LXXXIV. Potato Chips

August 28, 2012 — Looking at the length of the Roman numerals required to document this chapter title makes me wonder if these days Roman numerals become confused with text messaging shorthand; i.e., LMAOROTF. For example, the Roman numerals MDCCCLXXXVIII could mean “My darn creepy computer control left xenophobic Xavier’s xylophone vegetating in India ink” or 1888. This shorthand rolls a paragraph into one word, rendering the paragraph small. If I could write and communicate to your comprehension this way, my posts would be five words long, my books two pages – quick reads.

I had a catering business 25 (XXV) years ago. The predominant part of that was running executive lunch routes, meaning running around with a lunch cart – coolers and plastic storage trays stacked and affixed with a bungee cord to a luggage cart – selling sandwiches and salads to office workers.

I learned that by selling the little things, the snacks, I could achieve the biggest sales; i.e., potato chips, cookies, muffins, candy bars.

I became aware that it was the little things I did for my customers that reaped the biggest rewards – like extending IOUs until payday, taking an interest in the people, learning about their families, their jobs, that they grew up in some exotic place – like on Fiji picking pears from the king’s trees –, asking their opinions on current events, engaging in witty repartee: the exchange of information and ideas; this is what is most important. However I could, I gave them love, concern and support. It was easier that way; it came naturally to me. It is the support and love that yielded me the greatest return. I became wealthy in friendship, compassion and laughing out loud. I could not believe I was getting paid to have so much fun. In turn, on a day when I felt under the weather, my customers bolstered me. Sometimes I literally was under the weather when a rare Los Angeles downpour rendered me looking as if I’d just found their sandwiches and snacks while I was in the bathtub showering.

Now, years later, by posing a simple question this March to women writer caregivers on a Linkedin discussion board, I have discovered a cornucopian treasure of the most beautiful women friends. There exists a core group of us from around the world – South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, and across the United States. We are open to all, whoever wants to tell her story, and we listen and support unconditionally.

We are blown away by our phenomenal friendship. We are all of a certain age, old enough to be or have been caregivers. Some of us find ourselves in Act III of our lives, over 60. We have reached the age where we’ve come to realize that it is the little things that give life meaning, like cutting cabbages from a kitchen garden, a beloved dog curled up in a basket in front of a log fire, a warm kitty curled up on a tummy, having tea (read wine) with a friend, giving a talk to an Alzheimer’s group about our caregiving experiences, volunteering to help kids, listening to a beautiful classical music composition while scrubbing the kitchen floor or being inspired to write, as I do this story, by an extraordinary performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” with violins played by Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Shlomo Mintz, with Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic.

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You haven’t heard “The Four Seasons” until you have heard this performance. This is not your usual marching along interpretation, but rather is played with rich sensitivity and expression. These musicians make you stop and listen. I find myself imagining Antonio Vivaldi sitting at his desk or with his violin under his chin, pen poised to paper, saying, “OK, it’s gonna sound like this.” Although, he’d be saying it in Italian, because I don’t think he spoke English. Nonetheless, music is written in Italian, so he was probably speaking Italian, if only to make it compatible. You’ll hear bits in this performance you haven’t heard before. It’s not listening to the same short passage over and over again, looped tight as a garrotte, as I have while waiting 20 minutes for a customer care representative to come on the line, and then witnessing that person randomly pulling cue cards from a small hat. The little things these musicians do make a big difference.

We women writer caregivers discuss everything from writing and caregiving, families and relatives, to the weather – temperature, Fahrenheit vs. Celsius – gardening and recipes. I have a computer application that converts Fahrenheit to Celsius, so I can accurately tell them how hot it is here today – 29.444 degrees Celsius. Recently, I offered to package up some of our Delaware humidity and ship it to my friend in Washington state. She said that while it was most generous of me to think of her, I need not go to all that trouble.

I follow a blog called Lame Adventures, as I have mentioned in previous chapters, written by a woman who lives in New York City and goes to her job every day to earn her “health insurance and a potato.” I credit her recent post and that of her fellow Canadian blogger LeClown for their exchange of ideas on smiley faces and emoticons inspiring my thought on little things and aging for this chapter: http://lameadventures.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/lame-adventure-333-a-brief-history-of-hollow/. She also emailed me a link to a TED talk Jane Fonda gave on aging and our third act, on women and their personal power. You can watch the video, download a podcast or download the text. I highly recommend it. In computer years, my computer is nearly as aged as I, hence does not have an Intel processor, so I could not download the latest Flash version to watch the video. I downloaded the latter two options. Jane Fonda also writes this text in her recent book, Prime Time. Here is the link to her talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_fonda_life_s_third_act.html#649000.

Before you think TED refers to Turner, I learned that TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” TED started in 1984 as “a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design”. Conferences are held annually in Palm Springs and Long Beach, Calif., and Edinburgh, Scotland: http://www.ted.com/pages/about.

Jane Fonda states that females are born with personal power. We’re “feisty,” we have “agency,” she says. Then as we get older, we start worrying about fitting in and being popular, and later we become the subjects and objects of other people’s lives. Ultimately, if we live long enough, we reach our third acts. “Older women are the largest demographic in the world,” Fonda says. And I, personally, can vouch for some of them from around the world as my good friends. Each one of these women has realized her own personal power, each one is highly accomplished in her own right, and each one is overflowing with compassion.

I agree with Jane Fonda and with my women writer caregiver friends that one’s third act is the most fun – much to our surprise – and we think that is due largely to having learned we need not sweat the big stuff; whatever the obstacle is, we trust it soon will be resolved and we will get through one more thing one more time. This time is the most fun of my life, equivalent to when I was selling sandwiches; I am surrounded and supported by an abundance of good things, foremost among them richer, deeper friendships.

Therefore, I trust that my current financial dearth soon will be resolved, through my efforts and my friends’ moral and book-promoting support, that I will continue to find myself laughing out loud, and that I not find myself laughing beneath a bridge with the trolls.

Recently I joined a group on Linkedin called “Aficionados of Classical Music” and through a post that caught my attention, commented. The man who replied, Steve Curylo, lives in western Massachusetts, is an opera singer, a baritone, and has a classical music radio show every Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. Eastern time called Monday Evening Classics, on Valley Free Radio, at 103.3 FM in the Northampton area or online at http://www.valleyfreeradio.org. He is the one who recommended this Four Seasons performance I am listening to.

I listened Monday night to Steve’s radio show while eating dinner. It turns out Steve’s Uncle Walter had dementia, and music, as with Emma, was the last thing he recognized before he died.

Steve visited my blog. “I’m going to get something on the air next week about your new book, Begins the [Night] Music, on next week’s show,” he emailed me, “and thereafter, as an ongoing [Public Service Announcement] for your book. You deserve to be known and appreciated. And people around here in the Valley Free Radio listening area, especially the Five Colleges, and Northampton in particular, are very interested in such literature, and would probably react very favorably.” He’s going to announce Begins the Night Music next Monday and will continue through December 31, “which will bring it into the spotlight for the Holidays.”

He also really likes “The Robin’s Return,” he continued, and will open his program with it next week. “The Robin’s Return” piano piece was my favorite that Emma played, and that I feature here on the home page of my blog.

Am I blown away or what?!

Friends are planning to promote my book in many ways: at special events promoting themselves, to Alzheimer’s groups, donating copies to Alzheimer’s libraries; and my friend in New Zealand will write a review to be published in a New Zealand and an Australian magazine. Our Hospice chaplain emailed me a link today to a site Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, started for caregivers after caring for her mother: http://theconversationproject.org/. I submitted Emma’s and my story there today, promoting my book, too; hopefully the editors will publish it.

This is a most amazing time for me. Thank you, my friends, for the potato chips.

—Samantha Mozart