Reflecting, Building Momentum and Relishing the Day

Back to the original point of this blog – to make a new road map for aging – or in other words to create a new story that is relevant to us now in this time and place.

Discussions with friends about what we can call the process of living life after a number of years, yet not invoke all the unpleasant and often untrue associations with the word “aging”, are stimulating and energetic.

I ran the name “Building Momentum” (The Frameworks Institute) from my previous blog entry past a couple of friends – and although they like the verb and the action inherent, they said it seemed too abstract.

L. who, after 90 or more years of living, has the first thought upon awakening daily of “Good! Another day to Paint- and Love my wife!” This touches on the important aspects of long life (in my book) – Creativity, Love and Appreciation.

A conversation with A. brought up the words “Relishing”, “Reflecting” – and, said quite wistfully, – “Relaxing”.

Another name”Recounting” grows out of my exciting intergenerational projects of putting old and young together in art and learning processes (and I like the potential double entendre). Combine these to the current process of “Reframing” and the alliteration is very pleasing, however a bit low energy for my tastes.

Florida Scott-Maxwell wrote: “Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.”

What an exciting prospect!

Some years ago, on a walk towards a city park, I met a tiny grey-haired woman who almost danced up to me. “Don’t forget to admire the tulips,” she said with great enthusiasm and joy ” They are gorgeous and make the day special!” I had just met the passionate eighties embodied.

It is important for me to have images as touchstones to remind me that I choose a dynamic path over the state of stagnation and decay so often depicted or implied in this culture.

I am playing with these and there will be many more to come:

    

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What language do you have to offer that inspires you towards long living?

Much to think about!

(images by M.Kellen-Taylor 2015/17)

What do Core values sound like??

Recently I had a conversation about meaning and purpose in later life with Dr. Rod Paton from the University of Chichester, England when he was in Los Angeles. He mentioned that he was supposed to retire 8 years ago but had not. Instead, he re-directed some of his time and energy. His is now a self-described “phased” retirement and he attributes the meaning and purpose for his life to incorporating his core values in his work. He continues his university involvement two days a week because “there is still something for me to do there!”

He has had time to write a second book (Lifemusic: Connecting People to Time. 2011.). In this book he explores the archetypal properties of music, challenges cultural norms and advocates for an inclusive, non-elitist philosophy of music and communities. Therein lies his statement of Core Values.

Rod is passionate about music and while he continues to compose and play many different kinds of music (notably Ascension JazzMass) on a variety of instruments, he also promotes involvement in LifeMusic, which was why he was in Los Angeles.

He says “It is always difficult to describe exactly what happens in a LifeMusic session. Improvisation is so under defined, nobody quite knows what to expect…… But the group …….picked up the ideas as I explained them and entered into the spirit of the improvising immediately. The LifeMusic method works by providing an anchor or framework for the each improvisation (a holding form) but then letting this go or at least pushing it into the background so that the really creative stuff can be fore-grounded.”

He has been collaborating in LifeMusic with Hedda Kaphengst of Klawitty Theatre in Ireland and he recently joined her in visiting Southern California where I introduced them to several groups of seniors..

The first was in senior housing in North Hollywood. He unpacked a suitcase of intriguing percussion instruments and invited the group to “pick one, any one, …there is no wrong way to play these instruments in this workshop.” he assured people. The group tentatively experimented with sound for a short while, and then LifeMusic stories began when he asked people to share their first memory of music. Several remembered, with pleasure, being constantly surrounded by music as children and described their musical family members. Others recalled riding in the car listening to the radio with a parent as a special experience. Each account evoked recognition and even more stories from their listeners and we saw how the bonds of shared experiences began to form.

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When playing resumed, it became obvious that the music-making was now a collaboration. The participants were no longer following a “leader” but, by listening to themselves, they began to trust their unique contribution to the music. Gradually members spontaneously stepped into the circle, some danced around, stopping in front of other members and communicating with their instruments. A dignified silver-haired retired psychologist swayed into the center and, with arms raised, gracefully danced in obvious delight.

In another workshop, a shared acapella Sammi folk-song brought the whole group to their feet to move enthusiastically to the beat and, when it was finished, to roar with joyful laughter.

At a final performance Hedda sang a fitting Irish tribute to The Lord of the Dance. Only then did Rod reveal that he had put a couple of poems written by a group member to music. As he played and sang, the poet’s face became illuminated and she was engrossed in absorbing the full experience of hearing her poems sung. She and all of us present were touched to tears by the beauty of the words and music together. How satisfying to bring such an experience to fruition!

Later Rod commented about being in Los Angeles and seeing tourists taking “selfies ” at the gates of famous people’s houses.  “Nowadays, we take our inner hunger for meaning and purpose, which we used to serve ceremoniously to the gods, and project it onto screen gods (and goddesses). But why not celebrate our own awareness?”

Hedda and Rod have departed for the United Kingdom secure in the knowledge that they involved groups of participants in celebrating an expanded awareness of music-making, and through the process connected people to music, forged deeper ties between neighbors and brought moments of timeless joy to those they touched with music.

There is indeed something for Rod “to do there”, which also gives him a feeling of meaning and purpose as he models how integrating core values into our lives is a tool for regeneration.

What core values are you bringing to your work and daily life?

The “Eighties are Passionate” – purpose and meaning

“My seventies were interesting and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.” Florida Scott-Maxwell (author and Jungian Analyst)

NoHo Senior Arts Community 027Artist Slater Barron, famous as The Lint Lady,  <slaterbarron.com> embodies the passionate eighties.
Slater is an Arts Advisor to the Long Beach Senior Arts Colony and is currently collaborating with another Advisor, Kimberley Hocking of the Greenly Art Space in the Long Beach area.

They are preparing a show of Slater’s work about the experience of Alzheimer’s patients.  CIMG3716 The exhibit, My Mothers Garden II is an installation and opens on February 21st.

Slater recently read that, although there are 5 million people in the U.S. suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, funding for research is a fraction of that budgeted for other major diseases (see footnote). She is intensely determined to publicize this dismaying fact and she is urging us all to do something about it!

Slater knows what it is like for the 15.5 million friends and family members who are affected, because both her parents suffered from AD. She watched the changes in her mother over 15 years, from the first signs appearing in her mid 70s until she died.

This is not the first time Slater has put her art in the service of the community and it is by no means her first art exploration into this difficult area.

IMG_1656 A most feared disease, AD haunts us as we age and begin to notice with trepidations, how facts, faces and names we know well escape us when we need them.

In 2007 Slater wrote and published a book called “Remembering the Forgetting” and I asked her reasons for writing this book.IMG_1674 They were personal at first. She wanted to tell the younger people in her family her parents’ romantic love story that blossomed from when they first met. She wanted to convey how much they loved each other, how courageous, and what good parents they were to Slater and her sister. She wanted her mother and father to be remembered for all that they were and not only for the last years of their lives. Slater felt that her grandchildren deserved to understand where they came from — from a large, close family who all cared for each other.

When her parents were in the early stages of the disease Slater moved to Long Beach to be close to them. She tells how she was stuck in the rush hour commute from work when suddenly the installation called “The Six O’Clock News” appeared to her in its completed form showing her parents watching TV in their living room. “It was,” she says “all there!” (see slaterbarron.com)

In the middle of its construction, a visitor from Loyola Marymount University saw the work and immediately decided to show it when it was completed. Slater remembers with great satisfaction how all who passed by the ground-floor gallery could look in the large window and clearly see “The Six O’Clock News”.

Slater is an impassioned woman, a gifted assemblage artist (popularly known as The Lint Lady), a mentor to many artists and friend to even more. She pursues even difficult subjects with passion and, she says, she has always been unusual! For an art performance piece earlier in this series, Slater donned her sequins and, with top hat, cane, and tap shoes, danced in front of a piece called “Fly Pie“. She believes “if you can’t look at life in unusual ways, it would be unbearable!”

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Now Slater wants to inform a wider group about the effects of Alzheimers Disease and the need for more research. She will not be dancing at Greenly this month, but come to meet her anyway, and enjoy her sparkle, energy and compassion.

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My Mother’s Garden II will open at Greenly Art Space, 2698 Junipero Serra Ave., Unit 113, Signal Hill (Long Beach) on February 21st, 2015 at 6pm.

We hope the experience of this powerful and evocative work as well as the information from The Alzheimers Society, and the Creative Caregiving project of the National Centers for Creative Aging will inspire you to write to your political representatives and request much more funding.

IMG_1677Slater herself will be writing to California Senators Boxer and Feinstein.

Footnote: http://articles.latimes.com/2014/mar/19/opinion/la-ed-alzheimers-research-funding-20140319

Cancer = 5.4 billion dollars

Heart Disease = 1.2 billion dollars

Alzheimers Disease = 666 million dollars!!

Those who wander are not lost…meaning and purpose

“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it”

Gautama Buddha

I spent time with an artist I admire very much: Dominique Moody is a well-known assemblage artist who is creating her life so that her vision, purpose, art and values all align. Recently we talked about her devotion to her vision of The Nomad, in which most of her current artistic efforts are invested.

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Dominique said she never guessed how great the cost of being faithful to her vision, or the intense struggles of every day life as well as the creative ones that she would face. For example six days a week she takes a two-hour bus journey to and from her distant studio space where she is creating The Nomad, her current and enduring art work. Imagine the process of transporting the bulky materials used in large assemblages to and from her work space on the bus, as she cannot drive.

In order to provide a space in which to work, she has often had to clean and organize piles of rubbish, which is a huge investment of both time and physical effort.IMG_1618

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Even after 35 years of practice Dominique still faces the usual struggles that most other working artists face. http://dominiquemoody.tumblr.com/bio

Sadly, she says, many people are stopped by these challenges because they believe that things cannot be done if there is no money. But not Dominique Moody! She realized that she had to find ways to invest in her own vision without capital –  or at least she needed to redefine “capital”.

Dominique described how “capital” means something different to her from the usual current value of financial assets being everything and the ultimate problem solver.

She described the importance of social capital, which involves others in sharing and she inspires them to assist, join in and bring their best gifts to a partnership with hers. Dominique knew that this was the only way that The Nomad – the culmination of her lifelong passion – could be created.

What is this “Nomad”?

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The Nomad is a “Tiny House on Wheels” “(as in the Tiny House Movement), that has been crafted in the medium of her art – assemblage.   The Nomad functions as her mobile artist-in-residence.

http://www.dominiquemoody.com

The Nomad and Dominique will travel together to seek out rubbish piles and do site-specific work with materials at hand. She will create assemblage sculptures and leave them where she found their components. These structures can and will take many forms that are based on the environment. Dominique will live in her art (The Nomad) and continue to create beauty in art and her life.

One of Dominique’s values is to live sustainably; she deplores how we trash the beautiful land we are blessed to inhabit and we use up its gifts with impunity and unconsciousness. Although she feels it is not necessary for her to own the land she very much wants to protect it. In response she diverts useful and soon-to-be beautiful objects from the landfills. She lives the principles of stewardship – reuse, repurpose, recycle. Although she loves the land and very much wants to protect it, she feels it is not necessary for her to own land.

The first repurposed items I noticed on The Nomad were the magnificent portholes, which I failed to guess are carefully polished and tended washing machine doors . She was inspired to bring them into the Nomad when sitting in a public laundromat watching the machine rotate her clothes.

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She confided that the real trick was to hunt down the 4 doors that she needed.

Everything used in The Nomad has a story: The piece of wood Dominique is holding in this photo comes from a 150 year-old bridge from Bakersfield, CA. It is the reclaimed remains from a large piece of public art that used Clearheart wood. Dominique explained that the Clearheart was dried in the heat of a century and a half of summers and this piece will take its own important place in the structure of The Nomad.

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Looking at the Nomad in its current workshop at Anawalt Lumber Company, Montrose,CA. I am caught up by the power of this artist’s grand vision that continues to drive her to meet unexpected challenges time and time again. She exercises her creativity and problem solving as adeptly as her power tools. She holds the large vision as well as the multitudes of details that comprise it.

IMG_1571Each piece of corrugated metal is cut and colored with many glazes before being pieced together in the pattern on the walls.

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As she describes her journey to bring The Nomad into being her face is suffused with a beauty and a joy that invites you not only to believe in her success but also to want to participate in it.

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She has had to move many times throughout her life; now she has found a way to embody that way of life in a culture that rejects it. Her 1950 Ford truck has the license plate “Nomad 45 “that celebrates the fact that it is her 45th address in her 58 years

Those who wander are not lost.

All those who know and are entranced by Dominique’s vision and sense of purpose,  those who want to follow in her footsteps will appreciate the irony that she is legally blind. Although her limited sight does not allow her to see the path, she has always seen the way. She inspires  us to look at what we discard with opened eyes.

She helps us to believe that every life can contain beauty, passion, art. Dominique (and I ) believe that if people can follow her example and commit to a vision that includes the Earth, community, Art, as well as family, friends, we will be able to understand its importance. We all can play a part at any age in making life purposeful in this country and on this beautiful and fragile planet.

The last words come from Dominique, when she spontaneously and joyfully arranged these blocks (with my help to read the words) in a little health food café in Altadena … IMG_1593

 Photos by Maureen Kellen-Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How purpose and values manifest in people’s lives.

It seems so simple to go to visual artists to explore this, for obvious reasons. How better to express your values than through your art where you live?

Take my long-time friends, artists Beth Pewther and Leonard Breger, who have inspired me over the years. Their shared purpose is to make art.

Their house became an art-house not only because the interior walls and ceilings are adorned with their art, but a couple of decades ago Beth, with the help of a couple of apprentices, transformed the exterior of the three-storey house with mainly donated and scrap tiles.

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Not only was the house changed, but the neighborhood has been affected. Over the years murals appear on walls on other streets, and intricate detailed window treatments, unusual color combinations announce the communal value that this is a creative area.

At Number 80, the mail-carriers are used to putting the mail through the jaws of a mythical creature – and how can their day remain unaffected by this experience?

IMG_1527 Visitors enter a world of color, texture and pattern as we walk up the front steps to the door. We are surrounded by the vision and purpose of the people who live here and by the time the door opens to welcome us, we are changed by what we have learned.

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Leonard, well into his nineties, would greet the morning with “Oh Good! Another day to paint – and to be with Beth!” And paint he did – weaving his sense of humor and endless possibilities into ideas about music, politics, art, science, as well as recording domestic events from the trauma of a fall to celebrating his daughter’s pregnancy. He believed in the power of exchanging ideas.

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 The last time I saw him he told me that his painting was finished and I understood what he was saying about purpose. Since his death Liz actively represents both his legacy of work and hers and she brings their images into continuing relationship with the world through shows.

She has just taken down a retrospective of her work, which leads the viewer on a journey through many decades, following the path of a woman actively involved in community and the adventures life offers. Her paintings communicate her passion for  the importance of anti-war demonstrations, the 60’s and the women’s movement; they depict her rootedness in her faith, her devotion to family and friends, how she brought her sense of design and textiles to important rituals in the life of others. More recently her art reconnects her (and us) with the humor and the whimsical in life.

In Beth’s world, flocks of radishes fly over the hills she loves to hover above moments of tender, affectionate connection between those who share the hills with her.

I invite you to explore more at www.artfools.com

How do values and purpose show up in your life?

More to come…..

Creating from Loss

The world has turned grey, nothing in it sparkles any more, dawns are dull, sunsets ashen, all sounds are muffled, my enthusiasm is sucked dry and my energy spent. I shut myself away to privately keen and howl and weep. I ask myself what is the point – of anything? Of love, of life, of caring? I cannot help myself. Friends call and their commiserations pierce me and tears come again and again.

Long ago a mentor counseled me not to stop myself from crying – Tears cleanse, he said, they do not drown!

Days later I wearily feel that I have to do something and, out of habit, I escape into books. In one of them, I read something that penetrates my lonely cocoon. A psychotherapist had written
“….I ask them if they can make their suffering sacred. Can they perhaps create something from their suffering.” (Michael Gellert: The Way of the Small)

I am a painter and so I sit at my worktable and listlessly try to draw…..No inspiration! I just want to see my dear ones once again.

Then I recall other times in which art had served this difficult state of grieving. Feeling bereft when my oldest child left home, I noticed the demolition of an old apartment building. The strands of wiring and fractured plumbing protruding from betwphoto-37een the floors seemed to mirror my internal state. It had been someone’s home once and now a wall was missing. Yet, even so, the curtains hanging from the remaining window frames gave an impression that someone was still home. The mixed media piece inspired by it hangs on my wall.

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I remember when trying to reconnect with my mother, I created a montage of photos and her letters and printed them on an apron. As I stitched and painted, I reflected on the woman who had been so pivotal in my life.

My sister builds an altar for her every Halloween – the anniversary of her death – and knowing about the altar comforts me. For my dead father I wrote about a special visit to a place that had imprinted his whole life – and through him – my own.

I am reminded once more, that I am not mourning just one this one death, but all the others through which I had grimly marched on, gritting my teeth, sidelining my feelings, carried along by the drum-beat of work deadlines and other responsibilities. Now my neglected grieving — for my mentor, parents, two friends struggling with serious illnesses, a friendship damaged beyond repair, my dear old hound — inundates me.

I assemble photos of a life I had shared, and through them contemplate the gradual minute-by-minute passage through the years and remember particular times. Gradually the feeling of great love shared comes glimmering through the grey. The photos, printed on fabric, become prayer flags inscribed with wishes from my friends. A dear friend keeps me company and we sew them onto a line and hang the prayer flags in the garden. They move with the wind, sometimes animated and sometimes becalmed. Comforting me, reminding me.

One of the inevitable occurrences of life is experiencing loss. I talked to a woman recently and she shared that she and her husband started a journal to help them with a recent loss. Every day they each wrote a memory down.

How have you dealt with loss?

Dancing “…If there’s anything I can do…”

I hope I will always be able to dance because dancing provides a doorway into a different time and space. I seem to move on from fear or sadness or stress, as I did recently.

Driving on a Los Angeles freeway, in rush hour in the dark, I tried to ignore the dreaded wobble, which could only mean a flat tire. I was rushing to the first of two finely calibrated appointments that evening. Inching towards the next exit, I saw it was to the largest park in the area. Sitting alone in the dark on the side of the road in a park waiting for help was not what I wanted to do so I kept driving until I reached the Autry Western Heritage Center. Fortunately it was still open and I parked in the no-waiting zone under a light and called roadside assistance first and then the people who were expecting me downtown to cancel.

When I told the museum security guard, who had driven up in a golf cart, about my mishap he circled by for the next half an hour to make sure I was safe. The tow-truck driver briskly changed the flat tire for a flimsy looking spare and I wearily prepared to drive home for the few miles allowed a temporary wheel. First, I called my colleague to explain that I could not attend the anniversary celebration that we had been preparing for all day. Amanda very quickly informed me that I had to be there and that someone was already on his way (in rush hour!) to pick me up and take me to the event. Rafael, the security guard, said I could leave my car in his parking lot for a couple of hours and I was driven back to the event.

On my arrival I was startled to meet 4 young men dressed as The Beatles coming out of my office. They had been booked to perform and I recollected that The Beatles haircut had been part of British art students’ uniform when John Lennon was an art student. The young musicians laughed when I told them how I used to cut the male art students’ hair in that very style to the annoyance of our professors who thought we should all be in class.

When the early Beatles songs rang out there was an immediate reaction from the audience, who were mostly sixty-years and older. Some bounced in their chairs and sang along. Others got up and danced and I, forgetting the evening’s problems, jumped up to join them.
Photos courtesy Tyrone Polk
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We danced and waved our arms, singing “She loves you, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” at the tops of our voices. I was a teenager again and that energy surged through me as I danced the old steps, laughing and singing – no thoughts of dark parks, rush-hour flat tires, or where I would go for a replacement next morning.

More people joined us, laughing and dancing, reliving the days when we went on like this for hours. We were so joyful, so carefree, giving ourselves up to the music, to the memories, and for a few hours, to youthful exuberance .

On the way home “If there’s anything that you want…If there’s anything I can do…” sang through my head and I thought of the kind guard, Rafael, who kept watch over me, of Amanda who insisted that I come to the event, and generous Tyrone driving through LA rush hour to get me to the celebration. And the dancing ….”Just call on me and I’ll send it along……” when I forgot my worries and stress — not only of that day — but it seemed for a short while, of my whole adult life.

I want dancing on my Roadmap of Aging!