Reading List 1.5

Here are some books to add to the list when you are exploring what it means to be an old person in a world that gives you lots of sound bites, but little substance.

2030 Albert Brooks—a novel

The Artist’s Way–Julia Cameron–this has been around a long time and is still excellent

A Journey Called Aging — James C Fisher, PhD, Henry C Simmons, PhD

When Breath Becomes Air–Paul Kalanithi  ( I read this three weeks ago and see it is now on the best seller list) It is stunning.

Gratitude–Oliver Sacks   Very Special

The Anatomy of Hope–Jerome Groopman. MD

Mortality– Christopher Hitchens

Aging as Spiritual Practice–Lewis Richmond  ( a student in the last class recommended this and it is terrific  because of the Buddhist beliefs he brings to the discussion.)

Life is a Verb–Patti Digh—(this is one of the books I look through when an idea is pushing out of my ear and it needs a shove.)

If you get through those in a few weeks I will add some more…of course you could give me ideas like the students in class!





My Life in a Country Western Song

We all have a story to tell about who we are, how we have lived, the people we came from and how we were treated by life. Our experiences are etched on our being like the scars from surgery. Even as you move on from painful episodes they can remain like a shadow.

Listen carefully to people when you start asking about the life they have lived. It is my favorite part of the class I teach when we start introductions. If I am doing my teacher role correctly the introduction tells me as much as I need to know about the questions and concerns of the participants. And, how to ask a question correctly to get a nugget of truth that lies under the superficial. What do you say when you introduce yourself?

Why are these stories we tell important? If there are told to ourselves or others the language can show if you are a resilient person or a person mired in trauma. If you are resilient, you figure out how to move on from pain and do not let it define you. Because aging is a time of constant loss and grieving, the vocabulary we use is important in processing the crap life brings and then moving on. Of course it does take a period of time and talking and reading and understanding the incident or issue to accept and make it a permanent part of your story. I hear people who are finally able to say. “that was a challenging time for us.”

My personal style of incorporation tends to be loud and full of cussing like a sailor. It tends to be whiny and pitiful. It is full of anger at the world in general and maybe a specific person. Shaking my fist at the sky. Or angry that I am not powerful enough to do anything.  And then, my pain settles and the time of moving forward starts. Our life story can contain numerous such incidents, but most of us do not tell those to everyone. We sanitize and puff up one thing and diminish another so we sound a little bit normal. But, by the time we are old, we have lots of stories because we have had various incarnations.

In the telling of our story it is also difficult not to brag about the good things we have experienced or the friends or family we have or how we attach ourselves to a “winning” cause or side or person. How do we tell people about our extensive education or travel or important friends and genius grandchildren without sounding arrogant? And of course being arrogant is even more toxic. Saying your truth in a way that shows part of your authentic face, and yet does not overwhelm with unnecessary detail and you will be a person who can still grow in a relationship with another human being.

Years ago, friends talked about putting our lives in a country western song. So, I finally have. Words can be very weak in describing a life but trying to fit it in few verses can help you see what perhaps the most important parts ended up being. I did not use the words tequila, truckers, cowboys, hotel rooms or gambling, but tried to get the essence of a complete life in a few verses…..Try your own!

Based on a song by John Prine and the rendition by Bonnie Raitt is my favorite.

I am an old woman, named after my Daddy, who was fighting a war when I was born. Grew up much too quickly , 2 babies a’reaching with love in their cries for momma’s hugs.

Spent years in the roles  allowed a woman: daughter, sister, wife and mom were all. But when I was older I added some others- finally helping to make me feel whole.

Just look at old pictures with husbands and children, and friends with flowers and food galore. Laughing and smiling and hiding our sorrows, choosing instead to make it feel blessed.

Now a long time widow, still searching for truth, full of compassion to help me get through. Giving kindness to strangers and love to my family, my hope’s still alive and well in my soul.


Remember we are all ordinary, living day to day, doing the best we can. But, extra ordinary elders, take their songs and sing them out.






Reading List 1

Here is a short reading list to get you going on the investigation of living a life as an exceptional elder:

War of Art     S Pressfield   if you are a creative soul

If the Buddha Got Stuck    Charlotte Kasi

Awakening the Buddha Within      Lama Surya Das

It’s Not the End of the World     Joan Borysenko  –resilience

The Feeling Good Handbook     David Burns (the best known of the cognitive behavior books)

Authentic Happiness     Martin Seligman

Difficult Conversations     Douglas Stone

Me, Inc. How to Master the Business of Being You    Scott Ventrella

Being Mortal     Atul Gawande

Never Say Die     Susan Jacoby

find an article about the Berlin Wisdom Project

read about Erik Erikson’s eight stages of life

Still Alice—the movie.


There are another dozen I will put up soon. Some of these are oldies but goodies that I go back to often. The web site for Bill Thomas is filled with groundbreaking thinking for this country.