Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Immortality of Sorts

Photo and caption from Catholic Charities Appeal
Here's one cohort of workers who do not have to fear that, upon retiring, they won't know what to do with themselves. Their service is so in demand that they are constantly being called up for duty.
Who is this group?
As Kristin Holmes reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer,  the shortage of priests is so severe in the area that many well into their eighties are stepping up to the pulpit.
Nearly a third of priests and bishops in the Philadelphia Archdiocese  --171 out of 520-- are officially retired, the article says. A full 50 percent in the neighboring Camden Archdiocese are also retired. And no army of young recruits has emerged to fill the ranks. 
So people like Msgr.  James Mortimer are regularly recruited to replace priests on vacation or ill. He hadn’t wanted to retire in the first place, but back when he was 75, he hit the mandatory retirement age (already moved up from 65 because of the looming shortage.) He went off to fill in for priests in South Dakota and did a teaching stint in Rome.
Now Msgr. Mortimer is back in Philadelphia, retired but not really, at age 88.
I remember when the Quaker Lace factory closed in Philadelphia. Lace tablecloths and the like were being made on machinery so old that when the one man who knew how to repair them retired or died, they shut down.
What other jobs or industries are teetering as they lose their workforce with few or no replacements? What are the ramifications? Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Barbara Bergmann: A Feminist Economist

Barbara Bergmann
It was nearly two years ago that I had the remarkable opportunity to meet Barbara Bergmann, my daughter's backyard neighbor. It happened because of an enormous fig tree that she wanted Becca to have.
During the course of that afternoon, the moving of the tree, and the time to talk, I sensed that this elder, whom I was seeing only in the context of her garden was someone very special.  With a little research, I learned that Barbara Bergmann was a pioneer in the field of women and economics and that she had broken through glass ceilings even before that phrase existed. I wrote about her, the afternoon of the fig, and the difficulty we have as a society seeing past gray hair, thick glasses and a cane.
Sadly, it takes a death and the subsequent obituary to fully appreciate a person's legacy.
Barbara Bergmann died last week and yesterday the New York Times devoted significant acreage to her life.
Here are a few items from this obituary, which I encourage you to read.
For one, Barbara saw the advent of the word processor as a threat to women's employment. Thousands of women would lose their jobs as  typists, secretaries and clerical workers, she warned.
She argued for federal support for daycare, especially as the number of single parent households exploded.
And she fought for equal pay for women, even as she had fought on her own behalf to get academic jobs at universities that just didn't hire women.
Becca now has Barbara's fig tree, which after the shock of transplant, will soon bear fruit again. As for the richness of Barbara Bergmann's legacy, we thank her for the intellectual seeds she planted that continue to challenge old thinking and give parity to women in this economy. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Art of Aging

I'm now listening to some of today's live "Transforming Aging" sessions on the web-- still free for 48 hours -- that started today. You can just go to the website... sign up here
again if you didn't already.

Then click on any of the sessions that have already happened -- and you can listen! (I list the schedule at the end of this post.)

Here are a few highlights of "The Art of Aging",  with artists Alice and Richard Matzkin 
Richard Matzkin, sculptor: "Creativity is the willingness to move into the unknown.
This has a lot of meaning for older people who have the tendency to go with the tried and true, the habitual ways of being. That deadens creativity. Bringing creativity into your life is like bringing renewal into your life....You have to let go of judgment. That's what stops creativity.

Alice Matzkin, artist:
It doesn't have to be art-- can be gardening, cooking, being with your family in certain ways. Having a passion for something you love to do and put your heart and soul into it.

Q. How to tap into your creativity?
R.M.: Have the attitude of "play," of being a child again and play.... When you're in the zone, creating, it's a meditation.

A.M.: Take a class, meet others... you don't have to show your creation to anyone. It's for you.

Confronting her own aging, Alice Matzkin,  whose work is in the National Portrait Gallery, also painted herself:

Alice Matzkin: self portrait

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

March 3-5: A Creative Aging Telesummit

Some of the top thinkers in the creative aging  movement (aka "third age," "sage-ing," "encore career," etc. ) are hosting an online summit, March 3-5. And it's free!
Mental calisthenics! I'm always up for new ideas.
Wendy Lustbader, author of a book I love, Life Gets Better,  is among the participants. She's a terrific speaker, so I'm sure it will be worth registering, just for her session. (March 4, 3 p.m.)   See my previous blog about her.   Marc Freedman, a pioneer in the notion of "encore careers" after retirement and founder of, is a guru of this movement. He talks at 4 p.m. March 4. For a taste of what that movement is about go here.
Below are some highlights from the schedule, East Coast time. (There's a drop-down to enter your timezone above the schedule.)
March 3, 1 p.m.: The Art of Aging, hosted by a noted artist/sculptor couple.
March 3, 2p.m.: Images of Aging in Film
March 4, 1 p.m.: Why Consciousness Matters in the 3rd Phase of Life
March 4, 3 p.m.: Life Gets Better, the Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older  (Wendy Lustbader)
March 4, 4 p.m.: Inventing the Encore Years (Marc Freedman)

And here's how you register: Transforming Aging Summit 
After you enter your name and email address, it takes you to a page where you can pay for access if you want to tune in after the 48-hour free broadcast period. If you don't want to pay,  just  click out of that page (there doesn't seem to be a "next" to get out of it.) But it works! I got an email that I'm in, with more instructions on listening by phone or internet.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A New Gender-ation Comes Out

Ever hear the phrase "gender fluid?" How about "nonbinary?" Or "genderqueer?"
In the new ever-more-open vocabulary of a younger cohort, they mean the same thing. 
In just the last week, I heard of several examples of young people who describe themselves with these words.
The first was from a friend  -- a man who himself was a trend setter some 18 years ago, when he and his gay partner adopted children, a boy and a girl. Recently his teenage son was talking about a classmate whose name did not make clear his gender. My friend asked his son, "Is that a girl or a boy?" The son replied that this classmate was  "gender fluid" and that the classmate had given themself a new first name to straddle the divide. (I know "themself" is not grammatically correct but keep reading.)
The second example came from a school in a free-thinking New England town, where my daughter lives. The school sent home a letter from the new student teacher, an introduction done for all new teachers. 

Aside from mentioning this teacher's many interests and enthusiasm about being at the school, the letter also said:
"I chose this unusual honorific (M. instead of Ms. or Mr.) because I identify as nonbinary. This means that I do not see myself as either female or male (the traditional binary genders.) Because I identify as nonbinary, I prefer using 'they/them' pronouns, which are also unmarked in gender.

"There is historical and social precedent for using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun," the teacher wrote. "Think about how you refer to people you don’t yet know – you will usually say, “Oh, who are they?” or “This friend of yours, are they nice?”  While some nonbinary people use invented pronouns (such as ze/zir/zirs/zirself), I prefer ‘they.’"

The third example (proving that this is definitely a trend) was in today's NY Times. A University of Vermont student, after struggling to feel comfortable as a woman and not feeling comfortable as a man either discovers that the description  "genderqueer" feels right. "Before, it had been really difficult to explain how I was feeling to other people, and even really difficult to explain it in my own head," said Rocko Gieselman. ("Rocko" is the first name Gieselman gave themself.). "Suddenly, there was a language for it, and that started the journey."
So... in the space of a week, I've gone from a baby kind of coming out,  to quite a different one.
It's a new gender-ation!.

Within a day of writing this, I'm told about these other discussions of the topic:
This book "How To Be Both," by Ali Smith.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My Daughter's Gender Reveal: A Coming Out of Sorts

The invitation from my daughter was sweet and unexpected: come along with her and her husband to her 20-week ultrasound. Even more unexpected was what was to happen afterwards.
I would run a sealed envelope with the gender of the baby ensconced  inside over to a bakery. The baker, in the privacy of his kitchen, would open up this secret dispatch. Then, accordingly, he would bake a cake that was either pink or blue inside. It would be covered in chocolate, with a question mark on top.
And then there would be a "gender reveal party," a phrase that every bakery now knows even though the practice is new to the older among us.
When this daughter was born, my husband and I, too, wanted to be surprised even though my doctor already knew the answer from amniocentesis.  But when I entered the examining room around the seventh month for a routine visit, the chart was lying open on the table, and I saw this:

No way could I keep this a secret from my husband for two more months. So I immediately bought a pair of tiny pink Winnie the Pooh PJs, put it in a plain white box and handed it to him that night.
I'm now just back from the modern-day iteration of this unveiling.
Friends arrived at my daughter's place. Her husband set up a "google hangout" so that siblings, nephews and nieces in faraway cities could watch. And then, the not-yet parents gingerly sliced into  the cake.

Five hours away, an eight-year-old niece cried.  Her older brother punched his fist in the air.
The couple kissed. Either way, they would have kissed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stories that Just Spill Out

Sheila Levin: Writing what she knows

While traveling, I have heard some very personal and often surprising stories.  These are not your usual oft-told, this-is-who-I-am biographies.  These are stories that, perhaps, were bottled up. Now that the genie has arrived, the teller can release his secret burden. And know that when this trip is over, the listener will not be around. And the teller will never again be in that person's presence, forever embarrassed by his confession.

Recently, while on a trip to the Amazon, I met  Sheila Levin -- an intense and charming woman who, while sitting in an airport lounge, revealed to me some of her story. With Sheila's permission, I'll just say that her stunningly beautiful mother, who apparently looked like Rita Hayworth, wanted little to do with Sheila, and at age 5 she was sent off to a high-end boarding school, even spending summer vacations with the head mistress. Brilliant and determined, Sheila eventually made her way to Barnard College and became a boot-strap kind of survivor who forged ahead in life.
The author in  1982
Among other things, she was on the front lines of the effort to rescue Jews from the former Soviet Union. She plunged into politics, though not on her own account. And she became a mother to several children of her own -- trying to do a better job than her own mother did.
Sheila also wrote a novel. After the trip, she sent me her first book, written in 1982, as a much younger woman, shown in the flyleaf with raven hair and light eyes. Having heard some of her personal story, I was curious to read Simple Truths. It proved to be a voyage for me to parse the real Sheila from her fictional character.
"It's a first novel," Sheila had said, somewhat apologetic.
Three decades later, with more of life behind her than before her, Sheila has come out with a second book, Musical Chairs.  It's a political page-turner about two women politicians and the men who surround them. The tension of the book? Each of the women has secrets they fear may emerge under the glare of a political campaign. Threaded throughout the intrigue is a maelstrom of emotions -- passionate love and friendship love, rivalry, loneliness, ego, the quest for power, and misunderstandings that lead to tragic results.
This is a book that only someone who has lived awhile could write. Yet with maturity, whatever personal experience she brought to it -- and I'm sure she did -- was disguised by her craft.
After all, that conversation in the airport lounge could only have been a Cliff Notes version of Sheila Levin's life.

While I'm telling stories of strange stranger encounters, here's this one, from a fellow traveler on a hiking trip in Italy. It spilled out one evening as we sat down at what we feared would be the boring end of a very long table.
One day the man, in his early 70s, gets a letter telling him that he has a half-sister he never knew about. He is in disbelief but his parents are no longer alive to question. So he insists that he and this woman get DNA tests. Astoundingly, the tests prove that  she is not his half-sister. Instead, she is his full sister. No, she wasn't given away for adoption. It turns out he was plucked from the arms of his father's secret mistress several states away and raised by his father and his wife. The woman he thought was his biological mother his whole life really wasn't. The mistress kept  the second child, his sister.

Shockingly, he later learned that people in his small town knew the story but had never told him.
Life…. stranger than fiction.