Imagine if You Looked Forward To Aging the Way a Child Looks Forward To Becoming an Adult

Aging is usually viewed as decline. Imagine if it was viewed as something to look forward to?  The Poetics of Aging Conference, sponsored by AgeSong Institute and AgeSong Elder Communities, promoted the unique view of aging as expansion and growth. Imagine if the Poetics of Aging Conference happened every day of the year!  Well, I work at AgeSong and it does happen every day of the year.

Mostly I work at AgeSong’s Bayside Park assisted living and elder community in Emeryville. That place is alive and humming. Residents include former university professors, nurses, teachers, psychiatrists, and other professionals, photographers, artists – the kinds of people who attended the Poetics of Aging Conference.

For example, as I was finishing up an interview with one resident, a new resident discovered a piano in the dining room and began tinkling the keys.  Turns out he is an accomplished pianist.  He received several rounds of applause from other residents. When I asked, “What is the secret to your happiness?,” he replied, “I composed many songs to children.”  Conversations like this happen all the time at Bayside Park. Then my new acquaintance entertained me for several hours with stories of his travels, life, and work.  At some point, I suggested we move to the art room.  There we joined others in a daily “Creativity Lab,” as it was called at the conference.  In this sunlit room, everyone did his or her own form of artwork, some chatting, others quietly focused on their creations.

A couple evenings ago, a park ranger presented on Rosie the Riveter.  Residents will visit the brand new Visitor Education Center for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond when it opens later this spring. Most of the residents of Bayside Park had lived through World War II. Many of the women worked during the war, like Rosie,  while the men were overseas. Everyone had stories to tell about that period of history.

Earlier that evening, before dinner, Andrew, a young techie, showed residents and their family members how to SKYPE.  For many, it was like looking at the first television screens in the 50s. We chatted live with Andrew’s girlfriend through SKYPE. A resident said to me, in amazement, “They said we would be able to see the person we were talking to on the phone years ago.  It finally happened in my lifetime!”

Another day this week I was in stitches sitting through a valentine-making project on the third floor of Bayside.  When the instructor said, “We’re here to help you,” the sweet lady to my right said, “And I’m here to help you!” She looked at her neighbor’s valentine rendition, nicely filled with rosy  dots,  and said, “it’s got the measles.”  The lady to my left was dozing off during the activity, until a former school teacher, sitting on her other side,  said, “Go S…” and S started to color in her valentine. When her care partner said to the sweet lady to my right, “You can finish it up later,”  my neighbor replied, “This is later.” The valentine-making activity was just a springboard for the delightful interactions among participants. It was such fun!

At a staff meeting, I talked about everyone designing his or her own aprons.  “That’s a great idea for an activity for residents,” a fellow staff member said to me. “Not just residents,” I replied, “for all – residents, staff, and administration. It equalizes the playing field. We all have a lot in common.”  That’s what happened at the Poetics of Aging Conference last November – healthcare professionals, elders, and community members of all ages, from 16 to 97, participated in workshops and mingled socially with lively discussions, dancing, poetry, and singing. I wore an apron.

Highlights of the inaugural Poetics of Aging Conference are now available for public viewing. The conference took place November 16 – 19, 2011, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco.

If you were excited about the conference and would like to continue the conference throughout the year, you are welcome to visit, or even propose an activity to conduct at one of AgeSong’s six assisted living and elder communities. We love visitors and lifelong learning.

Whether or not you attended the conference, your feedback is appreciated.

Sally Gelardin, AgeSong at Bayside Park Journalist,


AgeSong Senior at Bayside Park | 1440 40th Street, Emeryville, California 94608 | 510-594-8800 | License # 015601452

AgeSong Retirement Communities: Locations throughout the Bay Area, including San Francisco and the East Bay: San Francisco-Hayes Valley • San Francisco-Laguna Grove • Oakland-Lake Merritt • Oakland-Lakeside Park • Emeryville-Bayside Park • Castro Valley-OakCreek

Want to visit or propose an activity?

RSVP 510-594-8800 or email

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