WHEN DOING NOTHING IS NOT DOING NOTHING

My Friends ~

I went to Fort Lauderdale for the winter. I left behind the bitter onslaught of this past season’s cruel rain, ice, snow, blizzardly winds that my friends, family and neighbors experienced. I escaped. But did I? I may have escaped the weather… but I didn’t escape life.

If you want to skip my saga, and turn back to a good book or a good streaming on Netflix or Amazon or my personal favorite, Acorn TV, I shall not be insulted. I certainly wish I could have skipped it.

old-woman-young-girlHere’s the deal. I still got older. I still became more vulnerable. I still pretended I wasn’t older and more vulnerable. And when I wrote the blog about gratitude I missed the point completely. Let me explain!

January was the flu.

February was the cough.

March was the compressed fracture of the third lumbar resulting from the cough.

A broken back???? Here’s the poem I wrote:

HACK! HACK! YOU BROKE YOUR BACK!!!

Aw come on guys, enough is enough. These are supposed to be the golden years??? I’m afraid only in my fillings.

I thought the gratitude I expressed for January and February was supposed to cover me for the year.  Like the Brooklyn Dodgers of old – I wuz robbed!  The lumbar episode of March challenged all notions of gratitude and for the most part, all my theories of “growing old”.

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As long as I thought I was doing what I always did… a few exceptions like dancing till dawn, drinking champagne from a satin heeled slipper (an orthopedic oxford doesn’t have the same look or feel), cutting my one woman show from an hour and a half to an hour (with relief some said that made the show better… what do they know?), some dietary alterations (no lactose, no gluten, no fast foods, no fun) I thought to escape the label of “old lady”.

And then came the Ides of March. Actually from the beginning of the month, the pain came. And some of you know that without any education, I am my own Doctor, I prescribed continuing pilates, massages, shiatsu all of the remedies that slowly but surely were making my back worse.

Thank goodness for good friends who won’t put up with my complaining and called me on my medical education. “Where was it you got your degree?”  One of my friends went so far as to find me a doctor nearby that was the doctor for the Miami City Ballet. It was high season in Florida. Getting an appointment was going to be at the very least, difficult, if not impossible.

I checked out her website. I have a website, why wouldn’t she?  It said she attended to dancers and performers. I called her office. And before I let her assistant get a word in, I announced I was a performer.  “I’m a little older than most of the dancers and performers she works with, but I am still doing it… performing that is… and I need HELP!” And then, she asked me who the doctor was that referred me, and before I could stop it from coming out of my mouth, I dropped the name of the top orthopedic surgeon in New York City. I knew him slightly, but I never saw him professionally. I got the appointment. And I owe him.

Well, within days of the appointment, after an x-ray which determined I had the compressed fracture and an MRI which showed it was recent (coming from the cough), I thought I would start treatment. Up to that point the pain prevented me from doing anything. But I was told NO!

Follow me on Twiddle my thumbs.Two more weeks of doing nothing, giving the bone more time to heal and then I could begin a program of physical therapy. I had already been doing nothing since January. I have to tell you, I thought I could hear my mother and every teacher I ever had yelling, whispering in my earballs: “Look at her! Nothing! She is doing nothing!” Joan of Arc wasn’t the only one who heard voices.

When I finally received the go ahead, I was like a kid that had won a prize. I emphasize kid because, like a kid I was off to the races. I was going to be the fastest healer this side and that side of the Mississippi… I did the therapy three times a week, I added some stretching and some massage on the other days and by the end of the first week… I was hurting again.

The therapist sat me down. He said a nice thing first. Always start with the nice thing first. “You know you look younger than your age, right?” “Thank you,” I said. “On the outside you’re like a shiny tomato.” “Thank you,” I said. “Inside, you’re an octogenarian and your bones are mushy”.  I laughed. But I did not thank him.

shadow walk dance

And very slowly, and I do mean s-l-o-w-l-y because the older you are the longer is the healing, I am getting it. I read an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin. And I quote: ”Everybody who gets old has to assess their ever-changing but seldom improving situation and make of it what they can. And they make the best of it. As the saying goes, consider the alternative!”

And I love this one from the same essay: “You’re only as old as you think you are! Now you don’t honestly think having lived eighty-four years is a matter of opinion.” You don’t… Do you?

For myself and fellow fossils, there is no such thing as doing nothing. If we have made it through to or any part of our seventies, eighties and ever onward it means we are doing more every minute of every day than ever we did at any other time in our life.

And dat’s da trut!!!

Love ~ Sally-Jane

BESIEGED IN LOVE

My Dear Friends,

AS THE DAMSEL OF OLD OR MAYBE AS AN OLD DAMSEL, I HAVE BEEN BESIEGED!

We have read about it happening worldwide.  People at home abed or lined up inside and outside hospitals with – I’m afraid if I say it will it come back and bite me again – THE FLU.

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I come from good peasant stock.  In the home where I grew up, getting sick was not an option. Being one of eight, my mother did not allow it for two reasons: time and money. She didn’t have the time or the money to cater to any illness.

Many is the time I remember being sent home from school with this or that ailment and my mother taking one look and sending me right back. And the tussle would begin. And if memory serves my mother won out more times than the school.  This is all to say I had a healthy disrespect for being sick.

Probably because I have been fortunate in avoiding the usual colds and flu until….. the end of December… All I can tell you, my friends, is that January is a complete blur. I think I was around for it. I just don’t have the specifics.

And bugs and viruses (Are they twins or different species? Not sure.) have no respect for people… infants to seniors, rich and poor. In today’s world when it comes to infection we are one sneezing, coughing, fevered, unhappy family. If being part of the global family means sharing our bugs and illnesses, I am going to opt for hermithood.

If it sounds like I am bitching…you got that right. Phew!  Glad that’s done!

Now let me get to the gratitude because it is that gratitude that began the healing process. I am firmly convinced that my bitchy attitude made the healing harder. Once I realized self-pity and the ever-present judgment and blame was ruling my consciousness, I surrendered.  I think it is amazing that no one called me on my negativity. In recovery, all I got was support and love.

I shall remember, my dear friends, that when a friend or loved one is not feeling well, give them the “ah-ha, oh, yes, I understand.  It must feel terrible. Is there anything I can do for you.”  And mean it. Because, in fact, that verbal caring goes a long way in recovery.

Yes, my mother’s need for us to not be ill was based on time and money. Time is certainly a factor in getting well.  It took me over a month and I am still working on it. And I am not negating money. No, it is essential to recovery.  But it isn’t the ultimate.

I would like to share with all those “billionaires” who think that by buying votes they can buy their health. I am here to tell you that can only happen if it comes wrapped in LOVE.

To all my friends and family, Thank You for your time and money, but mostly thank you for healing me with your love and kindnesses which cannot be bought.

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With Love, Sally-Jane

Sally-Jane’s Winter Wonderland

My Dear Friends,

Last weekend we got our first snow of the season in the Berkshires. I was not happy.  I did not want the first, second or any snow of the season. I was having a family party. Relatives were coming from near and mostly far to attend.

As the snow blew in, I did what I am accustomed to doing… I tried to control the storm. I held my hands up to the sky and tried to force Mother Nature to take her bounty back. She had the last laugh as she dumped five more inches on the town.

IMG_0719Karen and Bill, who had arrived before the storm began, and my friend Cindy watched as I tried to control the uncontrollable. Waving my hands and I shouted to the wind, “BAH!  HUMBUG!” (which is also the name of an exterminating service on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills)

When my tirade had no effect, I took a pause and looked around me.

IMG_0708Here I was in a winter wonderland –  the yard was decorated – a Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (his red nose winking and blinking, her direct from the beauty salon with curly shining hair ); Poinsettias, holly, a boxwood tree, greens, winterberry sprouting from places throughout the yard and on the porch. When the snow hit the lights, they sparkled like diamonds.

Suddenly I realized how blessed I am. The real joy was being with dear friends who also
happen to be relatives.  Like the air going out of a balloon my ego settled.  Yet again, it was not going to be “my will be done”.  I’m telling you guys it was only when I let go that  I was able to see the real beauty and feel the gratitude.   All of us booted, gloved, donned hats and ran out to play in the falling snow.

I was an octogenarian kid.  If you don’t believe me, watch this…

Santa Sally and her merry elves,Karen, Bill, and Cindy in a Winter Wonderland 

I was wondering…  if I can “let go” of what I can’t control, like the storm, like what children or grandchildren or friends or relatives wear or don’t wear and what utensils they use while eating (hopefully they will use something) and what color hair and body piercings and political or nonpolitical affiliations… I am not saying I can…  but IF I can… I think I might have a Happier New Year.

Wanna try??????

Love ~ Sally Jane

Ghosts of Christmas Past…

Hello my dear friends…a holiday update!

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On Sunday, December 3rd, at Storrowton Village in Springfield, Massachusetts, I shall perform a holiday reading from Charles Dickens’, The Christmas Carol as part of their annual Yuletide Festivities. I have chosen to read the chapter, The Ghost of Christmas Past.

Did someone just ask why I chose this chapter? Thank you. I was hoping someone would.

This is not to say I have anything against the present. I don’t. The present is filled with wonders. Sitting at my computer composing this missile…absolutely marvelous.

The wonder that I can put thought to page makes the present brilliant. In the present I am clothed, fed and sheltered. Fantastic!

So why not choose The Ghost of Christmas Present? Well, honey-bun, because I would have to wait until Christmas. But most of all because at this stage of my life, thoughts about Christmas from my past waft in and out of my present and I remember.

What a sentence. I remember.

Oh, yes, how great is that. In the present, I put one foot in front of another. In the past, I sit back and I remember. And this is what I remember…

A very long, long, time ago, I grew up in Boro Park, Brooklyn. It was a very mixed neighborhood. There were Christmas lights on one house and next door there were Chanukah candles.

I was raised in the Jewish faith. My family celebrated Christmas and Chanukah. Do not ask me why. I do not know. When I was younger, I thought everyone celebrated everything. Why not? I wanted to be on whatever line there was that was giving out the presents. Wouldn’t you?

Family Christmas

And then, one year, I received a rude awakening. I think I was in 6th or 7th grade. Before the holiday school break, the class Christmas tree was raffled off. I won! I was so excited.

I remember pulling the tree behind me from school all the way to my house. I ran up the stairs. Yelling for my mother to come and see what I had won. I dragged the tree into the living room. I should have known something was wrong. My mother was sitting in a chair. My mother never sat down in any chair. I was the seventh of eight and believe me when I tell you I never saw my mother sitting down…including meal times.

But there she was sitting in a chair in the living room. Our Rabbi sat in another chair.

That was the year I discovered Jews don’t have Christmas trees. To save face, my mother asked me to throw the tree into the garbage. Heartbroken, I did as she asked. The Rabbi left.

My mother went out to the garbage and rescued the tree. Brought it back into the house and into the living room. I was loaded down with many of the mixed messages parents impart to their children. This was one mixed message that did not add to my growing list of neurotic complexes.

Along with so many of my memories of Christmas past, this one is favorite. It is right next to the vision I have of Christmas mornings…

On the staircase, all eight of us lined up one behind the other, according to age, the youngest first waiting for Santa to call us onto his lap to take us to our nest of gifts.

Kimono Blue
Santa Claus, aka my father, 6 foot 2 inches tall (how did he make it down the chimney!?) dressed with a Santa mask that had seen better days, and a gorgeous blue silk embroidered Chinese kimono… did I say CHINESE kimono?… I did say CHINESE kimono. That was his Santa Suit.

Did I believe this 6-foot 2-inch kimonoed vision was Santa Claus? You bet I did! Like I said before if he was the keeper of my presents, I was a believer.

In the present and the approaching season to be jolly, I want to tell you that the world of possibilities still exists for me. Though, a 6-foot 2-inch kimonoed Santa might strain my credulity. But what is a belief about if it is not about being tested?

I believe. Now, where are my presents?

Love, Sally-Jane

YULETIDE AT STORROWTON – Sunday, December 3 at 2:30pm

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Humanity Doesn’t Mix with Politics (so far)

As I watch the leaves change and fall, mostly fall without changing this year, I hear two questions consistently from friends, relatives, and passers-by:

  1. How did this happen?
  2. Are people ever going to be nice again?

There are plenty of pundits that give chapter and verse concerning both of these questions. Answers are about economics, racism, politics as given reasons for the way the vote went and for the lack of civility. Yes, I think they are connected… somewhat. But that is not all of it.

Alright already, so what happened??? Phew! I never thought you’d ask.

Sub-CMS_VietnamV2The following thoughts were provoked by my viewing the PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick – The Vietnam War. And over the course of very intense viewing, my thoughts began to brew and now they are spilling over. Ready or not, I want to share because I believe we can be better and nicer, no matter who we voted for.

My thoughts before viewing: I was a 30-year-old unpolitical wife, mother of 3 babies, and a professional actor, singer, dancer living in Washington, D.C., a city that had no rights and an 80 percent black population. In this city of political shenanigans, I was innocent, which is another word for dumb. I read newspaper headlines and scripts. Viewing this series  began my late education of Vietnam. My passion for movies gave me somewhat of a head start.

Two films. Indochine, a French movie starring Catherine Deneuve and an American cult classic, Medium Cool. The French film gave me a history of Vietnam – brilliant and devastating. The second was shock treatment for this American, thinking it couldn’t happen here – the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago with the world watching as Mayor Daly’s storm troopers beat the anti-war demonstrators. I remember running around the house screaming “This can’t be happening! This can’t… someone is going to stop it… Isn’t someone, please, going to stop it?!” I was awakened from a deep sleep. And it wasn’t by anything as gentle as a sweet kiss. It was the rudest awakening ever!

To begin with, I began my viewing with one chapter (2 hours) a night. However, after the first five chapters, I had difficulty sleeping. I also noticed I was holding onto my chair like I was being sent to the moon. Such tension! And though at this point I knew what was happening and what was going to happen, I kept talking to the television and telling it, “No, don’t let it happen, please, don’t!”

I fell in love with all the foot soldiers – American, North and South Vietnamese – that were interviewed so many years later. Every one of the grunts, airmen, seamen… and all the others who, as Westmoreland and Lyndon Johnson kept increasing the draft, were being sent to Vietnam and I wondered how Ken Burns had found them. They came to do what their fathers did in World War II and when they got to Vietnam, recognized this wasn’t Europe or even Japanese occupied islands… this was a Political Swamp... Having nothing to do with helping anyone except politicians in their quest for elected office. Sound familiar???

And that’s when I decided I had to pace myself. From number 6 to the last of the series, I watched one every three days. Not only was I able to sleep, but I was able to think through each one I had seen and slowly, as I said at the beginning, my thoughts took me to new places that connected dots in a way I had not previously been aware of.

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As Nixon became the spokesperson of The Silent Majority, (I had forgotten that one), everything I believed in, all the brilliant history of The Founding Fathers, our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, were being used as kindling for a fire that is still raging.

Then there was Kent State. The National Guard and State troopers shot and killed college students on their own campus during an anti-war demonstration. I don’t think I was the only one who walked around afterward in a disbelieving daze. But did you know that in a poll 58 percent of the American people approved of the shooting?

All of this and more came out in this series. And I am thinking, “This is not new.”

Here’s what I need to know…  how do these beautiful soldiers, sailors, airmen, POWs on all sides… how do they make sense of a war where so many died, were wounded and when they returned were shunned and shamed. These are the true poets of this series.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in the last installment, throw us a life raft. And if you choose to, you can climb into it with me… It involves the selection and building of the Vietnam Memorial.  The meaning of it to the veterans who make a constant stream of visits to touch a name, to say a prayer, to be where a buddy they lost can for the moment be found. And even more thrilling, the story of the many Vietnam veterans who returned to Vietnam to redeem and reconcile their tours of duty to help rebuild a destroyed country.

Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu created an environment in South Africa of reconciliation and truth-telling.

The first President of the first all-German Parliament after World War II, Richard  von Weizsäcker had this to say,

“The desire to forget prolongs the exile, and the secret of salvation is remembrance. We cannot save ourselves, nor can we undo what has been done. We have lived through unfathomable and abysmal events and take part in them. But one thing we can and must do. Look at our past steadily, recognize its truth. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations.”

OK guys… all praise to PBS, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and all who made it possible to help us look at our past without punishment or judgment.  Yes, you can disagree with various points in this series, but you cannot disagree that it is time to look at this most divisive war and how it ruptured the country.  With the direction our country is moving, along with the lack of civility I referred to at the start of this blog, it’s worth looking at…

Do not look away.

Do not say that was then.

Do not say now is now.

Because, my dear friends, now is then.

The men and women in this film give new meaning to forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation.

If they can make nice, what’s your problem?

Love, Sally-Jane

 

To Go or Not To Go?

I was afraid.

I am not embarrassed to admit it.  I wanted to make the trip, but I didn’t want to make the trip. How could I not want to travel? I have always wanted to travel and I always have. As often possible and to destinations around the world. I got so good at it that I could actually make a trip with just a carry-on.

What happened?

Why did this opportunity to travel to France and England feel like I was being asked to climb the Matterhorn in heels? I broke through an age barrier. I was over 80 and I was going off on my own. That’s what happened.

Oh, sure, I would be meeting with friends and family.  But basically, I was going on my own.  I would not have a group identification number. No one would be handling my baggage… and my friends, gone are the days when I could travel with just a carry-on. I have to make room for all possibilities and my exercising and stretching equipment.

Yes, age definitely demanded a different kind of attention to the details of travel. Is this what Bette Davis meant when she said, “Growing old is not for sissies”?

Let’s get one thing clear. I want to grow old. I want to grow very old.  I want to be the oldest old lady on the planet. But I  was having difficulty with that wish and desire coming together with the reality of what I could and couldn’t do.

Let me tell you what always got me into trouble.  For too long my bywords were, “I COULD DO THAT”.  And every time I did do that which I thought I could do and couldn’t, I paid the price.  Here’s how I think… there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.  Well, my consequences forced me into a new set of bywords, “I USED TO DO THAT”.

If I took this trip, would I be able to “keep up” and not “try to keep up”, or pretend I was still 60 and could climb and leap over rivers and streams?  The fear and the challenge were palpable.

Well, my friends… I did it!

I left on August 17th, traveled with family to southern France, to see the most wonderful exhibit,  Annie Leibovitz: The Early Years: 1970-1983 at the Luma Arles.  It is a brilliant exhibit offering the early years of her work, once more proving she is the Cassandra of photography.

While there,  the sights and sounds of Provence and the Camargue and their crazy version of bull fights.  Here’s a fun video showing what the bulls think of all this…

It was in Arles as I was walking in the town that I realized how good I felt.  I wasn’t afraid of what might happen.  I was thrilled with what was happening.  I landed.  And I landed on both feet and they were carrying me to new places and new peoples. I was challenged each day by deciding what I could or couldn’t do… and after a very short while it became easier and easier to know, “I can do this” or “I cannot do that”.  Freedom, my friends. New found freedom. A different kind of freedom.  Hooray!

It was then onto my friends in Gascony, Mary and Barry, who bought a derelict chicken house 30 years ago and turned it into a provincial French/English country house and something I think Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II would approve (after all this is the part of France that did belong to England for many years).

From there I journeyed into the small medieval fortified village of Lectoure (this area is part of the 100 years war and so many other wars) where I met my new best friends, Thierry and Marc who own a fantastic hotel, L’Hôtel Particulier Guilhon,  in which my room belonged in two different centuries, one of the past…

Hotel Past

and one of the future…

Through them, I met another new best friend, Pascale, who gives new meaning to eclectic vintage clothing… no one does chic like the French.

Dans_Lectoure_cafe_des_sports

For me, the best reasons to travel belong to the cultures you breathe and the people you meet.  And once I decided that it was all right to not do it all… to do what I could do… it all fell into place.

I left France full of canard (duck), cream, butter, pate (we drank it all day), and of course, le pain (bread)… not to say my insides didn’t beg for relief but once I arrived in London and could eat a simple sandwich and some unadorned meats and chicken, all was well.

In London, I met up with friends, whom I had met when my over 50-year-old daughters were 7, 9, and 11.

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And the coup de grace was visiting my gifted friend Helaine Blumenfeld and her husband Yorick (doesn’t look anything like Hamlet’s friend) at their home in Grantchester (love the series), en route stopping to see her brilliant sculpture in Canary Wharf in London.

I must say by the time I came to London just knowing I was 3 days away from flying home, I was ready.

Yes, growing old may not be for sissies… but growing old has its advantages… list your own… because believe me, those advantages are to be celebrated.

And with all that I have enumerated in this testament of aging travel… I leave you with the best advantage of the whole trip.

ORDER A WHEELCHAIR… and if the pusher is cute… ENJOY!!!!!

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What was I thinking?

What was I thinking?

My last blog post was about the books and articles I was reading…right?

Wrong!

It was about me putting on the persona of the “intellectual”.

As the minutes (and I do mean minutes) of a summer afternoon rush by, I needed somehow to prove to no one in particular (yeah, probably me in particular) how intellectually intelligent I am.

These last months, I have been feeling, particularly vulnerable. My age is not creeping up on me. It is galloping headlong toward oblivion. Well, my friends, I have an obvious not an oblivionesque personality. As a performer, I desire to be noticed and heard.

After a year of health pauses, I purposely slowed my schedule. It was not very busy to begin with, but enough to keep the obvious personality satisfied.

Now I read many, many books to compliment my many, many interests. I love both fiction and non-fiction. And a glorious day for me is burrowing in at the local bookstore and loading up with at least 7 or 8 books every 3 or 4 weeks. I enjoy buying books. It is my way to support the writer, especially a new author. I do not get to read them all, but depending on my mood I can always find something that intrigues me at any day of the week or any time of the day. I support the library by delivering the already read books to add to their shelves.

That’s my story.

So I thought the last blog I wrote was about sharing my thoughts on my most recent reads; but after seeing this clip from Portlandia and how it nails the need to be au courant and ahead of everyone in important readings, I think something else might have snuck into that last blog.

Plain and simple, it was some hubris, mixed with a soupcon phony intellectual, mixed with mostly, “now what to do with my life that it is almost over?”

“I know! I’ll be an intellectual. And tell other people what and how they should read!”

This is so not me. As I said, It is not about the books. I am a reader. That is one of my passions. The other passion is performing and continuing to make a fool of myself in front of an audience. That has been on the back burner until I figure a few things out.

Hey Guys… I am moving it to the front burner.

I don’t know what form it will take.

But didn’t someone say the fun is in not in the knowing but in the going.

Love, Sally-Jane