All my love and thanks for all the places we've been, crises we've survived, children and grandchildren we've loved...
...and your great patience in teaching me too many things to list...what I've learned from your pleasure in sharing with everyone who comes within your range.
All of us look forward to many more June tenths with you--
most especially yours truly ...
Celebration: High-Rise Style...Last night--a building party where we live. Lee Morgan, Ron's co-chair and great party-giver, suggested this one as they wrapped up their term of office, turned it over to another pair. Singing the Birthday song was a high point of the pot-luck evening...who says New Yorkers don't care about one another?
Flipping through images in my iPhoto file (favorite thing about my Mac), I come upon images from birthday lunch for my 75th last August. I meant to blog on how it felt to be "feted" by a group of strangers.
Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Were the people my age or older? It was a mix at my table, mostly women but more men than I'd expected. Must have been 100 there for lunch at the Lenox Hill Senior Center. Got that? The invitation to celebrate this landmark day (pictures here from the event) came about because I had joined the Center back in 1998. And never returned.
Backstory. Deep into kitchen composting as an art form, I'd applied for a small grant from the Puffin Foundation. The idea was to form a group of seniors into a Kitchen Compost Troupe. We'd celebrate the 2001 closing of Fresh Kills, home of the world's largest garbage dump on Staten Island. Each of us would have nurtured my patented invention, "WormWare," world's smallest kitchen composter.
Of the several ways I devised to gather such a group together, I visited Lenox Hill Senior Center. I spoke with a social worker about making a future presentation on "Composting in Manhattan." She suggested that I have lunch that day and get a measure of the participants. Readers, I joined a senior center.
That was a jolt. It was very personal--unlike teaching a class in Baltimore at an "Eating Together" program in my fifties--this was about me at 66. Not ready, too soon, I thought. The grant came through but my plan changed after writing a second grant. "This Dirt Museum: the Ladies' Room," was an interactive installation at Queens Botanical Garden in 2001.
I never returned to the Lenox Hill Senior Center. Well, they were all the way over on the east side of town where I rarely go except to museums. Their knitting group was not as, how would you say it, "up-to-date" as the ones I attended. The food was very institutional and I felt uncomfortable about it's small one dollar price. This was not me. At that moment, aside from reluctance to see myself as one of them, I hit the social class issue. Senior centers in many cities have been established for people with limited resources. In New York, their financial support comes from non-profits working with the aging and the City Council.
Fast forward to 2008. After all my years of neglect--I did carry the membership card in my wallet for years-- Lenox Hill was gracious enough--to send me an invite to their monthly Birthday Lunch. Had I been asked in other years (I forget much these days)? I decided to take them up on their offer.
I really enjoyed myself, Ron too but he's less critical than I. Several of my lunch companions were working seniors. One woman in public relations wanted to connect with my westside Democratic club because she said it seemed more active in the Obama campaign than her eastside group. She also thought knitting Condom Amulets was amusing and a smart way to promote safe; the actress sitting next to her agreed.
Having heard that there was a national a move to "update" senior centers. In New York City the Mayor had big plans to make them more "health-oriented" and reduce their funding. On the way out I spoke with the two social workers running the program. Things were not good they reported. In December, Mayor Bloomberg was resisted in his efforts, with strong opposition by our Council President, Christine Quinn. Elsewhere from Wellesley, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California, it's evident that denial about aging takes many forms in addition to my own reluctance.
Ron and I will soon move into a continuing care retirement community in Portland, Oregon. Besides accepting it to myself, I have come out to anyone who will listen that it feels right to describe myself as "elderly." Yes, more attitude adjustments lie in ahead.
[This post in appreciation of two this week at TGB on aspects ageism and especially the comment by Tamar at Only Connect that followed the first post.]
The radio said it was going to be a very warm day Thursday, September 4, in New York. In my head that was not about the early morning. A little breezy at 9 a.m. as I walked out of my building to meet the new weekly walking group. About six of us try various routes each week. Might not be doing this if I had not started carrying a pedometer. And that happened when I joined the online support group, Elderexercise.
This was the third week with my neighbors. We returned to Riverside Park and a slightly different path. Some serious steps, down then back up. Movies in the park! End-of-summer flowers losing their earlier strong color.
Something that always surprises me: special events for New Yorkers and their cosseted dogs. Cats, preferred by many apartment dwellers, never get their public due here.
We'd started around 120th and Broadway, planned to reach 96th in the Park. But we turned back at 103rd Street as the heat got to us. Past Grant's Tomb, Sakura Park, a pleasant, hardly noticed block-square green space. Ron and I came to sit here on September 11, 2001.
A smile for the camera in honor of the local storefront, Praise the Lord Dental. We logged three miles.
A visit to Oregon this time of year is not complete without experiencing produce in the open-air. We began in Eugene where we'd gone for Black Sheep Gathering. We made a point to visit the bountiful town market before the sheep so we could bring our own lunch along.
For reasons only the natives must know, the worst sort of fast food is available at the Gathering--nothing fresh, no lamb. Curious.
As great and glorious Eugene's Saturday Market is, it was the waste-conscious sensibility that got to me. Imagine, a container for compost. Of course, this assumes that everyone knows this is for waste that can be composted not as I initially thought, "They bring compost here?" And everyone know which stuff belongs in it? Remarkable but then I live in another universe where it is someone else's responsibility to keep the earth clean--not ours.
The specialness of our trip was taking Zach, our 6 year old grandson, along on his first overnight trip with us. He was very comfortable with this Angora sheep and all the wool-centric happenings. Though very sensitive to wearing wool, we cannot knit or spin for him, nothing was a problem with the live product.
Place yourself in this photo and you're walking toward the checkout/cafe counter of Bluestockings, the only women's bookstore in New York City. In truth, it has expanded from its 1999 beginning as a place for women's books to its current incarnation as a "radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center" on the lower east side.
Various publications can be found at Bluestockings. I was particularly interested in browsing their zines. Get ready...click on Microcosm Publishing for a dunk into a world mostly known to people under, uh, 30--maybe 20. While we elders sleep, there's a throbbing universe of DIY folks who put together under $5.00, limited edition publications to express ideas--personal and/or political. Above are two zines I especially like. The front and one inside page of (of course) "Hen Party" and "the war at home: New Orleans after Katrina" with text plus black and white photos. The tan one with knit worms on its cover was the free handout for "This Dirt Museum: the ladies' room," my 2001 composting installation 2001. Perhaps, a zine?
Because I am about to co-produce a zine, my frequent Google searches have led to a new development: ZineWiki. Go read it; maybe you'll create one yourself.
Also on my list for Bluestockings was the recent anthology, "We Don't Need Another Wave" The subtitle is, "Dispatches from the nextgeneration of feminists," the editor Melody Berger. Also found the latest copy of Bitch Magazine, "a feminist response to pop culture." I am going to subscribe to this one; it's too hard to find uptown. Also not comfortable to ask the mostly Middle Eastern news sellers if they have a copy of Bitch.
What a pleasure to be in a space where I can linger, sample publications from all over, touch paper, turn pages, think about coming back another time to see what's new. Bluestockings--sun streaming into its large front windows, cafe tables nearby--feels like a mini-version of Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon.* Also brought home a copy Herizons, a women's quarterly from Canada. Thorough and scary article about North American cosmetics, another on Tajikistan, a country in Central Asia unknown to me.
Oh, yes, about the zine in my own life. "Knit A Condom Amulet," an online zine with designs and how-tos from other knitters is in the planning stage.
*In Other Words in Portland, Oregon, is the only non-profit women's bookstore in the U.S.
Knitting furiously, how long does it take to finish a infant hat? (FO=finished object) Tuesday night I got started, worked through a meeting where a group of 12 women tried to envision their lives ten years from now. A bit more that evening at home--along with a few more rows on the blue silk noile shawl.
More on Wednesday at Knitty City (missing the knit circle changed to Thursdays to follow Betty) in the company of another grandmother whose two-year-old played with a tape measure, great safe toy, then fell into a deep sleep in her stroller. Answering our pattern questions was Amanda Gael who has made a very different Condom Amulet for the upcoming Zine (more later).
That evening gave the hat a big push--much done during a lengthy meeting of people from the six buildings that comprise the middle-income co-op where I live. Representatives arrive from each building plus any interested co-oper. New people, many with young children, have moved in during the last couple of years and brought a good energy for change that we've needed.
Finally, did the crochet "button" for the top and it was complete--Thursday. People used to surprise me by asking how long it took to knit one red wiggler worm. Now I know it takes me two days for a baby hat. This one goes to the west coast for the first grandchild of a New York friend who joins me in grandparenting at a distance.
Finished the shawl too--such an energy burst--have to think of fitting glamourous photo with it...back to knitting the 18-inch doll.
My first Tupperware Party...in a small, dark shoebox theatre, our hands stamped on the way in, individually greeted by a BIG woman in a tight-fitting vintage apron. "Oh my, you're knitting...I never could do it on all those needles!" Do what, Dixie? Most responses called forth a coy answer--usually double-entendre, sexual.
Was it by chance that she called out "Number 10," the one on my, yes, nametag as a raffle winner? Bounded onstage, answered, "How do you feel?" with an exuberant, "Excited!" Wish you could have been with me as I was challenged by "Dixie Longate," who truly is the Number One saleswoman for what she calls " this plastic stuff." Picture a little fuzzy? We were laughing so hard. Wish Ron had taken a picture of her red and white high heels, 1950s vintage. You can see she towers over me, challenged me with questions about a small red and blue ball on a key chain, odd object that was my prize.
Always in character, when I offered Dixie, nee Kris Andersson, New York City condoms--she's from Alabama-- "Well, honey, I needed these at 4:30 this afternoon!" Of course I bought "the product," two skinny orange pitchers and a set of collapsible, lime green, 3-cup bowls with lids. Ever since meeting that Saturday with Xtreme English, been carrying the NTC condoms all the time. Only about 500 left--and a plan ahead.
Dixe's Party is on through June 17. I learned so much from her performance; wish I'd seen it when I was promoting Wormware, the world's smallest kitchen composter--the little blue takeout container in photo at right. There's still a chance with Condom Amulets; I have the vintage aprons, forget the high heels.
Dixie has been supporting herself--currently booked up--with at-home Tupperware parties. She averages $20,000 a month; a great fallback for a working actor. See the show for a splendid mix of cross-dressing, hilarity, women's studies/feminism.
Yes, necessity is the mother of invention. That's what gave birth to a handmade deck of cards. Though I have prettier objects that form memories of our 1999 trip to Mexico, these little pieces of paper are special. It began bumpily yet ended with an expansion of my creative work.
We had visited Oaxaca in southern Mexico the year before for ten days, spent some time with a weaver in the town of Teotitlan. and decided to return for a longer time. Oaxaca, the big city center, is surrounded by small Indian villages famous for various crafts. Our guide had been Susan, an American woman who ran a coffee and bagel (yes!) shop. After seeing all the area had to offer, we learned she could arrange for us to learn natural wool-dyeing with indigo and cochineal, the brilliant red color. We'd return to stay with a weaver we'd met in Teotilan who had given a good introduction to dyeing and could teach us off-loom weaving. ins Teotitlan, the village famous for its woven rugs.
By the time we were ready to return the following winter, Susan had had a falling out with the weaver we'd visited with the year before. Not to worry, she'd found "Raul & Beatriz and family," as she drove us to their home in the town. One thing: we would not be staying with them for the week but in a home they'd built outside the village. They would pick us up for breakfast and the afternoon meal.
We never met Raul (and did not dye or weave.) Their teenage daughter, who unlike her mother spoke English, drove us us from the town center to a very large house in the middle of nowhere. She'd return in the morning. There was no phone, no windows, no locks on doors. When evening came, we realized we should have bought food for dinner. I'd brought along a small flashlight used for "MoonsnailSaves Planet," the opening night performance of my last exhibit in Maryland. It's little beam made it possible to find the way to the main road where we'd noticed a restaurant on our way in.
Genial man came onto the second floor balcony, "Sorry, we're not open tonight. Come back tomorrow!" As we wondered what to do next, a pick-up truck stopped pulled up. Spanish and a little English got across the idea that the elderly couple in it were the parents of Beatriz--and the restaurant owner. They took us back to the village where a wonderful street cart served up hamburgers. Our meal provided the surrounding community a chance to observe the "locos Americanos" stuck in the Mexican boonies. All very gracious; the pick-up returned to take us back.
And the deck of cards? We had a room with a couch and a bare lightbulb overhead. Reading as long as we could, after several days--we were there for Christmas week--something else was needed. We made the cards and played gin rummy.
Better adventures awaited us at breakfast. We'd first go to the market, shop for our dinner, take showers, sit at the family table in Beatriz' home-plus-studio. I stared at the skeins of yarn hanging from the ceiling--indigo blue and . The color, in all its variations everywhere, and I began to think what I could do with this vibrant cochineal dyed yarn.
This is how I came to knit interpretations of red wiggler worms.
I digress for background info.
Kitchen composting and the worms had become my art form soon after our 1995 move to New York. My life as a public artist has not followed a tidy path. Back in the City, I found a brochure in the laundry room of my building. Writing the Personal Essay, a weekend class at the nearby YMCA. There I wrote "Composting in Manhattan," a slightly embroidered telling of our life with red wigglers.The title seemed right as a metaphor for our return and our stage of life. In various unlikely venues I performed my tale, made art books. (Posted about it here on the blog.)
A couple of artists encouraged me to apply for an art grant to mount something more ambitious, to reach more people about the need for urban dwellers to dispose of food waste by bringing einsenia fetida into their apartments. An immodest proposal, yes, but an engaging one.
A grant? I'd never written one. Who would give money to an old lady who'd never been to art school? After dragging my feet for a couple of years, I finally took the application material--very uncomplicated--with me to the airport as we started this trip. With my WormWare box, world's smallest composter, beside me, I did the unthinkable: wrote it by hand on lined notebook paper. Described how I hoped to find a group of "seniors,"--yes, that's who we are to the world--who would join me in kitchen composting, then form a troupe to celebrate the scheduled closing of the City's enormous garbage dump, Fresh Kills in 2001.
Back in Oaxaca City, I bought knitting needles, found a wonderful studio in a new, art school, Sachmo Centro de Arte. I did a one evening performance, "Agua y Abono," at the end of our stay about the connection of water to compost. On the wall behind me are rubbings of water meters; another time I'll post some. Ron took Spanish classes. It was on this trip that he became interested in weaving, a craft he's only recently reconnected with.
Puffin Foundation gave me the modest grant. Again my friend, Miriam Schaer, advised, "Apply for your next one...a bigger one!" I did, got it too. That is the why and how of my knitting 150 red wiggler worms for "This Dirt Museum: the Ladies' Room," an art installation with three working compost bins, compost education, activities for all ages in Spanish, Mandarin, English. It opened in October 2001 at Queens Botanical Garden. [More at Cityworm, my website.]