Eat Fast, Live shorter

Wardie Willis, Plantation Scene

Wardie Willis, Plantation Scene

Last night PBS aired a program “Eat, Fast, Live Longer” about a new radical regime of some sort. I started watching it, but it made me so nervous I turned it off.

I don’t need to hear about a 101-year-old man running his first marathon.

Not when I have gained ten of the 50-ish pounds I lost a year ago, have not been able to attend yoga class since February, have had only one session with a trainer three weeks ago and have not been able to return, and am now in physical therapy twice a week to alleviate the pain in my hip from a fall onto (not in) my bathtub on February 1.

On March 8, I blogged the story of my discovery of “skinny”:

A couple of years ago I was sitting with Dad (he was 96) in the assisted living dining room of Piedmont Gardens in Oakland. I realized all those old folks had one thing in common—they were skinny. Either you get skinny with age or you don’t age unless you’re skinny.

Allen Sapp (born January 2, 1928) is 85 years old. I have three of his paintings hanging in my apartment.  Allen Sapp is not particularly skinny. He is, however, a prolific painter and (according to my late ex-wife) a fascinatingly intense man. I more or less inherited the paintings from her (a long story that I’ll tell you in private if you ask).

Allen Sapp, "Esquoio with Kids Comes Visiting"

Allen Sapp, “Esquoio with Kids Comes Visiting”

Wardie Willis (October 11, 1924 – February 23, 2011) was 87 when she died. She was a “folk art” painter (I guess that’s what you’d call her) in Louisiana. She has not reached any level of fame as an artist. I can’t get the Louisiana Art and Artists’ Guild to answer my email about her although I know she was a member and had her work shown in a New Orleans gallery at least once. I own five of her paintings.

Victor Gugliuzza (December 22, 1921 – June 29, 2011) was 89 when he died. He was a painter of enormous talent that was never realized because he became a “commercial” artist (design and advertising work for Western Auto for decades) before computers made it possible for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to get famous for his desk-top publishing. He was my Uncle Victor’s partner of 69 years. (My uncle is still with us at age 82.) Vic was not “skinny,” but he was healthy. The two Victors folk-danced several times a week for many, many years until he was about 80.

Here’s my question about being 85 years old.

Vic Gugliuzza, "Ancestral Church, Sicily"

Vic Gugliuzza, “Ancestral Church, Sicily”

(But first, my eternal questions about art. Do I love these paintings because I know—at least know first-hand about—the artists? Do I love them because they are beautiful? or because they have some innate quality that makes them loveable? Do I love them because they were gifts, and I’m glad to have any art at all hanging in my apartment? Do I love them because they are here, and I have grown fond of them over the years even though none of them is a work I would have bought myself? Do I love them because they are “great” art—which they may or may not be depending on whose theories you’re reading, Emmanuel Kant, Susanne Langer, or Jackson Pollack. Is there a difference between “art” and “great art?” or is there something about art that makes it “great,” and if a work does not have that je ne sais quoi, it is not even to be considered “art?” Why do many people consider Jackson Pollack’s work “great” but will not give the paintings of, for example, Maxfield Parrish the time of day when clearly Parrish’s work “speaks” to more people than Pollack’s does? The eternal questions.)

But back to my question about being 85 years old. Were those folks in my dad’s retirement community old because they were skinny or, perhaps—and here I’m grasping at straws and coming up with only one of the many possibilities I have thought of over the years—because they kept their minds active? That day I was with my dad at dinner, he had been writing a book until my mother died three years earlier. The 95-year-old woman sitting at the table with him had played a Chopin piano etude for the prelude music at her church the week before.  Wardie and Victor painted until they were in their 80’s, and Allen is going strong.

Skinny body, lively mind, genetics?

No more PBS programs telling me how to live longer. What’s the point of living longer if you’re not writing books, painting Italian churches, or playing Chopin? Living longer is not its own reward.


Siciliano, “Guide our feet into the way of peace, Luke 1:79.” From Five Biblical Prayers for Organ, by Gerhard Krapf. These pieces were published when Krapf was about 52 years old. He was chairman of the organ department in the School of Music of the University of Iowa, and I was a graduate student. He told me when he gave me a copy of the music that he was tired of writing music people found difficult to listen to. Shortly after that he moved to Canada to found the organ department at the University of Alberta.

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