Sunday, November 24, 2019

14,000 Southwest Points & Other Things Left Undone

     A U.S. president was in the news again this month.
     No, not that one. Jimmy Carter. The 95-year-old ex-president, it was reported, was recovering from brain surgery, needed to treat a subdural hematoma that he sustained after hitting his head in October.
     Hearing the news someone re-posted this reminder below.  It had originally been posted just after that October fall:

     Soon after several of Carter's neighbors in Plains, Ga., were interviewed by USA Today about Carter's latest setback. While acknowledging that the 95-year-old Georgian isn't going to live forever, they seemed to think that the 39th U.S. president would bounce back one more time. One said that it would take more than brain surgery to keep him down. Another predicted that Carter would show up for the town's Christmas tree lighting on November 30.

    When I read that, I started to picture Carter's To Do list. Not all nonagenarians, of course, are as active as Carter has been (how many of us will still be building houses in our nineties?), but it occurred to me that inevitably there was going to be something on his list that eventually wouldn't be scratched off. A project that wasn't completed. A party never attended. A gift or letter never sent. A phone call never made.

    When my mother died,  I thought that she had died way too young. Many people around me tried to tell me that 92 was a good run, but it seemed to me that my mom was just getting started. She had so many plans. I remember thinking: She had so much left on her To Do list.

     She had more columns to write (At 86 she had started to write a monthly column for the then St. Petersburg Times, including an article on Dating in Your Eighties and Nineties). She had yoga classes, wine club sessions, grandchildren's birthday celebrations and dinner invitations from her two daughters in Milwaukee on her calendar. She had cookies to bake and letters to write.

     She obviously also had planned to take more trips (to Florida and to Washington D.C. to visit her out-of-town daughters perhaps): She had left behind 14,000 unused Southwest points.

     My sister Renee reminded me of those Southwest points when I was talking to her about the futility of getting everything done on our own To Do lists. My mother's unused points, which were not transferable, had died with her. 14,000 points. Good for one more trip, maybe two, we figured.

     It was a good reminder not to put off anything for later. At our age, later is now. But also that we shouldn't worry so much about getting through our whole To Do lists. No one ever does.

     I hope Jimmy Carter will be at that Christmas lighting ceremony in Plains, Georgia on November 30. And if he is able to go, I hope he puts next year's ceremony on his 2020 To Do list. After all, letting hope triumph over experience is what badasses do.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Linda Goldman Goes Off Her Rocker: Who Says There Are No Second Acts?

I have started to contribute to Arts Coast Journal, the online journal of Creative Pinellas. Here's my latest, published on the site today, the story of a remarkable Creative Late Bloomer:

After a 25-year-long career in finance, Linda Goldman retired.

Well, that's not entirely accurate.

At 65 she graduated magnum cum laude from St. Pete College with an Associate in Arts Degree. At 70 she wrote and staged her first play. And now three years later, after creating her own theater company and producing five more plays (with a free, upcoming performance October 27 in Clearwater), she is writing her seventh.

Who says there are no second acts in life?

"I never thought I would be a playwright," Goldman told me when we met recently at Panera's in Pinellas Park to talk about her late-blooming theatrical career.

What prompted this unexpected second career? Goldman says she started writing plays because she was fed up with the way seniors were being portrayed on stage. After leaving her full-time work, she began volunteering at Temple B'nai Israel in Clearwater, creating programs for seniors there, including regular outings to community theater. She had gown more and more embarrassed, however,  by how often those plays made fun of older people.

Seniors on stage were either treated in a patronizing or, worse, they were the butt of jokes. They didn't reflect the active lives of the seniors she knew. The portrayals certainly didn't reflect Goldman's own rich life as a senior.

"I knew I could write a better play than that," she said.

So she wrote Grandma Goes Off Her Rocker, featuring a complex older character, a widowed mother who has to move in with her daughter and her family. The play takes an honest look at the generational clash that ensued, examining what happens when the roles of mother and daughter are reversed later in life.

Grandma Gets Off Her Rocker was staged at her synagogue
with some of the same seniors who had joined her to see those community theater productions that had made her cringe. She thought the performance would be a one and done experience.
It was so successful, however, that a friend asked her if she would stage it again, this time as a fundraiser for a struggling temple in Tarpon Springs. To appear "more professional," Goldman created a theater company that she called SAGES: Senior Actors Guild & Educational Services.

Under the SAGES banner, Goldman wrote and produced five more plays, all addressing concerns that seniors face -- dating after the death of a spouse (Get in the Game), deciding when to give up the car keys (The Deal Maker), negotiating different retirement goals within a marriage (Committed), and defining what constitutes "proper" behavior for an older lady (A Corset Line).

Her most frequently staged work is a cautionary tale, a "fall prevention play" called Denying Gravity).

Denying Gravity premiered last year at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center before an audience of 500. This month Denying Gravity was restaged at the Heritage Springs in Trinity on October 20 (hosted by the Pasco Fire Rescue) .On October 27, a free performance will be offered at the Bilheimer Capitol Theater in Clearwater (hosted by Clearwater Fire Rescue).

It's a play that Goldman initially didn't want to write.

When Christine Hamacher, director of business development with Home Care Now and a member of the Fall Prevention Coalition of Better Living  for Seniors, first suggested the topic to her, she thought, "Yeah, a play about fall prevention, that will bring people to the theater in droves."

But Hamacher was persistent. Wasn't the goal of SAGES to put on plays with a purpose? What better purpose was there than to warn seniors about the dangers of falling?

"At first I thought I'd rather get a root canal," Goldman admits. But she was blown away when Hamacher told her that Pinellas County alone gets 25,000 calls a year about falls. "When I heard that statistic, I knew I had to do it," says Goldman. "After all, my theater company has the word 'educational' in it." What better way to educate people about the dangers of falling than through storytelling? In Denying Gravity, a woman named Claire falls and breaks her arm, but stubbornly refuses to take precautions against falling again. She ends up falling again and again, eventually falling to her death.

"People were shocked that we actually have Claire die in the play, but we knew that shock was important to get our point across," Goldman says. But in a twist at the end of the play, there is a rewind of the action, so that Claire can be saved if she takes fall prevention to heart.

Saving Claire, in fact, is the name of a documentary produced by Ames Production about Goldman's play and the dramatic impact its lessons have had on audiences. The film was a collaboration among several groups, including Pinellas County 911 & EMS, Fire Departments, the Fall Prevention Coalition of BLS/AAAPP, the Florida Physical Therapy Association and, of course, Goldman's theater company, SAGES.

Goldman tapped Hamacher to direct Denying Gravity and now the fall prevention activist has joined SAGES as its vice president and executive director. Also on the SAGES team is Marvin Hollander, listed on the SAGES website as "Biggest Fan and Playbill Designer." The 90-year-old Hollander, who worked in the composing room at the New York Times for 28 years, is Goldman's fiance.

"We're not getting married," Goldman says, flashing her engagement ring. "There will be only one Mrs. Marvin Hollander." But she says the two enjoy going out to dinner together -- and working on SAGES play projects. Goldman's own spouse died in 2004, a 15-year-old union that Goldman says will be her last marriage. Her first marriage -- they had three children -- ended in divorce.

Does her personal life provide fodder for her plays? Yes, of course, Goldman says, but her observations of others are an even greater inspiration. "I am used to listening to other people's stories," she tells me. Growing up at a time when boys had a lot more freedom than girls, she was always told to sit still in the corner and be quiet. While her brothers got to run around, she would play with her dolls and make up stories with them based on conversations she had eavesdropped in on.

Goldman's next project, a play about telephone cons, is tentatively entitled Scams, populated with such playful characters as Sgt. Moe Money and Lt. Caramba from Cabbage Cove (not to be confused with Jessica Fletcher from Cabot Cove). She's finished with the research and already has a first draft. Like Neil Simon, her favorite playwright whose work often blends humor and tragedy, Scams is a mixture of comedy and drama.

All of her plays are. After all, says Goldman, "Life is never just one or the other, is it?"


Friday, August 23, 2019

Older Women: The Year of Kicking Serious Butt

     Need some inspiration? For anyone who's been feeling stuck lately or who's been worrying that it's too late to make a difference, consider these older women who clearly don't understand the meaning of giving up:

      This week 89-year-old Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez, got herself arrested in Fresno along with seven members of the International Services Emplyees Union 2015 .during a protest demanding a raise for the county's home care workers. The workers haven't had a raise in 10 years. They make $12 per hour. They were asking for a dollar more.

      Earlier this year, thanks to the Democrat's sweep during the mid-terms, 78-year old Donna Shalala entered the House of Representatives as that body's oldest freshman and Maxine Waters at 80 became the first woman to head the House's Financial Services Committee.

     At 78 Nancy Pelosi has risen as a formidable opponent of Donald Trump: She is one of the few women he dares not give a nasty nickname. At 70, Elizabeth Warren is the leading woman candidate for president.

     At 71 Glenn Close won a Golden Globe for her role in "The Wife," based on a novel by 60-year-old Meg Wolitzer about a woman who puts her own needs and desires aside to help a narcissistic husband. The movie took 14 years to get made -- perhaps because its title was "The Wife" as Close joked in her acceptance speech?

     But no one has had to wait for success as long as Carmen Herrera. While her male contemporaries, abstract artists Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly, were being heralded, Herrera -- Cuban and female -- was ignored. But, thanks to a supportive husband and her love of the straight line, she persisted

     Finally in 2009, Herrera got her first break: her first solo show at the British Gallery Ikon in Birmingham. The was 94.

     They say if you wait long enough your bus will come. "I waited for my bus for 94 years," says Herrera who lives and works in New York City. Yes, she still works. Though she can no longer walk on her own and has to have in-home care, she is still painting and creating.

     And now there are Herreras all over NYC. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper West Side, the exhibit that bears her name -- Epic Abstraction: From Herrera to Pollack -- includes her acrylic painting Equilibro, which she completed in 2012 when she was 97.

     And to the south in New York's City Hall Park, five monumental outdoor sculptures by Herrera are on display until November 8. The are Herrera's first major sculpture exhibit although she first designed three-dimensional forms based on her hard-edged minimalist paintings back in the late 1960s. Another bus that took a long time to come. Only a few of her designs were ever turned into sculptures.

     The New York display, called Estructuras Monumentales, includes three sculptures from those earlier designs and two new ones, including Angulo Rojo which she designed in 2017 when she was 102.

Angulo Royo by Carmen Herrera (2017)