Friday, February 25, 2011

Caryl writes: Poetry in the Afternoon

Maryl told you about the two movies she saw this week (see post below) but she didn't tell you about the movie we saw together: Poetry by Korean director Lee Chang-Dong. Maryl and I had finished our work for the day early and decided to have a lunch meeting followed by an after lunch treat. Sometimes, there's nothing more decadent than an afternoon movie: the almost empty theatre with your pick of seats and perfect views, the exciting feeling that everybody else you know is at work or at school and you're NOT, the delirious sense of coming out of the show and it's still daylight. The light outside almost hurts your eyes. Some theatres even offer a special price for matinee. Maryl and I paid full price even though there was a discount for senior citizens we might have qualified for. The thing is we don't think of ourselves as senior citizens (do you?) so we never thought to ask.

The star of Poetry is Yun Jang-Lee, an actress that had to be persuaded to come out of retirement to take the role. Jang-Lee, a delicate beauty, plays a woman in her early 60s who--when the movie begins--has a prickly feeling in her right arm, and of late she has also been forgetting words. The doctor encourages her to get more exercise for her arm (she takes up badminton). For the other condition, which he considers more serious, he sends her to a bigger hospital for tests. Does any of this sound familiar? Do you feel you could use more exercise? Do you panic and go to the worse case scenario (early onset alzheimers, dementia, a mini-stroke?) when you can't retrieve a common word from your overloaded brain?

But I digress. In the movie, the woman played by Jang-Lee is raising her grandson alone and works part-time as a kind of home health care worker and maid for an old man. She decides to take a poetry course at a local community center. Maybe she thinks by writing words down, she will stop misplacing them. Throughout the movie, she struggles to find the right words for her poem not because she can't think of them but because poetry requires economy and precision of language. But there's more to this story than an adult education class. Her grandson and his middle school friends are implicated in the suicide of one of their female classmates. By the end of Poetry--and no spoiler alert is needed here--she writes an amazing poem filled with truth and pain and beauty. Oh, what a poem it is! That's not the triumph of this extraordinary movie, however. Rather it is the role itself, a role for an older woman that is endowed with dignity and grace (not to mention, being chic). She rises heads and shoulders above every other character because of her uncompromising morality. Lee Chang-Dong has written an incredible film. He also directed Yun Jang-Lee in a performance that is worth at least an Oscar nomination. Given the opportunity, talent knows no age.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maryl writes: Free Time

I viewed two movies over the weekend in two different settings … in an art gallery and the other “Playing in Theaters Now” on cable at home.  I’m comparing films again; I can’t help myself.  These both had to do with time and they really got me thinking.  Time has such a different level of importance in one’s second life.  Not one of urgency but of freedom.  

Freedom and liberation came to mind while watching “The Time That Remains,” the cable film.  Its title might seem to have some affinity with this blog’s sub-title but not really.  The film is autobiographical about a Palestinian family spanning the creation of the Israeli state to present.  I’m not a film critic or a political pundit.  I was just taken with the director’s skill and manner of conveying the passage of time, one with wit and irony.  But I felt the restraints on one’s time when one’s independence is threatened day to day.  What a luxury it is to be able to have a second life when all the other critical life’s needs have been met.

The art film was Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” a 24-hour long piece that marks each minute of the day with a different film clip of a scene taking place at that exact same minute.  Clever premise but even more so clever editing.   This montage pulled together scenes from various decades, situations and film genres and somehow they flowed together rather smoothly.  It was impressive the vast display of what people are free to do with their time……limitless and inspiring. 

How do you manage your time? 
     1)       Leave time for movies.  Learn more about  
          “The Time That Remains” and “The Clock.” 
     2)      More on Time Management!
     3)      And then there’s managing your Free Time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Caryl writes: Splitting Hairs

In this unrelenting recession, I am making my own budget cut--or rather uncut. I am letting my hair grow longer, lengthening the time between my expensive cut and color treatments. And it has caused me to rethink the connection between hair and age. There has been much ballyhoo recently about women of that so-called "certain age" letting their hair go gray. A piece by the inaccurately named Dominigue Browning (shouldn't it be graying?) drew more letters to the editor than any other that week. For the record, I think grey can be gorgeous. My oldest friend-- we're talking tenure, not years--has had white hair since her twenties. And she is renown for her beauty as well as her intelligence. For MK, her hair has been her hallmark, not a road mark on the chronological highway. That's not true for everyone going grey. I admire women who own their age but there is no doubt in my mind that gray hair signals maybe even shouts older. We have choices. An attractive auburn-haired woman I met while we both were trying on eyeglasses yesterday told me: "I've read those stories about going grey but I'm not going there. I am an actress. It's hard enough to get roles at my age; with grey hair I wouldn't be working at all. "

Despite the expense, forgoing my color treatment is one cut too deep. There's a week or two now where my roots are more noticeable but I try to time it to less important events in my life. But I have another worry. My new concern is that longer hair can tip toward inappropriate--like a too-short skirt on a woman of that so-called certain age. (Can someone please tell me the taboo number, the double digits of that certain age of which no one can speak? Is it 50? 60? the dark side of 45? That number is as mysterious to me as the right length for my locks.) Right now my hair is shoulder-length but between salon visits it dips below. I look in the mirror and ask: Is this the hair of a coifed career woman or an aging hippie hanging on to a past long gone? Okay, that's extreme but you know how scary those early morning reflections can sometimes be. It's not enough you see your mother's face in the mirror but you see your mother when you were already grown up. Your old mother. I'm all for individual choices and free will and being whomever you want to be (Remember Marlo Thomas's anthem: "Free to be You and Me"). But I'm looking for consensus here. I've started asking my friends to tell me when my long hair gets too long. After all, I don't want to look like That Girl. (Am I dating myself? That's another post.) I want to look like the most attractive woman I can. I want to look the best I can at the age I am.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Maryl writes: And All That Jazz

Found myself at a jazz club the other night.  It’s not my usual form of musical entertainment but it is for a number of my friends and I like to explore different genres from time to time.  My one friend books the group that was performing that night at the Miles CafĂ©.  This wasn’t the type of jazz venue  you would typically imagine but a plain room with a stage and a makeshift bar seven floors up in a highrise building….although this may be becoming more typical.  That’s part of the purity of music and jazz in particular…..the music’s more important than the lighting and staging and other accoutrements.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

2nd Life Profile: The art of the matter

I have a friend, a wonderful woman I have known since college. We both live in major cities on the East Coast. For many years when I was raising my children and working outside the home, she was my touchstone for gifted mothering. After years of infertility, she had three children in rapid succession and retired from her teaching career to be singularly devoted to them.Without a doubt, they came first. She and her husband, a hard-working doctor, were inspirational parents, and their children blossomed under their devotion. Though we were of the same generation, our paths were divergent--a divide not uncommon to our generation: working mothers and stay-at-home mothers. (Yes, we know all mothers are working!)

It surprised me, therefore, how easily she has adapted to the empty nest, how she has grabbed her newfound freedom with gusto and grown under her own dedicated self-care. During the years of child-raising, we saw each other annually--usually a beach visit with all the kids in tow. Now we see each other about a weekend a month when she arrives in my city to take in shows theatrical and artistic--not to mention, in winter, ice-skating. She comes by herself, stays in a little hotel with bargain prices and few frills, sometimes she takes in three museums and two plays in less than 48 hours--not to mention, in winter, ice skating. I am always welcome to join her to whatever extent my schedule allows but she loves a solo weekend too. She has returned to teaching and uses what she learns on these forays in inform her lessons. She often takes trips abroad during school breaks and summers--frequently by herself. Her husband and children are still of utmost importance but one person has risen to a higher priority: herself. Without guilt and with expanding joy, she has found her second life.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Maryl writes: Valentine’s Day and Love Defined

How many Valentine’s Days have I shared with my husband?  Over 30 years considering that we lived together for a while first.  Isn’t it amazing to think that you’ve even known someone for that long?  It’s also consoling that someone has that history with you.  I look at the marital status of my friends and family and see a mixture of happily married, tolerably married, separated, awaiting divorce, divorced, widowed.  You don’t know when you take those vows early on where that union will wind up.  You can’t possibly because you also don’t know where you’ll wind up.  And it takes two to make a partnership and a commitment.

It can’t be about how the individuals evolve over the decades.  It’s got to be about how the relationship – the commitment and love -- grows and matures and solidifies.  So what should you expect from a 20, 30 or 40 year relationship?  Maybe it’s easier to answer what not to expect.  I’m thinking of a friend who’s starting her second life newly divorced.  The turning point for her was a physical breakdown that took her several months to recover from.  Her husband was totally unsupportive and unsympathetic during her illness.  That she couldn’t forgive.

I’m next thinking of a sister-in-law and her husband with whom we just spent a week on vacation.  Wow did their marriage seem as fresh as the day they met.  (I remember that day too.)  Kidding each other back and forth, holding hands and generally caring that the other was alright was what I saw.  I know they must have their disagreements but over a week I witnessed a couple that kept a rather constant keel, replete with harmony and confidence in each other’s love.  Beautiful and reassuring to behold.

As I start my second life, I want to be allowed to freely explore my newly defined passions and aspirations.  My husband for sure liked it better when I was earning a regular paycheck but he doesn’t discourage me or question my motives.  He doesn’t especially take an interest in my milestones or accomplishments or failures, but he believes that I believe in myself.  That’s the most I can expect….and that’s ok.  So that’s what we’ll be celebrating this Valentine’s Day.   Belief in and commitment to each other.  That’s love defined in our fourth decade.

   How do you define love and commitment?  Comments?  Some  
   other interesting ideas on the subject can be found….      
   1)   in “Parallel Lives,” a book by Phyllis Rose where she 
         proposes that marriage partners are necessarily having the 
         same experiences
    2)     in the lives of a married couple in Mike Leigh’s latest film, 
         "Another Year,” nominated for an Oscar for best original 
         screenplay this year.  They have managed to remain 
         blissfully happy into their autumn years despite the   
         disappointments and negativity around them.
    3)  in content on “Marriage Builders” web site about     
         overcoming conflicts and restoring love.

Caryl writes: Heart Touching

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. In our house, we had two breakups in the past year so the mood was not celebratory to begin with. The first three people to wish me a happy valentine's day were my trainer, my tax accountant and the bank teller. The wishes felt a little hollow. Then my children's former babysitter called to wish us all love. I was starting to feel better. In the evening, a close friend invited me for an early drink to discuss our upcoming trip. We met at a quiet French restaurant that we both usually love. Last night, the casement windows were covered in hearts, the tables dotted with votive candles--and to top it off, there was a string trio. (Luckily, the music hadn't started). We sat at the bar--all the tables were reserved--and watched as patrons arrived two by two, the man of the couple often bearing gifts or flowers. I had intended to give my friend a red velvet cupcake but my kids ate them all. She had bought salted dark chocolate (my new favorite) for but didn't want to stop at home to pick it up. Her brother's widow, who lives in the apartment below, surely would have stopped her to talk this evening as she does many others. Being alone has not been easy for her these past months.. My guess is that there are as many people who dread Valentine's Day as those who welcome it. (That's excluding bakers, restauranteurs, florists and chocolatiers, of course.).We all know it's a made-up holiday but knowing that doesn't help those who don't have a special someone (or, worse, have someone not so special). Before I went to bed (alone) I happened to read a quote from Jack Kornfield in a book of daily offerings my sister had given me and had a second life realization that gave me a whole new perception of Valentine's Day--as a day not about others or others honoring us but about ourselves. Here it is:

Adult life brings its own spiritual tasks and openings. We become more caring and responsible for our family, our community, our world. We discover the need for vision and feel a strong desire to fulfill our own unique expression of life. As we mature, a natural contemplative quality enters our life. We can sense a movement within to seek periods of refection and to gain perspective, to stay in touch with our heart.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Maryl writes: Have a Ball!

I’m just back from a trip to a few eastern European capitals – Berlin, Prague and Vienna.  Each has its own unique history and are all thriving beautifully.  I like a winter vacation.  It helps get you through the big letdown after the holidays and braces you for the cold months ahead.  It struck me that that might be some of the reasoning behind the Ball Season (January to March) in Vienna.   Viennese balls date back to the 1700’s and were a way of celebrating the Carnival season.  Starting with the Kaiserball on New Year’s Eve and running into March before Lent, a number of balls are scheduled every weekend. 

So I allowed myself to get into the festive and celebratory mood of the city and forget about all the to-do’s on my list back home that weren’t being crossed off.  I’ve found working for oneself has brought a whole new meaning to the feelings of anxiety and stress.  There’s more because the milestones and deadlines are our own.  I tend to always keep checking myself and never seem satisfied that I’m doing enough. 

But I’m learning to be more realistic and less demanding with my expectations.  I pick two – maybe three – tasks that will push me towards my goal each day but I also pick two or three rewards that I can enjoy inbetween.  They could be a crossword puzzle or potting a new plant or lumping all my rewards for the day together to go catch a movie.  And of course every couple of months or so, I’m allowed a bigger reward….like a trip to Vienna.  This is new so I’ll let you know how this works for me but I can tell you that I’m not going to be eliminating the rewards during Lent.  Life’s already too challenging.  We need more Balls.

What do you think?  You may want to know more about…..
   1)      History of the Viennese Balls.  Look here.
   2)      There’s still time to attend a ball this year.  Check out the 
   3)      Find some other ways to reward yourself.

Caryl writes: The Nature of God

Well, it snowed again this week—and again-- and again. It was the seventh, eighth and ninth storms of the new year for New York. Everybody’s talking about the weather but no one’s doing anything about it—as the old joke goes. I myself can’t complain. I am living on memories from a beautiful week I spent in Tuscon, Arizona mid-January. This is truly God’s country, not just because of the expansive blue skies and the vast desert landscape with its statuesque army of saguro cacti. Not just because of the saturation of stars at night or the brilliant full moon that traded places with the sun each day I was. For a brief stretch morning and evening, both the sun and the moon there occupied the same sky. Nature always makes me a believer in a higher power.

I have always been a seeker of truth but I have been resistant to religion. Maybe it's because the faith I was brought up in continues to be unwelcoming to women and unaware of the moral dilemmas of modern life. Tough for me to get onboard. Nevertheless, more and more lately, I have found myself offering silent prayers of gratitude: for my own health, for the well-being of my daughters, for the riches we all share. And then there are the prayers of petition: jobs for my kids, safe travels for all of us and in moments of grandiosity, world peace.

I spent my week in Tuscon in silent prayer at a retreat center in the foothills of the Santa Catalinas mountains just a mile or two from the Safeway where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 20 others were injured or killed. I arrived there five days after the horrendous shooting, and the psychic wounds were still raw. Did you ever notice how during senseless events, there is much talk of God: From haunting questions (“How could He have let this happen— to a nine-year old girl? Jesus Christ!) to heartfelt pleas (“Dear Lord, help us during these difficult and painful times.”). Even the President of the United States relied on scripture in his healing speech in Tuscon. Referring to Giffords' fight for survival from her serious brain injury, he quoted: "God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day."

In my second life, I have been thinking a lot about faith and doubt. And so this year in the second decade of the new millennium I am devoting (note word choice) a part of my time to thinking about the Big Questions. I met a man at the retreat center who is himself embarking on a second life. At 70, he has left a thriving design business in northern California to embark on a masters in divinity at a seminary just blocks from my home in New York City. He has agreed to be my spiritual director. It turns out that part of his course work this semester is to counsel a directee. He was wondering where he’d find a candidate since he knows no one in Manhattan. But we found each other in a quiet pocket of the Sonora desert. I don’t know but I see God’s hand in our meeting.