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, December 19, 2010

Artful Movement

What is solitary but not creative has health benefits but not fun benefits? The answer: exercise. Although it’s important to our health and many people have developed great walking, jogging, or gym routines, it is not an expressive outlet. But what if there were alternative exercise approaches that were captured with imagination? What if it engaged you intellectually and creatively?

Conductorcise
is a “workout for the mind, body and soul”. For decades, Maestro David Dworkin, now in his 70s, led orchestras here and abroad and also taught hundreds of gifted young people. Realizing that after conducting he was sweating from the intensity of his movements, Dworkin developed an opportunity for seniors to have a similar experience. Participants in his Conductorcise programs enhance their listening skills, learn about composers and are taught how to use a baton. And when the music plays, Dworkin begins. He guides them to actively orchestrate with arms and batons whipping the air, torsos twisting, legs bending and sweat pouring. The exercise is exhilarating; an intellectual process played with a physical presence.

If you prefer to think and interact, you can do so with the performers of Second Circle Improv Players a group which artfully use their bodies to spontaneously portray issues and actions with words and physicality while utilizing their repertoire of improv games. They are a diverse, intergenerational group that explores social issues and breaks down stereotypes as they demonstrate “a unique blend of interactive role-play and improvisational theater techniques”. A particularly physical game, for example, is Machines. When an audience suggests a machine, such as a washing machine, it’s played out on stage. An actor starts with a sound and motion, and other actors progressively join to physically layer themselves coordinating their movements and sounds to create a total machine in motion. It’s mesmerizing. Audience participation is an integral part of the experience to engage the performers to portray topics such as retirement, positive aging, conflict resolution, cultural diversity, communication, and more. In fact, the group encourages members in the audience to join in some games and share ideas.

Creative movement can also be a response to a unique experience. Community Access to the Arts (CATA) is an organization that is dedicated to “nurture and celebrate the creativity of people with disabilities through shared experiences in the visual and performing arts”. Ann Mintz was the Director of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts when she partnered with CATA to provide a series of workshops for CATA participants that used exhibitions in the museum as the basis for programs. One such event centered around kinetic sculpture by MIT artist-in-residence Arthur Ganson. Their response was unique and extraordinary. Ann says “These are individuals with physical and intellectual challenges and they approach physical movement in a different way. Immediately after viewing the art, they were encouraged to express themselves which resulted in a display of whirling and dipping, moving hands and happy faces. It was so beautiful because it was completely spontaneous and unselfconscious.” They engineered their bodies as moving objects in space and, in effect, looked like components of a kinetic sculpture.

Exercise can be for everyone and it now has an exceptional voice in the arts. Exploring different modalities and creatively translating different experiences to movement is an opportunity filled with physical and cognitive benefits. Your personal world is ripe for interpretative exercise.


It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.
Muhammad Ali

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Celebrating Creative Centenarians

Everyone’s doing it. We’re all getting older and accelerating across the decades of life. Positive aging is important and pharmaceutical companies are racing to provide new drugs to extend healthy living. People want to live longer and live healthier. Dr. Thomas Perls has developed a calculator that can be used as a guide to understand your aging potential. “In the United States, where the average life expectancy is about 78 years, centenarians account for about 1 out of every 6,000 people.” Yet it also has been projected that in 2025, one person out of 26 will reach their 100th birthday.

What are the odds of you living to 100 or beyond? There are factors that may contribute to the potential of becoming a centenarian, says Nir Barzilai, M.D. Director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University 80% can be contributed to your environment and the remaining 20% to your genes

And there is a quality of aging that is important. For those who have enjoyed a strong social, intellectual and physical lifestyle, they are more likely to sustain those passions as they get older and reap the benefits.

The following centenarians have maintained their creative zeal and are still enjoying successful lives despite some physical issues that come with aging.


Irving Kahn, (born 1905) Investment Advisor
Irving began his career prior to the 1929 stock market crash and established the Kahn Brothers Group in 1978 where he shares his business with his son and grandson managing over $700 million in assets. Irving works 5 days a week in his Madison Avenue office and reads at least two financial newspapers daily. He has no plans to retire.

Rita Levi-Montalcini (born, 1909) Scientist, Italian Senator
In 1986 Levi-Montalcini and colleague Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovery of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). Remarkably she was the fourth Nobel Prize winner to come from Italy's very small but very old Jewish community. In 1987, she was given the National Medal of Science, the highest American scientific honor. Rita is the oldest living Nobel laureate and the first ever to reach a 100th birthday.

Elliot Carter (born 1908) Composer
Elliot is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer who has been extremely prolific in his older years. Between the ages of 90 and 100, he published more than 40 works and three more since he turned 100. He received the Trustees Award (a lifetime achievement award given to non-performers) by the Grammy Awards and is on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center where he gives annual composition masterclasses

Eva Zeisel (born 1906) Industrial designer/ Artist
An industrial designer in her early career, she currently designs furniture as well as glass and ceramic objects producing “useful things” with soft organic shapes. Her pieces are in the permanent collections of the British Museum; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Musée des Arts Decoratifs de Montreal; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Knoxville Museum of Art and the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, Dallas, and Milwaukee museums.

Wesley E. Brown (1907) Judge
Judge Brown is one of four of the Kennedy appointees still on the bench and the oldest federal judge in the country. Wearing a tube that feeds oxygen through his nose, he is still active at the court but warns lawyers about lengthy hearings and says “At this age, I’m not even buying green bananas.” He refuses to focus on the hoopla over his place in history or his birthdays, he simply says “I’m not interested in how old I am, I’m interested in how good a job I can do.”

Milton Rogovin (born 1909) Photographer
Milton is a documentary photographer with a social passion. “The Forgotten Ones", considered his most recognized project, is a portrait sequence captured over 30 years showing a hundred struggling families in hardship living in Buffalo.. His work is in the Library of Congress, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Center for Creative Photography as well as other fine institutions.

Alice Herz-Sommer (born 1903) Pianist
Czech pianist and survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Alice is a steadfast optimist despite having lived a life filled with great loss and difficulty. She is also very self disciplined. Everyday she practices 3 hours starting at 10am, eats the same foods and continues to walk. "… life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything"

Malcolm Renfrew (born 1910) Chemist
Renfrew produced a number of patents while working at DuPont including material for tooth repair and the first method of synthesis which would contribute to what was later known as Teflon. He became a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and on his 100th birthday, October 12, 2010 was declared to be Malcolm M. Renfrew Day in Idaho.

Norman Corwin (born 1910) Writer/Screenwriter, Producer
Norman was always a serious lover of words and drama so his early career in radio was a perfect fit. He has won the One World Award, two Peabody Medals, an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a duPont-Columbia Award. He is still writing for radio and is a writer in residence at the Journalism School at USC.

Will Barnett (born 1911) Painter
A New York City artist with his paintings in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney, Will paints for 3-4 hours every day. His current exhibition is at the Art Student’s League in Manhattan where he began his art studies in 1931 when he moved from Boston. At the age of 10 he knew that he wanted to be an artist and now says “The old masters are still alive after 400 years, and that’s what I want to be.”

Ruth Gruber (born 1911) Journalist, Photographer, Writer, Humanitarian
Just months shy of her 100th birthday, Ruth is an extraordinary woman who has had an extraordinary career. A new documentary, AHEAD OF TIME,was created to catalog some of the many historic events in her life. By the age of twenty, Ruth earned a Ph.D degree from the University of Cologne and became the youngest person in the world to receive a doctorate. In 1935, she was the first foreign correspondent to fly through Siberia into the Soviet Arctic. Her life was studded by high level social political assignments.

Getting old is a fascination thing. The older you get, the older you want to get.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We don't grow older, we grow riper.
Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Interview with DR. JAMES GAMBONE: Filmmaker and Gerontologist


As a gerontologist and filmmaker, Jim combines both talents to offer a unique perspective to film. His work also includes training with intergenerational relationships and he has developed the Intergenerational Dialogue Tool which is used in many social sectors.

How did your early career in the Peace Corps, PhD degree in bilingual/bicultural education and work as a Drop-OUT Prevention Specialist prepare you for your current work in geriatrics?

I grew up in a multigenerational home in a Pittsburgh ghetto with blacks and immigrant families. I was always around adults from all generations and backgrounds for most of my childhood.

I like to think of myself as not necessarily working in “geriatrics,” but rather as an educator (in the tradition of Paulo Friere and Myles Horton) trying to use my various skills and talents to bring generations closer together and have them appreciate the unique and different values they bring to a shared future.

Can you talk about the functionality and impact of your Intergenerational Dialogue Tool™?

It has been 19 years since I created the Intergenerational Dialogue and Action process. I have organized and conducted dialogues and training sessions involving all living generations in every region of this country, and in parts of Canada, Mexico, England. It has been quite a ride and it’s not over yet!

There has been a doctoral dissertation, two doctors of divinity, and numerous articles and commentaries written about my process. I have also trained nearly 1,500 people over the last 18 years how to organize and facilitate my process and other intergenerational conversations. It is part of my lifelong work and hopefully something I will be remembered for after I am gone.

In terms of functionality, I have not found any issue or opportunity that isn’t immediately enhanced by adding more generations to the mix. My process is based on a pretty simple proposition. What you learn at an early age helps form your core values. These are values that last with you throughout you entire life. That means each generation has different core values. If we learn how to respect, care and cooperate across generations, I believe many of the seemingly intractable problems we face can be solved. I am buoyed by the results I have seen so far.


What brought you to the world of writing, producing and film making?


My first moderate foray into media was in 1976, when I was asked to do “on the street interviews” for a video documentary of Minneapolis’ second May Day Parade. However, my big plunge in video production came when I was working as an investigative reporter. An independent TV producer approached me and asked me to join forces on an hour long documentary he was making on rural poverty in Minnesota. That documentary, “In the Midst of Plenty”, appeared on public television a year and a half later to critical acclaim. It is still being used in rural sociology classes across the country.

My biggest career break came in 1981 when Martin Sheen narrated my first 30 minute film “Agent Orange: A Story of Dignity and Doubt”. It took the veterans perspective and the film was distributed worldwide. That enabled me to get a real understanding of the film and TV distribution business.

What triggered your thoughts for your film The Journey Home
?


At 3AM one morning almost four years ago, I woke up from an unusual dream where an entire film was etched very clearly in my mind. I rushed down to my computer and in 20 minutes wrote The Journey Home. Yes the tile was also in the dream and the Spanish dialogue that opens the film. This had never happened to me in 25 years of filmmaking and it meant I had to produce this film.

Before that dream, I was researching for an on line course I was teaching on the future of long-term care. I discovered a crisis looming ahead in the year 2030, with the swelling of the older adult population and need for more caregivers and care facilities. The problem is that neither our politicians nor the elder care industry have put much thought or planning into dealing with a demographic time bomb. To put it into perspective, as the Baby Boomer generation enters the year 2030, over 30% of our population will move towards either semi-dependent or fully dependent living conditions. Never in our modern history have we had an even closely comparable demographic demand placed on an institutional or governmental system. We are entering a situation where our social structures are going to dramatically change and the model of our elder care system will not be exempt.

The film ends with a simple question: What kind of elder care is in your future? Although the film presents a number of important moral and ethical questions, it is not suggesting a direction to go. It invites all who view it to participate at the Journey Home website ( www.thejourneyhome.us) to join in an effort to create a new vision for elder care. At its heart, The Journey Home is designed to be a film calling people to action and to the realization that the year 2030 is not so far off.

Were there particular hurdles that you had to manage successfully in this project?


Money. Money, Money. It is always a problem with independent films. This being a science fiction film located in the year 2030, posed other hurdles on a very small to no budget. But a very creative and imaginative team of filmmakers, friends who bought advance copies of DVD’s to pay for direct costs and people who believed in the power of a dream made this film possible.

Where can people see the film?

You can view the film, a short documentary, the Making of the Journey Home, an interview with me and a Trailer on our website.

What are you working on now?


I am talking with another filmmaker about producing another short fictional film around the modern experience of being in nursing home. I am also trying to distribute The Journey Home-which has now been an Official Selection in three film festivals,- and I continue to teach MA and Ph.D. students at Capella.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Am I an Artist?

By Judith Zausner August 2010 all rights reserved


Academic degrees are not required. There are no certifications. But it is anticipated that you bring passion, dedication and talent to the profession. Do you have it?

Art can be tangible or intangible, practical or impractical, private or public, appreciated or disregarded. Making art exists in a vast arena with no license. But that does not make it easy; it has to satisfy. To be an artist, you have to create and love to create and feel compelled to create. However the process of considering yourself an artist is an inward journey.

Li Gardiner struggled with the concept of taking on the role of an artist and says “Today, if you ask me who I am, or what I do, I will tell you easily and naturally, “I am an artist.” It wasn’t always easy. It took years of doubt to get to this point, but I figured out how to maintain my belief in myself as an artist, in the face of all obstacles.” Read her 10 point check list that outlines her dedication to creativity.

How can you consider yourself an artist? Many people have pictures in their mind of what an artist looks like, how they dress, the way they live and of course what they create. It roots from our knowledge of master painters such as Michelangelo, Renoir, Picasso; artists who captured subjects on canvas with their expertise and vision. Comparing yourself to a famous artist may not be an exercise in elevating your self esteem, but by studying and emulating their techniques, you can improve your work. We’re all different; our abilities, sensitivities and styles make us unique. By developing your talent, believing in your art and securing your confidence, you will be prepared to succeed. Buddha claims “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.”

If you take that inner journey to be an artist, you must fill the path with focus. The dedication and drive required cannot be overestimated. Joan Jeffri’s project “Above Ground: Information on Artists III: Special Focus New York City Aging Artists” studied a group of artists from 62 to 97 years old. Jeffri sums up her findings: “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.” This is not uncommon for prolific and committed artists to continue to pursue making art no matter what hurdles lie in their path. In her book, When Walls Become Doorways, Tobi Zausner describes the creative spirit of artists who overcame physical obstacles to continue their work. An example is Matisse who, confined to his bed or wheelchair, drew on walls and with charcoal attached to a fishing pole, also drew on the ceiling.

With talent, you create. With passion, you commit. Are you an artist?

Monday, August 30, 2010

CHALLENGING ART

Art sits in our universe isolated except for our presence to view it. Yet it is tethered to the creator of the piece who brought his/her passion, imagination and vision to reality.

Sometimes we know about the artist. S/he can be famous or someone totally unknown to us. Our thoughts reside with what we see and assume; an unconscious assumption is that the artist is able bodied. Yet there are many great artists who have met extraordinary challenges to bring their art to our lives. That journey, although not easy was triumphant; filled with an insatiable need to create, powered by the strength to overcome their afflictions and determined to capture all that was important to them. They have transformed their lives and consequently may transform our lives by example.

 Deaf, illiterate, with minimal language skills and probably autistic, James Castle created art. Being pragmatic, he used found materials such as bulk mail, cardboard cartons, and cigarette packages for surfaces, sharpened sticks and twigs for pens, stove soot mixed with his saliva for ink and flour with water to make paste. A self taught artist who lived a relatively isolated life; he beautifully mastered the concept of composition and perspective. His drawings, collages and constructions are now recognized worldwide.

Georgia O’Keefe was a famous American painter who pursued her art even through her elderly years when her health was quite compromised. By the time she was 84 years old, Georgia had only peripheral vision but continued her painting and sculpting by directing an assistant for help. To alleviate the stress of painting and to keep her creative verve, she soon began exploring a new medium, clay, that would offer a tactile experience to compensate for her vision loss and was less visually demanding. Only weeks before her death at a frail 98 years old, she continued to create art.

 Stricken with polio and unable to use his arms, Erich Stegmann learned to use a mouth held brush to draw and paint. Realizing there must be other talented artists who were similarly compromised, he started the Association of Mouth Foot Painting Artists which now includes over 700 artists worldwide. They use either mouth held brushes or toe clenched brushes to create extraordinary art work marketed as greeting cards, calendars, prints and illustrated books. Their goal is to encourage artistic potential and secure financial independence through their art.

Tim Lefens confesses to have been a self absorbed artist when a friend asked him to show his slides at a school for people who could not walk and/or talk. Then his life turned around. He felt compelled to creatively engage these people who were trapped inside bodies that were twisted and distorted; harnessed inflexibly for movement but quietly alive inside. His first approach was to enable their painting by using the wheelchair to make tracks on a floor canvas. After realizing its limitations, he developed a more controlled and dynamic process using headbands equipped with laser beams to select paint colors, brush sizes and location on wall canvas. His non profit Art Realization Technologies, (A.R.T.) “creates systems which enable the uncompromised creative self-expression of people with the most severe physical challenges”.

 Disabled and in constant pain after a trolley accident ripped through her pelvis and spine and left her with broken ribs and eleven fractures in her leg. Frida Kahlo channeled her energy in to art. She was in a body cast and in bed when she began painting self portraits "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best." Her paintings often used symbols and depicted her physical and psychological distress as well as her love of nature and Diego Rivera, her husband and mentor. In 1939 when the Louvre in Paris bought a Kahlo painting, it was its first acquisition of 20th century Mexican art.

 With Down’s syndrome, an inability to hear or speak and thought to be severely retarded, Judith Scott spent 35 years in an institution until her twin sister obtained her release. A self taught artist, she went to a facility every day that encouraged creativity for disabled adults. It was there that she created large non functioning fiber sculptures using discarded objects; wrapping them in bundles and sometimes using other objects. Although she did not understand art or the importance of her work, her sculptures are now shown in galleries and museums around the world.

“Artists with transforming illnesses are heroes of creativity and role models for us all. Working despite innumerable hardships, they shape the essence of our culture and create great beauty in our lives.”-Dr. Tobi Zausner

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”-Goethe

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Famous Octogenarians in the Arts

These octogenarians have enriched our lives by sharing their talent and passion. They have strong creative careers fueled by continuous problem solving, social/business engagements and tenacity which has enabled them to enjoy their success in a long life of accomplishments. It is interesting to note that they all have multiple creative talents that were explored in their careers. These octogenarians are a testament to what neuroscience has shown; creative pursuits will continue to strengthen cognitive ability as we age.

Maya Angelou, 82, A remarkably talented poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist, Angelou has been a constant force in our society. She has been on two presidential committees and awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and 3 Grammy Awards. Dr. Angelou has also received more than 30 honorary degrees and is currently Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.

Harry Belafonte, 83, As an actor,singer and humanitarian, Belafonte's reputation is largely with his Calypso album that triggered new interest in Caribbean music. He sang on the hit 1985 single “We Are the World,” and the next year became UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador.

Mel Brooks, 84, Multi talented film director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor, and producer, he is best known for his comic work and satires. Brooks received an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony award and the 2009 Kennedy Center Honor for his lifetime contribution to the performing arts in American culture. He was husband of the late actress Anne Bancroft.

Carol Channing, 89, An actress and singer, Channing is probably best known for her performance on Broadway in Hello Dolly and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She received three Tony Awards, a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination and an honorary doctorate from California State University Stanislaus. She and her husband, Harry, established a foundation to support the arts in public schools.

Clint Eastwood, 80, As a director, actor, producer and composer, he is best known for his role in action and western films. Eastwood received five Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, two Cannes Film Festival awards, and five People's Choice Awards.

Frank Gehry, 81, A world renowned architect, Gehry lives in California but has dual Canadian/US citizenship. His most acclaimed works are the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; Experience Music Project in Seattle and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis. A recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Vanity Fair also named him as "the most important architect of our age".

Jasper Johns, 80, Painter and Sculptor, Johns is best known for his American Flag paintings as well as the target and number and letter series. As a revolutionary artist, he also used everyday objects such as beer cans in his sculptures.

Cloris Leachman, 84, Actress and winner of eight Primetime Emmy awards, Cloris received more than any other performer. She was a contestant in 2008 on Dancing With The Stars, and at the age of 82, was the oldest contestant to dance on the series. In 2011, Leachman will co-star in a thriller called The Fields.

Jerry Lewis, 84,
Actor and Comedian best known for his slapstick movies with Dean Martin and his major fund raising telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In 2009, he was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Claes Oldenburg, 81, As a sculptor of everyday objects, Oldenburg's public art installations are often very large scale replications of things in our lives such as a typewriter eraser, clothespin, and others. In 2000, he received an award from the National Medal of Arts and was recently commissioned by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)to create art work for its Lenfest Plaza. The sculpture will be 53 feet high in the form of a paintbrush with associated paint on the ground below.

Andre Previn, 81, A pianist, conductor, and composer, he received many honors. He won four Academy Awards for his film work and ten Grammy Awards for his recordings. In 1996, he was appointed an honorary Knight of the Order of British Empire and received Kennedy Center Honors for his contributions to classical music and opera. In 2005 he received the international Glenn Gould Prize and in 2008 won Gramophone magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award for his work. This year, the Recording Academy gave Previn a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

Maurice Sendak, 82 An award winning writer and illustrator of children’s literature, Sendak is best known for WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE which won a Caldecott Medal. His career included collaboration with Carole King and Jim Henson for television animation. Last year, the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia presented There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak.

Paul Taylor,80 As a dancer, he performed in the companies of Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, and George Balanchine, and then, as a choreographer, founded the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1954. He received many honors for his work including the Kennedy Center Honors, an Emmy Award, the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton, and the Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts. He received three Guggenheim Fellowships and honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from multiple American universities. Taylor was also selected as an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Gloria Vanderbilt, 86, As an accomplished designer, artwork in her early career was licensed by Hallmark Cards (a paper based company) and by Bloomcraft (a textile company). Vanderbilt also designed for linens, china, glassware, flatware and scarves. Perhaps her design reputation is strongest as a spokeswoman for her designer blue jeans. She is a socialite and heiress who is also the mother of Anderson Cooper at CNN.

Betty White, 88, A comedian and talk show host, White won six Emmy Awards and was the first woman to receive an Emmy for game show hosting. In 2010, she became the oldest person on Saturday Night Live to be their guest host. White received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and has been celebrated for her involvement with animal charities.

"There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."
-Sophia Loren

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Imagination, Creativity & Confidence

It is the perfect triad: imagination, creativity and confidence. Imagination is the cognitive state of dreaming up new ideas or solution ns, creativity is the process of developing those innovative thoughts to action and confidence happens as a result of making those dreams a reality. It’s a simple equation that constitutes a complex series of events. It may take minutes, days or even years to produce the final project but completion provides closure and builds confidence. Self efficacy is an important concept here because it embraces the belief that your actions can make a difference in producing expected results.

We all have dreams and fantasies, hopes and aspirations and that makes us different from other living creatures. So what sets us apart from each other is that some people can raise their emotional capital and intellectual stamina to seize an opportunity to become innovative. Driven by a thirst for new challenges, they unconsciously disregard feelings of fear and inadequacy. These are people who embrace the unknown and understand that thinking outside the box is about finding the unpredictable, problem solving and being on the winning side of the creative experience.

In her book “When Walls Become Doorways”, Dr. Tobi Zausner writes about how difficult life events can transform an individual and their creative process. As a young woman, Frida Kahlo suffered massive bodily injuries from a bus accident and was restricted to bed for many months. Her mother had a special easel built that could be used by someone lying down and her father gave her oil paint. “Lying in bed, Kahlo started to create the paintings that would eventually make her famous” says Zausner. Kahlo channeled her passion and talent and became a celebrated artist.

Thanks to a dream Elias Howe had, he realized how to fasten the needle and cloth together on the sewing machine he was developing. "I was taken prisoner by a group of natives. They were dancing around with spears. As they were moving around me, I noticed their spears all had holes near their tips." Although the dream was frightening, he translated the dream to make his invention work. By placing a hole near the tip of the needle so thread could pass through, fabric could be sewn on the machine. This is a classic example of how imagination can initiate the creative process and result in confidence as a result of its success.

Sometimes being in a compelling profession inspires thoughts for another creative outlet. Both Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, ER television series, etc. ) and John Grisham (A Time to Kill, Pelican Brief, etc.) had careers in medicine and law respectively. In their work, both surely had “what-if” moments that developed in to a string of possibilities as a mental narrative. And that started their writing careers which spawned such popular novels that they left their professions and devoted themselves to writing. Grisham says “I seriously doubt I would ever have written the first story had I not been a lawyer. I never dreamed of being a writer. I wrote only after witnessing a trial.”

Sometimes a dream can be so prescient that it requires verification in reality. "I woke up with a lovely tune in my head," Paul McCartney recalled to his biographer, Barry Miles. "I thought, 'That's great. I wonder what that is?'" He got up that morning in May 1965, went to the piano, and began playing the melody that would become "Yesterday." While he really liked the tune, he had some reservations: "Because I'd dreamed it, I couldn't believe I'd written it." (U.S. News & World Report. May 15, 2006 print edition). It took 2 weeks to add lyrics and it became one of the most popular songs in history having been voted the #1 Pop song of all time by MTV and Rolling Stone Magazine. The song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Age and talent are not as important as drive in bringing your imagination to an active state of creativity. You can build up your confidence with each process and with every success, no matter how small. So dream, aspire, play and allow yourself to make plenty of mistakes. Be flexible, go with the flow, get lost experimenting. Find the fun, enjoy yourself and trust the process.


We all live every day in virtual environments, defined by our ideas.
-Michael Crichton

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.
-Vincent Van Gogh

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Creating Success by Mistake

Most of us don’t like to make mistakes. It feels lousy, it wastes our time, it frustrates us. Yet many mistakes are opportunities in disguise. If you are mentally flexible and can look at things from different perspectives, you may have a Eureka moment. What may appear as a mistake because it did not provide the solution you were looking for, can turn out to be a fabulous bonanza.

Take a look at these extraordinary people and how they turned their mistakes around to achieve success.

 Andrew Mason is the CEO of the fast rising Groupon (www.groupon.com) and says that he started his business as a total mistake. In less than 2 years, the business is global with over 600 employees.

 Spencer Silver was at 3M trying to develop an extra strong adhesive when he accidently developed a product that performed exactly the opposite. Fortunately he did not disregard it because 10 years later it was used to make one of the most successful office products on the market: Post-it® notes

 Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin by accident. He noticed mold spores had contaminated his bacteria samples but, looking at it more closely, realized the mold formed was dissolving harmful bacteria. That observation resulted in Penicillin and has saved millions of lives.

 Frank Epperson was only 11 years old when he invented the popsicle by mistake. He had forgotten his flavored water concoction on his porch overnight in the freezing cold weather and remaining in it was his stirring stick. And the popsicle was born.

 Gandma Moses began her painting career by accident. She was wallpapering her parlor and ran out of paper so to complete the project she put up white paper and painted a scene. That was the very beginning of what was to become a very successful career as a painter.

In business there are plenty of mistakes and honoring them instead of delivering a reproachful attitude makes a difference in corporate culture. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, said: “It's fine to celebrate success, but it's more important to heed the lessons of failure. How a company deals with mistakes suggests how well it will bring out the best ideas and talents of its people, and how effectively it will respond to change."

And what about our personal challenges? Even when our head is focused on being right and not making a mistake, life happens. We’re thinking it wrong, rushing it through, compromising with materials or just getting it done. Even though the result may appear to be a mistake because the outcome does not satisfy your intention, do you just toss it aside and start anew or do you take some time to reflect on it? Post-it® notes was not the planned outcome and getting to that point took about 10 years. The glue inventor shelved his idea for years before he had a serendipitous situation that triggered product development.

So it is important to evaluate all that we do as valuable. It means more than having a special way of looking at things and a unique approach to solutions; it also means keeping a vigil eye and a flexible mind. It means a willingness to take more risks and thrive in the experimental process.

Exercising creative thinking and patience can have its rewards.


"Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly."
~ Robert F. Kennedy

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Albert Einstein

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Age Communities: Part 2

The focus on aging should be less about the body and more about its place in a community. That’s the premise of Philip Stafford’s book Elderburbia: Aging with a Sense of Place in America. It offers scholarship, research and basic advice on aging and environment and addresses the movement towards elder friendly communities. It addresses the value of memory and meaning in one’s own space.

So for those who want to age at home and engage in a community experience, there is a wave of options. Many communities are variations of NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities) but there are also niche new age communities available.

Elderspirit Cohousing,http://www.elderspirit.net
Rooted in the spiritual path for people of different religious beliefs, its foundation is based on providing mutual respect, support and service to each other and the community as a whole. A cohousing neighborhood is currently being planned in Abingdon, Virginia.

Burbank Senior Artist Colony, http://www.seniorartistscolony.com
Are you an artist who wants to continue your creative spirit with like minded peers? This is a unique apartment rental community for seniors that provides opportunities to engage in visual arts, theater and writing. There is plenty of entertainment and socialization to keep you in the swing.

Senior Housing Solutions. http://www.srhousingsolutions.org
Affordable housing for seniors is available in California for those with restricted incomes. Rent is a fraction of a person’s social security benefits so the financial stress is lifted and the comprehensive health, safety, socialization and support services can be enjoyed.

Since there are a growing number of older adults who want to remain in their homes and communities, these communities will face an opportunity and a challenge. Independent seniors can represent civic, social and financial assets and often will volunteer to support important causes. However these communities will also need to take the responsibility of supporting less able bodied elders who may have health care, transportation and other needs. Understanding the impact of this socioeconomic situation, The AdvantAge Initiative (http://www.vnsny.org) helps counties, cities and towns prepare for the increasing number of older adults who wish to age in place.

Want to start your own community? Gayatri Erlandson, PhD is a consultant on cohousing and offers this advice:“
If you are planning to start a community, regardless of its eventual size, I highly recommend starting with a very small group of people — those with very similar needs, values, goals, and thus vision for a community. In the beginning, it is very important to be exclusive, rather than inclusive. Instead of having a larger group who try over potlucks to hash out the particulars for years (seven on average!), start with just 2-3 people, maybe even just yourself!


Think big, act small, build a community.

Eleanor Roosevelt: “Friends, you and me... you brought another friend... and then there were three... we started our group... our circle of friends... and like that circle... there is no beginning or end.”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Age Communities

We’re all part of communities. It is where we live, our family, our friends, place of worship, recreational club and other special places where we are part of a group with like interests. The nucleus of our community is our home, our personal space where we welcome various people from our other communities. It is that physical space that holds precious memories of experiences shared and also holds physical objects that are sentimental. So many of us have a comfort level in our personal dwelling that will keep us there until our needs begin to change.

Now there are non traditional creative options to aging in place.

Natural Occurring Retirement Communities
, NORCs are a new important trend for older adults. They are not planned but evolve by demographics in a specific area and responds to community needs (eg. Heath services, transportation) and strengths (eg. nearby shopping center). It can be a vertical NORC such as a high rise apartment building or it can encompass a section of single family homes where many seniors reside. There are social, health and service benefits available within a NORC. Public and private partnerships work together to support on site services and activities while government agencies and philanthropic organizations help fund the project. While offering these resources, its goal is also to empower older adults to be proactive in their community, develop strong social bonds and maximize their well being.

Building a Village: Similar to NORCs, villages are developed by older adults who choose to age in place. They want a community that will fuel their social needs as well as provide needed personal, health and transportation services. It is a membership based grass roots organization where neighbors help neighbors and coordinated by both volunteers and paid staff. Although it can take a couple of years to roll into action, the results are so positive that there are now about 50 across the country and over 600 in development. Urban areas like Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Massachusetts and Burning Tree community in Bethesda, Maryland are prime examples of seniors taking responsibility to help each other remain in their homes.

Aging in Place: A Virtual Retirement Community: This is a less structured organization than NORCs and Villages described above. It is a group of older adults aging in place within a specific geographic area. The community formed in Cambridgeport near Cambridge, Massachusetts is under the leadership of Polly Allen, who worked with many local volunteers and SeniorsConnect.This city wide networking model is easier to start since the cost is minimal and does not require a large number of participants to function. They meet primarily online to arrange social activities and respond to opportunities to help each other and share expertise. Support of volunteers is important for basic essentials such as meals, transportation and tax counseling.

If you are a senior who wants to continue to live independently, there are unique choices to optimize your daily living. Additional information and support is often available from your local council on aging.

He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Never be the only one, except, possibly, in your own home.
Alice Walker

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Creativity, Conformity and Aging

Creativity is about taking risks to make something new; to explore, conceive, develop, dream of something that has not existed before. There are no rules except those which may be inherent in a product that must function. On the contrary, conformity is all about rules and staying within boundaries. This can mean masking your persona to adapt in a job or social group so you are accepted by its commonalities. It can be especially true in organizational structures where politics play an important role and maintaining the group’s expectations and invisible guidelines are paramount. Peer pressure to conform is with us from childhood on to our later years. However Psychologist Robert Ornstein, PhD (author of The Psychology of Consciousness) says “If you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.” Although creativity and conformity are different entities, some people have been able to dream, conform and succeed. It’s about having a vision and knowing that it will fit in the world around you.

Inspired by seeing a voluptuous doll on the market in Germany, Ruth Handler made some observations. She saw that her daughter was playing with adult paper dolls rather than children and babies and that these dolls were all flat chested. So in 1959, she designed her first Barbie doll, an attractive small scale plastic feminine figure with improbable proportions and breasts. Ruth thought young girls would enjoy role playing with a three dimensional doll fashioned to look stylish and youthful as they look toward their growing up years. She revolutionized the doll industry by creating a play figure that was completely different from any on the market and she followed it by giving Barbie a boyfriend, Ken (both named for her children). It was a huge design leap and yet her brilliant creativity was anchored on understanding the psychological needs of young girls. Ruth says “The consumer made the Barbie doll an instant success”

Thomas Edison held more patents than any other person in US history. Yet he was not your stereotypical reclusive and struggling inventor; he enjoyed collaboration and had 6 or more main assistants with unique expertise to help him. “One of Edison’s greatest overlooked talents was his ability to assemble teams and set up an organizational structure that fostered many people’s creativity,” says Greg Field, historian. He had a genius mind for creating new devices while relishing the group process where success of the group means conforming to the underlying group rules (perhaps his own). And his inventions needed to conform to society’s needs to be successful.

Yet groups can thwart creativity. Jeremy Dean, a researcher at University College London, writes about Why Group Norms Kill Creativity. “When groups are asked to think creatively the reason they frequently fail is because implicit norms constrain them in the most explicit ways. This is clearly demonstrated in a recent study carried out by Adarves-Yorno et al. (2006). They asked two groups of participants to create posters and subtly gave each group a norm about either using more words on the poster or more images.

Afterwards when they judged each others' work, participants equated creativity with following the group norm; the 'words' group rated posters with more words as more creative and the 'images' group rated posters with more images as more creative. The unwritten rules of the group, therefore, determined what its members considered creative. In effect groups had redefined creativity as conformity.”

So how does aging fit with creativity and conformity? There lies the paradox. As we age, we can continue to develop new neural networks if we are actively engaged in activities that may be social, creative, cognitive and/or physical. Sure we can have memory lapses and concentration difficulties but older adults also have beneficial neurological changes. Pattern recognition and more efficient brain signal transmission provides stronger problem solving capability. And problem solving is integral to the creative process where there are many potential solutions and no fast conclusions. So it would appear that as mature adults we can be mentally wired for new explorations and more creativity yet what halts so many? I believe it is fear of the unknown, unwilling to risk social exclusion, depression based on health concerns and the comfort of their recliner. Motivation to seek new challenges is just as important as the discipline to eat nutritious food and exercise regularly. As Eric Maisel, PhD, creator of the Meaning Solution Program, says “Life feels more meaningful when you decide that your creativity matters.”

Conformity and creativity are part of the landscape of our lives. Finding ways to effectively manage them to strengthen our spirit as we age is a critical lesson for all of us.


"We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing."
--George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Interview with MARIE ULMER: Artist



MARIE ULMER is an amazing 92 year old artist living in Philadelphia. She is focused and talented and shares her life story in the Arts.

When did you realize that you wanted to make Art?

As far as I can remember, I always wanted to make Art. I started out drawing myself and then created drawings of the neighborhood children

Where did you study art?
I studied at what is now called University of the Arts but was called School of Industrial Art when I went there. I chose that school because they had a variety of subjects that I was interested in. I graduated in 1941.

What kind of art did you specialize in?

I specialized in illustration and used watercolor and gouache.

Did you work other places before your career at the Free Library?
I had various jobs before the library. During war time, it was hard to get a job so I worked at a few places including a drafting job for a couple of years. Then I was hired at the Free Library. They hired me to shelve books. Since they did not have an art department at the time, a boy and I started it. I became involve in setting exhibits, designing showcases, and making posters, brochures flyers, and leaflets. The work was very varied. I worked there for 31 years when I took retirement.

What kind of art do you especially enjoy?

I enjoy fantasy illustrations.

I understand that you may have an upcoming show.

Yes, the owner of the Bambi Gallery on 2nd Street in Philadelphia is interested in my work. He’s planning to put together a show in cooperation with another gallery. I have hundreds of pieces of work at home and have worked in many mediums including ceramics, weaving, painting, and jewelry making. I also have written poetry.

You have been retired for many years. Do you have some words of wisdom for keeping your passion for art alive?

Art is just something I have to do, it keeps me going, I always look forward to it!

To read more about Marie, http://www.phillyartgalleries.com/art-news/09-9-bambi-gallery.htmclick here

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Value of Compassion and Kindness

How many ways can you show that you care? The answer is a stream of answers. You probably know the litany: remembering a birthday, calling to check on a sick friend or relative, extending yourself on the street to someone in need, volunteering in your community, listening to another person’s problems and responding with words to soothe and encourage. And so on and so on.

But there are often situations where you want to extend yourself and just do not know how. It can be sensitive: a friend has lost a job, someone you know is grieving for a loved one, a terminal diagnosis was received. These are times to reach inside yourself for strength and courage to show your support and give of yourself. Not everyone can provide financial help but we all have internal resources. You may have time, knowledge, energy, skills that can be useful. Take a pause to reflect on what could be of value to that person and how you can deliver it. Creativity is important here. There are dynamics to give appropriately because it necessitates reflection about the person, the circumstance and your resources. And yes, there is risk as well as benefits. You are stepping outside your comfort zone to help affect positive change. “Giving is a risky business, as is any action that creates a relation with another human being. Those who prefer safety are unlikely to go out to others in the spontaneous way that generosity requires,” says Ted Malloch in his book Being Generous who donates its proceeds to www.GlobalGiving.org

It’s interesting that both compassion and caring can be passive. You can think about someone and feel compassion, likewise you may care about someone and simply have that caring in your heart. Caring is a feeling that you hold inside you; it does not require action. You can care deeply for someone and not actively do anything. Kindness is action taken because of caring. As a result of caring, you extend yourself in an act of kindness.

Consider Karen Armstrong who began Charter for Compassion (http://charterforcompassion.org) which encourages not just thoughts but acts of compassion. The charter is “Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.” Individuals can log in and tell their stories; some now include repairing bicycles, baby sitting, giving a hug to a crying man and many more touching vignettes (http://charterforcompassion.org/act/#). People are taking responsibility to reach out to others, make a difference and share their stories.

Oprah Winfrey is a leader in bringing compassion and kindness to thousands of people. Whether it’s partnering to give away cars, building a school in South Africa or simply interviewing people who have had difficult times, Oprah makes relating to people a feel good experience. Her Angel Network (http://www.oprah.com/angel_network.html) was established to foster the movement of giving to others.

While all of this may appear purely sociological, there are physiological components and benefits. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, studied generosity and found a link to hormonal levels of oxytocin (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moral-molecule/200911/the-science-generosity). He says “Oxytocin connects us to others and social connections are a powerful way to increase one's own happiness. If you want to connect to others, being generous is a great start.”
At the National Institutes of Health, neuroscientist Jordan Grafman sees definitive changes in brain scans. "Those brain structures that are activated when you get a reward are the same ones that are activated when you give. In fact, they're activated more." Another study looked at former heart patients at Duke University Medical Center who volunteered to visit heart patients currently in treatment and offer support. They found that volunteers who participated in this program enjoyed healthier lives after their heart attacks.
So if you are looking to do good and feel great, extend yourself to help others. It’s a simple remedy for living well and making our society a better place.

Scott Adams, creator of DILBERT:

Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.

Mark Twain
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.