One thing I learned last weekend when a project I planned, A Conversation on Aging, came to fruition is that women are hungry to talk about this subject. There was a hint of that hunger several weeks back when a client, Chara Schreyer, and I were working together in her closet. I was creating outfits when she brought up something about aging. It’s a ripe topic for me.
I said, “I’m thinking of having a gathering of women to talk about aging. If I do, would you like to come?”
She said, “Yes! Let’s make it a luncheon. Pick a date and a place. I’ll invite people, you invite people. Plan it all out and I’ll pay for it.”
Done! Well, not a snap-of-a-finger done; it did take a bit to figure out how to facilitate an event like this. This idea of creating a forum to discuss aging had been on mind for months. Now I had to make it happen.
I started making a list of people to invite. I made a point of inviting people I didn’t know. I wanted to bring fresh-to-me voices into this discussion. I knew only a couple of people on Chara’s guest list. We ended up with a list of twenty-two women who were excited about the event. I’m telling you, there was a buzz before anything happened!
Women meeting new women
Creating a multi-level conversation
As I planned this event, I thought of Cirque du Soleil. It’s a circus, but not an ordinary circus. If you’ve been to one of their performances you know what I mean. I explored how I could make this event not just a single conversation. I wanted to create layers of opportunities for conversation to happen. I envisioned a three-ring circus. Wherever you looked there would be something that could create a conversation whether that was a provocative painting of two women in different stages of life created by my friend Ayris Hatton, a “necklace” I created for my dressed up mannequin that had a message to stimulates thoughts about new phases of life, or an easel I had set up with a marking pen and the invitation to fill in the blank with their responses to “I used to … but now I …”
That was all before the luncheon started! Before the meal was served I encouraged people to sit by someone they didn’t know. To make it easier for strangers to speak to each other I created a card that was at every place setting. On one side of it was a photograph Russ had taken of a wilting, beautiful dahlia. It’s one of my favorite images. I asked him to blow it up large so we could hung it in our house. For me it’s a meditation on aging, every time I look at it. I shared with the group what it meant to me and encouraged them to chat with each other about what it meant to them. If they needed more stimulation, there were questions on the back of the card that would help break the ice and get this phase of the conversation going.
The one-on-one and small group conversation
There was so much stimulation in my little corner of the table. We tackled the questions and then went off in other directions as well. Women loved speaking to each other. If I’d worried that it would be a quiet luncheon and people would feel awkward talking to strangers, I needn’t have! If the afternoon had stopped right there, I’d have been satisfied learning new perspectives, having ah-has, being inspired to stretch myself in new ways.
The big group conversation
Once lunch was over, we moved into a lounge area of the private room at Farmshop Marin in the Country Mart at Larkspur Landing. We went from small group conversations to a conversation with the full group. I wish you all could have been there! I asked open ended questions and also read some quotes from sources on aging. I wanted their opinions and ideas. There were lots of them!
The subject of our adult children came into the conversation. One woman, Carolyn, shared a quote with us, a sentence her mother said that Carolyn never forgot. Her mother had said, “Carolyn, I have been your age; you haven’t been mine.” That moved me so very much. I wasn’t the only one. It was like it released something in me about the relationships and longings I have with my own kids. I think about that sentence every day. It was a gift.
That led us to talking about how we label this stage of life. Are we senior citizens? Is that what we want to call ourselves? Katherine, a therapist from the East Bay, said that she’d been practicing a label for several years, even before she felt old enough to use it and that’s the word elder. Someone else said they liked the word crone. Another person said explorer.
We talked about visibility and invisibility. That was lively! Here are some of the opinions expressed when I asked, “What do you want others to think when you enter the room?”
I want to know her.
I want others to know I have something to say.
I have a good vibe.
I’m interested in them.
All of those things are things I felt about this group. I was really interested in them; they had a great vibe; I wanted to hear what they had to say; I wanted to know them.
Party favors and goodbyes
When the party favors were handed out (a resource list and a copy of my latest book) and final pictures were taken, the group started to disburse. I had packing up to do: the mannequin, easels, and paintings. As I was leaving I saw three small groups of people gathered in different places: the bar area, and then a group outside the restaurant, and another one in the parking lot next to cars. There was no stopping the conversation.
When I got on the road to head back to Sonoma, I felt kind of lonely. These women were so great; I was ready to make playdates. Dinner, movies, shopping, or hiking together…bring it on!
There’s been buzz ever since. I’ve heard from many of them. There’s talk about staying connected and continuing to be resources for each other. I’m in.
What I know is given the opportunity, women want to talk about this subject. And they want to hear from each other. I’m remembering one person who came in with a thought about body image and left saying, “Now that I have a new perspective, I think I’m going to drop all this baggage and be freer.” Amen to that.
We can’t accept the cues we get from the media about aging. We have to live out loud and make some noise.
This may need to be a conversation that goes on tour.
What’s on your mind when you think of aging? Please share!
ChicatanyageMay 25, 2017 at 4:05 am
What a great idea. If I had lived in your area I would have come. I wonder if this could be set up in London. I will think about how it might happen. Thank you for sharing
BrendaMay 25, 2017 at 9:09 am
I think it’s such an important discussion. It should happen everywhere!!!
jodie filogomoMay 25, 2017 at 8:07 am
I loved this post, Brenda!!
Because not only do we need to make some noise, but I think we need to change the entire perception of what it means to be older!
It’s not bad, it’s just different than what we are used to!! I was just talking with my mom yesterday (the 70+ model on my blog) because she was lamenting about her “crepey” skin! And yet she’s in fabulous shape both mentally and physically! I long for the day when we can accept our body changes and not feel the need to be embarrassed by them! Or do you think this will be impossible??
How do we change society’s love of youth??
BrendaMay 25, 2017 at 9:11 am
I don’t think we can change society’s love of youth. That would be like standing under a waterfall and trying to hold the water back. But I do think we can change the perception of aging. We talked about role models in our conversation and I feel like I want to bring more light to people who are living well, people we can look up to. And I don’t think that’s celebrities. I think it’s everyday people. I feel a revolution coming on!
Cindy La FerleMay 25, 2017 at 9:20 am
Brenda, this is pure genius — not surprisingly, since you orchestrated it. I would love to be able to do this in my community in Michigan, and you’ve got me thinking about how to start the ball rolling. Wonderful idea, and so inspiring — to gather with other women who want to make the most of this half of life, but perhaps don’t know how to do that. We grow when we help one another, as you have shown here.
I think that whole “feeling invisible” thing is one of the toughest issues, especially since our culture values youth and youthful beauty over everything else. Lately, when I go to the movies, I notice that the kids selling the tickets at the counter automatically give me the senior discount — without asking. That’s OK, of course, but it still takes my breath a little, since I don’t view myself as a “senior” like they do … But there you have it, I qualify for the discount, no ID required!
Claire CharltonMay 25, 2017 at 9:34 am
Let’s do this, Cindy. It’s a really great idea.
BrendaMay 27, 2017 at 10:31 am
Cindy, you’re on it! I remember someone telling me in my early 50’s that I was already at an age when ticket sellers at theaters would not stop me if I said, “Senior.” It was a bit disheartening but now the same thing is happening at the opposite end. Someone may ask me how old I think a young person is and I have absolutely no idea. Could be 20, 30, 35. I just can’t tell.
Met the most lovely woman last night who is turning 30 in a week or so. I told her about this event and she wanted me to do it for her age group. Another person 40-years-old told me the same thing this week. I guess aging is an issue in not just our decades!
DawnMay 28, 2017 at 9:51 am
Cindy, I would love a road trip to an event like this. I’m in Michigan, my book club would come I’m sure and some other friends. Please keep my email and contact me if you like.
Cindy La FerleJune 14, 2017 at 2:48 pm
Dawn — When we get rolling, I will happily contact you. My email is email@example.com. We’re in the metro-Detroit area. How about you?
Julie MaederJuly 9, 2017 at 5:42 am
Cindy, I’m also in the metro Detroit area. We should connect! I’m an image consultant and smack dab in that mid life stage of life. Let’s talk. Julie@newleafimageconsulting.com
BrendaJuly 11, 2017 at 7:53 am
I bet you guys would have a great time together!
DarbyJanuary 30, 2018 at 9:52 am
Cindy…I love this idea and would be so excited to contribute and I am already thinking of ideas! Have you been able to launch this?? Also in the Detroit area, recently retired and ready to get involved in new adventures!
ConiMay 25, 2017 at 1:17 pm
What a wonderful idea! I think women long for relationships with other women where we feel valued, understood, and free to be ourselves. Too often, however, we allow our insecurities, jealousies, and misconceptions about each other prevent us from connecting on a deeper level.
Bringing together women who don’t know each other, but who have something in common, is a wonderful way to generate new ideas, inspire confidence, form new friendships, and help us learn to love and appreciate each other more fully.
Let’s start a revolution!
BrendaMay 27, 2017 at 10:34 am
You nailed the essence of this completely. I’ll design buttons for our revolution so we can all wear them on our jean jackets. Thanks for your perfect words!
Laurice GilbertMay 25, 2017 at 4:11 pm
BrendaMay 27, 2017 at 10:35 am
AnnMay 26, 2017 at 8:54 am
Good for you and Chara! What a wonderful conversation to be involved in.
Nicole KMay 26, 2017 at 11:49 pm
The aging experience can be so different for all of us, I would have loved to have been there to hear the discussion. Beauty, health, family, partners, spiritual beliefs, work, passions, etc. are all part of the mix. I am in your area (San Rafael) and would absolutely attend an event like this anywhere in the Marin/Sonoma/San Francisco area.
BrendaMay 27, 2017 at 10:38 am
Nicole, would you email me and I’ll put you on a list. Yes, I think this is going to be a happening thing! You bring up great topics. Very important conversations!
Sandra sallinMay 27, 2017 at 8:58 am
Oh, I would have loved to be there. Maybe open it up to others outside your community. There’s a world of us waiting to connect. Bravo to you.
BrendaMay 27, 2017 at 10:39 am
Absolutely will open it up! Are you in the Bay Area? Send me an email and I’ll put you on a list. I love what you say: “There’s a world of us waiting to connect.” Isn’t that the truth?
Rebekah EbbsMay 29, 2017 at 2:17 pm
I would love to be part of this discussion! Come to Oklahoma City…..I would so like to organize one here.
BrendaMay 30, 2017 at 8:40 pm
Rebekah, that would be fun! I’ve never been to Oklahoma. And it would be fun to meet women for this discussion.
Marie MartinMay 31, 2017 at 2:47 pm
I love this topic. You going to offer this as a package? I love doing events for my clients, and to create an opportunity to gain new ones, but the admin that goes into setting them up is no fun.
BrendaJune 1, 2017 at 8:13 am
No plans yet of offering this as a package but I’ll keep thinking about it! I want to do it some more first. But I love the way you’re thinking! It’s something that should travel, that’s for sure.
Denise LampronJuly 26, 2017 at 4:16 pm
Brenda, outstanding event! I like that you paired the talk with lunch — great idea.
In the closet with clients is exactly how it started for me too. Those intimate moments of sharing one’s feelings about their stage in life, their body, everything. Closets are really a women’s most intimate spot.
May this be the beginning of many gatherings on women and aging. It is a ripe time for this discussion. Some push back in Los Angeles around aging, but I’m committed to this tribe of women and creating a space for their thoughts to be heard and their feelings to be held. You are a way shower. Thank you.
BrendaJuly 27, 2017 at 6:15 pm
Thank you, so much, Denise. Yes, I have a very strong feeling about this. Just spoke with someone on Sunday who was there at that gathering. She was bubbling over with ideas for it. She thought it was so valuable and so needed. I bet it would be hard to get women to talk about this in LA. Having lived there myself, aging is something to be avoided at all costs.
RuthAugust 16, 2019 at 8:33 am
Please consider making this into a “kit” that could be replicated anywhere. It could include the art work, the conversation starters etc. There is such a need to have the aging conversation but no need to reinvent the wheel. Thanks for your ideas!