2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER

2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER
The Creative Landscape of Aging Wins a NMMA Award!

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

THE FRUGAL ART OF GIVING

With the economy in a tailspin, financial worries all around us and the holidays approaching, how can we continue to give in the same way as we have in the past? With creative approaches, gift giving can still feel wonderful and generous. There are many ways to give joy and kindness to others without feeling impoverished. Remember that it is your thoughtfulness that is an integral part of gift giving and never hesitate to use plenty of colorful tissues and ribbons to make your gift look ultra fabulous!

o CRAFTY WAYS: There are boundless opportunities to craft your gifts; some more expensive and time consuming than others. For frugal approaches, try the following:
  • Create a stack of greeting cards with your favorite rubber stamps and/or embellishments and tie the package with a festive ribbon. No stamps? Cut a potato in half lengthwise, carve it and dip it in paint and you have a stamp!
  • Sentiments are always strong so making a scrapbook page with personal items, quotes, poetry and photos, will be a sure hit!
  • Buy an inexpensive picture frame for your special photo (maybe it’s you, or the recipient or a pet); with extra time you can decorate the frame by gluing on some extra buttons you have stashed with your other sewing notions.
o RETHINK & REUSE:
Take another look at disposables that would otherwise be in your trash; it is likely that you can reuse them to make wonderful gifts. With scraps of printed cotton fabric and Modge Podge glue, I used a decoupage technique to cover empty toilet paper rolls. The result? Elegant napkin ring holders, decorated with fun trimming on one end, are always an attraction at my dinner table with guests!
Found objects can have multiple lives. I rescued a crushed car hubcap from the road to make a fabulous picture frame. The embedded dirt actually gave it a special and wonderful shadow effect.

o SATISFYING A SWEET TOOTH
Everyone loves homemade goodies. If you don’t enjoy baking cakes or cookies from scratch, try using a mix; there are many wonderful brands that will produce excellent results even for the gluten free diet.
Another approach is to buy bags of colorful loose candy and layer them in an inexpensive glass container with a lid. Tie a pretty bow on the neck of the jar and it looks great!

o SURPRISE BASKETS: Gather beautiful fruits and make your own gift basket. To make it extra attractive, place a paper doily in between the fruits or a large one under each one. Another basket may be a collection of travel size toiletries which you may have from hotel visits or cosmetic bonus packs. Add a special touch in the basket with a washcloth rolled up and tied with a ribbon and even a little miniature toy for fun! There are plenty of ideas that can fill your basket so just think of a theme and fill it up!

o GREEN THUMB: Buying a plant is usually affordable but you can also share a plant that you have in your home. Fill a new pot with soil and carefully separate part of your plant and repot it as a gift and don't forget that nice touch of ribbon. Want to get fancy? Take some acrylic paint and paint a pattern on the pot!

o RECYCLED GIFTS: We all have received gifts that we did not want, tried to look the other way but graciously accepted with a smile and a thank you. These gifts need to be recycled and given to those people who will enjoy and appreciate them! Now is the perfect time to look in your closets, on your shelves and through those storage bins to find gifts to recycle. If you are scratching your head and not coming up with possible gift recipients, donate it!

When the material world of gift giving still leaves you in a quandary, consider ways to give of yourself.

YOUR-OWN-CERTIFICATE: This is a fabulous way to give a gift of yourself! Print out certificates for house cleaning, dog walking, car washing, babysitting or any other service that you can provide that is valued by the recipient.

VOLUNTEER: Volunteers are an important part of our society. When you volunteer and donate your time to an organization, you are giving to people in need. This is truly a way to honor the spirit of the holidays by supporting the organization or charity that helps others. If you do not know who to contact or where to go, try http://www.volunteermatch.org for local opportunities.

We are living in extraordinary times and we are challenged to maintain our positive sense of self. By giving to others and being remarkable in our kindness to others, we can flourish and build a better society.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet, said “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

CREATIVE MATTERS: An Overview

Creativity matters. A simple phrase, sometimes a title and always a meaningful statement filled with a promise of expectations.

Research has shown that being creative alters us by improving our mood, self esteem and socialization. A recent article in the Washington Post, “Studies Suggest There’s An Art to Getting Older: Creative Activity May Have Health Benefits.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2008/03/10/AR2008031001617.html, addresses current research supporting the benefits of creativity in aging adults. It looks at the physiological change of increased neural activity as well as the joy of expression. And the cumulative results are renewed vitality and a can-do attitude that triggers healing because a new strength emerges that fosters independence.

And creativity can take many forms. It is not black or white, simple or complex; it is an approach and an attitude of coloring your world differently. Everything in our lives can be looked at in other ways. It is not always about art or the talent to draw. We can challenge ourselves to wonder how a purple flower might look if it was red with soft pink edges, or how a story would change if the characters had different intentions, or how your favorite pieces of music would sound if they were blended together. It is the purpose of thinking, imagining and delighting in possibilities.

As older adults, some of our physical abilities have changed so it is important to build new views of old experiences. If you used to enjoy drawing and now have difficulty with using a pen for details, try a different tool, a different art, a different approach to maintaining your creativity. And if you have always felt bereft of talent, get motivated now by signing up for a workshop, joining a museum or perusing unique finds in craft stores or boutiques. Let your eyes look and your mind imagine.

Think creative and be creative today and every day because it is important for your brain activity, your general health and your emotional well being!

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS

Being creative is not about being young or old; it is age resistant.

I am 60 years old and some months ago started a new business that provides craft kits and supplies to adults with fine motor skill problems and/or attention difficulties. I was not inventing the wheel but inventing a different approach to the wheel. For example, adult necklace kits often involve tiny pieces, a small tool and precision. But beautiful necklaces can also be made by focusing on the solution and then the design. This was my approach because initially I had to consider the closure of the necklace, then the components and the third step was the design. This is the reverse of the way most designers approach their projects yet it successfully produced a variety of unique necklaces for a specific market.

My friend, Joan Lobenberg, is in her 70s and designed a solution for making clay beads for Caring Craft kits. Traditionally, you create a clay bead by rolling a small piece of clay between the palms of your hands to make a small ball and then puncture it with a sharp tool to make a hole for threading. But Joan thought that the clay bead would be too heavy when strung as a necklace with other beads and wanted to develop a solution to create a clay bead that would be light. Lots of thought produced terrific results. Joan rolls air-dry clay on a flat surface, wraps it to cover a small Styrofoam ball and then makes a hole using a knitting needle. A simple and elegant solution to a problem that renders a necklace light and easier to wear.

Dr. Gene Cohen, founding director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University. has been studying aging for over 30 years and shares this wonderful personal story:

My in-laws, Howard and Gisele Miller, both in their 70s,were stuck. They had just emerged from the Washington,DC, subway system into a driving snowstorm. They were coming to our house for dinner and needed a cab since it was too far to walk. But it was rush hour, and no cabs stopped. Howard tried calling us, but both my wife, Wendy, and I were tied up in traffic and weren’t home yet—this was the pre-cell phone era. As his fingers began to turn numb, Howard noticed a pizza shop across the street. He and Gisele walked through the slush to it and

ordered a large pizza for home delivery. When the cashier asked where to deliver it, Howard gave him our address, and added, “Oh, there’s one more thing.”
“What’s that?” the cashier asked.
“We want you to deliver us with it,” Howard said.
And that’s how they arrived, pizza in hand, for dinner that night.
This favorite family story perfectly illustrates the sort of agile creativity that can accompany the aging mind. Would a younger person have thought of this solution? Possibly. But in my experience, this kind of out-of-the-box thinking is a learned trait that improves with age. Age allows our brains to accumulate a repertoire of strategies developed from a lifetime of experience, part of what other researchers have termed crystallized intelligence. Obviously, Howard hadn’t used that pizza routine before, but the accumulated experience of other successful strategies helped
stimulate the thinking that produced his creative resolution. This was one of his new senior moments, occurring, again, not as a failing of aging, but a benefit of it.

Solutions. They challenge us every day. And when we realize that there is a better way and creatively and patiently think it through, our solution empowers us. We are less fearful of challenges because we are mobilized to respond.

RESILIENCY IN ARTISTS

It’s no secret that we’re all different. Some of us settle in quiet retirement and enjoy time that we did not have earlier. Vacations, family visits and hobbies are enjoyed with more flexibility. Yet there is a unique group of older New York City artists who refuse to retire because they have a passionate need to be vital with their art. Their lifetime focus has not changed; their daily routines have altered only to adjust to their physical demands.

Supported by the Pollack-Krasner Foundation and the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, Joan Jeffri’s project “ Above Ground: Information on Artists III: Special Focus New York City Aging Artists” exemplifies the creative stamina of these individuals whose average age was 73. Joan states “The resilience of artists in relation to their art is a testimony to old age. All the artists we interviewed visited their studios on a frequent and sometimes daily basis, even if it took 1.5 hours to walk the three blocks to the studio. When the medium became too taxing—such as large-scale sculpture or paintings, not one artist talked of giving up art; s/he simply changed the medium.”

Many artists have experienced tremendous success in their later years.

Grandma Moses didn’t start to paint until the age of 67 when her husband died. She said, “If I didn’t start painting, I would have had to raise chickens.”

Beatrice Wood, a leading ceramic artist, did some of her best work in her nineties and lived to be 105.

Al Hirschfeld, at 93, had four major exhibitions of his work and the following year created a wonderful self-portrait.

It is their life drive to be creative that propels these artists forward despite their years and despite their physical ailments. Grandma Moses said, “Life is what we make of it, always has been, always will be”.

WHEN WALLS BECOME DOORWAYS....

Just when we’re sailing along in our lives, up pops a roadblock. So we experience frustration, mount the hurdle and resume the normalcy of our life. Yet, many people face roadblocks that are so enormous and life changing that it is only because of their compelling creative spirit that they go on.

My sister, Dr. Tobi Zausner, writes about creativity, artists, and inner strength in her book WHEN WALLS BECOME DOORWAYS ((http://astore.amazon.com/caringcrafts-20/detail/0307238083/104-6646567-9699112). Tobi says: “When we look at the influence of physical illness on creativity we often find that instead of stopping artists, physical difficulties transform them, enhancing both their life and their work.” Her book is based on years of research and from an experience with ovarian cancer in 1989. “I was not expected to last the year,” she says, “yet I survived and my life transformed for the better.”

In looking at the lives of other artists in her book, Tobi shows a similar pattern of illness and personal growth across cultures and throughout the centuries. All of these artists used their creativity to combat the effects of physical difficulties and made the world a better place because of their work. The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo became a painter after being severely injured in a traffic accident. A farm accident changed the life of the Native American Frank Day, who discovered his gift for painting while recovering in the hospital. It was dyslexia that influenced the Italian Leonardo da Vinci to be an artist and he became one of the greatest of all time. The American artist Dorothea Lange had polio in childhood, yet she turned her suffering into compassion for others and shows that caring and compassion in her photographs. After severe hepatitis, the Japanese artist Itchiku Kubota found a new way of working and is now one of the leading kimono painters in the world.

Even physical conditions that would seem to impede a career can turn out to be enhancements. The Dutch artist Rembrandt was color blind but used his great ability to see light and shade to give enormous power to his work. The African-American artist Henry Ossawa Turner became a painter after an illness in childhood and the Chinese-American artist Raymond Hu, who has Downs syndrome, does work that combines Eastern and Western techniques. The French artist Henri Matisse was a young lawyer until the long convalescence from an appendectomy turned him to painting as a way to past the time. Later at the age of seventy, his doctors thought he would die after an operation for intestinal cancer went very badly. Yet Matisse lived another thirteen years and did some of the best work of his life while sitting in a wheelchair. “Whether you can or not, you hold on” insists Matisse and “when you’re out of will power you call on stubbornness.” He believes that what we think is our weakness can turn out to be our greatest strength.

So how can we learn to create and embrace doorways when faced with what appears to be impenetrable walls in our lives? In researching biographies of artists for her book, Tobi found that they shared these qualities:
• Hardiness – the strength that helps us thrive despite obstacles,
• Resilience – ability to bounce back after difficulties and adapt to new circumstances,
• Self-efficacy – our belief that the things we do make a difference,
• Mastery – success in performing tasks or in the outcome of a situation,
• Perseverance – the determination to keep going,
• The ability to handle stress – and in a very long life there can be a great deal of stress,
• A focus on work and the urge to create,
• And they are all looking toward the future No matter how old they are, these artists insist their best work is still to come.

As Tobi says, “Everyone has the capacity to grow and change. It comes from the great well of inner strength that we possess and can access in times of need. We are all not only stronger than we think we are but stronger than we can even imagine.”

VITAL VISIONARIES

Since we, as seniors, are a population that is swelling and will consequently impact the medical system, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) sponsored a pilot program called Vital Visionaries that was originally created by Johns Hopkins College of Medicine in conjunction with the American Visionaries Art Museum. The goal was to enhance communication between young medical students and local seniors of 65 years of age or older and to promote positive attitudes toward the field of geriatrics and as well as in the treatment of the aging population in private practice. This initial 2004 pilot design was so successful that NIA partnered with the Society for the Arts in Health Care (SAH) in 2005-6 to replicate it nationally at 4 additional sites. Center for the Arts in Health Care Research and Education (CAHRE) was selected as one of the sites and collaborated with The Harn Museum of Art, the University of Florida College of Medicine and the Sante Fe Community College Prime Time Institute. I encourage you to access the video link at http://www.arts.ufl.edu/CAHRE/vitalvisionaries.asp).

It is an incredibly creative initiative monitored by pre and post evaluations with measurable results. Consisting of a total of four carefully orchestrated sessions, the first session begins with pairing the medical student and the elder. They must find each other in a group by effectively communicating information about the matching art print that each received. What a great icebreaker concept for event planners! Then the pair, as a team, visits the museum and works together to develop descriptive words and phrases that describe the art exhibit that they shared. The elements of this literary expression are then developed into poetry. Finally the poetry is translated to dance and, although the participants are encouraged, the dance is primarily performed by other people of different ages in response to their poetry reading. Music is provided to enhance the poetic interpretation and as a resource for movement.

Through these interactive art experiences, the young and old learn that art can bridge differences and promote similarities. It is an intergenerational communication that develops gently at first but moves with the stride of a partnership by the final session and demonstrates the ability to change and adapt to new and positive experiences. Cathy De Witt, Music Coordinator/Musician in Residence at Shands Arts in Medicine, provided the original musical elements to integrate the poetry with dance. Regarding the bonding of the participants, she says “ …It's the kind of communication that used to take place with families; you don’t have the extended families living with each other as much anymore so it is a rare opportunity to have this experience, or for some it may be an extension of a relationship with grandparents”.

As a result of the success of Vital Visionaries, the University of Chicago School of Medicine, with their partnering art museum, is offering it as a course. This is the first academic seed that hopefully will be followed by many other institutions to teach and guide the lessons of Vital Visionaries.

REACHING FOR CREATIVITY

Once upon a time, we were all children. We played, talked, painted with abandon. Those stick figures never seemed awkward when we drew them, we did not have the consciousness of exactitude or photographic imaging. We had pride in our work and went back again and again to draw more.

But as we matured, a different consciousness took hold. We had an awareness of the visual experience and our capability to replicate it. For some, this provided an exciting challenge to learn the nuances of representational art, yet for others, it encouraged avoidance behavior. But there is a big chasm here. There is an opportunity to release your inhibitions and creatively express yourself. Look at the differences in the work of Picasso, Jackson Pollack, Dali and others who defied classic portraiture and explored colors, shapes, and brush strokes to communicate their vision. Don’t use rules, use your energy and find your passion. Sure some of us are born with more intuitive visual talent or sharper music skills but all of us can benefit from taking the plunge to being creative and maintaining creativity in our lives.

The Linden Center for Creativity and Aging within the Gerontology Institute at Ithaca College is less than a year old and was established to understand the involvement between aging and creativity and ways that people, institutions and our society can benefit. “There is a growing recognition among those who study aging that involvement in creative activities such as the arts can contribute significantly to well-being across a person’s life span,” said John Krout, professor of Gerontology and director of the Gerontology Institute at Ithaca College. “The fact is, an older person doesn’t have to be Picasso to embark on new creative pursuits or continue lifelong creative endeavors.”

Can you learn to be creative? David Perkins, a Harvard scholar, has written The Eureka Effect, a book about “breakthrough thinking” which is thinking creatively and thinking outside-the-box. He confirms that for some of us it is comes more easily than for others and says much is in attitude. “It’s sort of like running:” Perkins says” anyone can do it, but you can learn to do it better.”

It is always the right time to reevaluate, reinvent and renew ourselves. In the third stage of life, we should feel excited to fill our life journal with new experiences and challenges met. Think outside the box because it is the creative spirit that empowers us to be free of rigid constraints and engages us to invent and inspire positive experiences.

As George Burns said "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."

SHARING YOUR LIFE STORIES

People’s life stories are fascinating. We are all walking chronicles of colorful life legacies that are unique; totally different, totally driven by our experiences, decisions, reactions as well as our hurdles. And so the telling of our stories is filled with a poignant string of memories and reflections that are inherently inspirational and creative.

The inspirational part is a result of the hurdles we have mounted and the courageous road taken to respond with solutions. So what makes your story telling creative? Talking about what we know, and no one knows more about our life story than ourselves, is actually a complex process. We reach for those mental pictures of our past, decide on what we are going to share and then package our thoughts into language that will convey information laced with imagery. Spontaneously we choose words that will convey the meaning of that experience(s)and this sharing of details and events becomes a verbal novel. We select adjectives to describe situations, our voice pitches to accent important parts and our body language adds an extra thrust to the story. We relay our autobiographies like actors playing ourselves. It is truly a creative process and can be made permanent in written form using journaling, novel /play/poetry writing or translated into an art form using a variety of materials such as paints, photography, textured surfaces for collage or in theatre, music and dance projects.

Elders Share the Arts (ESTA; www.elderssharethearts.org) was founded on the premise that we, as elders, benefit from expressing ourselves and because of today’s fragmented society where families live far apart, communities can benefit from being guided to embrace these legacies. To provide an outlet for self expression and enable the healthy aging process, ESTA, focused on New York City, established "Living History Arts -- a synthesis of oral history and the creative arts that engage older adults in a process of drawing on their memories and re-creating them into literary, visual, or dramatic presentations”. These may include live performances such as Pearls of Wisdom, a touring ensemble of storytellers and urban folk artists, traveling exhibitions and workshops to facilitate creative expression.
If you feel the urge to communicate your story and there is no one available at that moment to listen, then you can use a journal type website to help you. Sites such as Story of My Life (http://www.storyofmylife.com) is an online collection of life stories. In addition to your words, you can upload photos and videos to make your memories so much richer. At Mine Your Memories (http://www.mineyourmemories.com), you can write your life story or Dr.Dolly, the site owner is a writer, teacher, consultant, mentor, and she can guide you or even write your story for you if that makes it easier for you to move forward with communicating your memories.

There are many benefits for telling stories in addition to the creative juice that flows. It is a social vehicle and a learning tool. We use our thoughts to reminisce and reflect, expressively share, and also to connect. Sharing our life journey gives us the opportunity to remember and nostalgically look at our past. It also provides a passage of intimacy between you and the listener because you are sharing a personal experience and that can provide a positive link, a connection. The power of connection is integral to our well being and happens naturally by communicating in a personal way. Often times it can create change in attitude from both the story teller and the listener.

So go ahead; share, connect and get creative with telling your life story!

Steven Spielberg, Director: “People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don't have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.”

Maya Angelou, Poet: There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

INSPIRED TO DANCE

Just because she’s pushing 82, doesn’t mean that Pearl has to give up dancing. On the contrary, learning Salsa has been plenty of fun. So every Thursday evening, Pearl struts over to the dance studio to listen to the music and move to the groove. The group starts with practice steps and then learns to build them like puzzle pieces set to music. Body movement and partner interaction is part of the creative process that distinguishes individual style. A wink, a swing, a twist. Dance is the imaginative work of the mind and body in unison; a purposeful interpretation to music.

What happens when dancers meet life hurdles? How do they find creative solutions to continue their life passion?

Jodi Stolove was a dancer and teacher who had broken her ankle. Not willing to be immobile and abandon her students, she taught classes from her chair. And that became a successful business called Chair Dancing ® (http://www.chairdancing.com) which is non impact aerobics from a seated position. Jodi says, “These medically sound programs are a new fitness option for active people or those whose physical condition, restricted mobility or age limit their participation in conventional forms of exercise”. She sells home videos for instruction and you can always improvise.

The dancer, Kitty Lunn, had a very big hurdle to overcome. Her love of dance started at the age of eight. But while preparing for her first Broadway show in 1987, Kitty Lunn slipped on ice, fell down a flight of stairs and broke her back. Paraplegic and depressed, she could not imagine dancing again when she could not walk. But she also could not give up her love of dancing because ”the dancer inside me didn't know or care that I was using a wheelchair, she just wanted to keep dancing.” In the fall of 1995, Kitty founded Infinity Dance Theater, http://www.infinitydance.com , a non-traditional dance company featuring dancers with and without disabilities and performs all over the world. In addition to dance concerts, the Company is dedicated to educational programs by “teaching other dance educators to bring the joy and drama of motion and movement to a new level of inclusion by expanding the boundaries of dance and changing the world's perception of what a dancer is.” Kitty continues to take a “mainstream, professional ballet class every day and has developed wheelchair dance techniques strongly rooted in and growing out of classical ballet and modern dance.”

There are many challenges in life but few as great as finding creative solutions to build our lives with passion and dignity.


“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”
Martha Graham

POETIC PATHS

Soon after returning from a trip to see her first grandchild, Laniere Gresham started writing poetry. It just happened. And it gave her pleasure and pride. Some years later at the age of 56, she suffered a major stroke from a cerebral hemorrhage and doctors gave her only a 50/50 chance of survival. She could not talk or use her right hand yet 6 months later, with the encouragement of family and friends, she was writing again. “I did not have the speed but I still had the creativity in me” says Laniere. And then she won a prize for one of her early poems. This is one of Laniere’s poems:

HUMMMMMMMM
Cicadas bought the sound waves
this summer, rented my trees
for orgies, assaulted my ears
with endless love songs_____
yet excluded me.

Sometimes it is a life changing event that propels us to express our inner creativity. It could be a positive event like the birth of a child or the sadness felt from the death of a loved one. We are stirred from our day-to-day ritual ways to focus on the change. Our emotions swell. We need to talk about it. And to reflect on this event and allow its release from our constant daily thoughts, writing is an excellent tool. It may be poetry or journaling or scrapbooking using photos with comments. There is no time limit; you will express yourself when you are ready and in the way that feels right for you.
Your writing may be personal and private or a project that you want to share. There is no right or wrong approach; what may feel private today can be shared tomorrow. Sometimes a recovery process is so difficult that we need to nurse our inner turmoil. However our healing is expedited by recognizing the pain and releasing it. It is important to validate your experience; to create permanence of your thoughts and feelings on paper or on the computer. Writing can help move you forward creatively and cathartically; it is the experience of liberating yourself that is both empowering and healing.
So it is not surprising that poetry therapy is valued by people all over the world whether they are home based or in an education setting, facility or other communal environment. The National Association of Poetry Therapy , http://www.poetrytherapy.org/index.html , provides certification through http://www.nfbpt.com to individuals who wish to guide and mentor others using words of expression through teaching, therapy or the ministries. And in our medical world, poetry can offer a profound sense of relief and healing. Dr. Rafael Campo, http://www.rafaelcampo.com, teaches and practices medicine at Harvard Medical School. He writes poetry and also writes about the practice of using poetry with his patients. With the tools of integrative medicine, he approaches healing dynamically with the heart, mind and soul of a caring physician set on empowering patients to fight for wellness.
Take some time to think, dream your thoughts and express yourself. Healing can happen at any time and in many ways.
Gloria Steinem, American Writer and Activist: “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.”