Pruney, dyed, and bony.

Do these adjectives apply to the aging band members of the Rolling Stones? Well, yes. A recent romp through You Tube videos confirms that the Stones, like many of us, now have faces defined by deep, dramatic creases and bodies whose bones are stepping out, showing their stuff. Charles Watts, drummer, is 69, Mick Jagger is 67, and Keith Richards is 66.

The descriptors appear in a review by David Remnick (“Groovin’ High”, The New Yorker magazine, print version, November 1, 2010) of Keith Richards’ recently published autobiography, Life. The full quote is this: “Pruney, dyed and bony, they [the Rolling Stones] storm through a set list that is by now as venerable and unchanging as the Diabelli Variations. (According to Wikipedia, the Diabelli Variations are piano pieces written, 1918-1923, by L. van Beethoven on a waltz composed by Anton Diabelli.)

About Keith Richards Mr. Remnick says: “…and yet he goes on playing and the crowds go on paying, reluctant to give it up, the last link to glory days.”

Who can blame Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the rest of the iconic rock group for being reluctant to give up the “glory days”? No matter how wrinkled and bony we become, like children who protest taking a nap, we want to go on playing. We don’t want to miss out on anything, even if it’s just taking the next breath. We want to stand on the stage, to strut, to shout and sing just as long as we can.

Life is full of glory moments, missed moments and all things tucked in between.

A couple of weeks ago, I tucked myself under the covers, shut out the light, and closed my eyes. Sometimes the activity of my days gives me a sense of completion and I’m allowed to drift off quickly into the free-wheeling realm of the unconscious. Other times, the children of my mind show up, bringing presents for me to open, prodding me to rummage through parcels full of conflicts, stories, and all manner of possibilities and variations on the themes and schemes in my life.

“Oh, dear,” I said the other night, when the gang showed up. I turned my head and body to nuzzle further into the pillows. “How can I sleep when you keep pestering me?” It was a rhetorical question. These children and I will just have to play out this script, hang out together for a while, before they’ll leave me alone.

A question, arising from one of the packages, pops up. “How long has it been since you did a cartwheel?”

Cartwheels? Really? Why bring this up? And why now? It’s after midnight.” Rhetorical questions and impotent whimpers.

“Well, I don’t know how long it’s been. Let me think. It was probably six years ago, when I took those Aikido [a form of martial arts] classes. Yeah, there I was, fifty-some-odd years old, cartwheeling the length of the dojo [the practice facility], taking turns with fifteen-year-old boys. And, frankly, I did better than the boys.”

Oh, boy. I’m lying here, boasting in my bed, no one but these children to witness this midnight charade.

Pride gives way to longing and regret. I wonder why I’ve allowed so much time to go by since my last cartwheel. A cartwheel is a small glory, but a glory, nonetheless, of the body and spirit tumbling through space. All that’s required is some agility, a modest amount of strength, and the willingness to gracefully…hurl oneself to the ground.

My mental committee members join the children and bring in their chairs. They hunker down, elbows on knees, hands under chins, thinking, wondering whether I can still execute a cartwheel. We discuss what I need to do to limber up, strengthen up, and take the risk of swirling sideways, placing my hands on the ground, allowing my legs to pop up toward the sky as my torso flips upside down. Will my arms still hold me? Will I have enough confidence to propel myself up and over, so that my legs can find ground as my hands relinquish control and the stability of the earth?

I lie under the covers, picturing myself in the glory days of my younger, stronger body.

Are there those among us who do not yearn for something sweet, something lost (or perceived to have been lost), or some opportunity missed in our lives?

And, then there’s that need to prove we still can. Wasn’t it George Bush, Sr., who celebrated his birthday some years ago by jumping out of an airplane?

Bobby Bowden of Florida State University was publicly and painfully pushed out of his head coaching position last year. This was despite the fact that he had brought the football team into national prominence and himself into the status of hero and legend years ago. He wanted to leave the game on his own terms. He didn’t get the chance. As far as others were concerned, his glory days were over and it was time to go.

Mr. Remnick (http://bigthink.com/davidremnick), the author of The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com) magazine article mentioned above, is ten years younger than I am. That puts him at a glorious fifty-two. I am betting that when he, the editor of The New Yorker magazine (a nifty little thing to have on your resume), turns sixty-two and then seventy-two, he may still have some things he’d like to say, some songs to sing, a drum to beat. He might not then be prone to dissing the Stones. After all (drum roll here), a rolling stone gathers no moss.

And, so it is that many of us who are on the downhill slope wish to keep rolling, whether it is to continue to live or re-live the glory days. As for me, I am also more and more aware that each day is a glory day.

Pat Harris, on her blogsite, Cruisingslowly, has eloquently stated that there are also times to slow down, to visit the glory of each moment and each mundane object or activity that presents itself. Please see her recent post here: http://cruisingslowly.blogspot.com/2010/11/so-much-to-do-so-little-time.html

As to that cartwheel that I was pondering the other night? Today, I’ve been studying the prospects. The skies were bluer than blue, the ground cool. Really, it was perfect cartwheel weather. But I was not quite ready to fling myself sideways, so I put my hands on the ground, which is still cushioned with green grass, and tested my bones. Hmmmm.

Give me a few days, or a few weeks, and I think I can get there.  We of the pruney skin and bony physique, we with children still firmly lodged inside us, have a thing or two to show Mr. Remnick.

I’ll keep you posted.

If you wish to see the Rolling Stones singing Wild Horses a few years ago, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhVLiHPUOIM&feature=related

Amazing stuff happens when you stop wrinkling your nose. At least that has been the case for me as I have continued, with the eye of an artist, to burrow into my own fears and judgments about aging and its inevitable signs. While I still stare into the mirror, vanity peering over my shoulder, and evaluate again and again, the state of my wrinkled face, I am seeing that face and its evolving sculpture with greater kindness.

So much has my awareness changed that, just the other day, walking with a plateful of food from the buffet at a Chinese restaurant to take my seat with my family, I nearly gaped at a woman sitting with a companion at a table. There was something compelling, a certain “je ne sais quoi” about the lines and creases in her face. I wanted to say, “I love your aging face! Please sit tight while I grab my camera.” Instead, I walked on by, pleased, at least, to find that I am seeing beauty where once I might have turned up my nose, or, almost worse, seen nothing of note, at all.

Broaching the subject of wrinkles and aging with friends is not a way to begin a rollicking conversation. While many people, like my wise friend, Linda Smith, have become actively involved in healing the scarred landscape of our collective unconscious by re-conceptualizing aging as a sage-ing process (see http://www.sage-ingguild.org/), most of us are still struggling with the old paradigm.

As a society, we are more prone to remove wrinkles (or try to) than to revere them. Women, in particular, experience intense discomfort with signs of aging or, for that matter, anything that separates itself from the pack of wolves we call perfection. When does this toxic vanity about our appearance begin?

Recently my two beautiful daughters, my seventeen-year-old granddaughter, and I stood in the chilly evening air in front of Lauren’s high school following a choral performance. For reasons I can’t recall, Lauren mentioned the dimple in her right cheek. “I hate my dimple,” she said. “When I smile it makes my cheek pooch out. See?” She inserted her finger into the tiny well of her dimple. “Here’s my good side,” and she turned her head to the right. “On this side I look like I weigh 120.” She turned her face to the left. “And, here’s my bad side. I look like I weigh 145.”

Bad side?

My daughters and I rolled our eyes. Lauren continued, “And, another thing is, my dimple is always there, even if I’m not smiling. It looks like someone poked me. Look at my mom’s dimple. It’s this nice little curve and it only shows up when she smiles.”

As we moved on to other subjects, I was painfully aware of the rarity of these opportunities for the three most important people in my life to be gathered in one spot. For the fifteen or twenty minutes of time during which we occupied that patch of concrete, I felt the trembling of my own heart as I looked at the amazing beauty of these young women. My granddaughter stood with the lights overhead illuminating her jaw-dropping good looks. I stood, immobilized, yearning to gather these three beloveds up and tell them how much I loved them. I wailed internally for the separation that we have from each other, both by geography and by other forces more complex.

And, I wonder, how can it be otherwise if we are separated from ourselves and from each other by judgment?

That wrinkling of the nose that we do as we examine ourselves in the mirror is a habit. And, like every habit, no matter how ingrained, it can be changed. I am finding that, as I have consciously followed this personal and peculiar investigation to find beauty in wrinkles, I am experiencing moments of peace, beauty, and healing which come, unexpected, like a rainbow or glorious sunset.

As I unwrinkle my nose in reference to aging, I am led (by the nose?) to other areas of myself. Reticence, a lack of self-confidence, has been part of my make-up—a large wrinkle in the un-ironed shirt of my psyche—for many years. Determined to iron out that wrinkle, or at least expose it for whatever it is, I have been taking guitar lessons, daring to find my inner musician, and to drop the self-consciousness about my singing voice. A tall order. However, a rainbow appeared last week in my younger daughter’s kitchen. I sat perched on a stool, my daughter’s guitar propped on my lap, and played “Amazing Grace” while my daughter and sister and I sang. It was a glorious time.

“Mom, you sounded really good. Your voice sounded really good. I like what you’re doing.”

The world shifted. A lifetime of choking ended, enabling me last evening to sing a short song to a small group of people and to guide a dance to the song. My voice didn’t quiver. I was settled in my bones, in my wrinkles, being more of myself than I’d been five minutes before. And, I laughed. When I looked later at my face in the mirror I was flushed with excitement, the exuberant child in me in full swing.

May you find beauty in all of your wrinkles, interior and exterior. May the clouds of your reticence be replaced with rainbows. May the wrinkles on your nose be ones of delight, not judgment, disdain, or recoiling, as you see more and more of yourself. And may you laugh at the wrinkles in your life—no matter where they are, or what brought them into being.

Who knows where a new nose might take you?

Please go to this blog site of Pat Harris (http://cruisingslowly.blogspot.com) to see her varied and delightful entries and to access a wonderful video of Jenny Joseph reading her poem called, “Warning”, the one about living life with less inhibition—less reticence. The Red Hat Society was founded based on this poem. You can directly access this post and the video this way: http://cruisingslowly.blogspot.com/2010/10/warning.html.

And please go to the blog site of Gaea Yudron (http://sagesplay.blogspot.com/) to see her insightful posts on aging creatively. Her current post includes this quote from a collection of writings by Florida Scott-Maxwell. “But we also find as we age we are more alive than seems likely, convenient or even bearable.”

Amen.

This morning I awakened, as I often do, feeling as if I were trying to crawl through a long, dark tunnel, wanting, with each step, to retreat. On these mornings I feel very, very young, and very, very old, wanting someone to come pick me up and tend to my needs. My joints don’t want to work. My jaws are tight. The inside of my mouth feels like the outside of a toad.

As my brain begins to function, running through its list of things to do, depending on what that list entails, one of two things happens: I either begin to feel a little enthusiasm about the day, like a six-year-old who remembers there’s a field trip in school, or I’m a teenager who’s dreading the test and wants to cut class.

Those first minutes of the day are pretty rocky. A treacherous climb out of the womb.

This morning my list involved bringing my rumpled, cluttered house into order, my lawn into line, and my truck out from under layers of grime. Of the three the only task that appealed to me was mowing the grass. Not much to juice my engines. However, the reason for all three tasks involved preparation for my older daughter’s arrival tomorrow for a short visit. Enough to swing these legs over the side of the bed and stumble to the bathroom, my dog and his wagging tail close behind.

A look in the mirror was unsettling. I’ve robbed myself of sleep this week and, to my tired eyes, I looked ancient, my wrinkles as haggard as my spirits.

“You’re only as old as you feel.” The phrase has come to mind this week.

Like most of those bumper-sticker-sized philosophies, this one packs some truth, but for me carries with it a hint that youth, that gold ring, can be grasped at any time. Despite my ongoing quest to find beauty in wrinkles, to mine the fine minerals in the aging process, clearly, I don’t always feel like a sprite on a merry-go-round.

It occurs to me that the idealization of youth in our culture is, in many ways a bizarre phenomenon. We humans are so vulnerable as children, none of us unscathed by life and its mysterious hand. Being young brings with it as many risks and terrors, as well as joys, as being old.

In the past month I have visited over a dozen prekindergarten classrooms. Stepping into each classroom is an immersion into the world of small beings laughing, singing, hopping and running, painting, playing house and dress-up, building Lego structures, and making ice cream cones with Play-Doh. It’s a busy, boisterous place. There are also tears and bouts of hitting and kicking and pouting.

But all that’s on the outside. On the inside, underneath those behaviors, are fears and hurts and a multitude of confusions, wrinkled dreams, and yearnings. And, much as adults may try to help, there is something about being a child that precludes a true bridge being laid between child and adult.

A few days ago I stood in a classroom doing a follow-up visit, my third, to check on a three-year-old girl. When I had first observed her, she could not sit still. She stumbled about the room looking lost, an old woman losing her faculties. On a second visit I observed the same problems, an apparent inability to be focused and present. And then, it was time to paint. This child was transformed. Meticulously she ministered to the paper, carefully soaking her brush with acrylic paint and stroking the paper. Unruffled when another child dropped something on her paper, she simply covered up the disturbance with more paint.

On the third visit I watched as she stood up, sat down, had a hard time paying attention to directions. There had been no painting since the last time I was in the classroom; but today there was a watercolor project. Once more, she became engrossed in the process of dipping her brush into the little cup of water, smearing it on the watercolor palette and onto her paper. Once the project was over she was directed to other activities. For the next two hours she was able to focus, in a way she had never done before, playing with blocks and cars. Inexplicably, and periodically, her eyes welled with tears and streamed down her face. Several times she crawled into my lap. On no occasion was she able to articulate what she was feeling.

Childhood, like adulthood and old age, is full of beautiful blooming

and ample thorns.

Over the course of my waking hours I can feel as shiny and slick as a newborn; as serene as a toddler with a tummy full of milk; and as feisty as a teenager out to tell the world what to do. Some times I am thirty with a fistful of ideas. I am woman, hear me roar.  Other times I feel as if my limbs, creased and creaking, and my tired eyes are eligible to sit down, close shop, and put a sign on the door that says, “Closed for eternal inventory.”

Often enough I feel ancient in a way that transcends the wrinkles, the thinning hair, the mind that pauses and pauses…before the word I need presents itself. I am ancient like a turtle, plowing the seas, leaving few tracks, going about my evolutionary business.

And, surely, that is what we are all doing: going about our evolutionary business.

I will return to visit the three-year-old child, this youngster, this oldster. I am curious to discover whether the process of painting might help her connect to something vital, something timeless within her that will help bridge all the gaps in her life.

Turtles are timeless creatures, wrinkled on the outside, perpetually young on the inside. They have evolved very little since their appearance in the creator’s play about 200 million years ago. According to www.solarnavigator.net/animal, over the course of a turtle’s lifetime, the animal’s internal organs do not gradually break down or become less efficient. The internal organs of a one-hundred-year-old turtle are essentially indistinguishable from its younger counterpart.

Is it possible that we are, in some measure, like the turtle, always young, always ancient?

Is it possible that the wrinkles that present themselves as we age are simply the complexities of life emerging, a grand sculpture presenting itself from the raw materials of our youth?

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” (Emily Dickinson)

Today, may you feel startled and alive, old and young, ancient and new, and embrace them all as they come.

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Here are three videos for you to check out. The subjects are all wrinkled and white or thin of hair. The first is entitled “You’re only as old as you feel.” It made me laugh out loud, although I did fervently hope there were no broken bones.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRpKfzqbSi4

This second is entitled “What Old People do for Fun.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHY9a6jTv3k&NR=1

The third one shows a couple of 62 years playing the piano together at a Mayo Clinic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_gTjBINGTQ&feature=related

I drove home yesterday morning from the veterinarian’s office, my cat complaining in her crate. The weather, as good as it gets here in North Florida, took the edge off the difficult ride. I was comforted by the mild temperatures, breeze, and blue skies punctuated with poofy white clouds, and, for part of the journey, by the branches of large oak trees whose arms, crooked and gnarled, full of half-bent elbows, stretched across the road.

When my father retired from military service some forty years ago, my family entered this part of the country late at night. I recall sitting in the back seat of the car with my siblings, head propped, looking up, being welcomed by the oak branches all decked out in gowns of Spanish moss.

I love trees, their loftiness and their rootedness. Superheroes of the plant kingdom, they are such impressive forms of life, stretching in all directions, above ground and below.

Full of wrinkles and scars, providing shelter and oxygen and all manner of food and provisions to humans and other animals, they are worthy of worship.

My father, 91, did not, until very recent years, exhibit a great deal of sentimentality or sensitivity toward Mother Nature’s wonders. These days, he often remarks about the huge pine trees in the yard. “See that one back there…and that one and that one?” He points with his cane and pauses to be sure I’m looking in the right direction.

“They must be a hundred feet tall.”

And, then, once he knows I’m paying attention, the punchline is: “They almost touch the sky.” Tickled, amazed, he gazes heavenward.

As often as he notes the trees, he does the birds. Seated in his outdoor chair, he says, “The birds come through the yard, like this.” He holds out his left hand, fingers together, palm down, and moves it from left to right, simulating a bird in flight. “They swoop down, and they come this close—two inches—to the ground.” He spreads his index and middle fingers to show me the berth he believes the birds give to the grass. “And then, they go right back up again.” His hand cuts the air, fingertips skyward, reverence and delight in his voice.

My father was a pilot in the early part of his military career and I always imagine that he can remember what it was like to have wings, to touch the heavens.

I have been fascinated recently with elbows, which, with arms, are surely the equivalent of wings on a human. These humble joints,

smooth as grapes in the young,

ribbed and furrowed and puckered in the aged,

are surely unsung heroes. Where would we be without them? And the wrinkles that grace our aging angles must surely be evidence, like the rings inside a tree, of all of the efforts of our lives.

What can we do but love them—our wings and their wrinkles? And be in awe of the amazing conditions in which humans, like trees, and all of life’s forms, find themselves. Life has a will of its own, obstacles be damned.

A few evenings ago, I spoke with four friends, all in a row, who are currently confronted with obstacles worthy of Superman’s efforts. Clients I have seen over the years have provided me with stories that cause me to blink, to take in my breath, to grip the sides of my chair. And, yet we go on, elbowing our way through the crowded corridors of life, propped on our elbows, staring into space, using our wings whenever we can to transcend the terrible, to soar heavenward.

Last evening I went to a celebration of life for a teenager who, despite the prognosis at her birth that she would not live for a day, lived for seventeen years before her heart succumbed. Her mother, Sara Michaels, called Eliza her angel.

Perhaps it is true that, like the soaring pine and mighty oak, we are all, in essence, Superman, grounded,

capes wrinkled and flapping, elbows and arms reaching for the heavens, stretched and stretching, feet firmly planted in the ground.

Heroines and heroes, we are worthy of hugs galore. Hug yourself and a friend and celebrate the smooth or wrinkled elbows that let you do it!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are some whose wings take them deep, underwater. Time magazine (October 4, 2010) ran a story on Sylvia Earle, an extraordinary elderwoman in her seventies, an oceanographer with an amazing resume, who has spearheaded a project, Mission Blue, to designate protected areas of the oceans. Check out these two sites:

http://www.tedprize.org/category/sylvia-earle/

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/iamtheocean/about/

Yesterday and today, I am young, uncertain, without words with which to make sense of the world, much less, take it on. At times like this, when the force of my dreams to write, to make art, to build a building, seems to dissipate and fatigue overtakes me, I am prone to fear. It can come as subtly as a breeze or visits me with the power of wind cracking branches, sweeping leaves from the trees.

The winds tell me my dreams are too big, and my life too short. I’m confused, staring at myself, unable to see who is there.

And then, as best I can, I bring myself back to center, filling my body with my own breath, steering myself into the powerful hands of my own compassion.

Yesterday I visited my dermatologist. In his chilly examination room, I greeted him, as I stood barefooted, covered in one of those clumsy cotton gowns that bare the backside so efficiently. Wrinkles, splotches, moles, freckles, all gave themselves up to Dr. Richardson’s caring scrutiny as he covered almost every inch of my body with his little miner’s headlamp and gently probing fingers. He occasionally turned to his assistant, naming the various formations on my skin. I heard “keratoses” several times, but there was no cause for alarm, and no snipping or biopsy this time, just a discussion about treating some places on my lip, a procedure to be scheduled later.

Visits to the doctor, even one as kind as Dr. Richardson, always arouse my sense of vulnerability as a creature of flesh and blood and finite days. I felt relief as I made my way to the counter. On my heels was a stout, white-haired woman, who stood to my right and slightly behind me as I checked out. “That will be twenty-four dollars and two cents,” the receptionist said. I began to write the check, and then looked back up at her.

“Did you say two cents?” It was an odd amount. The receptionist confirmed that to be correct, and then I heard the woman behind me offer a friendly comment.  “Yes, that’s a strange amount,” and she gave a chuckle.

I caught myself. For years, while outwardly polite, I have inwardly recoiled in the presence of the elderly. Only until I owned up to the trembling, the impotent rage at my own wrinkles and signs of aging, have I dared to face my own ageism.

In the past, I might barely have acknowledged the woman’s comment, putting as much emotional distance between myself and her as possible. Yesterday, bumping into my own resistance, I turned to see her. Fair-skinned, blue-eyed, she smiled at me, and I did the same. The receptionist dismissed her promptly, and we made our way out into the waiting room together.

I reached the front door first and opened it for her. Simultaneously, her husband stood up to accompany her, and I invited him to follow. “Thank you,” he said, and proceeded through the doorway. In these moments I was leaping, clear now of the necessity to see this couple, older than I, not as strangers in a frigid, foreign land, but as friends showing me the way.

I purposefully studied them as they walked to their car. I noted their heads, both with thinning white hair.

He had less hair than she did and his pink flesh showed through in the back, offering a circle around which his hair gathered in a swirl like the petals around the center of a flower, some of his hair mussed, perched at odd angles.

Her hair was short, blunt cut, falling straight from her crown.

Oddly, it was his right arm and elbow that I noticed, almost with longing. The wrinkles presented themselves at the bottom of his shirtsleeve and continued, cascading, to his wrist. I wanted to capture those wrinkles! I wanted to say to this couple, “May I take your pictures? Sir, could you lend me your elbow? Ma’m, may I get a close-up of your hair?” Reticence, propriety silenced me.

It was my own elbow that aroused my compassion a couple of weeks ago. I sat at my computer and in a moment of contemplation, put my right hand over my left shoulder. I gazed at my arm, at the wrinkled flesh bunched up in the crook, a wing on my chest. In a moment, surprised, I bumped into compassion. Then I melted, my heart and wrinkled arm making peace, coming together!

It is this melting toward which I am moving as I bid my dreams to unfurl in their own time…

and my eyes to find beauty in my vulnerability and periodic fatigue, as I come to appreciate the mystery in the many elements of change—physical, mental, spiritual—that I am seeing in the mirror.

Yesterday I visited the blog site of Pat Harris at  http://cruisingslowly.blogspot.com/and was grateful for the mirror she presented to me with these words: “I am woman. I am strong. I am tired.” Ahhhh. Yes. Thank you, Pat.

In addition to Pat’s blog, I suggest you visit this website: http://en.kendincos.net/video-rvtfhndh-sculpting-the-aging-process.html. It is a video of a man sculpting, out of clay, a male head and taking him from youth to old age. The sculpting process is remarkable, the work, just lovely. And, my response as I watched, some months ago, was to imagine the vulnerability, as well as the strength, inherent in the aging process. I felt compassion.

Let me know what you think of this sculpture and what you make of your own vulnerability.

“Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.”

(Theodore Roethke)

I cram my ball cap onto my head and tuck the hair, which promptly goes horizontal on the sides, behind my ears. I’ve been working outside all weekend, brushing a little more paint on the house, and mowing the grass. I’m too lazy to wash my hair just to make a run to the grocery store. What’s a little paint under my nails and a little grime around my neck? I put some earrings in and study the image in the mirror.

Still scrutinizing my wrinkles for elements of beauty, I am waiting for that moment of Ahaaaa when the light strikes the tiny hills and valleys, the parched landscape of my face, and I see the grooves as…groovy. Vanity and a lifetime of conditioning still predispose me to wince. But I am making progress. Whereas the wince used to quickly morph into an internal grimace, it now pauses, opens its eyes a little more widely, and tempers itself with curiosity.

Beyond the wrinkles, the issue of the moment is this: do I apply mascara? Really. Dirty hair covered by ball cap. T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. And I wonder about whether to apply Maybelline to my eyelashes. I take a moment to laugh at myself, wonder who it is I think I’m going to run into at the grocery store who will care what I look like, and then grant myself the permission to be vain, to be irrational, to feel…vulnerable.

I pull the long-lash applicator out of the tube and brush on the brown-black goo. Somehow, this makes me more presentable—to myself. I am now sufficiently under cover to venture out for avacados and bananas, a couple of cans of cat food.

According to a web article at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewArticle.asp?id=15438, humans have a lengthy tradition of using cosmetics. About 3,000 B. C., Egyptians, men and women, used unguent to protect their skin from drying, and women decorated their eyes. A Roman philosopher, a couple of hundred years B. C., is quoted as writing, “A woman without paint is like food without salt.”

During the first century A. D., Romans widely used khol to darken eyelashes and eyelids, chalk for whitening the skin, and rouge on the cheeks. In Greco-Roman society, women wore white lead (highly toxic) and chalk on their faces. During the European middle ages, women, in an effort to achieve a pale-skinned appearance, considered to be a sign of wealth, bled themselves.

In Elizabethan England cosmetics were seen as a health threat. In the eighteenth century, the French wore red rouge and lipstick; and folks in other parts of the world rejected that practice, deciding the French were hiding something.

In the nineteenth century women used belladonna, a lethal poison, to give a luminous appearance to their eyes. During the Victorian era, cosmetics that altered one’s natural coloring were disdained, associated with actresses and prostitutes. In the early part of the twentieth century make-up evolved rapidly. Women made their own form of mascara by adding hot beads of wax to their eyelashes; others used petroleum jelly. Mabel, the sister of T. L. Williams, made her own product. While Mabel was the inventer, T. L. was the entrepreneur. His company, Mabelline, was founded, and is still making the little pink plastic vial with the green top that sits in my bathroom cabinet. Pancake make-up, eyeliner, pressed powders, blush, lipstick in a metal case all were born. Make-up marketing, on a big scale, began in the 1920’s. Movie stars moved the products and the trends along in the culture.

I just Googled “cosmetics” and got 48, 700,000 results. That’s a lot of cover-up. For what? Sometimes I wonder, “What is it that we women (the primary users of cosmetics) must make up about ourselves? Why aren’t we good enough, gorgeous enough, without fabrication, and the various potions and paints we use on our faces?

My ambivlance about make-up is at least three decades old. In the 1980’s, I attended a Mary Kay (cosmetics) party at the home of my friend, Linda B. At some point in the evening, I expressed my conflict on the matter, and Linda’s friend, Jenny, asked what my objections were. My reply: “When I get up in the morning, I have to look at my real face in the mirror. I want to be okay with my real face, not the mask I washed off the night before.”

About fifteen years ago, I went through a period of determination to be okay with the unvarnished me. In the grocery store I ran into a former client. She spotted me as we were coming from opposite ends of an aisle. She dropped her head down, as if she were ducking under a barricade, trying to draw a better bead on me. She squinted as we approached each other. “Ellen?” she said. “Yes. Hi, T_____,” We stood two grocery carts apart. “Oh, it’s you—without make-up,” she said.

Uh. Yeah.

I still cling to my mascara, and I usually dab on a little lipstick when I’m out in public, but as I move more and more deeply into these wrinkles of mine, see them for what they are—a sign of my own life and vitality—I suspect that I might be able to let go of the paint and the eyelash goo, one dab, one dribble at a time.

There is only so much time to be brave and to be me.

Through the website, http://www.elderwoman.org/, I have discovered some wonderful treasure chests which I have yet to fully explore. One website is this: http://www.growingolddisgracefully.org.uk/, featuring some audacious women, who have decided that going GRACEFULLY into their years of maturity is for the timid. They are dedicated to growing old DISGRACEFULLY. Don’t you love it?

And, I also found a whole new world in the work of Rose Rosetree. Check out this site: http://www.rose-rosetree.com/schmotox.htm. I have ordered her book (from Amazon.com) entitled, Wrinkles Are God’s Makeup. She’s been singing my song (as have many women) and I am just now tuning in.

I’m pleased to join the chorus. What about you? How do you feel about your wrinkles? And, where are you on this matter of make-up? There’s a picture at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cosmetic_Class,1950.jpg that shows a roomful of women in a cosmetics class in 1950. Tell me what your reaction is.

As for me, I plan on living more and covering less. Even if someone squints at me in the grocery store. I’m determined to shine in the light of my own wrinkled glory, ball cap and all.

I stood in line at the bank, breathing in the air-conditioned ambiance of uprightness and security. There were a couple of people ahead of me, and one person standing at each of the three teller stations. My eyes were drawn to the customer leaning into the counter at the station in front of me.

Specifically, I was drawn to the back of her left leg. She was wearing shorts and it appeared she had a bandage just above her knee. It was a bit rumpled, as if the gauze and adhesive tape had been sloppily applied; and, while I wondered what might have happened to her leg, I wondered why in the heck I was looking and wondering.

She was a Caucasian woman of average height with short, graying hair. She looked to be several years older than I. At 62, I am still excavating my personal layers of aversion to becoming part of the wrinkled, graying and balding crowd, and I confess that I wince when I see someone in these senior years, not much older than I, looking frail or particularly vulnerable. There was something vulnerable about this woman. Was it the slight stoop of her shoulders, or the thin, blue veins on her legs? Was it the way her hair was mussed a bit, like she’d just taken a nap and had forgotten to brush?

My aversion may be something primal, a bristling of the hair on my mammal’s neck that says, “One of these days, when you can’t keep up,

the herd will leave you behind to die in the bushes or be breakfast for the wolves.”

Or it may be that, despite all of my efforts to embrace my vulnerable pieces and parts—my soft, compassionate self—I am still wedded to my inner warrior. Dispense with vulnerability! Bring back the armor! The spines, the thorns!

Vulnerability is a beautiful thing when…it belongs to someone else, someone I can console or counsel or to whom I can bring chicken soup. I haven’t come completely ‘round to acceptance of my circumstances on the days I feel under the weather, my joints ache, or I am so tired I think I will never recover my energy again.

I moved forward in the line at the bank. Now the woman with the wounded appendage was only a few steps away from me. I looked again at her leg. Good gracious! That was no bandage, no rumpled gauze and tape. It was a pair of women’s underwear, dangling, like a dead fish, from underneath the hem of her shorts.

I knew instantly that what I saw was not a stretched-out portion of the underwear she had on. These were the panties she had probably taken off the night before, when she doffed her shorts and let the whole lot crumple to the floor, before she stepped into the shower. And, this morning, after putting on a new pair of underpants, she simply pulled the shorts back on. She just didn’t remember that yesterday’s undies were still inside.

I wanted desperately to lean forward and tell her. But, tell her what? How do you put that into words? Your dirty laundry’s showing? And then there would be the awkwardness of her reaching around and procuring her panties, nestled at the back of her leg, as she stood talking with the teller.

What do you say when you are standing in front of a stranger, holding your underwear? Surely not, “I want to make a deposit.”

I wondered, would she make it out of the door without losing her drawers? Would she make the discovery after she got home, or once she got into her car? I decided I’d do my banking business as quickly as possible and rush out to her car, gently, matter-of-factly saying, “Ma’m, there is something hanging out of the leg of your shorts.” I would save her from further embarrassment if she had other errands to run.

She made it out of the bank, panties and shorts still clinging together. I finished my banking business, but, by the time I got outside, determined to be a good Samaritan, I saw that she was already in her vehicle, being driven out of the parking lot.

Egads. That’s what old people do. They are forgetful. Oblivious. Fumbling and frail.

I cringed and recoiled, wanting to hide. Please don’t let that be me.

Since then I have recognized that my mind still has much dirty laundry—beliefs and values that are simple lies, insidious like mold. Forgetfulness, obliviousness, and frailty are not the unique province of the aging or elderly. They are part and parcel of life. They can be laughed at, if we can get ourselves there. But, surely, I can laugh at the beliefs which cause me to shrink, to shrivel, to wrinkle my nose in distaste at my own aging and, always vulnerable, self.

And I can look at the evidence around me of vital, even robust, elders. I have only to look as far as my own mother to see a woman, sharp as the proverbial tack, eighty-seven years old, who remembers the cost of a piece of fabric she bought fifty years ago. She is providing full-time care for my father, rarely has a moment to herself, still listens to an occasional football game, and can talk politics, local and national.

And, my mother still laughs.

One morning, a couple of weeks after the incident at the bank, which, undoubtedly has had more significance for me than for the lady with the dangling drawers, I scooped up my shorts off the bathroom floor, where I’d dropped them the night before, as I’d stepped into the shower. I pulled on the shorts and headed out of the bathroom, then felt an odd sensation at the back of my leg.

My panties, in a wad, had been buried in my shorts.

I yanked them out and laughed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My friend, Linda Smith (see her blog at creativelife-kitchentabletalk.blogspot.com/) has guided me on more than one important occasion in my life. Recently she has introduced me to some extraordinary elderwomen, gathered by one, particular, extraordinary woman, Marian Van Eyk McCain on a website. Check this out: http://www.elderwoman.org/.

As I am completing this post, I have just read a wonderful article by Marian entitled “Old, Gray, and Proud of It: bucking the trend towards age-denial”. Marian’s further along in her wisdom than I am, so she is lighting the way for you and me, that we may dispense with the old laundry list of attributes of elders. You may read her article here:

http://www.elderwoman.org/Old,%20Gray%20and%20Proud%20of%20it.pdf

It is, truly, time to laugh at the laundry.

A single drop of water, the size of an English pea, hesitated, shimmered, wobbled into my line of vision. I knew at once the desire to capture it. At the same moment, I knew this to be impossible. When it released itself and disappeared, I had a pang of loss and, then, elation.

This singular drop of rainwater had descended from the window opening in my truck as I pulled into the gas station. An odd place of metal and fumes and right angles for a moment of grace.

I stepped out of my truck, slid my credit card into the slot, and stood back as the electronic components in the pump processed my card.  In the fifteen minutes it had taken for me to drive from my house to the gas station, I had seen sun, clouds, then rain, and, now, sun again. Disgruntled and agitated since my feet had touched the floor this morning, I had known, as I navigated the highway, that I needed a shift, a transformation, in my interior landscape to make proper use of this day.

The shift arrived, orchestrated by this globule of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, held together by magnetic forces and crowned with a sun-made bauble, a miniature rainbow of blue, lavender, pink and yellow.

In an instant, the clouds were removed from my eyes.

Then, I realized, this was act one of a two-act play.

I opened the small, hinged flap on my red truck and unscrewed the cap of the gas tank. Once I’d fitted the nozzle of the pump into the tank, I turned toward the concrete building looking for signs of a vacuum to clean out the interior of my truck. My view was impeded by a large, silver-colored tanker sitting to the left of the building.

Above the tanker, then, I saw them shimmering in the air. Ten dragonflies, moving in a formation and pattern discernible only to them, as they made magic in the air, their wings composing music with the sunlight. I stood, touched by this display, wondering what, exactly, had precipitated this gathering. Why here? Why now? What was it in the air above this gas station that attracted this hovering, flitting, aerial act?

Questions that didn’t matter. Questions I couldn’t answer. Questions that I brushed away, soldiers that didn’t belong in a green meadow.

What mattered was, these creatures, who only live in winged form for three months, touched me with their beauty. They and that single drop of water, made brilliant by the sun, marked me for the day. Mortality, holiness hung in the air, rainbow on water, sun on the wing.

Astonishing. Grace.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Joan Chittister (The Gift of Years, Growing Old Gracefully, 2008, Blue Bridge, purchased on amazon.com) writes:

A blessing of these years is coming to see that behind everything so stolid, so firm, so familiar in front of us runs a descant of mystery and meaning to be experienced in ways we never thought possible before. To become free of the prosaic and the scheduled and the pragmatic is to break the world open in ways we never dreamed of. In this new world, a mountain, a bench, a grassy path is far more than simply itself. It is a symbol of unprecedented possibilities, of the holiness of time.

I called my friend, Damien, not long ago and asked her for a favor. I requested that she check out this blog site, just to be witness to the fact that I’d finally learned enough technical skills to get myself—this  little engine that could—up the hill and going on this project. “You don’t have to read it,” I said. “I just want you to see it.”

She breathed a sigh of relief, and laughed. “I thought you were going to ask me if you could take pictures of my wrinkles.”

“Honey,” I said, “if I did ask you if I could take pictures of your wrinkles, you could tell me ‘no’!” Damien is under fifty and has not yet accumulated a warehouse of wrinkles, but she is like  many of us who stumble, grumble, and stew, or just quake, over what happens as we age.

Several months ago I sat with my realtor in his office. I don’t recall what prompted him to reveal that he’d had a medical test the day before. He said that when he went into the cubicle to remove the clothes from his upper body to don one of those ghastly “gowns” used by medical institutions to humiliate us, he’d caught sight of himself in the mirror. “Wow,” he said, “I’m getting old.”

He bemoaned the changes in his skin and muscle tone. Three decades previously he had played college football, and he remembered with fondness and pride the physique that commanded authority underneath those shoulder pads. He told me how big in circumference his neck used to be. I shared his pain, noting that I had been an athlete and grieved the changes in my own body.

there's beauty in those wrinkles!

Then, with excitement, I told him about my blog project, describing my own determination to find beauty in the aging process, highlighting wrinkles as the focus of my loving and determined exploration. Might he be willing for me to interview him?

A Southern gentlemen, he did not decline, but deftly moved on to other subjects before we ended our visit.

The same quiet discomfort has descended more than once as I have explained to people my agenda for this blog, my vision for a book. This is a tough nut to crack—this chagrin, this fear, this horror that so many of us have about aging.

Tails down, backs slumped, we want to be going in the other direction.

get me out of here

However, my friend, Paulette, was game for photographs, wanting to support me in my efforts to find beauty in wrinkles. Early this year I made a trip to Atlanta and, while I conducted my own clumsy photography class, acquainting myself with a brand new camera, Paulette willingly became my first model.

Paulette, like many of us in our fifties, sixties and older, is, truly, a little engine that can and does. I just spoke with her last evening. Over the past month and a half she has seen the passing of her best friend, assisting in every aspect of the friend’s dying (including helping to care for her in the final days); has assisted both of her daughters in moving to new homes; has spent hours and hours helping her nephew and his fiancée plan a wedding. An extraordinary event planner and marvelous artist and craftswoman, Paulette has made decorations and accessories for her nephew’s upcoming wedding. She gardens, landscapes, and has completed multiple decorating and refurbishing projects in her home in Atlanta.

There is no stopping this creative dynamo. Meet my friend, Paulette.

She made this gorgeous, beaded lamp, which sits on a table just inside her front door.

Paulette nurtures her yard, her home, her two beautiful daughters, and her grandson, whom she adores.

She loves color, line, form, old things, odd things, and makes art of it all.

She’s not afraid to show her feelings, her sadness and joy, all the wrinkles of her life.

These hands have helped many people and done lots of hard work, including helping me pressure-wash my house one time and holding a ladder, on more than one occasion, while I got to a tough spot with a paint brush.

For some years she colored her hair and then had it all cut off (She looked very sporty with almost no hair!) and now gets compliments on her white crown.

My friend, Paulette, is almost 63 years old.

LIfe has no end of challenges. Hills and valleys, cherries and pits. And pleasant surprises. While I am not a great fan of beauty pageants, I couldn’t help but be touched by a story that popped up on my yahoo page when I logged on to the internet a few days ago. This woman is 74 and just won a beauty pageant. Her joy was contagious. Here’s the site:

http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local-beat/74-Year-Old-Turns-Heads-In-National-Pageant–101570978.html?yhp=1

May we look, straight-on, wide-eyed, and with gentleness, at ourselves as we age.

i see your beauty

No matter what our challenges, or how gracefully or clumsily we meet them, we are all little engines that can and do!

This dew-soaked Mexican sunflower greeted me yesterday as I stepped off my deck to sprinkle a little food into the goldfish pond. Ohhhh. I greeted the bloom like a child or lover. Flowers give so much and ask so little.

This particular blossom is attached to a late-blooming stalk that grew from a seed that found its way, somehow, into a pot. For years that pot held hens and chicks, a succulent plant. But, last year’s cold winter was too much for them. The pot sat devoid of anything green all spring, my hopes for a revival of the succulent prompting me to continue to add water to the dirt in the pot. And, then, a few weeks ago, I noticed the familiar foliage of the sunflower. What the heck, I thought, let’s see what that plant can do confined in that pot.

It is now five feet tall and promises several more blooms before the cool weather ends its season.

As I have continued my endeavor this spring and summer to find beauty in wrinkled and aged human skin, I have turned my attention to species other than human as part of my investigation, and have found, to my delight, beauty in dried blooms.

Several weeks ago, a client brought me a little bunch of five bee balm blooms. Following our session, she pulled them from her car, their petals droopy and falling, their stalks wrapped in wet paper towel and foil. She offered an apology. “I wasn’t sure whether to give them to you or not.”

Little did she know. They have continued to sit on my desk and I haven’t stopped loving them. Perhaps there was no doubt that I could—no matter their comportment—because I adore red. Even a bit bedraggled, they sang like a tenor, soaring, nailing a high note.

hear us soar

A week later many of the bee balm’s petals had fallen, the seed pods in the center making a much more prominent statement than they had before. Up close, the formation of the seed heads brought to mind the open beaks of baby birds, waiting for mother to bring food. The petals that remained stood, funky and proud, like the hairs on a man’s balding head.

i'm funky and proud

As I have watched these flowers in their progression it seems they have turned inward, toward the center of themselves.

coming in to me

Moving toward the center of ourselves is, perhaps, the most important thing that we can do as we move into the latter stages of life. Joan Chittister, the author of The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully (published in 2008 by Blue Bridge, available on Amazon.com, where I got my copy), writes:

This is the time to begin to think of higher matters than looking ten years younger than we are, wonderful as that can be. We must begin to attend to the inner self now. These years are for allowing the interior life—our continuing questions, our lifelong interests—to direct what we do and who we are…But whatever we do, we must do it consciously. We must do it knowing that for all the losses, there are new things to gain as well.

There is a balm in the center of ourselves; I look each day for mine. Some days, I can feel the waves of soothing energy that enliven my body. Other days, the sensations are elusive.

Yesterday I sat, scrutinizing the parched and wrinkled skin on my leg. The light was hitting it just so. I cringed and knew my journey toward loving my wrinkles is far from over. However, I find that I am developing love for the wrinkles in other people’s skin.

The beautiful photographs identified below help move me there. They were passed along to me by Linda Wright whose thoughtful blog entries are posted on inthesamevein.blogspot.com. The photos were made by a woman whose beautiful writing can be found on her blog, butterbeansblues.blogspot.com.

Savor them, and yourself, with all of your wrinkled skin and funky petals.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/butterbeansblues/4342830914/in/photostream/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/butterbeansblues/4294028617/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/butterbeansblues/4218268965/in/photostream/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/butterbeansblues/4178424454/in/photostream/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/butterbeansblues/4104788122/in/photostream/

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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