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A new year, a new book project

At yesterday’s New Year’s service at church, we sat in a circle, passed around a talking stick, and shared our goals and resolutions for the year ahead. I announced two:

  • Work on creating a serene, organized home environment
  • Complete the presentation for my new book project on creativity, then find an agent and publisher
fuusa-emerson-choir

Emerson Hall at FUUSA

The church in question is the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, and our minister, Sam Trumbore, had chosen the topic “Begin again in love.” Usually we sit with the chairs arranged in conventional rows, and there’s less opportunity for individual participation, but this being New Year’s morning, Sam expected a smaller turnout. But there were several dozen of us, and we formed three concentric circles. As we passed the South American rain stick, many people chose not to speak, and others spoke of modest, everyday goals—spending more time with family or in nature, being more mindful of health concerns, learning more about social media or, conversely giving it up entirely.

Having come late to the service, as is unfortunately all too typical, I was the last in the row of the outermost circle, and impatiently awaited my turn to speak. When I did, I failed to mention the state of disarray my house is actually in, but I was more specific about my book project, announcing my working title and the fact that I’ve already registered it as a domain name. (I’ve blogged about the project before, but I’m still not ready to go officially public with the title, because I don’t want anyone stealing it. I figure the FUUSAns won’t remember.)

waterhouse-john-william_-_i_am_half-sick_of_shadows_said_the_lady_of_shalott

John William Waterhouse

At 75, I sometimes wonder whether it’s overly ambitious to take on a major project like the book I have in mind. Granted, the goal I set is daunting, and realistically, I don’t know if I’ll manage to land a good agent and publisher within the next twelve months. But completing a nonfiction book proposal is well within my capabilities—I’ve done it three times before, although I abandoned all three projects before seriously seeking publication.

The first was a book based on my daughter’s first year of life. I’d done a project illustrating the minutiae of my daily life with her, I showed it in a SoHo gallery, and it was featured in New York magazine. An editor at a major publishing house saw the show, called me up, and I paid her a visit in her spectacular office high in a skyscraper with panoramic views of Manhattan. I’d brought my daughter along, and she peed on the editor’s couch. That wasn’t the reason I gave up on the project, but I’ll leave that story for another time, along with the reasons I abandoned my books on art therapy and gardening.

For now, let’s just say I’m confident in my ability to put together a book proposal. It draws right-brain-left-brainon the logical, left-brain side of my intellect, the side that won me my Phi Beta Kappa key at Barnard.* And as for being too old to take on a new project, I’m convinced I’m as sharp as I ever was. I could drop dead any day—far too many of my contemporaries are taking that trip—but in general, my health is disgustingly good. The only activity I’ve given up because of age is downhill skiing, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been working out regularly enough to maintain the strength in my legs, not to mention that snow conditions in the Northeast have been abominable for the past couple of years.**

But my major reason for embarking on an all-consuming project is that for my sanity’s sake, I know I have to. From past experience, I know that abandoning my dreams of creative achievement is likely to plunge me into a major depression, and that’s worth avoiding at all costs. When I hear my contemporaries rhapsodizing about their travels, their grandkids and their cats, I know those everyday pleasures and satisfactions, wonderful as they may be, will never be enough for me.

waterhouse-john-william_the_lady_of_shalott

What about you? Do you have any major new goals or resolutions for the New Year? I’d love to hear from you.

*My classmates at Barnard included Martha Stewart, Erika Jong and Twyla Tharp, but that’s another story too.

**In the back of my mind, there lurks the possibility that I may yet ski again. Many people ski into their 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately, my old ski pants are a size or two too small, but when I told my husband I might buy a new pair, since they’re handy for snow shoveling, dog walking, and maybe a little cross-country skiing, he tried to dissuade me. Maybe I should try flannel-lined jeans, he said, or rain or wind pants. When I asked why not ski pants, he confessed that he was worried I might take to the slopes again. Hey, never say never.

Eldercide available now on Kindle

JuileLomoe_Eldercide2500jpg

At long last, my novel Eldercide is available on Kindle, and you’ll soon be able to buy a printed copy and other e-pub versions as well. I first published the novel in 2008, but it’s as timely as ever. Here’s what I wrote for the 4000-character description that people will see when they bring up the book on Amazon. If you have any comments or suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Does this promo tempt you to buy the book?

When quality of life declines with age and illness, who decides if you’re better off dead? Nursing supervisor Claire Lindstrom suspects a killer is making the final judgment call for the clients of Compassionate Care. 

A woman with Alzheimer’s disease dies unexpectedly in the night. Another is found dead beside a stream. Claire sees the beginnings of a sinister pattern, but Paula Rhodes, her temperamental boss, doesn’t want her raising questions. The survival of the home health care agency in upstate New York depends on its reputation for quality care, and a rash of mysterious deaths could kill the business.

Claire antagonizes the county coroner and becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the police. All the while, from his vantage point near her cottage on Kooperskill Lake, a killer called Gabriel is watching, channeling his obsession with Claire into passionate paintings. Under another name, he’s a man she already knows – but which one? And is he part of a far larger scheme of Eldercide, taking orders from a shadowy organization?

Author Julie Lomoe knows home health care from the ground up. After working as a creative arts therapist in a psychiatric hospital for over a decade, she founded ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency in upstate New York. As President and chief administrator, she handled quality assurance, human resources and marketing, while a nursing supervisor was responsible for patient care. A Registered Art Therapist and counselor with training in family therapy, Julie couldn’t legally provide hands-on care, so she became trained and certified as a Personal Care Aide. Filling in when other staff couldn’t be found, she learned the business at the most basic level, helping clients cope with their declining bodily functions, comforting Alzheimer’s patients through sleepless nights, waiting impatiently for relief staff to arrive. In the process, she developed enormous respect and empathy for the aides who make home care their life’s work, and Eldercide is dedicated to them.

As a small, start-up business facing stiff competition from established agencies, ElderSource built its reputation and case load with an ever increasing emphasis on round-the-clock live-in care, recruiting many of the aides from New York City. Compared to Compassionate Care, ElderSource had relatively smooth sailing. Some of the agency’s seriously ill clients died during the agency’s watch, but all of natural causes. But as ElderSource grew, so did Julie’s stress. Like Paula Rhodes, she agonized over meeting the payroll and packed on pounds while trying to cope by means of comfort food and antidepressants.

Eventually, realizing the agency could quite literally be the death of her, Julie transferred the staff and clients to another agency, and ElderSource closed its doors. Several years passed before Julie came to terms with the loss and gained the perspective she needed to explore the experience through fiction.

In the years since Julie first published Eldercide, the real-life issues and ethical questions raised in the novel have grown ever more acute. The percentage of elderly in America continues to swell, yet the services to care for them have not kept pace with the need. With less disposable income, working harder and longer to meet basic expenses, people struggle to provide care for their elders, and the tensions and conflicts that tear apart the families in Eldercide are if anything greater than ever.

Our society is rapidly aging, our allotted life spans growing ever longer, but at what cost? Eldercide explores ethical dilemmas most of us will face sooner or later—if we live long enough.

Does this description tempt you to buy the book? If so, why not head over to Amazon right now? Type in my name, Julie Lomoe, and you’ll see Hope Dawns Eternal and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders as well as Eldercide. Just think: you could own all three of my published novels for less than $9.00—the price of a fair-to-middling glass of wine. And you’d earn my undying gratitude. If you do decide to click on that shopping cart icon, please let me know so I can thank you personally.

eldercidefrontcover1

Above is the cover for the original edition of Eldercide. If you see it on Amazon, don’t buy it there! I’m no longer with the original publisher, and I won’t see any of the profits. I’m still fond of the cover illustration, which I did in pastels, but I decided to go with something less terrifying, since the killer in Eldercide is kinder and gentler than he looks here. But if you’d like to buy this version with my original artwork, I still have some around. Just contact me at julielomoe@gmail.com and we’ll work it out.

 

 

 

 

 

The Luxury of Late Summer Lassitude

Woman Reading by Richard Emil Miller

Woman Reading by Richard Emil Miller

For the past few days, I’ve had every intention of writing something meaningful about Labor Day, but I was too busy being lazy. I told myself I had every right to wallow in sloth over the holiday weekend, but it’s three days later and I’m still wallowing. As a long-retired senior citizen, I’ve earned the right to indolence. Doing nothing used to make me anxious and guilt-ridden, but the older I get, the more those negative emotions fade away.

More and more, I find deep contentment in simply being in the moment, and isn’t that what countless self-help gurus say is the ideal state of being? I’m especially happy outside in my garden. Lying on my chaise in dappled shade on a perfect late summer afternoon, reading a book and sipping Pinot Grigio, my dog and my cat lounging in close proximity – life doesn’t get much better than that. I can gaze at a shrub or a single flower for minutes on end. And occasionally I actually get a little gardening done.

Then there’s the lake a few hundred feet from my house. I can walk down the public-access boat ramp and wade right into the water. I’m a slow, lazy swimmer, and I love floating on my back soaking up the sun. Or if I’m feeling especially ambitious, I can take out my spiffy little red kayak.

Sirius, my chow/Aussie mix

Sirius, my chow/Aussie mix

Walking my dog Sirius is high on my list of humble pleasures too. He’s so fascinated by the world around him, especially its olfactory aspects, and so polite and friendly to the people we meet, that his positivity is contagious. Unfortunately, when we meet another dog walking its owner on leash, he goes ballistic, becoming instantly airborne, whirling in circles and barking wildly. At just forty pounds, he’s fairly easy to control, unlike some of my former dogs, so his fleeting mania doesn’t pose a major problem. I don’t believe he wants to attack the other dogs; he simply wants to get more intimately acquainted. And when we pass other dogs chained in their yards and barking furiously, he passes them by in quiet dignity with eyes averted, every inch the gentleman.

This immersion in the natural world that surrounds me is probably my most meaningful spiritual practice. Yet when I was in the depths of depression, the kind of despair I described in my post about Robin Williams, I was oblivious to these pleasures. For two years I ignored my garden, letting it go to seed and weed. I didn’t swim in the lake or launch my kayak. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that we didn’t have a dog in residence at the time; dogs make marvelous antidepressants.

“Somewhere sunny and seventy-five” – that’s how country singer Joe Nichols describes the

Joe Nichols

Joe Nichols

perfect day and the woman who evokes those summertime feelings in him. Here in upstate New York, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of days like this. I’ve taken full advantage, here at home and with excursions to a few of this area’s many attractions: Tanglewood for classical music, Hunter Mountain for country, Saratoga for Steely Dan and the races, Lake George for the Americade motorcycle rally. I’ve been to two women’s retreats – one at a cabin at a Vermont lake, another for writers in Connecticut.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

I’m deeply grateful for my good fortune. Measuring my existence in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m well above the midpoint. All my basic needs are comfortably met, I have a loving family, my self-esteem gets better with age, and I’m somewhere in the lower reaches of the top triangle of self-actualization. I have the luxury of contemplating a variety of choices. Some will bring me present-time pleasure and others will bring me closer to realizing my creative dreams. Should I go out to a movie with my husband or confront the last chapter of my novel? Should I do some gardening or finish this blog post? Maybe I can do a little of everything – but only after I watch this afternoon’s General Hospital. After all, I need to keep my priorities straight.

I’m well aware that billions of people around the world don’t enjoy my level of luxury. I began this blog post intending to discuss the growing division between the haves and the have-nots in this country. Not counting the 1%, there are millions like me who have paid our dues for decades in the educational system and the workplace and can afford to kick back and reap the rewards of our labor. Then there are the millions of others – and their numbers are steadily growing – who are desperately clinging to the bottom rungs of the ladder of Maslow’s pyramid. Those millions will never enjoy the luxury of mulling over the many pleasurable paths to self-actualization.

But forget about gloomy ruminations. Right now it’s time to turn on ABC and see how that kidnapping is coming along, and whether Silas’s evil wife will win out over his true love. After that, I’ll take my dog outside and play in the dirt. Today, while it’s still sunny and seventy-five.

 

Vegging out by Doctor’s Orders

Painting by Yuri Tremler

Painting by Yuri Tremler

A couple of weeks ago, when the doctor told me I needed major sinus surgery, complete with total anesthesia, I had a weirdly paradoxical reaction: smug satisfaction, tinged with a hint of glee. At last, a genuine medical condition necessitating serious treatment, commanding the respect and sympathy of all those aging peers who’ve already confronted a broad assortment of health crises and concerns. 

I’ll turn 72 this July 31st, and to date I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate when it comes to physical health – a couple of minor gynecological problems, and that’s it. (Mental health is another story, one I’ve already written about in numerous posts about my bipolar diagnosis.) 

The surgery took place yesterday morning; my husband drove me to and from the same-day surgery. Per doctor’s orders, I’ve been vegging out ever since, something I have a definite talent for even when I’m perfectly well. But now, for a change, I don’t need to feel guilty about it. My post-op instruction sheet says, “Limit your physical activity for two (2) weeks as well as avoid all straining and heavy lifting. Do not perform any exercise which will elevate your pulse rate significantly, as this will cause bleeding in your nose.” 

I don’t see what’s so terrible about a little bleeding, but I’ll try to be a compliant patient, since the handout says “the nose and sinuses will have Sinuses diagrammany new healing surfaces, which will require special care over the next few weeks.” That sounds pretty yucky, so I’ll try not to dwell too vividly on the imagery it brings to mind. 

I’m supposed to “eat a cool, soft diet for one week.” After bringing me home yesterday, my husband made a run to Hannaford for prescriptions and requested foodstuffs. I launched the new diet regimen with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s “Karmarel Sutra,” a blissfully decadent combination of chocolate and caramel. I’m normally not a fanatic consumer of ice cream, but I can see how I could easily become one. He also brought me some deli salads loaded with mayo, Brie cheese, and a guilty pleasure I recently rediscovered after years of abstinence: Helluva Good Dip, bacon and horseradish flavor. I’ll soon see if chips are soft enough, or if I’ll need something mushier for dipping. 

Sure, I can make fruit and yogurt smoothies in our rarely used blender, and we even have an expensive juicer we’ve used approximately twice, but I haven’t stayed so healthy for so long by being a paragon of nutritional virtue, so I’m not going to start today. But without my Nia classes or my gardening, let alone swimming in the lake a few hundred feet from my house, I can see how easy it would be to pack on the pounds with this all too sedentary lifestyle. 

I promise not to ramble on about my health concerns. I’m deeply grateful they’re treatable – nothing malignant or life-threatening. Thirty years ago, before the advent of the CAT scan and endoscopic surgery, I probably would have just muddled along with all the gunk that’s been clogging up my head.  

The one thing I vow to take seriously during these weeks of mandatory ease is my writing. I’m determined to finish the paranormal soap opera novel I began over a year ago, and the end is in sight, at least for this first installment. More on that topic in the near future.

 

 

The Slippery Slope to Senior Sloth

Henri Matisse

Watching six straight hours of Project Runway reruns? Lounging in bed reading a mystery until two in the afternoon? Why the hell not? Now, in the dawn of my eighth decade of life, haven’t I earned the right to kick back and be as lazy as I like? Maybe, but if so, why do I feel so guilty about it?

Yes, ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve indulged in these wretched excesses in the past few days. Even worse, I still haven’t kicked my Spider solitaire addiction. And today I managed to get to my Nia class at the YMCA, but I copped out of doing the weight machines. After Nia, I generally take a snack break in the Y’s lobby perusing magazines others have donated that I normally wouldn’t buy, like Vogue and Entertainment Weekly, before heading for the weight circuit, but today I simply stashed the magazines back in their rack and split for home.

The Y used to have a  computerized Fit Linx system that tracked exactly how much weight I lifted during each session as well as my cumulative total, which added up to several million pounds over the past few years. But they took away the Fit Linx. Now it’s as if Big Brother has abandoned me, and there’s nothing and no one to track whether I do the machines or not. So why bother?

In part, I’d persisted with the weight machines to condition my body for skiing, but I’ve become a slacker in that department too. Back in December, when cold winds began sweeping down from the north, I thought how much more frozen I’d feel skidding down a windswept mountain and decided that maybe it was time to give up skiing, at least the downhill variety. For now, this weirdly warm and snowless winter has made that a moot point, but even if Lady Gaia favors us with tons of white powder, I suspect I’ll stay cozily hunkered down in my recliner rather than hitting the slopes.

I could regale you with other fascinating details of my descent into senior sloth – the crossword puzzles and movie matinees, for example, not to mention my favorite soap opera. Since One Life to Live was cancelled last month, I’ve gone cold turkey on that one, but Michael Easton, my favorite soap star, will be bringing his Detective John McBain character to General Hospital next month, so alas, I’ll probably relapse.

One problem with writing about all these mundane details of daily life is that they’re boring. But even worse, they’re sins of omission rather than commission, of passivity rather than active engagement in life. According to the experts, staying mentally and physically active while aging probably lengthens longevity, but by how much? And in the long run, does it really matter?

Henri Matisse 1923

When I engage in these “What’s it all about?” ruminations, my husband frequently reminds me that the universe doesn’t give one whit what we do with our lives. So should we follow Joseph Campbell’s advice and just follow our bliss? And can bliss lie lurking within such ordinary slothful pleasures? For me, probably not in the long run. My most blissful moments come from creativity.

But for others, who’s to say? And who am I to pass judgment?

Should I be ashamed of my tendencies toward senior sloth, or is it OK to silence my inner critic and indulge in periods of vegging out? Any thoughts on the subject? I’d love to hear from you.

Entropy Part II – the lure of laziness

Nia class with Lisa Geddings

It’s high noon, and my Nia* class at the YMCA is just ending. Over a dozen women sit cross-legged on the floor as Richele says a prayer of gratitude. Unfortunately, I’m not there – I’m just getting out of bed.

No, I’m not sick. I’m just lazy. When 10:30 rolled around, time to don my workout clothes and leave for class, I made the conscious decision to stay tucked in bed under a down comforter, sipping coffee and reading the paper. This is by no means the first time I’ve made this choice. My goal is to hit the Y three times a week for Nia class followed by a weight-lifting session on the Fit-Linx circuit. I love the Nia class, and I always feel better afterwards – happier and more energized.

I’m not crazy about the workout on the weight machines, but I like the feedback from the people following me who are amazed at the amount of weight I lift, and I enjoy ogling the men working their muscles with the free weights.

Recently I skipped two full weeks, for the most part with the flimsiest of excuses – for example, the fact that this summer’s purple polish had flaked raggedly off my toenails. I couldn’t find the polish remover, and I was afraid the other women would look at my toes and judge them scruffy (we dance barefoot in class.) Finally back at the Y Monday, I found the class much more strenuously aerobic than it seemed before, and I couldn’t do as many reps on the weight machines as I usually do.

It’s scary how falling out of shape comes so quickly and easily when I cocoon myself in bed instead of making the healthy choice and hauling my tush off that comfy mattress. It reminds me of the description of entropy from my last post: “a measure of the unavailability of energy in a closed system.” Yielding to the lure of lassitude gives entropy a greater hold on our bodies, and there’s strong evidence it shortens our lives.

There’s a saying that Zen monks recite at the close of each day:

Let me respectfully remind you – Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. This moment is an opportunity to awaken. Take heed. Do not squander this moment.*

Biologically, as we age, our bodies yield to entropy. Inevitably, if we live long enough, things begin to break down. Our sight and hearing become less acute, our arteries begin to clog and our cells to break down. By making healthy choices, we can forestall the process to some extent, but in the end, our aging bodies fail us. But do succumbing to inertia and squandering the moment speed the journey toward death? There’s evidence they do. So do genetics, poor choices in diet, and lack of a social support network.

I’m getting a tad gloomy here. That’s one reason I took such a prolonged break from blogging – I didn’t want to play Debbie Downer and depress people with my negative thoughts. But I’ve finally found a way to channel my shadow side: my next novel will feature a character who magnifies the worst features of my depressive side. She’ll wallow in clutter, eat and drink too much and spend most of her waking hours in her Lazy-Boy recliner watching TV – when she’s not playing computer solitaire, that is. On the plus side, she’ll have a wicked sense of humor. I look forward to meeting her when I begin the NaNoWriMo novel-writing challenge next week.

How often do you succumb to lassitude and entropy? Do you have any remedies? I’d love to hear from you.

* Nia’s a movement practice that combines dance, martial arts and healing disciplines. For more information, visit www.nianow.com. In New York’s Albany area, Richele Corbo and Laura Bulatao are the Nia teachers who’ve inspired me over the years. The photo is of a class in Bethesda, led by Lisa Geddings.

**I’m indebted to Reverend Sam Trumbore, minister for the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, for this quote. It’s from a sermon he gave in 2004 titled “Praising Percipiency.” You can find it by going to the FUUSA website and clicking on “sermons,” which are archived by date.

Paul Simon – How terribly strange to be seventy

Paul Simon

Yesterday was Paul Simon’s seventieth birthday, and he’s still going strong. Nonetheless, I can’t help remembering his lyrics from “Old Men,” released on the Simon & Garfunkel album “Bookends” in 1968:
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly.
How terribly strange to be seventy.
These days, he’s not sitting sedately on a park bench – this year he released a beautiful new album, “So Beautiful or So What,” and he’s about to embark on a fall tour.

Bob Dylan turned 70 last May 14, and John Lennon would have been 71 this past Sunday, October 9. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Sir Paul McCartney chose to marry his third wife, Nancy Shevell, that same day. At 69, he doesn’t fit the “When I get old and losing my hair” image of “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and

Paul McCartney

he’s still taking on new challenges, like writing a musical score for a new ballet, “Ocean’s Kingdom,” for the New York City Ballet. This maiden voyage was almost unanimously panned – critic Tobi Tobias said the score “runs the gamut from movie music to faux-Broadway” – but you’ve got to give the “cute Beatle” credit for trying, even though he’s not as cute as he used to be. I can’t help wondering what marvelous music John and George would have created had they lived this long. I’ve heard all these artists live in concert more than once, including the Beatles’ famed Shea Stadium concerts in the Sixties.

Then there are the Rolling Stones, arguably the world’s greatest rock band. Their peerless drummer Charlie Watts turned 70 this past June 2nd, and Mick and Keith will hit that milestone in 2013. Despite all the hard-won wrinkles in their faces and the ribbing they’ve taken from late-night comedians who claim they’re geriatric, they still put on a fabulous show, or at least they did when I caught their “Bigger Bang” tour in Albany in 2005. The music sounded better than ever.

Why all this concern over a mere number? It’s because I turned 70 on July 31 – a milestone I’d been dreading. But when I woke that morning, I felt strangely relieved. I took a stab at blogging about it, but I was still suffering from depression and writer’s block, and the words refused to come. Perhaps I was still ambivalent about revealing my true age, but if rock superstars come clean about their advancing years, why shouldn’t I? Maybe because I’m a woman, and when it comes to looks, the sexist double standard still reigns supreme.

Physically I’m feeling as healthy as ever, though no doubt I’m losing a fair number of brain cells every day. I’ve been calling myself a crone for about a decade now, ever since I turned 60. I’ve used the term in various computer passwords. (One of them, long obsolete now, was NorseKrone. I changed the spelling in honor of the famous woman jockey, Julie Krone.) But I’m still taken aback when I tell people my age and they don’t seem surprised. Part of me longs to hear those unbelieving protests, along the lines of “I don’t believe it – you don’t look a day over 60.”

More and more people are calling me “Ma’am” and offering to carry my luggage or help me up from an awkward seated position. I’m okay with that, but less okay with looking in mirrors. Currently we’re remodeling our bathroom, which for years has been forgivingly dim, and I cringe at the idea of installing those theatrical strips of multiple bulbs, but I suppose I’ll adapt in time.

Maybe eventually I’ll learn to joke about my age. Stephen Stills managed to pull that off at a concert on Tuesday night, making cracks about his less than acute hearing and the gaps in his memory, but he’s still only 66. And he has some valid explanations – all those years of playing rock and roll in front of banks of amplifiers and blunting his brain with drugs.

That reminds me of the wild party where I met Stephen Stills and gave him some unsolicited advice – hard to believe that was 40 years ago! But I’ll save that for the next blog post. In the meantime, rock on, all you oldies but goodies!

Charlie, Mick and Keith