Creatively Yours: Letters from my Mother

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you found out you only had one day to live? Would you live differently?

Perhaps it was the recent, much publicized death of Steve Jobs that brought this to the forefront for me, but lately I have had a number of meaningful conversations with family and friends about this question. This weekend I was involved with a fundraiser for the Art for Cancer FoundationOne of the speakers, Nadia Hohn, a spirited, inspiring young woman, spoke from the heart about how being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her 20’s impacted her life. Among the many profound insights she shared, she talked about what she would do if she only had one day to live. (You can read more about her insights and experiences on her blog, Blue Butterfly.

That night after the event, my husband and I had a conversation with friends about this question. As you would expect, we all had a slightly different answer, but what was surprising is that we had all thought about it and had some sense of what that day would look like.

So here’s what I came up with. If I only had one day to live, I would want to write a letter to each of my children and my husband, not just to say goodbye but to tell them something about who they are through my eyes and what they have meant to me. I credit this idea to my mother who wrote letters to each of her 13 children. What is most amazing about my mother, aside from having 13 children, is that she wrote them long before she knew she had terminal cancer. She wrote them for birthdays, Christmas, special events, and just because… She also wrote a narrative of her life and created a book of family stories which we all contributed to. Though she died ten years ago, her voice is alive in her letters and stories and they remind me of who I am through my mother’s eyes. She told me what I was like as a child, what was special about me, what was going on in her life at various points of my life, her joys, sorrows and appreciations. For me, these letters and stories have become the heart shaped footprints of my mother’s life.

So if I only had one day to live…and since we never know how long we have to live, it reminds me to live today as if it is my last, and get started on my letters.

And so I ask, “What would you do if you knew you only had one more day to live, or one week, one month or one year?” It is worth contemplating, because someday that is all you will have.

I look forward to hearing what you think…

Creatively yours,

Angela

p.s. I love this quote from Steve Jobs :

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Heart-Shaped Feature in Arabia Terra (Wide View)

Arabia Terra on Mars From NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image by NASAJPL, on Flickr

The Aging of Beauties

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A Quebec City flower shop.

I was riding my bike on the rail trail recently, and catching up on my podcast listening, when my ear was caught by an edition of Slate’s Double X Gabfest.  “Hey,” I said loudly (as one does when wearing headphones).  “That’s exactly what Angela was just talking about on the blog!”

A few weeks ago, Angela posted about The Beauty of Aging, asking the question “How do we embrace the beauty of our age?”

The ladies on the Gabfest (DoubleX writers/editors Jessica Grose, Nina Shen Rastogi, and Hanna Rosin) were discussing two articles in major American newspapers which also dealt with this topic:  Dominique Browning’s ‘The Case for Laugh Lines’ from The New York Times, and Naomi Wolf’s ‘A wrinkle in time: Twenty years after ‘The Beauty Myth,’ Naomi Wolf addresses The Aging Myth’ in The Washington Post.

If you have the time, you might like to read these articles and their comments for yourself.  I think they are both fairly light pieces, each with some nice writing and interesting aspects.  Here’s my take (and feel free to correct me).

Naomi Wolf, now 48, revisits some of the points she made in her book The Beauty Myth and especially her observation that back then, women hated and feared the idea of aging, and this fear was reinforced by the media.  But now, she says, there is much less to fear about aging.  Beauty is tied more to fitness, and there are many more ways to be beautiful than there were in the ‘90’s.  She says,

Fashion arbiters such as Vogue editor Anna Wintour used to set a bar for style; today, there is a far greater sense that what you see on the street, in surfing the Web, in a friend’s delightful outfit, is just as powerful. A co-worker who has let her hair go fabulously gray in a flattering cut, or wears enchantingly offbeat glasses, can be as great an influence as the September issue of Vogue.

Wolf herself has not experienced the sense of “loss of self when [her] appearance began to change” which she expected to feel as she got older.

Wolf says things have changed in the past 20 years.  Younger women now admire and envy older (that is, midlife) women for their “status, sense of self-esteem and sexual cachet.”  Older women are no longer threatened by younger women, and like themselves more in midlife than they did when they were younger.

The article is based almost entirely on people of Wolf’s acquaintance (and the journalists from Slate are appalled by the lack of research in the article), and it seems to me to have a ‘whistling past the graveyard” kind of feel.  But that’s essentially what we do to survive in the face of aging, isn’t it?  Here’s something rather neat that Wolf writes near the end of the article:

Certainly, it takes more effort at the gym to maintain a certain level of fitness. But at midlife, you also know what an incredible gift a healthy body is. And while I don’t love working harder for an outcome, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for a body that can move and hike and swim, seduce and be seduced, be exhilarated and overjoyed, and all of this in the blessing of being free of serious illness.

Dominique Browning is an author, blogger and the final editor of the defunct House & Garden magazine.  Her article is a humourous piece arguing for sanity in the race to disguise the signs of aging.  She’s not opposed to simple cosmetic procedures if they make you happier, and says, “I’m not categorically against a helping hand, as long as it has finesse.”

But Browning draws the line at Botox.  She objects because it makes it difficult to read people’s facial expressions when they’ve had the treatment.  This limitation came home to Browning when she was doing her book tour, and looking out on audiences who appeared unimpressed by what she was saying, yet would approach her individually afterward to tell her how much they’d enjoyed her reading.  Browning concluded that Botox was creating a disconnection between the emotions of her audience, and their abilities to show what they were feeling on their faces.  (Probably be ideal for poker, then.  Or car buying.)

Browning suggests that the solution to all the angst about aging is to deny it is happening.  She says, “In this, as in so many matters, we could just keep calm and carry on.”  Her true opinion may be expressed in this (somewhat throwaway) statement toward the end of the article:

I get it: some people simply don’t want to go quietly into the years. It is too much to ask that we embrace our changing faces — that we celebrate our mother’s beauty in our own graying hair, that we remember the joy that created those laugh lines, that we recognize our father’s forehead in the way ours wrinkles when we are perplexed, or we catch a glimpse of our aunt’s eyes when our own crinkle with delight.

Ok, so these were two fairly harmless and mildly diverting articles.  Midlife viewpoints based on personal experience, amusingly expressed, but not investigative journalism.  What I find most interesting is the way that the DoubleX Gabfest ladies respond to them.  I would describe their response as completely without empathy.  The eldest of the three is Rosin, who has just turned forty.  She calls BS on Wolf’s assertion that she has it all, especially sexual allure.  She and her colleagues figure that these articles spring from the aging of the boomer population, and we should be prepared for lots more of this sort of writing.  I find it telling that they seem to be unaware of how much of this sort of writing is already out there, in magazines and blogs (see the list at the end of this post for a small sample).

The DoubleX’ers suggest we should look to French culture for inspiration on graceful acceptance of aging.  Does anyone know what they might mean by this?

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Same shop, different view.

It seems to me that we each have to come to terms with our aging on an individual basis.  We may become obsessed with the loss of bounce in our knees, or the inability to focus on fine print, or touching up our hair, or the latest miracle moisturizer formulations.  The woman in the mirror may suddenly be a sad stranger to us (What happened to her cheekbones, and why does she look so grumpy?).  But we have to live with that woman for a long time still.  Why not acknowledge that we are changing throughout our lives, and honour that process?  So long as we believe beauty is only the province of the young, we’re bound to be upset at outward signs of loss of youth.

We each have to work through this on our own.  What helps is to hear how others are dealing with the same thing, and to laugh (and moan a little) about it together.  In reality, we’re all of us aging at the same rate (unless some of us leave the planet and travel faster than the speed of light for a while).

Elizabeth

Some blogs which acknowledge and embrace the realities of aging (among other realities):

Advanced Style  Fashion mavens from the streets of NYC.

Rock the Silver  Grey hair is beautiful.

A Femme d’Un Certain Age  May illuminate the French culture connection referred to above.

Slow Life Love  Dominique Browning’s blog.

Materfamilias

Privilege

Let me know if you have any blog recommendations.

News from abroad

Hi All,

Just some unconnected short thoughts and links here.

Yogurt is the secret

Yogurt

image by Lynda Giddens, from flickr

Do you remember that old, old commercial that showed some very fit Scandinavian octogenarians who were asked the secret to their long life? One of them gave a toothless smile and credited his daily consumption of yogurt. This has stayed with me for a long time and today, the Globe and Mail has an article suggesting that eating around half a cup of yogurt each day can be beneficial for a woman’s heart. Take a look (don’t miss the comments for alternative viewpoints).

A book recommendation

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I recently read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger, and really enjoyed it.  It’s a love/hate story, with an unusual take on the paranormal. There is a character with OCD who is very sympathetically portrayed. I was not keen on her previous book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, but found this one to be quite intriguing and multi-layered. It takes place in and near London’s Highgate Cemetery, a large tract of land within the city which was used for burials for a long time, then fell into financial trouble and was allowed to revert to near-wilderness, before being taken over by a charitable foundation run by a group of volunteers. It sounds as though some of the cemetery is still very overgrown and untamed, while other parts of it are maintained and of historical and architectural interest. If you’ve read the book, please let me know how you liked it.

A quick video

Here’s a link to a lovely video. (If you are receiving this post in an email, you might have to click on the post title at the top of the email to go to our blog in order to connect with the video.)

The postal disruption

Fingers Are Not Mail

image by panavatar, from flickr

Most of the press I’ve seen about the mail strike suggests that for many of us, Canada Post is largely unnecessary, due to our use of online communications and bill payment. Some articles suggest that small businesses are suffering the most. Julie pointed out the other day that the pundits aren’t considering how hard lack of mail delivery would be on those who don’t have, or don’t use the internet. I’d like to speak up for those of us who subscribe to magazines. It’s true that I’m temporarily enjoying the relief from the constant barrage of new reading material dropping through the mail slot.  But how will I ever catch up when the strike ends and they all arrive at once? (I suspect that the volume of mail to be delivered then will be so great that some of my mags will never make it to my door. And that bugs me, too.) How are you holding up?

One more thing, then I’ll stop talking

Here’s a blog post that opens a conversation about what women over 50 want to wear. The post is brief, the comments many. You might not be over 50, but that arbitrary age is not really the point of the conversation. It’s more about the development of personal style, and sense of self, as we age. Check it out, and then please come back and tell me what you think.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Elizabeth

Creatively Yours: The Beauty of Aging

To colour or not? It seems that many women today (and some men) have fallen in love with hair colour.  Due to our aging population and a younger generation of high-lighted hair enthusiasts, hair stylists are kept busy with the artistry of hair color. Although I have stayed with a natural brown palette so far, it is possible that some day I will choose a shade of blonde or red, or maybe even grey!

I noticed when I was in Copenhagen last year that many women (much younger than me) have opted to let their stylishly cut hair go grey.  Are there actually more women in Europe letting their hair go grey? Or, was I just noticing it because I am a hair color junkie?  The other thing I noticed is their beautiful, colorful eye wear which seems to complement grey hair. I concluded that grey hair and glasses is actually a pretty cool look. But, beneath the surface of my superficial wonderings, lurks the question, “How do we embrace the beauty of our age?”

In our youth obsessed world, is it ok to look our age? Given the choice, should we take the opportunity to make ourselves look and feel younger and more beautiful?  We can now select from Botox to smooth our worry lines, fillers to plump our skin, body enhancements to give us the shape we always wanted, and last but not least hormones to retain our youthful vigor and sexuality.  Part of me says we should be confident enough to age naturally and embrace the beauty of aging. And the other part of me says, why not do what makes you look and feel good?   I trust by now that I have stumbled upon a sensitive issue and whichever side of the fence you or I choose, there will be a strong argument for the other.

But the wiser, more reflective part of me knows that our real beauty is inside and no amount of external fixing creates true beauty. The beauty of aging is that we have been given a lifetime of opportunities to grow and learn, create and discard, give and take, love and share with others the beauty of life. Perhaps the grey hair and wrinkles are only there to remind us of all that we have already enjoyed and encourage us to continue to live fully and passionately every day.  As my friend Linda reminds me, “Age is only a state of mind.”  But who says a little primping doesn’t go a long way? So for now I am sitting on the fence, wearing my hot pink glasses, coloring my hair brown and reading When I am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple, a best-selling collection of stories and poems celebrating the beauty of living and growing old. (Edited by Sandra Haldeman Martz.)

Here’s a link to an article with tips for going grey stylishly. I would love to hear your perspective on the beauty of aging – naturally, or with a little help.

Have A Beautiful Day!

Creatively Yours,

Angela

mel.x
image by pixelcrazy from flickr

Exercise and Aging or Age IS a state of mind

La Jolla crossfit workout face!
Image by lululemon athletica from flickr

One area that I am truly passionate about is wellness.  Wellness can mean many different things to different people.  The Oxford Dictionary defines wellness as “the state of being well or in good health.”  Good health to me would mean healthy in mind, spirit and body.

It is incredibly difficult to constantly maintain a healthy lifestyle.  I was chatting with my friend Robin one day and expressed my disappointment that I was unable to do a small task (like take my vitamins with my dinner) when all it took was less than 5 minutes to complete.  Robin’s response was that this may be true but we have many many things in our lives that only take 5 minutes.  When you add them all together, it becomes overwhelming!

I guess the moral of the story is that you need to focus on where you get the most benefit (or bang for your buck).  I need to take a slight pause to get up onto my soap box.

In the May 2011 edition of Oprah Magazine (Live, Love & Thrive All the Way to 95!), Gretchen Reynolds points out that until recently, “most people – including scientists – were convinced that the biological indignities of aging were more or less inevitable.”  However, new research indicates that this is not so and the key to aging well is, you guessed it, movement!

Most important but perhaps harder to do is resistance exercise.

The latest issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter states that, “muscle keeps us strong and mobile.  It’s where most of our calories are burned, so having more muscle means burning more calories.  The only proven way to build muscle or to slow muscle loss as you age, is to do regular strength training.”

I once read that muscles know no age; only use and disuse.  If there is one 5 minute habit that you can add to your daily routine, try some resistance exercises!  Push ups anyone?