Some Needed Levity

I don’t know how Tim Holt does it but he grinds out an entertaining post every week. I could be one of his little old ladies shuffling along in my black church shoes with a grin on my face. However, I don’t wear church shoes or walk with a shuffle–yet. I do, however, have a smile on my face because his story brings back memories of dancing to the big name bands at the Plaza Hotel in New York City the 60s.

In this time of uncertainty and worry, I submit Tim’s post to bring a bit of levity to your day.

 

 

~I Play a Little~

“I’m no Tommy Dorsey” is what I say sometimes to hunched little ladies shuffling along in their black church shoes who look old enough to know Tommy Dorsey, to have danced to his music. Often, they grin and drop in a dollar.  I don’t need the dollar.  I need the grin.  Other times, I tell people I am Tommy Dorsey.

You don’t know Tommy Dorsey?  Oh, for crying out loud.  This is the year 2020. Put the toilet paper down and go in that store and buy a CD.  But be careful.  Or better yet, tap this, then keep reading.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKQc-cbAvdQ  The ads will pass quickly. That’s not true. They will pass excruciatingly slowly.

You recognize it? I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.  I play that one in front of the store every Saturday. I don’t need to play for money.  I have a nice income.  I live quite comfortably.  But I discovered that few stopped to listen unless I put a cigar box on the side walk next to my trombone case.  I drew a big dollar sign on the lid.  Folks want to help the old guy.  Kinda nice, isn’t it?  I don’t like how the young ones calling me “Sugar,” but that reflects how they feel about old dudes with beards like me.  Kindly. I’m sure they’d pat my hand if I put it out there.

But we old folks need to get our kicks.  Do they still say that? I play here on Saturdays.  And a bunch of us meet in the park once a month and bring sheet music that’s older than our grandkids, and we play for a couple of hours.  Until nap time.  It astounds me how many over-80s plan their days around naps.

The trombone doesn’t consume me.  I love its feel in my hands, and its sound, mellow and sad, like dropping pennies into a deep well. Something like that.  At least for me.  Everyone hears the sound from way down somewhere.  That’s the magic of the trombone.  But for me, it’s a Saturday thing. And a grassy park thing. And a sunny day thing.

I also like to bake.  So I have a job at Paulie’s Bakery on Fridays.  We start early.  It’s a long day.  Dough is mixed and pinched and divided and like monks in white robes, they rise.  The buns, hundreds of them, stand like congregates, demanding my commitment.   Instead of paying me, I ask Pauly If I may fill two bags at the end of the day with hot cross buns, still warm, all separated by little tissues.  He did the calculation.  He said, “Sure.”  It’s nearly 7 by the time we finish cleaning up.  I drop the bags off at Hope Church on the way home.  Saturday morning is treat-time for folks whose circumstances cause them to need to dine for free.

Not a bad life for an old Ophthalmologist, is it?  Just listen to the music and wonder what else I do.

Tim Holt

 

 

 

 

 

Best Tips for Writing in the Time of a Pandemic

I found the best advice for writing in the time of Covid-19 in BREVITY’S Nonfiction Blog, Wednesday March 18, 2020. Written by Brenda Ridley

I am reblogging here:

 

 

Ten Tips for Writing While Quarantined

by Dinty W. Moore

by Brenda Ridley

Assuming that you are up and about during the COVID-19 pandemic, you could view this period of social distancing as an unexpected gift to your writing life. That’s the attitude I’ve adopted as I decide how to use my time while exiled from my job for two weeks.

Last week, Pennsylvania’s governor ordered schools state-wide closed to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The small independent school where I double as admissions coordinator and office manager complied. While the risk to our students of COVID-19 exposure is probably low, we could not in good conscience remain open while 99% of the schools in Philadelphia shut down. Ours is a very small school but, luckily, one with digital resources that teachers can use for online instruction. Most of my work time is spent on the phone, making sure that teachers have the resources they need, the office runs smoothly, and performing first aid in the absence of a school nurse. I have some online tools that I can use, but only a couple projects that I think I can finish at home. That leaves some open time periods during the day that I don’t usually have for writing. Here is my plan for writing while quarantined with some suggestions that you might find helpful:

1) Keep a schedule. It is so tempting to sleep in when you get up before six o’clock every weekday morning and now don’t have to. But if you don’t set up a schedule for the week, you’ll wonder where the time went and why that essay you started three months ago still isn’t finished. I’ll set my alarm for 7 a.m. and plan to start writing at 9, after exercise, breakfast, and kitty time. I have better focus in the morning, but you should create a schedule that works for you; just schedule your writing time no matter what.

2) Limit socializing. Life as I’ve known it has temporarily shifted. Everything is closed: my yoga studio, the public library, my writing group is on hiatus, even my church is practicing social distancing. Of course you can call, text, or email friends and family, but don’t do it all day. Your pen or keyboard needs you to propel it. Block out a social hour or two when you can catch up and commiserate with everyone each day.

3) Reconnect with your partner, your kids, or your pets. I rush out of the house early on workdays and don’t usually come home until almost six. I see the kitties briefly when I feed them breakfast, but there’s no time for cuddles and chatfests. My partner is still asleep when I leave. While my schedule is more flexible I can carve out some time for canoodling when I’m not drifting off to sleep and muttering incoherently. Imagine the boost some quality time can give to our relationships.

4) Eat well and rest. I enjoy cooking but don’t like to spend all day at it. When home for the day I usually prep dinner early so that at dinner time there is less to do. Doing most of the work early in the day makes it more likely that you’ll eat better instead of grabbing fast food or ordering a pizza.  And set a reasonable bedtime that ensures you get enough sleep. A poorly-fed, sleep-deprived writer might produce something, but is it something you really want others to read?

5) Get outdoors at least every other day. There is plenty of evidence that walking outdoors, forest bathing, hiking and other activities make you feel better. My attitude improves considerably when I’ve returned from a brisk walk.

6) Turn off your television. Too much news is not a good thing, and a lot of conjecture by pundits and talk show hosts isn’t news. All of the chatter about COVID-19 is increasing people’s anxiety. If you must know what’s happening with the virus on a daily basis, choose one reliable news source and limit yourself to 30 minutes of “information” per day. Your nervous system will thank you.

7) Put your writing house in order. I know I have two weeks before I return to work or am told to stay at home a little longer. I’m a writing newbie and don’t have tons of projects to work on, but I have at least three essays I’ve not been able to finish. My modest goal is to finish at least one of them and to develop a strategy for completing the other two. If I stick to the schedule I’ve set for myself, I think I can accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

8) Read. No need to say more.

9) Stay open and flexible. COVID-19 has made a fast and furious impact on everyone I know, even though none of my friends or family members have contracted it. All of the twists and turns science is taking in order to get a handle on this virus require us to think about how what we do impacts someone else. Stay flexible enough to shift with the tide of events and follow the lead of experts who know what they are talking about.

10) Finally, breathe and write; breathe and write some more. I came to writing as a late bloomer but quickly found it to be a practice that I can pour almost any emotion into. Some of those scribbles are just for me, not an audience, but writing helps me to clarify my thoughts and emotions so that I can get the junk out of the way and focus on what I want to say. So, breathe and write your way through if you’re quarantined. Appreciate the gift you’ve been given.

Nurses Transform Lives

This wonderful article was published in Nursing Times OPINION:

In stressful times it’s important to remember how many lives nurses transform

Ford-Megan-2020-1024x683.jpg

If you had the chance to reunite with a patient after 10 years to see the difference you had made to their life, would you do it?

This was an opportunity given to a mental health nurse, after Nursing Times helped facilitate an emotional reunion with a former patient last year.

Hope Virgo contacted us because she wanted to shine a light on the “massive contribution” a nurse had made to her recovery journey.

When Ms Virgo was 17, she was admitted to a mental health unit in Bristol with severe anorexia. She said the support of a particular nurse, Mandy Robinson, helped save her life and gave her the skills to stay well more than a decade later.

“It got me thinking about how often nurses see the longer-term impact of the care and support they provide”

When I met the pair, it was a real joy to see how excited they both were to meet again after so many years.

It got me thinking about how often nurses see the longer-term impact of the care and support they provide.

How often do you reunite with your patients? Is this something you would want to do?

I know that for Ms Robinson, this was a rare occasion but one that she thoroughly enjoyed.

In a video created by Nursing Times, Ms Robinson said: “As a nurse – and I’ve done this job for 30 years now – I think we rarely see the kind of longer-term outcomes of how people have done.”

She said it had been “lovely” to see Ms Virgo and to know that she had made “a little contribution” to who she was now.

In response, Ms Virgo assured Ms Robinson that she had in fact made a “massive contribution”.

Ms Virgo said: “I think quite often we don’t realise that, and obviously at the time we just take you all for granted, but all the stuff that you taught me in hospital I now use all of that stuff to help me stay well.”

Observing their interaction from behind the camera I could see what Ms Virgo’s words meant to her former nurse: she was completely made up and overwhelmed.

Together they looked back on Ms Virgo’s time as an inpatient and talked about how they used to go out on runs around the hospital.

Ms Virgo told how Ms Robinson had helped her to understand how to exercise in a positive way and that it did not have to be something that was “obsessional”.

“It is vital to look back and reflect on the positives and remind yourselves of the life-changing work you do for so many people”

After the story went online earlier this week, Ms Virgo posted a link on social media site Twitter and wrote: “If you ever doubt yourself as a nurse watch this and realise the long-term impact you are having.”

At a time when the nursing workforce is under severe – and escalating – pressure, it is vital to look back and reflect on the positives and remind yourselves of the life-changing work you do for so many people.

During International Year of the Nurse and Midwife it seems more than appropriate to be shouting about the difference you are all are making.

 

 

Wonderland Book Club

QR bookclubLast Friday I discussed my book, Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers at the Wonderland Book Club, which was held at a local independent bookstore. The audience was quite engaged and we shared discussions not only of my book but of the status of nurses, problems within the health care industry in general and in North Carolina in particular.

Here are some of the questions/comments:

  1. How do you deal with the stress of caring for patients? Do you take these problems home with you?

Me:  I have always taken home patient problems as evidenced by what I wrote in my journals. Journaling was a way I dealt with problems at work. The more difficult the patient issues, the more time I spent writing in my journal. A lot of the stories from the book have been documented in my journal. In fact, the last chapter, Playing Sheriff, was written before I found the journal from that time period. I was surprised to find the story closely paralleled the journal entry.

  1. How brave you were to write about your mother. (I’ve had this comment before. The first time, I really didn’t understand what the person was talking about)

Me:  It was difficult to write about my mother. We didn’t get along. It was especially disturbing that I was a gerontological specialist and couldn’t get along with my own elderly mother. But it was truth and I felt it was part of my story. (At another reading, I was asked what happened to my mother when she had a place of her own. I told how my mother found a boyfriend. Wish I had thought to add that to my response.)

  1. How do you deal with writing about yourself? (Asked by someone who doesn’t write non-fiction)

Me:  I look at this book as a story about someone I know. I tried to dissociate from myself so it was easier to be honest about my actions.

  1. Who was your most memorable patient?

Me:  Helen Stoltz. She lived in the apartment next door to the clinic. When I wasn’t busy, she would drop-in and sit a few minutes beside my desk and teach me about aging. Of course, she didn’t know that what’s she was doing. She talked about getting older and eventually dying, which showed me that older folks aren’t afraid of talking about death. She was ready to die. However, she was cheerful and upbeat and accepting of her life until her time came.

  1. What was the most memorable line your wrote in your book?

Me: I didn’t write it but it came verbatim from my notes at the time. The funeral director told me how to go about purchasing a grave site for the Pigeon Lady: The Greeks are tight but the Catholics will give you a break. (page 96). I’m thankful that I wrote down what he said. He was such a character—embodied with Chicago smarts and a big heart.

What I didn’t say was that “I killed all my darlings.” Therefore, there are no “precious” sentences that have survived my editing, thank goodness.

Besides the Q & A, I was happy to be able to drop some facts about nursing, such as nurses have been voted the most respected of professions for the past 18 years. And that the World Health Organization designated 2020 the Year of the nurse and midwife.

I was grateful for such an enthusiastic and supportive turnout.

 

 

 

 

 

https://wordpress.com/post/nursingstories.org/1635

 

https://www.dailywritingtips.com/say-no-to-your-darlings/

 

https://www.icn.ch/news/2020-international-year-nurse-and-midwife-catalyst-brighter-future-health-around-globe

 

https://www.nationalnursesunited.org/press/nurses-top-gallup-poll-most-trusted-profession-18th-consecutive-year

 

Just a Nurse

Reblogged from 10/25/2015

Nursing Stories

bookmrk-sm1This is from Suzanne Gordon’s Blog. Ms Gordon is a journalist and stanch supporter and promoter of all things nursing.

Recently she asked nurses to respond with their version of “Just a Nurse.” I am delighted to see their feedback. May nurses continue to tell the public what they do and how important their job is.

I would like to post all the ” Just a Nurse” submissions people have sent me.  See below.  What do you think?  I think they are all great.  Thank you so much, all of you.

Suzanne Gordon

I’m just a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse. I just manage my patients’ drips to keep to their vital signs in a stable range. I just make sure their medications are safely administered. I just make sure the physician is informed of any small but meaningful change in their condition so we can work together to prevent…

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Are You Glad You Became a Nurse?

How fitting to look at this again since 2020 is the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

Nursing Stories

I found an interesting study regarding nurses’ satisfaction with their career choice. Note the respondents were middle-aged (45 – 64) and predominately female.

Since my specialty is gerontology, I have included the comments made by three older nurses. Yes, Yes, I know they are all positive.

I look forward to a study that includes younger nurses and more males. Would there be differences in the outcome?

Most Nurses Have Few to No Regrets About Career Choice

by Alicia Ault

Medscape, January 25, 2017

When asked what they liked best about their career, most nurses could not narrow it down to just one answer — instead, they gave multiple reasons, with relationships with patients, being good at what they do, and having a job they liked being among the top answers, in a new survey by Medscape.

The Medscape Nurse Career Satisfaction Report for 2016 surveyed 10,026 practicing nurses in the United States…

View original post 1,325 more words

Stories that Need to be Told

I almost forgot about Dennis. That’s what Carol Novembre thinks his name was. Carol and I worked together in the early 60s at Pollack Hospital in Jersey City. It was a county-run hospital. Dennis was head of maintenance. I learned a lot from him about the political corruption that went on behind the scenes. Not that I had any doubts about the kickbacks and abuse of power. I had seen the cases of liquor at the loading docks that were to be delivered to the administration suite (aka “the penthouse”).  One time when I answered the phone on our nursing unit, a voice at the other end reminded me that my “donation” of five dollars was due in order to keep my job. When I identified myself as a nurse, the male voice apologized profusely.

Dennis, a tall, lanky guy with a pocked marked face and disheveled clothes, made rounds in the hospital when he wasn’t off-site, overseeing the unofficial work of prisoners. He would bus the prisoners from the county jail to work on the administrator’s suburban house—building a fence, painting the siding, tending to the gardens in the summer. He seemed especially fond of the nurses. If he learned one of us had missed lunch, he would run down to the kitchen and  reappear with a bacon sandwich.

Reminiscing about Dennis was only one of the memories that resurfaced as I spoke to Carol last week. I had asked her if I could write about the fact that she was one of the first dialysis nurses in the country. I worry that as nurses age and die off, stories of nursing history will be lost. My stories included.

You will read more about Carol Novembre in a future post. In the meantime, here is a story I had published about one of the patients I cared for while I worked at Pollack Hospital in the mid-60s.

Pollak Hospital

 

 

 

 

 CLOSING THE DOOR

            I screwed off the cap of the Black and White Scotch bottle and I carefully measured out sixty milliliters, two ounces, into a medicine glass. The alcohol fumes gagged me every time. Then I grabbed a pack of Lucky Strikes from the carton on the shelf next to an aspirin bottle. Cigarettes and Scotch balanced precariously on a small tray. I locked the door to the tiny medication room and went in search of Charlie Hobbs.

The tobacco smoke clouded the air in the patients’ lounge. The drab room was empty except for a middle-aged man in blue pajamas staring at pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the card table in front of him. A cigarette clung to his lower lip.

At times, I imagined myself the airline stewardess I had always wanted to be. Coffee, tea, or me? This day I was a Playboy Bunny as I bent at the knees, stretching to place the drink in front of Charlie, while his blue eyes riveted on my imagined cleavage. But Charlie’s eyes fixed solely on the amber liquid. Not once in the past four weeks had he acknowledged me, the young nurse in a starched white uniform with thick support hose and practical shoes. An unlikely dispenser of booze and butts.

Charlie had arrived with no suitcase, only the clothes he wore. The faded blue hospital pajamas and robe comprised his daily wardrobe. One of the other nurses had donated slippers. I looked down at the top of Charlie’s wild red hair. “I got to get me another puzzle,” Charlie said without looking up at me. “This here one is almost done.” He snuffed the cigarette butt into an overflowing ashtray and reached for the drink. I was glad Charlie had decided to shower that morning or else his pungent body odor would have added to the foul air.

Charlie shuffled the jigsaw pieces about by day, and watched television by night, all a maneuver, I thought, to keep human interaction at bay. No one ever visited him. Did he even have a home to go back to?

Dr. Clark’s research money supported Charlie’s hospital stay. Dr. Clark needed recruits who would agree to have a cardiac catheterization in order to see the effects, if any, that alcohol had on their hearts. Cardiac catheterization was the latest tool of the sixties. It measured heart function but carried the risk of injury and even death.

Dr. Clark scoured the downtown bars searching for men who drank excessively. On a warm summer night about a month ago, Dr. Clark had gotten lucky. Charlie seized the carrot: a roof over his head, three squares a day, free liquor and cigarettes. He agreed to live on the third floor of the county hospital for four weeks and then undergo a cardiac catheterization.

I carried the empty medicine glass on the tray back to the nursing station. How could Charlie drink alcohol at nine in the morning? Or all day long, for that matter? What would make a man so desperate that he would consent to have a procedure that might kill him?

Even though I didn’t particularly like Charlie, there were times as I placed the Scotch in front of him that I wanted to nudge him and jerk my head towards the exit sign down the hallway. Get out, Charlie. The catheterization isn’t worth all the free alcohol and cigarettes that Dr. Clark’s giving you. Get out. Now. But I didn’t have the audacity to undermine Dr. Clark’s research, no matter how conflicted I felt.

At twenty-three and a nurse for just two years, I vacillated between professionalism and irreverence. I struggled with knowing when to step back and when to dig deeper into my patients’ psyche. How to be empathic and not sympathetic. How to balance cool detachment with overbearing involvement. Charlie needed someone on his side to help him understand what he was getting into.

Nellie Mineo interrupted my thoughts as she waved to me from the doorway of her husband’s room. She looked like the Italian housewife that she was: salt and pepper hair piled in a bun on the top of her head. A well-worn cardigan sweater covered the simple cotton dress she wore. Behind her thin frame I could just make out her husband’s outline under the starched white sheets.

The Mineo’s had known the chances weren’t in their favor when they first met with Dr. Clark to discuss replacing Joe’s diseased heart valve with an artificial one. At that time Joe was so short of breath that he could hardly talk, much less continue to work in the family grocery store. Joe had been my patient during the week Dr. Clark evaluated him for surgery. The Mineo’s large, gregarious family resembled my own extended Italian family. Joe could’ve been my Uncle Tony with olive skin, dark eyes and soft smile.

An artificial valve, which clicked audibly, replaced Joe’s faulty one. I had worked overtime on the surgical unit as Joe’s private nurse the first night after surgery. At first things looked great, but soon Joe developed a cough, and then his legs swelled. Diuretics only worked for a while, and the antibiotics failed to prevent the infection from ravaging his body. Although the valve was being rejected, it continued to click on.

Joe had the first room near the nursing station. The floor was dedicated to research and held only fifteen patients. The patients stayed for a long time or returned frequently for evaluation. Not surprisingly a strong bond developed between the professional staff and the patients and their family.

Joe’s family and friends usually came and went at all hours, but this day only Nellie stood guard. When I ambled towards her, she grabbed my hand. “He looks worse,” she said, rubbing my hand in absent-minded distraction. “Promise me you’ll stop in before you go off duty today.”

Nellie and I both knew that there would be no miracle for Joe. His once muscular body shriveled into sagging skin covering a bony frame. He didn’t open his eyes to Nellie’s voice. Even a sharp pinch to his face couldn’t get a reaction. “Stop and see me before you go off duty,” Nellie repeated. I nodded. Only then did she loosen her grip on my hand.

At the end of the day, as I flung my coat over my arm, I heard a racket from the patients’ lounge. Charlie stomped past me, head down and fists clenched. “I’m outta here.”

“What happened?” I asked the nurse who jogged after Charlie.

“Charlie kicked over the card table. No reason I could see for this.” She shrugged her shoulders and continued down the hall.

Nellie watched the commotion from the other side of the hall. I walked towards her. She pulled me into her husband’s room, grabbed my coat and purse and held them tight against her body. She stared at me for a long while without speaking. From behind her I could hear Joe’s wet bubbly breaths. Even in my short stint as a nurse I recognized the rancid smell of impending death.

Nellie moved her face closer to mine and whispered, “He’s dying.” She caught a sob and swallowed hard. “I don’t want him resuscitated. Stay with us, please stay with us. Don’t let them resuscitate him. Please don’t.”  She wept quietly, clutching my coat and purse closer to her body.

What was I to do? I had never faced this dilemma before. I knew Nellie had witnessed plenty of resuscitation attempts as she lingered outside her husband’s hospital room day after day. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was so new that all patients were candidates. At the first moment a patient stopped breathing, we leaped into action. We flung him to the floor and straddled him. With the side of our hand we walloped the sternum to get the heart started, then breathed frantically into his mouth. Pumped on his chest. We worked until we were exhausted. In most cases the patient died anyway with fractured ribs and a lacerated liver. Nellie didn’t want this for Joe.

Thoughts flew in and out of my mind. If the staff saw Joe turning blue, they wouldn’t give a second thought to trying to revive him. A resuscitation attempt might bring Joe “back to life,” but only briefly. Then there would be more pain and agony before his heart gave out and he died—again.

What would I want for Uncle Tony? A quiet death, or zealots in white coats beating on his chest? What should I do? Was there a choice? I looked at Nellie, her dark eyes pleading.

I heard Charlie’s voice from down the hall spewing curses. Perfect timing. Charlie would leave the hospital AMA—against medical advice—right before his scheduled catheterization. I hoped whatever he was up to would distract the staff just long enough for Joe to die.

My heartbeats kicked up a notch as I reached over and slowly shut the door. Nellie’s hold on my coat and purse relaxed and they slid to the floor. Wordlessly, she settled down in the chair next to Joe’s bed, lifted his limp hand into her lap and clutched it. I commandeered the chair by the door: the sentry blocking the enemy from entering.

I sat knotted tight while Joe’s breaths became more erratic. The lapses between his gasps for air stretched farther apart. Just when I thought he had quit breathing, he gulped for air.

Finally, the mechanical valve stopped clicking and the room became silent. I walked to the bed and placed my hand over Joe’s clammy hospital gown. I didn’t feel any movement in his chest. I didn’t feel a heartbeat. Joe’s open eyes stared at nothing. I stood there for a long minute before I smoothed down his lids.

Nellie gripped her husband’s hand to her breast and sobbed softly.

I stood over her, my hand lightly on her shoulder. While I felt relief that Joe died peacefully with his wife by his side, each footfall by the door made my heart flip. What if one of the staff would walk in and find I had made a decision that wasn’t mine to make. “ I really need to leave, Nellie,” I whispered, taking Joe’s lifeless hand from hers and placing it by his side.

Tears slid down Nellie’s cheeks. She rose from the chair and embraced me. “Thank you,” she said, her voice cracking. I felt Nellie’s tears soaking into my shoulder as my own tears fell. Then Nellie pulled away and sat back down next to Joe, taking his hand again into her lap. I wiped the moisture off my face with the back of my hand, grabbed my things from the floor, cracked open the door, and glanced up and down the hallway. No one was around. Retrieving my coat and purse, I walked leisurely toward the exit leaving Nellie waiting for the evening nurse to discover Joe dead in the bed.

The floor was unusually quiet. The medication door was ajar in the nursing station. I had no intention of poking my head inside and saying so long to the evening nurse. Just a few more steps and I would be in the clear. As I turned the corner of the white tiled hallway, Charlie Hobbs’ presence blocked me. “Hi,” he said as if we were old friends. “I’m leaving. Can ya spare a buck for bus fare?”

Charlie had on a bright green jacket I was sure wasn’t his. Noticing my eyes on the jacket, he said, “Borrowed this from the guy in the next room. I’ll return it.” I nodded even though I knew the coat would never make it back to its owner. He shifted his feet nervously as he waited for my answer.

I wasn’t anxious to break any more rules but I was glad he was leaving. Why even try to entice him to stay? That would be hypocritical. I reached into my purse guessing he would head for the nearest tavern rather than the bus stop.

“Thanks,” he mumbled. Shoving the dollar bill into the pocket of the purloined jacket, he turned abruptly. In two long strides he disappeared though the doorway under the red exit sign and raced down the steps. I followed. A cold wind chilled my stocking legs as Charlie opened the door at the bottom of the stairs to the outside world. In his haste to escape he let the heavy door slam shut behind him.

I pushed the heavy door open with my shoulder. Unlike Charlie, I had no desire to announce my departure from the hospital by slamming the door. Leaving my covert actions behind me, I griped the handle with both hands and eased it closed.

The Closing the Door was a winner of the TulipTree’s Stories that Need to be Told Contest and is featured in their 2016 anthology: Stories that Need to be Told.

 

 

 

Pollyanna No More

I’m calling myself out for being, or trying to be, so positive about aging. I have written often in my Blog about the favorable aspects of aging. I jump on anything that smacks of an older person challenging the stereotypes: the 80-year-old male model that struts down the runway, biceps rippling; old women in New York City dressed flamboyantly, looking spiffy and attracting approval; writers who have best sellers in their 80s and 90s; older couples finding their soul mates along with good sex, and aging stars in TV programs engaging in “youthful” endeavors. I am nothing if not Pollyanna.

Ever since I read Old News by Arthur Krystal in the October 28, 2019 New Yorker, I have questioned my intent on down playing the negative side of aging.

Arthur Krystal’s essay is thought provoking. He starts out by saying that with people living longer, there is an increase in interest in the trajectory of aging. Hence, there are many books published about aging. Most have a decidedly positive bent. “Our senior years are evidently a time to celebrate ourselves and the wonderful things to come: traveling, volunteering, canoodling, acquiring new skill, and so on. No one , it seems, wants to disparage old age.” He goes on to argue that “the optimistic narrative of pro-aging writers doesn’t line up with the dark story told by the human body.”

I can see that we avoid speaking of the dark side of aging when we have little control to stop the inevitable. I guess that’s why I choose to focus on the positive. Since there is no one way to confront aging, in the future, I will lean toward Krystal’s conclusion: “. . . just about every book on the subject (of aging) advocates a ‘positive’ attitude toward aging in order to maintain a sense of satisfaction and to achieve a measure of wisdom. And yet it seems to me that a person can be both wise and unhappy, wise and regretful, and even wise and dubious about the wisdom of growing old.”

 

 

WHY WE CAN’T TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT AGING

A long life is a gift. But will we really be grateful for it?

By Arthur Krystal

October 28, 2019

In days of old, when most people didn’t live to be old, there were very few notable works about old age, and those were penned by writers who were themselves not very old. Chaucer was around fifty when “The Merchant’s Tale” was conceived; Shakespeare either forty-one or forty-two when he wrote “King Lear,” Swift fifty-five or so when gleefully depicting the immortal but ailing Struldbruggs, and Tennyson a mere twenty-four when he began “Tithonus” and completed “Ulysses,” his great anthem to an aging but “hungry heart.”

One might think that forty was not so young in Shakespeare’s day, but if you survived birth, infections, wars, and pestilence you stood a decent chance of reaching an advanced age no matter when you were born. Average life expectancy was indeed a sorry number for the greater part of history (for Americans born as late as 1900, it wasn’t even fifty), which may be one reason that people didn’t write books about aging: there weren’t enough old folks around to sample them. But now that more people on the planet are over sixty-five than under five, an army of readers stands waiting to learn what old age has in store.

Reading through a recent spate of books that deal with aging, one might forget that, half a century ago, the elderly were, as V. S. Pritchett noted in his 1964 introduction to Muriel Spark’s novel “Memento Mori,” “the great suppressed and censored subject of contemporary society, the one we do not care to face.” Not only are we facing it today; we’re also putting the best face on it that we possibly can. Our senior years are evidently a time to celebrate ourselves and the wonderful things to come: travelling, volunteering, canoodling, acquiring new skills, and so on. No one, it seems, wants to disparage old age. Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck” tries, but is too wittily mournful to have real angst. Instead, we get such cheerful tidings as Mary Pipher’s “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age,” Marc E. Agronin’s “The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life,” Alan D. Castel’s “Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging,” Ashton Applewhite’s “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism,” and Carl Honoré’s “Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives”—five chatty accounts meant to reassure us that getting old just means that we have to work harder at staying young.

Pipher is a clinical psychologist who is attentive to women over sixty, whose minds and bodies, she asserts, are steadily being devalued. She is sometimes tiresomely trite, urging women to “conceptualize all experiences in positive ways,” but invariably sympathetic. Agronin, described perhaps confusingly as “a geriatric psychiatrist” (he’s in his mid-fifties), believes that aging not only “brings strength” but is also “the most profound thing we accomplish in life.” Castel, a professor of psychology at U.C.L.A., believes in “successful aging” and seeks to show us how it can be achieved. And Applewhite, who calls herself an “author and activist,” doesn’t just inveigh against stereotypes; she wants to nuke them, replacing terms like “seniors” and “the elderly” with “olders.” Olders, she believes, can get down with the best of them. Retirement homes “are hotbeds of lust and romance,” she writes. “Sex and arousal do change, but often for the better.” Could be, though I’ve never heard anyone testify to this. Perhaps the epicurean philosopher Rodney Dangerfield (who died a month short of his eighty-third birthday), having studied the relationship between sexuality and longevity, said it best: “I’m at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, I’ve just had a mirror put over my kitchen table.”

Applewhite makes an appearance in Honoré’s book. She tells Honoré, a Canadian journalist who is now fifty-one, that aging is “like falling in love or motherhood.” Honoré reminds us that “history is full of folks smashing it in later life.” Smashers include Sophocles, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Bach, and Edison, who filed patents into his eighties. Perhaps because Honoré isn’t an American, he omits Satchel Paige, who pitched in the majors until he was fifty-nine. Like Applewhite, who claims that the older brain works “in a more synchronized way,” Honoré contends that aging may “alter the structure of the brain in ways that boost creativity.

These authors aren’t blind to the perils of aging; they just prefer to see the upside. All maintain that seniors are more comfortable in their own skins, experiencing, Applewhite says, “less social anxiety, and fewer social phobias.” There’s some evidence for this. The connection between happiness and aging—following the success of books like Jonathan Rauch’s “The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50” and John Leland’s “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old,” both published last year—has very nearly come to be accepted as fact. According to a 2011 Gallup survey, happiness follows the U-shaped curve first proposed in a 2008 study by the economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald. They found that people’s sense of well-being was highest in childhood and old age, with a perceptible dip around midlife.

Lately, however, the curve has invited skepticism. Apparently, its trajectory holds true mainly in countries where the median wage is high and people tend to live longer or, alternatively, where the poor feel resentment more keenly during middle age and don’t mind saying so. But there may be a simpler explanation: perhaps the people who participate in such surveys are those whose lives tend to follow the curve, while people who feel miserable at seventy or eighty, whose ennui is offset only by brooding over unrealized expectations, don’t even bother to open such questionnaires.

One strategy of these books is to emphasize that aging is natural and therefore good, an idea that harks back to Plato, who lived to be around eighty and thought philosophy best suited to men of more mature years (women, no matter their age, could not think metaphysically). His most famous student, Aristotle, had a different opinion; his “Ars Rhetorica” contains long passages denouncing old men as miserly, cowardly, cynical, loquacious, and temperamentally chilly. (Aristotle thought that the body lost heat as it aged.) These gruff views were formed during the first part of Aristotle’s life, and we don’t know if they changed before he died, at the age of sixty-two. The nature-is-always-right argument found its most eloquent spokesperson in the Roman statesman Cicero, who was sixty-two when he wrote “De Senectute,” liberally translated as “How to Grow Old,” a valiant performance that both John Adams (dead at ninety) and Benjamin Franklin (dead at eighty-four) thought highly of.

Montaigne took a more measured view. Writing around 1580, he considered the end of a long life to be “rare, extraordinary, and singular . . . ’tis the last and extremest sort of dying: and the more remote, the less to be hoped for.” Montaigne, who never reached sixty, might have changed his mind upon learning that, in the twenty-first century, people routinely live into their seventies and eighties. But I suspect that he’d still say, “Whoever saw old age, that did not applaud the past, and condemn the present times?” No happiness curve for him.

There is, of course, a chance that you may be happier at eighty than you were at twenty or forty, but you’re going to feel much worse. I know this because two recent books provide a sobering look at what happens to the human body as the years pile up. Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel’s “The Telomere Effect: Living Younger, Healthier, Longer” and Sue Armstrong’s “Borrowed Time: The Science of How and Why We Age” describe what is essentially a messy business. Armstrong, a British science and health writer, presents, in crack Michael Lewis style, the high points of aging research along with capsule biographies of the main players, while Blackburn, one of three recipients of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology, focusses on the shortening of telomeres, those tiny aglets of DNA attached to our chromosomes, whose length is a measure of cellular health. Basically, most cells divide and replicate some fifty-plus times before becoming senescent. Not nearly as inactive as the name suggests, senescent cells contribute to chronic inflammation and interfere with protective collagens. Meanwhile, telomeres shorten with each cell division, even as life style affects the degree of shrinkage—data now suggest that “married people, or people living with a partner, have longer telomeres.”

Walt Whitman, who never married, made it to seventy-two, and offered a lyric case for aging. “youth, large, lusty, loving—youth full of grace, force, fascination,” he intoned. “Do you know that Old Age may come after you with equal grace, force, fascination?” It’s pretty to think so, but the biology suggests otherwise. The so-called epigenetic clock shows our DNA getting gummed up, age-related mitochondrial mutations reducing the cells’ ability to generate energy, and our immune system slowly growing less efficient. Bones weaken, eyes strain, hearts flag. Bladders empty too often, bowels not often enough, and toxic proteins build up in the brain to form the plaque and the spaghetti-like tangles that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Not surprisingly, sixty-eight per cent of Medicare beneficiaries today have multiple chronic conditions. Not a lot of grace, force, or fascination in that.

In short, the optimistic narrative of pro-aging writers doesn’t line up with the dark story told by the human body. But maybe that’s not the point. “There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her expansive 1970 study “The Coming of Age,” “and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning—devotion to individuals, to groups, or to causes—social, political, intellectual, or creative work.” But such meaning is not easily gained. In 1975, Robert Neil Butler, who had previously coined the term “ageism,” published “Why Survive? Being Old in America,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning study of society’s dereliction toward the nation’s aging population. “For many elderly Americans old age is a tragedy, a period of quiet despair, deprivation, desolation and muted rage,” he concluded.

Four years later, the British journalist Ronald Blythe, who must be one of the few living writers to have spoken to the last Victorians (he’s now just shy of ninety-seven), had a more sanguine perspective. His “The View in Winter,” containing oral histories of men and women at the end of their lives, is a lovely, sometimes personal, sometimes scholarly testament that reaches “no single conclusion. . . . Old age is full of death and full of life. It is a tolerable achievement and it is a disaster. It transcends desire and it taunts it. It is long enough and it is far from being long enough.” Some years after that, the great Chicago radio host Studs Terkel, who died at ninety-six, issued an American version of Blythe’s wintry landscape; in “Coming of Age” (1995), Terkel interrogated seventy-four “graybeards” (men and women over the age of seventy) for their thoughts on aging, politics, and the American way of life.

Now that we’re living longer, we have the time to write books about living longer—so many, in fact, that the Canadian critic Constance Rooke, in 1992, coined the term “Vollendungsroman,” a somewhat awkward complement to “Bildungsroman,” to describe novels about the end of life, such as Barbara Pym’s “Quartet in Autumn,” Kingsley Amis’s “The Old Devils,” and Wallace Stegner’s “The Spectator Bird.” Since then, plenty of elderly protagonists have shown up in novels by Louis Begley (“About Schmidt”), Sue Miller (“The Distinguished Guest”), Saul Bellow (“Ravelstein”), Philip Roth (“Everyman”), and Margaret Drabble (“The Dark Flood Rises”). The realm of nonfiction has more than kept pace. Today, there’s a Web site that lists the top fifty books on aging, which, alas, omits William Ian Miller’s eccentric “Losing It: In Which an Aging Professor Laments His Shrinking Brain”(2011); Lynne Segal’s judicious but tough-minded “Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing” (2013); and Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore’s smart, provocative “Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations About Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, & Regret” (2017), in which a philosopher and a law professor discuss everything from “Lear” to the transmission of assets. And, as was bound to happen, gerontology meets the Internet in “Aging and the Digital Life Course,” a collection of essays edited by David Prendergast and Chiara Garattini (2017). The library on old age has grown so voluminous that the fifty million Americans over the age of sixty-five could spend the rest of their lives reading such books, even as lusty retirees and power-lifting septuagenarians turn out new ones.

The most recent grand philosophical overview of aging is also by a woman, and lighting upon Helen Small’s “The Long Life” (2007) is like entering the University of Old Age after matriculating at a perfectly good college. Small, an Oxford don (and just forty-two when the book came out), wants to integrate old age into how we think about life. Pondering what it means to be someone who has completed a life cycle that Montaigne thought unnatural, she considers old age to be “connected into larger philosophical considerations,” whose depiction, whether literary or scientific, both drives and reflects emotional and ethical attitudes. And, echoing the philosopher Bernard Williams, she suggests that our lives accrue meaning over time, and therefore the story of the self is not complete until it experiences old age—the stage of life that helps us grasp who we are and what our life has meant.

Not everyone wants to find out if Small’s equation between old age and self-knowledge holds up. In 2014, The Atlantic ran an essay by the oncologist and bioethicist Ezekiel J. Emanuel, then fifty-seven, whose title alone, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” caused uneasy shuffling among seventy-year-olds. Emanuel believes that, by the time he hits this milestone, he will have lived a full life. He argues that by seventy-five “creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us.” Unlike Honoré and Applewhite, Emanuel thinks that “it is difficult, if not impossible, to generate new, creative thoughts, because we don’t develop a new set of neural connections that can supersede the existing network.” Although he doesn’t plan on suicide, he won’t actively prolong his life: no more cancer-screening tests (colonoscopies and the like); no pacemaker or stents. He wants to get out while the getting is good.

It’s an unselfish outlook, but not quite credible to unevolved people like me. Having entered my seventies, I don’t care that I may not have much to contribute after I’m seventy-five. I’m not sure I’ll have had that much to contribute before turning seventy-five. Also, Emanuel seems to be talking about artists, intellectuals, and scientists who will be pained by the prospect that their brain power and creativity may ebb in their twilight years, and not about your average working stiff who, after years of toiling in factories or offices, may want to spend more time golfing or reading books about golf. A grudging admiration for the good doctor ultimately gives way to disappointment when he reserves the right to change his mind, thereby confirming Montaigne’s gloomy projection that “our desires incessantly grow young again; we are always re-beginning to live.”

Let’s grant that there are as many ways to grow old as there are people going about it, especially since more of us keep chugging along despite our aches and ailments. “If I’d known I was going to live this long,” said Mickey Mantle (or possibly Mae West or Eubie Blake), “I would have taken better care of myself.” Mantle was only sixty-three when he died, but the truth is that many of us are going to be physically better off at eighty than Shakespeare’s Jaques could have imagined—avec teeth, avec sight, and avec hearing (which is to say: dental implants, glasses, and hearing aids). A long life is a gift. But I’m not sure we’re going to be grateful for it.

Normal aging is bad enough, but things become dire if dementia develops, the chances of which double every five years past the age of sixty-five. Applewhite, however, citing recent research, no longer thinks that dementia is “inevitable, or even likely.” May she live long and prosper, but, for those of us who have cared for spouses or parents with dementia, it’s not always a simple matter to know on whom the burden falls the heaviest. (One in three caregivers is sixty-five or older.)

Obviously, I’m not a candidate for the Old Person’s Hall of Fame. In fact, I plan to be a tattered coat upon a stick, nervously awaiting the second oblivion, which I’m reasonably certain will not have the same outcome as the first. Nonetheless, I like to think that I have some objectivity about what it’s like to grow old. My father lived to be almost a hundred and three, and most of my friends are now in their seventies. It may be risky to impugn the worthiness of old age, but I’ll take my cane to anyone who tries to stop me. At the moment, we seem to be compensating for past transgressions: far from devaluing old age, we assign it value it may not possess. Yes, we should live as long as possible, barring illness and infirmity, but, when it comes to the depredations of age, let’s not lose candor along with muscle tone. The goal, you could say, is to live long enough to think: I’ve lived long enough.

One would, of course, like to approach old age with grace and fortitude, but old age makes it difficult. Those who feel that it’s a welcome respite from the passions, anxieties, and troubles of youth or middle age are either very lucky or toweringly reasonable. Why rail against the inevitable—what good will it do? None at all. Complaining is both pointless and unseemly. Existence itself may be pointless and unseemly. No wonder we wonder at the meaning of it all. “At first we want life to be romantic; later, to be bearable; finally, to be understandable,” Louise Bogan wrote. Professor Small would agree, and though I am a fan of her book, I have my doubts about whether the piling on of years really does add to our understanding of life. Doesn’t Regan say of her raging royal father, “Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself”? The years may broaden experience and tint perspective, but is wisdom or contentment certain to follow?

A contented old age probably depends on what we were like before we became old. Vain, self-centered people will likely find aging less tolerable than those who seek meaning in life by helping others. And those fortunate enough to have lived a full and productive life may exit without undue regret. But if you’re someone who—oh, for the sake of argument—is unpleasantly surprised that people in their forties or fifties give you a seat on the bus, or that your doctors are forty years younger than you are, you just might resent time’s insistent drumbeat. Sure, there’s life in the old boy yet, but certain restrictions apply. The body—tired, aching, shrinking—now quite often embarrasses us. Many older men have to pee right after they pee, and many older women pee whenever they sneeze. Pipher and company might simply say “Gesundheit” and urge us on. Life, they insist, doesn’t necessarily get worse after seventy or eighty. But it does, you know. I don’t care how many seniors are loosening their bedsprings every night; something is missing.

It’s not just energy or sexual prowess but the thrill of anticipation. Even if you’re single, can you ever feel again the rush of excitement that comes with the first brush of the lips, the first moment when clothes drop to the floor? Who the hell wants to tear his or her clothes off at seventy-five? Now we dim the lights and fold our slacks and hope we don’t look too soft, too wrinkled, too old. Yes, mature love allows for physical imperfections, but wouldn’t we rather be desired for our beauty than forgiven for our flaws? These may seem like shallow regrets, and yet the loss of pleasure in one’s own body, the loss of pleasure in knowing that one’s body pleases others, is a real one.

I can already hear the objections: If my children are grown and happy; if my grandchildren light up when they see me; if I’m healthy and financially secure; if I’m reasonably satisfied with what I’ve accomplished; if I feel more comfortable now that I no longer have to prove myself—why, then, the loss of youth is a fair trade-off. Those are a lot of “if”s, but never mind. We should all make peace with aging. And so my hat is off to Dr. Oliver Sacks, who chose to regard old age as “a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.” At eighty-two, he rediscovered the joy of gefilte fish, which, as he noted, would usher him out of life as it had ushered him into it.

“No wise man ever wished to be younger,” Swift asserted, never having met me. But this doesn’t mean that we have to see old age as something other than what it is. It may complete us, but in doing so it defeats us. “Life is slow dying,” Philip Larkin wrote before he stopped dying, at sixty-three—a truth that young people, who are too busy living, cavalierly ignore. Should it give them pause, they’ll discover that just about every book on the subject advocates a “positive” attitude toward aging in order to maintain a sense of satisfaction and to achieve a measure of wisdom. And yet it seems to me that a person can be both wise and unhappy, wise and regretful, and even wise and dubious about the wisdom of growing old.

When Socrates declared that philosophy is the practice of dying, he was saying that thought itself is shaped by mortality, and it’s because our existence is limited that we’re able to think past those limits. Time has us in its grip, and so we devise stories of an afterlife in which we exist unshackled by days and years and the decay they represent. But where does that get us, beyond the vague suspicion that immortality—at least in the shape of the vengeful Yahweh or the spiteful Greek and Roman gods—is no guarantee of wisdom? Then again, if you’re the sort of person who sees the glass as one-eighth full rather than seven-eighths empty, you might not worry about such matters. Instead, you’ll greet each new day with gratitude, despite coughing up phlegm and tossing down a dozen pills.

But what do I know? I’m just one person, who at seventy-one doesn’t feel as good as he did at sixty-one, and who is fairly certain that he’s going to feel even worse at eighty-one. I simply know what men and women have always known: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.” If only the writer had stopped there. Unfortunately, he went on to add, “In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. . . . The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise? This too is meaningless.” No young person could have written that. ♦

Published in the print edition of the November 4, 2019, issue, with the headline “Old News.”

Arthur Krystal is the author of four books of essays, including “This Thing We Call Literature.” He began writing for The New Yorker in 1998.

Revisiting “The Artist’s Way”

A friend recently lamented that she wished she was more creative. “I am so left brain,” she said. “Everything I do is regimented. I would love to lose myself in some artistic project.” She had retired about three years ago and needed some help in reinventing herself after a successful nursing career.

That night—I do my best brainstorming while sleeping—I remembered The Artist’s Way, a book I still had in my bookcase but had not looked at in years. And I also recalled that Julia Cameron was featured in the New York Times not too long ago. Eureka!

I re-read the first few chapters and realized that I, too, would do well to follow Cameron’s instructions, which I first did over 20 years ago. I no longer do morning pages nor am I taking myself on artist’s dates. And, guess what, I have not been working on my second book.

I discovered that Cameron wrote a new book in 2016: It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. I plan to buy the book at my local independent bookstore in order to rejuvenate my artistic skill. And begin writing that second book.

I’ve attached the article from the NYTs below for those of you youngsters who missed the hype caused by the Artist’s Way.

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Julia Cameron Wants You to Do Your Morning Pages with “The Artist’s Way.”

by Penelope Green

February 3, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. — On any given day, someone somewhere is likely leading an Artist’s Way group, gamely knocking back the exercises of “The Artist’s Way” book, the quasi-spiritual manual for “creative recovery,” as its author Julia Cameron puts it, that has been a lodestar to blocked writers and other artistic hopefuls for more than a quarter of a century. There have been Artist’s Way clusters in the Australian outback and the Panamanian jungle; in Brazil, Russia, the United Kingdom and Japan; and also, as a cursory scan of Artist’s Way Meetups reveals, in Des Moines and Toronto. It has been taught in prisons and sober communities, at spiritual retreats and New Age centers, from Esalen to Sedona, from the Omega Institute to the Open Center, where Ms. Cameron will appear in late March, as she does most years. Adherents of “The Artist’s Way” include the authors Patricia Cornwell and Sarah Ban Breathnach. Pete Townshend, Alicia Keys and Helmut Newton have all noted its influence on their work.

So has Tim Ferriss, the hyperactive productivity guru behind “The Four Hour Workweek,” though to save time he didn’t actually read the book, “which was recommended to me by many megaselling authors,” he writes. He just did the “Morning Pages,” one of the book’s central exercises. It requires you write three pages, by hand, first thing in the morning, about whatever comes to mind. (Fortunes would seem to have been made on the journals printed to support this effort.) The book’s other main dictum is the “Artist’s Date” — two hours of alone time each week to be spent at a gallery, say, or any place where a new experience might be possible.

Elizabeth Gilbert, who has “done” the book three times, said there would be no “Eat, Pray, Love,” without “The Artist’s Way.” Without it, there might be no adult coloring books, no journaling fever. “Creativity” would not have its own publishing niche or have become a ubiquitous buzzword — the “fat-free” of the self-help world — and business pundits would not deploy it as a specious organizing principle.

The book’s enduring success — over 4 million copies have been sold since its publication in 1992 — have made its author, a shy Midwesterner who had a bit of early fame in the 1970s for practicing lively New Journalism at the Washington Post and Rolling Stone, among other publications, and for being married, briefly, to Martin Scorsese, with whom she has a daughter, Domenica — an unlikely celebrity. With its gentle affirmations, inspirational quotes, fill-in-the-blank lists and tasks — write yourself a thank-you letter, describe yourself at 80, for example — “The Artist’s Way” proposes an egalitarian view of creativity: Everyone’s got it.

The book promises to free up that inner artist in 12 weeks. It’s a template that would seem to reflect the practices of 12-step programs, particularly its invocations to a higher power. Butaccording to Ms. Cameron, who has been sober since she was 29, “12 weeks is how long it takes for people to cook.”

Now 70, she lives in a spare adobe house in Santa Fe, overlooking an acre of scrub and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. She moved a few years ago from Manhattan, following an exercise from her book to list 25 things you love. As she recalled, “I wrote juniper, sage brush, chili, mountains and sky and I said, ‘This is not the Chrysler Building.’” On a recent snowy afternoon, Ms. Cameron, who has enormous blue eyes and a nimbus of blonde hair, admitted to the jitters before this interview. “I asked three friends to pray for me,” she said. “I also wrote a note to myself to be funny.”

In the early 1970s, Ms. Cameron, who is the second oldest of seven children and grew up just north of Chicago, was making $67 a week working in the mail room of the Washington Post. At the same time, she was writing deft lifestyle pieces for the paper — like an East Coast Eve Babitz. “With a byline, no one knows you’re just a gofer,” she said.

In her reporting, Ms. Cameron observed an epidemic of green nail polish and other “Cabaret”-inspired behaviors in Beltway bars, and slyly reviewed a new party drug, methaqualone. She was also, by her own admission, a blackout drunk. “I thought drinking was something you did and your friends told you about it later,” she said. “In retrospect, in cozy retrospect, I was in trouble from my first drink.”

She met Mr. Scorsese on assignment for Oui magazine and fell hard for him. She did a bit of script-doctoring on “Taxi Driver,” and followed the director to Los Angeles. “I got pregnant on our wedding night,” she said. “Like a good Catholic girl.” When Mr. Scorsese took up with Liza Minnelli while all three were working on “New York, New York,” the marriage was done. (She recently made a painting depicting herself as a white horse and Mr. Scorsese as a lily. “I wanted to make a picture about me and Marty,” she said. “He was magical-seeming to me and when I look at it I think, ‘Oh, she’s fascinated, but she doesn’t understand.’”)

In her memoir, “Floor Sample,” published in 2006, Ms. Cameron recounts the brutality of Hollywood, of her life there as a screenwriter and a drunk. Pauline Kael, she writes, described her as a “pornographic Victorian valentine, like a young Angela Lansbury.” Don’t marry her for tax reasons, Ms. Kael warns Mr. Scorsese. Andy Warhol, who escorts her to the premiere of “New York, New York,” inscribes her into his diary as a “lush.” A cocaine dealer soothes her — “You have a tiny little wife’s habit” — and a doctor shoos her away from his hospital when she asks for help, telling her she’s no alcoholic, just a “sensitive young woman.” She goes into labor in full makeup and a Chinese dressing gown, vowing to be “no trouble.”

“I think it’s fair to say that drinking and drugs stopped looking like a path to success,” she said. “So I luckily stopped. I had a couple of sober friends and they said, ‘Try and let the higher power write through you.’ And I said, What if he doesn’t want to?’ They said, ‘Just try it.’”

So she did. She wrote novels and screenplays. She wrote poems and musicals. She wasn’t always well-reviewed, but she took the knocks with typical grit, and she schooled others to do so as well. “I have unblocked poets, lawyers and painters,” she said. She taught her tools in living rooms and classrooms — “if someone was dumb enough to lend us one,” she said — and back in New York, at the Feminist Art Institute. Over the years, she refined her tools, typed them up, and sold Xeroxed copies in local bookstores for $20. It was her second husband, Mark Bryan, a writer, who needled her into making the pages into a proper book.

The first printing was about 9,000 copies, said Joel Fotinos, formerly the publisher at Tarcher/Penguin, which published the book in 1992. There was concern that it wouldn’t sell. “Part of the reason,” Mr. Fotinos said, “was that this was a book that wasn’t like anything else. We didn’t know where to put it on the shelves — did it go in religion or self-help? Eventually there was a category called ‘creativity,’ and ‘The Artist’s Way’ launched it.” Now an editorial director at St. Martin’s Press, Mr. Fotinos said he is deluged with pitches from authors claiming they’ve written “the new Artist’s Way.”

“But for Julia, creativity was a tool for survival,” he said. “It was literally her medicine and that’s why the book is so authentic, and resonates with so many people.”

“I am my tool kits,” Ms. Cameron said.

And, indeed, “The Artist’s Way” is stuffed with tools: worksheets to be filled with thoughts about money, childhood games, old hurts; wish lists and exercises, many of which seem exhaustive and exhausting — “Write down any resistance, angers and fears,” e.g. — and others that are more practical: “Take a 20 minutes walk,” “Mend any mending” and “repot any pinched and languishing plants.” It anticipates the work of the indefatigable Gretchen Rubin, the happiness maven, if Ms. Rubin were a bit kinder but less Type-A.

“When I teach, it’s like watching the lights come on,” said Ms. Cameron. “My students don’t get lectured to. I think they feel safe. Rather than try and fix themselves, they learn to accept themselves. I think my work makes people autonomous. I feel like people fall in love with themselves.”

Anne Lamott, the inspirational writer and novelist, said that when she was teaching writing full-time, her own students swore by “The Artist’s Way.” “That exercise — three pages of automatic writing — was a sacrament for people,” Ms. Lamott wrote in a recent email. “They could plug into something bigger than the rat exercise wheel of self-loathing and grandiosity that every writer experiences: ‘This could very easily end up being an Oprah Book,’ or ‘Who do I think I’m fooling? I’m a subhuman blowhard.’”

“She’s given you an assignment that is doable, and I think it’s kind of a cognitive centering device. Like scribbly meditation,” Ms. Lamott wrote. “It’s sort of like how manicurists put smooth pebbles in the warm soaking water, so your fingers have something to do, and you don’t climb the walls.”

Ms. Cameron continues to write her Morning Pages every day, even though she continues, as she said, to be grouchy upon awakening. She eats oatmeal at a local cafe and walks Lily, an eager white Westie. She reads no newspapers, or social media (perhaps the most grueling tenet of “The Artist’s Way” is a week of “reading deprivation”), though an assistant runs a Twitter and Instagram account on her behalf. She writes for hours, mostly musicals, collaborating with her daughter, a film director, and others.

Ms. Cameron may be a veteran of the modern self-care movement but her life has not been all moonbeams and rainbows, and it shows. She was candid in conversation, if not quite at ease. “So I haven’t proven myself to be hilarious,” she said with a flash of dry humor, adding that even after so many years, she still gets stage-fright before beginning a workshop.

She has written about her own internal critic, imagining a gay British interior designer she calls Nigel. “And nothing is ever good enough for Nigel,” she said. But she soldiers on.

She will tell you that she has good boundaries. But like many successful women, she brushes off her achievements, attributing her unlooked-for wins to luck.

“If you have to learn how to do a movie, you might learn from Martin Scorsese. If you have to learn about entrepreneurship, you might learn from Mark” — her second husband. “So I’m very lucky,” she said. “If I have a hard time blowing my own horn, I’ve been attracted to people who blew it for me.”

Penelope Green is a reporter for Styles. She has been a reporter for the Home section, editor of Styles of The Times — an early iteration of Styles — and a story editor at the Times magazine. @greenpnyt • Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 3, 2019, Section ST, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: She Guides Your Process. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

With “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron invented the way people renovate the creative soul.

 

 

 

NURSES REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE

 

Betsy, a writer friend, emailed me the story she had read in our workshop since I had to miss the class. She knows I hang on every episode of her life in Ireland where her second child was born and she negotiated the daily vicissitudes of a different culture. In this episode she had left the hospital with her new baby girl. She happily accepted the offer to have a nurse visit her and the baby at home.

Her daughter is in college now but Betsy still remembers how helpful the nurse was—and knowledgeable and reassuring, which, in turn, made me remember the article I read not too long ago by David Bornstein, The Power of Nursing (NYT, May 16, 2012) about nurses who made regular home visits to at-risk pregnant women and continued these visits until their children reached the age of two. The program, Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), conducted studies that demonstrated the visits improved both child and maternal health and financial self-sufficiency and provided a five to seven point boost to the I.Q of these children. Plus many more positive results.

NFP, which has been around since the ‘70s is implemented in forty states, empirically proves what many of us already know: nurses REALLY make a difference. Training paraprofessionals to do the nurses’ job didn’t yield the same outcomes.

We nurses do make a unique contribution. No one else can fill our shoes.

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