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Saturday, September 19, 2009

week-end reflections

Happy Saturday. Whew, what a week! (I see there are now three followers of this blog--a dog, a cat, and David, who is playing a dual-role as contributor and follower...interesting! Well, all are welcome, including non-human creatures or the human creatures behind them.)

So, I did this presentation at Summerplace Assisted Living this past Wednesday. Since I wasn't sure who would attend, I decided to put together a hybrid presentation, a combo of interaction and conversation with whomever showed up, distilled and translated notions from my work as an academic gerontologist, and some family history stuff, sort of a synthesized story to illustrate some of the ideas at the heart of intergenerational inquiry.

I began by asking participants who they were, why they came to the presentation, and what they thought "intergenerational inquiry" might mean. There was quite a mix of attendees: David came (thanks, my friend), as did a lovely woman who is a journalist, covering the senior issues beat for a local newspaper. There were also several elders who live at Summerplace, some of whom came on their own volition (there was a retired psychiatrist who made some cool observations during the presentation), and some who were wheel-chair bound and parked in the audience by their nurses. Some of the staff of Summerplace took part, and there was a handful of community members who attended (including the adult daughter of one of Summerplace's residents).

(I'd like to discuss in a future blog entry the opportunities and challenges involved in presenting to an audience that is so diverse in terms of intent, agency and capacity. For example, some participants didn't have a choice about whether or not to attend and, in fact, demonstrated confusion about where they were and what they were doing. I don't think we talk about such things -- the shadow-side of Gerontological work -- as much as we should.)

After my introduction, weclome, and initial interaction with the participants, I talked a bit about what I might mean by intergenerational inquiry...well, actually, I said less about what I mean and more about why being committed to doing intergenerational inquiry is so important:

--Aging is a lived experience, a life-long journey that we are all embarked upon, though we are at different stages in the process depending on our chronological age and life-course stage.

--We have much to learn by embarking on this journey together; we can develop deeper understanding by intentionally creating opportunities to interact and know each other, to discover our shared interests as well as all the ways we are unique creatures.

--More specifically, we can think together about difficult issues, we can solve problems and create new ways of thinking and being in the world in order to make life better for all creatures. We are experts on our own lives, and we are teachers for each other.

--And coming to know each other, being present before each other, thinking together, is about telling each other our stories, as well as creating new stories together.

I spent the rest of my time with the folks assembled before me telling some past and current stories about my family, specifically my relationships with the four generations of women on my mother's side of the family, and how through these relationships we are collaborating in each others' development as humans (sometimes unwillingly!). Telling stories from my life turned out to be a good decision because doing so served as an invitation to the participants to reflect upon their own relationships, to tell stories from their own lives. We spent the last 20 minutes of our time together exchanging stories, asking each other questions, as well as giving each other glimpses into our vulnerabilities, the ways in which our hearts are broken open by life (by being the daughter of a mother with advanced dementia; by being the wife of a husband with Parkinson’s Disease who will no longer leave the house; by being the nurse in charge of the dementia unit at the assisted living facility; by being an elder journalist who sees the disconnect between what is important to elders and how aging is portrayed in mainstream media).

As for me, at its roots the work to which I have committed myself is about what it means to travel through the life-course together as human beings. For me, the promise of gerontology and the kind of work I get to do with colleagues and students at my university and elders in the community is essentially radical, as it is about holding on to hope, to the expectation that we can keep growing, that we can make a profound difference in each others' lives.


Joe L. Bertagnolli, MSW said...

There are at least two ways to engage in study: from afar or from within. One might seek to learn or teach without ever intending to mindfully breathe in the experience of their subject. Prof. Jones might have stayed in his archeology classroom, but no. His passion for his work compelled him to seek out the lost tombs and learn their secrets firsthand! ;)

I very much appreciate your approach to this work as one that is radical, intensive, and experiential. "The promise of about holding on to hope, to the expectation that we can keep growing.." Appropriately enough, before reading your blog for the first time, this morning I happened to notice my beloved ninety-one year old jazz rockstar Marian McPartland whispering in my ear, "Joe, don't forget to listen now! I've got some hot things cooking!" While listening to one of her latest shows online I was in awe of her exquisite ability to personally grow, as much as the music itself. At her age, she is well over twice as old as myself. Yet when I listen to her, she's not a day older... If anything, she is half my age! The perspective of mindfully carrying hope and aspirations of growth as we age is critical to our ability to savor life, no matter how many days and years any individual may be blessed with.

In my own psychotherapist social work, I serve many people in the latter stages of their paths. Your professional, thoughtful, and radical analyses of the aging experience are highly enlightening and much appreciated. Thank you both for your creative and valuable work.
Peace, ~Joe L. Bertagnolli, MSW

David Rozell said...

Joe, so you are in love with Marian too!!

Thanks for your post! The aging process never ceases to amaze and delight me. Although we all get to do it in our own sweet way I am amazed that there are so many similarities. Being authentic is one that always seems to manifest itself. Marian McPartland is certainly that.