Dropping by the BOLLI Gathering Space at 60 Turner Street on a Tuesday afternoon, you might find some unusual activity underway as CAST members work to discover, develop, and refine their performance skills in the dramatic arts.
An outgrowth of BOLLI’s long-standing “Scene-iors” Acting Troupe (an annual springtime course offering in which participants work on and present a staged reading of a play for the BOLLI community-wide audience), CAST provides interested members with opportunities to engage in a variety of creative drama/theatre exercises and basic acting work.
During each CAST session, the group does some warm-up pantomime followed by improvisation, concentration, and observation exercises. The techniques explored are then applied to short scenes from short stories, novels and plays as well as poetry.
Recently, after a rousing session of pantomimed catch and jump rope, the group was split into two sections who were each charged with the task of creating tableaux highlighting “the key moment” in its well-known fairy tale. Of course, at BOLLI, this meant first spending several minutes in highly animated intellectual discussion and debate about which moments in these tales are truly seminal. (In “Red Riding Hood,” for example, is it when the wolf gobbles up Red? Or is it when the Woodsman arrives on the scene? In “Cinderella,” is it when Cindy loses her slipper or when the Prince arrives to try it on the Ugly Stepsisters?) The intensity and commitment to the work were palpable.
Later in that session, various “misunderstood” fairy tale characters appeared on an improvised Dr. Phil-like television talk show to air their woes. Here, Snow White’s Queen (Judy Blatt) and Cinderella’s Stepmother (Sandy Clifford) share their frustrations with their television audience.
During another session, we delved into the importance of “focus” in setting any scene and applied what was learned about the use of the eye to scenes offering particular “focal” challenges. Becki Norman, Monique Frank, and Eileen Mitchell (below) take some planning time to determine how to approach George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl, a story in which young George’s Grandmother downs a dose of quite a nasty concoction which gives her such a jolt of energy that she shoots up to the ceiling where she is suspended for some time.
Another group—consisting of Irwin Garfinkle, Judy Blatt, and Bunny Cohen—took on the challenge provided by The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl, a short story by Ray Bradbury in which a man who has just committed a murder becomes completely obsessed with removing his fingerprints from every inch of the man’s home.
After the two groups viewed each other’s work, Bunny broke into a huge smile. “This is so much fun!” she said to the rest of the CAST. Then she grinned. “Remember when we used to just stand there and read?”
The group will continue to meet on Tuesdays throughout August and then, when the new term begins, will switch to a Friday time. Watch the weekly Bulletin for meeting announcements—any interested BOLLI member is welcome to CAST a line at any point!
At a meeting of the Camera Club during the spring term, relatively new BOLLI member Dick Hanelin shared linoleum prints he has made from photos he has taken. The amount of detail and intricacy in his work are quite stunning. Here’s what Dick has to say about his art.
I was an elementary school teacher for 37 years and taught in New York City and Newton, MA. As a teacher, I integrated the visual and performing arts into all curriculum areas. After retirement, I took a variety of art courses and found I was most smitten by creating sculptures and linoleum prints. Through Arthur Sharenow’s course at BOLLI, my interest in photography was rekindled, and I have used some of my photos as a springboard for creating some of my linoleum prints.
I was drawn to linoleum prints because of the bold and graphic images that can be created through the use of contrasts. In seeking out subjects for my prints, I am always thinking about shape, texture, line, and value. These elements of design are my driving force. That is why, for example, I find construction sites and basements (not your typical subjects) as fertile ground for my prints. I try to create a tension and movement in my pieces by using both realistic and imaginative elements in my compositions.
The printmaking process begins with making a drawing and then transferring it onto a block of linoleum. I then carve into the linoleum with a variety of tools that create marks of different thicknesses. After this, ink is rolled onto the block of linoleum. (For my prints, it’s black ink.) Where I have cut out the linoleum, white lines, shapes, and textures will appear, while the rest of the print will be black or gradations of grey. This process takes much time, but I find it very enjoyable.
Dick and his wife Isobel, both career educators, are now active BOLLI members who serve on the Study Group Support Committee. We are all benefitting from the wealth of their experience!
Currently, a host of Helen’s photographs are on display at 60 Turner Street. Beginning at the stair landing where two pieces hang, viewers can proceed to the Purple Room to find an additional set of framed works which showcase her lovely work.
This is not the first show of Helen’s work. She has had pieces in both group and solo shows at the Holyoke Center Art Gallery in Cambridge, the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, and at both the Arlington and Watertown Public Libraries.
Helen says that “Photography has inspired me to find new ways of expressing the way I see and experience the world. I find beauty in the smallest details; in the fleeting shadows and light; in the juxtaposition of lines, texture, colors and shapes. Whether traveling or observing nature, I use my camera to capture an image (of plants and trees especially) that might not be a traditional view. My goal is to bring back a glimpse of what I’ve experienced in a way that makes you stop for a moment to enjoy and reflect.”
A virtual tour of Helen’s current show at Turner Street includes:
“This photograph of a yellow wood tree was taken several years ago at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Sadly, it is no more–it was struck by lightning and taken down last year. So, this image is a treasured memory.”
“I took this one last summer when we were visiting Great Brewster Island and lighthouse. The shoes, held together with clothespins, were sitting on the lighthouse base drying in the sun.”
“The stewartias, my favorites, are two trees located in the Consecration Dell at Mt. Auburn Cemetery that have ‘four season interest.’ This photo was taken in the fall, and you can see the leaves turning a beautiful shade of red/orange. But it’s the bark, which stays the same all through the year that makes me love the stewartias. Shades of brown and gray, stately and grand.”
For information about purchasing images or future shows, contact Helen at email@example.com.
When it comes to movies and videos, my taste tends to run to all things British, and in this first installment of our monthly “Screening Room” feature, I thought I’d share a few gems starring my favorite British “Great Dames” Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith.
You may not have run across Dame Judi in the 2014 British made-for-television gem, ESIO TROT. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Dench plays a sweet widow living in an apartment house for mature residents. Her new upstairs neighbor, Mr. Hoppy (Dustin Hoffman), soon notices the lovely lady as he waters the lush plants in his terrace garden. This is a sweet, warm romance well worth searching out.
In 2012, Dame Judi made a very short TV movie called FRIEND REQUEST PENDING in which she and a friend spend an afternoon exploring the world of social media networking. A wonderful piece about love and lifelong friendship.
Dame Joan Plowright in MRS. PALFRY AT THE CLAREMONT is a 2005 gem. Essentially abandoned by her family after moving her into the Claremont Hotel, Mrs. Palfry ends up enjoying a wonderful friendship with a young writer.
And for anyone who loves a good comic mystery, WIDOWS PEAK is not to be missed. The lovely young Edwina (Natasha Richardson) moves into Widows Peak, where a surprising number of residents fit that description, and stirs up the social scene. Great fun!
And then, there’s dear Dame Maggie. Ah…Maggie–she just keeps going! Her most recent venture, THE LADY IN THE VAN is the true story of playwright Alan Bennett’s relationship with an eccentric homeless woman who parked her van temporarily in his driveway…and remained there for fifteen years. Beautifully done.
And if you didn’t catch this 2003 HBO Made-for-TV movie, give MY HOUSE IN UMBRIA a try. After a terrorist bomb is detonated on a train in Italy, Mrs. Delahunty, a rather eccentric romance novelist, opens her villa to three stranded survivors.
One of my favorites includes all three of my cinematic idols–so, if you haven’t seen TEA WITH MUSSOLINI, it’s a must. And if you have, it may be time for another visit. It’s a lush, semi-autobiographical Zeffirelli production about a young boy being brought up by a group of British woman during (and after) World War II.
Lily Tomlin (a different sort of dame altogether) is in this one as well, and I recently saw GRANDMA on “On Demand.” Lily plays a poet who hasn’t written since losing her partner. When her pregnant teenage granddaughter appears on her doorstep, she is quick to rise to the occasion to help her.
Share YOUR favorites in an upcoming “Screening Room” feature!
MEET MEMBER LARRY SCHWIRIAN: DRAWING ON EXPERIENCE
I was born and raised in a small town on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh, the second of five children. I guess you could say my father was a small business person–he owned a milk hauling route, picking up raw milk from farmers and hauling it to a dairy. As cows give milk twice every day, this was a 365-day a year job, so we never took family vacations. Still, he managed to serve on the town council for over thirty years and twice served as mayor of the town. When my mother was fifteen, her mother died, and she became surrogate mother to her six younger siblings. So, I grew up with not only an older brother and three younger sisters but with sixteen girl cousins who all lived within walking distance. Our house was where everyone congregated for morning coffee, gossip, and news analysis.
At eighteen, I went off to Case Institute of Technology to study engineering but decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I transferred to Western Reserve to study architecture. It was there that I met my wife Caroline. A year after graduation from Case Western Reserve University, we were married, and a year after that, we moved to the Boston area, working as architectural novices in large firms in Cambridge. Very soon after that, the first of our three sons was born, and a few years after that, we moved into our historic home in the Auburndale section of Newton.
Over the next forty plus years, I worked for a number of large firms in the area and eventually became a project manager and/or a project architect. I had the opportunity to work on projects all over the country in addition to doing local projects like the Harvard Square Subway Station, The Wang Ambulatory Care Center at Mass General Hospital, Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown, the addition to the old Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, and One Newton Place in Newton Corner.
In 2010, Caroline and I retired from our positions in large firms, and in 2011, we established our own firm, Caroline & Lawrence Schwirian, Architects LLC. We still do some residential work, and I still do some technical consulting with larger firms, but for the most part, we have enjoyed retirement, watching our grandchildren grow, and trying to keep up with gardening, yard work, and house maintenance.
In the fall of 2015, we joined BOLLI, and, for the first term, just attended the Lunch & Learns. I also participated in the Sages & Seekers program and joined the BOLLI Writers Guild. For the second term, I signed up for Betsy Campbell’s “Five Stories in Five Weeks” writing class, Peter Carcia’s “The Art of Storytelling” class, Mary Ann Byrnes’ “The Elephant in the Room” class about metaphors, and Larry Koff’s class on “The Death and Life of Cities and Towns in Metro Boston.” I enjoyed all the classes, but I especially relished the opportunity to refine my writing and storytelling skills.
Here is one of the nonfiction pieces Larry has done as a participant in the BOLLI Writers Guild.
GIFTED OR TALENTED
(In Response to the Prompt: “What a Remarkable Gift”)
What is the difference between being “gifted” and being “talented?” Although there are no generally agreed upon definitions for these two words, they are similar in meaning but are generally used in different ways. The term “gifted” is most often, but not always, used in conjunction with intellectual ability and implies an innate quality. In many school placement decisions, individuals with IQ scores above 130 (the upper 2% on the bell curve) are generally classified as being “gifted.” While a person’s IQ may or may not be a true measure of intelligence, it at least measures some innate ability. The term “talented” is most often used to describe someone with an acquiredability to perform significantly above the norm in any one of many different endeavors, including but not limited to music, art, food preparation, or athletics but typically not intellectual pursuits. A person becomes “talented” after much hard work and practice.
I am aware of no numerical scale that can be used to evaluate “talent” in music other than the number of records or albums sold by an artist, but it would be unfair and foolhardy to compare the “talent” of a classical violinist to a pop singer by this method. Similarly, there is no logical way to numerically evaluate a painter, a sculptor, or a chef. Sports may be the exception. In baseball, for example, the batting or earned run average can be used to evaluate a player’s performance. In football, a quarterback can be evaluated based upon the percentage of passes completed, touchdown passes thrown, or number of games won, but you can’t really evaluate the “talent” of a defensive lineman by comparing it to the “talent” of a running back or quarterback.
Using the above meanings, it is possible to be “gifted” without being “talented” and “talented” without being “gifted.” It is also possible to be both “gifted and talented,” which is probably the case for most people who rise to the very top in their respective vocations. It could be said that people like Madonna and Shakira are both “intellectually gifted” and “musically gifted” as well as being “talented.” Many people would agree that Elvis Presley was “musically gifted” and “talented” but not “intellectually gifted.” Many who don’t make it quite to the top can be very “talented” but not necessarily “gifted.” Similarly, most lists don’t include Sharon Stone as being among the one hundred most “talented” actresses, but I have read that she has a nearly genius IQ of over 150.
While it appears there is at least some standard way to evaluate whether a person is “intellectually gifted,” there is no universally accepted, objective way to evaluate and compare the “talent” of two or more individuals. One would have to say then that “giftedness” is innate, but “talent” is in the eye, ear, nose, or taste buds of the beholder.
You can leave comments for Larry in the box below.
Our “Book Nook” reviewer Abby Pinard returns with three more gems you may have missed or may want to pick up and re-read…
THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH
by Saul Bellow, 1953
It took me almost forty years to read “Augie March.” I bought the book in the late ’70s (cover price $1.95 and cover art worthy of Harold Robbins).
This was shortly after Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for Literature and after years of listening to my father (also Saul, also a first-generation American Jew, and roughly Bellow’s contemporary) rave about the book. (It was also years before Bellow became a curmudgeonly conservative, but that’s another story.)
The book sat on many different shelves for many years and was later joined by my father’s copy (cover price $.95 and thankfully without the art):
But while I became acquainted over the years with virtually all Bellow’s fictional characters – Henderson, Herzog, Sammler, Charlie Citrine, Ravelstein and more – I never got around to Augie. Until now.
“I am an American, Chicago born–Chicago, that somber city–and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.”
And so Bellow, in 1953, announced his presence and his ambition, the first of the post-war Jewish writers to blast his way into mainstream American literature.
Augie March grows up fatherless amidst grinding poverty in “that somber city” but sees only boundless possibilities, a life in which he can be whatever he chooses if only he can figure out what he is meant to be. All of Chicago — i.e., the whole world — is his, from dingy rooming houses and pool halls to opulent homes and rich, beautiful women. He tries his hand at multiple enterprises, not all of them legal, many hilarious, while struggling to educate himself (reading, always reading) and pondering the great philosophical questions.
The novel is episodic rather than plot-driven. Augie’s adventures range from hustling textbooks and babysitting a seasick prizefighter to training an eagle to hunt lizards in Mexico and drifting at sea in a lifeboat with a madman. He is drawn into the schemes of friends, mentors, and lovers – he refers to himself as a “recruit” – but it’s never long before he is ready to move on, always seeking what he is intended for.
The Adventures of Augie March was the Great American Novel of its time and maybe of ours as well. With his exuberance, optimism, and passion for a life well and thoughtfully lived, Augie is a hero for all time.
THE GRASS IS SINGING
by Doris Lessing, 1950
Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing died in 2013 at the age of 94. The Grass Is Singing was her first novel, published in 1950 when she was thirty years old, had moved from Southern Rhodesia to London, and had had three children by two husbands. Lessing wasn’t born in Africa – she arrived with her British parents as a young child from Persia – but her early novels were based on her years on her family’s struggling farm and her experience as a young wife and mother in colonial Africa with its rigid constraints based on race, class and gender.
While The Grass Is Singing reflects Lessing’s deep feeling of place, it is the least autobiographical of her Africa novels. It is the five-volume Children of Violence series that tracks with Lessing’s life as it follows the remarkable Martha Quest from adolescence through marriage, children, communism, and eventually to London. But The Grass Is Singing is a masterful work that unflinchingly exposes the brutality of the relationship between white masters and black workers and the fear and repression at its core.
The novel begins with the murder of Mary Turner, a farmer’s wife, and the arrest of Moses, her houseboy. Mary was a thirty-ish independent woman in the city, with a job and a casual social life, when an overheard conversation rattled her equanimity and she determined to marry. She accepts Dick Turner’s proposal and moves to his farm, which is forever verging on bankruptcy, and to a squalid life for which she is unprepared and unsuited. Dick is an inept but stubborn farmer and overlord, unable to wrest any value from his land or his workers. Mary is isolated, brutalized by the sun, and her fear of the natives begets increasing cruelty and confused feelings. Neither is capable of intimacy or self-awareness, and their attempt to make a life within their constricted environment can only result in ruin.
This is an unrelentingly sad book with tragic characters whose destruction is inevitable. There isn’t a light moment as Lessing depicts Mary’s desolate life, her psychological deterioration, and the dehumanizing effects of virulent racism. The land and climate are brilliantly evoked, and the social and political concerns that permeate Lessing’s later work are presaged here. It’s a book that grabs you in the first chapter and doesn’t let go.
by Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1926
British writer Sylvia Townsend Warner is best known for the short stories that appeared over decades in The New Yorker. Even brief biographical blurbs usually reference her leftist political affiliations and sometimes her 40-year relationship with Valentine Ackland, a poet. Lolly Willowes, the first of her seven novels, was published in 1926 and was a bestseller both in the U.K. and in the U.S., where it was the first selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
“Even in 1902, there were some forward spirits who wondered why that Miss Willowes, who was quite well off, and not likely to marry, did not make a home for herself and take up something artistic or emancipated. Such possibilities did not occur to any of Laura’s relations. Her father being dead, they took it for granted that she should be absorbed into the household of one brother or the other. And Laura, feeling rather as if she were a piece of property forgotten in the will, was ready to be disposed of as they should think best.”
Laura’s relations dispose of her by depositing her in her brother’s comfortable London household, where she becomes Aunt Lolly, indispensable caretaker for her nieces and domestic companion to her sister-in-law. But after twenty dutiful years, Laura succumbs to the lure of nature and, to the horror and puzzlement of her family, moves to the village of Great Mop in the Chiltern Hills, chosen from a guidebook. On long, solitary walks in the woods and fields around Great Mop, Laura responds to the magical power around her and enters a fantasy world in which she makes a deal that offers her a life of her own.
“One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that – to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others…”
Sylvia Townsend Warner’s witty and lyrical prose is a vehicle for her subversive, satirical commentary on a world in which only by selling her soul to the devil can a woman become independent of the expectations of society and her family. Delightful.
Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people: family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.
Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!
Every August, a group of writers and teachers of writing gather at the Bread Loaf Inn near Bread Loaf Mountain near Middlebury, Vermont for a ten-day conference. The New Yorker has called it “the oldest and most prestigious writers’ conference in the country.” And this August, that group of prominent writers and teachers will include BOLLI’s own Marjorie Roemer.
Marjorie’s background as a teacher of writing is an impressive one, which includes her having served as director of the Rhode Island Writing Project and having been a frequent contributor to The Quarterly of the National Writing Project. Her scholarly publications have appeared in numerous professional journals; she has presented at a wide range of professional conferences; and, all along, she has taught.
At BOLLI, Marjorie’s memoir writing class has been a perennial favorite, with many participants, in fact, returning semester after semester. (One class member has actually taken the course all nine times that it has been offered!) “I’m most relaxed when I’m teaching writing,” she says, “and after teaching everything from junior high through grad school, working on writing with this population is thrilling.” She explains that, in this setting, people write what is real, providing testaments to lives lived and reflected upon. “When we read and share, it is a stirring affirmation of our time of life and the wisdom that helps us to cope.”
And yet, writing and teaching writing were not Marjorie’s original path. She actually started out as a dancer.
“I think I always danced,” she muses. “We did a lot of creative play in the neighborhood school I went to in Queens, so there was often a lot of movement. I started lessons with Sophie Maslow at the New Dance Group when I was six.” Sophie Maslow, who danced with the Martha Graham company for nearly a decade, was, herself, a modern dance pioneer who founded the group. “Sophie did with us what modern dance teachers do with children—jumping over puddles, reaching up high for stars. It didn’t seem serious enough to me, and I didn’t like it. So I took ballet—and, to me, that was real dance! Eventually, when I was old enough to take the subway into the city, I studied at Ballet Arts at Carnegie Hall, and on Fridays, after class, I would go to City Center to watch the NYC Ballet Company. When I was a high school freshman, I finally saw Martha Graham, and it was a revelation. I began studying at the Graham studio and then, later, I was back at the New Dance Group—this time, with a new appreciation for puddles and stars. And then, I went to Bennington, in part because of its famous dance department.”
After graduation, Marjorie studied at the Jose Limon company on a scholarship. Classes were not only taught by members of the company but often by Jose himself whom she remembers as “a tremendously elegant man who wore black tights and a ruffled white dress shirt when he taught. I never danced with his company but with Joe Gifford and my then husband Martin Morginsky who both ended up forming companies in New York. We taught and performed at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. And then, I had a baby, needed to make a living, and began teaching junior high school.”
After a thoughtful pause, Marjorie says that, “teaching feels like choreography to me” and that, to this day, she still gets that “on-stage, it’s-here-and-now, rush” before every class begins. “I feel like my whole life has been ‘provisioning’ as I have looked to find the rhythm and the shape of it. Looking at a class this way gives me a sense of how I might shape it–but how I might improvise at the same time.”
This juxtaposition of planning and improvising seems to be central to Marjorie’s thoughts about dance, about teaching, and about life itself. “That idea of working with ‘the chance thing’ is so intriguing to me…surprising yourself—shaping but maintaining some wildness.” The poet Stanley Kunitz, she points out, says that, “when you pay too much attention, the garden becomes a landscape.”
Today, Marjorie’s writing takes a largely reflective bent—as is evident in the following sermon she wrote and delivered recently at the UCC in Franklin.
A Sermon by Marjorie Roemer
I’m a retired English professor, but the sonnets of Shakespeare are not all memorized in my mind, in order 1 – 154. They are not even all entirely familiar. But one of them has always nestled in my thoughts, even before it had particular, personal meaning for me. Sonnet 73. Here’s the first stanza:
That time of year thou may’st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
The poem reflects on the waning of life, the time when most leaves are gone, when only a few yellow leaves remain. The branches that once were filled with birds are now bare, like the empty section of a church where the choir once was housed. The poem is about the November of life… that time of waning. Not the end, but toward the end.
Somehow, the poem always seemed resonant for me, but as my husband was struggling with brain cancer in the last year of his life, the words seemed more and more relevant, etched into my consciousness. Don died almost a year and a half ago, but the poem follows me around, stays with me as background music, a sound track for my life.
That time of year thou may’st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
So, now in my 76th year, I think about this November of life. There is much, always, to remind us about aging. The new aches and pains, the knees that don’t quite work the way they used to, the forgetfulness, the night blindness, the diminishment of some faculties, the many losses in our world, in our circle of friends, in our closest loved ones.
But perhaps nothing marks age for me as sharply as my incompetence with electronic devices. Four-year-olds can manage what I struggle with. My grandchildren need to be called in to show me, one more time, how to play the DVD, how to work the iPad, how to text. What is intuitive for them is not for me and seems to mark a dividing line between our lives. Even more significant than our differences in musical taste, or the TV shows we watch, or the movies that we go to are these differences in how we access information, place ourselves as receivers and senders of the pertinent facts about our lives.
If I manage to master one medium, they are already on to the next. I’m on Facebook, but they have moved onto to InstaGram or Twitter. I can manage writing on the computer, but I don’t blog, use wikis, crowd source, or podcast.
What I have finally managed to use is my GPS. For several years, I avoided it. That woman with the irritating voice always wanted me to get on 495 from exit 17 on 140 instead of the King Street exit 16. So, I found myself at odds with her from the beginning. I put away the device and said I’d get along without it, Googling directions in advance and printing out a map. But, recently, I’ve come to rely on the lady in the GPS. When I’m driving alone now and floundering, it is useful to have her tell me that in .2 miles I will be turning right. Or to have her let me know that I’ve got another 45 miles to go on this road and I’m likely to arrive at my destination just in time.
But if I have any idea where I’m going, that I want to come home on 495, not on 126, that I don’t want to drive through Framingham Center on this trip, that I won’t get off the highway at Forge Park . . . I hear that voice saying over and over again recalculating, recalculating.
It has become a new mantra for me . . . recalculating. As I move on to a life alone after 48 years of marriage, to a house without children in it, to a life after retirement, I find myself recalculating, taking a new path, making new choices in the November of my life. And in this “time of year thou may’st in me behold,” while there is no GPS to tell me where to turn or how many miles more I have to go, I have found remarkable guides along the way, a reminder that when you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the universe, it will respond, it will provide.
I began to search out supports. Suddenly, friends became more central to my life . . . the women’s group at the condominiums where I live, the people I know from BOLLI. Old friends. Things that were in the background of my life moved to the foreground. My children became essential to me in a way that was new. And I added some new things as well: painting classes at the Danforth Museum and attendance at the First Universalist Society in Franklin.
I did not grow up believing in a bearded man sitting in the sky keeping watch over my every move and listening to my every cry for help. But I can’t help but believe in some sort of benevolence in the universe, some way that the world can provide what we need if only we are ready to receive. I arrived at the church sort of unexpectedly, venturing tentatively one Sunday when I read there would be some Miles Davis music played. It was right down the street, easy to get to, easy to sit down, and easy to enter on the fringe of this community. The music was great. The feel of the place was interesting. Though the rituals were new to me, the feel of a sacred communal space was palpable. I stayed.
Eventually, I took a sermon writing class and found that the task of writing in a way that bears witness to your own experience while also offering some hopeful idea for others to grab on to was intriguing and challenging. For me, in this last year, the primary subject has been loss– how to deal with it, how to survive it, how to make something useful from it. Writing sermons offered me new ways to approach the problem. I’ve searched for images or situations that could name what I was experiencing. What I found was…Recalculating.
So, on my recalculated journey, what have I found? Certainly that there is love and support in the world that you may overlook when you are tightly enmeshed in your own self-sufficient, small cocoon. Possibilities for growth and new directions are there when you need them enough to seek them out.
The final couplet of that Shakespeare sonnet is:
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Those lines haunted me as Don was dying. Mortality is certainly something we all know about. Still, we come, at certain moments in our lives, to know mortality more acutely, more directly. So it was for us when the surgeon said: “The surgery was entirely successful; he has fourteen months to live.” For fourteen months, we lived with that life-sentence hanging over our every minute. And it was true . . . those moments became more precious because we knew that they were few, that they would soon be gone.
And if there is something positive to be wrested from this ordeal, it is that sense of mortality that gives meaning and savor to life. It is because it is fleeting that life is so very precious; it is because it is finite that we have to use it well. And, in the end, it is love which is the enduring, transforming action. Love emerges as the stave against obliteration, the defense against loss.
In her online column, Heart Advice, the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has some advice that can be applied here. She says:
YOU HAVE A CHOICE
If you have embarked on this journey of self-reflection, you may be at a place that everyone, sooner or later, experiences on the spiritual path. After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you’re there, where you realize you have a choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften, whether to hold your seat or strike out. That choice is presented to you again and again and again.
This month, we decided to focus on resilience–from an expert’s point of view…and from our own. We hope these thoughts resonate with you as well–Liz and Eleanor
By Elizabeth David
“Resilient people are like trees bending in the wind,” says Beth Howard in her article The Secrets of Resilient People. “They bounce back.” In her article, originally published in the November 10, 2010 issue of AARP Magazine, Howard says that developing and nurturing the quality of “resilience” is key to whether or not we age well.
Resilient people, she notes, have some qualities in common which, most importantly, can also be learned. The following is a summary of the steps and qualities she isolates as being central to resilience. Resilient people…
Stay Connected: “Research bears out the importance of connection, and good social support. .Resilient people report increased quality of life and well- being regardless of their burdens.”
Remain Optimistic: Finding positive meaning in caregiving and helping others enhances ones ability to bounce back after death or a significant loss.
Avoid Negative Thinking: “Experts say negative thinking is just a bad habit though it may take some work to change your mindset.” Negative thinking is learned and can be unlearned. We don’t need to be “cockeyed optimists” to have an optimistic point of view.
Nurture Their Spiritual Dimension: Those of us who nurture our spiritual dimension, whether through religion or other means, bounce back from normal depression more easily.
Maintain Their Sense of Wonder: “They’re playful.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross used to write that we should be childlike in developing our sense of wonderment.
Give Back: “The benefit you derive for yourself is as great as that which you give to others.”
“Pick Their Battles”: “tending to focus on things they have some influence over.”
Eat Well and Stay Healthy: “Exercise literally helps to repair neurons in brain areas that are particularly susceptible to stress.”
Gain Strength from Adversity: They find the “silver lining.”
When I interact with my BOLLI friends I often see examples of resilience that bring a sense of wonderment to my heart. As I am reminded of the above, so I hope that this will be food for thought for you in facing the challenges of life.
As we move forward together, may we all go from strength to strength.
With unnerving frequency, friends—especially male friends—are growing sick, having accidents, experiencing complications from illnesses and surgeries, and are dying.Statistics have predicted this mortality jump among men while we women generally are outliving our male partners and classmates by some years.Scant comfort for survivors.We mourn our friends and comfort their widows.We close ranks and try to hold one another closer.
Have you noticed?Nothing in a good, long, traditional marriage prepares one for widowhood.The division of labor and tasks, the other half of your memory, your partner in conversation, your bedmate — vanish.And then there is just one, with the memories of two and only half the previous skills and talents.
A thousand or more miles away, my friend Tom has just died.His wife Martha soldiers on.I try to send comforts over the miles.But if I, a friend, feel shaken, what does Martha feel?
All of us, we age mates, are on this road together–observing, experiencing, and comforting our friends.The community that we have created and continue to create at BOLLI can be a sustaining and supporting one during our crises.Our activities, courses, conversations, and shared experiences can provide new ballast during these senior years.Let’s remember to support one another, and “be there” for each other.Let’s connect, create new friendships, and reach out when needed.
Seems like such a natural for BOLLI, doesn’t it? And yet, BOLLI’s Book Club has only recently been added to an ever burgeoning array of Special Interest Groups at 60 Turner Street. Abby Pinard and Charlie Marz have been active in both the New Yorker Fiction Salon, focused on short stories, and the Poetry Circle. Both are avid readers as well, and so, it seems as though it was a completely logical step to team up and lead a BOLLI-wide Book Club. When asked about the forming of the group, the two had much to share.
> What made you decide to start the group?
Charlie: I wanted to be in a book group in which I had some greater control over the choices made. Not that we’re not completely open to others’ suggestions, but I did want to be able to exert some significant influence over what we might read. I didn’t want to do it alone and thought co-leading with Abby, one of BOLLI’s most voracious readers, would make it more interesting and enjoyable – for me and for those who attend.
Abby: It was an easy decision for me when Charlie suggested it. I love to talk about books almost as much as I love to read them, and I knew there were many BOLLI members who would be ideal companions. I had gotten to know Charlie in the New Yorker Fiction Salon and the Poetry Circle (also venues for lively discussion), and I knew his leadership would elevate any discussion.
> Have you been in other book groups?
Abby: I’ve never been in a private book group, but, after retirement, I started attending a drop-in group at the library led by a wonderful professional book group leader (yes, there is such a thing). I came to trust her selections and particularly enjoyed the books I would not have chosen on my own.
Charlie: I’m in a non-fiction book group. Mostly, we don’t talk about the month’s selection. Almost every conversation becomes a discussion of politics, more often than not the Middle East. I thought it might be time to find an opportunity to actually talk about interesting and provocative contemporary literary fiction.
> How did you go about choosing the books that you have chosen for the group thus far?
Charlie: So far, they’ve been a mix of books we’ve read and felt would be good for discussion (Stegner’s Crossing to Safety) and books from our stacks of books we’ve not read but that have been well received (Schlink’s Homecoming and Erdrich’s The Round House). We’ve also tried to focus on work that is relatively accessible (i.e. in paperback and without long wait lines at the library), relatively short (200-300+ pages), and by important if sometimes overlooked writers.
Abby: We also wanted to mix things up: something old, something new, some challenging, some less so,…
> What plans do you have for the future of the group?
Charlie: Our hope is that we will continue to meet monthly throughout the year and that there will continue to be a group of 15 – 20 who find the books selected and conversation sufficiently interesting to trust our choices and to return as often as possible.
Abby: What he said.
> So, what are some of your all-time favorite books?
Abby: Here are a few, spanning many years–The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, the four “Rabbit” novels by John Updike, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, anything by Philip Roth,…
Charlie: Hard enough to remember what I read last week. I suppose McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, early John Irving, McKewan’s Atonement …
Clearly, these two have excellent taste, and each gathering of the group is sure to be an animated and engaged one. Come once–come regularly. And enjoy!
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