Monday, August 29, 2011

Retirement Is Not An Option: Act 3

Hi, Boomers,
It is with somewhat regret that I am signing off my blog from this bloodspot website and will now be blogging from my website: This site is a dedicated to a new direction in my professional journey: the journey of a public speaker.
It is with great joy that I am in the throws of changing directions in my life. Why not at 67 years old? There is no better time than now to rejuvenate my life and give it a different direction, still with passion and still with desire. I will not, however, be giving up teaching yoga. Yoga is my passion and my life. They are one for me and I cannot live without yoga to nourish my soul and bring peace into my life. Yoga has given me so many unbelievable gifts. I am blessed daily and I have deep and profound gratitude for these gifts. In time, I will simply scale down my version of teaching yoga.
I don't believe in retirement. Retirement is just waiting to die so that isn't an option. I believe in living life to the fullest always. When I wrote my memoir, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, I thought it was a totally fun moment in my life. The writing and publishing brought me joy and honor. But it was just a book and a book has a shelf-life if it isn't a classic or a bests seller. But a life has no such thing as a shelf-life. Life is lived on a continuum with curves and variables and losses and struggles and joys and successes. Life is incredibly interesting because it has so many nuances and levels and loves and desires and dreams and passions. What a rides this life!!
I don't know when it was that I decided to be a public speaker. Maybe it was always in me and it took writing my book to bring it out. After all, my memoir was a window to my soul. My beautiful close friends have told me that reading my book was like having a conversation with me in a private room. How splendid! A very long time ago, I was a public speaker in high school and won all the major speech contests in the state of California. Maybe that young girl of 16 is still in me and maybe that girl wanted to come out again and speak.
Seventy-six million baby boomers will are retiring or about to retire. This moment in our social and cultural and economic history will transform society. I don't know in exactly what ways, but they will undoubtedly be transformative. I wanted to take a little corner of this phenomenon and talk about what it means to retire for our generation. The clearest response to this idea is that we will not retire like our parents. Boomers will lead the way to a new paradigm of how we will grow older. Leaving the work force does not mean that we will give up on life; leaving the work force is the begging our our Act 3, the best and most exciting time our our life.
And that is exactly the reason I am altering the dynamics of the last eight years of my life. There are other passions to explore and other dreams to pursue. This is my journey. I hope your journey is as awesome.
See you on

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Feminism: Lost or Found

Hi, Boomers,
How many of your remember the feminist movement? Gloria Steinem and the feminist movement are dear to my heart. In fact, I reflect on it almost daily when I teach yoga to those young women two generations removed from my experience of forging for women's rights in the early 1970's. I feel sad that the young university women I encounter do not appreciate or relate to this compelling moment in the history of women.
If any of you female boomers don't recall much of that time (memory fades), check out the HBO documentary on Steinem and the feminist movement. I caught it the other night and was transfixed by it's energy and determination, its love and spirit. What I didn't remember so vividly was how hostile the male gender was during the years of the feminist movement. Nixon said snotty things about the movement; Harry Reasoner said Ms Magazine would last 3 editions; most elected representatives were dismissive. Yet, women of that generation moved seamlessly through the hostility of both men and women. Their cause would not be denied. It was and it wasn't.
We fought for equal rights for women. We tried to pass the 14th amendment to effect the gender adjustment. The journey was really exciting and quite brilliant. Watching Ms Steinem move through her life as an advocate for equal right and equal protection under the law was always and still is inspiring. A mover and a shaker at 75, I couldn't believe Ms Steinem is still on the path to improve the working and social conditions of women. She was radiant as she spoke about the accomplishments women have forged since the 70s. Although women are still behind the wage curve, we've added millions of our gender to the all walks of life, most importantly in business, medicine/health, and education. We still haven't been fully invested into politics as evidenced by our less than impressive numbers in Washington.
I once hit the glass ceiling at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in the Theater Department and I will never forget what the university president said to me when I brought my complaint of sexism in the workplace to his attention. He said: "I can't help what's going on in that department. They have their reasons. If you want to do anything more in theater, get off campus." And I did and I started Nevada's first year round professional theatre and the professors worked for me.
I feel compelled to pay tribute to a woman and a movement that provoked me to excel in my life, to be the best I could be, to make an impact in my universe. I see Gloria moving and grooving and I still want to emulate her style and her energy.
I look at this generation of college woman and wonder if they have a clue about the influence of the feminist movement on our society. I have had several conversations with young women lately reflecting on the inertia of today's women in terms of their professional staying power. These women seem to lack purpose on where their life is going or even how to get the life they want and deserve. I don't know if they are marking time until the right man comes along and they can start a family. I'm not judging that or labeling that as misdirected because I married very early and had children in my late 20s. But I also believed that if I invested in education, began a career path, trusted the passionate nature of my ife's trajectory that I would gain personal and professional satisfaction and my life would subsequently be richer and fuller.
The belief in a feminist movement does not negate the possibility of falling in love or being in love or marrying and raising a family. The feminist movement was a belief in the power of women to exceed and excel completely and fully in a life's work. Ms Steinem fell in love in her early 70s and married. The tragedy is that it was a very short marriage because the man she loved and married died of a brain tumor in the third year of her marriage. It must have been truly devastating to have fallen in love finally and then to loose that love. Although, I am sure that as with most women who tragically loose a partner and a lover, the recovery is tremendously difficult. I know from personal experience how sad and humbling that can be.
However, Ms Steinem is a woman above all who is immensely knowledgeable and sure of herself, whose beliefs are strong and clear. There is a through line of truth in her life's work and that is what makes her a role model for generations of women who want to create a live of value and productivity. I will tell the group of women that I am speaking to on campus at UCLA the story of Gloria Steinem and hope they are as inspired as I was to have been championed by the feminist movement.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smile, Please

Hi, Boomers,
Wow! Long time no hear from me. Jeezzz. I must be out of my mind. I must be nuts. I take on a new career as a public speaker and I am consumed by planning, organizing, detailing, and memorizing the speech, working on the website and just getting overwhelmed. I wish the federal government worked as hard making some progress on its inability to make decision and plan for a future in which my sons and grandchildren can receive the full benefits of being an American.
No one smiled in my classes last week. It was really grim. It began with a precipitous fall in the stock market on Monday: down, up, down,up, down, up. It didn't matter that my students weren't invested in the market. No 401k for the students, but surely staff and faculty had some savings for the future. The collective unconscious of the nation is surely in an unhappy and, dare I write, confused state. But our malaise goes deeper than Wall Street.
We used to be able to fix things in the good old U.S. And we used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. We used to be able to count on people who did the right thing. We used to be able to speak from truth and not from hyperbole and outright lies. When did facts become irrelevant? When did learned men become the butt of jokes? When did elected officials ignore voters who say they want those in government to act like grown ups and speak with true authority based on information, on facts, instead of fabricating scenarios that fit their personal beliefs and political ideology.
It's hard to smile while we lose our future. It feels as if the collective unconscious is beginning to actually mourn for a past that seemed to hold more promise than either the present or the future.
I think today I heard something so arrogant and judgmental from Michelle Bachman that for the first time I was put on notice that freedom could be put on trial and now I'm not smiling. Mrs. Bachman, who just won the Iowa straw poll, was questioned on "Meet The Press" by David Gregory about not just her belief that raising the debt was a mistake without thought to what would happened on the globally (she also ridiculed the secretary of the treasury and, of course, President Obama for getting it all wrong - everyone gets it wrong but her), but also about her belief that gays are somehow not really valuable humans; they are rather a sub species who need conversion not just to the heterosexual lifestyle but to her idea of the Christian way of life. It's her way or the highway. If only we could hear God whisper in our ear and tell us what to do we could be on her same page. I wondered if she became president all gays would be isolated in society, maybe interned in lifestyle camps until they mended their ways and turned straight. She actually believes that being gay is a disorder.
She and her husband are scary people. Dr. Bachman's clinic encourages discouraged/ isolated/confused gays to get help for their sexual orientation and become straight, which suggests that they are not good enough the way they are. If she becomes president, don't be surprised if "don't ask, don't tell," which was repealed recently, will return with a vengeance.
Why is there no outrage? Or maybe there is and the anger is internalized. I'm not particularly proud of what our country is doing because it doesn't stand for the values I thought we had. We seemed to have lost our compassion, our empathy, and in its place, some elected officials and those who are running for office with millions of dollars behind them spout platitudes with no real way to implement sound ideas.
Where is the truthful vision for America? We got off track in America - Wall Street greed, two wars, outsize spending, devaluing of education, lack of job creation, not helping those who cannot help themselves, stripping social services - but did we lose all the problem solvers along with our values?
One thing I regret about America. We've lost historical perspective and we stopped listening to wise men, and instead we bought in to simplistic jingoism. This is certainly not the 21st century I envisioned.
Are we ever going to smile again?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Mystical Magical Journey of Kaya

Hi, Boomers,
It's been a really difficult week and I'm glad it's over. Every day seemed to be a challenge none more than the death of my youngest son's dog, Kaya. Kaya was around 12 years old and a combination of half Bull Mastiff and maybe a pit and maybe an American bulldog. Aaron rescued Kaya while he was in law school at Syracuse getting a law/MBA double degree. The family thought Aaron was complicating his student life with a dog but it turned out to the opposite. Kaya was Aaron's soulmate and savior. She endured the freezing winters at Syracuse University with joy and traveled back and forth from NY to LA or Las Vegas with pitch perfect aplomb. She loved to travel and play in the snow. Dog and boy were inseparable.
When I first met Kaya, I fell in love. At the time, my significant other and I had a dobbie named Flojo because we got her during the 1988 Olympics. We also had another dog named Cleo and she was a mini doxie purchased to make Aaron happy in his new move with us to Pasadena. It was always a sight gag when I walked Flojo and Cleo.
But Kaya was magnificent. She knew she was loved and adored and gave back everything to all of us who took care of her and loved her. It was an unconditional love fest.
That's what dogs do, really. They love humans who love them back, their masters in particular without limits or conditions. It like dogs are zen creatures, holding a steady gaze out to those who love them. We cannot live without them and they cannot live without us. Kaya had cancer, probably of the stomach and Aaron didn't wait for her to suffer any more than necessary to make sure her passing was peaceful. It broke our hearts, none more than Aaron who had a rite of passage at this most solemn moment.
I tried to finish my new website content this week, but all I could think about was how profound is our attachments to animals, the loss of Kaya to my son and to our family. Nothing else seemed important. Through tears and starts and stops I managed to get some information on a page. I really don't remember what it was I was supposed to write, but it met a need to be productive. In one of the emails my speech coach sent to me, he tried to encourage me to speak out more about what I knew about the aging process, how it was that I aged so well, and what contributions I could make to the niche market I carved out for myself in the speaking world.
First thing that came to my mind was that people age better with animals. Animals increased the quality of anyone's life, whether it be dogs or cats, or fish or domesticated lizards. Animals make us happy; animals give us something other than ourselves to think about; animals cuddle; animals make us laugh; animals make us feel secure; animals give us the opportunity for physical activity, more specifically if they are dogs. It's hard to walk a cat or a lizard.
Of course, having a positive and healthy attitude about age is crucial to how we age; hopefully we are going to age with joy and productivity. Being happy with who we are at whatever age we are allows us to take on the challenges of growing older. And if we believe we can control our own destiny and are jazzed about what comes up next in life, finding our passions in life, well, then, that's even better for the aging process.
I also think that learning to be less reactive in an important part of aging. Life is in flux all the time; life changes and provides us with positives and negatives and we might think about taking everything in stride even if we don't like it much. My father used to do that all the time. I never saw the man flip out over anything in life. This idea that we stay balanced in mind and body absolutely reduces stress and anxiety.
I'm all about adapting to change. I'm all about living light and not attaching to a lot of material things. People get caught up in places and things but a healthy sense of detachment (see my blog on the 10% solution) is a must to keep issues in perspective, including ourselves. I love that line, "Get over yourself!" I actually think that aging gives us baby boomers an advantage because we have, hopefully, gained some wisdom and experience and historical perspective through our decades of learning and living.
So, the passing of my beautiful Kaya reminds me that the beauty of what we have in our lives is simply borrowed and given to us for a time. Our life on earth is a transition along the way to the ultimate end of our physical life. Kaya's energy and soul will live on and so will our soul and energy. I'm so happy to have known and played and loved with Kaya.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Hi, Boomers,
One of my friends called me up today and said, "Joan, I'm really disappointed in you. You haven't blogged in several weeks. What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" I shouted back. "Are you kidding me? What's wrong is how much I have on my plate and can't get through any of it!"
"Hold on, hold on. I'm just asking," he said quietly. "I'm just asking."
"Asking is the problem," I responded sheepishly
It went something like that except not only am I busy, but I also from time to time have difficulty deciding what I want to write about. Nothing was inspiring me except guilt that I had not written. I woke up this morning with that same guilty feeling. And then my friend called this afternoon to remind me.
I've been tackling the fifth draft of my keynote speech. It seems the darn speech never ends. I'm single minded about converting my speech coach's notes into the content and then wrestling with cuts and edits this is a full time project. I can't entertain another idea and I'm way behind on providing content to my web designer for my new website. I'm tardy with an article for the Huffington Post and I'm teaching more classes than I could ever imagine. And today I gave an interview with Dr. Diana Wiley on her radio show, Love, Lust and Laughter on Progressive Radio Network. Everything takes time.
Life has interfered with my life.
But I was thinking about a subject that I've talked about frequently in the last couple of weeks. What is it that keeps us from our dreams and finding our passions? My favorite answer is resistance. Resistance is anything that keeps us fro what we love or want to do. It is the enemy within us because it hacks away at the unlived life, a life without fulfillment. And that's really boring because it causes us to make endless lists of excuses not to do what we really want to do. I'm too old, I'm too fat, I'm too settled, my wife won't like that, my husband won't let me go, it's too expensive, it's too far, it's too stupid, I won't like that kind of play, I heard the movie was get the idea.
Stephen Pressfield in his book, The War of Art, said "Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and harder to kick than crack cocaine." Resistance keeps us from achieving the life we want or the life that is intended for us. Mr. Pressfield called resistance "the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease or erectile dysfunction. To yield to resistance crushes our spirit and makes us less than what we were born to be."
Somewhere lurking underneath resistance is fear. Often we aren't even aware that we are fearful of something or someone or situation. That's an unconscious state to be in. And it indicates that we are living in the shadow world, a world of half lights. We are only aware of our shadow (Plato's Cave), the unconscious part of our being. Of course, we will resist because we are not fully aware of ourselves. So perhaps we will not be able to discover what we are intended to do with our lives, find our passions, and open our hearts to the surprises that life gives to us many times over.
I'd love to entertain you a bit more, but I have to finish the audio on my book(s), Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer and Women Obsessed. The first book will be ready for purchase on Monday, July 25. Pre-sales and discounts start on this coming Monday, July 11. I'm excited. I love the people I'm working with - really young kids who seem to have a idea to fill a market for audio books. Ben came up to me at the Los Angeles Festival of Books a few months ago and said: "With that title, you should put your book on audio." He was reading my mind and I was so totally NOT resistant, I almost hugged him. It's been a great ride since.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Meditation on Yoga

Hi, Boomers,

I am now in the decade of my 60s, and I am still the only one who can make a difference in myself and in my life. I am fully prepared to do so and look inwardly for guidance. It has been my preference and my joy to stay connected with myself through the practice of yoga. Yoga is also the way in which I express my physical and energetic sense of self. It is through my yoga practice that I am more able to stay present, to stay internally balanced, and to enjoy good health through the principles of breath, alignment, and movements.

I like to think that yoga is an aesthetic; it is a creative dance that blends movement and expression. When I’m practicing yoga, I feel like I’m the disco queen, the sexy Latina dancer, the prima ballerina, and everything beautiful wrapped up inside me. No one is watching me, and no one is judging me. My mat is my universe. I am always amazed by what I learn daily about moving into a position without needing to get anywhere. From the flowing yoga movements come joy and renewal. I’m excited and enthusiastic to be alive and mindful of my being. New ideas often enter my mind as I breathe and flow. I let them go, knowing that they will return in time.

Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yui, which means to “bring together” or “to unite.” The practice integrates all aspects of the individual--body, mind, and spirit--to bring about balance and harmony in a sentient being. There are three parts to a yoga practice: breathing, physical movement (or asana), and meditation.

Breathing is the linchpin of the practice, for it yokes the body and mind together. Breath is sacred, and breathing is the major mechanism that inspires us to be present. This is not an ordinary breathing pattern, but deep belly breathing that engages every cell in the body.

I like to refer to the moving or physical component of a yoga practice as a “moving meditation” because it connects a clear mind with breath and physical movement. The movement component helps me let go of my thoughts and to distance myself from the constant need to feed my ego.

I am facilitated in creating more awareness in my life through the practice of meditation. The simple definition of “meditation” is to quiet the mind; yet this definition doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to stop thinking. Meditation suggests to us that we let our thoughts go and not get stuck on one track or loop. When we relax the mind, we relax our body as well.

There are many creative techniques that I use in mediation apart from watching my thoughts go by like clouds or watching my breathing. I challenge my thoughts and ask myself if I have any suggestions for improving the meditation. I pay close attention to my posture, a straight spine. I hold and sustain contradictory thoughts, pay attention to ambient sounds in the room, imagine a beautiful scene on the beach. Or, I might ask myself what is it I really want in life?

Brain mapping studies reveal that mediation increases happiness and reduces stress, which gives us a better quality of ife. Long–term meditation is associated with increased gray matter, increased density of the brain stem, increased thickness of the spinal cord, increased blood flow, and improvement in cognitive learning.

The manner in which I engage in my yoga practice is through the selection of small intentions rather than goals, as in “I have to touch the floor; otherwise I haven’t executed the posture properly.” The intention of moving in to a pose with patience, grace, and alignment allows me to stay in the present without grasping or forcing myself into position. If I take the intentional aspect of yoga off my mat and into my life as a replacement for the goal-oriented Western concept of pushing toward achievement, I can live my life with more ease and a deeper sense of purpose and joy. This is the essence of yoga; enjoying the journey and not heading directly for the destination.

Yoga distances myself from the daily grind of life. I cannot change the dynamics of my world, but I can effect change in myself. I follow the yogic way of life and its principles of an open heart and mind and what follows is my bliss.

On my first day of my yoga teacher training class, my teacher asked the class why he or she had signed up for training. I said, “Because I want to live forever.” I was, of course, joking, but I do know that my yoga practice has allowed me to live with greater joy.



Saturday, June 18, 2011

Master of the Universe

Dear Mr. Wiener,
Sorry I'm late to your pity party. I've been slogging through the fourth draft of my hour long speech for the National Speakers Association. I'm still an academy member, not officially a full fledged member, until I give 20 paid speeches. You probably have hundreds of paid speeches in the bag. I just gave my first - sort of - since I didn't have the speech memorized but I did give a semblance of a speech on my topic: Retirement Is Not An Option: Act 3. It sounds like a speech you might want to hear right about now. Or you can joined me Monday nights at the West Hollywood chapter of Toastmasters. I got first place on Monday night for giving an impromptu speech on, "What are the two most important characteristics of a true champion?" You might have learned something. I reflected that the two important traits of a champion were having an attitude of gratitude and recognizing vulnerability as an asset instead of a liability. That moment felt about as good as getting the academy award for best actress in a documentary. You might have used one or two of my points in your resignation speech on Thursday. It didn't sound like you had a lot of gratitude going for you.
It feels almost like a sin not to blog about you, Anthony. May I call you Anthony, Mr. Wiener? I know I'm a week late on this subject, but forgive me because I've been busy.
Anthony, your antics give us women so much fodder for the subject of men behaving badly that it's seems a shame to waste a good journalistic moment. At fist I didn't care about what you did; that is to say, share your private part with random women. I really couldn't figure out why I didn't care and it bothered me - not about what you did but why I didn't care about what you did. Should I really care that a guy was objectifying women for his own self-agrandizement? Seen that done a hundred times before. Nothing new there. Hey, look at my penis! Isn't it great? Don't you just adore it? Of course, you love it! It's a penis! All women love penis, don't you know. (I refuse to use the plural of penis. My significant other and I always argued over the plural of the word. I called it peni.)
First, not all women love penis. Why in the name of Zeus do men think we all love penis? That's an assumption that I can prove just walking down Hollywood Blvd. And if we did love, okay, dick, why do you think we want to see it on Twitter or a cell phone. That picture is just bad photography. No, dude. You love your penis and I don't love your penis. You love it most of all. All men love their dick most of all.
Anthony, when I first heard about your penchant to get the attention of random women by exposing yourself, I knew you had a psychological problem. So it was easy to distance myself from what you did. I mean, who does that besides 25 year olds who don't know any better or someone with a sexual issue or even with a random self-esteem issue. I mean talk about your adolescent behavior. I mean, talk about your narcissism, your borderline personality, your hypo-manic attention getting neediness. And your behavior had been going on long before you married, Anthony. I mean, didn't you think you had a problem. You've been displaying this behavior for 4 years prior to your marriage. Oh, excuse me, you didn't think at all because you love the thrill of the hunt; you love the risk, you risk-taker, you. You felt like you were master of the universe. Or, maybe as some people are saying, you wanted to get caught. In front of TV cameras? In front of the world? Big balls you have, Tony.
I know that most everyone was more angry at you for lying than your actual behavior. Some were more angry at you for your rank stupidity. And I kind of get it why you lied - embarrassment, of course, lost of status, of course, your wife would find out, of course - but even as you told the lie you had to know that one or more of those tattle-tale girls would want their five minutes of fame. Girls just can't keep their mouth shuts now-a-days. They love to kiss and tell or in your case, just plain tell. By the way, the dialogue between you and some of the girls was pretty sophomoric, Anthony. Do you really talk like that in bed? Time for a script doctor. So lying had no upside for you except more haters came out. And being stupid in action and deed was really beneath you because you had a rep for being articulate and bright on political issues. You really do seem to think with your dick. How cliched! That's basically why you seek therapy. Then maybe you'll get enlightened and write a book about the "penis factor." I have no idea how you are going to redeem yourself. I have no idea how you get your marriage back on track. This whole episode is pretty tragic because a fall from grace is never good. In a sick way, it would have been better just to have a commercial exchange like Spitzer. Payment for services rendered. It's cleaner even though his trick was a blabber mouth, too. I think that's an ethics violation on the behalf of his favorite call-girl. We all understand commerce even though we don't condone cheating. Morality is a sticky issue under any circumstances. You, my friend, didn't even get laid. There was no commerce; there was only behavior unbefitting an adult. No perks there.
Maybe I still don't care, Tony, that you let yourself and your wife and Congress, I mean the Democrats down. Maybe I don't care because by now I'm conditioned to expect the worst in men's behavior. It doesn't phase me. I don't even feel sad about it. I don't feel anything about it except you are a Democrat; even so it seems your job wasn't even that important to you and you let down your constituents . And the women who participated in your charade, those who hung on to your twittering longer than one second, not only played a role in your downfall, but also behaved like twittering females. The minute one of those women kept the sex game going , so dying to hold on to the pathetic five minutes of attention you gave them with your immature behavior, they also became complicit. Hey, Tony, is it my imagination or are more common today to see women behaving badly as well.
Look, Anthony, I'm not a prude in matters of sex. I like it as much as the next straight female. But I prefer intimacy in matters of sex, principally in the prone position, and I don't approve of public displays in which all of us get caught up in someone else's distorted vision (i.e., your wet dream) of what appropriate sexual conduct is about. Do you realize that there are now little imitators of Anthony Wiener's bad behavior floating around iCloud? Now more men than ever will think it's okay to show their penis because you did, and these guy also won't think they'll get caught. Darling, Tony, everyone gets caught in some fashion. Everyone pays the price. Why, oh, why, darling Tony, did you think that somewhere in your redundant mind, you thought that if men behaved in a risky manner, women would be turned on. We don't get horny that way, dude.
Here's a history lesson for you, Tony: In days gone by, man's conquest over his sex drive gave him superior powers and many virtues. It was a sign of honor not to flagrantly display the male member all the time because keeping the penis in check was a way to demonstrate a strong mind/body connection. That was true self-mastery. Today, it's just reality TV and we are all sucked into the vortex of other's people's perception of their reality.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Oprah Syndrome

Hi, Boomers,
You have to have lived on another planet last week to have missed Oprah's closing show. Well, there were actually two last closing shows. Twenty-five years and thousands of guests and hundreds of hours of self-promotion with her charity work and book promotions, image issues, and cathartic moments. No matter her weight, Oprah has been every woman's muse.
Humans need gurus. We need models and counselors and guides to help us live our lives without drowning in quiet desperation. We are surrounded by people, places and things, and yet, we are still lonely and full of fears. After all, we're going to die some day for sure. No one can stop that, not even Oprah. We can't figure out why our lives remain stagnant and lacking in excitement. We expect more of ourselves; we are looking for another paradigm, a new way of looking at life and Oprah and her gurus have been the people who would help us find happiness and peace, and maybe take away all our thoughts of mortality. We will live on through Oprah.
Oprah makes us feel better about ourselves because, after all, who else but Oprah is going to bring us joy, give us have self-esteem, find love, be better parents and stay healthy and physically fit, and put off dying. We trust her and we love her and we worship her. She has assured us that she has made life much better for all of us.
We seem desperate and committed to have someone else help us cope with loneliness and provide us with everything that we cannot do for ourselves. Don't we have our own resources to make ourselves find joy and passion in life? Sure we do but we haven't realized that we are basically lazy. Desperate and lazy. Viewers sit on sofas and watch Oprah and her guests generate excitement and energy, make interesting decisions by taking actionable steps to achieve their own dreams. These guests are their own change agents. We like to watch them do cool things and go to spiritual places. We want to find out what inspires them. We want to be like them. But we are simply voyeurs and outsiders.
On Oprah's last show she gave us a directive to follow the actions of those thousands of guests who are examples of inspiration. These are for the most part people who lived life to the fullest and inspired others along the way. So, after 25 years, Oprah told us to get a move on and find our calling. Yes, that's right: our calling. She told us we can follow our dreams and be all that we can be and make our mark on the world just like everyone who came before on her show.
However, she forgot to tell us to get off the couch and stop watching television. That's because she owns a TV network called OWN and she has programs on OWN that she wants the couch potatoes to watch. They, too, will be as inspirational as her talk shows.
Unfortunately, Oprah gave her spirited address to those who simply watch on the sidelines and leave the action to others. Oprah never gave the couch potatoes a life line to do what we are called to do. Most will not do anything at all but watch the next version of her talk show. While Oprah was telling us what we should do, she was moving on to other projects and other journeys that were going to be bigger and better than what she had been doing for the last 25 years. She left it to others to help us get off the couch.
Anyone and everyone is entitled to retire or to be a change agent. It's not just the way of the powerful and rich. But Oprah thought it was time to pass on the crown on to the next guru. She did her part and played her guru role to the fullest. Along with giving away cars and trips, she sponsored schools and helped many people and recommended many good books. Maybe some of it was show biz and some of it was real but all of it was her calling. This might be her finest journey.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Writing As If No One Is Watching

Hi, Boomers,
Writing is a solitary ritual. We think of rituals as something stemming from religion But the truth is that anything can be a ritual: dancing, playing music, working out, meditation, yoga, praying, taking holy communion, paying bills, cooking, getting ready for bed at night. Even funerals are rituals.
I love rituals. They are mostly performed alone or with like-minded people. As a young Catholic girl, I adore all the rituals of the church. From the nuns getting out of the cab every morning at St. Raphael's Church and school, to standing in line for confession every Friday, to the line up in the school yard for Sunday mass. Everything remained the same inside and outside the church. When we practice rituals we are comforted by their sameness. Most of us want to know what is expected of us and we are jolted out of our naturalness when there is variation or change. Change is challenging. Change is mostly not to our liking. But if one doesn't like the ritual, one can leave it without fanfare and without regret.
I love many things about my life and I cherish and have gratitude for my gifts. Of the things I am passionate about are my yoga practice (a ritual), dancing Argentine tango (very much a ritual), teaching, and writing, all of them are ritualized. I love the sameness in the context of what I do. But within the confines of my rituals, there are nuances and differences. Therein lies the creative process.
Sometimes it is fun and rewarding to work with others. Collaboration in any art form can be productive. Theater people do it all the time; so do writers and musicians, songwriters, and dancers. Painters go it alone. Sometimes teachers collaborate. Whether alone or together, the artistic process is always special.
When I began to write screenplays after attending American Film Institute, I wrote my first screenplay by myself. My mentor and significant other insisted I write the film by myself before I left film school, and I would learn more about writing screenplays than anything else I could have done. My mentor encouraged me to create the story - from one of my own ideas - and this would be a calling card for me after graduation. It came to pass that my writing partner turned out to be my life partner and we wrote together, sitting side by side in front of a typewriter for several years. And then I began to write the first drafts by myself and he came in after or during and made suggestions when I got stuck with story. He was fabulous with story and I was better at dialogue. It worked like a charm.
More and more I began to rely only on myself when it came to writing in any form or style. I loved the solitude of the process. I still do today. I get my inspiration from reading, research and from my really smart friends whom I listen to with great gusto. Writers pay attention to details, to the nuances of human behavior. And most important, writers listen.
I used to say that I was a better re-writer than a writer. First drafts have a lot of information in them, but they are not very well organized. I tend to over-write. But then I go back into the manuscript and dig out of the mess I made. I have to do this anywhere from 5 to 10 times for the piece to take shape. If I am lucky and have a writing coach, then I really pay attention to what the coach is telling me. The problem with most writers is that they don't really hear what someone is telling them. Re-writing is listening and that's difficult because writers fall in love with their words and ideas. That's dangerous territory to get wrapped up in your own words. A writer has to be open to suggestions and a good writer will know when the coach is giving a really good idea. A writer has to be able let go of what is not appropriate for the written work.
I've been challenged for the last 3 months by writing a keynote speech for the National Speakers Association. Speech writing is a different process and I am still learning about it's structure and the way in which the message is delivered. Two drafts later, my coach suggested I outline the speech, take a look at the message again and clean up the organization. I love to outline. One thing Catholic education taught me was the art of the outline. As early as the 4th grade we were learning how to outline and I couldn't get enough. It really paid off in college taking notes and organizing a paper. When I created my outline, I learned so much about what I was kind of baggage I was carrying in my speech and what was standing out. It was a great exercise and it will probably help me memorize the speech with less effort.
There is a saying in dance that is an internal reflection about movement: dance as if no one is watching. I look at writing in the same way: write as if no one is watching. There can be a self-consicous aspect to the arts, the kind of "look at me, see what I'm doing, I'm important." But this conceit is narcissist to say the least. This means that everything the writer writes is reflecting back on him/her instead of reaching out to an audience. The human perception that what we do has weight to it or is a reflection on self-esteem or provides us with some cache is just a bad idea. Writers have to maintain distance from their work just as any artist does. Whatever one does in the field of the arts, if it is done with truthfulness, is a private meditation whether it comes from one person or several people. In the end, artist endeavors come from the heart, out of love and true emotion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Hard Day's Night

Hi, Boomers,
I've been absent from my blog. I apologize. It hasn't been because I don't love blogging. It's because I've been in the midst of thinking about and then changing my life's work.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, "Why am I making my life so complicated in my 60s? I could just as easily not have tackled a career change and cruised along teaching yoga, dancing tango, and visiting my family in Vegas."
Keep your routine, Joan. Keep life simple. I hate it when I complicate life.
It all sounded so simple when last December I decided to attended a keynote speaker's conference sponsored by the National Speaker's Association in Las Vegas. I was curious about what a speaking career entails. In November I had made a number of inquiry calls to the local NSA chapter and met a really wonderful woman who was a member on the local NSA chapter and she was encouraging and just plain fun.
"Why not speak?" she said. "You'd be great."
That's all I needed to hear to get my mojo going. I had no idea what I was going to speak about, however. I usually jump into turgid waters without much thought as to whether I could swim my way out to safety. I've done that a couple of times in my life.
I love jumping off a cliff without a net. Does that make me an adrenalin junkie? I do love change and challenge. Perhaps this is what spurred me on to investigate becoming a speaker.
I thought it would be a good idea to use my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, as a point of departure for a speech. In the narrative of my book, a personal memoir, I discuss many topics about living a full and joyful life in my 60s. I refer to the complexity dealing with adult children, the emotional roller coaster of being a grandmother, the disappointments of dating and trying to find some semblance of a relationship with a man, the sadness of taking care of an elderly parent, returning to therapy, the joy of following your passions, the fact is that retirement is not an option, and much more. Even though I didn't have a clue about writing a speech, I certainly had some information I could use from my book.
The NSA keynote speaker's conference was a revelation. Although I wasn't certain I wanted to complicate my life with public speaking, I was wowed by the quality of speakers and the first rate information presented by top speakers. This was a brave new world, and as usual, I was coming in to this new world with a very late start.
I've always been a late comer and a late bloomer. I'm not sure why that is but it's happened a few times in my life and this last Johnny come lately even surprised me. I don't even know when the interest in speaking hit me. I wish I could remember because it might make a good story. It just kind of materialized.
After the conference, I was supposed to start writing a speech. It took me two months to figure out what to write. By then I has secured a speech coach. I saw him in Vegas; in fact, he lived in Vegas so it was convenient for me to see him when I visited my family. It took him awhile to accept me as a client because these top notch guys don't just take anyone one. Being a speech coach or a coach to anyone is a real pain in the neck. It's probably not worth the money they charge a client for all the pushing and cheerleading they have to do to motivate a potential speaker. Somehow I convinced my coach that I was worthy. I gave him my book and then we strategized a topic. Then we changed the topic and then I wrote a draft for my one hour speech, and then I threw it out after I met with my coach.
I started to watch videos of speakers. I was trying to get the sense of how to deliver a message to an audience, to make a promise to them that what I will propose are actionable steps to change their lives. I just finished the second draft and sent it in to my speech coach.
This speech writing has been all consuming. I feel like a junkie. I feel like I'm on speed. It's like when I used to write screenplays. I'd stay up all night and write when I got an idea and I wouldn't stop. I'm manic.
Why did I complicate my life? I complicated my life because something inside of me is compelled to speak to audiences about living happy, wild and free when the job is over, or a career burns out, or when depression sets in, when the body is too fat and lacks exercise, when relationships are over, when there is no more joy in life.
Maybe I feel that I can motivate people by sharing my experiences with the benefits of yoga and living my passions and telling stories about people who have changed their lives because they have let go of resistance and judgement.
Maybe it's just a dream, but it's my dream and I'm jazzed and motivated by the thought of doing it some day. This might just be my Act 3.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Anticipate the Positive

Hi, Boomers,
I just came back from 2 days at the Los Angeles Festival of Books. This year it was held on USC campus instead of UCLA. It had been held at UCLA for more than 10 years. When I first heard the news that the festival of books was moving off my beloved UCLA campus, I was deeply disappointed. I teach yoga at UCLA and I was thrilled because I have a parking permit. I could walk easily enter the festival if it had been held on UCLA grounds.
So I met my booth-mate at the Vagabond Hotel just south of USC campus on Saturday morning. Stan the Man - award winning pie maker and blue ribbon dessert maker, along with his adorable mom - and we proceeded to divide and set up our corner booth. Throughout Saturday about 75,000 people attended. Lots of families; lots of kids, not a whole lot of interest in Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. I was looking around for my demographic - the boomers - those without kids, those who were curious about what was under the title. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of chuckles at my title. I heard the title echoing around the booth all day. That was awesome.
So without the thrill of the sale, I went forth and roamed the festival. It was really spread out and I seemed to walk forever. I dropped off my book to my author friends, and checked out booths that targeted speaking and writing and enjoyed the music and the energy. Surrender to the moment, dude. It was all good. Stan the man and I even had time to create a concept for a reality show. That I can't share with you all. But if it ever gets to reality TV, you'll be the first to know.
This first day, I got kind of philosophical about the book festival journey. "It's hit and miss," my author friend, Etan, told me. He writes and sells children's books and does a bang up job of it. So when I wasn't selling, I was networking. People who came up to talk to me at my booth were incredibly generous with their time and information. I accumulated lots of good ideas for my next incarnation into a speaker. I had to remind myself that my life, my work was a process in motion. Fluid and always positive.
Sunday brought some good sales but more heart-felt conversation about living a full life after 50. People shared stories, gave me thumbs up, smiles, laughter. Some even returned from the day before to thank me for the honesty of the book. A man who is a tango dancer wanted to talk tango. I gave him some tips about the tango walk. I riffed on the bliss of meditation as a meabs to open the mind. One young man came up to my booth, looked at the book cover, and handed me a card. "Did you ever think about putting your book on audio?" he asked. I looked at him as if he had two heads. "Wow! Did you read my mind? I've been putting that off for months," I enthusiastically told him. "I sure am interested." "Well, you've got a great voice," he said. "Would you like to do some readings for other books. Most people don't want to read their own books." Bingo! What a great day!
Keep an open mind, have an open heart, don't label what is in front of you, don't resist the present and surprises will come. I have no idea what will come out of the book festival this weekend at USC - certainly anything that comes my way would be somewhat different from a book festival at UCLA. The energy convergence is unique. So it's impossible to have any kind off expectation of an outcome. Yet, that's the beauty in life. Stay calm and serene and enjoy the grace of life. Oh, yeah.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Parade

Hi, Boomers,
I don't quite know how to respond to Easter. I was raised a Catholic so I celebrated Easter every year until I married a Jew, had two sons and since then celebrated Passover. It seems ironic that I went from the New Testament to the Old Testament in a few short years. The fact is that I was raised a Catholic (my father's side), but my mother was Jewish but not raised Jewish. She used to say when finally revealing her parentage that my grandmother was Jewish, but she didn't really recognize that she was Jewish because she knew nothing about the religion. My mother told me when I was 19 years old that Grandma Rose was Jewish. When I asked her why she decided to tell me that very important fact about her life when I was 19, she told me that since I was dating a Jewish boy, I should know.
If you get that logic, you're a lot smarter than I am.
Except to say that I was well aware that San Francisco and environs carried heavy anti-semetic prejudice. My mother told me that job applications during most of the early 20th century asked what religion the applicant claimed. If you put Jewish, then you most certainly wouldn't get the job. My mother put down that she was Protestant. My mother had no idea what that meant. It just sounded neutral.
Religion is complicated. I went to a Seder on Monday night and had the most fabulous time I have ever had celebrating Passover. Who knew it could be so much fun! We all read from the Haggadah the story of the Jews flight out of Egypt and there was clapping and cheering and the ritual passing of bitter herbs and hard-boiled eggs and kosher sherry, and we even took some intermissions for dancing before we settled down around 10:30 to eat the most delicious food I have ever tasted, which was laid out beautifully on the dining room table. Middle Eastern Jews - the Persians and the Iraqis sure know how to bond as families and feel the intimate joy of oneness.
My Easters were dull affairs without celebration or bonding. My Irish relatives had no sense of cuisine. Outside of the celebration of the Mass on Easter Sunday, very little ritual lingered after 10 o'clock in the morning. The drive from San Rafael to San Francisco in the mid-afternoon was tedious. No one spoke except to wonder if the ham would be salty. I hated ham so I knew I would't eat. Brussel sprouts were overcooked as was everything else that was supposed to be green on the table. The Irish weren't big on fresh green salad; the closest they came to salad was potato salad swimmings in mayonnaise with too many pieces of, what else, green pickles. My cousins and my brother and I played with each other with little interest, and most of the time I sat in the living room waiting to go home, slowly sipping a coca cola that was forbidden to me at home.
In terms of religion, each holiday represents different philosophic concepts. One of the uncles at the Seder took me aside and told me that what really mattered about Passover was the central theme of freedom. The Jews finally got out of Egypt and were able to be free as they went on their journey to the promised land. Easter represents redemption. It was reported that Jesus, crucified two days earlier (Good Friday) and buried in a cave, rose from the dead and was proclaimed the true Messiah by a group of his followers. Some of his disciples said that he made a few visits before he ascended into heaven. Mankind was redeemed; our sins were forgiven. We are not concerned with freedom - freedom of thought, in particular.
But then there was some European pagan ritual that got mixed up with the redemption of Christ and we got Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunny rabbits and an annual NYC Easter Parade . Now if you can find the logic in introducing a pagan ritual into a spiritual context - and mix that with ham - and it simply baffles me and often vexes my sense of spiritual decorum.
I have a tendency to think that religion is based on mythology - like the Greek and Roman mythological stories we may be familiar with. The books in the new testament written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all written 50 years to 150 years after Jesus lived on the earth. Facts can be altered to suit someone else's truth. It's a little unclear who actually wrote the old testament - probably lots of contributors and lots of good stories ranging from forbidden fruit to an array of punishments that even frightens adults. Did I mention sex, the subservient role of women in marriage and worshipping idols? Neither old or new testament give much credence to individual thinking or philosophic exploration.
It probably doesn't matter much because when it comes to a spiritual belief system developed out of organized religion there is little apparent logic. Belief in a higher power or religious institutions is emotional. I suspect that the need to believe in something other than ourselves is based on our fear of dying and the need to be spiritually and morally supported by "the other" throughout life. It's challenging to live without some powerful ally. God, Jesus, Allah are on my side. Some think that belief in a higher power is based on the concept of surrender and acceptance. Others think that a belief in a higher power is a crutch; i.e, our human belief system developed from our own sense of virtue is not strong enough to get through life and pass on into death. No matter the reason for belief in a universal power or organized religion every person has to get through life and death in his/her own way.
Powerful forces can also exist within our own psyches or souls. Stepping back a bit from ourselves, detaching with that 10% reserve to observe our actions (kindness and forgiveness is good) is also a fine way to access our moral compass. Finding the power in the energy of our universal is another way of surrendering to and accepting our lives and our eventual death. For after all, we are only passing through this life on the way to death. We can choose to make it joyous or fraught with struggle. We can choose to live by virtue and a strong moral spine or we can simply collect a bunch of bad karma.
The longer I live the more I realize that there is an Easter parade going on all the time in our hearts and minds. It always comes down to having an attitude of gratitude. This is my religion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I've Got The World On A String

Hi, Boomers,
Do you remember when Sinatra played Madison Square Garden in 1974? He was singing in the middle of a boxing ring. Howard Cosell introduced Frank. The place was packed, alive and exciting. The great man's voice was golden. He was in his prime and he never hit a false note. Those were the days. At least, those were some happy times. Frank never failed to stir my emotions.
When I moved to Las Vegas in summer of 1964, I landed in a frontier desert town covered with a hodgepodge of sage and cactus. It was not only sparse but land had no visual appeal except for about three long blocks on the Las Vegas strip where the fancy hotels were built: the Sahara Hotel, the Frontier, the Dunes, the Sands, the Desert Inn, the Stardust, the Flamingo. The El Rancho Vegas was gone by the time I got to Vegas, but I remembered it years before when my parents took me to see Sophie Tucker perform. I got her autograph that night. I was a big deal to a kid of 10.
In those days, the downtown area was small. Binion's Horseshoe Casino, the Golden Nugget, and the Four Queens were the biggest places, but there were five or six smaller casinos - where the locals and Greyhound bus traffic frequented at all hours of the day and night. It was a seedy section of town in the mid-60's. There were several downtown banks, a court house, some office buildings, Penny's, Sear's and one very small art house movie theater. That was a place where I used to hide out when the sterile environment became overwhelming for me.
And there was a kind of university off the strip - I say kind of because there were only 3 buildings and a library. It was called Nevada Southern University when it was first built. I hadn't finished college yet when I arrived newly married so finishing college actually became an option. But not until I worked all that summer at the Sahara Hotel as the secretary to the catering director. He never found out that I didn't take dictation and never had a course in short hand. I got the job from a friend of my ex-husband's who knew the president of the Sahara. I think he was a mob guy.
The frontier aspect of Vegas made it easy pickings for mob control, and in the late 50's ad throughout the 60's, Vegas was run by the mob. It was a fairly strange existence because every body had friends in the mob. The Jews and the Italians split control over the hotels and casinos. And somewhere in the mix there were the teamsters. The mob and the teamsters had a cozy arrangement. Everybody greased everybody's hand.
What runs in my mind every time I see clips of Sinatra and the rat pack was that I was there, in Vegas at the Sands Hotel and I bore witness to their mythology. Frank, Dean, Sammy, Joey Bishop and once in awhile Peter Lawford. They were the rage in the mid-60's - the height of their popularity. The whole experience of living in Vegas during that time was one of excitement mixed with bewilderment. During that first summer I worked at the Sahara, I met the most popular comedians and singers of the day. During that first summer, my ex-husband studied for the bar (as in law) and I wondered how I ended up in a city where entertainment and gambling were the major recreations. It set the tone and style for many years to come.
In those early years I had a tenuous hold on my world. It was difficult to rectify leaving Berkeley in the 60's for Vegas in the 60's. No two universes were ever so far apart. I felt like I was wandering in the desert looking for the promised land, which by the way I had just left for a marriage and an uncertain life. I was never quite sure how I got there. I actually don't remember make such a life-changing decision.
But Frank always made it better. I'd listen to his music, see him when he was in town, and somehow those tunes would put me in a better place - a place with some kind of hope. And it actually worked out in some kind of rational way because I went back to school, got lots of degrees, had years of teaching experience from high school to college - several years after I got my first degree, the university changed its name to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas - and I co-founded and was the artistic director of Nevada's first legitimate year round theater. To top that off, the mob was my best fund raising arm. The donor plaque in the theater lobby had a list of who's who in the Las Vegas mob.
I ended up by having the world on a string and it lasted for 18 years. Some people think I did time during those years, but I don't look at that way. I remember a girl of 19 who was present at the Sahara Hotel when the Beatles landed on the roof top in a helicopter, bore witness to Elvis's comeback at the Hilton, saw Bette Midler's first live show at Caesar's Palace, and was insulted by Don Rickles. I remember having the best lineup of friends, the most loyal theater customers, the best education (after Berkeley, that is) and saw most of the greatest 60's foreign films ever made in that little art house around the corner from the Golden Nugget.
In the city of dreams and illusions, I grew up, became an adult and fulfilled most of my dreams. I became and educator, a seasoned actress and a theater entrepreneur. What more could I have asked for. And while I lived in Las Vegas that desert town with no visual appeal morphed into a bigger, brighter, thriving city with plenty of neon lights and glitz and glam.
We all made the best of it once upon a time in Las Vegas, and now the irony is that my sons and their families live and work in Vegas and they are making the best of it. Strong survival instincts are alive and well in our family's DNA.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Losing Our Minds

Hi, Boomers,
I want to share something with you. Something very important. It's concerns our brains. The brain is a very complex organ, composed of approximately 100 billion neurons and each one of those neurons communicates with up to 10.000 other neurons. It's a loaded minefield in our heads.
We have been, and rightly so, very concerned about losing our minds, or more specifically succumbing to memory loss before our time. After all, some of us have seen our parents or grandparents suffer from dementia or early onset of Alzheimer's disease. In my case, I have seen how my ex-husband has had to handle his wife, Diane, who has suffered from Alzheimer's for well over a decade. The disease probably began in her mid-50s. Her mother died from this terrible disease. Diane probably didn't have a chance between her DNA and the lack of a cure.
Presuming at mid-life that we will not have Alzheimer's and may just be part of the hundreds of thousands of elderly people who begin to lose short term memory, like my mother, and then finally lose so much that she cannot remember to eat, there is great interest in how can we manage this process just a little bit better than our parent's generation. There is definitely power in knowing and understanding just a little more about how we learn and retain information.
I have been reading about the brain. It fascinates me because I am preparing to go out as a speaker and talk about the boomer generation. The speaking process is very different form the writing process. When I wrote Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, the memories were active in my head and they were important enough to me to be clearly remembered for decades. The key in writing my memoir was that I had a very strong emotional attachment to the subject.
But if I'm trying to motivate someone as a speaker, trying to get people to change behavior or try new behavior, I need to know how the brain receives and retains and then acts or on the messages. People learn when they apply the concepts given to them with consistently.
Part of the learning equation is how interested we are in the subject. But the way we learn best is when we are given a few related points and build on these points for effect. The denser the points, the more the points are illustrated, the more we will retain. The least effective way we retain information is by just plain memorizing.
Another way we retain information is by picking up on active verbs, which animate ideas. When speakers get us to think about doing what they're talking about, we are learning. But the key is whether what we are learning is meaningful in terms of feelings, which are generate by emotions. That involves the limbic area of the brain - the pain/pressure center. It's the area that turns words into memory. We also learn better through context than content. This means we respond better to what we know through experience. When I hear Buenos Aires, I have an immediate, tactile sense about the city. If one speaks to me about Buenos Aires, I am immediately at attention.
My reading about the brain indicated that the brain is lazy and has to be stimulated or coached into consciousness. However, if the brain understands that what someone is telling them is really good for the person - the "what's in it for me" idea is a powerful listening device.
All that said, now is the moment to ask: How can we stop some of that memory loss? How can we keep our minds from aging? The standard answer is do crossword puzzles. I balk at that because I'm terrible doing them so I feel left out of that loop. I can't dredge up a word to go with a cue unless it's about movies or the theater.
But there are actually three theories that help the brain's retention. The effects of meditation on the brain has been studied at the UCLA brain mapping center. All results point to a connection between meditation and more brain activity. A yoga practice adds longevity to our mind and body since the practice connects the mind and body through the breath. And any kind of exercise, even just walking is a key to longevity. In fact, exercise is number one on the anti-aging list of things to do to stay young.
But I heard something else today pertaining to the brain, which sparked my interest. There is something called adaptive competency - this is the ability of the brain to bounce back from stress. In other words, adaptive competency allows us to move off our anxious state or stress related experience and into a present state where that stress passes through us. My mother had that in spades. I remember when a stressful or unpleasant experience occurred, my mother would say, "Just get over it, dear. Leave it behind you." She never in all the time she was alive "chewed" on the negative. She slept well every night she lived on this earth. This characteristic of the brain is called cognitive reserve.
The way the brain adapts, it's cognitive reserve, or does not adapt - very little cognitive reserve - determines our ability to release stress and, therefore, live longer. A practice of meditation and yoga helps to build up our cognitive reserves.
It might be interesting to examine daily how long we hold on to our stress. Then take a yoga class for the next six months and see how your cognitive reserves have built up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Boomers R Us

Hi, Boomers,
You are on my mind lately. I'm trying to write a speech about you/us. I'm not technically a boomer. I'm three years ahead of that curve, but I identify with the zeitgeist because who wants to be associated with hamburger casseroles and green stamps.
The desire to write a speech about the boomers was a direct result of mounting demographics. The first group of boomers turned 65 this year. We're 18% of the population. We've invaded social security and medicare and we are taking the lion's share of entitlements before the next generation even turns 40.
But what have we left on the table? What was our contribution to the world?
We were once the golden generation, advancing the American dream by leaps and bounds. We created a mythology that still prevails in clothes, music, literature, finance. We were the most educated, the most socially hip, the most literate, the most able to advance the cause of good government and social causes. We were the best and the brightest, the most entitled and the most betrayed when Vietnam became up close and personal.
Then we lost our way. We were deceived by Vietnam. It was a brutal war, and we lost too many lives, and it lasted way too long, and it took us years to recover our lives and our economy and our reputation. And some of us never did. We outed post dramatic stress disorder.
Boomers had guts and fortitude and stamina and we roared back by working hard and living good lives. Yet, there were some who were lead astray by America's materialism and forgot the message of the American dream. Peace and love turned into greed is good. What happened to the best and the brightest? We may have amassed great fortunes but some forgot spirit of generosity and fair play. And some forgot how to run a government who serves the people.
So what's up with us now? Some of us have even been dealt another blow. Some of us lost a lot of money in the market during the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression. Some of our retirement is seriously compromised. The possibility that we can retire wild, free, and happy might not happen in a timely manner. The Pew Research Center tells us that we are a seriously depressed generation. No wonder. We had it all but when the going got tough, our mythology started to implode and our star quality began to fade. After some serious decades of success, all those victories appear pretty hollow.
So what I want to say to the boomers in my speech is to take a journey back to the beginning - the that was then part of your life - and see where we are in the present and where we might be going in the future. Got any ideas about what that future would look like?
I love the idea of giving back, getting involved in the green movement, health and care-taking, ecology, teaching in disenfranchised neighbors, tutoring youth, the Peace Corps, Global volunteers, soup kitchens, meals on wheels, helping seniors manage technology. Get off the couch and get involved whatever needs fixing in our communities. We've got so many useful skills and and so much personal power that can change little corners of our world.
Boomers, this is the most exiting time in our lives. We possess more positive potential for growth and transformation at this very moment in our lives that we ever thought possible. This time around we can create another peaceful revolution but one that is deeper and more profound.
Remember Timothy Leary? Tune In, Turn On....
but don't drop out. Maybe we could re-arrange our lives to be more productive and useful at the same time.
Well, we'll figure it out.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Love in the Time of Sixty

Hi, Boomers,
I've been thinking about love lately. I've been in and out of love a few times but I'm not currently in love so I'm giving myself permission to, well, think about love for this blog. (Okay, maybe for longer than this blog.) And I'm not in a relationship at this moment so that's the best time to think about love. No responsibilities, no messiness, no flights, no disfunction, no connectivity, no cherishing. Damn! I'm already missing love.
I miss the energy of love. I miss the contact in love. But love is so complicated. how do we love and cherish throughout the years and maintain happiness? Tough question.
A few months ago, a friend of mine came in town who spends about 3 months in LA. He lives in a city that will remain nameless. I will protect his identity. We like each other, and while we were together for those months, we talked about relationships among other things. We are both boomers - well, we are at the upper end of the boomer generation - well, we are three and four years above the official limit - and it has been interesting to talk about love and relationships at our age.
It feels that love at this age has a different, more mature, more direct connection. It's more think outside the box kind of thing. And we can make our own rules about our love connection. It's actually freeing, kind of liberating to think about love in a broader sense. And it's nice not to leap into love as we do when we are younger. I think when we are younger, it's more about lust at the beginning, so caught up in the sex of it all.
When we are older, sure there is a sexual component, but it's more about the com-munication of the relationship and how that communication shapes the intimac. And that's a process and it takes time like a fine wine coming into maturity.
When love is seasoned both partners keep up with the changes in each other's lives. Lillian Hellman said once,"People change and forget to tell each other." In any relationship, married or not, most successful couples note the changes. For those of us who come to love later in life, it takes time to have sufficient past information to feel comfortable in the love zone. We don't know what he/she was like 20 years ago. so we have to take the present conscious moments and season them with what is divulged from the past. So begins the moment of securing a truly intimate relationship.
All couples have to know how to fight fairly. We have to be aware of our inherent passive aggressive natures. No throwing out dirty laundry or past associations unless they are relevant to the present. True power comes from knowing how to discuss differences fully and honestly. In my last blog, "Talk Pretty to Me," I noted that we have to be cognizant and conscious of throwing out hot button words. It's destructive to any relationship. I read somewhere that if you do not feel stronger and more intimate than you did before you started the argument, you are not building a stronger, more loving relationship. Argue with class and dignity I always say. No hitting below the belt because it's more important to respect the differences.
People in love have all kinds of challenges that us single women don't have. People in love by definition take care of each other. As we age, there are physical challenges as well as mental and emotional challenges and the two love birds are collaborators and helpmates forging a rather new and different relationship. This takes heaps of energy and fortitude and patience. I'm not there yet and maybe I never will be, but I sure respect and honor that journey.
One of the things I am aware of are the physical challenges inherent in a relationship between boomers. Affection is really an important part of a relationship at any age; however, as the boomers age, there are hormonal changes in both men and women. So staying physically connected with passion is a must to combat physical and emotional obstacles and to maintain a physically satisfying and sensual relationship. Keep the fires burning.
Whether dating or in a relationship (oh, so long ago) I know adding new ways to play together is crucial. Couples bond more closely when they do new and exciting activities. Take a painting class together, open up a bed and breakfast together, sign up for the Peace Corp, exercise together, take a yoga class together, meditate once a day together. Invigorate love and find joy.
Okay, I'm going to take my own advice. Now I just need a man to fall in love with.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Talk Pretty to Me

Hi, Boomers,
I was musing the other day about the power of words. Most of us talk and talk and talk and it becomes an unconscious stream of, well, our unconscious mind. But words are, indeed, a powerful force in our universe. We can use them for good or for evil.
When I attended the Keynote Speaker's Conference in January sponsored by the National Speakers Association, I heard a woman speak on the importance of how we use words when we communicate. This terrific speaker elevated word usage to an art form. I was completely involved in her insights into how the use of a different words can alter the tone and style of a speech, a meeting, a gathering, a dialogue between two people. Her reference for precision about how words are chosen was specifically directed to business management and management styles in corporations. Those of use who have worked for companies are particularly sensitive to the nuances of word choices in difficult workplace situations. And those of use who have lost friends with our unconscious responses know the consequences the unintended remarks will produce. I lost a friend because I didn't choose my words carefully enough, although I think that girlfriend was looking for a reason to get me out of her life.
In my profession as a yoga instructor, I am choosing words in every class to describe physical positions as well as spiritual intent. I have to be perfectly present to do this kind of teaching. After class, I want down time. I'm not inclined to carry on conversations at length between classes. So I was particularly interested in an article on mindful communication that I just read in the latest Yoga Journal. The article suggested that when and if a person wants to speak, the following questions might be considered: (1) Will you tell the truth? (2) Will you be kind? (3) Is it necessary?
I'm a writer and on paper I choose my words carefully, or at least I try to be mindful that written communication sends out as much energy into the universe as does spoken language.
Before we speak or write it is necessary to have clarity of thought - a clear mind - and clear intention. This concept of clarity of mind and intention allows us to draw deeper into the best of our being and communicate with an open heart. Conscious communication sends out powerful energy into the universe. Truthful communication draws listeners closer to the source of those who speak the truth.
Have you ever walked into an empty room and felt a residual energy? Or walked into a room where no one was talking and felt a collective positive energy/or negative energy? Mindful communication fills a space with truth, kindness, and purpose. It's an awesome concept to contemplate, and it's a challenging practice to aspire to as communicators. Good communicators are honest and believable and others will gravitate toward their energy and try to catch some of it for themselves.
I'm certainly not the greatest writer on the planet by far, but when I wrote my memoir, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, I went through the book with my B.S. detector because honesty was the most important ingredient for writing a confessional. And I literally had to question my honesty at almost every turn of phrase. It was exhausting and exciting at the same time because I was able to expose my vulnerability all the way through the book. As a result, readers have told me frequently that reading my book was like sitting in a room with me and listening to me talk an expose my foibles and mistakes and do it with my customary self-deprecating humor. So my book was truthful, I hope, and mostly kind, but whether it was necessary or not, well, that's up to the public.
Mindful communication is one of those things in life that you really have to practice and pay attention to, and it requires a whole lot of consciousness raising. Lapsing into unconscious responses without clear intention and thought will always get you into trouble. It's really better to talk pretty to each other and our connections will be the stronger for it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Surrender to the Now

Hi, Boomers,
I was supposed to be on the road tonight, heading for Vegas to see my family. A long weekend of lots of love. It's my oldest son's birthday. He's thirty-nine. Wow! When did I ever think that would happen. Surrender to it, Mom.
But, hey, I'm not on the road. It started to rain at about three o'clock. I was heading out to teach my sixth class today, but it was a tango lesson to my friend, John, and I was so very happy to mix it up today with all of my yoga classes. I decided to dismiss the rain and carry on with my plans to leave after class seven at UCLA.
I wanted to leave town. I wanted to see my grandchildren and my sons and my daughters-in-law with a lot of passion. I could make it out of town. I was sure.
As I drove home through Santa Monica, I slogged through the usual late afternoon traffic, it slowly dawned on me as I reached my apartment building that the rain was going to stop my plans to leave. I couldn't even get into my garage from the street. If I couldn't get in my building because of a huge line of traffic, the traffic on the freeways was going to be impossible. My safety might even be compromised while driving. It would take me about six hours to get to Vegas. Maybe I could make it to my son's house by one o'clock in the morning. Maybe.
I tried to drive to UCLA for my class in the Public Health building. I stood still in traffic while going through the VA Hospital. I was sinking with disappointment. It really wasn't that big a deal, I thought. I was just so anxious to connect with family. I could leave the next day at 4 am and be in time for breakfast with the boys, maybe take them to school.
The moment opened up for me while sitting in the car. I had been talking to my yoga classes during day about surrendering, accepting the moment, the now. It was my turn to surrender. It was my time to step back and detach that 10% and observe what was happening to me. Take some emotional distance. Take a rational perspective on the situation.
The practice of the Tao is about daily losing. Our path in life isn't smooth. Stuff happens and sometimes it isn't fun. Sometimes it's downright disappointing. Surrender, accept and there will be no struggle. It's when we struggle that our lives get chaotic and unmanageable. Accepting the struggle leads to a spiritual and emotional discipline that, in turn creates an element of self mastery.
It is truly unfortunate that we are programmed for instant gratification. It removes our thinking from the now and takes us into future thinking. We cannot stay present while waiting for something to self-satisfy us whether it is food or sex or drugs or shopping. Future thinking robs us of the present and we loose a precious moment. Past thinking destroys the joy of the now.
So I'm going to Vegas early tomorrow morning. For sure it's going to be a shorter ride; for sure it's going to be a more pleasant drive. And I'll be living in the present tense.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The 10% Solution

Hi, Boomers,
The learning curve keeps on giving. I was just interviewed on an internet radio site for my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. It was probably a very small station by comparison to other internet feeds, but I was happy to be asked to speak about my book. The woman who asked me to be on her radio show, Jennifer Hillman, lives in Tucson and is a life coach. She was taken with the themes of my book and I was happy to expound on them while she was at my booth. Jennifer is a hard working and very spiritual being.
While we were dialoguing on the phone, she asked me many questions about how the book came about, what provoked me to write such an honest and forthright memoir, what was the most difficult section to write, what was the most fun to write, how I published it and what expectations I had about the book's trajectory. There were many more questions because it was an hour show, but I was struck by the honesty of questions. I had to be concise and honest in my answers, of course, but it was also a discipline in listening and and it gave me even more clarity about what my path, my Tao, in life. In short, I was challenged.
One of the ideas I'm thinking about lately is that it is important not to invest 100% of our energy and emotion into situations in life. Eckhart Tolle in his book, The Power of Now, writes exquisitely about staying present, being conscious in life and reflecting on ways to raise the level of our conscious being. One of the ways that Tolle and the yoga philosophy blend ideas is in the area of detachment.
For those who do not understand this concept, let me say that that is doesn't mean that we are not empathetic or sympathetic or caring. On the contrary, the way we express those feelings in any situation is to understand the nature of what we are observing. If we jump right in to the fray, into other's issues and problems and catastrophes, we lose objectivity.
Detachment involves standing back (mentally and emotionally) and disengaging about 10% or more even when we are confronted by other beings. Listen and observe more and and our reactions will be appropriate to the moment. It might sound cold to an untrained ear, but the intention of being present fully when helping a friend or family member or any human being will increase mindfulness and awareness. If we are not fully present, we cannot be of service because emotion and clarity become difficult to come by.
Which leads me into my favorite subject: meditation. Jennifer asked me if I take time daily to meditate, to the clear the mind (or try to because sometimes that doesn't work all that well), but to at least let the thoughts go by without attaching emotions to that thought. In truth, meditation isn't precisely the absence of thought because we will always, always have a thought every second or so. But the intention is to let the thoughts go by - as my master yoga teacher, Max, says - like a cloud passing. Just watch the thoughts without labeling them, judging them or attaching emotion to them.
I also learned in my drug counseling work that when the limbic brain takes over - our pain/pleasure center - consciousness is hard to come by. We make decisions on the basis of the unconscious, which resides in the limbic brain, which can lead us to making decisions that are not good for us. So practicing a modicum of detachment - minimum 10% - we increase clarity, consciousness and understanding. We are on the way to self-mastery, boomers.
Simple, huh? Yeah, but it takes practice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

When the Journey Begins

I talked about you all weekend at the Tucson Book Festival. It was the first time I appeared in public with my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, except for my book signings. This was a big venue - the fourth largest book festival in the U.S. I had a booth all to myself, next to the CareMore Unit with a group of the most fun guys (they took blood pressure and established glucose levels) and a couple of ragtag men left over from the Stanley and Livingston scientific expedition in the Congo. I didn't quite get what kind of books they were selling but I loved their authentic costumes.
My booth was bare with just a table and a chair. But they had put a sign above the booth with the title of my book. I loved that sign. I had no cover for my ugly table so I went hunting for a table cloth. As I weaved my way around the booths that were setting up at 7:30 Saturday morning, I saw in the distance the end of a sign above a booth: Venice, CA. I got terribly excited and ran over to the booth to meet a fellow yogi from Santa Monica who wrote children's books. It was an incredible beginning to my two day adventure. Etan was a light that shone bright during the weekend. While were talking, a very nice man came by wheeling his boxes of books. He told us that for some political reasons he lost his booth. Something about a conflict with other people who were selling cookbooks, and he wondered if Etan wanted to share his booth. His cookbook was a visual feast of mouthwatering pies.
Here was a moment out of so many memorable moments that touched my heart. There was a silent pause as I waited for Etan's response. Etan wrote a series of children's books that were sensational and he had energy and salesmanship that rocked the festival. Etan was thinking.
He worked mostly alone, but I was a newbie an I didn't know the territory or the politics of book festivals.
"Let me think about it," Etan said. "Come back in a few minutes."
Stan, the baker of pies, was totally cool. He smiled and walked away with dignity. Etan and I continued to talk about yoga and I bought a few of his children's books for my grandsons. And then Stan came back to us. Etan looked up as he approached. I was just about to tell Stan that I'd be glad to have company in my booth. It seemed awful bare in there. Then Etan said it was fine if he took the corner table. In a way, I was disappointed because I felt I wanted to be generous, but Etan looked happy and so did Stan. So all was good.
I asked Stan if he had an extra table cloth. He gave me some blue plastic, and I went on my merry way to my empty booth. I gazed at my box of books with tape still across the top and decided to set the books on a table. The morning sun was heating up and bearing down forcefully on our row of booths. Out of some nervousness, I kept futzing with the arrangment of books because I had no signage, no flowers, no decorations. I took out my IHome speakers and played tango music. The day was beginning.
I met one of my neighbors. Penny published books and she was a competent and confident single woman who had an incredible handle on the publishing business. She became one of the most important people I met during the weekend. And there were many women who came up to me to introduce themselves and to take me by the hand to other people at the festival who were going to play a significant role in my future goals.
And the books sold, and the people came up to talk to me about the boomer generation, what was it like to live during the beatnik generation in San Francisco during the early 60s. There was dialogue about existentialism, Sartre, Camus, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Vietnam, the greed, hubris, and total disregard for those who were hurt by the U.S. financial markets. They were also very concerned about the lack of urgency to preserve our natural environment.
What I found interesting was that there was an equal number of men and women who approached my booth to discuss my book. I'm sure that at the outset they were attracted because of the title. It certainly wasn't the decor that attracted people to my booth. They found sixty, sex, & tango three words that required some discussion.
I began to think that the speech I was working on, the unbundling of the boomer mythology, was a topic that was very interesting to our generation. Everyone 60 and over wanted to dissect the various movements and social currents and psychological effects that the boomer generation had experienced and are still experiencing today. I found women to be more optimistic than men. But I found men to be more vocal about the economic nuances of what happened to our economy and how our generation would play out the next couple of decades. "What happens to us?" they asked.
What also surprised me was how many young men and women came to my booth to ask questions that related to the historical context of the boomer generation. Some were even curious about the meaning of being "beat." Of course, the sex part of the title was titillating to most everyone, but there wasn't much discourse on that. There was tango conversation to be sure, but most of the talk tended to be more pointed toward the quality of life in later years and what they should expect.
The question of what happens to us boomer now is an area that I want to try to answer in this speech I was writing. It turns out that the connectivity I had at the book festival with its most interesting and intelligent attendees were the key to my conceptualizing the answer. And I'm still working on it.
But what I take with me from this book festival is a sense that a representative population of Tucson are caring and generous and outgoing. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a great deal about the tone and style of boomers in a particular section of our country.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Singular Sensation

Hi, Boomers,

As you know, last week I admitted myself into the hospital for a laparoscopic procedure. But what I didn't write about was the following incident, which has stuck in my mind since the day I was admitted.

My friend had dropped me off at the Santa Monica UCLA out patient center on 15th and Arizona. very nice lady escorted me into the admissions room where I waited briefly to be admitted. A young woman was my contact. Sitting behind the desk, she seemed adequately pleasant but just a little “down.” I thought, perhaps, that she was worn out by admitting patients throughout the morning. After all, it was 11:15 by the time I got in front of her.

She asked me the usual questions – standard procedure responses from me – and then she asked, “Married, Divorced, Single.” As she said the phrase, a phrase I had heard many times over, I thought it sounded like a Sondheim song.

“Single and happy,” I replied.

Her head bolted up from the form and a look of shock over took her visage.

“What?” she asked in a voice supported by too much energy.

“Single and happy,” I responded again.

“Are you?” she asked curiously.

“Why, of course. It’s wonderful to be single at any age.” She studied the form to find my age. She looked up again. “Wow!”

“Wow?” I prompted.

“I would have never guessed your age. And you are happy single?” It was a rhetorical question.

This young woman told me that she had never heard that before from anyone woman, old or young. Someone is single and happy. Everyone tells her that she is miserable single and that she should date and find a man. Every woman needs a man to be happy.

“I’m not interested in finding a man,” she said. “I’m okay with how it is. I’m single and that’s okay.”

I told the young woman that it was perfectly wonderful to be single. We singles have our own life and we can determine how our lives are to be lived. Sure we have family and kids and grandchildren, but singles are really free to make unfettered choices. Being single is a totality of our being. It isn’t just one thing, one man, one event, one moment. We live single on a continuum and are surprised by all that it includes in our lives.

“I love my time alone after work when I can prepare my dinner and relax and not have to talk to anyone. But sometimes I want company and I go out with a lovely man or have friends over or go out with a girlfriend. It’s all good.”

I thought of the many times in the last years when someone surprised me with an invitation to go to a concert, to a movie, to dinner, made a new friend, didn't have to ask permission, didn't have to look after the needs of someone (of course, when one is love, that's part of the relationship), flitted off to Bali for a week's vacation, tangoed in Amsterdam, climbed the volcano in Costa Rica and thought that my life was completely and wonderfully fulfilled.

A big smile blossomed across her face. “I feel the same way but I don’t tell anyone because they’ll think I’m crazy, different, that I’m weird in some way.”

That was a sad thing for me to hear: the conventional wisdom says a woman isn't happy without a man. Really? Who made up that propaganda? Or more to the point: that's a myth we can dispose of.

I got to thinking that it’s oftentimes hard for people to think of being single as being normal. Being single doesn’t mean we are isolates or kooks or people who have developed fears along the way and are masking anxiety with living alone. In fact, living alone gives us the opportunity to face our fears with resilience and optimism.

I’ve been married for eighteen years, been in a long term relationship for sixteen years and have dated off and on for perhaps four years. However, when I divorced and started on yet another part of my journey, for the first time, I felt in control of my life and my choices. It was a perfectly freeing experience. And I haven’t lost my passion for life and living. I still work teaching yoga and meditation; I just wrote a book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, I blog, I dance Argentine tango, I date when I want, I visit my adult children and grandchildren once a month; I have time to write a keynote speech, go to book festivals, be a supportive friend, keep up all those I love within my thoughts daily., and more importantly, have gratitude for all of my gifts.

I suggested to this young woman in admitting that as a single woman she will be able to follow her passions, stay present in her work, be more conscious about the choices she makes, and take very good care of her mind/body connection.

“Thank you,” she said to me. “I’ve never heard that before from anyone and I’m so happy to be finally validated about how I feel about being single.”

I wished her luck and walked into the hospital arena where I, as a single woman without an advocate, forged my way through the maze of hospital bureaucracy and took care of my needs as a single woman (as I slowly dehydrated and almost fell into a low blood sugar coma) until I saw the doctor who was two hours late for my operation. I passed out before I could tell him that I didn't need a man to compliment my natural instincts for survival.