Somewhere Towards the End: A Book Review

Somewhere Towards the End is an honest, realistic, thoughtful and beautifully written memoir that speaks to what it’s like to be old from the perspective of the then octogenarian (close to 90 years old) author Diana Athill.  Sometimes philosophical, often personal, this unsentimental, raw, candid and unapologetic,  free thinking and unconventional author recounts her experiences and views about children (and not having them), sex (even after 60), relationships, death, luck, authors whom she admires, and religion. 

While Somewhere Towards the End speaks to the diminishments of old age, it really is a testament to the potential gifts of these years and the opportunities and possibilities that one can experience as we grow older.

One cannot read this memoir without deep gratitude and appreciation to this feisty, cut to the chase, witty woman. Don’t expect any proselytizing or soap box wisdom. What you get is straight talk, a gutsy look at elder life and a chance to get a glimpse into the life of this remarkable, thoughtful and free thinking spirit. 

I loved this book and plan to read parts of it again and share it with women of all ages. My only regret is that I more than likely won’t get to meet this now 97 year old English woman in this lifetime. And while she may not believe in reincarnation, hey, you never know…….And just in case, she does have a few other memoirs out there. 

By Roberta Teller

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GAEL CHANDLER: HOLD ONTO YOUR DREAMS – AN AUTHOR’S STORY

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Wise Woman Storytime is a personal journey for me.  Each show, I am blessed with the presence of an amazing woman willing to take time from her busy life to share her story . Every show continues to be a learning experience for me.  As you may remember from previous posts, being at a small local radio station, the DJ/host is responsible for working the boards which includes recording the show, playing the music, and making sure that the correct microphones are in use at the right times. It’s an orchestration of phasing in and phasing out – multi-tasking  as you coordinate it all. For someone with NO background in radio and a limited techy repertoire, this has been a challenge. But, like anything else in my world, it’s the challenges that take me to greater places.

On January 15, 2015, I had the privilege and honor of having my friend and author, Gael Chandler as a guest on Wise Woman Storytime.  Even though I’ve known Gael now for about 4 1/2 years and we’ve shared many of our stories and experiences, the pieces of her professional life really came together for me today as she took us on her journey from that third grade girl who declared that she wanted to be a writer,  to the published author she is today.

To me, manifesting a book is a great feat.  Not only do you have to have an idea, a vision of what you want to say, you have to have the discipline and focus to do it. While I am very organized and can become extremely focused, words don’t just flow out of me when I write. I consider myself a “functional” writer – one who can get the job done, but  one who labors over words, sentences and paragraphs, writing and rewriting many times before I’m satisfied with the end result.

So, you can say that I was most intrigued to hear how Gael actually gets her books written: how she organizes herself, her days and how she pushes through the stumbling blocks and challenges.

The author now of 4 books, Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Must Know, two editions of Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video and her latest book Chronicles of San Francisco: Discovering the Historic City by the Bay, Gael is now contemplating moving from the world of non fiction to writing her next book with a more personal and biographical slant.  Additionally, she is now creating book trailers for her fellow authors at Pictureyourbook.com.

Enjoy Gael’s story and remember to follow YOUR dreams.

By Roberta Teller

 

 

 

 

 

 

The December Project: an Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery……A Book Review

I just completed reading The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery written by Sara Davidson. In 2009, when author, visionary, teacher and founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, Rabbi Schacter was 85 years old, he invited author Sara Davidson, a self-proclaimed skeptical seeker, into his home to talk, listen, record and eventually write about his last life stage or what the Rabbi calls the December years. 

This is what I would call a nontraditional biography. The author and the subject of the book, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi dialogue and discuss, explore and challenge one another on probably the greatest mystery of all – mortality, death and how to live fully up until that last breath. The conversations pull the reader in as Schacter-Shalomi and Davidson, both at different life stages, are personally open and honest as they share, commiserate, disagree, question, kvetch, learn and grow together. And we the readers not only become privy to this intimate conversation, we are given exercises and practices to bring us closer to embracing an understanding and acceptance of our own mortality.

Interspersed between their talks, the author weaves us through the life of Zalman Schacter.  Born in Poland, he and his family escaped from Nazi occupied Europe.  Finding their way to New York City, Zalman Schacter followed up on his love of the Hasidic teachings and became an orthodox Rabbi. We learn about his 4 marriages, 11 children and how he became the sperm donor for a lesbian rabbi. With an uncompromising curiosity and a deep need to understand, gain more knowledge and expand his horizons, Rabbi Schacter was unable to stay boxed into a set of constricted rules and expectations and he befriended  some of the greatest thinkers and spiritual leaders of his time. Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama and experiments with LSD with his friend Timothy Leary opened his heart and mind to the interconnectedness of all religions and spiritual practices.

What I find so rich and meaningful about The December Project is that we the readers get to witness the genuine realities- the pain, discomfort and suffering as Rebbe Zalman’s health fails. And yet intertwined within this reality is his ever present acceptance, commitment to be fully alive, his willingness to let go and his love and trust in God.

The December Project is a beautiful book for people of any faith or spiritual leaning.  The magic of this biography is that as we witness Zalman Schacter-Shalomi prepare for his last day, we get to vision a better tomorrow for ourselves.  

By Roberta Teller

From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older – A Book Review

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From Age-ing to Sage-ing written by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller presents a new vision for growing older……one that looks at old age as the natural and meaningful next step in our life cycle- the journey to the full completion of life –  not a dead end as we travel the latter years of life’s road.    

Challenging cultural norms and beliefs that see old age as a time of deterioration and decline, this paradigm redefines the third stage of life as one that can be active and spiritual, contemplative and practical  and purposeful and realistic. What is required is to do the inner work – through contemplative practices that allow us to look back, reflect, explore the lessons learned, harvest the gifts, make peace with the mistakes, understand the challenges – we ultimately see the vast panorama of our lives and from this, the wisdom flows.  

Elderhood, besides being a time of deep personal reflection and introspection carries much responsibility.  Following in the footsteps of many indigenous cultures where elders are revered for their great wisdom and honored for their contributions to the society, Rabbi Schacter calls upon elders to not only tap into their wisdom, as a form of personal growth, but to take the lessons learned, the life long skills  and to share it with others through mentoring, volunteering, becoming a steward of the earth and creating a lasting legacy that lives beyond our years. 

The strength of this book is that it is very real, honest and practical  It addresses the realities of growing older while offering a multitude of choices and options to live an old age that allows for a deeper and more profound experience of life and an acceptance and preparation for death. And yes, Rabbi Schacter takes death out of the closet. Instead of denial, he views dying “as a unique opportunity for spiritual awakening.” He articulates the importance of being fully prepared for the experience of ones death. He explores spiritual beliefs about a life after death. He even provides exercises in the preparation for death. 

And it is through stories, personal accounts, extensive research, exercises and practices, the authors offer the reader a road map into what Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls “an elderhood that is the anticipated fulfillment of life.” Age-ing to Sage-ing is a beautifully written and most important book that redefines what it means to grow old, be old and how to live fully, with meaning until we draw our last breath.  In a culture that glorifies youth and demeans the elderly, the teachings of Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi offer a new way of living and being alive.

 By Roberta Teller

 

Greedy for Life: A Review

Greedy for Life, the first film of The Beauty of Aging Project is a wonderful 35 minute film that demonstrates the richness, vitality and spirit of women who live full, fun, creative lives well into their 80’s.  Through these wise women elders’ personal stories we finally get vibrant, positive role models so sorely needed in our overly saturated youth oriented culture.  Watching and listening to these women debunks the myths and images we have of older people.  Instead of the decrepit,, listless, sexless images that are prevalent in the media and in our cultural and personal belief systems, we see images of old age that not only challenge this outdated paradigm, but create a new vision for the third stage of life: one that is active, stimulating, and full of opportunities for growth, renewal and happiness. This is a “must see” film not only for 60+ women but for young adults as well.  Check out the trailer……And enjoy!

 

By Roberta Teller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Warmth of the Heart Prevents the Body from Rusting…..A Book Review

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The Warmth of the Heart Prevents Your Body from Rusting by Marie de Hennezel is a book worth reading if you are contemplating the third stage of life and looking to get some insights into how best to live these years. With humor, lessons learned by the author, wise words from elders and ideas presented by laymen, poets and philosophers, this gem of a book advocates what the title implies; With an open and loving heart, one may grow physically old, but the heart, that center of spirit, creativity and vitality can remain forever young….up until our last breath.

One of the great values of this book is that it is a treatise on how to grow old and not become old.  Growing old is natural…..we start growing old from the day we are born. Being old is a state of mind characterized by feelings of bitterness and sadness about life. It is a refusal to age, to accept this life stage, and paradoxically, results in the inability to step in and embrace the “golden years” and the richness that it has to offer.

One of the greatest gifts this book has to offer is that while very positive and supportive about the opportunities that become available to us as we grow older, it acknowledges the realities of aging as well.  As someone in the parking lot of my gym said the other day, “Growing older is not for sissies.” Ms Hennezel doesn’t sugarcoat what happens as our bodies begin to fail us. But instead of leaving us there, she offers us a new paradigm of living WITH all the frailties and failings while embracing a deeper and richer connection to oneself and the world around us.

This new paradigm requires each and every one of us to show up in our own aging. It demands that we not fall prey to what we no longer have or what we can no longer do. Instead, it calls upon us to let go of our youth, accept our inevitable death and to use the time we have left to discover parts of ourselves that we never knew existed: To see things we may have missed and to hear what was  up until now, unspoken. It is a time for new realizations and self discovery – a time to be get in touch with our deepest selves and to be open to what is revealed to us. And, it is through the warm and open heart that we make this journey back to ourselves.

By Roberta Teller

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How AARP and the Media Whitewash the Realities of Growing Old

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Carol Orsborne’s Article,  AARP: Mortality Whitewash hits it on the head when she discusses how AARP, the largest publication for boomer adults continually whitewashes and dresses down the realities older adults face about growing old. We know that there are very happy and thriving 60, 70 & 80 year olds. We know that older adults are enjoying life, reinventing themselves, honoring their pasts and opening up to new vistas of travel. We get it that seniors are living and exploring life, all the while enjoying active and healthy lifestyles.  Most older adults experience this and are witnesses to this in others. It is a reality for us.

The problem is that there is more to the story…….We also get sick, have physical challenges, and experience the deterioration of our own bodies. Loved ones fade away through disease and die. We grieve and mourn not only those we have lost, but parts of our lives that no longer exist or that we know one day will disappear and never be what was. We struggle and begin, to varying degrees, to come to some acceptance and peace about our own mortality.  Being older is a time of paradoxes and complexities: a time of joy, yet a time of new challenges; a life stage of great opportunities mixed with loss and knowledge that things will never be the same. It is a time of life mixed with the light and the shadow. 

Dr. Orsborn describes AARP’s romantic depiction of Valerie Harper as she was facing her mortality: “Faced with inoperable cancer, the beloved star of Rhoda, reacts just the way we’d want her to; with gritty determination and a hearty laugh.”

Reacts just the way we’d want her to???????  Are they serious?   

That’s not the depiction I want to see of anyone facing death.  I don’t want to see some sanitized version of the real story. I want the truth. I want to know how she grappled with the diagnosis: what choices she made about her medical care and how, and if she accepted her own death…… 

And that “hearty laugh.” Did she have a hearty laugh when she got the diagnosis or as she lie on her deathbed, surrounded by her loved ones? 

We don’t want to see a happily dying Rhoda……We want to see the real Valeria Harper.

As older adults, we deserve and I would say, demand that we be represented with images, language and stories that mirror who we really are – complex, beings, living life as fully as we can, as we embrace both the gifts and challenges of growing older. We do not want our lives trivialized, simplified, purified and sanitized. We do not want the media  fabricating who we are to make us look “pretty’ rather than real…….

Pretty may work for Hollywood, but not for us seniors……

Those of us who are getting older need real stories and we need to have real role models. Yes, we need to see images of vital, active, thriving 60+ people  We are out there and we are doing great. But we also deserve and demand to see the truth: people grappling with serious life and death choices, families having to make challenging and difficult decisions. And we need to see the unaltered faces of older adults who, wrinkles, and all, are real human beings facing the challenges of growing  older with courage, questions, spiritual quests, tears, fears and many unknowns.

I believe that it is incumbent upon us, the aging boomers, to step in and  step up and to become the change agents ourselves. We must speak out, write, dramatize, tell stories about who we really We must let it be known who we are, what we are doing and how we are living.

So, get your pens out or open your computer. When you see an article or even a photo in a newspaper or magazine depicting a senior that is supposed to represent us, let your opinion be known whether it works for you or not.  Write a letter to the editor or make a phone call. Write your own blog; read blogs written by real seniors.  Talk to young people – your grandkids or your neighbors children.  Let them know who you are and what you are doing.

We, as seniors, do not want to be whitewashed by the media nor do we want to be brainwashed about the realities of aging. We are complex, dynamic beings living our lives while facing the challenges of growing older.  We are real. We have wrinkles, aches and pains and and are confronting the eventual reality of our demise in this life form.

Let’s face it, seniors live in in a youth oriented society where we become more and more invisible the older we get. We say, NO MORE…….AARP  and all the other media……See us, feel us , take the time to know us……And to my fellow seniors, take charge and let us join forces to be the real voice and image of growing older.  That’s really the only way that we will be honestly represented and truly visible….

By Roberta Teller

Jean Shinoda Bolen Inspires Women to Change the World One Circle at a Time

Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Millionth Circle Initiative is a growing movement of women coming together in circles to support, nurture and inspire their members to find their voices and to speak and live their deepest intentions and truths. The idea behind the term, the millionth circle was inspired by the story of “the hundredth monkey” in which new ideas or behaviors are claimed to spread rapidly within a group once a critical number of members in the group demonstrate the behavior or accept a new idea.  The purpose of the millionth circle is to create that global critical mass to shift the individual, group and collective consciousness of the planet into one of sustainability, respect for the earth and her people, and peace for everyone and all living beings.

The concept of the circle is to create an egalitarian forum.  Everyone sees one another and is visible.  There is no beginning or end.  In the center of the circle is a spiritual (not religious) connection to which all members connect to and with.

The Millionth Circle Movement encourages each and every woman who is part of a circle to join with the others. You can read about this initiative and register your circle online at: http://www.millionthcircle.org/About/what_is_mc.html.  If you are not in a circle, consider finding one or staring a circle of your own.

By Roberta Teller

Crones Don’t Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women: Book Review

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Crones Don’t Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women, by Jean Shinoda Bolen is  an important and seminal book for women of all ages – especially for post menopausal  women entering the third, crone phase of life……Short, sweet, and profoundly simple and wise, Jean Shinoda Bolen describes 13 qualities for women to cultivate; to assist them in living rich, engaged, active and vital lives.  Each of these qualities has its’ own chapter with realistic suggestions and insights on how to embody and integrate these qualities into their lives.

One of the greatest gifts of this book, is that Jean Shinoda Bolen has taken on the challenge to redefine the much maligned and disparaged crone archetype and recreated it into a message that this is the time to yield into the “inner potential we grow into being.”  In this day and age, where youth are seen everywhere and the old have become invisible, she is encouraging women to devote themselves to making this third life stage a “crowning” achievement,” ; a time for women to get in touch with their power, wisdom and creativity and to devote themselves to manifesting what really matters to them most.

Jean Shinoda Bolen argues that the time is right and ripe for this generation of older women to rise up and exert their power and influence to make the world a better place.  She calls upon women to unite in circles, much like the Suffragettes and the women of the 60’s and 70’s did, to create sacred spaces with a spiritual center, to support individual transformation and ultimately to become change agents in the world.

Crones Don’t Whine provides a roadmap of sorts for women to recognize their inherent    wise woman qualities and to hone those skills as they enter their juicy third life stage.  It is about encouraging women to recognize their greatness and potential and to motivate them through the power of sisterhood and community to become change agents of the world.

Crones Don’t Whine is a gift for women of all ages.  It’s never too early to start realizing our wise woman wisdom.

By Roberta Teller