People Helping People

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Title: People Helping People Community, Identity, Memory, and Place at the Senior Friendship Center
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Mora, Loren
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2010
Publication Date: 2010


Subjects / Keywords: Elderly
Ethnography: Aging
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This thesis provides an ethnographic case study of the Senior Friendship Center (SFC) in Sarasota, FL. Within an American cultural context of aging, I will explore how Reminiscence and ritual work together to construct identity, community, and �home�. Relying on Myerhoff, I discuss how Reminiscence and ritual turn space into place by infusing it with memory and meaning on the individual and collective level. These constructions result in the formation of elder-friendly places necessary for successful aging.
Statement of Responsibility: by Loren Mora
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2010
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Vesperi, Maria

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2010 M8
System ID: NCFE004295:00001

Permanent Link:

Material Information

Title: People Helping People Community, Identity, Memory, and Place at the Senior Friendship Center
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Mora, Loren
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2010
Publication Date: 2010


Subjects / Keywords: Elderly
Ethnography: Aging
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This thesis provides an ethnographic case study of the Senior Friendship Center (SFC) in Sarasota, FL. Within an American cultural context of aging, I will explore how Reminiscence and ritual work together to construct identity, community, and �home�. Relying on Myerhoff, I discuss how Reminiscence and ritual turn space into place by infusing it with memory and meaning on the individual and collective level. These constructions result in the formation of elder-friendly places necessary for successful aging.
Statement of Responsibility: by Loren Mora
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2010
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Vesperi, Maria

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2010 M8
System ID: NCFE004295:00001

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People Helping People: Comm unity, Identity, Memory, and Place at the Senior Friendship Center By Loren Mora A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Maria Vesperi Sarasota, Florida April, 2010


Acknowledgm ents I would like to thank the Senior Friendship Ce nter for allowing welcoming me into their community and for all their kindness. This thesis would obviously not be possible without them This thesis would also not be possible without the guidance of Maria Vesperi who spent months continuously editing my drafts as I repeatedly forgot how to write. Also, thank you for being my academic advisor during the four years I have spent at New College. You have made my brain leak out of my ears and I now understand the world in a completely different way. Lastly, I would like to thank a ll the lost boys for continuously showing me the beauty of the world by being a part of it. And for he lping me form the memory of when I was young. Oh, and thank you to whoever invented pickles. ii


Table of Contents Abstract ...iii Introduction..1 Chapter 1 Successful Aging.....6 Reminiscence and Identity..13 Re-membering.19 Space and Place Fronts Ritualization..35 Chapter 2 The Senior Friendship Center........39 The Community.43 Methodology..46 Chapter 3 Life Histories......52 Socrates..53 Ellen...65 Patty...72 Chapter 4 Memory and Individual Identity Socrates......85 Ellen... Patty...88 iii


Memory and Group Identity..89 SFC, Group Memory, Group Identity........91 Place... Conclusion.96 iv


v People Helping People: Community, Identity, and Memo ry in Elder-Friendly Places Loren Mora New College of Florida, 2010 Abstract This thesis provides an ethnographic case study of the Senior Friends hip Center (SFC) in Sarasota, FL. Within an American cultu ral context of agi ng, I will explore how reminiscence and ritual work together to construct identity, community, and home. Relying on Myerhoff, I discuss how reminis cence and ritual turn space into place by infusing it with memory and meaning on i ndividual and collective levels. These constructions can result in the formation of elder-friendly places necessary for successful aging. Professor Maria Vesperi Division of Social Sciences


Introduction I dont like the weekends. Well, Im alone. When I come here Im with people. Rose Every individual experiences the process of aging in a unique and different way. Maria Vesperi emphasizes that the universal experience of aging is among the basics of social life along with kinship, gender relations subsistence, ritual and even death. She laments that many people fail to recognize this (Vesperi 2000: 22). Vesperi also addresses the notion that since individuals struggle to understand for themselves what it means to be regarded as old, anthropology al so struggles to represent their experiences (2000: 4). I began this thesis feeling confused and unsure of how to talk about the universal experience of aging. I feel that the issues and ch allenges older people confront as they age need to be recognized by the larger society. I began my thesis with an understanding that there is a problem with the way Ameri can culture treats the older members of its society. But I could not identif y exactly what that problem was. Vesperi explains how the effects resulting from the marginalization and mi streatment of old people are culturally understood as the eff ects of old age itself (1986: 149). I thought specifically of nursing homes. I had only been to a nursing home once when I was around eight years old; my family and I were visiting Elsie, an old family friend. She never married and had no living family. I remember that the woman she shared a room with did not have a family either. During the full duration of our visit Elsies roommate continuously said, Thats nice, Elsie, whenever Elsie talked. Elsie never heard her say that because Elsie had hearing problems. This is the only thing I reme mber from my first a nd only experience at a nursing home, but I do recall feeling extremely sad after hearing Elsies roommate 1


repeat those words. At the tim e, I did not know why this made me sad. Right now it makes me sad because it expresses the seve re isolation and loneliness nursing homes have the potential to create. Ones life can be a room shared with someone who never hears, Thats nice, Elsie. I wanted to study aging because I find it very interesting that old age is an other that we all will become. On a more personal le vel, I felt that by studying old age I would learn something valuable about life. A third reas on is simply my belief that growing older is a beautiful process that I hope I am lucky enough to experience. It saddens me that almost everyone I know does not want to grow old. This sentiment confuses me For this reason, I wanted to focus my thesis on aging to s ee how older people expe rience the process. This thesis is an ethnographic study of the Senior Friendship Center (SFC) in Sarasota, Florida. I visited SFC two or three ti mes a week for the duration of five months. I spent my time there attending various classes, playing Wii bowling, conversing with people, and eating lunch with them. I began my resear ch with the notion that I would examine the ways identity and space were constructed at SFC. I ended up collecting life histories and my analysis focuses on memory as an individual an d collective resource that constructs space and identity. Most of the work I read on aging identifie d two specific challenges that older people face. The first focuses on the individuals unders tanding of self in conjunction with societys view of him or her. Some scholars argue that old people struggle to maintain a continuous sense of self. This issue becomes even more difficult when old people must also face societys assumptions and expectations of who they should be. These types of studies focus on identity and self understandi ng as the main challenge of aging. Other works extended the 2


m ain challenge of aging beyond the realm of the individual. They define old peoples marginalization as a central problem they encounter. Marginality keeps them out of view from the rest of society and they are never offered avenues for appearing before others. Appearing is important because it allows for self-presentation and self-definition. With this thesis, I hoped to figure out how older people can avert such challenges while maintaining a positive experience of aging. I feel that these challenges center on the idea of home. The discourse on aging led me to the conclusion that the homes function as a financial, physical, social, and emotional resour ce makes it a central asset for older people to age successfully. I wanted to look at how people use meaningful memories and selfperformative acts to recreate the space around them and maintain a home. By looking at memory and rituals ability to infuse spaces with meaning, I try to present something practical that older people can do to help preserve the kind of life they want. In Chapter One I conduct a focused survey of the literature on the anthropology of aging, situa ting the universal experience of aging within the American cultural context. I examine how issues of physical health and functioning, material security, family, and sociality, structure Am erican cultures definition of the life course and successful aging. Following this is an eval uation of various theo ries that attempt to explain how older people respond to cultural understandings of old age and definitions of successful aging. Attention is given to how older people us e reminiscence and memory as a means to understand and construct identity. This leads to an exploration of Myerhoffs (1979) ideas of group re-membering, definitional ceremonies, and cultural mirroring. Group re-member sustains and builds the community. Definitional ceremonies invent a space that provides a group with the opportunity for self-presentati on and self-definition th at has as its goal 3


cultural m irroring. To bette r understand Myerhoffs ideas of reminiscence, group remembering, and definitional ceremonies, I explore the relationship between people and space. I look at reterritorializ ation to addresses the complex relationship between people and groups as social agents situated in space. W ith the aid of Goffman (1959) and Hochschild (1985), I further explore how space constructs th e identities individuals are expected to embody and perform. From here I use Catherine Bells (1992) idea of ritu alization to explore the process in which individuals respond to cultural expectations of identity while restructuring the world around them. I summarize other case-studies within the discourse on aging in light of these ideas. This chapter ends with the notion that successful aging largely depends on the individuals ability to reterr itorialize space and perf orm acts of cultural mirroring. Chapter Two introduces the Senior Friendship Center I summarize the organizations history, present its mission statement, and detail the variety of programs and services offered. I introduce Barbara Celnar the Centers direct or, and present her interpretation of SFC and its role within the larger Sarasota community. This chapter ends with a narration of my entrance into th e community and the methodology I used. Chapter Three presents the life histories of three me mbers of SFC. I briefly highlight the themes surfacing in Socrates, Ellen, and Pattys life hi stories. Chapter Four examines in greater detail the individual use of memory to construct identity. I apply this analysis to Socrates, Ellen, and Pattys life histories. Then I conti nue to analyze how collective memory constructs group identity and apply this idea to SFC. This leads to an exploration of how place is constructed from space. Chapter Four ends by stressing the importance of home for successful aging. 4


I felt awkward and out o f place during my first experiences at SFC because there was no place for me. As I continued coming to SFC the people there began opening themselves up to me. I always remained an outsider, but I became their outsider. That was the place created for me. I began to gain acceptance from the community only when I began to develop personal relationships and gain acceptance fr om its individuals. This taught me how community is created and experi enced on the individual level a nd depends on the interactions occurring between people. I would like to begi n my thesis with this idea in mind. Only individuals, people, can overcome the challenge s presented by culture and create a better world. 5


Chapter 1 Litera ture Review Successful Aging American gerontology frequently defines agi ng as a strictly psychobiological process that all individuals experience in the same wa y. Research shows, however, that aging is a culturally constructed experience. In Cultu re and the Meaning of a Good Old Age, Christine Fry et al (2009) explore what makes a good old age in various cultural contexts. Project Age represents the results of research in seven culturally and structurally diverse communities throughout the world. The goal of th is project was to explore how different communities shape the experience of aging a nd pathways to well-being for their older members (Fry et al 2009: 100). Each site linked four major issu es to old age that manifested differently in each specific social, economic, and political context. Physical health and functioning; material security; family; and social ity in old age were examined at each site. The result is a cross-cultural compar ison of successful aging (2009: 102). Since my research focuses on the American construction of old age, I will focus on the aspects of their research that address how the American notion of old age is culturally formulated. The first issue, physic al health, maintains central im portance because of its social rather than physical ramifications. Physical h ealth allows people to maintain a degree of independence that American culture highly va lues. Healthy older Americans are those who engage in various activities, have energy, and can perform various tasks that allow one to live an independent life. Good health also extends beyond the physical to the mental (2009: 103105). The United States is an industriali zed nation with abun dant technology where commodities, foods, and labor-saving devices can be purchased. This allows most Americans to live a life that requires little labor and physical stamina. Wh en physical limitations due to 6


health prevent older people from living their lives uninhibited, compensa tions in the form of medicine and services can be purchased. Heari ng aids, wheelchairs, and other aids along with such services as house cleaning allow adults with chronic disabi lities to live long, independent lives (Fry, et al 2009: 106). The second issue, material security, seem s to contribute more towards successful aging than health does in the United States capitalis t economy, where good health and medical treatment are regarded as commoditie s. In many parts of the world, food is the primary concern. However, for most American s the focus is on money and income after retirement (2009: 107). Material security allows older Americans to maintain their independence and freedom. Once this security is gone and as they are less able to perform various tasks, people can become subject to the mercy of thei r children or reliant on nursing homes. According to Fry et al su ch a fate signals bad old age. Project Age also found that American families play less of a role in economic and physical support than in other countries (2009: 111). While U.S. families at times do provide financial support, it is not necessarily long-te rm. More important is the trust and social support of the family; a healthy older American has a family that provides companionship, trust, and intimacy. According to Fry et al, difficulty with fam ily in old age results from the loss of spouses and disagreements with children (Fry, et al 2009: 112-114). Finally, Fry et al. mention sociality as an important factor in successful aging. In the United States this involves act ive participation an d visibility in social networks and situations. Since most Americans relay on themselves economically, people do not expect to tolerate unpleasant or difficult relatives and acquaintances. Relationships are defined more by temperament and compatibility than by depe ndence. Project Age researchers found that 7


socially successful older Am ericans maintain strong relationships through their concern for others and by projecting pleasan t personalities (2009: 116-118). One unique factor about the United States is the more minor role family relations play in a good, or bad, old age. Since most needs are purchased in the market, families are not ones safety net. The importance of family ta kes precedence at the end of ones life when financial resources are exhausted and one b ecomes completely dependent on others (2009: 120). Adequate wealth and technology al ong with emphasis placed on the value of independence make kin support less common (2009: 121). Fry et al. conclude, Our best advice about selecting a place in which to grow old is to choose the community you now ca ll home. Live in it for a long time and invest in its social relationships. Your investment will pay off in an old age in which you are perceived and supported in individual terms, not as an old person(2009: 122). Yet, it is not that simple. As one ages, the decline of physical health and economic resources result in older people no longer having the ability to support themselves nor the ability to live in the place they call home. The only way for one to po ssess a good old age with success in the four important defining areas these authors discuss is through the resource of a home, broadly defined. A good old age requires a good community, a go od home, in which to age. In Aging in the Hood: Creating and Sustaining Elder-F riendly Environments, Phillip B. Stafford shifts focus from the individual elder to the elder-in-community in look ing at health in old age. Stafford provides specific case examples that reveal the important elements of the bodyin-place. As the home becomes an extension of the body of the elder, we can surmise that sudden removal from that environment represents an act of violence akin to amputation 8


(Stafford 2009A: 449). Since hom e provides mean ing, physical support, financial stability, and a social network for the in dividual, the loss of it can resu lt in the loss of everything (2009A: 447-451). Here, the definition of home is not merely the physically constructed building where one lives; it is the community and resources this place, by its nature, provides. Staffords work is based on the resear ch he conducted through the AdvantAge Initiative (AI). AI conducted scientific survey s in multiple cities and regions nationally in order to organize a framework for systema tic, evidence-based community planning (2009B: xix). AI began when Penny Feldman, the director of the Center for Home Care Policy and Research at the Visiting Nurse Serv ice of New York, discovered that there was no systematic framework of indicators that a community could use for measuring elderfriendliness (2009B: 31). AI first embarked on a cross national journey through four diverse communities: Chicago, Illinois; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Rale igh, North Carolina; and Long Beach, California, with the goal of defining what an elderly-friendly community looks like. Researchers used randomized calls to create th ree panels of older people ranging from age 45 to 90 in age in the four communities. Each group created collages expressing what they believed necessary for an elder-friendly co mmunity (2009B: 32). AI selected measurable indicators from these collages, including accessible transportation, affordable housing, meaningful volunteer work, and access to preven tative health services (2009B: 33). From the 33 indicators, AI created a survey to be conduc ted in ten different re gions across the nation with the goal of implementing a community pl anning process in the ten regions. In each community a random sample of 500 individual s over the age of 65 t ook the survey (2009B: 33-37). AI used the data in conjunction with comparisons of other communities to raise 9


awareness about aging issues; to design act ion plans around particular indicators; to undergird d ecisions by multiple community interests around the allocations of resources; and, ideally, to monitor progress toward goals through remeasuring selected indicators at a later date (2009B: 38). Stafford acknowledges that there are multiple pathways for reaching these goals (2009B: 43). AI organized th ese goals into four domains cen tral to an el derly-friendly community: the ability to 1. address basic needs; 2. promote social and civic engagement; 3. optimize physical and mental health and well being; and 4. maximize independence for frail and disabled (2009B: 33). With this model Stafford moves beyond the individual elderly to the environments where they live. These environments not only directly affect the indi viduals life but also function as a central component in public policy and program development (2009A: 443). Stafford uses examples to situate body-in-p lace; this designates the importance of the cultural concept of home. Stafford identifies four key assets indicative of home which together encompass what he terms the livab ility movement, a m ovement aware of the precedence of the body-in-place (2009A: 451). Th e four assets that home provides for the body-in-place are a place for memories, a phys ically supportive environment, a financial cushion, and placement in a social network (2009A:447). Staffords four key assets of home are th e same as the four key issues Fry et al describe as determining factor s in the production of a successful old age. Simply put, successful aging means successful maintenance of home. However, Stafford finds the reality is that American culture takes chronologica l age as valid reason to categorize people and then segregate them into different living environments (2009A: 445). Such segregation makes the maintenance of a home particular ly difficult. Since home extends beyond the 10


physical house to the larger surrounding comm unity, the aging indivi dual has less control over preserving this space as hom e. Staffords recently published book, Elderburbia (2009B), addresses this issue through an in tensive analysis of successful community building. Beginning in the 1950s, suburbia promised the perfect place to for the American family to raise its children. This trend has continued with the baby boomers and young adults today. The post-World War II parents who have grown old in these subu rbs are being joined by the now aging baby boomers. According to St afford, more older people live in the suburbs than in cities and towns combined (2009 B: xv). Stafford calls this Elderburbia and challenges whether it is a successful place to age. Staffords work with the AdvantAge Init iative (AI) structures his research on Elderburbia. Stafford says that AI can direct municipalities toward creating improved aging environments (2009B: xix). He documents the el aborate trends of th e migration of older Americans and addresses future demographic changes and how communities must prepare. He argues for a paradigm shift within the fiel ds of gerontology and ge riatricsa shift from a predominate focus on the individual aging body to a focus on the body-in-place, where place refers not merely to the physical forces of the environment, but to the meaning-laden lifeworld that we occupy. Such a perspective leads reformers to a new set of questions about aging in America. Instead of asking how it is th at individual elders suc ceed at aging, it asks what are the characteristics of communities that enable elde rs to flourish? (2009B: 31). Stafford acknowledges and compensates for the limits of the study by arguing for the centrality of participation as a tool for comple menting and interpreting the data in the most productive way. He stresses that an elder-friendly community must serve all members, 11


regardless of age, since creati ng a community focused on serving one particular age group is largely undemocratic. S tafford directly links the well-being of older people with the wellbeing of everyone in a community. He stresses the importance of participation in community building because of its effectiveness in incl uding a holistic demogr aphic of people from varying perspectives. Since the needs of one generation fail to completely match the needs of the next, he highlights that community bu ilding requires constant participation and innovation (2009B: 51-82). Staffords Elderburbia shows the importance of people s engagement with place. His approach to understanding aging focuses on place and relationships rather than time and the body (2009B: xviii). Stafford begins by illustrating the climate of the average small city as people grow old. He also explores migration a nd the choices people make in selecting places to retire. He points out that the U.S. populati on is steadily growing older, which will require radical structuring and restructuring of comm unities and cities. The AdvantAge Initiatives work in community building centers on future demographic changes and the needs of the older population. According to Stafford, restructuring can re sult in the new Elderburbia, a community that works for people across the lifespan (2009B: 141). In this model, a successfully designed elder-friendly space requires the co llaboration of ethnographic research in community participation and designers across the spectrum working together to create a framework that integrates the social and th e physical (2009B: 141-142). Stafford designates five design principles that must be central to their e fforts: 1. neighborliness; 2. an environment for growth, learning, and autonomy; 3. a positive image of the environment; 4. diverse housing; and 4. a community for all ages (2009B: 142). All of these principles 12


em phasize aging as a phenomenon of place, not time. This view of aging helps resolve the complications of old ages ambiguous categorical definition. Instead of worrying about who is old and what is old, the jettisoning of time for a focus on place creates a community serving all its members. The difference between place and space is im portant to Staffords discussion. As geography, space refers to arbitrarily assigned physical reference points. Space becomes place through processes of human interaction. Place comes about when space is infused with meaning (2009B: 15). For this reas on, most nursing homes do not exemplify the successful aging communities found in Staffo rds discussion. The inherent bond between body and place further highlights the significan ce of place. Stafford demarcates the significance of the home place, going as far to say that the home becomes a mirror for the self (2009B: 3). He provides the example of peoples ability to walk through a familiar place with their eyes closed because ones body knows the place (2009B: 5). The connection and interaction between body and place, which re sults in meaning and control, create the significance of home (2009B: 79). This contrasts sharply with images of nursing homes where the residents have no control and memories of past inha bitants vanish. In Staffords analysis, home affords significance in as far as it gives one a sens e of place while aging. However, he does clarify that others spaces can provide this sense of place. His focus is on how individuals can successfully fill the sp aces they occupy with meaning and memory (2009B: 14). Reminiscence and Identity The search for an answer begins with an exploration of memory and reminiscence. The last 40 years of gerontol ogical research contained, in the words of Stafford, a 13


fascination with rem iniscence. Gerontologists viewed reminiscence as a natural process with therapeutic qualities that helped one create a final definition of self in preparation for death. Stafford specifically acknowledges Sharon Kaufmans, The Ageless Self (1986), as an important anthropological work in this field because it augmented scholarships understanding of the function of reminiscence by arguing for a new definition. As Stafford explains, she progressively shifted the notion of reminiscence through he r definition of it as a process (2009B: 85). Always continuous with earl ier selves, the self ne ver ceases to utilize reminiscence in the active process of constructing its self. Reminiscence is the act of utilizing ones memory to infuse the present with mean ing. This continuous process lasts the duration of ones life and consequentially affirms that in old age we are not disjoined from our earlier selves (2009B: 85) Before looking more closely at plac e, I will examine Kaufmans ideas of reminiscence. For scholars such as Kaufman, the issues of aging are more internal and center on one maintaining a continuity of self. In The Ageless Self Kaufman collects the life stories of sixty individuals over the age of 70 in hopes of better understanding what she terms the ageless self, which she defines as identity in old age. Kaufman emphasizes the importance of the present moment in creating the ageless self. The present significance of past experiences and the present discernment of meaningful symbols and events of ones life form the foundation of ones identity in old age. For Kaufman, the ke y to understanding the ageless self lies in the life stories of old people and the recurrent themes that reside within life stories. As she explains, Themes identify the personal, idiosyncratic ways of experiencing and communicating meaning in the individual li fethe ways in which people interpret experience so as to give unique internal continuity and structure to the self (Kaufman 1986: 14


115). She analyzes these them es with three specific issues in mind: the themes expressed in the life stories of the study group, the sources of themes, and the function themes have in shaping identity (1986: 26). According to Kauf man, old people confront two main challenges of identity formation: providing a sense of cont inuity across the life span and reconciling the course of a life with ideals and expectations of how a life should be lived (1986: 27). Kaufman believes that themes meet these tw o challenges by drawing meaning from past experiences that are integrated into the present (1986: 27). Ol d people constantly engage in this adaptive reinterpretation of making past experi ences significant to the present, thus creating a coherent picture of their pasts and a purposeful inte grated present (1986: 127). Kaufmans work centers on th e issue of identity. The pr oblem here is in defining ones identity and instilling purpose in the pr esent moment. Kaufmans work shows how old people do this as a reaction to the stereotypes en forced on them as they are placed within the cultural category of old age. However, Kaufman a ssumes that old people feel segregated into the category culture constructs for them and this is why she details this active process of maintaining a cohesive sense of identity. Ka ufman demarcates two challenges of identity formation. The first challenge requires that old people constantly reassimilate past experiences into the present because those pa st moments become unidentifiable along side ones present self. The second challenge demands that one reconcile this self with societys ideas and expectations of who one should be. However, I am led to question whether this internal struggle actually exists. Even if a disc repancy between ones actual self and societys expectations of who a person should be doe s exist, the individual might not feel any tension or pressure to reconcile the two. It maybe that some ol der people do not fall into the category laid out for them and experience no struggle in maintaini ng a cohesive self. 15


Yohko Tsujis work extends Kaufm ans id eas even further. She agrees with Kaufmans point that the signi ficance of reminiscence lies not in the past but in its orientation to the present. While Kaufman argues that the significance of this orientation to the present is central to the formation of a c ohesive identity in old age, Tsuji argues that reminiscence works to reaffirm an old persons already established identity in opposition to societys marginalized characterization. Remini scence also works on th e collective level to heighten the sense of belonging and to b ridge the gap between public and private experiences (Tsuji 2009: 5). Tsuji is a Japanese anthropologist who e xpressed feelings of bewilderment and confusion when Americans expressed harsh opini ons toward one of her friends who was an octogenarian. American cultures idea of old age contrast ed sharply with Tsujis cultural construction. In An Organization for the Elde rly by the Elderly: A Se nior Center in the United States Tsuji shows how the ways old people live their live s can bridge the gap between the cultural idea ls and the realities of aging (2009: 2). Tsuji examines the elderly community at Lake District Senior Center (LDSC) in upstate New York to explore the Centers function specifically as a stage for the elderly to dominate cultural values and to exhibit the ways in which culture shapes the or ganization of the Center and the patterns of elderly peoples acti vities (2009: 2). Tsuji found that three dominant Amer ican cultural valuesindependence, egalitarianism, and individual choiceplay an activ e role in the lives of the old people in this community. This is particularly interesting when considering that American culture defines old age as a category severely lacking these values (2009: 1) Some studies of old people argue that old people respond to this prejudice by disengagi ng from dominant American 16


values, bu t Tsuji argues the opposite (2009: 2). Sh e finds that older people embrace dominant American values in order to combat the prej udices projected on them. One problem facing old Americans is their social marginalization a nd the consequent projec tion of worthlessness that stems from it. The LDSC combats this by providing volunteer opportunities to its members (2009: 3-4). The community Tsuji works with counters th e cultural values originally used to marginalize them by establishing a sense of self based on the American themes of independence, egalitarianism and individual ch oice. These themes, which traditionally form the cultural identity of the young adult Amer icans who dominate and succeed in society, were present in old peoples lives when th ey were young. As Kaufman mentions, old people construct their identity thr ough themes that translate recurrently throughout their lives. The elderly, in turn, claim the themes American culture allowed them when they were younger because those themes still form their sense of identity. Tsujis article reveals how these particular old people dominated cultural ideals by utilizing LDSC as a stage to do so. Tsuji culturally situates the universal experience of aging. Her work extends Kaufmans idea of themes beyond the function of constructing a cohesive self identity to reclaiming cultural values for ones desired use. She establishes old peoples active role in confronting a culture that creates problems by establishing stereotypes and marginalizing them. Old people combat this antagonist, not by acts of aversion, but by acts of incorporation. Even though cu lture can create problems for old people while lacksing sufficient models for aging, it may also provide resources for combating this problem, Tsuji finds. The elderly utilize LDSC as a stage for combat (2009: 10-11). 17


Tsujis work deconstructs notions that Am erican cultu re and even scholars assume characterize older people. For example, Tsuji disregards Kaufmans understanding that old people have a fragmented sense of identity that continually reappropriates the past into to the present in order to infuse it with meaning. Fo r Tsuji older people possess an active and cohesive identity. While American culture tends to categorize older people as weak and passive, Tsuji deconstructs this assumption by illustrating how the individuals at the LDSC utilize this space to actively incorporate Ameri can values, thus establishing themselves as independent and active. She points to examples of active choices, such as isolated older people who have chosen to remove themselves from the rest of society in order to assert their independence (2009: 8). The seemi ngly negative stereotypes identi fied with old age can also be understood differently by older people. While the cultural idea of aging may contain various negative connotations, these ideas are not universally accepted. At the senior center where Tsuji worked, old age is a source of prid e. LDSC venerates its oldest member, age 97, and the Thursday group gives members over the age of 85 a lifetime membership. With such examples, Tsuji elucidates the fact that old need not necessarily connote stigma if old people dont bring that into their lives and upon their self identity and understanding. What Tsujis work essentially shows is that the ways old people live their lives bridge the gap between cultural assumptions and realitie s of old age. In this particular instance, LDSC provided the space for these individuals to bridge that gap. This highlights the importance of place that Stafford addresses in his discussion of home. Success in old age requires a home and community in which to grow and age. Place helps the individual to achieve the key components of a successful old age; an indivi dual also needs this space to successfully counter cultural stereotypes and prejudice. 18


Re-m embering Kaufmans psychological interp retation of reminiscences function adds valuable insight to what many aging indi viduals may experience internall y. From here it is important to note that reminiscence and memory serve not only the individual, bu t the culture as well. Barbara Myerhoffs work illustrates this. Her ethnography, Number Our Days (1979), focuses on a specific group of elderly European Jewish immigrants residing in California. In Myerhoffs ethnography, reminiscence and memorys cultural function are repeatedly expressed in concrete, ritual form. Myerho ff conducted her ethnography at the Israel Levin Center (ILC) in Venice, California. The individuals at the cent er share continuities between past and present circumstances a nd social isolation, that create the dynamics of the Centers culture (Myerhoff 1979A: 7-9). In an accompanying work, Remembered Lives (1979), Myerhoff situates the relevance of her ethnography within the context of ritual theory and the anthropology of aging. For Myerhoff, the key issue regarding aging in American society is the absence of shared meaning and collective repres entations for this period of life (1979B: 123). For many Americans, the ambiguity of this phase of life results in a deficiency of symbols and meaning from which to derive significance. Myerhoff notes that society physically sustains its older population but fa ils to recognize and nur ture psychological and emotional well-being (1979 B: 123). Myerhoff describes the unique form of r ecollection that Kaufmans work focuses on as re-membering. Re-membering unifies th e past, present, and future; infusing the individual with a sense of continuity and completeness (1979B: 240). This process works identically for a group or culture. This group re -membering exhibits the bodily experience of memory Stafford talks about. Group re-membering is important because it engages people in 19


an active process that su stains and builds co mmunity. As Myerhoff explains, this process involves finding linkages between the groups shared, valued beliefs and symbols, and specific historical events. Particularities are s ubsumed and equated with grander themes, seen as exemplifying ultimate concerns. Then such stor ies may be enlarged to the level of myth as well as artsacred and eternal justifications for how things are and what has happened. A life, then, is not envisioned as belonging only to the indivi dual who has lived it but it is regarded as belonging to the wo rld, to progeny who are heirs to the embodied traditions, or to God. Such re-membered lives are moral documents and their function is salvific, inevitably implying, All this has not been for nothi ng (1979B: 240). Stafford points out that Myerhoffs extension of memory beyond the indi vidual to the group establishes memory as a bodily experience. Not simply self-serving, me mory reenters the social world as a cultural resourcea device by which people do things to gether. Moreover, memory does not merely represent or signify the group, but helps to build it, to sustain it in an active, constitutive process (2009B: 87). Stafford urges an understa nding of this bodily experience of memory as it lives outside of peoples heads a nd in peoples lived, co llective, and bodily experiences of place (2009B: 87). Myerhoffs app lication of ritual th eory reveals exactly how memory functions as a bodily experi ence in the way Stafford describes. Ritual acts create and solidify group re-mem bering. The substantial lack of rites of passage for later life in American cult ure as a whole accounts for the ambiguous understanding and treatment of aging. Myerhoff explains that rites of passage establish significance by presenting to the society a paradi gm for the future, for the individual, and for the social order. Rituals also teach, socialize, inculcate, and clarify while jointly establishing the interconnected stat e of all its members to each othe r and to the society (1979B: 221). 20


Myerhoff stresses that the m ain, and most importa nt, theme of rites of passage is demarcating the interdependence and inseparability of the individual and the collective group (2009B: 222). She finds that memory functions as a cu ltural resource in peoples bodily experiences of place through rituals and that ritual ties memory to space, infusing it with meaning and transforming it to place. Space and Place Before expanding on Myerhoffs ideas of memory, I will explain current cultural notions of space and place in order to begin an exploration of SFC as place, the individual bodily experience of memory, and group memory. In Beyond Culture: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Differ ence Gupta and Ferguson examine th e notion of space to deconstruct definitions of culture and cultural difference. They begin with the example of nations to confront the presumption that spaces are autonomous. Although governments create national borders, culture fluctuates within and be yond these lines. Articulation models, whereby global capitalism disrupts primeval states of autonomy, reveal the constant transformation that occurs between local and larger spaces (Gupta and Ferguson 2007:338). Refugees, migrants, displaced and stateless people provide clear examples of the deterritorialization of space, putting to question notions of the here and the there that characterize space as supposedly autonomous (2007: 339-340). Instead of assuming a primal cohesive community, Gupta and Ferguson advocate an examination of how the given community wa s formed out of preexisting interconnected space (2007: 339). The power relations embedde d here provide clues toward understanding the process whereby a space takes on a distinct identity (2007: 339). Instead of creating a dichotomy of us and them and defining these as solid, closed categories, while 21


attem pting to create a dialogue between the two poles, anthropology should instead place more focus on exploring the processes of production of difference (2007: 341-343). One of Gupta and Fergusons central points is to k eep in mind that notions of locality or community refer both to a demarcated physical space and to clusters of interaction (2007: 339). Rather than exploring preexisting differen ces, their analysis focuses on the differenceproducing set of relations occurring from demarcated space and the inte ractions within that space. Gupta and Ferguson deconstruct binary noti ons of space and highlight the complexity of variables that form space and peoples relatio n to it. The association of people and place is not stable but constantly in flux. This continuously reterritori alizes peoples relationship and understanding of themselves and place. Individu als possess much flexibility and influence in constructing the world around them because peoples interactions consiste ntly reterritorialize space. As Gupta and Ferguson point out, binary di stinctions between spaces is a premature assessment. Therefore, one cannot identify a specific American understanding of space. Individuals reside in multiple fields that categorize the individual into multiple groups of us and multiple groups of them. Cuban-Americans highlight the complication of peoples notions of space. As a Cuban-Amer ican, I am both us and them. Some may believe that America is the space I belong to, wh ile others may argue that Cuba is where I belong. The reterritorialization of space in conjunction with the reterritorialization of notions of my identity depends on the ideology of the space I am in. An interesting and clear example of reterritorialized space occurs in Hialeah, Florida where the Latino community accounts for 92.17 percent of the citys population (2006 U. S. Census Bureau). This statistic makes quite 22


a statem ent. An outsider visiting Hialeah would observe such deta ils as the city street signs written in Spanish. Such observations can resu lt in an outsider formi ng an understanding of space that draws a stronger association between Hialeah and Havana, Cuba, than between Hialeah and Clearwater, Florida. This exampl e stress Gupta and Fergus ons point that the association of people and place is not a stable binary but rather a complex web of interactions that are constantly in flux. The binary categories of old and young people are visible in American culture and exemplify one of the many false dic hotomous definitions of people and places. According to Gupta and Fergusons model, th is disjunction results from how space is demarcated and from the interactions occurring within physical space. This association of a unitary group with a specific sp ace, and the binary dichotomy of here versus there, needs challenging. Gupta and Fergusons advice is es sential for evaluating the American cultural context of aging and American notions of old age. Their final bit of advice is that one must not try to create a dialogue between two differe nt poles (since space contains more than two binary poles) Instead, one must explore the pro cesses of production of difference, a necessary component that one mu st understand in order to succe ssfully reterritorialize space. In the case of the older American population, Myerhoffs ideas of reminiscence and ritual provide the tools for reterritorialization. The dichotomy of young versus old freque ntly results in attempts to evaluate old people through the cultural frame assigned to the young. This results in an assessment of deficits and a subsequent lack of visibility for older people within American society, as clearly exemplified in the works cited in this ch apter. Fry et als four major issues (physical health, material security, family, and sociality) affecting the American notion of successful 23


aging all hig hlight the salience of the American ideal of inde pendence. Within each of these issues, successful aging is achieved wherever the individual mainta ins independence. The salience of this particular notion of independe nce (a revered American value) demonstrates how American culture utilizes the cultural frame of th e larger, younger population to understand the older population and ignores the changing dynamics present as people age. Tsuji expands upon this by remarking that American culture defines old age as a category lacking dominant American values. Tsuji rev eals how the individuals at LDSC actively embrace independence, egalitarianism, and indivi dual choice to counter the assumptions and prejudices projected onto them. Although thes e individuals create th eir own reality and notions of self, they are still answerin g to larger cultural notions and ideas. In Elders, Ancients, Ancestors and the Modern Life Course, Maria Cattell and Steven Albert examine the life course as a mu ltidisciplinary field of investigation. The life course perspective considers the interaction between people, place, and time and how these factors structure the experience of aging (Cattell and Albert 2009: 115). They define the life course as a culturally construc ted pattern of sequen tial stages individuals move through as they age (2009: 116). Not only is the life course variously defi ned on its own, but also across culturally constructed ge nder, racial, and other structural divides. According to Cattell and Albert, research on aging shows that within the United States the life course has b ecome more flexible than prev iously thought (2009: 118). In the United States, civil rights and womens movements have altered social and economic landscapes and the American emphasis on i ndependence and autonomy have encouraged individuals to shape their own life course. S ubsequently, the American life course no long follows the three box model of education, work, retirement (2009: 129). Events signifying 24


life course transitions now occur at different ages across the life span. People m arry, have children, and enroll in college later than ever Furthermore, many transitions are gradual or even reversible, such as the function of divor ce to reverse the state of marriage. In many places poverty, war, and other forces limit i ndividual agency (2009: 120), but Cattell and Albert highlight the variation within the American experience of aging. Yet another aspect defining the life course of all Americans is the cultural ideal of indepe ndence as it functions with the sociopolitical and economic expect ations of each individuals position within society. In When Old is New: Cultural Spaces and Symbolic Meaning in Late Life, Jennie Keith explores how the life course functions as a tool for social organi zation that can define new cultural spaces within which old age is experienced. Not all cultures construct a sequentially patterned life course individuals move through as th ey age. In the United States such a staged life course is a reality that al lows for potential existence of cultural spaces defined by chronological age. Keith calls this a recent possibility resul ting from extended life expectancy. Residential communities for older people provide a tangible new cultural space (Keith 2009: 146-7). Although Americans employ i ndividual agency with in the life course, Keith stresses that there are strong cultural expe ctations that retired people move into agehomogeneous communities (2009: 148).This life-s tage transition brings together the new cultural space of retirement communities, with emerging cultural norms promoting agehomogeneous channels for social life and pers onal identity in the suburb, and shows their influence on definitions of life-stage expecta tions related to age (2009: 151). Keith shows how the life-stage of retired pe ople is a cultural space. The cultural identity of old age is a 25


place within American culture. This place of ol d age results in the expectation that upon transitioning to this life stage, old people wi ll move to culturally defined old spaces. Keith mentions that older people may fi nd ways to use their age-bound groups and communities as bases from which to open channels to other ages, first on the group level, and eventually for individuals. Age-homogeneous bonds that have provided access to personhood and social participation not available in so me mixed-age environments may eventually become a bridge back to fuller membership in communities that are truly elder-friendly (2009: 154). Keith describes Swarthmore, PN, as a specific example of this. In Swarthmore, age-homogenous groups provide support networks that provide resources that make aging less risky. This allows older people to continue living in and contribu ting to the Swarthmore community (2009: 152). This addresses Stafford s question regarding how older people fill the spaces they occupy with meaning. By enga ging in these new cultural spaces defined by age-homogeneous communities, old people can r eceive all the benefits provided by a home and community. From this position, this home, old people can enter into other cultural spaces and work towards turning mixed-age communities into elder-friendly spaces. Keiths work is relevant to my research because SFC functions as a new cultural space that she describes. An understanding of Keiths ideas can help SFC e ngage in the process of entering mixed-age communities in order to cons truct elder-friendly spaces. In many studies of aging, including Myerhoff and Kaufmans ethnographies as well as my own research, many of the old people interviewed continuously express the confusion they feel when they look into the mirror. They comment that they do not feel old at all but as if they are still 20. My initial response to this theme recurrently surfacing in work on aging was confusion and slight frustra tion. I thought that if I were 80 years old I would feel so, 26


because that is the age I woul d be. If no one feels 80, what does it m ean to be 80 and is anyone really 80 years old? I realized that thes e individuals do not f eel old because they are not old. Old is not a clearly define d category predominately based on chronology or biology; it is a socially construc ted, classifying tool. There is a clear distincti on between what it is like to be old versus how it feels to be regarded as old (Vesperi 1985: 22). One specific interview between Myerhoff a nd Shmuel, a member of ILC, poignantly established the importance of reminiscence and collective memory. Shmuels recollection of the past reflects Graham Rowles idea that the remembering of events implies the remembrance of place (Rowles 1978: 37). The interview began with Shmuel reading Myerhoff several poems he wrote about his family and the cultural assimilation and inordinate social change they confronted once World War II be gan. In the Polish town where he lived, everyone talked of going to America. The pervasive social and political tension during this time instilled a new ideology in the youth, who became beyond the reach of parents and rabbis (1979A: 71). Steadily, more people began to move out of this town as immigration to the United States promised solace from the fears these Polish Jewish men and women faced. Only when Shmuels mother consulted with a rabbi who confirmed her conviction that immigrating was in the familys best interest did his fa ther finally agree to make the move. Shmuel asks himself why he loved this place, a little town in Poland, so much when everyone there suffered from hunge r and fear as the town crumbled. In remarking upon the disastrous decline of his na tive community, he defends his love for it by highlighting that amid this strife every little child there is rubbing elbows with the glorious kings and priests of the Holy Land and visions of Jerusalem and the prophets fighting for freedom and justice instills within them all a spark of life and in this we find our home 27


(1979A: 68-69). This sentim ent expressed by Sh muel points to Gupta and Fergusons finding that the memory of place constructs new enviro nments for the individual; especially when no meaning or significant memories exist to bind one to his or he r current geographical location. Shmuels description of place demonstrates th at place can, and does, exist outside of space. The construction of place is an historical process, since the transition of space into place emerges in the past and continues to the presen t; this occurs when human interaction infuses it with memory and meaning. Place, along with the self, are reflexive states that continuously undergo reterritorialization that derives from peoples bod ily experiences of memory. For Shmuel, this image of his home is a dream you can feel, but not touch (1979A: 73) and no amount of words can sustain the si ze of his canvas. How can I hope to tell you about what life used to be? So much we have ta lked, so much there is left out. If I made the full story I would have to tell you how it was in Poland going back to my fathers father, how they lived (1979A: 72-73). Shmuels remarked th at a complete picture of this Polish home requires a narration of his fathers fathers wa y of life exemplifies th e centrality of group memory on the individual level. Individual peop le experience and interpret their lives in direct relation to the larger group they ar e a part of. Group memory grounds a persons understanding of self. The process of narrating the course of his life to Myerhoff, Shmuel commented, incessantly carried him back to that place he called home. This place exists in his acts of reminiscence; whic h function together with the memories of all who lived there (the collective group memory) in creating Shmuel s memory of home. Immeasurable years of reminiscence and group memory construct place and extol all of its values; only upon this foundation can individuals create a home. C onsequentially, indivi duals actively infuse place with memory through their interactions and this reaffirms and reconstructs the memory 28


and identity of the whole group. Members of the groups bodily e xperience of m emory helped form Shmuels bodily experience of me mory because these individuals shared and imparted their own memories in him directly; as well as indirectly, thr ough the latent reality of cultures influence on ones worldview and life course. Individual and group bodily experiences of memory mutually affect and reshape each other. Shmuel established indi vidual memorys dependence on group memory as salient for its successful existence. This is where the work of Kaufma n falls short, through its sole emphasis on individual reminiscing. While th e individual process of reminiscing and reflecting on ones life is invaluable to the pr ocess of maintaining a c ohesive and meaningful self identity, people need a place where they can perform this process. Group memory creates this place. Group remembering establishes the bodily experience of memory. Without this, individuals may find themselves possessing an understanding of self that conflicts with the identity of the space they occupy. During a narration of his life Shmuel commented: It is not the worse thing that can ha ppen for a man to grow old and die. But here is the hard part. When my mind goes back there now, there are no roads going in or out. No way back remains because nothing is there, no continuation. Then life itself, what is its worth to us? Why have we bothered to live? All this is at an end. For myself, growing old would be altogether a diffe rent thing if that little town was there still. All is ended. So in my life, I carry with me everythingall those people, all those places, I carry them around until my shoulder bend. I can see the old rabbi, the work ers pulling their wagons, the man carrying his baby tied to his back, walking up from the Vistula, no money, no house, nothing to feed his child. His greatest dream is to have a horse of his own, and in th is he will never succeed. So I carry him. If he didnt have a horse, he sh ould have at least the chance to be remaining in the place he lived. Even with all that poverty and suffering, it would be enough if the place remained, even old men like me, ending their days, would find it enough. But when I come back from these stories and remember the way they lived is gone forever, wiped out like you would erase a line of writing then it means another thing altogether for me to accept leav ing this life. If my life goes now, it means nothing. But if my life goes, with my memories, and all that 29


is lost, that is som ething else to bear (quote in Myerhoff, 1979A: 7374). The image of Shmuel carrying on his bent back the place and all the people from his past visually demonstrates individual me morys reliance on group remembering for its existence. Shmuels life narrative diverged into an account of the Polish town of his youth and the stories of the people he once knew. He needed to lay this foundation before he could build an understanding of himself. His final comment directly places group remembering over individual memory by designating the deat h of individual memory as insignificant as long as the groups collective memory lasts. Barbara Myerhoffs work on ritual and meani ng can help to illust rate the processes that produce the shared identity between space and people. In ritual acts the human body itself is a symbolic statement, presenting to the society and the individual the message that the group and its members are inseparable, that they are vehicles for each other and must coexist (1979B: 222). Ritual demonstrates th e inseparability of space and people through its function as the tool that territori alizes their identity. The deficien cy of rite of passage rituals for old Americans can result in vague feelings attitudes, habits, and expectations about aging. Myerhoff believes that this ambiguity re places the cultural production of symbols that provide meaning and significance for old age (1979B: 107). Through ritual performance individuals, or groups, receive visibility and recognition; it is here that the Being, a social psychologi cal construct, is made. Myerhoff believes that this, along with placement in th e social structure, gives us a sense of purpose and identity, something that our species cannot live wit hout (1979A: 233). Not merely a medium for appearing before others and soci ety, performance and storytelling also actuate self-definition. Myerhoff designates two types of performance wh ere this self-definition occurs. The first 30


being natu ral occasions where the group is gi ven a social arena for performing. The second type she calls Definitional Ceremonies where by the group must invent the space for their performance. These performances are collectiv e self-definitions specifically intended to proclaim an interpretation to an audi ence not otherwise av ailable (1979A: 235). Definitional ceremonies are ritual acts that allow marginal people opportunities for self-presentation and self-definition. Definitional ce remonies result in what she terms cultural mirroring. In Seeing the Unseen, Maria Vesperi examin es the concern of invisibility within the study of aging (Vesperi 2000: 1). One specifi c work her analysis examines is Myerhoffs Number Our Days (1979). Vesperi analyzes the pa rt of Myerhoffs ethnography that describes the event where a bicyclist co llided with an 86-year-old woman who consequentially dies. Myerhoff de scribes this situation as deat h by invisibility. However, she also stresses that extremely marginalized people are not always consciously ignored or abused, in many instances they are simply not seen (2000: 6). After this tragedy, the members of ILC organized a protest parade. This culminated in the groups return to the Center to celebrate the 100th birthday of another one of th eir members. Myerhoff identifies this as an example of cultural mirroring. Cu ltural mirroring is a pro cess that involves a definition of self that begins when people exert agency on the symbols that generate stereotyped identities and reflect them back in an altered form (2000: 8-9). Myerhoff stresses the role of anthropologi sts and journalists as witness to this and other events of cultural mirroring, highlighti ng the importance of media a nd publications function in communication (2000: 10). These media of co mmunication can help marginalized people resist invisibility. This notion of the pro cess of cultural mirroring and its function in resolving invisibility is central to my thesis and research at SFC. 31


Fronts Before describing how social agents inten tionally proclaim their identity in the cultural field, I will first discuss how the symbols that generate stereotyped identities become imposed on them. These stereotypes happen through all the acts individuals perform in their everyday lives, since culture provides a specifi c understanding and interpretation of every act performed in its field. In Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Erving Goffman examines the individuals experience and assimi lation of the roles he or she performs. He distinguishes two extremes, the cynical performer and the convinced pe rformer. The cynical performer understands that the self one presents is a fabricated, or fictional self, that one uses to convince or persuade an a udience for ones own purposes. C onvinced performers sincerely believe that the roles they stage reflect reality. These two extremes can exist within an individuals understanding of self at the same time (1959: 17-20). Goffman calls the stages for these performances fronts. Very much dependent on physical geographical space, fronts provide a setting for individuals to perform. However, these fronts can also be limiting, since performers must begin their acts when they arrive at the appropriate front and conclude the acts when they leave. This can clearly have disruptive effects on the individuals understa nding of self. Ones identity can change countless times every day, according to which fr ont one occupies. The individual can begin to question which is his or her true self. The definition of fronts opens itself to factors beyond geographical space. Goffman takes front to mean the expres sive equipment of a standard kind intentionally or unwittingly employed by the individual during his performa nce (1959: 22). Front coherence requires the individual to ensure that those before him that he plays one of his parts will not be the same 32


individuals before whom he pl ays a different part in anothe r setting (1959: 49). Goffm an terms this audience segregation pointing out that this needed coherence between performances points out a crucial discrepanc y between our all-too-human selves and our socialized selves (1959: 56). This demand for a coherent c ontinuum between the various performances an individual ac ts out is not only a demand of the audience but also of the individual. Otherwise one may feel a sens e of fragmentation in ones identity. Goffman states that fronts also serve as orie nting tools because they occur in a variety of situations (1959: 26). The same front often occurs in different ro utines and situations. Perhaps, because of this, social fronts consiste ntly institutionalize the stereotypes that arise from them and self-impose new meanings distin ct from the acts that created the front (1959: 27). Thus fronts become a collective representation. When an actor takes on an established social role, usually he finds that a particular front has already been established for it. Whether his acquisition of the role was primarily motivated by a desire to perform the given task or by a desire to maintain the corresponding front, the actor will find that he must do both. Further, if the individual takes on a task that is not only new to him but also unestablished in the society, or if he attempts to change the light in which his task is viewed, he is likely to find that there are already several well established fronts among which he must choose. Thus, wh en a task is given a new front we seldom find that the front it is given is itself new. (Goffman 1959: 27) This exemplifies the problem of claimi ng ones desired self-identity. Goffman believes that every social role an individual wi shes to perform contains a front, or several, associated with it. Social agents may perform be cause of their desire to perform certain acts or roles, or they may perform in order to sustain a specific front. Either way, the individual must do both because they become the same through collective representation. And since an act may be associated with several fronts, the individual may be st uck with the option of 33


either perform ing an act to achieve a desire d front-identity along with the undesired fronts tied to it; or not acting to a void undesired front-identity in co mpensation of the desired front. When an individual wishes to perform an unest ablished role, there are already several fronts from which to choose. Goffmans ideas he lp form an understa nding of the cultural construction of old age as it resu lts from fronts a ssigned to it. In The Managed Heart (1985) Arlie Hochschild expands upon Goffmans ideas through an examination of the emotional labor of flight attendants. Em otional labor demands that individuals produce feelings the audience expects. Worker s deal with emotional labor through surface or deep acting; surface acting disguises true feelings and simultaneously presents false ones (Hochschild 1983: 33). Ac tors employ this method by utilizing their bodies as tools to evoke emotion and passion wi thin the audience; at the same time, actors understand that these emotions reside outside of themselves (1983: 37). This becomes problematic (for workers) because they can feel unsatisfied with the la ck of authenticity in this approach. This effectuates deep acting wh ere both the actor and th e audience accept the deceptive emotions as truthful (1983: 33). Deep acting occurs in two ways: by directly inciting feeling and by indirect use of past e xperiences and the imagination (1983: 38). Here, one can clearly see emotion as an object (1983: 41). Actions mo ld this object to the form appropriate for the social situation. Such deep acting occurs in the work place as emotional labor but to a more detrimental degree. Service workers must deal with situations and people to whom they originally possessed no attachment. Consequent ially, they must evoke past memories and emotions within themselves that are rooted in significant feelings in order to feel emotional regard for the situation or persons. The deep ac ting stage puts the workers true self up for 34


sale. The m ore this exploitation continues the more that self risks seeming false to the individual worker and the more difficult it becomes for him or he r to know which territory of self to claim (1983: 196). Emotional labor requires a balancing of two separate emotional lives (public and private) which poses a chal lenge to the persons sense of self (1983: 133136). Workers reconcile the problem of authentic ity in one of three ways: by identifying too strongly with the job, and eventually becoming burnedout; by clearly distinguishing themselves from the job and blaming themselves for making this very distinction, eventually denigrating themselves as just actors, not sincere; or by distin guishing themselves from their acts, without blame, and seeing th e job as requiring the capacity to act. For this last worker there is some risk of estrangement and cynicism about acting (1983: 187). The problem inherent in all three situations is that workers will either become too invested in their job, or they will become too removed and feel gui lty (1983: 189). Regardless of the stance taken, workers must appease the inherent antagoni sm of their private and public selves. Hochschilds argument assumes an inherent divide between an individuals work and private life. The former alienate s the individual who must then cope with the harsh demands of the job through suppressing and conjuring up emotions. Performing ones culturally constructed identity also requires the use of emotional la bor. Old people must confront emotional labor and work to appease the anta gonism between their position in the cultural category of old age and their personal feelings about what it means to be old. Ritualization Goffman and Hochschild address the relatio nship between people and fronts but they do not examine how the individual can proceed to change fronts. Catherine Bells work 35


offers a m odel for how people can use their bodi es to successfully alte r fronts while escaping the demands of emotional labor. Bells Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (1992) focuses on how people use ritualized acts in a st rategic way in order to deal with specific situations (1992: 92). Bells analysis focuses on what she terms ritualization, a process she distinguishes from ritual. Viewed as practice, r itualization invo lves the very drawing, in and through the activity itself, of a privileged distin ction between ways of acting, specifically between those acts being performed and those being contrasted, mimed, or implicat ed somehow. That is, intrinsic to ritualization are strategies for diffe rentiating itselfto various degrees and in various waysfrom other ways of acting within any particular culture. At a basic level, rituali zation is the production of this differentiation. At a more complex le vel, ritualization is a way of acting that specifically establishes a privileged contrast, differentiating itself as more important or powerful (1992: 90). Also fundamental to ritualization is its anchorage in the body and the interaction between the social body and the symbolic spa tiotemporal world (1992: 93). Ritualization produces the ritualized body th rough the mutually affective relationship between the body and the surrounding environment (1992: 98). Bell co ins the term ritualized body in order to move away from Goffmans idea of the body as a capsule molded by society. This gives the human body more agency (Bell 1992: 94). The acts of the ritualized body spatially and temporally organize the encompassing environment around schemes of privileged oppos ition. Ritualization gene rates a ritualized environment that constructs new meaning by ma nipulating the relations hips between things. It strategically manipulates socio-cultural co ntexts through the act of reproducing it (1992: 106-110). This constructed environment also in scribes these schemes onto the ritualized body. According to Bell, people falsely tend to interpret the values and experiences formed during this circular process as coming from a stronger, external, hegemonic power; in reality 36


it com es from the ritualized body. According to Bells model, as the ritual body enters other spaces, its acts dominate the surrounding environment and simultaneously reconstruct these spaces according to the schemes of privileged opposition constructed by the ritual body. Bell describes ritualization as the most e ffective action to take when: (1) indirect claims of power establish the dynamic and ne gotiation among relationships, and (2) the experienced hegemonic order must be made soci ally redemptive in order to be personally redemptive. This provides people with a vision of a personally empowering experience of a community order (1992: 116), making ritualization importa nt for marginalized people as it is a necessary tool for cultural mirroring. This make s ritualization particularly important for old people who, as a marginalized group, can gain redemptive benefits from ritualizations restructuring of their relationship with the surrounding environment. Ritualization also provides an answ er to the question I explored in the beginning of this chapter concerning the cons truction and maintenance of a home in old age. Fry et al advise indivi duals choosing a place to grow ol d in to choose the community you now call home. Live in it for a long time a nd invest in its social relationships. Your investment will pay off in an old age in which you are perceived and supported in individual terms, not as an old person (2009: 122). Fr ys advice lacks a func tional explanation of how one can actually construct and maintain this community and home. I believe that individuals can use the process of ritualization to reterritoriali ze space in order to construct and maintain a home. The following chapter introduces the Senior Friendship Center, an elder-friendly place where I conducted my resear ch. This chapter introduces the Center, its physical space, its mission, its history, and its re sources and services. The chapter ends with a description of the methodology I used and a na rration of my entrance into the community. 37




Chapter 2 I personally come because its a form of exercise, because I got to get bathed dressed, have my food, get in my car, and come here. And then Im going to talk, so this requires thought on my part, and motion. And all these things are food for the brain as far as Im con cerned. People may make fun of it and say its stupid. Ill admit, there are parts of it that are stupid, but not to me because I need that. I dont have grandchildren. I dont have pets. I dont have any crutches outside of my daughter, and I cant persecute her because Im old. That would be most unfair. So, I have to do it on my own. Ellen The Senior Friendship Cent er People helping people The Senior Friendship Center (SFC) website contains a page titled Interesting Facts. It begins with a summary of statistics, detailing that in 2005 SFC provided delivery meals, medical assistance, dental assist ance, and medicationamong other thingsto hundreds of thousands of people. Following this summary is a description of Americas Aging Population that provides information gathered in 2004 from the U.S Bureau of the Census, the National Center on Health Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This section reveals that one in ev ery eight Americans is a senior citizen, and that this population continues to grow rapidly. By the year 2030 the number of people 65 and older will double. The median income for older men is just over $20,000 and for women just over $11,000. Thirty-one percent of non-institutionalized older people live alone. By posting these statistics on their website, SFC brings attenti on to some of the issues facing older Americans that the Center work s toward resolving. Brother William Geenen first visited Sarasota in 1973. He noticed that the city lacked a gathering place for older people so he decided to return shortly with the goal of working to resolve this issue. Sarasotas need for such a place was affirmed in the Centers opening day, when more than 500 individuals showed up to volunteer their efforts. Brother Geenen gave Senior Friendship Centers a plural named because he envisioned a future network of Centers throughout southwest Florida. Today, SFC locati ons stretch from Sarasota, Venice, Charlotte 39


County, Collier County, Desoto County, and Lee County. Senior Friends hip Centers is a private, non-profit corporation, working with a nd for older adults regardless of race, sex, religion, or national origin. Geenan, a Catholic Brother of the Holy Cross, did not want to restrict SFC by affiliating it with a relig ious organization. He wanted to br ing people of all backgrounds and walks of life together to find solu tions to the challenges of aging (http://www.friendshipcenters .org/aboutUs/history.cfm). SF C does this well. The mission statement on their website reads: Realizing that in helping others we help ourselves, Senior Friendship Centers' staff, volunteers, and participants form a family of "People Helping People." As a non-profit ch aritable organization, we dedicate ourselves to helping older adults live with dignity and respect by providing services that address th eir needs, including: Remaining independent; Preventing premature institutionalization; Relieving isolation and loneliness; Improving quality of life and health for seniors. SFC is successful because the organization under stands the American cultural context of aging and works toward addressing relevant i ssues. SFC provides a model for senior centers across the country and it has received nati onal recognition. The highest achievement for senior centers is national accreditation awarded by the National Institute of Senior Centers, a unit of the National Council of the Aging. This requires a center to unde rgo a self-assessment process and peer review. Florid a has 260 senior centers, five of these belong to the nations 90 accredited centers. The Senior Friendship Center is one of Floridas five nationally accredited centers. The implementation of legislation shows th at the American government and people have accepted some responsibility for how older people are treated. In 1965 Congress passed the Older Americans Act (OAA), which establis hed the Administration on Aging (AoA) that 40


addresses th e social service n eeds of older people. The Acts goal is to help older people maintain independence in their homes and communities and to promote care for the vulnerable elderly. Amendments to OAA have re sponded to new, specific needs. In the 2009 fiscal year, federal funding for the OAA amounted to $2.3 billion: 63.5 percent ($1,443.3 million) went towards grants for state and community programs on aging; 30.5 percent ($691.9 million) for community service employme nt for older Americans; 2.7 percent ($ 60.4 million) for aging network support activities; 1.6 percent ($36.6 million) for grants for Native Americans; 0.9 percent ($21.4 million) for vulne rable elder rights protection activities; 0.8 percent ($18.2 million) for research, training, an d demonstrations. SFC began with $79 in a checking account. Today the organizations fina ncial dependence rests largely on donations from members of the community a nd government funding from OAA. Statistics on the SFC website hi ghlight the key elements of successful aging identified by Fry et al (2009) and point to the struggle ma ny older Americans face on a daily basis. The rapid growth of the older U.S population means that health, material security, family, and sociality are becoming more and more dominant national issues and require crucial attention. Achieving healthy aging in the four domains requires financial means and mobility. In 2004, for one-third of Americans over 65, Social Security benefits c onstitute 90 percent of their income. In 2007, 27 percent of Americans 65 and older lived alone. These statistics exhibit the difficult realities facing many older Am ericans attempting to afford medical commodities, travel, or the costs associated w ith socially stimulating activities. Demographic studies and research on aging continue to expos e the challenges that ol der individuals face. A constant concern that SFC battles is the process whereby an older person starts to lose independence and must proceed to a nursing home or other premature 41


institutionalization. Most of the am enities and services o ffered at SFC concentrate on addressing this concern. The or ganizations three buildings each offer specific, unique resources directed towards sustaining ones independence and combating institutionalization. The Adult Day Services Center offers speci fic immediate attention and care for frail individuals, such as those in early stages of dementia. Here individuals receive more direct attention, such as help eati ng lunch. In a conversation I ha d with Barbara Celnar, the Community Service Manager, she explained that adult day servi ces provide caretakers with a reliable space to bring loved ones during work or the hours they need to run errands. Some frail individuals are placed in nursing homes b ecause their loved ones are too busy to provide proper care for them. The second building, th e Rubin Center for Healthy Aging, provides medical and dental services to individuals over the age of 50 who are uninsured or in financial need. More than 50 retired physicia ns representing 15 specialties, more than 17 dentists, three pharmacists, and 30 nurses and c linic aides volunteer here. The more than 2,000 patients served here annually are billed on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. I conducted my research in the third buildi ng, the main Senior Center. This social hub offers a variety of activities and resources. Automatic doors open up to the large Great Room where the bulk of social activity occurs. A fe w feet from the doors is the wooden dance floor, where various classes are held. Live music is performed every day around the piano in the center of the Great Room. A collection of couches and tables with chairs radiate from this center and occupy most of the space. The recepti onist immediately asks everyone to sign in, upon entering the great room. Just past the r eception desk is the Wii station and bathroom. Most of the men can be spotted just north of this, next to th e two adjacent pool tables. Most 42


social activity occurs tow ards a corner where a barista sells low-priced snacks and drinks, all priced below a dollar. Next to the baristas station is a gym with a few machines. On the eastern wall of the Great Room are double doors that lead to a library housing a circulating collection of donated books. There is a computer station upstairs where four computers tend to be in high demand. Most of the classes occu r in the northwest and northeast corners of the second floor, where there are more designated rooms and offices. All these areas create specific social networks and de fine key aspects of the community. I entered into many of these community spaces, but only after specific occurrences did I become comfortable and visible. Most of the people at SFC whom I befr iended are independent and living what Christine Fry et al would term a good old age. Those lacking the abil ity to drive to and from SFC take advantage of the vans that pick up individuals at their homes and return them at the end of the each day. This resource aids in prolonging their independence and mobility. THE COMMUNITY One striking aspect of SFC is its egalitarian structure. The positions of employee, volunteer, and member do exist, but not for the purpose of establishing a hierarchical arrangement of power. While conducting field work I quickly noticed that practically everyone who came to the Center wore a volunt eer badge. What perplexed me about this was that I never really saw these volunteers actuall y doing any sort of work. Essentially, coming to SFC and participating in the community makes one a volunteer; this instills a sense of purpose in everyone, purpose with importance for the whole community. Even the handful of employees remains on an equal plane with every one else. In an interview, Barbara Celnar mentioned that SFC employees constantly stress to everyone that this is your senior center. 43


During m y experience at SFC I witnesse d a community of old people acting in accordance with the antithesis of many American stereotypes; they are independent, active, productive, and adaptable. The ongoing assortment of activities and ev ents at the Center reinforces the formation of this identity. Barb ara Celnar lamented to me that far too many people still remain confined to their homes, thinking there is no cultural space for them. Employees such as Barbara combat this with the help of television commercials on local channels, SFCs monthly newspaper, and other outreach tools. The numbers do continue to grow and the Center embraces the challenge of serving more individuals across three generational divides. Barbara has seen a big ch ange since she started working at SFC in the early 1990s: Were really turning from a place of serving people to a place for them to serve, for them to get engaged in their community ; from being served to serving, she said. Volunteering attracts the majority of new members, and as volunteers, new members learn about the variety of services offered at the Center. Knowledge of available resources ensures that they too can acquire help if th e need occurs. Barbara feels strongly about the benefits of having such a large population of the Centers members volunteer. She explained that it makes them more involved and engage d in life while jointly producing a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives. If members vo lunteer, Barbara states, it brings them a sense of ownership of the Center and it feels like its more of their Center. I witnessed Barbaras point several times. Volunteers disperse trays of food during lunch, for example; in talking about this particular volunteer duty, Socrates, a dail y volunteer, commented, If I dont come here and feed the old people, they st arve. One volunteer, Vivian, spends all of her time at the Center playing Wii bowling. Sh e understands her performa nce of this activity as much more than merely playing a video game I asked her what she enjoys most about Wii 44


bowling and she responded, Teaching people. I l ove to see the happine ss on their face when they get over 200 points. Although it may not be immediately evident, SFC is also influencing the larger Sarasota community. In our interviews, Barbar a Celnar kept emphasizi ng this point as she described the Centers evoluti on throughout the years as a real important component to the community. One example Barbara gave pe rtained to the Health Center and the responsibility of providi ng medical care for people over the ag e of 50 who lack insurance. I was thinking the other day, where would all th e people who come here go if they couldnt afford to come to a country club for example? she asked. Its so impor tant that they have this place to come to and the county doesnt have any other place to say oh you can go over there if something happened to us so. If th e county didnt have us I have to think what would the bulk of the people who come herewhat would they do? Barbara assigns herself the task of constantly thinking up new and innovative ways of attracting people to the Center as times continue to change She commits the Center to providing resources that help people keep their minds sharp and social skills active. As a space providing these resources, SFC helps indivi duals venture beyond the restriction of their homes. Barbara describes this restriction as cau sing depression, which in turn causes illness. Barbara explained how most people originally vi ewed senior centers simply as places for old people to have fun. To her relief, the true success and importance of senior centers now challenge this misconception as they replace it. Barbaras activism extends beyond SFC to working with the senior centers of the state of Florida, a network that administers human services programs to benefit older peoplea Weve worked hard to ge t legislative people to believe that this is your first step to keeping people healt hy and independent and connected 45


that there is for very little m oney. Because they use to think they just go there to dance, or to listen to music. But now theyre finally realizing that socialization plays a key role in staying independent and keeping ones health and wellness. METHODOLOGY My relationship with the Senior Friendship Center began with an awkward game of telephone tag. People seemed confused by my desire to volunteer at the Center while simultaneously conducting research for a college pr oject. I was first asked to submit a list of questions I intended to ask informants. I felt c onfused by this request because I had not set foot on the property, let alone began to comp ile interview questions. The closed-nit and caring community comprising SFC became instantly ap parent to me the first day I came in to speak with the Manager of Volunteer Developm ent, Caroline Allen. She seemed suspicious of my intentions at first and proceeded to tackle the source of my questions. I explained to her that the discomfort I experienced in comp iling this list of questions resulted in an arbitrary collection. Before even attempting interviews, my first hope was to simply volunteer and become acquainted with the comm unity. There was no way, I explained, that I could truly procure interview questions without this necessary first step. I proceeded to explain my anthropological background and my interest in examining ageism through that lens. By the end of our discussion Caroline seemed to trust my research interest and became very helpful. Shortly after our meeting Caroline introduced me to Barbara Celnar, who took me under her wing. I came into the Center an average of two or three times a week for about four hours, over a period of five months. The automatic door s open to a large, lively living room area that floods the ears with the sound of live musi c, streams of conversation, and laugher. I 46


would walk through this lively s ea to the large window of Bar baras office that overlooks the Great Room. Not wanting to bother the extrem ely busy director, I usually waved to her through the window to announce my presence. On the few occasions when I came in and Barbara was not directly attend ing to one of the many individuals who constantly come to her for assistance, I too gratefully interrupt ed and entered her office to exchange a few words. The rare occasions of Barbaras free ti me were always something I appreciated and frequently snatched up. She always filled me in with the latest developments and new activities underway. Occasionally, she would tell me something about herself and express the stress she felt. I came to understand that Barbara Celnar is the force binding all the wonderful elements of SFC together. After greeting Barbara, I immediately made my way to the Wii station. Participating in a game that put my body in direct interacti on with others alleviated the insecurities and awkward feelings I re currently felt as the only younger pe rson at the center. Vivian, the women in charge of the Wii, always played a ga me or two with me. From there I sat in one of the many chairs to write in my field notebook or I sat next to ot hers and conversed. My favorite days at SFC, Mondays and Frid ays, were different from other days because I attended the wisdom group, just one of the many classes taught at the Center. Originally free, a decrease in funding led to the Center implementing a $3 dollar fee for each class one attends. The list of more than thirty classes reveals a dive rse selection covering a spectrum of interest that incl udes conversational French, beginne rs Spanish, tai chi, balance movement, tap dance, bingo, woodcarving, acrylic painting, writing, and ballroom dancing. I chose to attend the wisdom group because it wa s the class that facilitated the most active conversations. According to its organizer, Socr ates, the purpose of the wisdom group is to 47


talk about things you are not supposed to talk about. Socrates starte d this group a few years ago because he was terri bly bored and still is. The wisdom group met in a room upstairs tu cked into the far b ack corner of the building. We all sat around a large, oval-shaped table. Socrates, who ran the group, sat at the head of the table and constantly expressed st rong and passionate opini ons about every topic discussed. His investment and passion for know ledge surfaced recurrently in his habit of going around the table asking everyone the same difficult philosophical question. If someone attempted to get out of answering, Socrates stubbornly persisted and typically succeeding in extracting a response. He also enjoyed calling on people he felt remained too quiet, namely me. His intellectually aggressive nature should not be misunderstood. Although he did challenge peoples ideas and vehemently guarded his own, he always affirmed the value and worth of everyones opinion. This was reflected in every class where intimate emotions and personal experiences were shared, and praises and complements exchanged. At least once during every class I attended, tangential reminiscence of past shared experiences penetrated the conve rsation; reflecting everyones (e xpect mine) existence in the same generational age group. Comments on the pr oblems of todays changing society and the youth usually followed these conversations. During such moments I sat uncomfortably in my seat, feeling like a child in time out, avoiding ey e contact. These discus sions made me feel guilty guilty for my status as a young person that doesnt understand and continues to make a world that is not what it used to be. I knew the others saw my status in this category that my age designated for me. Lor en, why dont you tell the class how the youth of America feels about all thes e issues were talking about? Socrates pitched me this question more times than I can remember. 48


Since youre the young one, tell us ho w you understand Once again I found myself in the familiar position Socrates enjoyed making for me. On this particular day discussion focused on a sharing of beautif ul moments everyone had experienced in childhood. A recollection of a moment in his childhood where Jon won a prized toy on the most popular radio show of the time ignited th is. This time my response to the expected question from Socrates left him particularly uns atisfied. He continued to probe and ask what I meant by that, and then what I meant by that, and by that, until he finally gave up and told me that I in fact did not understand the rapt ure everyone else felt in the memories they described. Defensive, I proceeded to explain my most resent experience that I felt fell somewhat in line with their stories. My best friend and I both have summer birthdays and each asked our relatives for the same present, a plane ticket to visit each other during our respective birthdays. I had just returned from visiting her in Manhattan where I saw a Broadway show (an experience I never imagin ed possible for me) for the first time. Her birthday present to me was tickets to see Mary Poppins one of my favorites. I explained to the group my love for this story and the extrav agance of the performan ce. Socrates remained unconvinced. I was delighted when a few women began to defend me and argued that I did understand. One of the first women to warm up to me, Julia, who constantly winked at me and shared an exchange of smile s, fervently defended my position. Initially I felt confused and defensive a bout what I viewed as Socrates constant picking on me for no reason other than my ag e. He did intellectua lly antagonize everyone else; not in a hostile way, but in a productive way that stimul ated the discussion. But he did poke at me the most, or so it seemed to me. However, after an intim ate four-hour interview with him where he shared beautiful stories a nd valuable insights into his mind, I quickly 49


warm ed up to him and believed I was beginning to understand him. He expressed a belief that children now are growing up in a very fr agmented world that lacks proper nourishment and care for their needs. From the stories of his childhood I could understand exactly why he felt that way. Socrates attitude towards me was not the reverse ageism that I had originally, defensively understood it to be. Ju st as I began to feel warmly towards him, I felt that he started to reciprocate. He no longer picked on me in the same way; he asked me the same questions as everyone else, in the same manner. Occasionally he would smile and half wink at me while giving me friendly banter in such comments as: If we can put up with a wise guy from New College, we can put up with anyone else. What changed in my relationship with Socr ates, as well as with other members of SFC, was the beginning acceptance of me as a pa rt of the community. One man, Tony, whom I would never conversed with, one day began to playfully flirt with me to the amusement of those around us; something he continued to do. One woma n whose name I never learned began talking to me as one would a friend. Always well dressed and sporting heels, she came to the Center everyday and danced to the live music, whether or not others joined her. One day she asked me if I was working out because she could see that I had lost weight. She continued to comment on this and other elem ents of my appearance from then on. Her comments always excited me because I knew th at coming from a member of the community with whom I never had a formal conversati on, these comments meant that I was being noticed and starting to become part of the community. I do not mean to jump the bandwagon that excites every anthropologist, assuming that I was in and could possibly achieve an emic perspective. These instances document th e building of rapport and my acceptance as an outsider within the community rather than the previous perc eption of me as a stranger from 50


som e other community. In the next chapter I wi ll introduce three members of the SFC community while illustrating the life histories they narrated. 51


Chapter 3 When you get to be this age you want to ha ve a little dignity because thats all you have Ellen Life Histories The gravity of the issues facing aging Amer icans struck me particularly hard during two consecutive wisdom group classes I attended. The first class began with Socrates reading Garnets obituary. Garnet and her husband Jon attended every wisdom group class, where they always occupied the same back corner of the table. Garnet had passed away that Saturday. This created a somber atmosphere fo r the remainder of the class. After reading Garnets obituary, Socrates went around the room and asked everyone to share something happy they had experienced during the past week. It was not until the next wisdom class that Garnets death struck a note in me. At the beginning of this class, Socrates informed us that Jon, her husband, had been put in a nursing hom e. This grieved me. My mind became filled with images of Jon all alone, torn from hi s home, his community, the woman he loved gone. I became furious at Jon and Garnets four daught ers for not choosing to take Jon into one of their homes. I recognize that I do not know the specifics of their situation. Perhaps Jon wanted to enter a nursing home. But I knew Jon, and to me this seemed like a case of premature institutionalization. Jon and Garnet had repeatedly boasted about the achievements and talents of their four daughters. During one wisdom group meeting, they secured control over the discussion by recounting memories abou t their daughters, continuously emphasizing how both their lives have been completely a bout and devoted to thei r children. I could not understand why, after Garnets death, Jon ha d not moved into one of their homes. Jons experience reminds me of how su ccessful aging depends on the harmony of multiple variables. When choosing a place in wh ich to grow old, Fry et al advise choosing the community one currently claims as her or his home. They encourage people to live in 52


it for a long tim e and invest in its social relationships, because your investment will pay off in an old age in which you are perceived and su pported in individual te rms, not as an old person (2009: 122). Jons situation exposes the im precision of this advice. Aging is not that simple. Aging is as complex and intricate as the individuals experi encing it. Each person experiences lifeand conjointly aginguniquely and differen tly. For this reason, this chapter focuses on the lives of a few i ndividuals who regularly attend SFC. Socrates Socrates was one of the first people I conve rsed with at SFC. He struck me as very opinionated and also interesting. During the first conversation I ha d with him, he invited me to the wisdom group. From then on, I attended these classes weekly. Before I interviewed Socrates, I did not particularly like him. He seemed closed-minded in his opinions and succeeded to annoy me every class. After I in terviewed him, my feelings toward him changed. He surprised me with the openness a nd honesty with which he shared his life story. I appreciated our conversati ons; they opened a window th rough which I could see the intricacies of Socrates past that make him the person he is. Throughout Socrates life narra tive, he continuously asse rted the high standards for living that his upbringing instille d in him. The majority of the life history he shared with me focused on memories from his youth. This reflected Socrates love of children and the grave importance he placed on the issue of raising ch ildren successfully while providing them with endless opportunity. A constant theme surfaci ng throughout my interview with Socrates was the transformation of American culture and values for the worse. He longed for the ways of the past. 53


A little baby in diapers somehow is crossi ng the street and there were not traffic lights. And he was crawling, and you know babies dont just crawl straight across the street. They stop in the middle of the street, move ba ck, move forward. And traffic stopped a whole block or two blocks. Till that kid did what he wanted. Todays people cant possibly believe what I just told you beca use they ve never seen any approximation of it. Socrates was right; I had trouble believing his story. In my disbelief, I asked Socrates if anyone picked up the baby, or if they just wa ited for the child to fi nish crossing the road. He provided me with this story as an exampl e of why the town where he was born, Arcadia, Florida, was the kind of place that every chil d on the planet should have the opportunity to be born in. He stated that today, Arcadia, is the worst pl ace on the planet. But it was absolutely magnificent. I dont remember the rest of it. You know how one scene sticks in your mindand before and after, I couldnt tell you, which yea r it was, whatever. But thats the kind of people that were there. No tr affic lights, no nothing. That I ha ve known of, in my travels, there has never been a place that is that thoughtful. Americans today are not thoughtful anymore. Because everything is do your own thing, regardless of th e consequences you inflict upon others. And thats what were seeing. Hey, let me make the money. I couldnt care less how many people die in the proce ss. We know that wars are very profitable. Theyre probably the most profitable business created by man. So thats what we do. Oh, another couple of million people died. So what? Anyhow, thats the terrible parts of my 54


philosophy, which I was taught. I didnt invent w hat I just said. All I did was try to be a good student. And learn the real worl d, what theories are all about. Socrates father died when he was eight years old. Shortly after this, his mother moved the family to New York City. Perhaps Socrates remembers Ar cadia as the perfect place because while he lived there his father was still alive and his family was still complete. Socrates made harsh criticisms about families today. He also set specific, high standards about what is required and needed for raisi ng children and for fostering a successful, loving family. He articulated his views during one wisdom group conversation where we discussed gay marriage. As one of the few people in the group against gay marriage, Socrates justified his stance by stressing the importance of the fam ily unit. Socrates believed that the American family is deteriorating. According to Socrates by the very facts of nature, a gay couple biologically lacks the necessary elements require d for successfully rais ing children. He said that children need the guidance of both a mother and a father, since men and women are two different animals and you cant expe ct one to be able to step in to anothers shoes. Socrates lacked a father figure for the majority of his ch ildhood. However, he held his father in esteem just as much as his mother and described them both as brilliant, wonderful, good, many talented people. Socrates described a memory of his father that ot her people shared with him. My father made only one mistake. I know he loved me very much. He used to carry me on his shoulders and I would pee all over his shirt and he wouldnt take me off. Now the reason I know thats true is because strangers have told me that story laughingly. Those 55


people are a ll dead right now, but Im never going to forget that. And he made that mistake when I was eight years old. He died on me. And a boy does need some kind of male direction, a father. Miraculously my mother took over. And I say miraculously because men and women are two different animals and you cant expect on e to be able to step into anothers shoes and be brilliant at it. My mother could and did. Socrates attention to childhood is both idea listic and reflective of his own memories. This theme persisted in our interviews a nd during the wisdom group meetings. When he spoke of politics, art, money, love, science, or any facet of life, he repeatedly referenced his childhood. Most of my questions launched him into memories that he would surface from and ask me, Um, what was the other part of the question? I learne d the early years of Socrates life in great detail. However, the chasm between his childhood and the Socrates I interacted with is unknown to me. I remember finding myself surprised one wisdom group meeting when Socrates mentioned that he had once been married for seven years. Socrates never revealed much of his adult life to me. He only told of his profession of being a teacher and owning several schools. And the reason he mentioned this was to recite another story proclaiming his mothers gifted abilities and character. She used to steal my students. I had three, four, five schools in New York City, my own private schools. And Im walking to her apartment every once in a while, and there are my students! One is learning piano from my mother, one is learning languages, and theyre right there! Now how the hell she arranged that, I dont know, you can tell just using your imagination. Thats hard to do. How do you gat her these people together? Whats the 56


magic? Whats the attraction? I dont know. Thats the kind of mother I had. And she was very proud o f me. But she never said it in so many simple words to me. How do I know? Im on the stage performing, and she nudges the person that she doesnt know from hell, or beans, right next her, Thats my son up ther e! Ive heard that count less times, so I know thats the truth. Which means that she saw the show many times. So there you are. With wonderment, Socrates explained how his mother somehow afforded to enroll him in a variety of classes and provided him with the resources he needed to pursue his interests. She taught him how to read, wr ite, and speak three languages, not including English, by the time he was three years old. Sh e entered him in a contest on a nationwide radio program playing violin where he landed first place and won fi ve dollars. She bought him test tubes, chemicals, and other items that allowed him to explore his interests in the sciences. How my mother arranged all those things I have no idea. We were extremely poor. And I never knew we were poor. I never suffered. Never. I dont remember ever saying Momma give me, give me, like todays kids do. A nd I cant blame todays kids because the important stuff is not what they think is give me, give me, like the toys. Why theyre saying it is because they dont have the most important thing: the warmth and the love and the care that only human beings c an give to the children. The opportunity and encouragement that hi s mother gave him are what Socrates lamented as absent for todays children. Socr ates mothers encouragement led him to be a 57


young classical violinist and pianist. Socrates described this, and th e rest of his arts career, as acciden tal. I just tasted it because Momma provided the oppor tunities. And I did not know she was doing it. This was a brilliant woman. I had absolutely no id ea she was steering me, never forceful, never raised her voice, no nothing. Socrates eventually pursued a professional career in the arts. Th is also began with the influe nce of his mother. After taking him to his first play, Jack and the Beanstalk Socrates mother asked him if he wanted to see an opera. After telling her how much he enjoyed it, his mother bought him season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, seat C318, up on the top balcony. She could only afford one ticket for him. She bought him season tickets for eight c onsecutive years, always in the same seat. I went to the opera, and in be tween the opera season there was ballet, and that was the tail end of the great companies. Im watching and out of the wings come sailing a man. I never saw such a high jump before. And he makes it look like its effortless. Theres no effort. When youre playing games like basketball, youre really worried. Tension shows in your face, and youre dodging this and that, and its all pretty th reatening. And here this gu y is doing the same stuff. Effortlessly, with a smile on his face. And furthermore, he doesnt end with a thud; and then he does another, and another. And then out come s this gorgeous lady and shes doing what Ive never seen such beauty being done, becaus e its creative. Thats what the word creation is: she takes her abilities, including her natural femininity, and builds upon it, not changes, but builds. And of course there are people help ing, like choreographers, and they all put into it. I was just stunned. 58


Soon after witnessing his first ballet perform a nce, Socrates enrolled in ballet classes. After half a dozen classes he accepted his teachers offer to perform on stage for the first time. Someone at the show gave him a job as a supernumerary. Around nine years old at the time, young Socrates made the two hour train ride every night, to work as a theater flower boy, earning one dollar per show. This entrance in to the world of thea ter extended throughout his secondary school days as he continued work ing for the three major theater companies and with the greatest creators at th at time. This experience shaped his character and the course of his life, he said. He commented that the men were men he could look up to, they were gentlemen. Such role models were very im portant, particularly when considering how Socrates lost his father at a young age. I remember there was a magnificent one. A tough wise guy, brilliant talent, called Anthony Tudor, created Romeo and Juliet And my dear friend, Nicholas, who was just one of those guys: extraordinary perf ormer. Remember theres no speaking, no voice, and you have to mime the whole storyintricate. And hes playing Mercucio. And I saw the damn thing hundreds of times. I knew it inside and out. I could do it on the street I knew what was coming, all the jokes, the tears, everything. And every single time he does the dying scene, when he gets killed, you cry, and not just me. Cigar smoking guys whose wives dragged them, and they couldnt care less about seeing the ballet, and they got their handkerchiefs out. Now thats theater. Every single performance youre going to be cr ying. Guaranteed. So with standards like that, why should I put up with the crap that I see today? Im not going to do it. 59


Such a perform ance encapsulated the four basic doctrines that Socrates said demarcate true art: technique supplemented with the additional layer of love, hate, laughter, and tears. Socrates has never found such a mast erpiece in the art created in Sarasota, or Florida for that matter and Im sorry because those are priceless things. During Socrates arts career, he believed that he learned and played with the best musicians and performers of all time and that spoils you rotten. For this reason, he was extremely critical of the arts today. He talked about playing with two of th e greatest pianist of all time, and expressed great frustration with people who attempt to relate to his experience by describing their pianist friend, Joe Blow down the street. As far as Socrates is concerned, Joe Blow is nothing, and he never will be, even at his best. I have been jealously guarding these people, who are all dead, all of my life. Theyre all dead, great people. They were all personal, de ar friends of mine. And thats where I may appear to be arrogant at times; I hope Im not really. Bu t Im not going to lower the standard, because they have been, and were. And Ill be damned if Im going join the fashionable crowd. Im just not going to do it. Socrates said that the teachers he learned from, and the artist he worked with, surpass todays artists. From cars, to ice cream, to fra nkfurts, Socrates believed American culture and standards changed dramatically after WWII. He believed that the family has fallen apart and that his own people in America have no idea what it is to raise a child. He was furious about this. 60


I am afraid that it will be fixed in a most ter rifying, terrible way. The same way that throughout history, the few times that devast ation won, and people started with burying the dead bodies of their loved ones, and that means starting from scratch, not continuing on and building something. I think were past the poin t of no return, and Im furious at even saying it because it sounds hopeless. And the reason it might be hopeless is because the human animal has a way of believing whatever he or sh e does is the way, not the way you do it, but the way I do it! And that thoughtle ssness is the suicide we practi ce with. It is suicide to not give a damn about the effects your actions have on everybody else. Thats suicide. You dont even have to love everybody, but you have to think about what youre doing Socrates criticism is specific to Amer ican culture. After high school Socrates conducted a three-year tour around Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico, performing ballet shows. This began when he re ceived a letter from a ballerina friend in Cuba asking him to join her in a two-week performance ther e. He greatly valued this experience and believed that all young people should have a sim ilar opportunity to travel the world. These three years further instilled in him values of what family and true happiness meant. I saw real love in abject poverty. People dont even know what a shoe looks like, much less own a pair of shoes. Barefoot peasant s. But the family, they are all very content and very happy. Now when you see that for real, not theory, not written in some book form, and you see that over and over again, it becomes incredible and incredulously magnificent. It becomes factual. And thereafter people can sa y that doesnt happen. We ll, let them say it, 61


because you know different. I think thats calle d real knowledge of the real world, and its priceless. And thats somethi ng we dont have and we dont give our children today. We give them credit cards, we give th em cell phones, we give them hundred dollar bills to take off to the mall, but theyre not happy. And children, especially young people, must be happy, because as life teaches them more and more th ings, those kinds of opportunities for pleasures vanish. So there is one time in your life that children need it and if they dont get it then they will never get it. Thus, they become adults, minus the wonderful care that produces fine people. Okay. The world has chosen to do that but I dont. I cant do anything about it. Im one person. But we had it. In many different places, including this country. We were absolutely wonderful people, caring and taking love and care for each other. Socrates said that Americans used va lue love and the family above all other things and that todays Americans have for gotten these values and replaced them with superficial pleasures. Socrates expresses frustr ation with notions of American progress. He continuously describes American culture as being in a state of regress. During the Great Depression, what you read about in the New York Times and the history books are lies. For instance, people sa y, Well, there were people without homes. Well we have people today who are homele ss and they are not happy people. And I dont remember ever seeing anybody starve. I keep hearing about bread lines and people begging, borrowing, and stealing food. I never saw that. I did see something I dont see today now in wealthy, opulent America now. Poor people, somebody knocks on their door, Depression, maybe they have a job, maybe they dont have a j ob, maybe theyre together themselves, and 62


they go to the door and theres a man there. Saying, Do you have any chores you have to have done and maybe you can give m e some food? And its always the lady of the house, and Ive seen this quite a number of times, so if I saw them, I mean, Im not the whole world, there has to be hundreds of thousands who saw si milar things, it can not be just me whos seeing these things. And she doesnt say anythin g, closes the door, comes back shortly with a bowl of food. And he says, What can I do fo r you? She says, Nothing, and closes the door America did that, I remember Americans do that. I have never seen since the socalled Depression, an American ever do that again. Thats not progress, thats definitely regress. Whether the New York Times writes about it, or the Sarasota Tribune writes about it, I couldnt care less, or some historian writes or makes great movies. The real stuff is what counts, not imagination, and of c ourse my professions are al l partly imagination and I know about that and its fun, imaginati on is wonderful. But the real truth about what really takes place cant be faked regardless of the New York Times or novelists or historians. So we human beings are very good liars to ourselves because thats th e truth. I dont like it but Ill be damned if Im going change the truth. Socrates philosophy extended to th e demise of American culture and values. The same thing that has ruined Ameri ca, he told me, was what ruined the town of his youth. He described what this thing was. I just copied a draft that I had made a long time ago of the day America lost its freedom. And there is an exact date. When the Republican and the Democratic party became one party. They are not two separate parties, they play the same gamewhats good for 63


themselvesand they are not primarily for, of, a nd by the people. Now that day exists. When the Republican chairman the Democratic chairm an of the party signed a saying that they were taking over all of the governing, starti ng with the elections. And the people will only have the choice to vote only for people whom they (the Republican and the Democratic Party) choose; and you can see they are. On ce upon a time, in the election booth wed have 20 something different choices fo r president. And you could laugh at some of the choices, as some people of course did. And some were l udicrous, but they were choices. Thats where democracy really is. We dont ha ve choice today. You ar e told its going be one of these two guys. Thats it. Thats totalitarian dictatorship. That has nothing to do with democracy. For Socrates, this totalitarian dictatorship extended to all facets of American culture. Children, the innocent victims living in this dictatorship, inhe rit the obligation of managing and correcting this ever dwindli ng world. All the problems that Americans currently face begin at the level where they ra ise their children. This was Socrates greatest frustration. And I cant stand myself because were taking away the priceless and precious wordopportunityfrom the children. And this is my personal morality, I think that anyone who takes away an opportunity from a child is a criminal murderer, because thats a living person, and a helpless one, and it didnt ask to be around. You created him, and now its a piece of garbage? Thats the best example of blatant barbarism, worse than barbarism, if there is a thing, and de finitely suicide. And were wa y past that curve, way past it. 64


Ellen Ellen was born and raised in Manhattan. She de scribed herself as strictly a city girl. Early on, her city upbringing instille d in her an interest in other peoples ways of life. When Ellen was five years old she became the older sist er of twins. She said that her siblings, as younger twins, received all the at tention from strangers and thei r parents. They were like a show piece and Ellen had to sort of go on my own, and I learned a lot by going on my own as a little kid. So Id say I have street knowle dge. Ellens stories about her life emphasize independence and strong drive.. This disposition formed very early, and continues to this day. After high school, Ellen went to business sc hool for one year, attending at night and paying her own way. Only very wealthy girls we nt to collage, she recalled. As an older person, Ellen enjoys learning about new things which were not available to her as a young person. She described how opportunities for woman are very different now than in her day; the majority of women took on do mestic work, as opposed to o ffice jobs. All her aunts were in the business field. She told me about one of her aunts who was in charge of a whole department of 143 women in the Atlantic a nd Pacific Tea Company. She proudly mentioned another aunt who worked for one of the largest paper comp anies in the country and was secretary to one of the vice pr esidents because she was very good at short hand and typing. Her mother remained a homemaker until late in life when financial circumstances demanded that she find a job. She presented herself as twelve years younger, took a course to update her knowledge, and became a bookkeeper. Ellen detailed these womans jobs in order for me to 65


understand the kind of background she had wh ere everyone was doing som ething. Then she described her other side, wh ich she called the Irish side. I had that kind of a background, everyone was doing something. And then there was the other side of the Irish, where they were known for going to bars for a great number of years, that has changed considerably now. In Ireland, they had the famine over there. They had nothing to eat but pota toes; thats all they can get from the land. Over the years they upgraded all their skills. Right at the mome nt, theyre hitting hard times again. But its interesting; they were the underdog, and th ey came up, like all unde rdogs. If they have anything on the ball, they try to upgrade themse lves. Its been an interesting road, so to speak. I feel that with a ll the problems Ive had, health problems, financial problems, setbacks, this, that, the other th ing, I still think I came out a wi nner, because Im here to talk about it, and I didnt go off th e deep end. You know my husband did well at one point, and then he did poorly, and we had a complete fi nancial reversalchanges from one style to another. And only if youre tough enough to balan ce it out will you make it. Other than that, youll have a nervous breakdow n. And nobody profits from that. Ellen identifies strongly with this them e of the underdog who, in spite of many difficulties and challenges, rises up through the hard times. She stressed that her background is full of such underdogs. These two themes, Irish heritage and working-class woman, instilled in Ellen a desire and drive to progress and achieve he r greatest potential. She sees proof that only people themselves can take control and guide the direct ion of their futures. 66


Ellen commented that she is m uch sm arter now than she was as a young woman. Throughout her narrative she expressed amusem ent and embarrassment towards the decisions she made and the beliefs underlining them. Ellen was raised Catholic and practiced her faith until the early part of her marriage. You were brought up to observe something, and you better do it. More fear than religion. I dont think half of us understood what it was all about. I dont have biases against people. Life for me is too short now. And I never did have that. I never have that feeling of hatred with no reason. If you dont know, why are you hating? Are you hating the person? Or are you ha ting what they stand for? Or what is your psychology for that? Some people are avid. They dont like this, th ey dont like that. I find a little good in everybody. You know, some are rott en altogether, and others are enjoyable. You got to find something you like about everyb ody if youre on a close contact with them. Like you said you are with your roommate for all these years. Well, according to what I see in todays world, thats very unusual. Course I see it on TVI look at a lot of these law shows, because being very old, I enjoy what you ng people are trying to do today. Its hard in some ways, and then its also easy in others. Because you get grants, you have to work for them, but you still get them. Or maybe you have a relative, or two, whos wealthy and they can afford to subsidize your education. And in our time we never had that. They all worked. This is an interesting respons e to the question of whether Ellen is currently religious. She said that while she was growing up childre n were required to accept the religion handed down to them without question. She is not religi ous anymore because life for me is too short 67


now. Instead she chooses to find a little good in everybody. Ellen described to m e the intolerance that occurs in ma ny religions and in the world today. However, she is hopeful and believes that young people are usi ng the opportunities now given to them to change norms and challenge the status quo. Ellen certainly understood her religion, as well as being Irish, much differently as a young woman. She embodied the identities that were handed down to her in the way they were taught to her. As she got older, she claimed th ese identities as her own by living them on her own terms. For her first job, Ellen went to an employm ent agency called Alberta Smith where she got a job as a receptionist for J C Penny. My mother had told me, Youll never get a job if you say youre Catholic. So dont say youre Catholic! So on my application I put P-R-O-T, meaning Protestant, because I didnt know how to spell it. A nd when the lady interviewed me she said, You put Protestant, what kind of a Protestant are you? And I didnt know that ther e were all kinds of Protestant, like Lutheran or Presbyterian, and I was only 17 or 18, and I got scared I wasnt going to get the job. So I started to cry! And so I told her, Im not a Protestant, Im a Catholic. At that time, in those companies, you had to declare what you were. So I got hired, because she said I was honest in the e nd. And I never forget that because it was very embarrassing. And I was a kid, much younger than you. Even though her mother came from Ireland a nd strongly enforced Catholicism, Ellen and her siblings were taught to say that we were American. We were nt allowed to say we were ethnic, or religion. This led me to believe that she grew up in an intolerant environment, but Ellens only comment about this was that it left me open for all kinds of wonderful things in my life. This deconstructi on of categories may e xplain Ellens interest 68


in exposing herself to d ifferent lifestyles, places, and categories. A s you know I enjoy that so much, and I still, to this day, love different rationales. Ellen worked at J C Penny for four or five years while attendi ng night school and she gave part of her salary to her parents. She reme mbers enjoying this time of her life because of the social life and her interest in boys. Eventual ly, one of her friends told her she could make more money as a buyer. She applied for a job in the garment industry where she stayed for five years, until she got married. Her future husband lived in her apartment building and was seven years older. There was a fascination there because sh e had always liked older men. During WWII he went to the South Pacific and they wrote one another. She described her marriage as fun and it lasted for 45 years, until her husbands death. Ellen and her husband had one daughter who cu rrently lives with her, and has for the past 15 years. Now Im having health problem s and I dont want her to be burdened with that so Im all for her moving. Ellen is persistent in her desire that he r daughter finds a place of her own. Ellens daughter moved in with her after a divorce set her back financially and emotionally. Although she sometimes attempts to find a place of her own, her daughter is too afraid to move because she sees what happens with a lot of people that go over-board and they end up losing everything. And she cant a fford that again, so she stays with me, and it works out. Its not perfect, nothing like that ever is. Ellen comments that their living arrangement has become a financial obligation on both their parts. Financially, when this divorce occurred she had a set-back mentally, physically, morally, and it took her a little while. She was not a party girl. She had worked with him in Switzerland, and she had worked there 14 years. And it was way up in the mountains, at the 69


top of the ski area, one of these fashionable ski areas, and they had an inn, and there was a bistro in the bottom, and she worked there, and it got to be too much for her. Its very claustrophobic in those places, you know; the towns are small, and everything is handed down from one to the other as far as he reditary back ground. And she was an American, outsider, you know. And she prof ited from all of her knowledg e that she gained. She learned the language, which is very difficultSwi ss German, and Italian is very hard, and she learned it herself. If she hadnt learned it she wouldnt have had anyone to talk to because they dont speak English, so she pr ofited from that. And now in the job that shes in, in Sarasota, she has learned Spanish because she ne eded that, so she went online and got some books. You know if you want to do some thing, you have to bite the bullet. Ellens discussion of her daughter centers around two issues: he r daughters career success, and Ellens fear of becom ing a burden to her daughter. The first issue reflects the value Ellen places on individual drive and achieve ment. Within her career, her daughter has constantly bit the bullet. The second issue re flects Ellens concern that one day she will no long have this independence that she prides and values. Ellens pride and independence translates to her relationship with her best friend, who used to live in Englewood, but moved up north. Consequentially, they dont see one anot her much. Ellen does not like to travel with her health problems because it s too much of a burden to whoever you visit, but they have a running conversation. Its very nice to have things in common with people you associate with. Like I have a childhood friend whos an artist. Her sister wa s my childhood girl friend, and she was the 70


youngest in the family. Its so much fun havi ng someone to talk to that you know way back when you were a kid, and we marvel at the changes of today, my god! How can they be doing this? Is that terrible? We we rent allowed, you had to be dres sed up all the time, casual was not a thing. Or women e xercising, some of them played golf maybe, if they could afford it. I value her friendship so much. She won the priz e in art when she graduated from high school, and if she had been wealthy e nough, if they hadnt n eeded her money at home, she would have been able to go on with her career. But th ats how it was for us back then. But when she got married later on in life, she married a divorced man, and they had a farm, an apple orchard, and that was her foray. And he had an insurance company, and they had this apple orchard, and she entertained. She was artistic and could cook, and make things, and paint, she did watercolors, and colored pencils, and today thats what shes doing. He passed away. And its so much fun talking to her. We have so much in common, cause I always try to keep advancing myself, I read. I like to have a background to talk about. I dont like running people. You know that thing that women do? Gossip? Im not interested. Im only interested if I can find a level to enjoy someth ing fun with people, or something they do, or accomplish. So I enjoy her talking. Shes up nort h, so we talk on the phone all the time. Her mother made all the clothing, she used to make lemon meringue pie like you never saw. So all these things you remember about people, if you like them. Ellens description of her best friend refl ects the descriptions she offers of other valuable people in her life. They are all descri bed as people with strong characters, constantly engaged in independence and continuous progre ss. We have so much in common, because I always try to keep advancing myself. This th eme was even reflected in Ellens relationship 71


with SFC. She told m e that she mainly comes to SFC because it is a form of exercise for her. Ellen constantly challenges herself physically and mentally. She create d a program for each day that engages her in constant exercises designed to keep her from being an Alzheimers victim. Thats my activity, preserving what I got so Im not a burden. Do unto others as you would have do unto y ourself. In other words, make it your own thing. It took me a long time in life to learn that, and not imitate in other words. I dont like certain things and I dont indulge in them. I dont like to go ssip. I dont like to demean. I dont like unhappy. I always say, lift it up a lit tle, take it up another not ch. What is that, Emeril on TV? I like it. And say something fun. Youre in company, dont always say, Oh I have a pain in my head. I have a pain in my head from the time I get out of bed, but you know, who cares? I dont like boring. I like to read about different th ings, like the man did this thing on China the other day, and before he did that I got several books, exercise books, art books, mode of living books, all with the Chinese philosophy. So I enjoyed what he did. So I appreciate people giving. And thats why I come to the Center. Thats why I come to the class. There are moments where I totally don t enjoy what theyre saying because its repetitious, and its boring. But then, were all boring in some fashion. Patty During WWII concentration camps in Utah housed Japanese people. Pattys father moved to this small town because he worked on the construction of the concentration camps. Patty was born in Delta, Utah, a small Mormon town in the middle of the desert where, she 72


said, she spent m ost of her time trying to avoid being bored. Her upbringing and family history are filled with racial and religious tension. Her moth er was a Mormon girl and her father was Native American and very anti-Mor mon. This tension between her father and the community was a theme throughout Pattys whole life in Utah. Part of the reason he was anti-Mormon was that he was in love with a young woman when he first moved to Utah, and her father said that he could not marry her, and he made a lot of trouble for them, and they werent allowed to get marrie d. And that was the first time he had been discriminated agains t for not being Mormon. And he followed up with that with a lot of anger for most of the time he lived out there. After working on the concentration camps, Pa ttys father got a farm and also ran a service station while her mother ran a motel. Patty describes herself as growing up feeling extremely unhappy because she did not live in a big town. This launched her into a fray against boredom that pers isted throughout her life. I used to help out with the rooms. My j ob was to clean the rooms every morning in the summer when school wasnt on. I had to get up ea rly, by 8. I had to work four hours, 8 to noon. Id clean 16 units. These were old rooms, they were just double beds, dark and gloomy. And I was bored a lot. So to counteract the boredom, I would go to the library and get books to read. 73


She worked for her m other whom she describes as a hyper personality type, one of those people that could never sit down and relax. Pattys mother dr ank several cups of coffee everyday. She attributes her mothers intense work ethic to the fact that her grandmother died when her mother was very young; so Pattys mother had to take care of the entire family. She did physical work her whol e life and lived to be 98 years old. Pattys father wasnt so lucky. He had some very seri ous problems that affected me, she explained. When Patty was 12 years old, her father worked on an alfalfa farm. While on the job, Pattys father contracted a brain disease fr om a mosquito bit, she explained. After a few days, he changed completely. It was almost like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of experience, because he wasnt my fath er anymore, he was some stranger. And he was very sick and crying all the time. And he couldn t figure out how to do the work he had to do, and this went on for years. He got better, but he never really got back to be himself. And my mother used to say, I see Charlie, and it lo oks like Charlie, but its not Charlie. And I had a lot of problems because of that. Eventually, we had to put him in a mental hospital, which was really hard because we lived in a sm all town and everybody knew. And he was very ashamed, and angry, and resentful over that. Only when he got sick did Pattys father turn to religion. Since he had been in a Catholic orphanage for short time, he chose Catholicism. He never considered Mormonism. As Patty explains, during his mental decline from the disease, he still remained aware of the Mormon communitys perception of him. Pattys fath er also confronted ra cial tensions within his own upbringing. 74


And that was also hard because, although he said he was proud to be an Indian, he wasnt raised with a lot of kindness from the older brothers and sisters that he lived w ith. And the parents, since they didnt marry, his fath er left his mother when he was just a baby. And later, because the Indian rights came about, and there was oil to be gotten, and Dickson Cornel (his father) claimed that he wasnt his son, and later it came out that he was his son, but he disowned his whole family, so my father never got his inheritance. Along with her duties at the motel, Patty used to help pump gas at the service station and once in a while shed go to the farm and drive the hay truck. She had a lot of friends while growing up and they were tomboys. They would ride bikes, climb trees, and go swimming. When she was 14 she started dating he r first boyfriend. Patty told me that in Delta there were two forms of entertainmen t on the weekends. The first was the weekly Mormon weddings, Friday and Saturday night, that everyone would attend. A band would play and everyone would dance. The other en tertainment was the drive-in movie theater. So I dated young. I was very into being with this young boy who was very interesting, and amusing, and fun to be with, kind of a comi c. And I remember he drove a salmon pink Ford, and you never see that again, that color. And I imagined myself in love with this kid. And eventually he dropped me for somebody else, and I was really hurt. It took me a long time to get over that. 75


This m arked the beginning of Pattys relationships with men. After her first boyfriend, she went out with qui te a few more boys. She described one whom she dated for two years as very domineering, very demanding, and someone she didnt really care much for, but there werent very many guys in that to wn, and he was captain of the football team. He was the big cheese. So she ended up with him regardless. After high school, her family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. Here, sh e met a man in the army whom she married. Patty enjoyed the summers in Alaska becau se it never got dark, only twilight. She also enjoyed the stars and the Northern Lights. However, in the winter time, the sun rose at 10 am in the morning and set by 3 pm. She felt pretty lonely because th ey lived in a small apartment and her husband worked in the oil fi eld. He would be gone for 10 days at a time and home for only four days. Patty decided to start selling Tupp erware in order to occupy her time. I didnt really care about Tupperware; in fact, I didnt even use the stuff. But I sold it, and I was good at it. I was the top sales pers on for three years, she said. She would throw two Tupperware parties a day, as he r war with boredom continued. It kept me active. It gave me something to do. I really needed something to do. I had some education, but not enough to get out. I tried a couple things. I tried to be a secretary, but my typing skills werent very good. Eventually her husband stopped spending much time with her. He had a lot of friends from the army and would go out hunting and fishing with them. He was also a skilled guitarist and singer, and began performing in ni ght clubs. Patty described these all these night clubs as iffy places that she wa s not allowed to be in. He got a lot of attention from women, 76


and eventua lly fell in love with a folk si nger who got pregnant. Patty remembers how he started treating her indifferently and became disi nterested in her. By the time Patty was 20, they had one child. Five years la ter, they had their second child. He wanted me to stay on birth control; he didnt want me to have children. Then after the four years, I said, Do you want to ha ve another child? Because if you do, we should have one, or forget about it. Plus the birth control pills were driving me bonkers. They were the first ones that had come out, and I was wa cked out half the time on those things. My attention span and ability to think was zilch. Bu t as far as selling Tupperware, I could do that, I had those people skills. And so eventu ally he came home and told me, before Christmas, that he was seeing this woman. This was shortly after she had her second baby, when she and her husband had an argument. She suggested that he return to the oil field, which infuriated him. He bought her a bunch of TV dinners, diapers, and baby formula, and disappeared for two weeks. They ended up getting a divorce that took a month to finalize. Pattys mother came up to Alaska and helped her pack up all her things. I was just crushed and devastated. It took me a long time to get over things. I never really did get over him. But I got married within a year, and I married a stable personality type. And it was a good marriage; he was always good to me. 77


Patty and her second husband had one child t ogether, but she lam ents that although he was always good to her, he was not as good with the children. They moved to the suburbs of Pittsburgh. She got pregnant right after they moved there and she remembers being lonely because her husband was a workaholic. Where Patty turned to Tupperware as a means to fill up the time her first husband did not spend w ith her, she filled up the hours her second husband did not spend with her by turning to activism. She specifically became involved with womens rights and joined th e National Organization for Woman. My husband was not at all happy about it because I kept bring these books home, and he didnt want to hear about it. He wanted di nner, and he wanted sex, and he wanted to go out to a movie, and he felt sort of trapped by my whole new attitude. I had become a different person when I moved to Pennsylvania; I got away from the little town I grew up in. Patty also led a consciousness raising gr oup for women that met every Friday night, because we wanted to be liberated. They woul d talk about all the things that were going on in their lives: getting work, getting along w ith their husbands, and how hard it was to find child care for their kids, which was a big issue at the time since day care didnt really exist yet. She also marched for the Equal Rights Am endment, which never did pass. She joined karate and self defense classes. I was really wrapped up in all this, and this was really hard for my husband to deal with. Pa tty also decided that she want ed to start going to college. She and her husband got into a lot of arguments over this. Pattys husband, who was very tight with money, did not want to pay for he r education until she decided on a career path. 78


Meanwhile, Patty argued that she needed to go to school in the first place in order to find out which career she wanted. Her husband landed a very important j ob for the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C.. However, he had a couple strokes, and was having trouble staying on the job. He also had a drinking problem and he mi xed alcohol with his medication. By the time he was 64 years old he was really messed up in the head, she said. Eventually, Patty had to put him in a hospital, where he lost 80 pounds, and eventually died. Patty struggled to cope with this devastating event. I had gone kind of goofy because I was hooked on Xanax. And I was hooked on that stuff and my daughter had come to stay with me And she grabbed the pills and told me, Im not going to let you have them. And since theyre highly addic tive, I was a basket case, and ended up in the hospital. And my kids decided th at Mom is going to go into an assisted living place. They didnt want me in the house b ecause they thought maybe Id do myself in, and I didnt want to live by myself anyways. And there was this assisted living place called Sunrise Patty didnt mind being ther e. She thought it was kind of nice. It seemed like a big hotel, with fancy dinners. She had a lot of women around her and a few men to talk to. However, it turned out most of the women ther e had Alzheimers. After six months of living there, I got thinking about it, a nd I said, if Im going to stay in this place, Im going to make myself useful. They had activities there, but they didnt have enough. Once again, Patty combated boredom and conjured up her ability of extracting the most out of the circumstance 79


she faced. She describes herself as the only form of entertainm ent for the people at Sunrise because she would do such things as play me mory games with the Alzheimers women and play the jukebox while encour aging everyone to dance. I would do stuff like that to keep them going. And they were smart women, but they were stuck in there and they weren t going to get out of that pla ce. And they were very lonely because they had activities, like bingo, but a lot of those women needed more stimulation. And a lot of the men were disabled, had been in the army, they were in wheelchairs so I would go up and give them hugs, and talk to th em and give them hugs, and extend myself to these people. Because I knew what it felt like to be lonely, because I had been in that house, and I knew what it was like to really want to do something for somebody, with somebody. She was there for three years, and comments that she did not want to leave. But her daughter and her daughters girl friend wanted Patty to watch their house while they went on a U.S road trip for a year. This brought Patty to Sarasota. She enjoys it here and hopes to buy her own place here once her daught er returns from her travels. Patty prefers Sarasota over her home in Maryland because there are a lot of activities here for older people and she has not seen that where Ive lived in Maryland, theres nothing comparable to this. The following chapter examines how Socr ates, Ellen, and Pattys life history constructs their social identities. I then look at how memory functions on the collective level to construct group identity a nd place. This analysis specifically focuses on SFC and the wisdom group as a place for individual and collective memory. 80




Chapter 4 Every time I go out and get to do something its a gift from God. Phyllis Memory and Individual Identity Although aging practices and no tions are culturally construc ted, they are individually experienced. Socrates, Ellen, and Pattys lives expose the chasm that exists between cultural assumptions and the realities of old age. Kaufman might look at thei r life histories as a process that strives to maintai n, for the individual, a self-ident ity with a sense of continuity that instills the present moment with meaning. Her assertion th at reminiscence actively works to maintain a persons sense of self may be tr ue for some individuals, but she assumes that this is the case for all older people. As Tsuji s work shows, some individuals might not have a fragmented sense of self in old age that requires the managing of past selves. Regardless of their internal understanding of self and thei r life histories, the people I interviewed did choose to reveal, and leave out, specific details of their lives. People ar e intentional in their choices to share certain memories, but one can never fully know the selves other people construct within their own minds. Nor can one ever fully apprehend how other people understand their lives and derive meaning from past experiences. All one can know about another person, in a life review context, is what that person chooses to share. Kaufman uses life histories as a founda tion for interpreting the psychological processes that govern id entity formation and help individuals derive meaning from their understanding of self. A persons life history engages reminiscence, a life-long, continuous process by which the person unders tands the self. Kaufman select s and interprets the central themes of life histories in order to discern how people construct the ageless self. Themes reveal the idiosyncratic ways people experience and understand events and moments in their 82


lives through which they strive to m aintain a continuous sense of self Kaufman states that identity formation presents people with tw o challenges: (1) maintaining a sense of continuity across the life span, and (2) reconc iling their lives with cultural assumptions and expectation of how their lives should be lived. The presence of themes addresses these problems by bringing the past into the present. Although Kaufmans theory provides valuable insights, I believe that one can never fully succeed in reaching the goal she outlines. One can make guesses about how people form and interpret their self-identities, but they remain only guesses. I cannot assess the psychological function of a persons life history, because it is different for each individual. But I can look at how memory is act ively used in the physical world. Where Kaufman analyzes themes as a tool to discern how the individual forms an understanding of the self, in contrast, I examine themes to discern the self that the individual presents to others by narrating a life histor y. The individual makes conscious choices and decisions while selecting the parts of life narra ted. This process of selection makes the life history very important. Vesperi ar ticulates this in her discussi on of the large collection of memories old people can choose from when adju sting or adjusting to social demands (1985: 76). The life history is particular ly unique and powerful because through it a person performs his or her whole life to other people, constructing everything that they choose to share. They tell other people, This is where I have been, th is is what I have done, this is who I was, and this is who I am. They create a personal past for the present. What is relevant to the audience is not the actual past, but this past, the past th e person reveals. I do agree with Kaufmans idea that the life history uses themes and reminiscence to construct identity. A difference between Kaufmans view and mine is that Kaufman 83


exam ines identity construction psychologica lly, as individually meaningful. I understand identity construction performatively, as cultur ally meaningful. While memories are important psychologically and inside of the individuals head, memories told and shared are the ones that become active. The life history is not, as Kaufman describes, ident ity in old age. It is the identity the individual chooses to perform. A person engaged in the act of narrating a life history is involved in a performance of identity construction. This perf ormance is a matter of choice. By actively selecting and presenting mean ingful memories, the life history creates the self identity that the individual wants others to see. This is how the self is externally constructed on the individual level. However, it must be stressed that performances of identity-construction are not entirely a matte r of free choice but are dependent on their relation to other peoples perceptions. In her di scussion of reciprocity, Vesperi addresses how older people must manipulate s ituations in order to reveal what othe rs think of them. Unfortunately, this process can reinforce cultural stereotypes of aging (1985: 57-59). Myerhoff describes cultures as mirrors that offer self-presentations to their members, resulting in self-knowledge fo r the individual and the group. Fu rthermore, culture functions as a stage that provides people with oppor tunities for pronouncing selfand group identity. Because of this, performance is not optional a nd Being is a social, psychological construct, made, not given (1979B: 233). Performances are a way of appearing, and more importantly, a way of establishing self-definitions. They ar e shaped and groomed justifications, more akin to myth and religion than lists of empty external events we call history or chronicle (1979B: 234). This form of self -presentation creates self-know ledge for the individual and the group whereby people embody their places in the scheme of things and designate their location within the social structure (1979B: 261). Myerhoff stat es that since these self84


presentations are intentional, their dem onstration of what is also documents what should be or should have been. Life histories provide an opportunity for appearing through which people integrate their historical experiences to construct and manifest an identity (1979B: 254-5). Socrates I was introduced to Socrates as a college student; during our first conversation he explained to me the poi ntlessness of formal education. Socrates continuously talked about real knowledge of the real world describing it as superior to the theory one learns in school. This theme surfaced during most of th e wisdom group meetings and immediately placed Socrates in a position of authority. He supported all of his beliefs with past experiences, and since life histories detail past experiences i ndicative of real knowledge of the real world, his argument dominated argum ents supported by theory. Furthermore, since he was largely successful in establishing that the past he grew up in morally exceeds the present, all his life experience s held legitimacy over those of the corrupt post-World War II world. His life narrative opens with an image of his birth town where a baby is crossing the road and traffic stopping for blocks just so the baby can continue on thei r way. This is clearly an idealized presentation. He seems to know it be cause he said that people do not believe it. He does not assume that their disbelief results from inconsistencies, exaggerations, or flaws in his stories. As far as Socrates is concerned, people do not believe him because theyve never seen any approximation of it. He believes he is mis understood because people today live in a truthless world un like the one of his past. The main theme throughout Socrates life history is opportunity. He credits his mother for all the experience, knowledge, and skill he acquired during his life because she 85


always provided him with opportunity. Even though they were poor, his mother funded all his interests. He just tasted it because Mo mma provided the opportunitie s. He clarified that she never forced anything onto him, rather sh e gave him the choice to do things. He believes that todays children are robbed of this right. Were taking aw ay the priceless and precious wordopportunityfrom the children. He stated that his own personal morality is that anyone who takes away an opportunity from a ch ild is a criminal murderer. Children may currently experience a world more technically ad vance than the one Socrates grew up in but they dont have the most importa nt thing: the warmth and the love and the care that only human beings can give to children. This theme overlaps the second important theme in Socrates life, art. Beginning in his early childhood with the first performance he ever saw, Jack and the Bean Stalk art was and always will be an important aspect of his life. He spent most of his childhood practicing ballet and working for theat er companies, the tail end of the great companies. He engaged in the social world of the arts where he befriended and learned from the greatest creators of all time. He atte nded theater performances that brought every member of the audience to tears. He witnesse d masterpieces that he has never seen again, because true art does not exist anymore. He jealously guards these people who have been, and were the best. He refused to lower and ali gn his standards with the crap of today, hes just not going to do it. Socrates narrated the longest and the mo st detailed life hist ory that I collected, but he ended his life history during the decade of his twenties. Only about five or ten minutes of the four hours devoted to telling me about his life focused on his adulthood. By focusing the entirety of his life histor y on the events of his childhood, So crates distinguished it as the 86


most im portant part of his life. The childhood he presented is difficult to take literally. I personally doubt that half of it actually happene d, but rather that he presented his upbringing as an ideal. The activities and achievement s he described designate him as extremely educated, talented, and gifted. I think Socrates constructed this identity in order to legitimize his opinions and to situate himself in a position of inte llectual authority. Socrates seemed to view our interviews as opportunities for teaching me valuable life lessons and truths about history. It seems that Socrates goal in narrating his life story was to convince people that our current culture is in a state of regress. He vindicated criticism of how the past is represented. He stated that history books falsely portr ay the Great Depression during which he never saw anybody starve. On the other hand, he pointed out that there are thousands of starving people in America right no w. In his view, all of todays technological advances amount to nothing in comparison to th e destruction of the family and political corruption. Socrates defined Am erican society as risking suicide. The identity Socrates constructed in his life history enable him to convincingly argue these harsh sentiments within the wisdom group, where someone else could not. Ellen The theme of the underdog structures Ellen s life history. She began by explaining the history of the women in her family, demonstrating how the opportunities available for women were completely different from t oday. After high school most women found a domestic job and perhaps attended business sch ool at night. Only wealthy girls attended college, this meant that Ellen could not. Inst ead she did what most women did, she worked. Ellen is part of a tradition of working women. She mentions that during her life she struggled through many hardships and came out a winner. 87


The them e of the underdog is also central in Ellens discussion of her daughter. Her daughter went through a divor ce that wounded her financia lly and mentally. But she persevered. She moved from Switzerland into Ellens house and taught herself Spanish in order to earn a job. She bit the bullet. Ellen wants her daughter to move out of Ellens house because Ellen worries that she will beco me a burden to her daughter. This fear of burdening others even terminated Ellens vis its to the home of her best friend in New England for fear of burdening her. This c oncern relates to the underdog theme. Ellens designs her life around this and plans an exerci se program for each day so that she will not become an Alzheimers victim and a burden. This theme also reflects Ellens love of knowledge and learning. She never went to college and said that as an old women she love s learning new things th at were not available to her when she was young. The underdog theme unde rlines events in her life and infuses them with specific ideals and attitudes. With this theme, Ellen presents herself as the successful underdog. She constructed an iden tity that is strong and independent. Patty Growing up in a small Mormon town exposed Patty to a childhood of boredom and racial and reli gious tension. She talks about never understanding why her parents chose to live in Delta, Utah, and she always felt regret about not living in a city. She read books from the library because she was bored. The boredom that began in her childhood remained something she battled all throughout he r life. This theme governs Pattys ambitious and active life style. During the time she lived in Alaska sh e threw two Tupperware parties a day for because she needed something to do. During her second marriage she combated boredom 88


with activism. After her husband died, her childr en put her into an assisted living facility because the y worried that she would hurt herself. She did not mind being institutionalized because it meant that she wouldnt be alone. Th e theme of boredom is present here in the way she assumes the responsibility for entertai nment at the assisted living facility. She empathized with the people there because sh e knew the feeling of loneliness because she had been in that house. Each phase of Pattys life is distingu ished by the men in her life. Her father experienced racism for being half Native American and discrimination for not being Mormon. He got a disease and became some stra nger to her. Pattys romantic relationships with men began when she was fourteen years old and continued throughout her life. Patty engages in relationships with men, even when t hose relationships are difficult; she settles for them in order to avoid loneliness. The theme of men and boredom cons truct an identity of Patty as active and constantly searching for something. Memory and Group Identity Myerhoff identifies two types of performances where self-definition occurs. The first occurs during natural occasions where a group is given a spa ce in which to perform. The second happens when such a space does not exist and the group must invent a space; she terms these definitional ceremonies (1979B: 234) I believe that Myerhoff is forgetting a third type of performance, the narration of life histories and memory. She continuously discusses life histories as functioning in the same way, with the same purpose, as the other two types of performance she mentions. All three are avenues for self-presentation and selfdefinition. The difference between them is that the first two perfor mances provide selfdefinition for the group, while life histories allow for individual self-def inition. Life histories 89


are not m erely private recollectio ns of a persons life; they are actively told and shared with others. The individuals life can be very significant for the gro up. Stafford states that, Not simply self-serving, memory reenters the soci al world as a cultural resourcea device by which people do things together (2009 B: 87). Although Myerhoff acknowledges that the integration of earlier states of being does provide a sense of continuity and completeness that can be potentially essential for some people (1979B: 239), awaren ess of this act of private recollection as an internal, indi vidually managed process clarifie s it as distinction from the life history. The presence of an audience ma kes life histories a matter of performance. Individuals perform life histor ies that are then managed by culture. Regardless of the individuals understanding of self the telling of life histories to an audience re sults in selfrecognition and self-definition. Group memory and definitional ceremonies continuously construct group identity. Memory constructs group identity in the same way that it constructs individual identity; by bring the past into the present while infusing it with meaning. When people share memories, they promote the maintenance of a shared past (2009B: 86). Stafford states that, memory does not merely represent or signify the group, but helps to build it, to su stain it in an active, constitutive process (2009B: 87). Stafford describes this as th e bodily experience of memory (2009B: 87). Myerhoff terms this specifi c use of memory, where important parts of the past are purposively rea ssembled for moral and aesthetic purposes, re-membering (1979B: 240). This special type of recollection aggregates significant members, prior selves, events, and all the significant parts of a pa st story. This aggregation is a purposive and significant unification and establishes the re telling of memories as an activity with ideological, as oppose to historical, goals. The group links their shared beliefs and symbols to 90


historical events. In these stor ies m inor particularities and spec ifics fall through the cracks as focus is placed on larger, cen tral themes. Group re-membering shows that life does not only belong to the individual living it, but to the group as well (1979B: 240). Group memory not only represents the group, it engages the commun ity in an active process that sustains and builds the group. This active, bodily use of memory manifests r itually as people do things together (2009B: 87). The ritual component of memory promot es the maintenance of a shared past (2009B: 86) and constructs identity on the collective, group level. Definitional ceremonies actively connect memory and space by inventing a place for performance. These performances reconstruct the groups identity a nd this requires the referencing and building upon of group memory. Definitional ceremonies usually occur when a marginalized group responds to a more power ful and dominant, outside society (1979B: 261). As strategies providing opportunities for being seen and in ones own terms, definitional ceremonies confront the problems of invisibility by garnering witness to ones worth, vitality, and being (1979B: 264). They f unction in the same way as life histories. Definitional ceremonies are collective self-definitions specifically intended to proclaim an interpretation to an audience not other wise available (1979B: 234-5). This completes the process of cultural mirroring as the group clai ms the stereotypes en forced upon them and reflects them back into soci ety in an altered form. SFC, Group Memory, and Group Identity After visiting Sarasota, Brother Geenen, deci ded Sarasota needed a place that allowed old people, from across all backgrounds, to come together to escape isolation and find solutions to the challenges of aging. The 500 people who arrived on opening day invented a space for themselves in response to societys marginalization of them. Geenen knew that 91


people face a com plex assortment of issue as they age and society needed to acknowledge these individuals as active members of so ciety. Geenen tackled the challenge of marginalization by performing this definitional ceremony that allowed older people the opportunity to appear and define them selves to others. It gave old pe ople a place to go. This allowed them to engage in group activities a nd to develop a sense of group identity. Now very visible to the outside community, SFC can perform definitional ceremonies outside of its walls that present a self-definition that c ounters and challenges stereotypes about aging. Today, SFC possesses a distinct and unique group identity. This identity began forming the moment people began infusing the space with meaningful memory. SFCs motto, People helping people, reflects Geenens reas on for creating the center and references the memory of SFC genesis. This value of help ing others, made meaningful by the groups memory of the past, characterizes part of the Ce nters group identity. This theme is central to all the work SFC does. Well over 5,000 indivi duals volunteer for the SFC network. During my time there, I rarely encountered an indivi dual not wearing a volunt eer name tag. Simply participating in SFC makes one a volunteer, a person who helps other people. This exposes SFC dependence on the individuals engagement in the community for its survival. It is also a strategy for engaging older people and building their self-esteem and sense of responsibility. The groups collective memory is visible in the physical make up of SFC. The upstairs classrooms hold boxes of archival documents and albums full of old photos. Collages and photographs of resent events a nd members of the community decorate the walls. This demonstrates that SFC provides a place for memory. Monthl y lunches celebrating the birthdays of people born in that month celeb rate the memory of these members births. 92


Everyday Barbara welcom es first time visitors to SFC by introducing them to the group during lunch. This act of welcom ing distinguishes the visitor as an outside r and the others as one. The SFC monthly newspaper focuses on a sp ecific range of issues that address the concerns of its members. One article I read was entitled, How to Keep Your Spirits Up When Times Are Down, and this issue focu sed on the importance of mental health and benefits of brain buildin g activities. The articles in this newspaper always addressed specific challenges people face while aging. These recurr ent themes reflect the shared issues and concerns that individuals at SFC find important. I continuously witnessed the groups collec tive memory and identity during wisdom group meetings. Members of the wisdom group freque ntly shared articles and stories with the class. Most of this literature consisted of silly anecdotes that poked fun at the struggles of old age. I remember one article entitled, You Know Youre Old If that proceeded to ridicule the lifestyles of old people. Everyone in the wisdom group burst into fits of laughter during the reading of such articles. The humor always escaped me as I forced myself to chuckle awkwardly. My presence alone made the groups id entity more distinguishable. Group discussions encouraged the sharing and exchangi ng of memories and opin ions. All the topics we discussed launched everyone into an excited state where they narrated specific memories and detailed recollections of toke ns from the past. My own opini ons where often translated as representative of the belief s of the whole American youth. This is something that consistently made me uncomfortable. Each tim e Socrates directed the dialogue towards me by asking, Loren, why dont you tell the class how the youth of America feels about all these issues were talking about? I always qua lified my response by expl aining that I did not 93


know what the youth of Am erica felt and that I could only explain how I felt about the topics under discussion. Socrates tended to became frustrat ed by this and he sometimes told me that I in fact did know how the youth of Ameri ca felt about the issues we discussed. Within SFC, the wisdom group created its own space for group memory and identity. As a space for the discussion of topics you are not suppose to talk about, the wisdom group designated itself in contracts to the rest of SFC. Ellen attend ed the wisdom group, instead of others, because theres an exch ange there. Socrates always commented that the individuals forming the wisdom group were but a few of the decent, truly good people remaining in the world. His role as the group leader established th is recurrent comment as definitive of all the members in the group. All praise within the wisdom group began with Socrates. As the individual receiving the praised shyly rejected this, other me mbers of the group would chime in to reinforce Socrates praise. This daily oc currence collectively established the identity of the groups members as distinct. As part of the same generational cohort, members of SFC shared specific historical experiences. This shared memory was accepted and expected. The wisdom groups collective memory differed from this because the group continuously shared individual memories. This established a uniform group identity based on a shared group memory. Place Along with identity, individual and group memo ry also reconstruct space. Stafford states that human interaction turns space into place by infusing it with meaning (2009B: 15). Place contains memory, and this distinguishes it from space. Space is defined by geographical reference points. While place is th e physical space once it becomes infused with meaning and memory (2009B: 15). Stafford uses the idea of place to highlight the 94

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im portance of home in an analysis of aging focused on the body-in-place, as opposed to the individual aging body. Home is significant because it provides th e individual with a place to age in. It also provides the i ndividual and group with a space fo r memory that allows for the construction of self-identity. Stafford, along with many other scholars of aging, argues that in order to age successfully individuals must possess a home to age in. The central issue of successful aging becomes a matter of how the individual succeeds in creating and mainta ining their home. The proce ss of reterritorialization transforms space into place that people then identify as home. As Gupta and Ferguson explain, space, and the clusters of interaction occurring within it, continuously reterritorialize space. Furthermore, the physical world and human bodies mutually constitute each other. I believe that the individual can maintain a home by utilizing reminiscence and ritual performance to turn space into place; this infuses it with memory and meaning on the individual and collective group level. These ritualized acts reterrit orialize space and results in the construction of elder-friendly pla ces necessary for successful aging. 95

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Conclusion You got to think about a lot of things when youre older. And I feel that if anything happens to me now, I gave it my best shot. I tried my hardest and I feel compensated that I used good judgment. -Ellen Stay connected, stay engaged, thats one of the most important things in life. Barbara During my last day at SFC, I found myself even more taciturn and awkward than usual. As I sat in the Great Room, jazz musi c, laughter, playful banter, and fragments of conversations filled my ears as I witnessed th e fading of the passing moment. I thought about all the people who had extended themselves to me. I thought about the memories individuals shared with me as they presented their life hi stories. I thought about th e corner seats Garnet and Jon sat in during each wisdom group meetin g. And I thought about how those seats were suddenly empty one day. I observed the empty spaces around me and imaged the individuals who had occupied them as the years passed. I wondered if my absence from this chair positioned along the periphery of the Great Room would be noticed. More than anything, I felt guilty for requesting that this community invest th eir time and share their memories with me for the purpose of my own research, the co mpletion of which marked the end of my time here. As I peddled my bike away from SFC, I understood that even though my research had ended the individuals at SFC still continued to age and confront the realities and challenges of old age. I understood that I ha d a responsibility to SFC that I would use my research to add a new perspective within th e anthropology of aging. I wonde red how I would situate my research experience within the anthropology of aging and what valuable insights this could contribute to the discourse. 96

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I am reminded of Myerhoffs Number Our Days (1978). The individuals in this ethnography continuously conveyed a sense of ur gency as they narrate d their life histories and described the places of their past. Th ere was also a shared sentiment among most members of ILC regarding their immigration to the United States and the Americanization of their children and grandchildren. They proudly de tailed the achievements of their children, many of whom had successful professional careers. However, this sense of pride was intertwined with feelings of bitterness and betrayal. They disapprovingly commented on their childrens failure to teach th eir own children Yiddish and obs erve Jewish tradition. These acts were understood as the intentional jettis oning of their culture and values. I have experienced this sentiment within my own experience as a first-generation American. Unlike ILC, SFC is not entirely comprise d of immigrants. The ILC community is made up of eastern European Je wish immigrants. The SFC community is more diverse. By describing the sentiment of ILC members toward s their American born family members, I am highlighting the struggles each generation faces in raising younger generations, the struggle of preserving the memories that form genera tional heritage. I wonder where the distinction between evolution of culture and destructi on of culture lies. When people make such statements as, Things just arent how they used to be or Kids these days just dont understand, they articulate the message that someth ing is being lost. Is this for the better or the worst? Hopefully something is also being gained. As mentioned earlier in this thesis, ma ny of the problems facing older Americans stem from their marginalization. I have argued th at cultural mirroring is central for resolving this problem. Scholarship on aging provides t ools for resolving the problems facing older Americans. It must be remembered that th ese insights only work when individuals and 97

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98 Americans as a whole establish personal a nd lasting relations with one another across generational lines. People must understand that the well-being of ones self directly depends on the well-being of others. In Number Our Days, Shmuel comments on the passing of time. He describes to Myerhoff the difficulty of holding on to the past. When the great Hasid, Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Good Name, had a problem, it was his custom to go to a certain part of the forest. Th ere he would light a fire and say a certain prayer, and find wis dom. A generation later, a son of one of his disciples was in the same position. He went to that same place in the forest and lit the fire, but he could not remember the pray er. But he asked for wisdom and it was sufficient. He found what he needed. A generation after that, his son had a problem like the others. He also went to the forest, but he could not even light the fire. Lord of the Universe, he prayed, I could not remember the prayer and I cannot get the fire started. But I am in the forest. That will have to be sufficient. And it was. Now, Rabbi Ben Levi sits in his study in Chicago with his head in his hand. Lord of the Universe, he prays. Look at us now. We have forgotten the prayer. The fire is out. We cant find our way back to the place in the forest. We can only remember that there was a fire, a prayer, a place in the forest. So Lord, now that must be sufficient. (quoted in Myerhoff 1979A: 112)

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Works Cited Anonymous 2010 Florida Department of Elder Affairs. [ seniorcenter.php] ACCESSED ON September 20th, 2009 Anonymous 2009 Census Bureau Presents Latest Facts about Senior Citizens for Older Americans Month. [] ACCESSED ON February 3, 2010 Anonymous 2010 Senior Friendship Centers of Sara sota. [] ACCESSED ON September 20th, 2009 Anonymous 2004 Floridas Senior Centers: Br inging the Picture into Focus. [] ACCESSED ON November 12, 2009 Bell, Catherine 1992 Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Ne w York: Oxford University Press. Cattell, Maria and Steve Albert 2009 Elders, Ancients, Ancestors, and the Modern Life Course. 115--133. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishers. Carol OShaughnessy. 2009 The Basics: Older Americans Act of 1965. National Health Policy Forum. [ Basics_OlderAmericansAct_10-08-09.pdf] ACCESSED ON March 5th 2010 Fry, Christine L. and Jeanette DickersonPutm an, Patricia Draper, Charlotte Ikels, Jennie Keith, Anthony P. Glascock and Henry C. Harpending 2009 Culture and the Meaning of a Good Old Age. In The Cultural Context of Aging Worldwide Perspectives. Jay Sokolovsky, ed. Pp. 99--123. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. Goffman, Erving 1959 The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday Anchor Books. Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson 2007 Beyond "Culture": Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference. In Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader. Antonius C. G. M. Robben and Jeffrey A. Sluka, ed.

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Hochschild, Arlie 1985 The Managed Heart. Berkeley: Un iversity of California Press. Kaufman, Sharon R. 1986 The Ageless Self. Madison, WI: Un iversity of Wisconsin Press. Keith, Jennie 2009 When Old is New: Cultural Spaces and Symbolic Meaning in Late Life. Pp. 145-154. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishers. Myerhoff, Barbara 1979 Number our Days. New York: E.P. Dutton. Myerhoff, Barbara 1992 Remembered Lives: The Work of Ritual Storytelling, and Growing Older. Marc Kaminsky, ed. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. Peterson, Jane W. 2009 An Organization for the Elderly, by the El derly: A Senior Ce nter in the United States. In the Cultural Context of Aging Worldwide Perspectives Jay Sokolovsky, ed. Pp. Westport, CT: Praeger. Rowles, Graham 1978 Prisoners of Space? Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, Inc. Stafford, Philip B. 2009 Aging in the Hood: Creating and Su staining Elder-Friendly Environments. In The Cultural Context of Aging Worldwide Pe rspectives. Jay Sokolovsky, ed. Praeger. Stafford, Philip B. 2009 Elderburbia: Aging with a Sense of Place in America. Oxford: Praeger. Vesperi, Maria 1986 City of Green Benches: Growing Ol d in a New Downtown. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Vesperi, Maria 2000 Seeing the Unseen: Literary Interpreta tion in Qualitative Gerontology. Qualitative Gernotology(27).