Frank Samson: Welcome to Boomers Today. I'm your host, Frank Samson. Of course, each week, we bring you important useful information on issues facing baby boomers, their parents, and other loved ones, of course. Our guest today is Stephanie Raffelock, who is a graduate of Naropa University's program in writing and poetics. She's worked as a freelance writer for publications that include the Rogue Valley Messenger, Nexus Magazine, Omaha Lifestyles, and sixtyandme.com. As host for the podcast Coffee Table Wisdom, Stephanie promotes embracing the accumulating years with purpose, intention, and joy. Her book, A Delightful Little Book on Aging, will be available very soon. So, Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today. I really appreciate it.
Stephanie Raffelock: Thank you for having me.
Frank: You refer to the positive aging movement. Talk about what the positive aging moment is, and how'd you become part of it?
Stephanie: Well, I didn't seek it out, that's for sure, but I stumbled across it. I was writing for a site called sixtyandme.com. When you're writing for something like that, you tend to read the comments that people have about your articles. I found that there was a whole group of people out there, my age, entering retirement and their attitudes about retirement were shifting. It's not our parents' retirement anymore. A lot of people are working longer. A lot of people want to work longer. Some people are picking up encore careers, but there's this movement that says, "I don't want to stop."
Now, three years into writing for that particular site, I realized that there was something called the positive aging movement and that it was kind of unfolding organically. George M Vaillant, who was the director of the Harvard study on adult development, which is the biggest study on adult development ever done, wrote a book called Aging Well. In it, he talked about the importance of attitude in aging, which is probably the most important factor. He said, "At the end of the day, it's not so much about your cholesterol numbers that makes you age well. It's about the attitude that you have for embracing the years." So as I said, it's not something that I sought out and suddenly, I realized I was a part of it because I believe that we all want to live as vibrantly and energetically as we can or as long as we can.
Frank: How do you see some of the key things you see different aging of our parents and retirement versus what's happening today in what we're calling the positive aging movement?
Stephanie: Well, I think our parents had a vision of you stopped working at 65. When you stop anything, you recede a bit from life. So for example, when my mother retired, she was a working woman and she retired at 65. Her life slowed and she did less, and less, and less. She didn't have that forward momentum because there was no model of it anywhere in the culture. For our generation, for the boomers, not going terribly gently into that good night, there is a model emerging that says, "Keep moving forward."
The way that that's reflected is in this last election cycle, 2018, we had more women over the age of 50 run for local, state, and national political office than ever before. So people are beginning to get this idea of encore career, "There's more that I can do." It's not just about sitting and waiting now. Keep moving. The forward momentum is part of what aging positively is all about. So those are the ways I think that that's a difference between our generation and our parents' generation. We have a model and they don't, and we're also creating a model as we go along.
Frank: Right, right, right. I mean, the statistics show people are in the workplace a lot longer. You just wonder what percentage of those need to be or want to be. I'm not too certain about the percentages there. I don't know if you are?
Stephanie: I don't know anything about the stats on that. I agree that some people work because, yes, there's a need to keep bringing in an income. Work is a good thing. We identify with and define a lot of our lives through the work that we do. So there's this kind of like if you retire and you have the money to say, "Okay, I don't need to work." There's kind of this little identity crisis that I think happens for a lot of people. It's like, "Well, who am I without my job?"
Frank: Right, right. Listen, I know people personally and you hear about it all the time going, "I don't want to retire. What am I going to do?" What do you say to people that say that?
Stephanie: Well, then I say, "Find a way not to retire." I don't really like the word retirement anymore because it implies to retire is to slow and to stop. Once you lose momentum, there is kind of a stasis that I don't think is good for us on a physical, or emotional, or mental level. The movement in life, whether it's physical activity or how you nourish your mind or your heart, is essential to healthy aging. So if you don't want to stop working, I don't think there's any reason not to.
There was a great pioneer in the mid-'60s named Maggie Kuhn, K-U-H-N. Maggie Kuhn started an organization called the Gray Panthers. When she started the Gray Panthers, the law of the land was that it was mandatory that you retire at the age of 65. She went in and ended up testifying before Congress that this was not necessarily a good thing, that some people wanted to continue working. So I think that there's plenty of opportunity to continue with one's work, and there's plenty of opportunity for encore careers. I see a lot of creativity in people my age that create encore careers for themselves, entrepreneurial kind of stuff that they might not have done in their age 25-65 work life.
Frank: Right. We spoke earlier and you referred to the three A's of aging well. Want to go through those with us?
Stephanie: Sure. They are activity, adaptability, and attitude. The attitude speaks for itself. I mean, good attitude that's infused with a practice of gratitude for life, that gets you a long way regardless of what age you are. Attitude is essential and along with attitude, the relationships that attitude creates. We need to be with other people. We need to be in community. We need to be with family. We need to have friends. That's all under attitude.
Activity is everything that is physical, but also mental and spiritual. We need to have activity so that we're walking every day so that we're getting our heart rate up so that we're breathing deeply so that we're getting out into the fresh air so that we have, whether it's an exercise class, or dancing, or something, something that keeps us moving. Now, I recognize, and the first to admit, that connective tissue isn't what it used to be in my body. But that doesn't mean that's an excuse to stop. It just means you adapt. Adaptability is a key to how we age as well.
Those are the three A's, attitude, adaptability, activity. Also, keep your mind active. Go to films, discuss them, read books, do crossword puzzles, do the things that challenge you a little bit. I think challenges especially important as we age, that it pushes us out of our comfort zone.
Frank: Right. So it was interesting you mentioned physical, mental, and spiritual health. Any recommendations you could give to our listeners on what they can do daily to help promote physical, mental, and spiritual health?
Stephanie: Daily, you can walk. If you're still mobile, walking for an hour a day. You don't have to start out with an hour, that's the thing. You can start out with 10 minutes and work up to an hour. But brisk walking, increase your stride. Walking is something that we can do throughout our life. So walking every morning is a good thing. I have a dog that gets me out the door and walking. Dogs are sometimes the best trainers that we can employ. So adaptability daily is to meet the challenges of aging and to find ways to circumvent them. For example, if you have knees that ache a little bit from a little bit of arthritis, which some of us do at 65, make sure that you get that walk in because those endorphins will kick in and your pain levels will lessen.
Certainly, stimulating the mind. I would say it's good to read something every day. That's something all of us can do, whether it's articles on the internet, whether it's a good old-fashioned newspaper, which I kind of miss, or a book. But read something. Feed your mind, nourish your mind. Then finally, to work with oneself spiritually daily, whether it's contemplation, reflection, prayer, or just sitting in gratitude. This life is miraculous. Taking time to just say, "Thank you," to breathe in thank you and breathe out thank you, it gives a sense of peace, a sense of purpose, and a sense of calm in one's life.
Frank: Great. Very good. So let's talk a little bit about vision. I know when we were younger, you try to have a vision for yourself, a vision for your career, a vision for your family, and all that. But once you start getting into your 60s, 70s, 80s, what about that vision? Should there be a new vision? What are your thoughts there?
Stephanie: I think there's a vision at every decade of one's life. Of course, in our 20s, 30s, 40s, that vision was different because it was more goal-oriented, where you wanted to go with your career, how you wanted to raise your family. There was more ambition involved. Yet, the question of vision at this stage of life I think is even more important because you're envisioning, let's say you're envisioning the last 20 or 30 years. The life that I've already lived is much longer than the life that I have yet to live. That puts a sense of urgency on things. So the vision of my 60s, 70s, 80s is, "How then do I want to structure my life? How then do I want to live my life?"
This becomes more of an interior process, an inner process, even though you can still add goals and ambitions, no problem there. But the interior process of, "What kind of person do I want to be? How do I want to be remembered? Now that I have this extra time on my hand, how can I best practice love in my life? Can I make it a point to give that stranger a compliment? Should I make it a point to welcome people with warmth? Should I grow more tolerant of things that maybe aren't in my purview? What kind of person do I want to become? What will make me proud to say, 'Yes, I strive for that'?"
Now, no one ever gets it perfect. No one ever gets it right. We know that life is messy. But somehow, the practice of that as part of your vision in your 60s I think is crucial. I think that, once again, when you hit 70 or when you hit 80 that we ask ourselves the question, "How then shall I live my life?"
Frank: That's great. Very good. So now, Stephanie, thanks so much for joining us, again. You brought up something in our discussion before, and it's kind of interesting because I've got friends of mine who have moved into retirement or partial retirement and they've taken up art. When I talk about art, I'm talking about painting art. There's a lot of forms of art. Why do you think art is so important as we age?
Stephanie: Because I think it's innate in us to want to make things. In a younger life when we're busy creating a career and a family, what we're making is a career and a family. But beyond that, there's something that asks us to express ourselves in some way. Painting is certainly part of that, any kind of sketching or drawing, but I include within that art also writing, the making of things. I have women friends that took up weaving that do fiber crafts with knitting and crocheting. Not only is art making things, but it's a kind of meditative process. Your focus narrows like it does in meditation, so your mind isn't jumping all over the place and you're just focused on what it is you're creating.
I also think that art has implied in its definition an overarching sense that it's not just the art we make, but it's the way we live our life, that we live our life in a creative way. I think it can be art to be in one's kitchen and create a nutritious meal. I think that it can be art to be in one's garden and create a thing of beauty that everyone can admire in the spring and the summer. There are many ways to express art. But this is a time in life when expressing that art, once again, I just think it's crucial and it's part of the beauty of aging that we get to slow down enough to deal with the nuance and the perfection of making something.
Frank: That's great. Wonderful. So I want to also ask you about your podcast. So as you know, I've been doing a podcast and radio show, it's going on a decade now. I love promoting other podcasts as well. I think it's just a tremendous way to educate people. Yours is called Coffee Table Wisdom. I love it. So tell us a little bit about the podcast and how people can connect to it.
Stephanie: Well, you have this smooth mastery over podcasting. I'm a rookie, but I love it. I originally started this podcast as a platform for the message that I deliver in my book, A Delightful Little Book on Aging. Then I was surprised how much I enjoyed interviewing people that also shared in the positive aging message and how much fun it was to hear people's stories. It's a lovely experience and I am a total rookie at it, but I'll tell you, a lot of people my age haven't gotten into podcasts yet. And if you haven't gotten into podcasts yet, go for it. It is the new radio. There's a few shows that I kind of have on my list. I live in a big area now where I have to drive a lot of places just to get my errands done, and I take my iPhone and I turn on a podcast and it's heaven. It's just heaven. So it's really a lot of fun.
Frank: Yeah. Do you have guests each time on the show?
Stephanie: I have guests each time. The format of the show is that I was inspired by Ira Glass, and This American Life, who has a wonderful podcast, and he kind of tells the American story. He doesn't have famous people on or even partially famous people on his show. He brings out the extraordinary in people's stories that are couched within the ordinary of people's lives. So my show starts out always with me reading an essay that I've written that relates to the guest that I'm interviewing.
I recently interviewed a guy from a radio show in Massachusetts. The essay that I read was about meeting Kinky Friedman 25, 30 years ago when I was a secretary at a television show called The Midnight Special. So I read that essay, and then the interview was about how radio has changed for us in the last 30 or 40 years. Because when you and I were coming of age, you pretty much got AM radio and then suddenly, FM took over.
Frank: Yeah, that was big.
Stephanie: It was a whole big deal. So now it's changed so much and here we are at the podcast, which is the next incarnation of something so ancient, which is this idea that we all have a story to tell. Where we used to gather around a fire and tell stories that had maybe a morality tale to it or cautionary tale to it, we now tell stories in podcasts. I don't think that any of us ever tire of listening to each other's stories because we seek to find our own story within other stories.
Frank: Right. No, that's great. Congratulations on the podcast. I think you'll do well with it. So congratulations also on your book. I know firsthand the amount of time, and effort, and dedication it takes to come out with a book. Your book is A Delightful Little Book on Aging.
When I wrote my book, I tried to do a little research just to kind of see what's out there and kind of maybe take a little different twist to it because mine also, it's called The Aging Boomers. So how has your book kind of different than what's out there? Give us maybe some highlights if you can. Why would people want to go out and get yours versus others that are being promoted?
Stephanie: Well, my book is not a how-to book. It doesn't tell anybody how to age well. My book is a personal account. I'm not a sociologist, or a psychologist, or a theologian. So I write from a very personal experience, and I write as a writer. Writers, those of us who write full-time, are observers of life. In that we seek to tell the truth about those observation in the most authentic emotional way we can. So my book is a collection of essays that deal with four aspects of aging. The aspect of grief because aging takes place against the backdrop of grief never before known to us.
Although we have lost all throughout our life, losses increase as we get older. We lose a sense of athletic prowess. We lose friends. We lose a sense of identity that went with our work. Yet, grief, even though in this culture we like to push it away and run from it, but grief is one of the great transformative forces in life. Grief can be a doorway to openness into what's next so that all the time, there's this process in the heart of experiencing loss and then opening to what's next.
In this book, I write about vision and the importance of having a vision in one's 60s, 70s, and 80s, which we talked about earlier. I also write about reclamation. Reclamation is all those things that we cast aside as we were going through life because of obligation. Even though I wanted to write when I was in my 30s and 40s, I had marriage, and a mortgage, and businesses, and things to take care of that didn't quite lend themselves so I put that writing thing aside. It was a luxury. So here I am in my 60s, reclaiming that love of writing and expressing that.
My husband, similarly, was in college and he had to make this decision. "Am I going to be a full-time musician, or am I going to move on into the sciences?" He chose to move on into the sciences, so the music kind of got set aside. Now, in his 60s, he's got a bass guitar again. He comes up to his music room in the evening, and he plays bass. With the help with the computer and the magic of the internet is he can play bass with the Eagles or anyone who wants to.
Finally, the last section of the book is about laughter. That what gets us through life at any age is you got to have a sense of humor. Humor's not just belly laughter. Humor is also delight, just a delight of life, the makes us smile. I think smiling is a good way to go out.
Frank: Great. So, Stephanie, thank you so much. Tell people maybe your website, how they could learn more about what you're doing.
Stephanie: You can find me stephanieraffelock.com. You can preorder my book at firstname.lastname@example.org. There's a space on my website that says contact us if you just want to share with me what your ideas are about positive aging or anything I've written. I love to hear from people. Yeah, like that.
Frank: Fantastic. Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today. I really appreciate it. I want to thank everybody out there for joining us on Boomers Today. Just be safe out there and we'll talk to y'all soon.