A Boxing Day Tradition Reflected in Poetry, Purposeful Proaction and Painting.

December 26th 2017.

After the momentousness of 2017, it was a relief to hunker down with my family and once again to ground myself in important Life ingredients: fun, laughter, compassion, generosity of spirit and love in all its funny little forms. As becomes an older family member, I was part tourist and part-contributor. Tourist, as I observed and sampled the rituals and events (and dishes) that had become important to my children and grandchildren; some were outgrowths of my traditions and some were completely unrelated to the ways I used to manage Christmas Celebrations. I found that setting aside my habitual expectations was a relief and also made the time we spent together much more enjoyable.

Now it is Boxing Day, and, in English tradition, time to consider the needs of others. (some would note that it is a massive sporting day!) Sports aside, I reflect on large scale needs and how I might act in relation to them.

For these last few months my email inboxes and house mailbox have been jammed with warnings and pleas for contributions – much, much more than I could reasonably respond to – and also with cries of ALARM, DESPAIR, and calls to Resist, (all in CAPS accompanied by exclamation points!!!!!!) There were so many that I often felt bruised and depressed. What world, what country are my grandsons growing into?

I am not one just to sit in denial for long– although it is very tempting – I decided to work out some coping strategies for myself. These constitute framing how I can offer just a “widow’s mite” to everything that needs to be done and understanding that there are, by no means, magic bullets or ”one right way to save everything”. It helps to  know that there are many more people like me out there with humble but important contributions.

Long ago I was often encouraged by John Seed, a Rainforest activist from Australia, who was fond of saying “We are not looking to persuade everyone. We just need to reach tipping point. And you never know,  the next person you talk to may be the tipping point.”

Years ago I drew a portrait of the remaining members of a few species thinking that the drawing would help people see their beauty and help to stop their disappearance. I have not had the courage since to see if any of

the creatures depicted have made a comeback or even survived. I had high hopes then that we humans woul

d soon reach a tipping point and the destruction would stop. But I forget that it takes a long time to recover from centuries of damage and it requires patience and concerted effort to reverse the processes our ancestors put in place. (Except of course for the indigenous people on every continent)

 

This post is dedicated to Tipping Points!

Having settled on the scale of my own modest possibilities for proactive participation, I needed to contemplate the direction of my path. In doing so, I started to build my coping and my strategies. My reflections often  connect 2 images, which are deeply embedded in my felt memory.

One is of the dense jungle (The Bush) of Guyana, my childhood home, and the other a newly clear-cut area in Mendocino County, California, where I lived for a time as an adult. I still remember the pain when I saw the silent, desolate clear-cut and how I wept long and hard. It was such a sad contrast to the vibrant Bush, of which I had written the following:

“…..when it rains in the tropics after a long, dry season, it feels like a miracle.……The drumming of huge warm drops on every surface breaks the spell of quiet, drowsy waiting.  In response, a frenzied dance of wild growing begins. To be on the edge of the Bush after a downpour, is to be caught up by the stir, body buzzing in rhythm with all the strivings of surrounding growth. Each plant and tree, it seems, is birthing whole new generations with such energy that the air vibrates. Birds and monkeys scream with joy, accompanied by the sounds from orchestras of insects. I feel the life inside me, and outside. I know that Nature is alive and much bigger than I am. “ (1995) 1

The juxtaposition of these two memories continues to give impetus to my project. I have to decide where my efforts are going to be made. One of my needs is to be involved in something that inspires me and gives me hope. Funnily enough I note that when I am protecting and nurturing, I feel protected and nurtured.

I read that there are places on the planet that are like cradles – nurseries for huge number of diverse species. In the name of enlightened self-interest, I want to help protect these nurseries so that they thrive and eventually spill over into areas that we have turned into cemeteries for millions of other life-forms.

One of these nurseries is the Amazon Headwaters. There are others to be protected as “No-Take” reserves in the oceans. An oceanographer inspires when he says that if we made 20% of the oceans into no-take reserves there would be a great chance for healthy oceans.

These give me hope. Researching the protectors is easy online. I am thrilled to find that there are a number of organizations at work to protect these bio-diversity “nurseries”. (2  and 3)

During my reflection process, where I typically use images, in paint, I find myself  I returning to my own habitat – my garden. I discover that bees are flying into my paintings. My attention also becomes focused on the precious bee. Consequently I am making my garden a welcoming place for them. And petitioning against the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture and gardens. I am encouraged to hear in the November news that Europe is banning their use.

The painting that follows is an homage to bees – it incorporates a poem by Mary Oliver, which is on The Honeybee Conservancy web page (http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org)

Mary Oliver has a way of opening up language to expand experience.

HUM

BY MARY OLIVER

What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They’re small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them-haven’t you?—
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered-so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout- sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I
haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.

 

bees 2

Discovering the sweet joy in little things.

Notes

  1. From “Mindscapes into Landscapes” M.Kellen-Taylor, p85
  2. Several Amazon Headwaters Protection Organizations; Pachamama Alliance; WWF; Blue Moon Fund; Wyss Foundation; Upper Amazon Conservancy and more
  3. Enric Sala’s Ted Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/enric_sala/transcript

 

 

After a long absence

Events of the last few months have made it so easy to feel powerless!

Seeing news footage of the ocean pouring over the Malecon in Havana, floods in the streets of New Orleans, fires raging through Santa Rosa, I walk through these familiar places in my memory, grieving. I worry about the safety of friends and try to quell horrific images of fleeing people, animals, birds. We inhale the smoke from the ever-encroaching Los Angeles fires. As I read about the reckless short- sighted cupidity of government law-makers, a feeling of mounting hopelessness for the fate of the world that I love, and was certain would endure, overcomes me. I long to hide my head under the blankets.

                                                …and then I think of Jay.

 I had the great good fortune to meet him when I recently co-led an art/collage group on expressing cultural values for low-income seniors. He rolled into the class in his electric wheelchair, his beaming smile lighting a pathway into the group.  I looked from his deformed hands to his smiling face filled with expectancy and I resolved that, if this man wants to create something, we would make it happen. The project – to collage a box that would not only remind people they are creative and to express their values but it would be a box to store special objects.

The first week when I was getting signed photo releases from everyone, he refused.

Jay and I settled at our own table. The first challenge was how to communicate because he is deaf and mute and I don’t know how to sign.  I quickly learned that he can force a pen between two fingers and write, so with the aid of a small whiteboard, we conversed.  In answer to my written question about what is important to him, he wrote the names of the Los Angeles basketball and baseball teams. This is where my learning began.

I noted how he painstakingly picked up sheets of paper, forced his working fingers (two on each hand) into the handles of scissors and cut out his collage materials. He carefully looked at each of 35 pages of photographs I downloaded from his team’s webpage and selected those he wanted to use.

On week 3 he wrote “take my photo!” and on Week 4, I presented him with several copies of his infectiously, good-humored face.

Over the series of classes he assembled, cut, composed and glued the pictures in place. I steadied the paper sometimes, took the top off the glue, brought in an exacto tool and cutting board and marveled at his focus and determination. The box became an object of art that was meaningful to him and I must confess, to me and everyone else in the group working at another table. My encouragement was transmitted with gestures, smiles and a few words scrawled on the board. In turn, I never left the classroom without being uplifted by his enthusiastic attitude.

winning box

I wanted to know more about this important bond between his team and his feelings about himself. The obvious connection was Jay absorbing the images of strong, lithe, powerful and successful African-American men. I remembered a practice where Zen painting teachers tell their students to sit with their subjects – be it rock or a tree-  “until their souls intertwined”. It seemed to be so here. Jay could become one of these magnificent athletes and heroes for a short and glorious time. (As an aside, Social Psychologists understand that identity is social and that if an individual is proud of the group to which he or she belongs, their sense of self is strengthened. They also know that belonging is one of the top psychological needs and motivators. (Harre, psych.aukland.ac.nz/Psychologyforabetterworld)

Every week Jay wheeled in, beaming and waving his arm like a stick. Every week he settled into his labors. Every week he progressed towards completion.

I asked him to point out words from a list of values to incorporate into his work. He chose Education, Winning, Fun, Belonging, Beauty, Collaboration and I continued my learning. And yes, sports are all of those and Life too!

The highlight of his art-making was to place a picture of a poster in his box as the first thing to see when the lid comes off. His motto and that of his team……

Motto

And if this man can feel this as he deals with enormous challenges – every day and up close – I ask myself “who am I to give up??”

yes

 

(photos- M.Kellen-Taylor 2017)

OWLS Poetry

singing ink

Poetry is just the evidence of life – Leonard Cohen

“I just don’t read poetry!” the young mother said, as she watched her toddler drawing in the shade of a tree with obvious delight.

After a moment’s reflection, she continued, “There was some poetry in a high school class – but I didn’t get it.

It was too hard to understand!”

 

 

 

I thought of the OWLS**, a group of women in their seventies, and their poetry teacher, Oshea Luja. How they all revel in poetry! And I silently wished something similar for the mother when she reached “retirement age”.

One of an enthralled audience last weekend,  I watched the OWLS speaking their poetry with tenderness, passion and joy.  It was the long-awaited launch of their exciting first anthology “Singing Ink”.

Every Wednesday, in the library of their senior apartment building, they meet with their guides and teachers, Oshea and Melanie Luja.  Oshea and his Muse, Melanie, are talented and acclaimed Spoken Word Artists (Food4Thot and Queen Socks) and to this community of poets, they are also gently encouraging and greatly inspiring guides.

What does poetry mean to the OWLs?  Obviously discipline, but also commitment, and community, — yet there’s more!  In their own words from “Singing Ink “:

Kit, who never ever seems to stop writing, “Poetry is my bliss/The cosmos whirling inside my bones/The hard work of plucking the miraculous/ From thistles”

Dolly, who now laughs at how often she has incredulously asked if her writing is poetry, answers “Translucence of words/becomes a mirror reflecting my life/embodying forgotten memories”

Felicia, who asks many questions in her poems, including those about the process of poetry “What walls have I hit?/ What is standing in my way?/ I see my shadow standing in my way./Dare I push her aside to meet my creative needs?”

Abigail writes “To my surprise/ I bleed joy/ I was waiting for pain and sorrow and rage/and here is joy.”

Jo-Lynda, after a lifetime of writing, affirms that “a poem/will gush forth/becoming a stream/a river, the sea/pressed down/and overflowing/covering the planet/with verse.”

Oshea describes the meetings where “a word orchestra took place. Readings were shared and the fabric of this group’s melody began to sing beautiful ink across the fabric of these pages…..while we’re here, we have decided to play every note, every sound, chord, piano key, and sing our beautiful song like no one’s listening, watching or judging.”

For my part, I see you, poets!

I believe in you!

And I gratefully hold you as inspiration to create fulfilling lives as you age.

(Who knows, I may even write a poem or two one day! Until then, yours is there to savor.)

Singing Ink by Felicia Soissons-Segal, Kit Harper, Dolly Brittan, Abigail Howard and Jo Lynda Blake is available on Amazon Books.

(** as you will discover in the introduction, OWLS initially called themselves “Old White Women” but, after processing in their group some of the racial divisiveness afflicting the country, and experiencing together the universality of being human, they are now Oshea’s Wise Ladies.)

 

when you come …..

“…when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments?
I said not yet but I intend to start today.” (Raymond Carver)

I have always especially treasured the perspective of my friends who are older. Often I learn simply from how they are and what they do. I discovered that my friend Joe used to print quotes from his wife’s favorite poets and authors to hang on a peg over the washing machine for her to read and savor, transforming this most ordinary chore.

The most important lessons are completely unexpected. Here’s a story of a recent one:

It is an inviting and comfortable house in a pleasant neighborhood close to a beautiful park. Cheerful boxes of flowers line the steps to the front door. Once inside a quick glance reveals evidence of a cultured lifestyle – the many books, art, dvds and cds bear witness to a deep and long-standing involvement in the arts. The artifacts collected from foreign countries indicate well-educated and well-traveled owners.  It is the home of an elderly couple,  sadly each with a brain now mercilessly eroded by disease.

In one room, the old man sits at a table, head down, lost in his own reality. When he speaks, it is in great sorrow about the past and of a life of regret. He declares that he has never been loved. His son, who had traveled thousands of miles from his young family to stay with his ailing parents, carefully prepares each meal and lovingly ensures that it is his father’s favorite food.

Friends of many years come to visit several times a day. Each sits with him, holds his hands and reminisces about the many happy times over the years. We fondly describe the many celebrations and visits and travels and shared meals. Central to our memories is a devoted husband and a vibrantly affectionate wife. Theirs is a great love story, which we have all witnessed over the decades and that continues to inspire us, their friends, through time and into the present. The feeling of love in their house is palpable. We each tell the old man that we love him, but he denies it to our faces.  All the old man can recall is an ancient hurt, a rejection that has erased 60 years of life well-lived.

In a room upstairs, his wife lies dying, her life inexorably slipping away.

At each arrival of friends, she rouses herself and blesses each one of us with her characteristic smile. She murmurs in gratitude at the flowers she receives and when her son feeds her – she says clearly “I am so lucky!”

 

The old man and woman have shared a life in the same house for more than 60 years. They traveled together, went to plays and opera, art museums, sat and read from their extensive library in their comfortable house. They received the same friends and loving attention from their only child. We joked how his view of life’s cup being half-empty was more than compensated by her conviction that the cup overflows.

How is it that their last days are spent so differently?  He, crying and feeling unloved, and she, smiling and feeling so very blessed. Although, much needs to be attributed to the kind of disease they each suffer, it is worth “stop(ping) and ask(ing) for understanding” and  reflecting on how we choose to be.

Do we have a choice? If we each live a life of gratitude and appreciation, do we lay down so many neural pathways that they remain operating right up to the end? If we make the intention now, not knowing how long we have, will it bear similar fruit?

I think it is worth trying because, regardless of the end goal, the process – living – is much more enjoyable.

What important questions to ask. What important lessons to learn.

.

(in gratitude photos and art by M. Kellen-Taylor)

Learning to Love: Crossing the Generation Divide

Published in HowlRound “a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community,” based at Emerson College. A description of the Mentoring program that I used to design and direct during my employment by a non-profit that serves seniors in Southern California. 

http://howlround.com/learning-to-love-crossing-the-generational-divide

 

I humorously call theatre “the family curse” because I have grandparents, great-grandparents, a daughter, and a grandson all marked by a passion for the theatre. Therefore, I am not surprised when many of the seniors with whom I work fall under its spell. The residents at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, their appetites whetted by acting and writing classes, formed their own theatre company to write, direct, and act. They continue to receive coaching from professionals and play to full houses for their neighbors. They experience the alchemy that exists between actor and audience.

Through our programming, people who initially were sure they were audience members find themselves onstage performing, converted by the magic, challenged by the complexity, and expanded by the process. They write from their own lives and by acting the roles, they deepen their understanding of family members, friends, and even archenemies. They worry about forgetting lines; they rehearse, argue with the director, and form new connections, but when the curtain opens, they are on!

It is interesting to see how theatre has permeated EngAGE’s Mentoring program. Each semester for the last five years, high school students are selected to work with EngAGE Mentors at the Artists Colony on different arts projects. Many of these students have fallen out of the school system for various reasons and are at risk of dropping out. Their last chance is to attend Burbank Community Day School. There they work with Principal Chris Krohn and her talented team of teachers who are dedicated to enabling students to succeed. Working with the residents of the Artists Colony is an important component of this work.

The project involves a sequence of arts programs, some involving theatre, each with their own finale. For example:

  • Making one-minute Claymation movies
  • Creating a rap video
  • Designing video games about life
  • Making a twelve-minute film

A Cast shot of the students who wrote, acted in, and crewed the short black and white film, “Time After Time,” through EngAGE’s Mentoring program. Their Mentors provided inspiration and encouragement behind the camera.

During one finale, we watched a short black and white film on a big screen in the Colony clubhouse. The audience was composed of the students, their families and friends, school district administrators, and the fiercely proud mentors. The film was about a boy dreaming of his grandfather who loved to play baseball, and the big game that his team won. It was a sweet tribute to the relationship between boy and man. The ripple effect beyond the seniors and mentors became apparent when the writer’s father said, “I never thought my son could do that—write a screenplay for such a good film!” I saw him struggle to change his perception of his son as a “problem” and was encouraged by the mentor’s pride in the boy’s talents.

Mentor and student construct models for their Claymation movie. Each pairing wrote, directed, and captured their own one-minute film.

Another project called “Walk in our Shoes” was with Stacy Sims, a Mid-western writer/performer. Her project encouraged students and seniors to write stories that began with the prompt: “If you have never walked in my shoes, you will not know…” The goal was to perform the stories. Over time trust grew, and both mentors and students wrote and shared heartbreaking and heart-warming stories. That finale was a powerful performance of the stories, in which the actors, connected by long red strings, stepped out of a tableau vivant to perform their work. I recall one heart-wrenching moment when one of the girls started her monologue about living with serial abuse. Two seventy-year old women moved downstage to stand with her, conveying their solidarity, powerfully and wordlessly.

The group was amazed when a quiet eighty-year old gentleman, who retired from a successful business, revealed that he had been labeled a problem kid and sent to a special school. These were important life lessons for the young people as they witnessed their elder partners’ resilience and ability to survive. The students learned that it is possible to survive awful experiences and still go on to live successful, happy lives.

The power of theatre is its ability to amplify storytelling into a visceral experience. The grief, anger, and resolution in the stories drew in the audience and connected the actors. Some mentors better appreciated their own capacities through revisiting events in their lives.

The cast of the rap video project. Students learned that rap is poetry and mentors learned they can rap well into their 70s and 80s.

There is now a palpable change of attitude for many of the people living in the Burbank Senior Arts Colony. When the school first opened next door, residents looked down on the playground at recess and discussed with fear the “gang-bangers” that had become their neighbors. Now they talk about “our kids next door,” and the two groups wave to each other.

Mentors themselves understand that they are contributing something of great value. Students, who graduated from the school and went on to college, have returned to share their accomplishments. They write letters to the mentors, or run up to them in stores and give them bear hugs.

Each semester a different group of students join the mentors; however, the mentors remain the same. One mentor said, “We learn to love the kids in a short time and working with them is the most meaningful thing I do.” A student explained that he learned that “old people are not smelly and boring.”

I once heard an educator say that a student needs only a few adults to believe in them to have a chance at success. The Burbank Mentors quickly come to believe in the students. The invisibility that cloaks seniors and divides them from younger generations begins to melt away, and nowhere more so than through the arts.

 

Doorways to Hope

This was published recently in LinkedIn

In just over 11 years 20% of the US population will be over 65 and, if recent ageist tradition holds, millions will continue to be dismissed as useless and obsolete.
20% of society with 40 or more years of life and professional experience constitutes a huge and rich source of social capital. In the spirit of sustainability, organizations in various fields including education, wellness and social service, are changing that waste-heap into recycling and repurposing sources.

Creativity and Aging – An Insider’s Hopeful View.

For the past 35 years my work has been to transform the feelings of purposelessness and depression that often arise from being consigned to the waste-heap of American society. The Arts and Humanities provide one set of useful tools in the transformation from discard to social asset.

The threat of reduction in Federal funds for the Arts and Humanities only reinforces the misperception that the Arts are solely for entertainment -and thus a mere frill. I am countering that misperception with how Arts and Humanities offer, instead, opportunities for meaning and purpose for the remaining 20 to 30 years of living. That is, living in the active sense!

Understanding how and why the creative process affects us is key to curing this political mis-perception.
I also hope to begin to reassure young people that aging includes many adventures, fun, excitement and even a re-ignition of passions and interests that they are presently forced to side-line.

The Insider: Practicing both art and aging for many years, I am sharing from the perspectives of an artist, a teacher, a developer of arts and humanities programs for adults and children, and as a past expressive arts therapist. This paper addresses work with aging adults but can and does apply to all ages – as research has consistently demonstrated the benefits (1, 2)

Although I describe the creative process in terms of the arts – visual, performing, literary – because I know about them, it is vitally important to acknowledge that creativity expands far beyond them. For example, my father, a retired mechanical engineer, designed and built working models of all kinds of machines. This miniature working steam-engine is a beautiful embodiment of his esthetic and creativity.

Involvement in the creative process means exploring the potential inherent in music, writing, performance, painting (or engineering design) and then actualizing it. At the same time we are also exploring, both consciously and intuitively, aspects of our own potential. We learn to actualize these through expression. This makes for a satisfying integrity to optimizing the aging /human process through the arts.

When a musician picks up an instrument, even if you know the piece she is going to play, you do not know how she will play it and how you will hear it. Imagine the hushed anticipation of the audience right before the performance begins, that exciting moment of “not-knowing”, when the music is still a potential. The musician begins to play, the actor speaks the first words of his part, the painter lays color onto the canvas, and all the possibilities – whatever they might be – are decided upon, actualized and become embodied into the final piece. This is also a great metaphor for living.

In the same way that artists actualize the potential of their latest piece, creative aging includes involving each individual in exploring his or her potential, and bringing into being, undiscovered aspects. It is such an exciting process of discovery! Over and over again, I hear “I never knew I could do that! How wonderful!”

This process can continue if we let it, until the last breath. I remember a hospitalized man in his late eighties in a visit by an artist from my team, enthusiastically confiding that he had “another design“ for their ongoing work together.  Neither of them knew that this was his last day of life. He had spent his prior final days in a sterile hospital room engrossed in imagining colors and shapes and mentally moving them into satisfying and beautiful patterns. Although his body was completely immobilized by disease, his imagination remained active and flew free. (3) We used one of his designs to advertise the Elder Banner Project of which he was a participant. (**)

Knowing this kind of freedom is a possibility invites us to reach for that freedom.

Stepping into the creative process is like boarding a plane. After take-off there is little sensation to remind you that you are traveling at 700 miles an hour, 38,000 feet above the earth’s surface. Similarly, being immersed in creating moves us into “creative time”, or flow. In that state there can be little sensation of time passing as we are transported out of the studio into other worlds. I think of this timeless place as a connection with the eternal, when the artist becomes ageless, and draws on past experience while reaching into the future.

The created piece itself, be it music or sculpture, writing or painting, has a similar ability to transcend time and place. The lines drawn on paper, thousand of years-old splotches of color on a cave wall reach across centuries and countries to touch us and share with us the artists’ views and experience. The hospitalized man was re-living his life and love of the abstract paintings he saw in the Berlin of his youth. That youthful vigor continues to be palpable in his remaining art-work. It reminds me that creativity can transcend and transform, even momentarily, the most dire physical state.

We have all felt how music can, and does, transport us. I listen to the guitarist playing a favorite and I am once again a dancing 17 year-old. Music can also serve as a two-way street. In our work we watch where, over and over again, a piece of music reaches the mind-spaces into which confused, institutionalized people have retreated and gently draws them back into present time-space. We watch in wonder as the musician throws out a life-line and we become connected in a group of people swaying in shared time.

The arts are an integrative force. Just as time and space are integrated into the moment of creating, our varied physical and emotional experiences are integrated, brought together into a coherent pattern. Using our eyes, hands, ears, arms, imagination, memory and feelings to create a painting, brings sometimes fragmented or forgotten aspects of ourselves into working in concert. In writing we bring forward ideas, experience, knowledge we did not know existed. The Arts and Humanities become doorways into social contribution and connection.

We practitioners in the field of Creative Aging believe that an individual’s potential does not disappear with age. That it is always there to be discovered is the crux of our work. For older adults to comprehend that we all continue to possess potential is vital. It is vital (from vita meaning life) because, in the face of widespread ageism, this reminds them/us that we have a purpose, that our experience is useful and valuable, that we can have hope.

With increased longevity, the demographic we call “older adults” includes several generations. We hear a great deal about the Baby–boomers and their needs, desires and hopes for the future. They can’t help the noise because there are so many of them. Most important, they are acknowledging the wounding this society inflicts on its aging individuals. I like to call the immediately preceding generational sub-group, Path-finders, and I am a member. We are quieter because, like all scouts, we need to hear the sounds and see the clues in the surroundings that indicate the direction of the path. In so doing, we revolutionized popular music, the theater and visual arts as well as social mores in the 1960s and after.

The Greatest Generation (of WW2), Path-finders, Boomers, the arts give us all ways to continue to be creative, self-respecting people, certain of our purpose and of the value of our contributions to our families and communities.

We are finding new ways of being the path for future generations to follow in joyful anticipation.

“So treat your dancers well
And
Remember their place.

They were not put here to serve you
But instead they give you grace.“

Caroline McElroy (4)

Maureen Kellen-Taylor, Ph.D. is a Visiting Scholar at The USC Davis School of Gerontology, Rongxiang Xu Lab for Regenerative Life Sciences. She was Founding Director of ArtWorks at Mount Zion Hospital, San Francisco; provided arts, humanities and intergenerational programs along with wellness and lifelong learning to 34 apartment communities in Southern California, for 14 years with EngAGE; adjunct faculty in Quest Lifelong Learning programs for South County Community College District, Hayward CA for 12 years; recipient of California Arts Council funding for 5 years and their Directors Award for dedication to the Arts in California.

References
1. Washington State Arts Commission, 2006. Arts for Every student: Education Resources Initiative, Washington State Arts Commission, Washington State http://www.arts.wa.gov
2. Silk, Yeal Z. Mahan, Stacey. Morrison, Robert. 2015. The States Status Report A Review of State and Regional Arts Education Studies. Americans for the Arts, Washington, D.C. http://www.americansforthearts.org
3. Artworks at Mount Zion Hospital, The Banner Project: Making the Invisible Visible,1981-84 San Francisco CA. A project under my direction that took designs from homebound elders to be constructed into 8ft x4ft banners by active elders and then displayed publicly.
4. Gibson, Ph.D, Morgan and Kellen-Taylor, Ph.D, Maureen (eds) 2014. Engage in Poetry: an anthology of poetry by residents of active aging apartment complexes.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. (Maya Angelou)

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