No grumbling, I told myself. Get out there and do something. So I did something I have never done before; I joined a political campaign as a volunteer. As long as I’m not parading around with a swastika on my arm, any campaign would do, but the one I joined is JimJohnson4governor in New Jersey. He’s a progressive Democrat, I know his wife slightly, and respected friends speak highly of him (“I’d move heaven and earth to get Jim elected”). So instead of staying home grumbling about the daily cascade of scandal and chicanerie, at least I’m doing what a citizen is supposed to do. I think. My mother was a politician for a while, and I can tell you, it doesn’t run in the family. This is my first personal immersion in what they call the “political process.” My first outing was on Washington Street in Hoboken, getting signatures to get Jim on the ballot in New Jersey. He already has the required 3,000, but we want to get as many as we can. I am told that after the signatures are presented, in the beginning of April, the campaigns sit down with them to see how many of them they can get disqualified. One woman, for example, said she’d already signed a petition for Phil Murphy, another candidate for governor. You can’t sign two petitions. I also needed to sign an Affidavit as a collector of signatures, including getting it notarized. I have been impressed by the rules for campaigning, and I haven’t even had contact with the fundraisers. Just collecting signatures is tightly controlled. Next, I canvassed my building with Pilar, a young, Hispanic, bilingual paid member of Jim’s staff Brad, a young, black, college student from Union City who is interning in the campaign. You can’t just waltz into a building and canvass, you have to have a resident with you. This made me a valuable member of the team, though I made myself more valuable as we went from door to door because I’m really interested in each of the people we talked to, and I got a gold star for schmoozing. There are 25 floors, 9 apartments per floor – 225 apartments in all. It took us three and a half hours to cover half of them. It was exhausting, but fascinating. We started with a list of all the people in the building who were registered Democrats, though I could see it was out-of date. I don’t know every person in the building, but did know for sure that some of the people had moved to a different apartment, or had moved away. Since I knew the list was out-of-date, I didn’t know what we would find – maybe one of those people who said “F—k you” to me when I was canvassing on Washington Street. Maybe people would be offended or disturbed at our visit – I didn’t know what to expect, and was nervous. It went well. Some people were busy, and we exchanged a few words, left a flyer, and moved on. Most had a few moments to discuss what they considered an important political race. We encountered one woman on her way to the trash compactor. She was interested in Jim, but annoyed with our mayor, Dawn Zimmer, who was “turning the place into yuppy heaven, with bicycles all over the place.” Yup, I could see how old-time residents of Hoboken would be disturbed at the gentrification of their town. Another old-timer said, “Zimmer wants to build parks for the homeless to sleep in.” This aversion to spending our hard-earned taxes on the least among us sounded more Republican than Democratic, but she was a hardcore Democrat, and she’s got a heart of gold – she has raised two adopted sons who have developmental problems. She’s walked the walk when it comes to people in need. Three times I handed over the flyer for Jim, who is black, and the woman at the door looked at Brad, who is also black, trying to gauge whether he was Jim Johnson. One of them said, “Oh, you’ve brought him with you!” I was embarrassed. Jim is a good thirty years younger than Jim, and his skin color is much darker. I experienced vicariously one of those experiences that black people talk about – “Can’t tell them apart….” As if one black person spoke for all. I took a chance on sounding the wrong note, but had to say SOMETHING, so I put my hand on Brad’s shoulder and said, “Just in case you thought that white people don’t notice this sort of thing, aren’t bothered by it, I want you to know I noticed.” Brad is a gentleman, raised to courtesy and good humor (he calls me “Miss Ann”) and was gracious about it. By the time the afternoon ended, I was tired. But I’ll do it again. I got a lot more than political capital out of the afternoon; I got to know my neighbors and learned their opinions, which I would never learn in the elevator. I exposed my own political beliefs to the people I run into every day; that was a little uncomfortable, but turns out to be a good thing.
A while ago I wrote a blog post entitled "After 60, nothing is free." Your kids don't have to come see you any more, and your body will become unfriendly unless you take care of it. After 70, the stakes go up a notch. In the absence of a disease process, you have to do what athletes do and warm up every day, exercise enough to stay strong, and be proactive in maintaining equilibrium and proprioception (the sense of yourself in space). The greatest enemies are chronic pain from arthritis (or something else), loss of balance, and muscle weakness. A sports doctor I visited for a shoulder problem said, "The question is not 'Do I have arthritis," because everybody has arthritis. The question is 'Does your arthritis hurt?'" Getting circulation into the affected parts of your body, and strengthening and relaxing the supporting muscles can greatly reduce arthritis pain. Tai chi, dancing, and standing yoga balances can help maintain equilibrium, and prolonged activity, like a long walk, strengthens stamina. Exercise: I play tennis when I am at Sea Ranch with its plentiful tennis courts and constant good weather, but am not always at Sea Ranch. I sprained my ankle and couldn't walk, tore a rotator cuff muscle in my shoulder and couldn't swim, and have needed to recuperate after an operation and didn't exercise for four months. So many people call it quits when a daunting obstacle appears, saying old age has got them now. Don't buy into that. Purchase of a fitness gauge such as Withings watch or a Fitbit provides discipline: I set 8,000 steps a day as my goal and can no longer fool myself that I am "walking a lot" when I am not because the truth lies right there on my wrist. (My Withings watch does not record any activity when I am stationery, such as doing yoga, tai chi, or even aerobics which don't require much movement other than, say, side to side steps). Articles recommend 10,000 steps a day, but that takes well over an hour and puts demands on your body that your body may not be ready for. Whatever can be accomplished every day (more or less) is what is right for you. Establish one or two areas of expertise: It you are like me, pumping away in a gym on an exercise bike or a stepmaster is boring as hell. I can't keep it up. If you take yoga classes, or follow the subscription service yogaglo.com online, you will find yourself constantly improving, which keeps it interesting. Being in live classes is even better because you develop a camaraderie with fellow practitioners, and you have a teacher with whom you can discuss problems. You can become an accomplished yogi at any level. Pay attention to what any decent instructor will tell you -- practice within your own limits, keeping your judgments on the low side until you know what your body can do. Tai chi is a set of flow, graceful movements done standing up. It is what people do in Chinese parks. If you have seen videos you will know that even very old people can do it. An everyday practice will warm up the body and provide balance exercise without making unduly harsh demands on the body. It can be taken to a very challenging level, but you can do all that is necessary without pushing yourself that far. If my neck, shoulder, hip, or back hurt me there's nothing better to relax the muscles and promote good alignment than a Feldenkrais class. Live classes and practitioners can be found through a Google search, and there are also online resources. I have purchased a dozen mp3s, focusing on different activities or parts of the body through feldenkraisresources.com, clicking on the "shop online" link at the bottom of the page. I'm impressed how much doing the Feldenkrais classes is helping my tennis game. Feldenkrais aims to retrain the body, replacing bad patterns with good until they become second nature. I have learned that movement is spread throughout the body. I am not hitting the tennis ball with my arm (which could injure my shoulder), but with my legs, shoulders, head, and torso as well. Take the time to find recreational resources accessible to you. The local YMCA may have volleyball nights, or other activities which will be fun and challenging. Badminton is one of my favorites, though it is out of vogue these days and I haven't found a place where I can play it. Nature walks or a hiking club might be offered near you. In Hoboken, there are kayaking and canoeing activities, and rowing and sailing clubs too. Adding a social dimension to whatever activity you choose will make it easier to sustain. Find help: When my neck goes nuts, I have a great chiropractor. Leaving a neck out of whack will only make things worse. I have a great physical therapist for when something gets injured (I haven't been for years, but I know he's there). My alternative doctor has an alternative assessment of good health. It is worthwhile investigating some of the alternative practitioners near you, especially if regular allopathic medicine has not been able to help you. I follow the instructions of both kinds of doctor, and they do not conflict, though I must admit that more and more of my day is spent following instructions than before. That is inevitable if I want to stay well and fit. Walt Clyde Frasier, the famed basketball player, said that when he was playing ball he was constantly getting injured, until he started doing yoga. After that he was never injured again. Refining the practice of yoga, tai chi, the Alexander Technique, or any other discipline that keeps you well aligned, well balanced and well oxygenated can be the difference between being 75 and looking 75, and the difference between being 75 and feeling 75. After 70, it's no longer a choice.Warm up every day by stretching, bearing weight, and breathing deeply, following whatever method appeals to you. We'll all become feeble and weak at some point, but you have a say in when that happens, and how comfortably you pass your days before that point.
Yesterday I read the opening pages of my book to about 200 students and faculty at my university. I was heartened by the number of times the audience laughed out loud. When talking about sex, humor takes the edge off. But I had to step back before I chose to take this reading opportunity to think once again about the wisdom of revealing intimate details about myself to the general public, which ultimately will include my children. (I admit that I would not have gone public while my mother was alive.) I have obviously decided to damn the torpedoes, but when facing 200 college-age students, some of them in my present or former classes, the subject comes up again. I believe it is better for young people to know what they're up against than to pretend that a pumpkin is a carriage and a frog is a prince. Let them know that people have all sorts of weird desires and habits so they aren't blind-sided when they encounter them. They don't need to know of each quirk and habit, but they should know to expect them. Let them also know that almost everyone has sex in one form or another, sometimes only in their dreams -- fat people, ugly people, old people, priests, even their professors. My students come from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and I always feel I am treading on uncertain turf by reading publicly. In class, I never refer to my own opinions about romance, child-rearing, politics or the like. Students make assumptions, but they are often wrong. By reading publicly, they learn what my personal opinions are. (Most of them are not aware of this blog.) I don't want to hobble their brains -- they so often want to please their professor and occasionally cannot accept that as long as they make a solid argument in their essays, they can believe as they wish. I've had students successfully support an argument to make Serbia the 51st U.S. state, and perhaps the next most heretical was a solid argument for the benefits of a year behind the counter at Wendy's. Both A papers. Damn the torpedoes. Tell them the truth.
I had not ever considered having a portrait made of myself until my husband and I visited an artist friend, Mia Wolff, who had recently created a series of interesting portraits. Wouldn’t it be nice, we thought, if we commissioned portraits of us! It would help Mia support her artistic career, and it would provide us with a very special art piece. The cost was $1,000 – a fair price.
A recent portrait of Kate Middleton drew these savage critiques, “She looks like the head bouncer in a security firm,” “It looks as if the painter asked the subject to ‘say cheese!’” and “It is perfectly adequate for the boardroom of a supermarket…” (quoted in The New York Times). I am wondering how refined my judgment is of artistic ability, and whether Mia likes me. She used to date my husband, and what if some unconscious resentment erupts in her representation of my nose or my wrinkles? I don’t think so, but what if? Will she ask me to smile, to sit/stand/lie down? Will I be looking straight on or rakishly from the side? What quirks in my facial contours will Mia reveal? Will she catch my spirit as my great great grandfather's portraitist caught his bonhomie?
If I want my great-great-granddaughter to be able to take a little inspiration from my life, this might be a risk worth taking. Writing runs in the family, and she might be a writer, too.
Best to go for it. I’ll post it when it’s finished. It is satisfying to think I might be looking down upon my own great great granddaughter.