Gero-Punk Contemplations: Clutter

 By Guest Gero-Punk

Melinda E. Pittman


(Guitar Goddess is by Owen Carey Photography)

The cellar is damp, crepuscular. Corners, crowded with form, seem to shift while waves /particles swirl in the wintering sun. Matter and energy, momentarily captive, are freed to waft across dozens of piles of time. Boxes and boxes of paper, symbolically essentialized by dyes from rock and plant and squid, sequenced dance steps, footprint patterns across slivered tree pulp, arcane yet familiar. The paradox of years of experience and reflection synthesized, concentrated into a demi-glace of insight, pan drippings from a feast of life and art.

All I have is metaphoric.

As our appearance-oriented and materially socialized culture boxes me in, I hear the demands: “Pick up! Clear out! Clean up this mess!” I imagine each of us universalized, pressure-washed to remove the “past” and get on with the “future,” as if those states existed apart from each other. As if they had no cross sectional vibrancy. The past’s jumble to be disposed of. Now.

Why does clutter make us nervous?

From the Online Etymology Dictionary, we learn the word’s derivation arises from English sources in the fourteenth century C.E., “to collect in heaps,” as a variation of clotern “to form clots, to heap on (from the 1400s C.E.)” The additional meaning of “clutter” suggests “to litter” emerged in written records from the late seventeenth century C.E. Used as a noun, clutter arose in the late sixteenth century C.E., the Dictionary informs me, with the meaning”things lying in heaps or confusion.” Heaps. Confusion. Clotted litter. (


Dozens of brimful boxes heap in the basement, the attic, the garage. Sixty plus years of mementos, show programs, newspaper articles, photos, posters, cassette tapes, even vinyl, the ephemera of a life in art. Each phenomenon covered by dusts and musts of time, sullied by a litter of titles bespeaking diminishment and unimportance. Trash-Stuff-Horde-Mess-Ash-Rubble-Confusion-Clutter. OR- When labeled with a slightly gentler language-symbol: Recycling.

Such meaning-word-symbols reveal our socially conditioned privileging of newness, individualism and simplification and our forgetfulness of what and who has come before. Who and what sculpted my memories and experiences? Whose craft added splashed colors, gifting a spectrum of tints and thoughts to these beige paper piles? Which sheen glossed the next? What pentimento hides beneath the Bic? How deeply dynamic does inspiration delve?

It’s one paradox of being an aging artist. These moted, dusted pages conjure essentialized, uniquely unoriginal inspiration.

Art is creation and excrement. Creation by definition is new… something original coming into being. AND- Art is inspiration exhaled. Internalized in the inner cauldron and spit forth to lubricate the world. A concoction of air and aspiration, of psyche and symbol, of experience and vibration and awe. Excrement is what comes out when you’ve used the elements, combined them into a phlegm of energetic expression. The compounded result distilled, reduced to present time and practical space. Art is the left overs, the dust. Art is what remains after ideas and beauty agitate phenomena into form. Swirling motes in a wintering sunbeam.

So I trace my finger through the dust accumulated, vacuum hose at ready, recycling bag at my feet. Paradox in the air. “You’re only as good as your next show,” saith the adage of actors who add age. Older art and older artists appropriated to basements, or attics or footnotes. Done with. Detritus of what was once desire. Inspiration molded. Magic mildewed.

Older artists often dumpsterized as the dirt, the refuse, the clutter obscuring “young’” creatives. YET- All art is phenomenal, immediate, quantum, liminal, isn’t it? All art is young and old. Art is always the next step, always the past presented [pre'- sented AND present'-ed.] Every idea is cluttered by inspirations assimilated. Ingenius genius.



Melinda E. Pittman is an essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, composer, musician, singer, theatrical director, producer, stand-up and sit-down comic, and community activist. She performed with the infamous parody comic quartet, the Fallen Angel Choir, then founded and toured the original comic musical theatre company BroadArts Theatre, serving as their Artistic Director for 14 years. Author of 15 full length musical plays, her work WonderBroads won the Angus Bowmer Oregon Book Award for Best Drama in 2000. She earned her B.A. in Theatre from Virginia Tech in 1975 and her Masters of Interdisciplinary Studies from Marylhurst University in 2013.

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Gero-Punk Trickstering-and-Treating

little ghost

Happy Halloween!

What was your favorite Halloween costume when you were growing up? A pirate? A forest fairy? A Disney character? A bumble bee? A vampire? A ghost? A ballerina? An historical character? A lady bug? A railroad engineer? A gangster? (There was a wee ol’ school gangster who just came to my door to trick-or-treat. He looked so very fine in gray pin stripe suit and fedora!)

If you are dressing up tonight to celebrate Halloween, as what or whom are you dressing up?  If you wish you were dressing up in costume tonight, as what or whom do you wish you were dressing up?


This is the first Halloween I’ve spent without my daughter Isobel. She’s far away in upstate New York attending college.  She just texted me to let me know that she and her friends are heading out to an evening of parties. She said she’ll text me when she’s safely back to her dorm.

Isobel is going out into this Halloween night as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader  Ginsburg. I think she’ll be just fine.


Hey, those of  you who live in and around Portland, Oregon and have been yearning for an in-person gero-punk gathering, please join me on Thursday, December 4th, 2014 from 6-9 p.m. in the Hemlock Room (how’s that for a provocative name!) on the Marylhurst University campus. I’ll be holding the first of what I hope to be many Gero-Punk Salons.  What is a “Gero-Punk Salon”? Well, you’ll just have to show up and see what happens, won’t you?


Yesterday in my Embodiment in Later Life course I tried out something new.  I gave each student an envelope. I asked them to write their name on the envelope. Then I asked them to take out a sheet of paper. Then I asked them to write a love letter to themselves, a letter of gratitude or appreciate for their very own precious self.  I gave them about ten minutes to do so. I wrote one to myself as well. After we wrote our love letters and sealed them in the envelopes, I collected all of the letters. I’ll be returning them on the last day of class.


Today is the last day of October. How about you write a love letter to yourself and seal it in an envelope! Tuck the envelope away somewhere and then leave yourself a little note on your calendar three months from now, on December 31st (which just happens to be New Year’s Eve), reminding yourself of where you hid the envelope. Then open the envelope and read your love letter to yourself.

I can’t wait to hear about your experience! A great start to a new year, don’t you think?

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Gero-punk metalogue: Lightning filled her room

gramma and meI hadn’t seen my beloved Gramma Jewell since 2010. Far too long, perhaps the longest in my entire life I’d ever gone in between visits with her, but for various reasons I still don’t fully understand, in recent years my relationship with my Gramma had been drastically curtailed. But now, because of some unanticipated and odd combination of good fortune, courage, and audacity, I was going to get to see my Gramma! So this past weekend, off I went with my mom on a quick trip to Spokane, Washington, where my Gramma — who turned 92 in May — lives in an assisted living facility.



We find my Gramma in her room at the assisted living facility. She is sitting in a wheelchair reading a book.

Jenny: Hi, Gramma, it is me, your granddaughter Jenny!

Gramma: Oh, Jenny! Hello, dear! (We hug and kiss.)


Gramma: You are Jenny?

Jenny: Yup!

Gramma: Have you started college yet?

Jenny: My daughter Isobel just started college a couple of weeks ago!

Gramma: Oh. Your daughter Isobel…..I can’t believe how much you look like Isobel! You don’t look old enough to have a child in college….how old is Isobel?

Jenny: Isobel is 18. I am 47. That’s old enough!


Gramma: You work at Willamette University?

Jenny: I work at Marylhurst University. Isobel’s dad Jean-David works at Willamette. And a long time ago I was a student at Willamette.

Gramma: And you live in Portland.

Jenny: And I live in Portland.

Gramma: And you are Jenny.

Jenny: Yup!


I brought a little jar of raspberries with me to my first visit with my Gramma Jewell. I brought some chocolate, too. I know she loves raspberries and dark chocolate even though she pretends as though she doesn’t. I put three raspberries on the upturned lid of the jar and held them before my Gramma. She carefully picked up each raspberry and one after the other popped them into her mouth. I offered her more raspberries but she declined. (I wondered if she remembered eating raspberries from Fred’s garden when we were last together in 2010.)

Then I broke off three small squares of dark chocolate and gave one to my mom, popped one in my mouth, and offered the third to my Gramma. She carefully took it between her right thumb and index finger, held it in front of her eyes closely to examine it and then placed it on her tongue. I watched her chew it and then suck it as it melted. Her brows were furrowed a bit – was she surprised by the bitterness?


Gramma: Your brother is Gabe?

Jenny: My brother is Jeremy. Gabe is Rachel’s brother and Martha’s son. Gabe and Rachel are cousins to me and my brother Jeremy.

Gramma: You helped Jeremy a lot growing up. (My brother Jeremy was born deaf and visually impaired.)

Jenny: I tried to make sure Jeremy understood what others were saying and others understood what Jeremy was saying.

Gramma: You and Jeremy were close?

Jenny: Yes! Very close and we had a lot of fun together as kids.


Jenny: Gramma, I remember when on my breaks from school I would come to Menlo Park, California to have “R & R” with you and Grandpa.

Gramma: R & R?

Jenny: Rest and relaxation. That’s what you would call it!

Gramma: Oh! We’d find walnuts on our walks and crack them with our heels!

Jenny: You and I would walk all over town and we’d go to the market to get treats for supper.

Gramma: Oh, yes!

Jenny: We’d get roast chicken, special salads from the deli, a bottle of red wine, and little cheese cakes for dessert. Grandpa loved it!

Gramma: Oh, yes!

Jenny: Shall we take a walk outside? It is a lovely day.


Not having seen my Gramma for four years, the intensity of the experience overwhelmed me. I became irresistibly compelled to sleep. I curled up on her couch under a blanket. My Gramma was sitting in her wheelchair parallel to the couch. She held my left hand in her right hand as I napped.



We find my Gramma finishing her breakfast in the assisted living dining room. There’s a bulletin board with announcements and a daily trivia question.

Mom: The trivia question for today is, “How many sides does a pentagon have?”

Jenny: Well, a decagon has ten sides.

Mom: So, how many sides does a pentagon have?

Gramma: Five!

Mom: Really? Wow!

Jenny: Yeah, that’s right, because a pentagram is a five pointed star, so a pentagon would have five sides. Great memory, Gramma!


We wheel my Gramma back to her room. She needs help to use the toilet so we call her caregiver.

Assisted Living caregiver: Are you taking her to church at 2:00?

Mom: Do you want to go to church, Mommy?

Gramma: What?

Jenny: Gramma, would you like to go to church this afternoon?

Gramma: No. Do you want to go?

Jenny: No, thanks. I don’t want to go to church.


Mom: Jennifer is a Buddhist.

Gramma: When did you become a Buddhist?

Jenny: I think I’ve been a Buddhist for a long time but I didn’t really know it until several years ago when a friend formally introduced me and I started attending teachings about Buddhism. Then in 2009 I decided to commit myself to the Buddhist path and I took a special vow; it is called “taking refuge.”

Gramma: What does that mean, to be a Buddhist?

Jenny: It means I am committed to working with my own mind so I can become more compassionate, wise, and present to what is happening moment-to-moment.

Gramma: I read something about Buddhism in a book. (She picks up a book and starts looking through it to find the passage.)


Mom: How did you sleep last night, Mommy?

Gramma: I always sleep well…Did you hear the thunder?

Jenny: No! Was there lightning, too?

Gramma: Yes, the lightning filled my room.


Gramma: You teach?

Jenny: Yup. I do teach.

Gramma: At…Marylhurst?

Jenny: Yes, I teach at Marylhurst.

Gramma: And you teach Gerontology.

Jenny: Yes, I do teach Gerontology.

Gramma: Do you start school tomorrow?

Jenny: This is the last week of summer term. I have three weeks off after that before the new school year begins.


Gramma: Jean-David is Isobel’s father.

Jenny: Yes, that’s right.

Gramma: And he teaches?

Jenny: Yes, he teaches, too.

Gramma: At…Willamette University?

Jenny: Yup, that’s right, at Willamette University.

Gramma: What does he teach?

Jenny: Well…he is a musician. Do you know what instrument he plays?

Gramma: …violin?

Jenny: Nope! Piano!

Gramma: (giggles) Oh, that’s right. And he is Isobel’s father.


After my second day visiting with my Gramma, an extended family member (who sees her almost daily) asks me how the visit went. I tell them that the visit was great and that my Gramma and I had many interesting conversations.

They respond, “Really? We never do.”

I think to myself: Of course you never do. That’s because there’s a profound difference between demanding of a person with memory struggles “Don’t you remember!” and inviting them into a conversation.



Jenny: How did you sleep last night, Gramma?

Gramma: I always sleep well!

Jenny: Did you have any dreams?

Gramma: No.

Jenny: Why don’t you think about whether or not you had any dreams, just to make sure?

Gramma: Did you hear the thunder last night?

Jenny: No, I didn’t! Was there lightning, too?

Gramma: Yes—it filled my room.

Jenny: Cool! Shall we go for a walk outside?


Gramma: You live in Portland?

Jenny: Yes, I live in Portland.

Gramma: With Jean-David?

Jenny: Jean-David lives in Portland, too, but we don’t live together. We haven’t lived together since our daughter Isobel was a baby. We aren’t married any more but we are still close friends and Isobel’s family.

Gramma: You went on that big steamship to Europe for your honeymoon.

Jenny: Wow, great memory! We went on the QE2 ship but we didn’t go for our honeymoon, we went the year before I gave birth to Isobel. Jean-David and I sailed from Manhattan, New York, to Southampton, England. Then we went to Ireland and France.

Gramma: How old is Jean-David?

Jenny: Jean-David is 58. I will be 48 in December. Isobel is 18. And my mom, your daughter, is 68.

Gramma: Where does he live?

Jenny: In Portland.

Gramma: With you?

Jenny: No, we haven’t been married or lived together since Isobel was a baby.


Gramma: What is that ring you are wearing?

Jenny: Ah! This is a ring you gave me many, many years ago. Do you recognize it?

(I take the ring off and hand it to my Gramma.)

Gramma: (She closely examines the ring.) Yes, I recognize it!


It is time to leave my Gramma. We kiss each other on the lips. She strokes my forearms and looks me in the eyes. I smooth her silver hair. I tell her I am so happy to have seen her again. She giggles. I tell her I love her very much and that she will always be my special person. She says she loves me very much, too. As my mom and I leave her room, she calls out, “Give my love to Jean-David!”

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