Creative Aging Expert

Summer 2012

In This Issue


Adventuring on Your 86th Birthday

Retired University of Richmond Chancellor E. Bruce Heilman celebrated his 86th birthday by driving his Harley-Davidson motorcycle 9,000 miles around the perimeter of the United States. "It's been exciting, it's been fulfilling, it's been challenging, and it has been humanitarian in many ways because people have been so generous and kind and thoughtful," he said. When asked why he did it he answered, "I made the trip in part to show that I could." For his 87th, he's considering riding through the states in the middle of the country that he missed this time. "We have to be challenged," he said.
From Bill Lohmann's column, Richmond Times Dispatch, July 17, 2012.

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Recent Books on Positive Aging

Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older by Wendy Lustbader, longtime social worker, professor, and author. She describes her book as "a counter balance to the negative and stultifying stereotypes about aging that constrain everyone's spirit." In three sections, "Hope," "Transformation," and "Peace," she moves with a deft rhythm contrasting her life stories of aging with the insights gleaned from the words and wisdom of the retinue of elders she has known and served through her many years of social work.
This description is from Aging Today, September-October 2011.

Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier by Peter Spiers, Road Scholar Senior Vice President. "Our participants truly are a breed apart; I first saw that when I began attending programs ten years ago, and I've long wanted to understand how and why. I talked to so many participants who are active, happy, and intellectually engaged that I felt their secret had to be shared with the world." He conducted hundreds of interviews with Road Scholar participants, and he read dozens of articles from the fields of psychology and neuroscience. The key to successful aging and retirement Road Scholar-style Spiers learned from this research was staying active with a portfolio of interests that blend socializing, creating, moving, and thinking.
Master Class was published in June 2012 and can be found on Amazon.com.

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Gloria Steinem at 77

Gloria Steinem, one of the most well-known figures from "second-wave" feminism in the 1970s, is now in her 70s. As inspirational as ever, she claims that most everything about aging, "so far has been a plus." Steinem finds this time of life especially rich. She is still writing, which was her vocation as a young woman (when she took a job at a Playboy club as a bunny in order to discover the behind the scenes life that such a job entailed). And she continues speaking and traveling. The public has never lost interest in the life and times of Gloria, partly because of her outspoken views that were promoted through her editorship of Ms. magazine, partly, perhaps, because of her beautiful face, with her high cheek bones and her Jackie Kennedy sunglasses.

Talking about her body as it has aged she said, "What happens at 50 is that more or less you lose what you need to create another person...you keep what you need to sustain yourself: And there's something wonderful about that." Never having had children, which is something she does not regret, she describes her family as the close friends she has--including her old lovers with whom she has such comfortable relationships with now.

In terms of feminism today, she is dispirited by the media efforts to sexualize young girls and to demean women in various TV shows such as the "Housewives" series. She also thinks more can be done for better child care options so that more men and women can work, have a family, and enjoy their lives. From "Gloria Steinem Blyth Spirit," by Amy S. Rosenberg, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 19, 2011.

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James Hillman's Views on Aging

James Hillman was director of the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, for ten years. In his book, The Force of Character and the Lasting Life, Hillman addresses the subject of aging and, in his usual fashion, turns many generally accepted concepts on their heads as he presses for a broader look at the "misery" of decline: memory loss, irritability, insomnia, heart failure, drying up. In our country, aging is regarded primarily as a disease on which huge sums of money must be spent in search of a "cure." Hillman contends that it is not our hips that need replacing, but our beliefs about old age--ideas that give priority to biology and economics, rather than to soul and individual character.

His re-visioning of aging takes as a central paradigm the notion of character, which he defines as the whole of one's nature, "that particular person you have come to be and already were years ago." It is character, he says, that forms how our faces look, what our habits are, our interests, friendships, eccentricities, ambition, and work. It is what determines the way we give and receive; it affects our loves, our children. And, as we age, the force of our character naturally deepens. "As character directs aging," Hillman contends, "aging reveals character."

To grow old well, he says, takes the courage to let go of useless negative ideas about aging, and to cultivate instead curiosity about this process, finding its value. We must, he insists, keep our eyes open to both the fading light and the blaze of beauty at sunset.
This is an excerpt from "favorites from the archives," The Sun Magazine, August 2000, by Genie Zieger.

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Minding Your Wrinkles

Do you get ads in the mail describing "The Most Powerful Wrinkle Reducer in History?" Clearly advertisers know that I'm a senior. They think I am ashamed of my wrinkles and just dying to get rid of them. Not so. I am proud of them. I have earned every one of them. They can take their "skin care breakthrough" that "makes the appearance of wrinkles disappear" and shove it. I find their ads insulting.

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Legacy Letter

Leah Dobkin, retiree, author, and workshop presenter, who focuses on positive community change and interesting people, suggests the importance of writing a legacy letter. She notes that as our modern society places more emphasis on material things, it is easy to lose sight of what we think is important in our lives. Wealth is more than money and possessions. In fact, what you learn in life may be more valuable than what you earn. Consequently, passing on your life lessons and values, not just your valuables, is important, especially in our consumption-oriented culture.

Putting pen to paper about your intangible assets is a way to preserve who you are, and what matters most to you. It is a way to be remembered, understood, and to make a real difference to the younger generation.

As Leah says: "My family celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah at our handmade log cabin, which my husband built with some help from family and friends. I was hoping the cabin would be a no electronic zone, but I was outnumbered. The children were plugged into their own thing. One child was wired into his iPod, listening to music. Another was absorbed in his text messaging conversation with his cell phone. A third was watching a movie on her laptop computer. Is this scene familiar to you?

A disturbing New Year's Day newspaper headline said "The Year People Stopped Talking to One Another." An entire generation is obsessed with technology and multitasking. Families are scattered and busy, and don't take the time to share family stories. This younger generation may become the first generation not to know their family heritage. There is something you can do to address this problem."

You can give your younger relatives deeper roots by crafting a Legacy Letter. To find out just what such a letter might contain go to: legacyletter.org.

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Attitude Is Everything

Today at the doctor's office I started talking with an older woman in a wheelchair. When I told her I gave presentations on creative aging, she rolled her wheelchair toward me and said, "I just can't stay at home all day so I got a job working at Walmart as a greeter. I really enjoy it. Unbeknown to me, my fellow employees nominated me for the 'Acts of Kindness Award' that the local TV station gives out. One day a busload of seniors arrived. Their escort brought them especially to meet me to show them that you can still be active and enjoy life even in a wheelchair. I thought that was wonderful."

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A Checklist for Fall Prevention

Home Fast of Australia has developed an online screening tool for home falls and accidents. It asks 25 questions that help identify potential sources of risks for falling inside and outside the home. This tool can be used by seniors and people who work with seniors to determine areas in and around their homes that need improvements to help prevent falls. To take the test, go to health.vic.gov.au and select Home Falls and Accidents Screening Tool.

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Encore Careers

If you're looking for a post-retirement career that combines purpose, passion, and a paycheck, you might want to connect with encore.org/work/joblistings. There you will find: links to ten websites that list a wide range of job openings; links to job boards that focus on health care, non-profit, green, education, and government jobs; tips on using LinkedIn and other social media sites to find an encore career; and a podcast with careers expert Marc Alboher on how to search for work with meaning. Let me know if you find this site helpful.

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Update on Make It Happen!

Make It Happen! has been on hold for the last seven months as my breast cancer returned after nine years. This time a different cancer in the other breast. It was quite a surprise as I had almost totally forgotten I'd ever had cancer. After surgery, four rounds of chemo, and 33 days of radiation, I am just now feeling ready to surge ahead with my active life. I am looking forward to getting back on the speaking circuit now that I am regaining strength. I am playing tennis doubles with my senior group twice a week, am up to 18 miles riding on my bike, swimming 10 laps in the pool most days, and am taking a wonderful water aerobics class. I have a four-day backpacking trip planned for Labor Day weekend and a jaunt to my beloved ocean for my 81st birthday....A note about the importance of good health and aging: the doctors said it is unusual to give chemo and radiation to a woman of my age, but since I lead such an active lifestyle, they were able to do it.

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