Netflix Guilt

My own private Jane Austen Film Festival took place in my living room over the course of several months.  It wouldn’t have been possible without Netflix.  I worked my way through every adaptation of Jane Austen’s work and then into obscure British television documentaries about her life.  As soon as the movie, “The Jane Austen Book Club” came out on DVD,  I watched it too.

I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about not patronizing my local theaters.  We have several nice ones nearby, but I haven’t been lately.  I thought I’d miss the companionable experience of seeing a story unfold along with a roomful of other people, but so far I haven’t. 

It’s clear why fans of special effects blockbusters choose to see them on big screens,  and friends who work in the movie industry maintain that comedies are best seen in theaters, where communal laughter enhances the funny, still I find all kinds of rationale for watching at home. 

We’ve heard it all before – about how the inconveniences outweigh the once-shared theater experience.  I love movies as much as ever, but the theater experience itself has been diluted, with multiple (smaller) screens and multiple distractions inside, so it’s rarely an experience equal to the nobility of the old movie houses.  Theater owners blame movie-makers.  Movie-makers blame – well I can’t keep up with the list of all the people movie-makers blame. 

I worry about historic theaters and will do whatever I can to help preserve the architecture and honor their place in our nation’s history.  Once preserved, these buildings need to be re-purposed because the movie industry won’t be able to keep them alive.

Future media is here, with growing audiences who watch on various small screens, including hand-held devices.  Whatever comes next in the area of personal delivery of entertainment content, it doesn’t appear that traditional theaters will be a major force.  It’s an uphill battle.  They make much of their profit from concessions and we hear nothing but complaints about the price of the food and drink.  They add commercials to run before the feature, and we hear complaints about the commercials. 

We’re fast approaching the time when all new movies will be released simultaneously via several media, with theaters only one of the choices. It is crucial that everyone connected with creating entertainment – movies and television and music and all other kinds of performances and educational content – be compensated for all the ways we choose to watch.

Right now, waiting a few months for the DVD to come out works just fine for me.  When I hear about something I want to see, I immediately go to my computer and add the title to my Netflix Queue.  But on any given afternoon when I’m sick of my own company, there’s still the matinee around the corner.  I wonder how much longer that option will exist.

Ó By Anita Garner

Genius In The Details

I’ve just spent a week in Los Angeles working with Greg North, (Zerkle) the director of my play, The Glory Road. I’m back home with a notebook filled with changes.  Gramma K, an expert tailor, used to say “It’s easier to make a new one than to alter the original.”  But for many reasons, altering is often the chosen route to completion of a creative project.

The computer isn’t the best thinking place for me anymore.  I think elsewhere and come back to the keyboard to type.   The real work happens while I’m walking around the village or on the ferry going into the city, or cooking or folding laundry.  But when inspiration continues to avoid me, I have another plan.  

I go in search of genius, hoping that the trip will start ideas flowing again.  In the same way that reading biographies of overcomers opens a new window, so do these field trips.  It’s uplifting to walk where genius walked and talked and worked.  There’s always the possibility that if I stand where they stood, something might rub off.

I visit the workplaces of two undeniably brilliant individuals, at the Charles Schulz Museum, an homage to everything Peanuts, and the Luther Burbank Cottage, Mecca for garden lovers.  Both are in Santa Rosa, California, about an hour north of where I live.  Tours are a good way to begin, but guides by necessity deal mostly with the overview.  They speak of awards won, of the subject’s ties to other famous people, of the place where he was born.

I’m looking for more.  I want to see how they endured the days that were spectacularly nonproductive.  After the tour groups disperse, I look for the minutiae that tethered each of these famous men to earth.  Was he an early riser?  How many hours a day did he work?  What did he eat?  Did he have hobbies?  Who did he love?  Who loved him?

I want to know, did the realization of his goals offer even a small degree of immunity from strife?  Or did he bump into his own saboteurs; the insecurities and loneliness and even the near-crippling fears many of us encounter on the path to making something.

When we look at a creative icon who’s now departed, we’re always looking backward.  We see a whole lifetime of output, an entire body of work.  I want to know how he handled the chunks of time when things didn’t go right.  So I ask about the dry spells.

Charles Schulz used ice skating and long walks to cheer himself.  He built a rink near his studio and his visits there were a vital part of his routine.  Every day he sat at the same table in the snack bar, ate the same food, and watched the skaters.  Merchants at the nearby mall report that Schulz was a frequent visitor, not so much a shopper as an ambler.  They grew accustomed to the lone figure walking around, deep in thought.

Luther Burbank grew himself an escape route.  He took leave of his greenhouse in Santa Rosa and traveled the bumpy road to his experimental farm in Sebastopol to work and sleep in the modest cabin at the site.  He walked and thought and wrote in his notebooks and on his way to developing the Shasta daisy and the Burbank potato, he also documented some of the days when nothing bloomed the way he had planned.

Charles Schulz said he was driven to make cartoons because it was all he was good at.  It was his primary form of self-expression.  Charlie Brown, he said, was the manifestation of his own vulnerability.  At the museum, my favorite spot is the replica of his office.  The renowned storyteller’s drawing board shows the physical effects of his labor and I am more heartened by its worn wood than by the rooms filled with acclaim.

Luther Burbank didn’t consider himself a visionary, but rather a hard-working scientist who kept experimenting until something good came of it.  The museum in the carriage house adjacent to Burbank’s cottage is suitably informative, but I return to the tiny room at the rear of the greenhouse and to the desk where he kept his notes.

Both Schulz and Burbank fit my definition of genius.  I can feel it when I’m in the places they once were.  It’s comforting, on my own tedious workdays, to know that in the midst of lives filled with so many accomplishments, each of these men put great store by the one trait they prized above all others – discipline.  They kept showing up.  I can do that.

Ó By Anita Garner 

What Do Women Want?

Is it inevitable during this season of love that Valentine’s Day will end either in triumph or in tearful disappointment because of the gifts women do or don’t receive from a significant someone?  Sad to say – probably. 

What do women want?  Discussions persist among guy friends and girl friends.  For all our insistence on clear communications in our relationships, both groups agree that we send mixed signals.  If it’s any help at all, most of us are aware that we do. 

Here’s what we think we want:  A boyfriend to slow-dance with.  Here’s what we really mean:  We want to slow-dance until life turns serious, and then we want to wake up next to a grown-up who’ll go with us to visit a sick relative, and put on a suit when the occasion demands, and clean out the gutters before it rains, and pretend he doesn’t hate getting rid of whatever crawling thing scares us most.

Here’s what we think we want:  For our favorite gift-giver to read our minds.  Our significant other should have been paying attention all this time and realize we look best in yellow gold.  Here’s the reality:  Men have been telling us for ages that they’re not in tune with subtlety.  They say they don’t see or hear our hints.  Not only would they prefer that we stop expecting mind-reading miracles from them, they’d like it if we’d hand them the newspaper ad and a map to the store.

I’ve revised my definition of the perfect romantic gesture.  This one doesn’t rely as strongly on Victoria’s Secret but more on the qualities of friendship.  I learned this while eavesdropping in a cafe in Palm Springs.  I could hear the nearby couple clearly. They’d finished their breakfast and were going their separate ways for the day.

He:  “Let’s trade car keys.”

She:  “Why?”

He:  “I noticed your tank’s empty.  Mine’s full.  I’ll get your oil changed too.  See you tonight.”

I guarantee if every woman I know could hear something like that, every heart would flutter.  I’ve thought about that conversation many times and it helps answer the question, what do women really want?

Evidently we want it all.  We want you to surprise us with a token that says you find us desirable.  And then we also crave a practical demonstration of that, even if the distance you travel to show your devotion is only to the gas station on the corner.  It’s the kind of thing Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice would have done if they’d had gas stations in his day.

 Ó By Anita Garner

Generation Gap

I like the gap.  Differences between generations feel right to me.  I enjoy being with our children and then I enjoy being with people closer to my own age, who begin sentences with “Remember when?”

Remember when we danced to Motown?  And sang Doo Wop together?  Remember that first Bob Newhart album?  Remember when Richard Burton appeared on Broadway and all the women fell in love with him but Elizabeth Taylor got him?  Remember how our parents weren’t interested in Elvis, but then they were?  Remember when Ray Charles had his first big hit?  Remember our favorite kids’ shows on radio that turned into television shows?  It’s comfortable having history together.

When I was in my teens, we didn’t call the progression from child to adult anything at all.  We weren’t teenagers or adolescents.  We weren’t known as anything except somebody’s kid.  Since our generation didn’t have a name, we also didn’t call the spaces between us and others a gap.  The term “generation gap” began to be tossed around during the blooming season of the flower children when we were cautioned not to trust anyone over 30.

Too late.  I was already looking forward to being an adult.  In my teens I admired women who were 20 and 30.  I wanted to look like them, dress like them, and somehow achieve the mysterious sophistication those women seemed to own. 

Today, adolescence is so prolonged that sometimes the new generation doesn’t seem to get started at all, and it’s eaten away at what I consider a natural distance between kids and parents.  Terms like “rejuvenile” and “boomerang babies” describe people in their 30’s and 40’s going back to live with their parents.  But while their grown children were away, some of  the older folks were taking care of themselves, eating right, exercising, developing new interests, buying new clothes, and generally making it harder to tell who’s who.

I’d hate to see us close the gap completely.  What have we got to look forward to, if kids don’t want to grow up and parents don’t want to be their own age either?  Just a long, blurry couple of decades where each generation waits out the other to see who’ll blink first?

Ó By Anita Garner

An Elder By Any Other Name

We older people get all worked up about what you call us.  You think you’re having trouble defining us?  So are we.  Maybe we’re sensitive about words because we’re still attempting to define ourselves for ourselves.  We haven’t always been this age. Everything old is new to us. 

It’s understandable that some people who are celebrating an important milestone that begins the last part of life, and that brings physical changes, and that implies fewer choices – would not want to acknowledge it with a name.  It’s as if refusing to agree on descriptions will allow old people to keep from actually getting old.   

We – and I include this oldest generation-and-a-half to take in pre-Boomers – were in the forefront of movements in the 60’s and early 70’s that were intended to do away with labels.  We fought the good fight but eventually none of us could stop people from calling us whatever they choose.  So we are sometimes called Senior or Old or Elderly or Aging.  Add to this the men who say “Call me anything but Grandpa” and the women who say “I love my grandchildren, but don’t call me Grandma.”

I’m not personally offended by any of these words.  They’re not epithets.  They’re mostly attempts to label who we are for the purpose of selling us stuff, marketing being the all-powerful force.  Whether the products are  cars or political candidates, a great deal of money changes hands according to how many of us fit into a specific demographic.

I don’t mind being identified with the older millions when it comes to advertising.  I made a living in advertising for years and I understand target audiences, but I also know of major ways in which advertisers and ad agencies are wrong in their perceptions about how elders think and feel and what we really want.  They’re turning old into a cliche and nobody wants to be a cliche.  There will be a price to pay someday for these oversights, I hope.

The older I get,  the more I resist being perceived merely as a person of a certain age. I know all the ways in which I am nothing like my peers with whom I have in common only the year of my birth.  I give up trying to come up with a word that will please everyone.  From now on I’m taking it case by case.  If a word makes me wince, I consider the intent.  If I feel it’s dismissive, I speak up.

I care very much about language that might diminish in any way the respect that should be paid to this very special time of life.  It’s our responsibility to set our standards high.  The words we’re willing to accept inform the ways we’re willing to be treated. 

Ó By Anita Garner

Grandparent Geography

My only grandchild lives in Los Angeles.  I live near San Francisco.  It’s a 400 mile trip.  I’ve checked flights and with travel to and from airports and renting a car when I get there, it’s easier to drive.  I love this place where I live but I also love that little girl, so I drive a lot.

From the time Caedan Ray was born, her mommy always said the same thing at the start of each visit.  As I scooped up the baby, she’d ask, “You got your Hammy?”  After Caedan learned to talk, when her mother asked the question, she answered with a big loud “Yes!”

During my drive south on I-5, her parents and I stay in phone contact and they tell her, “Hammy’s almost here.”  When I pull up in front, Caedan is waiting at the front door or outside, standing with a parent by my parking spot.  As soon as I’m out of the car, I hold out my arms.  So far she chooses to jump up.

At the end of each visit, after a sad goodbye, I head north toward home, already missing the little family.  At my halfway point, Harris Ranch, I feel a hint of “almost home.” The horizon shifts on the last hour of the drive.  Northern California skies always hold a promise for me.  That’s what I see when I look ahead.  

I live in Marin County, in the redwoods.  This is a place where the ratio of open space to developed land is astonishing and astonishingly beautiful.  Is it foolish to love and need specific surroundings so much?  Or is it something we’ve earned at this time of life?

During the last hour of my drive, traffic picks up considerably as I merge with drivers heading home from San Francisco, coming off the Bay Bridge and through several interchanges.  The skies shift again.  It’s usually late afternoon when I make this part of the trip, and fog rolls in.  I love fog.  It’s one of the reasons I live here.

From the top of the Richmond Bridge, I see ships alongside the dock. Welcome home.  The city shimmers in the distance.  Welcome home.  Here’s the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.  A commuter ferry coasts to a stop as I pass.  Welcome home. I approach my exit and see redwoods in the distance.  It’s familiar and beautiful and it’s blue and green and peaceful here.

But this homecoming is also teary.  As I arrive at home, I’m thinking of the greeting I received from my granddaughter when I reached her door a few days ago.  This time, she controlled everything.  She didn’t wait for me to hold out my arms.  Instead, as soon as I was out of the car, she leaped up and hugged me.  She didn’t wait for her mommy to ask the usual question.  Instead, she announced by herself for the first time, “I got my Hammy!”

It’s good to be home and it’s sad to be home.  This commute certainly isn’t getting any easier.

Ó By Anita Garner

Birds Of A Feather

Here’s a question that comes up a lot lately:  Do you still hear from her/him? I used to think it was a badge of honor to say I’ve had the same friends forever, but just as all of my old clothes don’t fit anymore, neither do all the people I used to know.  I still cherish friendships that have endured for decades, but not all the people I used to know are people I want to be with today.  When we were younger, we clumped together for various reasons.  We formed parent groups, church groups, hobby groups, business groups and volunteering-in-the-community groups.

Today I’m not so big on groups.  One size doesn’t easily fit all.  The friend who makes me laugh may not be the one with whom I want to discuss problems.  Neither does one size fit forever.  I now have a shorter list of friends and a more focused to-do list.

Recently my daughter asked, “Remember when we used to have those parties at our house and we’d have a hundred people there?”  I wonder, where did I get all that energy?  I look at photos and examine old memories and they point to the fact that indeed, fun was being had, yet it’s not a situation I’d be drawn to now.

Have you ever fallen out of touch with someone and then you reconnect and it’s just different?  These days I let an extra beat go by before deciding to restore the relationship.  A few sentences after “Hello again” we may no longer have anything to talk about.

Letting go of relationships doesn’t happen without guilt.  I ask myself why don’t I want to be with these people?  The answer’s right there, but I’m sometimes slow to accept it.  History alone isn’t enough.  Seasons change.  Values change.  People change.

My friend, Catherine approaches life in the most realistic way of anyone I know.  She believes we need different kinds of relationships at different stages in life.  Not only does she let go of the ones that don’t fit anymore, but she quickly replaces them with people who do.

A few months ago, she hosted a party to celebrate her 90th birthday.  I’m one of her newer friends, considering we’ve only known each other about twenty years.  I take her counsel to heart and try to be more aware of the natural ebb and flow, but there will never be another like Catherine.  When I mention any age-related problem, she says, “Oh honey, you’ll work it out.  You’re still just a baby.”  Where would I find another friend who’ll take the trouble to lie to my face like that?

Ó By Anita Garner

Long Term Care

I keep living as if the glass is half full.  Always the optimist, I cling to the belief that I’ll enjoy good health for a long time, and when that changes, I hope to continue this delightful relationship with my family while maintaining my independence.  I’d rather annoy them with my independence than by being a financial drain.  Oh, that’s right.  That’s what we all want.  But it’s likely that one day we’ll need help.   

Stay with me here,  because I still believe this is an optimistic topic.  Planning how not to be a burden should be a positive.  Key word: Planning.  Something I haven’t done yet.   Until now, I carried around all these images that could work, might work. The old fashioned place where everybody knows your name and will miss you if one day you don’t show up.  Neighbors who keep track of each other.  Maybe a charming community center a half block away where seniors drop in to visit and chat and eat delicious food.  Options we’ve seen on television – such as the Golden Girls – living vital lives in a big home with room enough for each of their large personalities.  

Images – that’s what they are.  I don’t personally have knowledge of an ideal model for aging.  I do have a couple of wise and/or fortunate girlfriends (yes we still call ourselves girlfriends no matter our age) who have financial planners who’ve helped them take care of the future.  But those girlfriends had resources years ago.  Back when I divorced, I didn’t have enough resources to interest any financial planner in keeping an appointment with me.  Now the future is here and it’s time to get something together that will keep me from losing whatever I’ve accumulated, should I face a debilitating illness.

I have one child who is now raising a child.  I don’t want to have anything but a positive impact on them, and when I’m gone, I hope their memories are good ones.  Surely there’s a way to achieve  – quickly – some  kind of balance between my inevitable aging and my daughter’s inevitable worry about me. 

Because as a nation we still worship youth, we continue to postpone the prospect that we will actually be old someday, and so we postpone learning about options.  In this country we’re pretty much on our own in terms of health care.  After all the years of working and paying taxes, and all the years of campaign promises, and all the years of voting, and  all the turnover in elected officials who promise remedies, I don’t see any progress.  Our country’s health care system is an embarrassment.  It demonstrates an ignorance or downright lack of concern about this part of life that millions of us have entered.  It’s shocking to be a rich nation and still so poor in terms of dealing with the needs of an aging population.  I’m ashamed of us.

So I’m off on a search for an insurance policy that will help pay for future needs, which aren’t covered by anything I already pay for.  I’ll also have to factor new premiums into my budget.  I’ll start with AARP and see what they have to offer.  AARP is my new community center.

Ó  By Anita Garner

Old Dog, New Tricks

I watched my toddler granddaughter’s anxiety mount as she attempted a new task.  “I tan’t do it!” she announced and went marching down the hall with her head down, in the dramatic way she has of dealing with technical mysteries.  Her mother followed to offer encouragement and asked, “Are you frustrated?”  “Yes!” the little one agreed, “I am fuss-u-wated.”  Her mother urged her to try again.  The answer was “I don’t want to.”

Each time I visit, I see her learning so many new things and I wish I could help her understand a concept she’s too young to grasp – that experience makes everything easier.  The knowledge of how we learn can offer the assurance that we will get it if we keep trying.  

I’m reminding recalcitrant beginners of every age that new isn’t as scary now as it was when we were younger, because we already have experience at learning.  Older people can’t learn?  Nonsense.  Won’t learn?  Unfortunately sometimes true.

My learning process hasn’t changed much with added years.  I digest new data by going through it three times, and then, most of the time,  it’s mine.   First, when approaching something involving substantial motor skills, I like to see it demonstrated.  For other kinds of tasks, I  learn by watching it or reading it for myself.   Second, I need to write it down, making notes I can refer to later.  Third, I’m ready to try.  Eventually I’ll absorb some version of what’s being taught.

The biggest difference these days is that I’m selective about when and where to fire up the learning process.  I’m aware that I don’t have all the time in the world and I know what interests me, so I choose to learn first the stuff that I want  to know or need to know.

For people who’ve decided they don’t need any new data, there’s plenty of science at work to show that using our brain cells really does help keep us healthy while at the same time forming new brain cells.  

I wish people wouldn’t say “I can’t” when what they really mean is “I don’t want to.”  We don’t need any more negative myths about aging. 

Ó  By Anita Garner 

Is It Just Me?

I can’t believe it’s time to start a new year.  I also can’t believe this is me sounding exactly like every older person in the world talking about how quickly time flies.  

Days go by faster than I can mark them off on my calendar – or more accurately my Day-At-A-Glance appointment book and ever-present To Do lists.

There’s both good and bad about this.  The good?  We don’t have to wait too long for anything we’re looking forward to.  When we were kids, it seemed the day after tomorrow would never get here.  Now?  Just turn around.  Here it is.  The bad, of course, is that it’s possible for several days to slip past while we’re still deciding what to do about next week.

As inevitable as aging is (someone said if we’re lucky we’ll get old) so is the need to make time count for something.

I’m not a resolutions person, but I do have intentions that matter to me,  and one is to make better use of the time allotted.  That’s about the only thing I stand a chance of affecting.   There’s nothing wrong with a modest goal to ring in the New Year.

Ó By Anita Garner