It is the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 2011, just a few short weeks ago:

I wheel my mother, in a borrowed chair, from the assisted living facility where she has been since September, 2011, into my father’s room in the memory care unit. He’s been here since July. One never knows whether my father will be sleeping or alert, and, if alert, whether he will be pleasant or cranky, or, for that matter, know who we are.

But, today is a good day.

As my mother and I enter the room, he is sitting in his rocking chair, awake. “Well, look who’s here,” he says and smiles. He recognizes us, although he may not know exactly who we are—his devoted wife and firstborn child—but he knows we are people familiar to him, people connected in the heart with him. My mother smiles, greets my father with, “Hi, honey,” in a clear and loud voice, so his near-deaf ears can hear. She gets out of the wheelchair; he eases himself out of the rocking chair. They are two frail humans coming to each other. They embrace.

“I love you,” my father says.

“I love you, too,” my mother responds.

And, I am touched.

Today is my parents’ sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. My father is ninety-two and my mother, eighty-eight. Their wedding picture (shown above) hangs over my father’s bed. If you ask him who that gorgeous couple in the photograph is, he can’t tell you.

My father sits back in the rocking chair and beams at both of us. I wheel my mother in her chair so that she’s able to sit next to him. I tell my father that today he and my mother have been married for sixty-five years. “Oh, really? I didn’t know that,” he says. He reaches over and clasps my mother’s hand.

I sit across from them on my father’s bed and, finally, relax.

It was iffy, very iffy, as to whether they’d make it to this anniversary.

Just two days before, my mother, with a terminal medical condition, experienced a sudden appearance of symptoms (redness and swelling in her neck) that were excruciatingly painful. Upon the recommendation of her hospice nurse and the doctor, she and I went to the emergency room (where we spent ten hours–yes, ten) to have her situation evaluated. The verdict was that nothing could be done except manage the pain.

Mysteriously, by the next day, the redness and swelling had begun to recede, although she was still very uncomfortable. By today the redness and swelling have become even less noticeable.

During the visit this afternoon, I use my cell phone to call my sister so she can speak briefly with my parents. By then my father has no recollection of what I’ve told him about the significance of this day. When my sister says, “Happy anniversary, Daddy,” he smiles, but has no comprehension of what that means.

Later, I slip out of the room to talk with one of my daughters on my phone. When I walk back into the room, my mother reports, “Well, your father asked me if I would be his partner for life.” She smiles. Over the past few years, as my father’s memory has became more and more tattered, he has occasionally asked my mother if she would marry him. Even in the vast, confusing spaces of his mind, he knows my mother is his beloved.

“So, I guess we’ve got that all worked out,” my mother says, a wry smile parting her lips.

Sixty-five years. Lots of wrinkles and gritty, hard losses. Lots of will and determination. Lots of thing to get worked out. And, each day, now, a struggle for my mother. But, for her, this is a good day. And, why not? It’s not every day that you get a heartfelt marriage proposal from the man of your dreams.


It’s Monday, 6:00 in the morning, a time when my generally restless, wound-up body is finally wedging itself into a dark and dreamy hollow of the night. Something causes me to stir. Is it my cell phone ringing, or did I dream it? Dread, it’s the phone. Only someone dialing a wrong number, or someone who doesn’t know I’m a night owl, or someone calling because of an emergency would be plunging a hand through the sticky web of my sleep.

Heart racing, I swing my feet to the floor and dash down the hallway to the kitchen where my phone is plugged into the charger. As I feared, my mother’s identification shows up on the lit window of my phone.

Her voice is strained, her words rusty at the edges. “Your father’s fallen again. They’ve taken him to the hospital. I don’t know how it happened. I couldn’t get a good answer. One person said he was asleep on the couch. Another person said he’d fallen out of the chair. They’re going to call you.”

“Mother, I’m on the way. I’ll be there shortly.”

The day before was my father’s ninety-second birthday. My mother and I planned a party, of sorts, at the facility where he and my mother are now residing, she in the assisted living section, my father in the Alzheimer’s unit. My mother’s had a ragged ride of life in the last several years, having been the sole caregiver for my father until he was placed in this facility in July of this year. For a time, she seemed to let go a bit, to accept that others would provide care for him. However, once she moved into the facility in September, she’s become increasingly involved with his care, resuming as much of her old script as her health and energy allow. Like a hawk, she keeps track of what he eats, when he sleeps, how often his clothes are changed. With every incident like this–the fall this morning–her anxiety rises, her vigilance expands.

“Daddy, your birthday is tomorrow,” I’d said to him on Saturday, when I’d dropped off the napkins, plates, and cups for his party. “You’ll be ninety-two.”

“Oh, really?” he said as he sat rocking in his chair. “I didn’t know it was my birthday.” He smiled when I told him we’d have cake and ice cream and give him a party the following day.

On Sunday I brought in the store-bought cake, equipped with big globs of butter cream frosting shaped like balloons. The caremanagers at the facility gathered the residents, some of whom were in wheelchairs, others ambulatory, none knowing what was happening other than they were being herded into the dining room to enjoy something sweet.

We sang “Happy Birthday,” I cut the cake, and used a knife as big as a machete to slice slabs of vanilla/chocolate/strawberry ice cream onto brightly colored paper plates. My father’s neighbors, like he, seemed to enjoy their sweets. Alzheimer’s and dementia do not diminish the taste for sugar! At the end of it all, my mother was pleased. “It went as well as we could have expected,” she said. “It was a good day.”

My mother’s days are defined by my father’s state of mind.

Today is another day. I find my father in room 17 of the emergency room. He’s alone on the gurney. I’m surprised no one has escorted him from the facility, but then, they knew I’d be coming. He’s surprisingly coherent. “What’s going on?” he asks.

“Daddy, you’re here because you fell. They have to check you out to be sure you don’t have broken bones.” He fiddles with the red plastic cap they’ve put on the index finger of his right hand to monitor his blood oxygen. He wants it removed. Repeatedly, in the next four hours, his attention returns to the plastic cap and he asks what it’s for and whether he can take it off.

It is clear to me that my father is okay. The staff at the facility had him taken here to protect him and themselves. I settle in, somewhat, knowing this will not be a short trip, but free of the anxiety that he has sustained a serious injury with his fall.

Ultimately, my father is x-rayed and my mother arrives in time to cajole him to be still while his blood is drawn. By 11:30 we are ready to leave, my father declared to be broken-bone free with no evidence of injury from the fall.

My mother has insisted on driving over to the hospital. “I’m just pacing back and forth, waiting to get word from you,” she’d said over the telephone. Knowing that I have a work appointment soon, she insists she will drive my father back to the facility where they reside. I follow them there. I’ve done what I can.

For years my mother has made of her life a blur in contrast to the sharp lines she has drawn around my father’s. But, then, devotion and many years bound together have a chemistry, a mystery that I, their eldest daughter, cannot possibly penetrate.

No matter how often I have tried.

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Miriam saw me sitting outside her room and waved. She came out, looking like a little girl, with her short cotton nightshirt and white socks. She stood in front of me, brought her hands to shoulder height, palms up, and uttered her refrain, “I don’t know what to do.” Then she looked down at her nightshirt, delicately pinched the fabric, raising it a few inches, and asked, “What should I do with this?” The wrinkles above her knees fell in cascades like rumpled lace. I wanted to gather her up in my arms and hold her.

Instead, I suggested that she sit in the living room and watch television. I told her that her nightshirt was lovely, and she didn’t need to do anything with it but leave it on.

Miriam is one of my father’s new neighbors. They, along with close to thirty other men and women, are residents of a “memory care” unit in an assisted living facility. It was on the second or third evening of my father’s entrance into the facility that I discovered that Miriam has a loop inside her mind that has her constantly stating, “I don’t know what to do,” and asking others for direction. Miriam is probably one of those feisty, capable women who spent much of her life being busy, involved with some activity. Her mental confusion leaves her with a terrible loss.

On my father’s first night in this facility, when my sister and I brought him in, I was assaulted with new images, many of which made me want to walk—or run—away. We each held one of my father’s hands and escorted him into the dining room. My mother had told my father that she could no longer care for him at home, so this was a necessary move. But any explanations offered an hour ago, or a few minutes ago, were lost.

As soon as we entered the dining room, my father knew he’d been had. My sister and I had told him we going to dinner. But, this was no restaurant, and he knew it. A third of the diners were sitting in wheel chairs. Some were asleep. One was slumped over her plate.

My father’s strong and abiding sense of social propriety prevented him from making a scene, but he let my sister and me know he was not a happy camper. He pulled on my hand and I turned to see his face. His jaws were locked. He hissed, “Shit. S-H-I-T.” We proceeded to the table. My sister and I sat on either side of him and prompted him to begin eating his dinner—a sandwich, salad, and chips. After several minutes he leaned toward my sister and said, “There are a lot of elderly people here, a lot older than I am.” He seemed as horrified as I was.

How quickly things can change. In less than a week, my father stopped asking about leaving the facility. He stopped threatening me with his cane if I didn’t bring my red truck around to take him home. I visit now in the evenings. Sometimes, when I offer him the protein drink he’s loved for years, he can’t remember what it is. But, when I bring it to him, he accepts it graciously, always offers me some, and relishes the sweet, chocolate liquid. He smiles at the setting sun when I take him outside. He tells me to drive safely when I tell him I’m heading home.

For the first few days of my father’s confinement here, I flew out the door of the locked unit when I ended my visits, savoring my freedom, the “normalness” of the world outside. Then my perspective changed. Maybe it was Miriam and my affection for her, the kindness of the caregivers, or my father’s acceptance of his situation. Almost six weeks later, the world inside the unit has become familiar and normal in its own right. The caregivers are kind and patient, forgiving the occasional profanities, the belligerence that even my Southern-gentlemanly father can show. The devotion of family members is touching; and the residents are just people, with eccentricities and endearing traits.

Last night Miriam was wearing a lovely coral-colored sweater. “I don’t know what to do,” she said, and I suggested she go to the living room where others were sitting. I complimented her sweater and asked her if she’d had it a long time. “It’s pretty old,” she said, “but not too old.”

I suspect that describes us all: pretty old, but not too old.

When I began this blog over a year ago, I was holding on to my worries about aging and wrinkled skin like a child clutching an old rag doll. I’ve made some strides since then, managing, at times, to find genuine beauty in the creases and lines that life leaves on our fleshy surfaces. Losing one’s glowing, youthfully smooth epidermis is one thing. Losing one’s memory and capacity to reason is another. Wrinkles, shminkles. Vanity is a silly old doll. Time for me to let her go.

Like the wrinkles around Miriam’s knees, life is often rumpled. But, it’s lace, nonetheless. And, it’s okay not to know what to do.

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There’s an old woman with a weathered face and a white halo of hair standing in a stone amphitheatre. I fell in love with that image, a photo in a National Geographic magazine, over twenty years ago. The image itself was a beautiful one, but what made it stunning was the story. The woman was building that amphitheatre, stone by stone, and had been working on it for years.

What was it about the woman and her story that touched me so? I’m not sure I knew then. I do now: I loved that she was old. I loved that she was building something. I loved that she had a vision and was following it. Would she live to see the amphitheatre completed? Who knows? She seemed to be doing what her heart guided her to do.

Some years back, when I went to look for that picture, sure that I’d saved that issue of the magazine, I was disappointed because it was not to be found. But, I’ve hardly needed it, as I’ve recalled it fondly so many times. Perhaps the image guided me, or I simply recognized some part of myself: an old woman toting stones, an old woman wanting to build something.

I suspect, now that I am in my sixties, that, as long as I can still stand, I will want to build things, to create something of the visions that I have.

A few weeks ago I was standing next to my thirteen-year-old truck, getting ready to fill the tank, when I looked up to see a friend filling her fancy new Prius. Hugs, warm greetings. A little catching up on the affairs in her life. My friend is several years younger than I, a darling woman with a playful smile who’s endured some significant losses in her life and several serious surgeries.

“So, what are you up to?” she asked.

“Remember I told you I’d been looking to buy another piece of land?”

“Oh, yeah, you’re still at it?”

“Actually,” I said, “I finally found ten acres! I’m set to close on the deal next week.”

She raised her eyebrows, cocked her head. I’m not sure what she was expecting me to say. She knew I’d had a parcel of land before, had spent considerable energy to establish a home there, after years of dreaming about it, and then, due to circumstances unforeseen, had moved after only a year and sold the property.

Did she expect me to say I’d bought a townhouse in the middle of the city? That I was moving to a retirement village? That I’d given up my dream and was content to sit in my rocker?

Was there a little defiance—or was it apology—in my voice when I said, “Yeah. I’m doing it all over again.”

Not unkindly, still with her playful smile, but, certainly, uncomprehending of such folly, she said, “Why?”

Why, indeed, at the age of sixty-three would I wish to take on my current project? Ten acres. No house. Starting from scratch, clearing the land, making a new nest.

It is the dream of lots of blooms (hundreds of Mexican sunflowers and even more bees), a lush vegetable garden (dozens of native squash), a funky house, some chickens, maybe a couple of goats, and the moon and stars as my companions at night that pull me to the country.

Whether or not it is folly, like the old woman in the National Geographic, I am destined to keep laying down the stuff of my dreams. Today, I am that old woman toting stones. The stones pictured here are ones I have moved from one home to another for almost two decades. Now they sit on my new property, waiting for my inspiration. They seem heavier today than they did some years ago, and the bricks I’ve accumulated seem more dense and more numerous. But, as long as I’m still standing, I will piece together the sticks and stones of hopes and loves and dreams.

How about you? Do you have some dreams and visions you’ve been toting around for a while? How do you piece them together?

Please also see my writing at (where I am describing my efforts on my new homesite), at, and at

Spring, which comes early in North Florida, has intoxicated me. But, my head is not so buried in blossoms that I’ve forgotten about my mission here: to discover the beauty in aging, in general, and wrinkles, in particular.

Things are looking up! Since those bleak days in late January and early February when I was recovering from the flu, I have been a busy bird. Attending two classes the entrance requirements for which were age—only those fifty-five and older were allowed—have kept me and my red truck flying up and down the road.

And, wrinkles! For the past couple of months, my friends, I’ve had a flock of wrinkles to gaze upon. What better opportunity for me than finding a group of wrinkled writers!

Flashback to February and March:

I am sitting in a room at the university, surrounded by twenty or so aspiring writers. We are signed up for a memoirs writing class. Each week for six weeks we are prompted and inspired by the instructor, a woman who proved to be extremely adept at finding something worthwhile in our earnest chicken scratchings.

Every Tuesday morning the classroom flutters with creative energy, eyes sharp and shiny, claws clutching a life-time’s worth of stories. There is Patricia, who’s written about her nocturnal escapades in search of an offending armadillo, and Denise with her stories about her adopted daughter. There is Bill who’s got a tale about losing his footwear, and nearly his life, going over a waterfall, and Cam, who writes a story about her daughter that will stop your heart.

And, there is Mary Jo, who’s lived a long and rich life, grateful for all of it, and eager to get down her stories for her grandchildren. She doesn’t know it, but I am as fascinated by the lines and grooves on her face and arms as by the stories she tells. Her face is expressive and when she talks, her facial wrinkles jiggle and re-adjust themselves, emphasizing what she is saying, like quotation marks and exclamation points punctuating her prose.

I perch on the edge of my chair in the room each week and gobble up the stories of these people like me who are confident enough to believe they have something to say, humble enough to learn, and courageous enough to risk exposing who they really are.

But this spring brought me not just a group of writers. It also brought me a set of ten elderwomen, juicy with adrenaline and the willingness to step out of their comfort zones, to try…(the drums are rolling, the mockingbirds are singing)…improv. Yes, improv, as in improvisational acting.

In one class, we were given the opportunity to choose a hat to wear, then in a minute or two to come up with a character who might wear that hat. With no time to think about it, we were paired with another member of the class and were given a setting in which to dramatize…something. In one skit, I wore a red-feathered, prim little hat and was a Frenchwoman whose husband had gotten lost at a carnival. The exhilaration of winging it through this silly drama had me flying high for the rest of the evening.

This group of ten women came together, once a week for eight weeks, through the efforts of a woman named Martha who has taught acting classes for a decade to people over the age of fifty-five.

There was Tisha, quick on her feet, who gave an improbably engaging monologue on the red reading glasses that hung around her neck. There was Sue, who cracked me up as a park ranger, imposing in her wide-brimmed hat, drolly insulting her audience. And there was Ann, whose blue eyes and body language had me laughing as she cried in an imaginary clock shop over her dear, departed—also imaginary—husband.

What prompted these women to risk looking inept? What made them want to stand in front of others with no script, just wits and wrinkles? Likely, it is the same thing that prompted me. It is that gift of aging—that wriggling and writhing, primitive urge to come unbound. It is the sometimes kindly, sometimes raspy voice from within that says, “If not now, when?”

So, I sit now, poised, surveying the landscape. Both of the spring classes are over, but have allowed me to see, more and more, how eager I am—a fledgling that’s finding her wings—to create what I can in the time I have left. And, how about you? What is one thing you are doing today that is prompted by your inner voice to take a risk, to step off your comfortable limb and test your wings? What is it that you do that keeps your eyes sharp and shiny and makes you want to sing?

These past couple of months have also brought me the acquaintance of some like-minded, creative little chicks whose blogging efforts are something to behold. Please check them out. And, oh my, there is serendipity in the wind! As I am finishing this post, I have visited the site of Piglet in Portugal (, who has some wonderful pictures of weathered old men and some engaging comments about her own aging process. And I have stopped in at the site of Enjoy Creating ( to find some lovely photos, including a robin with nesting material in its beak. And, lastly, I have recently met Midlife Train Ride ( whose posts are beautifully honest, as she explores her yearnings for balance and a more creative life.

I invite you, also, to see my other writing at and At you will see my writing and photography and that of three other elderwomen.

It is not looking good for the laundry today. The sky is gray-white. My wheelbarrow held close to five inches of rain from last night’s shower. Which means that the laundry that I hung outside two days ago has had some serious rinsing. When I hung it out on Thursday, the clouds had parted slightly and there was enough movement of air to have me believe that my one pair of jeans, a towel, and several other random items might dry, or least relinquish some of their load of moisture, in the course of the afternoon.

I stopped using a dryer several years ago, not entirely driven at the time by my earth-mother, green-girl self; but I discovered that I make do just fine hanging clothes outside, and, on occasion, inside. I live alone, so I don’t have to apologize to anyone about the occasional laundry hanging in doorways.

On Thursday, I knew I was taking a chance when I hung out my stuff, but my intention was to bring it in before I left for a late afternoon class. In the flurry of pulling on warm clothes, fluffing my hair, and slapping in my contact lenses, I forgot.

After my class, I drove home in the rain. No big deal. Wouldn’t be the first time my laundry had a little celestial rinsing. So, my jeans hung out all day yesterday; and here they are today.

And, dear ones, I just can’t get too stirred up about it. Just as my laundry is water-logged, I’m a bit so, myself. Nothing like a bout with the flu, week before last, to remind me of my mortality, my health concerns, and the amazing amount of mucus that one body can generate.

When I stepped outside this morning with my dog and was greeted by those drooping drawers, I’ll admit I was struck with a mixture of some embarrassment and a little prick of conscience that suggested, “Shouldn’t you get those in, wash them again, and hang them in the house?”

But this physical lassitude, this sodden-ness of spirit, which has occurred in the aftermath of the flu, responded with, “Nanh, not yet.” The flu has brought me a gift, in the same way that my consciousness about my own aging has done, forcing me to address the basics, to get down to what is really important in my closet of dreams and goals.

I’m already very picky about where I exert energy and effort, and my bout with the flu has turned up the heat, like the fever I had for several days, and seems to be saying, “Sit very still and listen to your heart. Feel the current of your own river, and go where you are intended to go.”

So, I’m sitting today, less worried about wrinkled skin and liver spots than I was a couple of weeks ago, gazing out at the future, knowing there will be plenty of days of sunny skies and dry laundry. But, for now, a little worse for the wear, I’m content to sit in my watery milieu, a crazy critter in the tank that’s my life, and allow myself to swim only toward my very best destiny.

As you contemplate your own mortality, as you consider what is most important in your life, what do you come up with? When illness comes, strips the leaves from the trees, and shrouds the sky, what emerges for you?

A year ago I decided to stop hugging the sides of buildings, furtively looking over my shoulder to see how close the stranger was on my heels. A fugitive in a made-up land, constantly on the run, I was too frightened to address my own aging.

Despite the fact that I had been, for years, furiously attempting to achieve one goal and then another before the sun set, I was, frankly, unaware just how terrified I was of the ultimate sunset, the last spin in the cycle of my life.

A few years ago it became apparent that, for all of my stealth and determination to grow a dozen dreams, I had spent several years taking two steps forward, two steps back. It seemed there might be no last hurrah at this stage of my life, just a lot of standing still, and worn out Reeboks.

In 2003, a relationship had been broken. I crawled, staggered, then lurched forward two years later, summoning my gods, and set my sights on moving to country property I owned. I purchased a used mobile home (you’d be amazed at what $2,000 can buy), primed and painted it inside and out, gave it a new, tiled kitchen counter, tore up old carpet, spent hours on my hands and knees removing staples, and, finally, laid new flooring.

A year later, it shone with sweat and the power of my dream, nurtured for a decade, to live on this parcel of land. I moved into my tiny home, a diminutive palace on an eleven-acre queendom, where I enjoyed a beautiful pond and the garden I had tended for years. A year later, the dream was dashed by events, both commonplace and unfathomed: the owner of the adjoining property removed hundreds of trees, and in a matter of weeks had demolished the vital sound barrier that protected me from the industrial noise of a plywood manufacturing plant.

I was stunned, struggling for days to assure myself that I could adjust. But the noise rattled me to the core. I moved back into my house, fortunate to have a haven. It was as if my feet had never moved.

Still, I wasn’t ready to grapple with how I felt, deeply, intuitively, about crossing the finish line of my fifties. The race, itself, this unconscious struggle to either get to or by-pass the finish line of my life, had precluded compassionate contemplation. Sadness marked me, but a wry cynicism and brawny arrogance had also carried and cloaked me.

For years I had harrumphed upon receiving solicitations to join AARP, the American Association for Retired Persons. I was allowed to harrumph, I reasoned, because I was (and still am) nowhere near retirement. I imagined myself looking down upon the slothful minions, content and secure with their retirement plans and pensions. Jealous? Not I.

Besides, I protested, hugging my sides, and the cracked and peeling facades of my life, there’s still so much for me to do. I can’t be old. I’ve got dreams, damn it. A petulant and demanding child? Not I. This posturing blurred and confounded my fears and masked the shame I felt as one of the infamous baby boomers nowhere near financial self-sufficiency.

The physical signs of aging had been mocking me for some time. The sags, dimples, creases and lines, especially on my face, were piling one atop the other, undeterred, unperturbed by daily applications of Vitamin E cream. I vacillated between vanity and denial. Oh, my God. You look awful. How did this happen? Or: Your skin’s just dry today. Tomorrow will be better.

In early 2010, when I finally admitted that I was horrified to see my wrinkled skin, terrified of the inevitable, I knew it was time to face the stranger at my heels. Only then did I come to realize just how much I’d been on the run. Only then did I begin to luxuriate in the beauty of sunsets, and know there was beauty in other places that had eluded me in my mad dashing.

Wrinkles became my focus, my own epidermal launching pad, from which I soared, cape flapping in the breeze, to observe, with artistic detachment, curious investigation, and kindness, my own aging skin and that of others. I was determined to find beauty, sheer beauty, in this architectural detail of the aging human. It seemed an audacious thing to do.

The wrinkles became not just ends in themselves, but obliging metaphors as well as counterpoints for exploring, in these posts on Wrinkled in Time, such topics as vanity, vulnerability, ageism, and the yearning to rise, Houdini-like, from the locked box full of watery beliefs about what it means to grow old.

Since the spring of 2010, I have looked at sunflowers, and orchids, bare winter branches, and sunsets, and discovered that, at each stage of the life cycle, beauty abounds. No Pollyanna am I, as I see and feel the losses I have encountered along my way. But I have uttered my last harrumph, thereby creating more room for honesty and humility—and horror, should it arise. Even horror gives rise to something else—a surer perception and appreciation of the stranger that is LIFE, in all of its wrinkles and perplexing potential for anguish and awe.

As I lean into 2011, I anticipate looking not just at my own reflection, but listening to the reflections of others as they discover what aging means to them. And I look forward to many photographic moments, as I find wrinkled subjects willing to stand still for my camera’s eye. It will be a great hurrah!

What have you discovered about yourself, no matter your chronological age, as you see yourself spin, or sputter, toward the sunset of your life?

If you care to listen to a very sentimental wedding song from Fiddler on the Roof, entitled, “Sunrise Sunset,” sung by Perry Como, go to

If you would like to hear the version from the movie, go to:

Both are beautiful. My favorite phrase is this: “One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”

A year ago in Lowe’s garden shop I was lured by an orchid. I didn’t know much about orchids, but this one looked like a sturdy lady that might endure my ineptitude. I couldn’t resist her charms.

She proved to be a real survivor, providing me with a few more blooms over the course of several months. After we’d had a relationship for about a month I decided to begin documenting our time together and I was amazed at the beauty of her blooms at every stage of their development, from youthful exuberance

and innocent fortitude, an excruciatingly beautiful trait possessed by the young,

to the refined and delicate grandeur achieved only in old age.

In January of 2010, the blooms, perched atop a long stalk, made a beautiful fan, boldly colored, smooth, sexy, serene.

Like a woman in full bloom.

By May the last orchid bud had stepped out to dance—saucey, complex, a woman in her prime.

In early June, the petals were drying, becoming translucent. There were fine lines, tiny ridges on the petals, muted colors at the core. The lady was still making a show, her strength and fragility merging to form an understated elegance.

At the end of June, the petals circled inward, the center becoming inscrutable, contained.

When held against the light it was as if the beauty of this solitary bloom were unbound,

like a woman in her garden, at every stage of her life.

The girl, the young woman, the elder pictured above are all Jeanne Hamilton, my mother.

I would believe only in a god who could dance. And when I saw my devil I found him serious, thorough, profound, and solemn; it was the spirit of gravity—through him all things fall. Not by wrath does one kill but by laughter. Come let us kill the spirit of gravity. I have learned to walk; ever since, I let myself run. I have learned to fly. Now I am light, now I fly, now I see myself beneath myself, now a god dances through me. (Friedrich Nietzsche, quotation taken from Learning to Fly, by Sam Keen)

Today is not the day for sweet talk or polite conversation at the dinner table. It is the day when wrinkles become irrelevant, when beauty and the fire of life shine so brightly that the wrinkles become part of the flames. It is a day when I want to dance, a day when flying seems altogether possible.

And it is a day to say, “I feel like an old fool.” I look into the mirror and run my fingers through my hair, mussing it a bit, trying to trick it into doing something other than what it does. Surely, by some twist, some slightly different arrangement, this thinning crown might become bejeweled, reflective of what I feel inside. What I see is an ordinary woman with gray in her hair, and skin the texture of burlap, all lines and squares, the flesh woven together in an uncertain map.

Invisible in the mirror is the woman on fire inside, the being unbound. So, it is also a day when wrinkles and age, dreams undone and incomplete, are too relevant, when wrinkles and wrong turns seem to define me.

How do I bring them together—this dreamer, this flyer, and this oh-so-human, aging form? What hand reached into the smoldering coals of my dreams today and stirred them just enough to cause this burst of flame?

Blame it on “Burlesque”. Today a friend and I met for lunch, then went to the theatre to watch Cher and Christina Aguilera romp it up and ramp it up in the new movie, “Burlesque”. I expected to see some nice costuming, a schmaltzy Hollywood tale, some of Cher’s cosmetic surgery, and hear a good tune or two. All of that, I did.

I also expected to slip into my movie critic and commentator’s head about the shallowness of the show, or to begin a mental dictation about my wish that Cher hadn’t had cosmetic surgery, that she’d allowed the world to see what she looked like untouched by the knife. I did mourn the absence of her wrinkles, and the lost opportunity she had to show us all how it is that she could be gorgeous, a woman still strutting her stuff, and sporting a gaggle of wrinkles.

But the truth is, I didn’t linger there, in that silly corner of my mind, wishing Cher had done herself my way. Instead, I loved every moment watching her, Ms. Aguilera and all of the cast spin a tale, dance and sing like the gods waltzing in a storm.

In a recent New York Times article entitled, “An Ageless Diva of a Certain Age,” Frank Bruni writes that Cher sings a song called, “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” and, according to Mr. Bruni, “belts it out like a battle cry.” Indeed, she does.

I was swept up in the battle, and in the glamour, the glitz, of “Burlesque.” And what do you do when you are swept up, when all that glitter and dance makes you want to be glittered on the outside like you feel on the inside? What do you do with this thing inside that says, “You haven’t seen the last of me”?

I know the heart of that song. Over forty years ago, as a college student, I performed in the Florida State University Flying High Circus. My solo act took me into a rope-like swing above a net. I stood on the swing, pumped it high, then executed several tricks. My source of pride was the single-toe hang, meaning one foot, not one toe! I accomplished this by first gripping the swing at the bottom of the “U” with my hands, then lifting my legs and hooking both feet onto the swing. My “moment” came when I dropped one leg behind me, still swinging through the air.

It’s the kind of thing you don’t forget. At least, I haven’t. Why keep thinking about it, you might ask? You’re too way too old, you might be saying, to do that kind of thing when you’re sixty-two. So move on, girlfriend.

Not so fast. Sam Keen, writer, poet, philosopher (, author of Fire in the Belly (among others), and Learning to Fly (1999, Broadway books), has something to say. At the age of sixty-one and ten months, Mr. Keen learned to fly in the circus—meaning, he learned to swing from a trapeze, let go, and fly into the hands of a catcher, who was hanging by his knees, swinging from another trapeze.

Having dreamed, as a child, of running away with the circus, Mr. Keen responded to an ad he saw on television about flying lessons offered by a local circus troupe.  He writes (in Learning to Fly), “…the craving to fly grew stronger and began to consume my Saturdays…The dream had become a passion…not unlike falling in love, a bit of ecstasy, and a bit of foolishness.”

Two years later, he learned to be a catcher. For him, learning these skills was about life, relationships, and mysticism. He was deeply altered and enlivened by the physical process.

I haven’t done a cartwheel in several years. I haven’t swung upside down, one foot hooked over a swing, in forty years. But, today, something mighty is stirred. Something that calls me to wake up, to rise up, wise up, to be more of who I am, despite my hang-ups, my aches and pains, my wrinkled skin. Today I feel that crazy mixture of ecstasy and foolishness and I dare not let it die. Today is the day to let the fire and spirit, the gods, dance through me.

In Learning to Fly, Sam Keen says, “The ‘still, small voice’ of God never calls on me to be like another man. It appeals to me to rise to my full stature and fulfill the promise that sleeps within my being.”

What promises have you made, those still sleeping inside you? Do you have dreams unfulfilled, waiting to take flight?

Please feel free to share them here, foolish or far-out as they may sound.

I invite you to go to for the New York Times article on Cher and see the video clip of the title song to the movie. Credit goes to Gaea Yudron ( for sending me the link to that article.

The pictures of me on the Mexican Cloud Swing were taken by Barry Mittan ( in 1966.


Under the big top, my sister and I both felt it, a stab of regret, like an exquisite shadow cast against an elegant sky, as we sat on the bleachers and watched the young woman execute a lovely dismount from her swinging perch above us in the circus tent. She came down from her solo trapeze act, sailed gracefully through the air, and landed in the net. My sister turned to me and said, “That’s the one thing I really regret—that I never learned a good dismount.

“I know,” I said. “I didn’t learn one, either.”

For my sister and me, both graduates of Florida State University—one of only two colleges in the U.S. with student circuses—the occasional return, like this one a year ago, to the sawdust and the sprawling tent comes close to being an experience of the sacred. As alumni of the Flying High Circus (, we still hunger, decades later, for the sights, the sounds, the acrobatics of the show.

In the late 1960’s, my sister and I each performed solo acts, she on a trapeze, and I on a rope-like swing, both acts requiring a safety net, into which we “landed” after the performance. It is that final departure from the trapeze or swing that is called the dismount. This can involve a beautiful descent, with flips and turns, or simply a letting go. While we both perfected many tricks, for various reasons, we never learned a fancy dismount.

We also performed in other acts, each of us being pioneers in the institution of the FSU Circus. I was the first, with my two male partners, to perform

an act called the “Sky Pole” (this was a pole-vaulting pole) and my sister was the first and only female ever to perform in a trapeze act called “Low Casting.”

When she and I watch the circus, we are seeing college-aged performers, replicas of our former selves, swinging, leaping, skating, balancing, juggling, wearing gorgeous or funky, or funny costumes. We are seeing ourselves, again, and again, and it is bittersweet, this remembrance of the past, of what we once did.

The past comes back in furious form in “You Again.” This “chick flick” (as my sister described it) offers fluff and slapstick, suffused with a few fine jewels of truth about the ways in which we humans can hurt each other and humiliate ourselves.

And, there were wrinkles! “You Again” features some youthful actors and actresses as well as Sigourney Weaver, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Ms. Curtis, with her shorter-than-short hair and her publicly avowed commitment to age naturally, was a delight to watch. Her facial wrinkles were right there, onscreen, big, bright and beautiful.

The most notable scene for me was this: the character played by Ms. Curtis was cajoled into reliving her youth as a cheerleader by launching into a full-scale rendition of a cheer from her high school days. The scene was played for its comedic effect, but Ms. Curtis poignantly embodied the exhilaration of her youthful self, her body “remembering” what she once was—a comely young thing shaking pom-poms in front of a crowd.

The body remembers everything it has experienced. I wonder whether much of what drives us to create, to live to the fullest, is grounded in the body’s desire to feel this exhilaration, to feel its own aliveness.

Early this week, when I visited my parents, I brought out my guitar and played and sang “Amazing Grace” for my ninety-one-year-old father. Having more and more difficulty walking now, he nonetheless got up from his recliner, took his cane in hand, and gingerly danced around the living room. Tears in his eyes, a childish smile on his face, the force of life itself seemed to bring him to his feet. Why not waltz to the words of gospel music?

Exhilaration and creativity are possible even within the confines of extreme frailty.

Whether we are remembering what we once could do, or creating something we believe to be entirely new in our lives, I suspect that we are simply meeting and expressing ourselves, again and again, in slightly different forms. Gaea Yudron ( has passed along a link to a New York Times article at on Cher, whose career has been long, varied, and rich. Cher is appearing in a new movie, “Burlesque,” just now in the theatres in my area. The author of the New York Times article quotes Cher: “I’ve never tried anything more than playing who I am. If you look at my characters, they’re all me.”

Whether we are informed by regrets, wishes unfulfilled, by a serene commitment to the here and now, or by something grand that arises from a musty corner of our psyches, we are really only being and seeing more of who we are. It’s just us, again.

In reference to wrinkles, and the art of the lines and creases on our faces, Rose Rosetree ( puts it this way: “With each passing year, your face becomes more your own.” (The Power of Face Reading, 2001) It’s just you, again.

It may be, in part, the sense of regret, of incompletion from our circus days, which pushes my sister and me now. She becomes a more expert equestrian; and I work at my crafts, as well as fumble, with sheer determination, through my newest endeavor: learning to play the guitar. It’s just me, again.

Gaea Yudron’s wisdom is this: “It seems wise to me to continue to dream big, or if one never has dreamed big, to pull out the stops and go for it. What is there to lose?” Indeed.

Please see Gaea’s most recent post, “The Call to Creativity,” at and the wonderful video of a 91-year-old Costa Rican singer she includes in this post.

The black and white photos above are of my sister. They were taken by Barry Mittan (, a multi-talented man and an amazing photographer, who has taken pictures of the FSU circus since 1968. He has also specialized in photographing and writing about skating (

even old things bloom

by Ellen Hamilton

I am looking for the beauty in wrinkles, those maligned signs of aging. Peering into the mirror at my own fears and prejudices, I hope to write some new songs about living in the land of the wrinkled, the wobbly, and brave. I welcome your comments and input about your own experience with aging and your struggles and successes in finding beauty in your wrinkles.

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