Psychology, Knox College, Illinois, USA (http://faculty.knox.edu/tkasser/) writes about the potential of engagement in arts & culture to encourage values that support well-being, social justice, and ecological sustainability.
photos by m.Kellen-Taylor