Creative Aging Expert

Winter 2013

In This Issue


Career Hairstylists Sought

In an earlier issue I wrote about Candacy A. Taylor's book, Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress. It is a fascinating study of career waitresses who have worked for 40+years as "lifers," many continuing into their 80s. Counter Culture uncovers a group of older women who thrive in their waitressing careers. They make good money, love to come to work, and are often the heart of the establishments they serve. This book provides a totally different look at a waitressing career. Instead of being a fill-in-job, it spotlights a satisfied, happy group of older women who have chosen waitressing as a career. Gloria Steinem, after reading this book commented, "Thank you for making the invisible visible."

Candacy has now received a fellowship from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center to study career hairstylists. She will be traveling across the United States interviewing established hairdressers who serve a particular ethnicity or sub-culture, examining all aspects of the beauty salon as a cultural institution and observing how community is developed and maintained. She will look at meaningful connections stylists make with their clients and the role the salon plays in various neighborhoods and communities. The interviews will be archived at the Library of Congress and the project will be published as a book.

If you know of career hairstylists in your town who meets these criteria please e-mail her at candacy@taylormadeculture.com. To learn more about this project, visit taylormadeculture.com. Watch a fascinating six-minute video about her new project.

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Encore Purpose Prize Awards 2012

Encore Purpose Prizes are awarded to older Americans who are giving back in significant ways to society. CEO Marc Freedman explains, "Our real dream is to produce, together, a windfall of talent to help solve society's greatest challenges, from education to the environment, health care to homelessness. Thanks to the experience dividend now being realized around the world, we have the time and energy to live a legacy, instead of just leaving one."

Freedman notes, "If you're looking for inspiration, here are five stories that reveal the power of social innovation.... Each [awardee] identified a significant, seemingly intractable social problem. Guided by experience, drawing on creativity, and anchored in pragmatism, they set out to find solutions. In their 60s, they are changing the world and with it perceptions of what is possible for millions of others flooding into the second half of life."

Prizewinner Susan Burton, 61, a former drug addict, was in and out of jail for 20 years. Now she helps formerly incarcerated women in Los Angeles stay out of jail. Thomas Cox, a 68-year-old pro-bono lawyer in Maine, exposed massive fraud among mortgage lenders and teaches other lawyers how to protect homeowners from unfair lending practices. Judy Cockerton, 61, creates innovative ways people can help foster kids in Massachusetts including serving as "honorary grandparents." Lorraine Decker, 64, is taking her know-how as a financial planner to help low-income families in Houston earn more and to prepare teens for the financial rigors of adulthood. Bhagwati Agrawal, 68, brings safe drinking water to six villages in India, home to 10,000 people. He's doing it by collecting rain from rooftops using his engineering expertise. Each prizewinner was awarded $100,000 to put toward his/her project.

Read their stories and learn about the 35 new Purpose Prize fellows -- finalists for the Prize. Nominations for the 2013 Purpose Prize opened in January. If you know someone who is helping to change lives in their retirement, please nominate them at the encore website.

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Granny D, Political Activist, Remembered

In light of the recent presidential election, I wanted to remember one of my senior heroes. In March 2010, Doris "Granny D" Haddock died at the age of 100. She was an inspiration to all. After becoming a grandmother she went on to gain national stature as an American liberal political activist. Between the ages of 88 and 90, she walked over 3,200 miles across the continental United States to advocate for campaign finance reform. In 2004, Granny D stood up against the odds of both age and finances and ran, unsuccessfully, as a Democratic challenger to New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg for the U.S. Senate. For more information on Granny D go to grannyd.com. Her book, Walking Across America in My Ninetieth Year, is available on Amazon.

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Health Journal Feature

I was very honored to be on the cover of the September 2012 issue of The Health Journal. Written by Alison Johnson, the piece is one of the better articles about me. I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame, seeing the cover photo of me with my bike (and helmet) around Richmond. Here's a link to the web version.

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What's Wrong with Aging?

There's been so much in the news lately about anti-aging remedies--from anti-wrinkle cream to human growth hormones--that I just wanted to speak for the pro-aging side. What's wrong with aging? I see the faces of elderly people who have decided to deny their aging with chin lifts, botox injections, and facial implants, and I get this creepy feeling inside. Why are they avoiding the natural wrinkles, creases, bumps, and sags that come with growing old? I've always felt that there's something beautiful about the faces of older people. When I was a child I'd see these photos of older Native American leaders in the National Geographic, and even at that young age I felt a deep beauty in their faces. I'd look at the faces of my grandmother and great-grandmother (who I was privileged to live with for a year), and be in awe. In some ways, I get the same kind of feeling when I look at ancient trees. It seems that people in our youth-oriented culture have lost touch with the deep meanings that collect around being old. It's as if they wanted to eliminate autumn and winter from the four seasons. It's as if they were saying "let's get rid of the hideous autumn foliage, and withered leaves, so everything can be green all the time."

There's a life-denying quality to those artificially stretched cheeks and foreheads; a kind of tension there that wants to pretend time doesn't exist. But it does. What a great honor it is to be a part of this mysterious life process that unfolds, that has been unfolding for as long as there have been living things!

This article by Thomas Armstrong comes from his book, The Human Odyssey. It appeared in the Human Values and Aging Newsletter. This newsletter is a great commentary on aging issues. To subscribe write HRMoody@aarp.org.

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AARP Driving School

I recently had the court-directed opportunity to go to driving school! I dreaded it, but it turned out to be a valuable experience. I learned many new things that will be helpful to me becoming a safer driver. Most class members were seniors, and issues associated with being older drivers were a large part of the discussion. At the American Auto Association website there are a group of downloadable resources for older drivers.

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Educating Students Entering Medical Fields

I recently spoke to a University of Richmond class called Doctors Becoming Doctors. A course designed to help students, who are thinking about entering the medical field, understand what it means to be a patient, what it's like to be ill, and how illness affects many aspects of a person's life. They were especially interested in issues around illness and aging. Some of the points I made were:

  • It's important to get to know the cohort of healthy elderly living 20-30 years longer and fully engaged in society. They may be in and out of the medical system, but they bounce back to continue their engaged lives.

  • What it's like to feel totally healthy, and then have someone stick that first needle into your arm filled with chemicals fighting your cancer which will make you feel sick for several months. I cried when that happened.

  • Like all fields, ageism is present in the medical profession. I shared with them the oncologist who said I was too old to get chemo (71), the nurse in the Hot Springs clinic near the Appalachian Trail (AT), who after asking a lot of irrelevant questions announced, "You're too old to be hiking the AT."

  • I detailed good experiences with the chemo nurses who were kind and caring and even presented me with a certificate on my last treatment indicating my courage in undertaking chemo. And I also discussed the not-so-good experiences with the radiation technicians who were more distant and impersonal.

It was a fun and important interchange with the students. They seemed surprised to meet an active 81-year-old and asked good questions during the discussion.

As I prepared for this presentation I discovered some interesting programs going on around the country. Fifty percent of all patients today will be over 60 and very few medical students are choosing to become geriatricians. Some medical schools are instituting special programs for all physicians in training to educate them about older patients. Virginia Commonwealth University offers a panel of engaged older citizens discussing: Truth and Fiction in Longevity. No holds barred; the students can ask any questions their curious about, and they do!

A more comprehensive program takes place at the University of Texas Health Science Senior Professor's Program. It pairs older citizens from the nearby retirement community with first year medical students. The students spend time with seniors in their homes, discuss all sorts of topics together, and learn to see older people as the individuals that they are--not in the stereotypical way society often paints them.

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Make It Happen! Update

I am fully recovered from my second case of breast cancer and back on the speaking circuit.

Over the summer, I had fun getting to know my 55+ neighbors who came out from behind their curtains to enjoy the weather. There is nothing like having an Olympic-sized pool at your disposal from Memorial Day through mid September. My 8' by 10' garden plot is a joy to experiment with growing different vegetables and proved a lovely way to meet up with fellow gardeners. I've joined the writing group and the book club, but mainly am involved in activities outside of Carriage Hill where I live--mostly working on environment and social justice issues.

In November, I attended an amazing tennis camp at Hilton Head, SC. Hosted by Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), the leaders worked us to death and I learned so much. At the end of December, during a rambunctious game of badminton with my ten-year-old grandson, I managed to slip on the wet grass and break two bones in my left foot. Off crutches now and just about healed, I am looking forward to getting outdoors again. At the end of March, I will head for Bike Florida, a seven-day bike tour where my Miami-based son, Josh, will join me. Later this year, I will be keynoting the Country Meadows Retirement Communities' "Celebrating Independence" Conference in Pennsylvania. They are inviting seniors from all of their campuses to come together to celebrate a day of learning revolving around the theme of mind, body, spirit.

I hope all of you are doing well and persevering through whatever struggles you face in your day-to-day living. Wishing you a peaceful 2013.

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