The movie Diane starring Mary Kay Place makes aging look pretty depressing. We saw it last Friday night. Diane is seventy years old when the movie begins, a widow in a small town in Massachusetts. She is doing all the ‘right’ things to try to make the last third of her life meaningful.
She’s helping others. She volunteers at a drop-in that serves meals to the homeless and she delivers homemade casseroles to ailing friends and relatives. She visits patients in the hospital.
She’s connected to people. She maintains a relationship with her only son and his partner even though it requires tremendous effort on her part. She has friends she meets with regularly for meals and card games. She has close contact with her extended family and gets together often with them.
She has interests. She journals and reads and writes poetry. She takes walks in the woods and has bird feeders around her home. She attends church. She likes music.
She makes lists of things to do each day setting goals and tasks for herself.
But despite all these efforts at engagement and connection her life still is pretty sad and bleak. People she is close to keep dying. She tries to stay busy but there is still substantial time when she is alone and lonely. During these solitary hours she thinks about her past, the mistakes she’s made and worries if she is doing enough to atone for them.
Diane knows the limitations of her situation and for the most part accepts them with grace, but every once and a while her anger and frustration bubbles to the surface.
In the last years of her life my mother-in-law often said that growing old was not for cowards. The movie Diane makes that abundantly clear. I’m not sure if I am glad I saw it or not.
She Walks in Beauty
I was talking to a high school teacher not long ago who told me that research shows teenagers are suffering from increased anxiety for a whole variety of reasons. Teachers try to be understanding of their stress but at the same time, they want to help kids appreciate that sometimes anxiety can be good for them.
1) Anxiety can help you feel motivated and inspired when you face challenges. Athletes who are a little anxious perform better. Anxiety can help you put extra effort into tasks and move you towards a goal.
2) Anxiety can be a warning sign that you need to make changes in your life. Do you need to get more sleep, get more exercise, handle your finances more responsibly or eat in a healthier way?
3) Anxiety can help you become more empathetic towards friends and family members who are also facing challenges.
The young teen in the movie Eighth Grade talks to her dad about her worries
Knowing that stress and anxiety can sometimes be a positive thing means teachers are looking for ways to help kids deal with it. A variety of education and psychology articles offer good ideas.
- Find someone to talk to about your feelings.
- Journal or write about your anxiety to help you explore what may be triggering it.
Volunteering to clean trash off a beach with my high school students
- Volunteer. Reach out to help others instead of focusing on your anxiety.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude and find concrete ways to express it.
- Learn to emphasize the process or the experience more than the product or the final goal.
Wilderness hiking with my students
- Make meditation and exercise a regular part of your day.
- Go outside and connect with nature.
Anxiety isn’t just a challenge for teens these days. An article in Live Science says that in the past we thought anxiety declined with age. Mental health experts are finding that struggles with anxiety in seniors may have been underestimated. Interestingly the same things that can help teens deal with anxiety can help their grandparents’ generation deal with it too. Seniors who volunteer, meditate, get exercise, connect with nature, express gratitude, journal and build relationships with others will also ease their anxiety.
My Mom doing tai chi in Hong Kong
No matter what our age, a little anxiety can be good for us and there are ways we can handle it so our lives become more rewarding, meaningful and peaceful.
Go Outside, Go Often
Coloring Books- Not Just For Kids
My 96-year-old aunt lives in a Mennonite personal care home in Saskatoon. On Thursday morning I joined my aunt’s Bible Study group that included six other women in their late 80s and 90s. The leader was reading John 8:1-11 a story about a woman caught in adultery and the teachers of the law who thought she should be stoned. The leader read………“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?” Right at this point, one woman in the group interrupted in a loud voice. “I say if they were going to stone the woman, they should have stoned the man too. “
The room where our bible study group met
The Bible Study leader was a little taken aback but stopped to thank the woman for her comment. When she was finished reading the passage in which Jesus challenges the Pharisees that the one among them who is sinless should cast the first stone, the leader asked for any responses from the group and the same woman who had made the earlier comment said, “Why do they always seem to use a woman as the example for a sinner in the Bible? The Bible starts off with the story of Eve as a sinner.” The leader said it was because the Bible was written in a time when there were different attitudes towards women when women weren’t even considered people. “Good thing that’s changed,” the woman replied.
Talking about this with someone later they commented that perhaps the woman who spoke up so boldly had been thinking along those same lines all her life. Now due to her age, and perhaps having lost some of her social filters she is able to share her real opinions, opinions she may have had all along but wouldn’t have dared voice aloud in the patriarchal Mennonite church in which she was raised.
We often say the truth comes from the mouths of babes or children. It can also come from the mouths of octogenarian women.
Christ and the Adultress by Lucas Cranach the Elder- 1535-1540
A Poignant Book
A Woman I Wish I Knew More About
This past week I was thrown back into the active and engaging Winnipeg life I love after two months in Mexico where my toughest decisions every day were whether to golf or go to the pool, which book I should read next, whether to have white wine or a margarita for happy hour and which of my many writing projects I wanted to pursue.
Now that I am back home I can tell my brain is out of practice juggling all kinds of commitments and responsibilities. I’ve been showing up in the education office at the art gallery every time I have a shift to ask where something is or how to handle a situation. I got lost driving to my daughter-in-law’s concert on Wednesday night even though I was going to a venue I had been many times before. I went to the grocery store to buy food for the three social occasions we are hosting this weekend and left my long grocery list at home on the counter. I can’t find my favorite belt. I booked some of my university students for observations on days they didn’t request. I am the secretary for a Winnipeg Library Advisory Council. When I sent out the minutes of this week’s meeting one of the members kindly pointed out eight mistakes I’d made. I am the librarian at my church and I forwarded this week’s Sunday bulletin update about the library to my aunt’s physiotherapist in Saskatoon instead of to the church secretary. I showed up at my writer’s group last night without my copy of the book we are discussing.
I am not sure if this means I needed a longer holiday to rest my brain or……….. if my holiday was too long and I can no longer give my aging brain a two month break if I want to keep it healthy and firing on all cylinders.
Hopefully I’ll be back into the swing of things soon!
Growing Old Is Not For Cowards
I Want To Be Like Anna
A Poignant Book
Dark Forest by Dorothy Knowles
On a visit to our children’s home in Saskatoon at the beginning of November I went to the Remai Modern Art Gallery for the first time. What a beautiful place! My grandsons enjoyed the gallery especially the sunny spacious room at the Remai where children can do their own creative projects.
Trees by Dorothy Knowles
Interestingly it was the work of a 91 year old artist that drew my six year old grandson’s most dedicated attention. I told him the names of more than a half a dozen pieces of art by Dorothy Knowles and the next day when I showed him photos of those artworks he remembered the names of every single one. When he and I were drawing together one afternoon he suggested I try and recreate one of Dorothy’s paintings he liked the best called Trees.
Spruce River by Dorothy Knowles
My grandson isn’t the only person Dorothy has impressed with her beautiful canvases. Her career began in the early 1950s when she enrolled in an art workshop at Emma Lake. She has been painting ever since. Dorothy has been given the Order of Canada for her contributions. Her paintings are in galleries across North America and have been featured on Canadian postage stamps.
The Waiting Hills by Dorothy Knowles
Her work reminds me of the Group of Seven and Emily Carr. Like those artists Dorothy often painted outside. In an article in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix Dorothy says that in her work she is trying to pour onto her canvas her love of the prairie landscape, her love for the trees, and the wonderful radiance of the prairie sky. Dorothy says she simply paints what she sees but as she has grown older her eyes have been drawn to different things than they might have been drawn to when she was younger. That was an interesting idea for me to think about. Dorothy has also done some work that is more abstract.
Memories of Home by Dorothy Knowles
Dorothy has been painting for more than 70 years and she continues to paint and grow and change as an artist. She is an inspiration. It’s good to know that the creative process can continue even when you are in your ninth decade. It means I may still have a few decades of being creative ahead of me.
Don’t Be Scared to be Creative
Filed under Art, Retirement
What are the marks of maturity? How do you know if you have truly grown up? Many years ago I heard author and poet Judith Viorst speak at the Pantages Theatre in Winnipeg.
I have long been an admirer of Ms. Viorst’s children’s books like…….Alexander and the Horrible Terrible No Good Very Bad Day and The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. Judith also writes poetry for adults most of it about coming of age, whether that age be 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80.
The night I heard her speak she used a series of highly entertaining anecdotes to illustrate the signs we should look for if we wanted to determine whether we were truly a grown up.
According to Viorst being a grown up means………..
1. Realizing you aren’t necessarily everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. Some people will like you and some won’t. That’s natural and you accept it.
2. Understanding you cannot be responsible for making sure all the people you love are always happy. Your friends and family need to bear some of the responsibility for their own happiness.
3. Accepting the ‘dark’ side of your personality. Knowing you have faults but not being too judgemental of yourself. Admitting that despite your negative qualities you are still basically a good person.
4. Being firmly optimistic even when things go wrong in life. Always remembering that even when things appear catastrophic eventually healing will come and pain will diminish.
5. Having the ability to comfort yourself and the grace to receive comfort from others.
6. Committing yourself in some way to making the world a better place to live in before you die.
What next? Judith Viorst ended her talk by encouraging us not to worry if we hadn’t achieved her six marks of a grownup. She told us when we quit the ‘growing up process’ we may as well quit the living process as well.
Start and End Happy
Life’s A Symphony
For our latest sketching date my friend Esther and I went to the Winnipeg Art Gallery and were inspired by the bold and beautiful paintings of artist Norval Morrisseau.
I finally finished coloring the drawing I made on our sketching date. I wonder where we will go to sketch next?
Bold and Beautiful
What a Sash
Meet You At the Folio
Filed under Art, Retirement