Issue #38, May 2015

Welcome to the May 2015 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.


We are now well into spring here in the south-west of England and all the trees have leafed out. I have been watching the oak and ash trees carefully to see who was ahead and I seem to think the oak definitely had an edge on the ash, which—according to the old folk wisdom—means it won't be too wet a summer. 
Though with climate change the weather is becoming increasingly unstable all over the world and that must surely make forecasting harder than ever.

Spring, of course, means gardening. We are already picking new season's greens and soon the soil will be warm enough for beans. Spring also means new energy for new projects. Mind you, I really don't need any new projects. Heading up the publications team for GreenSpirit, co-editing GreenSpirit magazine, compiling and publishing ebooks, writing and publishing book reviews and managing several websites, plus the gardening and the travelling and writing my memoirs (I'm only up to 1958 at the moment so there's a long way to go!) is enough to keep me very fully occupied.

However I have recently taken an interest in the whole concept of senior cohousing and my partner and I will be getting together with a bunch of other over-fifties next month to talk about how we might all set up a cohousing project of our own some time in the next few years. Sharing resources, as you do in a cohousing setup, really is the greenest way to go. Plus it provides each member with a ready-made support group in old age. Senior cohousing is all the rage in Denmark and is catching on fast in the USA. Here in the UK it is a new idea for many people but I have no doubt it will catch on quickly as our current economic system crumbles around us and people start to scale back their consumption and move into more sustainable lifestyles. We must start doing that sooner rather than later and a lot of people already are. It may be too little, too late, but as I wrote in my blog yesterday, maybe you and I will never know the outcome and maybe that is OK.

Click here to read all about our particular cohousing project. With any luck, by the time the next Elderwoman Newsletter rolls around, I'll be able to tell you how it is going.

Love and blessings to all,



 The Tensions of Opposites:
Val and Marian talk about some elderwoman dilemmas


The trials and tribulations of a 66-year-old

 by Val McCrae

I am on holiday, sitting looking at the sea which today is a deep, dark blue and is shining and calm. People are strolling along the beach. Honestly, the world looks perfect. I have nothing in particular that I ‘should’ be doing and, in my head, I am loving the lack of demands on my time. But some part of me feels restless still.

This is very common for me. The longing to do absolutely nothing conflicting with that driven part of me that wants to be active, useful, involved and busy. It’s a real internal battle. There’s quite a strong fear inside me of an elderly, lazy overweight blob with stiff knees and hips and nothing useful to do, who is just waiting for the chance to appear and take over my life.

I could read, write, watch DVDs, have more coffee – but oh, I surely ‘should’ move, walk, get fresh air. I could take a nap as I am so tired –  but oh, I may not sleep properly tonight if I do. I could have a little snack to cheer me up – but I’m trying to lose weight, aren’t I?

Even in my activities, there is a tug-of-war between putting in a lot of effort, or just getting by with the least time and effort. I could really ‘work it’ when I exercise – or perhaps I should take it easier and not risk sore muscles? My bridge playing is mediocre – I could study and practise – but, why bother? It’s just a game. I could write more regularly and with more direction. I need to put a book together, enter a competition, write an article for Starts at Sixty, but hey, writing is just for pleasure isn’t it? Does it matter when or what I write? I want to read more widely, more classic literature, books about writing, learn new things – but I just am so enjoying this novel at the moment. And so it goes…I think you may get my drift. I want to play the piano more, but never ‘find’ the time.

And now I find the battle is also coming into my dealings with people. I have always liked socialising, chatting being involved. But now, I find myself often choosing none of these things and preferring to spend time on my own. As I constantly strive to be more loving, more tolerant, more compassionate and patient in my Third Age – as these are important values to me – I find myself feeling ever LESS tolerant of the whims and opinions of others I seem to actively like, and enjoy fewer and fewer people. Even a little social contact drains me of energy.

What on earth is going on here? Aren’t I supposed to become MORE certain with age – not less? Aren’t I supposed to be in the stage of equanimity and balance? A year or so ago, I ran a course for the U3 A called ‘Ageing Gratefully’. We discussed many of the above issues and we did some relaxation and affirmations too. It did seem that people pass through the stages of unrest – on to acceptance perhaps when a bit older.

I want to age with gratitude and with some grace. I would like to be a positive role model and a teacher to those younger than I. I want peace of mind and contentment. At the same time, I want to age loudly, riotously and disgracefully – never invisible, never unnoticed! Can I have it all? Please?

So, I am wondering – dear readers, what your own experiences and thoughts might be? Do you share some of my struggles, or do I need to face the fact that I am a little strange and just deal with it? Is it a phase I am passing through, or is it a personality flaw that won’t go away?

Val would describe herself as a "budding" writer, constantly working on her memoir. Has been on several writing courses (the last one in Paris!) and imagines one day having a book published! Don't we all? Isn't it true that each of us has a book inside us? She says that mostly, writing is a pleasure, it is therapy, it is cathartic, it is an art, a skill, it is more than a hobby and more a way of life. Writing down the issues that create passion is life affirming. Age is irrelevant when writing!

Marian responds

 Val's article was first posted on an Australian blog site called  and it attracted 85 comments. Most of the people commenting said they totally related to what she was saying.

 So did I. However, since this is something I have thought a lot about in recent years, and I suspect that these dilemmas are ones that many of our readers also struggle with at times, I would like to add my own thoughts here as well.

 The Rise and Rise of the Inner Taskmaster

 It is now many years since I retired but I still face, on a daily basis, the dilemma that Val refers to in her first paragraph—that tension between what I call the 'inner dynamo' and the 'inner slob.' However there is something I noticed, a long time ago, that gave me a clue about what might be going on. Which is that for me the tension between the dynamo and the slob seemed to be much less on the weekends, especially on Sundays.

Think about it: from the time we start school at age five or six, our lives are divided into two parts. For five-sevenths of every week we are kept busy whether we feel like it or not, we are totally 'other-directed', ruled by the clock, by bells and whistles and timetables, we have to perform and achieve, obey and behave. Even when we get home, there is homework to be done before we can go out and play. With the exception of weekends and holidays/vacations, that is how we are forced to live for twelve of our most highly formative years.

 If we go to college, there are several more years of the same. Except that now, if we are to survive and achieve we have to transfer that 'other-directedness' into ourselves. Nobody is forcing us to attend lectures or turn in assignments any more. So we have to make sure that we ourselves can play the role of the teachers and taskmasters. By now we have created an inner 'sub-personality' who lives within us and whose task it is to keep our noses to the grindstone (except, perhaps, on Sundays and on vacation).

 And then we get a job. We most likely have a boss. Some of us even have to punch time clocks! Mondays through Fridays are for doing the work, earning the money.

 For those of us who had children, whether we stayed in the workforce or not, the pattern persisted. For at least five-sevenths of every week, we expected ourselves to be busy, perform, get stuff done, achieve. On weekends, our inner taskmaster allowed us to relax a little—except that those of us who had outside jobs probably did shopping or even housework on Saturdays. And many of us prepared meals for our families seven days a week. We were rarely 'off duty' completely.

 All of us, in our Western culture, are conditioned to follow this pattern. So even though we supposedly 'retire' from the workforce the Inner Taskmaster doesn't understand retirement. The conditioning is based on fear ("If you don't work hard and do what's expected of you, you'll disappoint your parents/fail your exams/lose your job/end up a bag lady…") And it persists inside us.

 The Force of Character

 "As I constantly strive to be more loving, more tolerant, more compassionate and patient in my Third Age…" says Val, " …I find myself feeling ever LESS tolerant of the whims and opinions of others." In his book The Force of Character, Jungian psychologist and author James Hillman explains that in the normal course of development, some of our personality characteristics actually deepen more and more as we age. Because we are becoming more and more of our authentic selves (remember that authenticity was one of the Elderwoman qualities I listed in my Elderwoman book) then it is harder to dissemble. As we grow in self-confidence and wisdom, we become less and less bothered about our 'image'. So if we have had a slight tendency to be self-centred (which we may well have compensated for by deliberately acting unselfishly and generously), we become more self-centred as we get older. If we have been a somewhat critical person we get more critical—and more willing to voice our criticism than we were when we were younger and very much concerned with other people's opinions of us. In those days we kept our criticisms to ourselves. Now we are relaxing into elderhood, they start slipping out. It reminds me of the fact that we old women are more likely to wet our knickers when we laugh.

 If we have been quiet and introverted, even though we have learned and practised a whole raft of social skills, we find ourselves longing more and more for peace and quiet and solitude. And that leads me on to the third aspect of this issue.

 The Sage in the Mountain Cave

 Bill Plotkin's book Nature and the Human Soul has been an important one for me. As you may recall, those of you who have been subscribers to this newsletter for a long time, I wrote about it a few years back (see:

Since Plotkin is younger than I am and since he based his knowledge of the last two stages of development on interviews with just two individuals, I suspect that there may be a lot more to learn about the last two stages of our lives. The first of these is his Stage Seven, which he calls 'The Master in the Grove of Elders' and that is the long and potentially creative and fertile stretch of our elderwoman lives between menopause and 'late old age.' The final one, his Stage Eight, is the one in which we have mostly moved from 'doing' to simply 'being.' We shall still be—one hopes—a force for good and a powerful and important presence in our families and communities, but in a more subtle and spiritual way rather than a 'hands-on' way. Even though we eventually become too feeble to stack a dishwasher, our loved ones feel bathed and blessed by our love and our wisdom manifests in small and subtle signs. This stage, Plotkin calls 'The Sage in the Mountain Cave.' 

Nowadays, even though, like Val, I am involved in various creative projects and still trying to play my part in greening the world, I am starting to feel that cave beckoning. Next year I shall turn eighty. Will this be a watershed? Or will the move to the cave be so slow and so gradual that I shall not even notice it? This is the terrain I am exploring. I think the cave has such a magnetic pull that we can start to feel it even in our sixties. And it gets gradually stronger. So that, too, may be a factor in the tensions of opposites that we are exploring here. Dynamo vs. Slob: Conditioned Self vs. Authentic Self: Doing vs. Being. It is a fascinating subject to explore and I like to think of us all as pioneer adventurers, journeying together along the road of elderhood and swapping notes as we go...

...and remembering never to take ourselves too seriously                             Back to top


Here's an 85 year-old who seems still to be fair and square in the 'Grove of Elders' stage. I went to hear Barbara Marx Hubbard speak many years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, and she appears to be still as dynamic and full of life and purpose as ever.

Conscious Aging

If nothing were impossible, what would you do with your precious remaining time?

By Vivienne Simon  (From 'Spirit of Change' Magazine, February 2015)

But remember...

Body Image and Diet
A member of our Elderwoman community, Patricia Cherry from Plymouth
here in the UK, has just published what looks to be a very interesting
book about the history of dieting.

Since many of us have probably worried about their weight at some point and many of us have daughters or granddaughters who have had issues with it (one of my own daughters had an eating disorder when she was young) I thought our readers may be interested in this.

Patricia describes her book thus:
.Through my own experience with dieting and thus spanning the 6 decades of changes in ideas, beliefs and expertise, I thought that it would be interesting to find out just how long human beings have been concerned with body shape.

To my surprise I found that body image has been in human awareness for 10,000 years. Starting with the finds of statuettes from Paleolithic times, depicting a well-rounded female image, we can see that being plump and firm was important in the days of the hunter gatherer to sustain people through times of famine. It was also seen as a sign of being fertile.

In the last 10,000 years our diet has changed out of all proportion to the hunter gatherer days, but our bodies have not evolved along with it. The body still acts as if it is expecting a famine, and when we diet it will hold onto every last gram of fat, in order to preserve itself.
As we come into the agricultural age and on into the early days of the Europeans it becomes clear that humans have started to take steps to lose the fat.

I have looked at how food in general has evolved from different corners of our planet, and along with these changes it is not surprising that the more we came away from eating natural, real, unadulterated food, the more we found it necessary to find ways to combat putting on weight.

Yet here in the 21st Century ideas abound with different opinions, diets and scientific research. Some of them pretty sound, some of them ridiculous. From taking pills, to drinking tea. From leaving out essential nutrients to eating far too much of any particular nutrient.
But the only thing we know for sure that works when watching our health and weight, is to eat real food, organic where possible and watching our portions.

The second most important thing to bear in mind is that the idea of being skinny must stop. Once we learn to eat what nature designed us to and getting our portions right to suit the individual, our body will find the right weight naturally, we will be as healthy as possible.
It is obvious to me from the research, study and writing for this book and from my own experience in life of being a chronic dieter for over forty years, that being a healthy weight, with a moderate amount of fat, is the way to go!

I have covered the last 100 years of the book, in decades and it is interesting to see that it is in this time span that we have turned to ever more faddy and often dangerous ways, to be not just slender, but skinny. It is an anomaly that although we have this mindset we have reached epidemic levels of obesity.

Whether you are in a professional capacity, researcher or someone who thinks that dieting to lose weight is something new to this century, you will find the history of how we reached here with food, interesting and revealing.

Patricia, who is the author of several books related to diets and dieting, is also a qualified Life Coach and has a special interest in the concept of 'conscious ageing.' Her work, at the moment, is all about encouraging and inspiring more people to become conscious elders.
This Week's Best Quote
"Deep wisdom cannot be acquired inside the confines of the social order and external authority...Each of us is the author of our lives and therefore the author of how we aquire and deploy wisdom in our lives...When the center of a civilization erodes, the place to find deep wisdom is at the edge...
...Mass culture does not create wise adults but rather eternal children"

~ Carolyn Baker, from her new book Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse (North Atlantic Books, 2015)

I Am This Woman

My long-time friend and erstwhile neighbour Tammy Jennings, whose skilful writing I have always admired, recently published this lyrical essay online about women learning to become their deepest, most authentic selves. Click here to read it.  (Thank you, Tammy!)

Till Death Us Do Part

Some of you may have seen this touching little video before as it has already had four million views on the Internet, but I am posting it again here for anyone who missed it. It makes me think back to the days when I was running marriage preparation classes for engaged couples and how great it would have been to be able to show them something like this.

Tiny Houses: The Next Big Thing for Seniors

I have long been fascinated by the 'tiny house' movement which started in California and has been gathering steam ever since. Combined with the cohousing idea mentioned above, it is a marvellously simple, low-cost and 'green' way to live out your senior years, especially if you are on your own. 

Senior Planet ran an article about it back in January, which some of you may have read. For those who didn't, click here and be inspired.

Pictures to Make You Smile

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                                                  A Rinse of Light

I saw before me a sparkle in a dark room
It played upon a flat wall
A flit here
And gone
Then as a rinse of light
Covered the walls
It was gone again
Make no reasons
There is only one
No other light
No dangling prism
No dawn through the draperies
No traffic or street lights
It was magic
Reflections of a faerie sighting

A morning without beginning

The dark is dense and soaked with yesterday
Anticipation made me wake, too quiet
Nothing of the outside world
No birds or coyotes announcing the day
Storms of projected danger
But the silence is unbearable
I have a dog that has lain on me for two days
She too is anxious
A cup of flavored water
What quiet makes of drinking sounds
A loudness not noticed before
Alone as dust on a shelf
Wondering if I should make goals
Cookies or art
Letter or poem
A morning without beginning
Will it have an end

Nancy Coker

Contributions for this newsletter are eagerly sought. Please send in your writings, your thoughts, your poetry, a book or website you have found, an announcement or news item that you think would be interesting to others, a comment on one of these articles, a subject you'd like to see, an anecdote, something that moved you - whatever snippet you want to share.  Don't be shy. You do NOT have to be a professional writer, artist or photographer to send pictures or pieces of your writing to this newsletter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Lawyers should never ask a Georgia grandma a question if they aren't prepared for the answer.

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know me?'

She responded, 'Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you'll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.'
The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?'

She again replied, 'Why yes, I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.'

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said,
'If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair.'

The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, May, 2015
The Elderwoman website:
Marian's e-mail: marian(at) 
NB: replace 'at' with the @ sign, and please remember to insert OKEM in the
 subject line to make sure you get through my three layers of spam filtering!

Unfortunately, the filters are a necessity to stop my in-box flooding with spam.
 - oh and when you write to me, please remember that my name is spelt MARIAN with an 'A' (the same as Robin Hood's girlfriend) 

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