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Curbing the Christmas urge to overspend

christmas-presents under treeMy Christmas shopping came to a screeching halt this morning when the garden center rejected my debit card. Fortunately, I had the checkbook from my other account, the one I share with my husband, so I wrote a check to cover the cost. I’d finally found the perfect ornament for the top of the tree, a woman swathed for winter in Victorian clothes, and it was the only one left. That plus a couple of other ornaments cost only $36 – a deal I couldn’t resist.

He’s not going to be happy about it. He’ll be even unhappier when I tell him I drove down the road to the bank and deposited a check from our joint account to cover my shortfall. I usually check my balance online to avoid sinking into the red, but my computer had mysteriously refused to let me to access my account for the past few days, offering up a pesky argument about lapsed security certificates. Now the glitch is gone, but the damage is already done, to the tune of a $25 overdraft fee.

I thought I’d found an okay treetop ornament last night – a gilded light-up star for $10.99 from Walmart. But when I showed it to my spouse, he gave me that sardonic half-smile, half-sneer that means “This is so ridiculous that I’m not even going to dignify it with a comment.” (It’s the same expression he dons when I tell him I’m going to make a gazillion bucks from my books in the near future.) Given that look, I decided to visit Hewett’s one more time. I’d seen some treetop angels there last week, a bit pricy, but I hoped they might be on sale by now. They weren’t, but I couldn’t resist that Victorian woman, or the beautifully feathered red and green birds, even though I’ll have to hang the latter well out of reach of my cat Lunesta and my dog Sirius, who will no doubt find the plumage irresistible. Christmas shopping-frenzy checkout

Actually, last night I’d decided my shopping was pretty well finished anyway. Just before midnight, I ordered a Yamaha keyboard for my six-year-old granddaughter Jasper, a beginner’s model with lots of voices and built-in lessons on sale for $79 from Best Buy. I’ll give my 13-year-old granddaughter Kaya a promissory note for tickets to the travelling show of Les Miserables at Proctor’s next spring – that way I can put off actually buying the tickets till January.  

I ordered my husband a special present – something beautiful and totally impractical that he’ll never guess in advance, and that I can’t describe here because he reads my blog. Our daughter Stacey’s present is a new washing machine to replace the one that died – essential for a working mother with two young girls. For my 83-year-old brother, who lives alone in the Bronx, an assortment of cheeses and sausages, including his favorite Limburger, from our native Wisconsin. And that’s about it.

Back in the last millennium, I would have been a lot more extravagant. I had more credit cards back then, and I used them freely. I’m bipolar, after all, and one of the endearing traits of my diagnosis is a tendency to spend like crazy. But I’ve long since reined in that aspect of my manic side. Now I have only one credit card, and I’m proud to say I haven’t used it in years, though I’m still paying off the old balance. It’s not even activated, but they sent me a new one, and I admit I’m tempted.

My husband and I don’t need much new stuff these days, but three weeks ago we bought our main Christmas presents – two state-of-the-art Samsung Galaxy II smart phones. For years I’d struggled with my old Blackberry, hating its tiny keys and avoiding it as much as possible. Incredibly, I never even tried texting until I got this new gizmo, and already I’m finding it useful. In Target the other day, I texted Stacey to double check Kaya and Jasper’s current sizes.  And an hour ago, while my husband was out, I texted him as follows: 

Hi. U should know that I wrote checks for $240 today because my debit card was declined. Please don’t yell! IOU.

Unfortunately he came home just as I was sending it, so I told him to go into the bedroom and check his messages before we talked. He obliged, and when he emerged, we had a calm, rational conversation about our Christmas budgeting concerns.

Household harmony – what more could I possibly want for Christmas? How about you – how are you coping with the holiday spending frenzy? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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Gratitude for the things money can’t buy

My refrigerator’s looking pretty bare, but I can’t shop for groceries, because my checking account’s practically zeroed out. Fortunately my predicament’s temporary, because tomorrow’s the fourth Tuesday of the month, and that means my Social Security payment will magically appear in my account, followed on the last day of the month by my New York State retirement check.

Actually my situation’s not as grim as this suggests, because my significant other can make up the shortfall and then some. If I were forced to live on my retirement income alone, I’d be in dire straits, like so many millions of single women in this country. This time of year especially, I’m enormously grateful for my good fortune. I’m thankful, too, that Obama won the election; if the Republicans had their way, the safety net that helps sustain our society might well have been destroyed, plunging countless millions into ever deepening poverty while the privileged one percent continue raking in the big bucks.

As always, this Thanksgiving brought lots of talk about gratitude, and it’s almost mandatory to maintain an attitude of good cheer through the coming weeks. Well before Thanksgiving, my favorite oldies station began playing nonstop Christmas music, and I’ll admit I enjoy it up to a point, but I can’t agree with Andy Williams when he sings “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” (He died this year, but his rendition of this saccharine song endures.)

Van Gogh

According to a recent poll, 45% of Americans are so financially stressed this time of year that they wish Christmas would simply disappear. The findings are dubious, though, because the survey was sponsored by a company that focuses on risky financial instruments designed for people already living perilously close to their personal financial cliffs.

In recent years, I’ve been doing my best to live within my means, modest as they may be. I paid off and then cancelled all but one of my credit cards, and I haven’t used that one in years. I haven’t even activated it when they send me a new one, but I’m still paying off the balance. I’ll admit I’m tempted to resurrect it to add to my family’s holiday cheer this Christmas, but if I do, I swear I’ll be ultra-cautious with it.

I’m grateful that as I age, I crave less and less in the way of material possessions. I’ve already got more than I need, and I had no problem boycotting Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially since I didn’t have the wherewithal to pay in cash. My house is already overflowing with stuff I can’t bear to part with, so why add to the clutter?

As part of a spiritual deepening program in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, I’ve begun making a daily list of the things I’m grateful for. The trick is to select a number and stick to it each day. I’ve chosen the number seven, and it’s surprisingly easy to come up with that many. Right now, for example, I’m grateful for:

  1. My cat Lunesta, dozing and purring between my legs
  2. My husband, reading in the recliner across from mine
  3. My dog Sirius, lying on guard next to the front door
  4. My house – be it ever so humble, it’s warm and dry, and we own it
  5. The wonderful group of women writers I met with this afternoon
  6. Their laughter and enthusiasm when I read a scene from my novel
  7. National Novel Writing Month ends this Friday, and I’m going to meet my quota of 50,000 words

I could go on – I haven’t even mentioned my daughter and granddaughters – but you get the idea. Family, friends, pets, creativity – simple things, and except for our modest mortgage, they don’t cost a cent.

Are you feeling grateful this time of year? Do you love the holidays, or are you more like those folks in the survey who wish they’d go away?

Together in Joy and Creativity – Reflections on marriage and music

My husband and I celebrated our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary on May 3rd, and I’ve been thinking about what’s kept us together all these years. Paradoxically, one of those togetherness factors is separation – especially when it comes to music.

About a decade ago, when the City of Albany was building the pedestrian bridge over Route 787 that leads to the Corning Preserve adjoining the Hudson River, they offered the citizenry the opportunity to purchase an engraved paving stone. I bought one for my husband’s birthday, and it reads “Julie and (his name) together in joy and creativity.”* I love looking at it every time I cross that elegant bridge to the river’s edge, and I suspect I’ll be crossing it quite a bit this summer, since Albany’s Alive at Five concert series has the best lineup in years.

I’m virtually positive he won’t be going, though. He despises crowded, heavily amped rock and country concerts – always has, always will. One of the factors contributing to the disintegration of his first marriage was his refusal to accompany his wife to the 1969 Woodstock Festival.** He’s gone with me on occasion, but not happily. The last time I remember was a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, maybe three years ago.

We were enjoying our annual day at the track. I’d picked a few winners with my $2 and $5 bets, and I’d placed my bets on the last race when I heard a man calling, “Anyone want two tickets to The Police and Elvis Costello at SPAC tonight?” At his side in record time, I learned he and his wife had planned to attend with another couple who couldn’t make it, and he was selling two lawn tickets for $60 each.

“That sounds great,” I said. “Let me go ask my husband.” Then I reconsidered and pounced. “Oh, what the hell. I’ll get them right now – then he won’t have a choice.”

He was fairly gracious about the surprise, but the traffic jam was so horrendous that we missed half of Elvis Costello’s first set. He was great, and The Police were fantastic – at sixty plus, Sting still has rock star charisma to burn. But the low visibility in the darkness and the crush of the crowd were a tad overpowering. My spouse swears he’ll never go back to SPAC, and I respect his wishes. That’s why I’ve got a single ticket – a reserved inside seat – to hear the Zac Brown Band there on June lst.

Don’t get me wrong – we do partake of an occasional concert together. He likes classical music, especially of the chamber variety, he’s okay with some jazz and folk, and we frequent the avant garde performance pieces at EMPAC. For the most part, though, I feed my musical Jones by ushering at The Egg and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, occasionally springing for a big-ticket concert I can’t bear to miss, like Bruce Springsteen’s latest swing through Albany.

Oskar Kokoschka

We usually go out to dinner on our anniversary, but this time I decided I’d rather go to a benefit for the Mental Health Association of New York State, featuring music from Tom Chapin, the brother of the late Harry Chapin. As both a therapist and a consumer of mental health services, I strongly believe in the cause, but I was also lured by the prospect of the music. In general, my spouse loathes “sensitive” singer-songwriters, especially those he claims sing through their noses or as if they’re suffering from an acute digestive upset – think Bob Dylan and his descendants – but for the sake of our own harmony, he agreed to humor me. We both thoroughly enjoyed Tom Chapin.

Humoring each other, tolerating each other’s proclivities and foibles, has helped us hang in there all these years. Perhaps equally important, we’ve always heeded the words by Khalil Gibran that we read at our wedding in 1975: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” We’ve never felt the necessity to move in lockstep, or to share totally in each other’s enthusiasms. Music’s perhaps the major area where this holds true, but by no means the only one.

After all these years, we’re still “together in joy and creativity.” It’s even written in stone.

*I’m omitting his name because he prefers to remain anonymous when it comes to my blog posts, lest I say something that might reflect badly on his public persona.

**I was at the Woodstock Festival almost from start to finish – and, for the most part, alone. See my three posts about the experience elsewhere on this blog.

 

Soap Operas: tried and true plotting tricks

As I was agonizing over the plot of my new novel today, I took my customary two p.m.break to watch my favorite soap opera, One Life to Live, and it got me thinking about the recurring themes and conventions that drive the multiple story lines.

Some of these plot devices are so unrealistic and/or overused that they’d be unbelievable if used in a novel. But if the story line is engrossing enough, it’s possible to suspend disbelief.

Here are a few that come to mind about the denizens of Llanview, Pennsylvania:

  • People rarely phone ahead, preferring to drop in unannounced on the folks they want to talk to. Occasionally they knock, but they never wait for someone to open the door; they simply barge in.
  •  Invariably these visits interrupt something critically important: someone is about to confide a long suppressed secret or declare undying love, or a couple is discovered in bed, whether before, during or after sex. Sometimes the discovery results in a plot twist, but usually it’s just an excuse to extend the same theme for days, weeks or months without resolution.
  •  Comas and amnesia are amazingly common.
  •  People do a great deal of eavesdropping. This is a piece of cake, because the characters frequently deliver confidential tidbits in a normal tone of voice and in public places – bars, restaurants, hospital corridors, airports.
  •  People long thought to be dead come miraculously back to life. When a new actor is cast, the altered appearance is sometimes attributed to plastic surgery.
  •  Even when just getting out of bed, everyone is impeccably groomed, and like Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London, their hair is perfect.
  •  Men spend a lot of time parading around with their shirts off – at least the guys who have six-pack abs and obviously spend a lot of time at the gym. Their bodies are usually waxed and hairless. Those less fit or hairier have the good sense to keep their shirts on. Women stay relatively covered up, perhaps to avoid provoking jealousy in the primarily female audience.
  •  Men fall in love quickly and easily, are amazingly eager to get married and invest a great deal of emotional energy in fatherhood and questions of paternity. Currently, Brody Lovett (seen below) has kidnapped a baby that’s not even his, while John McBain (seen above), the true father, is in hot pursuit.
  •  People get married multiple times, often three or more times to the same person. But many wedding ceremonies are torpedoed by someone with a grudge to settle or a major plot twist to reveal just before the point of “I Do.”
  •  Many characters have high-level professions (mayor, newspaper editor/publisher, CEO of  a billion-dollar company) but are rarely or never seen at work. Police are an exception, since their work is more dramatic and impacts more directly on the unfolding plots. In addition to their primary professions, an amazing number own bars or restaurants, while those less fortunate wait tables or tend bar.
  •  The citizens of Llanview spend a great deal of time in said bars and restaurants, even in the middle of the day. Many secrets are spilled, and confrontations are frequent.

Speaking of bars and restaurants, it’s after five, and my interior clock tells me it’s time for a libation. No doubt I could come up with many more soap clichés – or perhaps you can add some of your own.

Sadly, ABC is canceling One Life to Live after a run of more than 40 years, and some of the featured actors have been around for almost that long. The network cites rising production costs, falling ratings, and changing viewers’ tastes as the reasons, and the last new show will be aired in January. OLTL’s hour slot will be filled by a show on health subjects, no doubt with a panel of obnoxiously cheery co-hosts along the lines of The View and The Chew, so I’ll be able to reclaim the hour that interrupts my creative flow just at my most productive time of day. (Yes, I could watch it at 9am or 9pm on the Soap Channel, but when there’s a real cliff hanger, I like to watch it ASAP.)

But all is not lost – a company by the name of Prospect Park plans to launch a new “Online Network” in January. They’ll feature all-new episodes, and reportedly many of the current actors have already signed contracts with them, including my favorite, Michael Easton, who plays John McBain.

By the way, my NaNoWriMo novel is coming along well. I’ve now passed the midpoint of 25,000 words, but I’m a couple of days behind. Stay tuned . . .

 

Giving up my Spider addiction cold turkey

It’s been barely an hour, and I’m already in the throes of withdrawal. My body’s tense, my muscles jumpy. My heart is racing, and I’m finding it hard to catch my breath. I’m feeling wired, with an unaccustomed energy that threatens to morph into a panic attack.

What’s the addiction I’m fighting? Is it booze, cigarettes? Maybe drugs, prescription or otherwise? No, it’s Spider solitaire. The spell it’s cast over me is relentless, and I’ve finally come to admit I’m powerless to resist. Just one game, I tell myself, or maybe twenty minutes. But inevitably, those minutes morph into hours – how many, I’m ashamed to admit. I could probably have cranked out a novel during the countless hours I’ve wasted on Spider in recent months. My blog has been one of the casualties; so has my housework, which is dubious at the best of times.

This toxic addiction mushroomed along with my depression, beginning last summer, and by now it’s hard to sort out cause and effect. Do I play too much Spider because I’m depressed, or am I depressed because I play too much Spider? Probably both. But when I’m playing, all sense of time fades away. I lapse into a state of suspended animation, on autopilot. As Pink Floyd would put it, I become comfortably numb – neither happy nor depressed, just vaguely anaesthetized. I’m capable of playing right through meal times, ignoring hunger, thirst, and urgent promptings from my bladder.

What’s going on here? In an effort to find out, I Googled “computer solitaire spider addiction” and came up with 864,000 hits. I was delighted to learn my blog post “Addicted to Spider solitaire?” from September 5, 2009 was fourth on the list. It contains my poem “Skinner’s Last Laugh” and you can find it in my archives.

Countless folks share my addiction. I read accounts by people with problems far worse than mine, some who played up to ten hours straight, who missed work because they’d been playing till five a.m., or who played on the job till they were fired. All agreed that Spider is powerfully addictive, perhaps more so than any other computer game, but for the most part, they couldn’t explain why. One woman had a valid excuse for guilt-free playing – she’s 74 years old, immobilized and housebound, on oxygen 24/7. For her, the game may be a godsend. For the rest of us, not so much – one writer calls it “Satan’s spider game of death.”

Some say the neurotransmitter dopamine, which controls craving and anxiety, is the culprit. Joss Earl writes, “Some theories suggest that dopamine developed as a survival technique for siege-like situations. If a monkey is sitting in a tree with a lion prowling around below, then being patient is essential for survival. Dopamine calms down the monkey and allows him to outwait the lion. . . . almost by definition, addictive drugs are ones that raise dopamine levels.” Research has shown that computer games raise dopamine as well. Certainly Spider alleviates my own anxiety, but it damps down my motivation and enthusiasm as well, and I can no longer tolerate the waste.

So I’m going cold turkey, effective today. Since clicking on the Spider icon has become my automatic response as soon as I log onto the computer, and since I’ve proven time and again that there’s no such thing as “just one game,” I asked my husband to hide Spider deep within the innards of my computer so that I can’t find it. He’s not deleting it entirely – not yet – but he swears he’ll do so when and if I relapse.

He did the dastardly deed while I was watching the soap opera “One Life to Live,” another of my addictions. True, it consumes less than an hour a day, but it falls mid-afternoon during what would otherwise be my prime writing time, and I’m too technologically challenged to tape it. Soon I’ll be deprived of that guilty pleasure as well – ABC has announced plans to cancel the series in January, replacing it with a life-styles reality show. Sorry, but I’ll boycott the new show – my life’s too full of reality already.

So, assuming I don’t freak out, what will I do with all my newfound time and energy? Maybe I’ll finally get around to cleaning up last year’s dead detritus from my garden. And maybe I’ll even get back to writing.

 

 

Help! A Doppelganger is haunting me on Facebook

Pablo Picasso

Facebook wants me to become friends with Julie Lomoe – they think I may know her. Evidently there are now two of me on Facebook, and my cyber self has come down with a case of acute Dissociative Identity Disorder. (That’s the official name for what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder.) Is it because I neglected them for three weeks?

It started innocuously enough with an e-mail message from Facebook saying “Your 2 friends are waiting” and naming two people for me to confirm as friends. In hindsight, maybe I should have been suspicious – I thought they were friends already. But I clicked on the link, got a “Welcome Back” message, and moments later I was logged in on my account, or what I believed to be my account.

My photo was gone, though, replaced by that innocuous blue and white avatar silhouette. Even worse, I now had only three friends instead of two hundred – the two I’d just confirmed plus my husband. The site gave my Albany location and my married status, but the rest of the information was stripped.

Panicked, I ran downstairs. “Facebook has deleted me!” I told my husband. “Practically all my information has disappeared! Can they do that just because you’ve been AWOL?”

Calmly, he brought up his own Facebook account and typed my name into the search box. Thank God, there was my own account, safe and sound, complete with photo, but below it was a new account with that pesky avatar and pitiful three friends. To the best of my knowledge, there’s only one Julie Lomoe  – the last name is Norwegian, and the few Lomoes in the world are related.

I’d inadvertently created a Doppelganger with all my identifying features zapped away. Now, how to delete it? Checking the FB Help section, I learned how to deactivate or delete an account, but I was too frightened to try, because I wasn’t  sure which account I’d be disabling – maybe the imposter, but maybe the real me with all the background information I’d painstakingly entered over a year ago. I couldn’t bear to risk it. So that shadowy Julie Lomoe still floats ghostlike in cyberspace, stripped of all my hard-won life experience, but I’m hoping people will find their way to the true me. 

Facebook has been trying to sabotage my married life as well. Another e-mail, allegedly from Facebook, contained a request from my husband asking that I verify that I’m in fact married to him and requesting permission to use my name on his account. I was surprised, because we’ve always kept our online identities separate and distinct for professional reasons. But I naively clicked OK, only to learn from him later that he’d never sent such a request and remained steadfastly opposed to such a revelation.

So the cyberspace gremlins are up to some nasty mischief on Facebook, or what poses as Facebook. I’m sure there are super-sophisticated explanations for what’s going on and why, but they’re probably far over my head. In the meantime, I’ve got a low-tech strategy: I won’t click on any links in e-mails that purport to be from Facebook. Instead I’ll log in the old-fashioned way, and hope that faceless Doppelganger fades away into the great beyond.

Have you had any similar problems with FB? Any ideas what caused them or any solutions? I’d love to hear from you.

Venting negative thoughts in writing – is it always therapeutic?

Edward Munch

Commenting on my “Slump-A-Dump” poem in the last post, Bob Sanchez praised my quasi-rap rhyming and characterized the piece as “healthy venting.” He got me thinking – how healthy is using your writing as a way of venting negative thoughts? Can it be counterproductive? I’m afraid that sometimes the answer is yes.

This morning I attempted a poem about the depression that’s been plaguing me since May. One passage reads:

I score my mood on scales of one through ten,

with one as suicidal, ten as manic, trying to uncover

conscious weather patterns I can manipulate at will

by choosing wholesome activities that bring me pleasure

or failing that, alleviate the pain. Writing works sometimes.

Writing didn’t work today. I woke up with my mood at three or four, but wallowing in negativity for the hour it took me took me to come up with a first draft left me feeling like a two. I wrote about the heat wave that’s forecast to roll in tomorrow,* and how that will give me a more valid excuse for misery than I’ve had during the recent stretch of gorgeous summer days. Did committing my thoughts to paper have a positive cathartic effect? On the contrary, I felt even worse.

M.E. Kemp commented that short stories are one option for barreling through a creative block. I began one a few days ago about a woman who decides to take to her bed for good. She converses with a shadowy archetype who encourages her in her resolution, and speculates about how high a dosage of her favorite sleeping pill, Lunesta, would prove fatal. Only the need to feed her cats prevents her from carrying out her plans – for the time being.

As I wrote about Gladys’s sweat-stained sheets and wondered how long it would take for her cats’ hungry nudges and love nips to morph into full-blown attack mode – would she have to die first? – I realized I didn’t want to go down the path my imagination was taking me. I couldn’t envision an epiphany for Gladys, something for her to live for, nor did I want to accompany her on a slow and painful death. After three pages, the story peters out, possibly for good.

On the other hand, healthy venting fueled the fire that inspired both my mystery novels. Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is about transcending the stigma of mental illness, and Eldercide explores the ethical dilemmas that arise as our allotted life spans grow ever longer. For me, writing has to spring from conviction, something I feel passionately about that I’ve absolutely got to get down on paper. I’m waiting impatiently for that subject to manifest itself.

 *The heat wave is here, threatening to break all kinds of records in upstate New York, and sure enough, the external excuse for misery helps me feel a little better about myself. I wrote this post a few days ago but felt it was too downbeat to publish unless I could come up with a more positive ending. But what the heck – I need to get something up here regardless. Maybe you can come up with some more upbeat comments to help cheer me up.

 

World Elder Abuse Day – a cause near to my heart

Reading Dear Abby this morning, I learned that today, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Day. It’s a subject close to my heart. As President of my own licensed home care services agency, ElderSource, Inc., I witnessed the extreme pressures that can lead to potentially abusive situations, even among loving families who are doing their best to provide quality care for their elders.* Unfortunately, most seniors are not nearly as well off as our clients were.

The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that as many as one in ten elders experience some form of abuse, but only one in five cases gets reported. They define elder abuse as “neglect, exploitation or ‘painful or harmful’ mistreatment of anyone 65 or older,” and the abuse can be financial, physical or psychological.

We’ve all heard the horror stories that surface regularly in the news – the abusive caregivers, the financial scams that can cost gullible elders their homes. Perhaps less obvious is the neglect that can stem from isolation, especially when dementia, mental illness or substance abuse are involved. Elders living alone, far from involved family, can suffer from self-neglect when they’re unable or unwilling to care for their own needs.

My 81-year-old brother in the Bronx has a wonderful support network of neighbors he’s come to know over 30 years in the same apartment building, but suburban neighborhoods of single-family dwellings don’t offer the same comfortable familiarity. Personally, I plan to age in place – our home is already too small for all our stuff, and I can’t picture downsizing any further. But it’s not a prospect I look forward to with great enthusiasm, and it’s all too easy to envision myself as a neglected recluse in some not so distant future.

What can you do to help prevent elder abuse, including self-neglect? First, learn more about how to recognize the signs and symptoms by visiting informative websites like the following:

Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect, University of California at Irvine (www.centeronelderabuse.org)

National Center on Elder Abuse (http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/)

Keep in contact with your older friends, neighbors and relatives so as to help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. Be observant for signs of abuse or neglect.

Report possible mistreatment or neglect to your local adult protective services agency or to 911.

Contact your local Area Agency on Aging office to help identify possible sources of support like Meals on Wheels.

Volunteer, either formally or informally. With elderly neighbors living on either side of us, my husband and I drove them to doctors’ appointments and ran errands. I’m grateful for the stories they told me and the closeness we developed near the ends of their life spans, and I hope my own younger neighbors may reciprocate someday. More formally, as administrator for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region, I help educate people about affordable funerals and how to avoid one of the most common financial rip-offs that plague our seniors.

But why get involved in yet another cause, when there are so many clamoring for our attention? Because we’re all part of a beloved community, both globally and locally, and the person who needs your help may be as close as your next-door neighbor.

 *My experience as President and CEO of ElderSource inspired my novel Eldercide, which addresses the question, “When quality of life declines with age and illness, who decides if you’re better off dead?” The book explores elder abuse taken to the extreme, but fortunately it’s pure fiction – at least from my perspective. Unfortunately, the plot is all too plausible. You can read more about Eldercide on this site.

Dave Matthews concert – a senior imposter at a summer ritual

Dave Matthews

“I hope I’m as cool as you when I get to be your age.”

 Thus spoke the lithe and shirtless underage guy at the Dave Matthews concert on Friday night. Then there was the one who high-fived me and said, “I hope I’m just like you when I’m 80.”

 He  was off by too many years to count. “I don’t look 80, do I?” I riposted.

 “Oh no, not at all – I was just saying . . . ”

Yeah, right. Clearly I was over the hill for this crowd, as I tried to relive my youth at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for the second time in the same week. (Country Throwdown was the first – see my May 31st post.) Will the Dave Matthews concert be the last time? Maybe, though I’ll never say never.

I bought both tickets a couple of months ago, when I was feeling perhaps a trifle manicky, and I came close to copping out on this one, especially since I had lawn seating rather than a reserved seat. The prospect of a wild crowd didn’t scare me so much as the thought of the bottleneck traffic before and after. If it gets too bad, I can always turn around and head home, I kept telling myself as the traffic backed up on the Northway. But lo and behold, I hung in there, made it into a $10 parking lot a reasonable walk from the venue, and arrived with an hour to spare.

I found a pleasant perch with a decent view fairly close to the amphitheatre and unfolded my canvas chair in close proximity to a middle-aged couple, seeking safety in similarity since most of the crowd were in their early twenties at most. I was flattered when the aocohol security mavens insisted on checking my ID before fitting me with a chartreuse wrist band which qualified me to buy overpriced Coors Light.

Shades of Woodstock 1969 – my comfortably roomy spot was soon overrun by an  enthusiastic mob eager to get as close to the band as lawn seating allowed, and by the time Dave Matthews took the stage, it was standing room only. Kids jostled me, but invariably did a double take and apologized when they got a good look at my face. Then came the incredulous comments:

“Are you having a good time?”

“How great you’re here.”

“You’ll love Dave, just wait and see.”

The well-intended gallantry gave me a glimpse of what it must feel like to be conspicuously disabled.

So why did I subject myself to this mob experience? I’d been intrigued by the music on FM, and I knew the DMB summer concerts at SPAC were a symbolic summer rite, maybe the closest I was likely to get to a mass religious ritual, so my curiosity got the better of me. And the music didn’t disappoint – Matthews’ compositions are intriguingly quirky, with unexpected chord changes and complex polyrhythms, and his band has strong jazz overtones reminiscent of idols of mine like Coltrane and Mingus.

The crowd sang along with every number, and their ability to do so spoke volumes for their musical sophistication. And they were amazingly well behaved, in part because of SPAC’s strict alcohol controls, and despite – or maybe because of – the overwhelmingly fragrant presence of pot. A young couple passing a ceramic pipe in front of me asked, “You don’t mind, do you?” and though I gave them a thumbs up, they didn’t offer me a toke.

For much of the night, I was on my feet with the rest of the crowd – essential if I wanted to see the band on the huge video screens, let alone the tiny figures on the distant stage. But increasingly I took refuge in my canvas chair with its spidery metal legs. The crowd broke around me, and I had surprisingly ample room, but I felt more and more alone. Early on, a young woman gave me a dayglo chartreuse bracelet to match my alcohol ID band, but as night fell, alas, my bracelet proved defective. Unlike the brilliant orange, green and yellow circlets of the neighbors waving their arms in rapture, mine gave off only a minimal, defective glow, like that of a dying firefly.

After a couple of hours, as the music segued into lengthy, repetitive jams, I realized I’d probably experienced the best of what the night had to offer and decided to beat the traffic out of the  park. Slowly and carefully I picked my halting way uphill through the crowd, doing my best to avoid the prone and supine bodies of wasted fans who littered the lawn in the darkness, feeling smug that despite my several decades of seniority, I’d survived in better shape than they.

In memory of feminist sculptor Louise Bourgeois

 

Louise Bourgeois

Sculptor Louise Bourgeois died on Memorial Day at age 98. Her death brings back memories of the feminist artists’ consciousness-raising group I joined in SoHo in the early 1970’s. Bourgeois was ever present, an eminence we younger artists all admired. She hadn’t yet come into the full flower of her later fame, but she showed us what was possible.

Those were heady times in the New York art world, especially for women, who were organizing and demanding exhibition opportunities on a par with men. Discrimination was still rampant when I came of age as an artist in the 1960’s; more than one of my male cronies advised me to give up art and concentrate on baby-making. In the 1970’s, with the darkening of flower power and the birth of feminist groups like Red Stockings, we women began fighting back.

Louise Bourgeois, Blind Man's Bluff

That consciousness-raising group with Bourgeois gave birth to some tangible offspring in the form of inspired new artwork. For the “Erotic Garden” group show at the Women’s Interart Center on Manhattan’s West Side, I created a geodesic dome ten feet in diameter, lined with reflective mylar and shaped canvases depicting couples engaged in explicitly erotic activities, along with images of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and Iggy Pop shirtless on hands and knees howling “I want to be your dog.” The floor was pink polyester plush, and several people could convene inside at one time to enjoy the view.

After the Erotic Garden bloomed its last, I reassembled the geodesic dome inside my loft as an alternative bedroom complete with mattress. There I entertained my husband-to-be. Within two years, I was a wife and mother. Another two years and I became an art therapist. My life took different turns.

Meanwhile, Louise Bourgeois continued to create. Although she’d been a serious artist since her twenties, her work remained relatively unknown until she was 70 years old, when the Museum of Modern Art gave her a solo retrospective. The year was 1982. In the 30 years following her debut as a sculptor in 1949, she’d had only four one-person shows, but her international reputation grew exponentially throughout her senior years.

Bourgeois used a wide variety of materials to address themes of the human body and a full gamut of emotions including anger, betrayal and fear. In the New York Times obituary (June 1, 2010), Holland Cotter describes one major work:

Her nightmarish tableau of 1974, “The Destruction of the Father,” for example, is a table in a stagily lighted recess, which holds an arrangement of breast-like bumps, phallic protruberances and other biomorphic shapes in soft-looking latex that suggest the sacrificial evisceration of a body, the whole surrounded by big, crude mammillary forms. Ms. Bourgeois has suggested as the tableau’s inspiration a fantasy in which a pompous father . . . is pulled onto the table by other family members, dismembered and gobbled up.

To think the petite, self-effacing woman from my consciousness-raising group was creating this work at the very time I knew her – and to think she continued inventing such impassioned projects into advanced old age. Bourgeois was still creating art up till the time of her death. According to the Associated Press, she had just finished some new pieces when she suffered a heart attack on May 29th.

On the far side of 60, I often fear I’ve passed my prime, but the life and career of Louise Bourgeois are a moving testament to the fact that the best years in a creative life may be those of advanced age.

Louise Bourgeois, Maman