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!