Archive for July, 2011
There are some days, I admit, when I see little except for a gray existence ahead for me. At 67, I wonder if I will ever fulfill my life’s dream to become a published author. I fear that I will never find security in my old age. The aches and creaks of age wear me down. And I fall into “stinking thinking” that I’ll never find my way back up again.
None of this lasts for long. I don’t let it.
I can’t waste time on negative feelings. Rather, I have to use the next years of my life to accomplish as much as I can.
We all have our gray days. As we get older, we may feel age has caught up with us and overtaken our dreams to achieve what we set out to do. Maybe there isn’t enough time left, or we’re just too old, physically unable, mentally unwilling, or tired.
On the other hand, if we’re interested in the world and passionate about certain subjects, then we can still accomplish what we set out to do.
History and the arts are full of men and women who made surprising comebacks, achieved greatness, or who revived/had prominent careers at an age when most would have given up. And there must be a myriad of other less known or unrecorded cases.
“Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in.”
Winston Churchill, after an up and down career, and ten years as a political pariah or, as he put it, “Out in the wilderness” during the 1930s, returned at 66 to serve as a wartime Prime Minister in 1940. His leadership and great speeches helped inspire the nation’s morale against the would-be Nazi invaders that were pummeling the cities and coast of England. He told the people of England, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.”
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist in white dominated South Africa, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1962 and served 27 years, 18 as a classification D prisoner – the lowest scale – in the notorious Robben Island Prison. Released in 1990, he returned to lead his party in negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994. He was 72 when he became South Africa’s first democratically elected South African president in 1994.
“You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”
Golda Meir came to the U.S. from Russia at the age of 8, and was brought up in Milwaukee, WI. In 1921, she emigrated to Palestine where she worked on a kibbutz and as a teacher before moving up in the political ranks. At 71, she became Prime Minister of the State of Israel in March, 1979. The world’s third woman to be head of state (after Shri Lanka and India), she was portrayed as the “strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.”
“I made a resolve that I was going to amount to something if I could.”
Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65 when his restaurant folded and because his pension was so small; after two years, he went on to wild success. A Kentucky Colonel (in-name military designation only), he gave the chain an image by dressing up in that all-white southern gentleman garb.
“Painting’s not important. The important thing is keeping busy.”
Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses) didn’t begin to paint until the age of 76, when her hands became too crippled by arthritis to hold an embroidery needle and she found herself with nothing to do. She’s usually cited for succeeding for the first time at her art work in her nineties and up to her death at 101. Her paintings were shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as in museums in Vienna and Paris.
“I never had a great role in a great film.”
Gloria Stuart, a movie actress in the 1930s, returned from obscurity at 86 when she landed the role of 100-year-old Rose in James Cameron’s “Titanic.” She remains the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar. The above quote must have been before “Titanic.”
“You cannot just waste time. Otherwise you’ll die to regret …”
Harriett Doerr finished her Stanford degree at 67. In 1983, at 73, she became a darling of the literary world with the publication of her first novel, “Stones for Ibarra,” which went on to win a National Book Award.
“If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book. God knows what other potentials lurk in other people who keep going into old age.”
Harry Bernstein published a short story when he was 24, in 1934, but it was not until he was 96 that his well-received debut novel, “The Invisible Wall” was published. Bernstein turned to fiction only after his wife of 67 years died, as therapy for his loss and loneliness. He published two more books after his debut.
“If I had known at the beginning of my life that this is where I would get to, I would have said, “Not possible.”
Jessica Tandy, a well-respected actress came out of a career slump in the mid 1980s to a career revival in her seventies when she won both a Tony Award and an Emmy Award for her role in “Foxfire.” She became the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989.
There are many other such stories of late life success that I’d have liked to include but then I’d have to write an e-book about them. It’s a fascinating subject – what drove these men and women to not give up despite rejection, imprisonment, lack of education or opportunity, sexism, ageism, defeat … you name it.
Do you know of someone who “made it” late in life, particularly after overcoming problems, losses, rejection, or other setbacks?
If you do, please share their stories with us.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
At 67, I am not dying. Yet. However, my age group is often treated as if we were at the start of a prolonged death march.
And I will rage and rage against the dying of my light and that of my generation.
We gave light and warmth to a world darkened by war and oppression.
Our generation was the offspring of The Greatest Generation, those who fought in WWII. My English father and American mother met during the war, and I was a war baby born in England to the sound of bombs, and spent my childhood in grim post war England.
Meanwhile, the 50s generation in the U.S. were smug, conservative in their victory, swathed in security and newfound luxuries, and determined to lead lives centered on doing the right thing. A woman’s place was in the home and a man’s in the workplace. Frank Sinatra sang, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” Then Elvis shocked the nation with his, “I’m all shook up!” until the bosses found a way – military service, movies – to calm him down, and eventually turn him into an overweight, drug addicted Las Vegas entertainer.
We grew up to become the generation of the 60s. We changed popular to have meaning – Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary. Women lifted their hemlines from mid-calf almost to their thighs, men were released from hats and formal wear, changed customs and attitudes relaxed – men and women could actually sleep or live together openly, and we protested when we disagreed with politics and national policy (Vietnam). Women aspired to and found work in former male only professions.
We overcame a stuffy Establishment to start the modern world, the one inherited by the current generation.
Then we stopped raging and protesting, and most of us settled into respectability, using our creativity and energies to create a better world for our kids. Women carved careers for themselves in a male dominated world so that nowadays, female executives are as much a part of the corporate world as their male counterparts.
We never thought we’d reach an age when the younger generation would start to shove us aside like old relics. We never dreamed the day might come when formerly successful professionals would be out on a limb, scrabbling for work – any work – in mid-life. Or that many of us would be no longer employable despite our qualifications and experience, or broke because of lost jobs, or family homes foreclosed or, except for some notable exceptions, shunted aside. We never thought we’d become victims of another depression caused by the greedy generation that followed ours.
Perhaps some of you can accept this and go gentle into the night of your life.
Or the alternative:
Rage, rage against the dying of our light for as long as we can.
I, for one, prefer the latter choice. What about you?
We raged when we were young and got things done. We still have our voices and we can rage again.
One voice added to another. Mine added to yours added to someone else’s and so on can build up to a lot of middle age voices clamoring to be heard.
Just imagine if a large number of us protested, for example, age discrimination in the workplace.
The same way we used to.
For one thing, it would shock the younger generation. That we still have it in us. That we’re not going out without a fight. That we’re capable of moving again in tandem, but this time against the entitled younger generation that has not learned from history that it repeats itself over and over again.
What awaits them in 30-40 years?
I’m not ready to be shoved aside. Nor are many of my generation or even older.
Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa at 67 after 28 years’ imprisonment.
John McCain was a presidential candidate (a grueling ordeal) at 72.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi may be making a long overdue return after years of house arrest.
The world is rife with people over sixty who have more than enough energy to go around.
To mention a few: Hilary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Martha Stewart, Nancy Pelosi, Arianna Huffington, Isabel Allende, Doris Lessing, Steven King, Michael Bloomberg, Donald Trump, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Richard Branson
How about the entertainment world? Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Diane Keaton, Martin Scorsese, Cher, Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney.
I could add a lot more names and so can you, to that list.
Join my voice that you will not go gentle into the night.
Instead, you will rage, rage against the dying of your light.
Photograph courtesy of Veronica Valades
“Your friend is your needs answered.” Kahlil Gibran
There are no words to fully express how much I will miss you, but I will try.
• I’ll miss your welcome, the fact that your arms were always open to me.
• I’ll miss the fun and enjoyment I found with you.
• I’ll miss the comfortable shoulder to lean on for advice, help with difficult projects, information, and the knowledge from your 40 years of experience.
• I’ll miss your way with words.
• I’ll miss hearing about and meeting all the great and outstanding people you knew. For example, you introduced me to Barack Obama when he published his first memoir.
• I’ll miss our regular meetings, the many teas I drank in your company.
• I’ll miss the refuge I found whenever I sought you out.
• I’ll miss exploring new worlds, new ideas, new authors, and new books with you.
• I’ll miss the heady feeling of being in the presence of greatness.
• I’ll miss your smell – that comfortable mixture of warmth, age, tranquility, understanding, powdery paper, and something indefinable that always permeated your surroundings.
• I’ll miss the friend I made in 2002 and who added greatly to my personal enjoyment and development.
• I’ll plain old miss going to visit you in downtown San Diego.
Yesterday, when I read the announcement that Borders Books was closing all its stores, I felt not surprise but resignation. Ever since it started closing stores several months ago, I knew its time was limited.
The end of an era.
For me, personally, Borders became part of my downtown San Diego experience. It was too good to last – and I sensed it almost from the start. A big bookstore set in the pleasure-seeking Gaslamp District mainly populated by young people out for a good time, tourists, cruise ship sightseers, homeless, and ball game lovers seemed out-of-place. The aisles were often empty as was the large music area upstairs.
Downstairs, the comfy armchairs and tables next to the coffee shop were occupied more by students who used the bookstore as a library, people reading the books and especially the magazines for free, or taking a rest/having a snooze. How often did I get angered to see someone defacing a new book, pulling back the pages and thus rendering it unsalable? How often did I wonder at the high maintenance and overhead of such a place, and how long could Borders accept their losses?
Of course, as a budding book author, I dreamed of the day that my books would grace their shelves. Even when I realized how illusionary this dream was, I still held on to my hopes.
For me, Borders downtown (which closed several months ago thus signaling the fast approach of the Borders Books’ demise) is akin to losing one of my close San Diego friends. A gap in the tooth. My old neighborhood is changing.
This comes as a result of two dominant forces: the dramatic switch to online book purchases, mainly Amazon. And importantly, it signals the change in book publishing – the almost overnight switch to e-books and readers (Kindle, Nook, etc.) in little more than a couple of years.
People will continue to buy print books but in less quantity. I foresee the day when I will also use a Kindle, simply because it’s more convenient even though I belong to the dwindling group – mainly older – who prefers the touch, feel, enjoyment of turning real pages. It will be the same as replacing the typewriter with a computer – I balked at first – but as everything else in this rapidly changing world, I’ll get used to this new book presentation. Almost.
Is the print book, the one we have known all of our lives, on its way to be relegated to the world of typewriters and radios and CDs? The printing press has been with us over 500 years since Johannes Gutenberg invented the it circa 1439. How many more years will books, in their current form, exist? Maybe just table top books, picture books, and a few special ones. Maybe limited press runs.
Or am I predicting too dismal a future for print books? Perhaps Harry Potter fans will grow up and this industry will rebound, though never to the same level as before.
For now, Barnes & Noble reigns supreme and long may they live to carry on the baton in this world of dying print books.
And long live those bastions of immortality: the independent bookstore, and the second-hand bookstores, and even the book sections in your local supermarket.
Photo credits: Mary Osborne
“I thought San Diego must be Heaven on earth…It seemed to me the best spot for building a city I ever saw.”Alonzo Horton, builder of New Town, site of current downtown San Diego, 1877
“Of all the dilapidated, miserable-looking places I have ever seen, this was the worst…an altogether dreary, sunblasted point of departure for nowhere…” Mary Chase Walker, San Diego’s first school teacher, 1865
I open my curtains and it’s sunny outside. Another lovely day, one for the young to savor on the beach and for me to go out for a long walk and end up sitting outside some coffee shop. Instead, I have to stay in and work. Sometimes, I wish we’d have more gray days when I’d happily stay indoors. Though we do have Gray May and June Gloom when clouds cover coastal areas until noon. Then the sun breaks through.
San Diego reminds me of a relentlessly cheerful woman who gets on your nerves; small-minded, but big pretensions, and so well meaning that it’s hard not to like her. Even so, though I’ve known her for a while, I can’t consider her a close friend.
Funny how other people view San Diego.
A woman, fifties, faded fair hair in pony tail, pulling a baby carriage covered with a tarp, gets on the bus, sits at the front and talks to the bus driver. “That billboard there says ‘San Diego, America’s finest city, worth a second look.’ An oxymoron, arrogant overstatement, not true for a city that can’t even balance its checkbook, that’s broke.”
She pauses, no reaction, so goes on, “San Diego offers nothing except for rich people. I hope those buildings” (the high-rises on the billboard) “crack and crash into the sea from the weight of the lies they tell to sell the condos.”
She sounds coherent, embittered, with the rough voice that comes from too much smoking.
Her last words before she gets off are, “San Diego is a woman, a woman wearing feathers, and glitter, and a skimpy dress and nothing else. It has nothing to offer except its glittery outside.”
Again on the bus. An African-American, man about mid-thirties, pleasant face, asks a middle-aged couple, dressed formally – look like out-of-towners – where they’re from, “New Jersey” and where they’re going to dinner, “Mr. A’s.” One of San Diego’s best restaurants. From their tight-lipped replies, they don’t seem too interested in pursuing a conversation.
But he is. “How you like San Diego?”
“Yes, great weather,” the man says.
“Well. Let me tell you about people here. They’re not friendly. America’s finest city welcomes the rich that spend their dollars, but they don’t like ones that don’t have no money.”
The couple visibly stiffens and their faces set in enforced niceness.
“The difference between rich and poor here is everything,” he tells them. “The middle-class all act like they’re rich as well. And they don’t mind all the homeless here because charity is tax deductible. Just give to Father Joe and let him take care of them. It’s why state taxes are so high. We have this huge indigent population to support and half of them live on the streets downtown, defecating in them, and leaving their trash everywhere.”
The couple’s pained expressions should give him a clue how they feel but he’s relentless.
“Everyone comes here for the weather. That’s why we get all these homeless, because the good weather allows them to live outdoors and they don’t freeze to death, but they foul up the streets instead. They’re Reagan’s gift to San Diego when he let them all out of the asylums for the state and local authorities to take care of them. See that man, he’s headed for Balboa Park where a bunch of them spend the night and leave their mess for park workers to clean up. No good chasing them away. They come back every time, have their favorite spots, and leave behind all their junk.”
The bus reaches their stop, which is also mine. We get off.
“Next time, we take a cab,” I hear.
My San Diego? Where else can I walk uptown, downtown, to the Bay, or to Balboa Park with its wealth of trees, botanical gardens, theatre, concerts, gatherings, events, and museums. Where else can I watch the sunset over the sea, cruise ships and boats on the Bay, visit Old Town, have my pick of coffee houses, restaurants, theatres (movies, plays, concerts, and opera), a mall, Petco Park, Civic and Convention centers, the trolley, train station, and hotels ? Where else can I watch parades, attend special events, political rallies, or take part in them? Any or all of these within walking distance.
Where else, on my way down First Avenue, can I see late 1800 homes with widow’s walks next to modern condos. Glance across to the Bay while a plane, about to land at Lindbergh Field, booms overhead. Or see, on Sundays, a bunch of skateboarders whizzing down the hill on the almost empty Fourth Avenue.
Where else can I rub shoulders with the homeless and hear loonies rant? Or watch cruise ship tourists and well-dressed couples walk through the Gaslamp District casing out posh restaurants while homeless sleep in doorways, and a couple of great looking transvestites strut on high heels making me feel tiny and drab? Girls in skimpy garb and men in shorts stroll along, not seeming to feel the drop in temperature. After all, this is sunny San Diego.
Where else can I walk along the Bay front, see pedi-cabs take tourists for rides. Once, tired, I hired a pedi-cab to take me to Horton Plaza, the downtown mall. I pass the ship museum: a vintage Mississippi steamer, a realistic copy of a frigate circa 1805, The Surprise – built for the film Master and Commander: the Far Side of the Earth. How could seventy men sail all the way to the Galapagos on that one tiny vessel, and not go crazy? I suppose it was the daily ration of rum that kept them semi-comatose most of the time. Next is the 1863 vessel, The Star of India, and further on, ferries to Coronado and scenic Bay boat rides, and further on, the aircraft carrier, Midway.
Where else would I recognize people on the bus back? The dignified elderly gentleman wearing a black beret, the sad-eyed little Filipino, the loud-mouthed, half-sloshed cello player who’s always first on the bus to get his special spot – or bully the person in it to give it up. The homeless with all their paraphernalia because they live in the Shelter up the hill. A couple discuss where they can find the best free meal much the same way as others might discuss the food in restaurants they visit.
Where else can I get on the trolley and hop over the border to Mexico for a visit or to see my doctor, dentist, and pick up lower-priced medicines?
I’m certain the young, the outdoorsy, the wealthy, and the various ethnic groups – Latinos, Asians, Iranians, Arabs, Somalis, etc. – would offer other interesting views of San Diego.
And, despite what that woman said, for my two close friends, born and here all their lives, San Diego is truly America’s finest city.
“Normal is in the eye of the beholder.” Whoopi Goldberg
My cultural heritage has certainly influenced my life. And I think most people would agree that their own has been important to their shaping and development, enriched their lives and often, led to their life decisions. However, sometimes having a mixed or multi-cultural background can be confusing and even disrupting.
Since I know it well, I’ll use my own life as an example.
I really don’t know where I belong.
The U.S., where I live now, is full of bi-cultural and multi-cultural people. I should fit in. Right? However, I have yet to find a demographic group where I do. My problem may be that I have a foot in each of my three countries, both ancestral and from living in them.
I’m a foreigner in all of my three countries but conversely, I also feel at home in all of them.
On the surface, my English side predominates. I was born there and my father was staunch middle-class. However, I only lived in England for fifteen years, in my childhood and as a young adult. I’m fair-haired (well, these days it’s L’Oreal) and blue-eyed. I speak English with a British accent that Americans think is “posh”. It opens many doors for me would be a great asset if I decided to be a con woman.
My mother was born in New York and her father came from a long line of New England stock, some of whom came over on the Mayflower’s fourth voyage while others were Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. Two of my ancestors fought in the War of Independence on the American side, which makes me a DAR (a Daughters of the American Revolution).
Actually, the country where I lived longest was in Mexico, during my adolescence, married life, and for years after I was divorced. My children were born there. My mother was half-Mexican, on her mother’s side. Two of my ancestors signed its Constitution.
I love telling people that I’m part Mexican and watching their reaction: some draw back in surprise (or horror?) and their next comment almost always is, “But, you don’t look Mexican.”
Another reason why I’m confused is because of my chronological back-and-forthing between my three countries:
• Childhood in a seaside village in Sussex, England – easygoing, quiet, Sunday afternoon tea and cake at English Granny’s.
• Switch to Mexico City at ten years old – Culture shock, different language, customs, large, noisy, dirty, Sunday afternoon lunch/meal at Mexican Granny’s.
• Fell head-over-heels for Mr. Blue Eyes and landed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Marriage and quicky divorce, college, sharing apartment with friends, summer in Maine.
• New York City – Lived it up every moment of the year I was there – Camelot, Moon River, The Fantasticks. Began career in advertising.
• London – Swinging Sixties. Settled into career as advertising exec with a stint as airline PR. Lots of travel, booze, and craziness.
• Mexico City again – Marriage to a Mexican, two kids, divorce, career flourished, forced early retirement, failed food business, broke.
• Santa Fe, New Mexico – House sitting in the mountains, writing book.
• Tijuana, Mexico – How the hell did I end up here? Couldn’t walk, stuck in son’s flat, writing book.
. Mexico City again. Operation made me ambulant. Happy to be home but decided to go to U.S.
• San Diego, California – Accidental landing. Became one of America’s working poor. Phone room researcher. “Just want to ask you a few questions. Please, don’t hang up!” New career in Hispanic research. Wrote book about making new start to be published late 2011. Economic slowdown. Currently pursuing new work paths.
I’m not Mexican though given all my years there, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
I can’t count myself as truly English anymore since I left many years ago.
Although I’ve adapted to the U.S. – more or less – I still hanker for Mexico.
So where will I spend the rest of my life?
Each of my three countries calls out to me. Maybe I’ll return to what I know. Or end up somewhere entirely different.
What about you? How has your cultural background influenced your life?
“Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” Mexican proverb
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