Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Out of the Woods; the book and one man’s journey.

Oct 14 2013
I met Alan for the first time early in 2012. He had been on a desert walk in North Africa the previous Autumn, and I remember him saying that in the emptiness of the dunes a BIG QUESTION had come to him – Where are the older men? And then related questions; Where are the older men meeting; Where do older men go to get help; Where are older men being seen, and bringing about positive change in the world. To all these questions (and more) there appeared to be a resounding silence. So the idea for the book was born in Alan’s mind because he felt – and still feels passionately – that the answers to all these questions are there, and need to be written about and told. So the chapters of his book were organised, topics thought through, and the words began to tumble out on to Alan’s PC (…and I was asked to write the Health Chapter, which I was happy to accept and got me into the project). DCIM100MEDIABecause as well as the idea for the book, there was now a Men Beyond 50 project, the other related big question now going on in Alan’s mind in 2012 being – How do we spread the word to older men? The answer to that was a website that could become a resource gateway for older men, events that focussed on providing for the older men’s sector, and a posse of like-minded guys to help support, encourage and energise getting the message out there. Several Men Beyond 50 workshops at Hazel Hill Wood and elsewhere later, and a slow learning curve of how to create an attractive user-friendly website, do social media, enewsletters online and more, and things are beginning to bear fruit and the word about Men Beyond 50 is starting to spread. And now the best fruit to date: the launch of Alan’s excellent book Out of the Woods: A Guide to Life for Men Beyond 50 – the culmination of one man’s vision and one man’s journey. May it sell well and bring the author the rewards he deserves for the 3 years of hard effort! May the book also be the ground-breaker, bringing focus and attention on to the older men sector, as well as being a very practical and inspiring help to the many older men who read it! And thirdly may the book also act as the herald and catalyst for many more older men to join in our ongoing play at Men Beyond 50, for us all to tell our different stories, meet in groups and gatherings, and come together to grow the conversation in collaborative community. Finally, what next for Alan after his three year journey from North Africa desert to printed page and published book? We are all waiting to hear the next BIG QUESTION that I have every confidence is at this very moment being generated in the spaciousness of his delicious mind and caring heart!

2013 Top 65 World Thinkers!

May 13 2013

Last month Prospect Magazine  asked its readers and online followers to vote for their choice of the 2013 top 65 World Thinkers. Online  polling produced 10,000 responders from over 100 countries.

The results for the top 10 are: all MEN, all OVER 50 (4 are over 80!!!), and the winner is very active on Twitter (it is Richard Dawkins who has over 600,000 followers)!

OK, so perhaps you feel “sniffy” about this way of straw-polling, but maybe it is worth thinking about both for reflecting about ourselves individually and also the implications for our network:

1. One of the MB50’s network main aims is to help older men who are feeling isolated, irrelevant and invisible stand up and be seen. The whole picture for older men is a rich mosaic, and looking at the success stories is important to see what they tell us. I am not so much interested in the ‘top thinker’ focus of this poll, but I am excited and curious about the social networks that support all these men and find out what are the crucial difference that this makes in their lives.

2. The most popular thinkers are the most contentious, but I am also aware of the shadow side of this in an all male list. The top woman thinker was Arundhati Roy who ranked 15 (the novelist who now works now as a leading activist for social justice and campaigner against inequality in modern India). The MB50 network is very conscious of the need when it comes to elderhood and speaking out that this is about men and women finding a common maturing voice together.

3. The polling process demonstrates the growing importance of Social Media for older people: over 50% of  the 10,000 voters used Twitter or Facebook to register their vote

4. Absences from the list are as revealing as the familiar top names. Scientists and Nobel Prize winners dominate the list, but environmental thinkers and climate scientists are conspicuously absent from the top ten list (…but then so were leading thinkers on internet technology!). There was also nobody from Africa, China, or indeed from Latin America, reflecting both cultural bias (as well as the particular distribution of Prospect Magazine readers)

Here is Prospect’s list of Top 10 World Thinkers 2013:

1. Richard Dawkins

Evolutionary biologist,he thrives as an intellectual in the internet age: prolific on Twitter, with more than half a million followers—and his success in this poll attests to his popularity online. He uses this platform to promote his secularist views, and to promote science and rationalism. However, he’s not averse to poking fun at himself: in March he made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, lending his voice to a demon version of himself.

2. Ashraf Ghani

Economist specialising in state building, conducting research at Columbia, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins, followed by a stint at the World Bank. From Afghanistan he has also served as the country’s finance minister and advised the UN on the transfer of power to the Afghans. He is already looking beyond the current crisis in Syria, raising important questions about what kind of state it will eventually become.

3. Steven Pinker

Psychologist and Harvard professor with a long list of popular books to his name. In his latest – “The Better Angels of Our Nature” he takes a scientific view of history to argue that humanity has become less violent over time. Much debated!

4. Ali Allawi

Economist at the World Bank and then at Princeton. From Iraq, he has also served as  minister of trade, finance and defence there after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Since then he has written a pair of acclaimed books, most recently The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation.

5. Paul Krugman

Economist, Nobel prize winner and fierce critic of the economic policies of the right. He is leading voice today against fiscal austerity and advocate of Keynesian economics. Regular New York Times columnist with a big following, and so widely discussed!

6. Slavoj Žižek

Intellectual and philospher renowned for activist approach and comic one-liners (“If you ask me for really dangerous ideological films, I’d say Kung Fu Panda,” he told one interviewer in 2008). He divides opinion, being regarded as hero or villain.

7. Amartya Sen

Social Scientist and development economist, receiving the Nobel prize for economics in 1998, he was praised for having “restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems.”

8. Peter Higgs

The English physicist Peter Higgs lent his name to the Higgs boson, the subatomic particle discovered last year at Cern that gives mass to other elementary particles.

9. Mohamed ElBaradei

The former director general of the UN’s international atomic energy agency and winner of the 2005 Nobel peace prize, Mohamed ElBaradei has become one of the most prominent advocates of democracy in Egyptian politics over the past two years.

10. Daniel Kahneman

Psychologist with focus on behavioural economics (Nobel prize 2002), Thinking, Fast and Slow  (2011) about the irrational elements built into our decision making has become a bestseller.


MB50 Challenge: Find us Poems for older Men!

Mar 13 2013

Are there poems to inspire us as we grow older? Many poets are men, and of course over time they all grow old. But what I am wondering is – Are there particular special poems we need to read as older men? Or put another way do older men write differently than when they were young? And do older men write differently than older women.

I began to consider these questions  recently coming across a small printing press called Grey Hen Press ( . Its latest publication is called Cracking On: Poems on Ageing by older Women.”For women over 50″, it said.

Poems for men over 50, and men over 50 writing poetry – do we do similar?

There are plenty of older men poets to love and admire, but among the current and living the one I would like to single out is the Australian Les Murray. Now well into his 70’s the poet is still going strong, or rather as he says simply ‘conscious and verbal’ (in fact he has nearly died a couple of times in ER hospital departments).

”Big, fat, long, hairy-arsed, man-sized”, wrote Don Paterson in the introduction to Murray’s 1990’s Collected Poems. In his life Murray has known the walkabout of all the major male issues and suffered all the shipwrecks: a violent father, a depressed mother dying in childbirth – ‘haemorrhaging like hell’, 40 years of unexpressed griefs – ‘ From just on puberty, I lived in a funeral’, boarding school traumas, sexual  humiliations – ‘sex is a Nazi’,  gender  issues and the ‘relegation’ of masculinity  – ‘The man we surround, the man no one approaches / simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps / not like a child, not like the wind, like a man’, and recurring bouts of the black dogs of his own depressions and despair .

Then hitting 50 in the 1990’s, Murray’s creature poems began to appear. The  collection was published as Translations from the Natural World and was where he discovered a maturing poetic way with a ‘herd voice’, becoming a many voiced ‘translator’ for meetings and speaking: try Pigs:

Us back in cool god-shit. We ate crisp.

We nosed up good rank in the tunnelled bush.

Us all fucker, then. And Big, huh?

Wide-ranging and often deeply unsettling Murray does not fit a single ‘older man’ poetry category, and I think would also not  have anything to do with the like of the Mankind Project past or present, or men’s groups in general. Wonder and shock, unease with the ageing of the body, encounters with the strangeness of elderhood, and a general messiness:  the colossal Murray sprawls across boundaries of the masculine and feminine. Reading Murray’s best work, we can feel involunatily changed at the root of our being.

Les Murray, Selected Poems. Carcanet Press (2012)

… For a companion major poet and older man from down-under try Bill Manhire (New Zealand’s inaugural poet laureate). On first meeting Mannhire appears more lyrical and approachable:

Old Man Puzzled by his Pyjamas

I am the baby who sleeps in the drawer

Blue yesterday, and Blue before –

and suddenly all these stripes.

But there is the same wide-ranging spread of subject matter, and unsettling quality as Murray within the heart of his poetry.

Bill Mannhire, Lifted. Carcanet Press (2007)

Do older men poets write differently than older women? I don’t know if they do, but I am open to exploring the possibility. So, dear MB50 readers, here’s the challenge: send us the poems you think we older men need to read, and tell us which other current and living older men poets you find the most inspiring… and if there is a printing press publishing poems for older men (like  Grey Hen Press) let us know!


Is elderhood different for men and women? Yes and no!

Jan 14 2013

Elderwoman: book by Marian van Eyk McCain

The question of gender differences in elderhood has been a big one for me as I approach leading a mixed workshop on this theme for the first time, at Findhorn February 23 – March 1.

Marian Van Eyk McCainI’ve discussed the gender question with women and men elders I know, and by reading Elderwoman, and comparing it with my very different, forthcoming book on elderhood for men, Out of the Woods: A Guide to life for men beyond 50

This blog will inevitably offer generalisations, and your comments or corrections are welcome.

It intrigued me, as it may you, to unpick the differences due to the writers, and those due to the subject matter.  I really enjoyed reading Marian’s book, and believe it would be helpful to women: the style and approach are inclusive, conversational, fluid, full of personal anecdote.  All of this could, I believe, make most men impatient: by contrast, my book is more structured, objective, with lots of practical solution-focussed advice.

I’m also struck by frequent references to Marian’s grandmother and daughters, and the sense of female wisdom shared down the generations, in a way I’ve almost never heard among men.  There’s been a lot of poor fathering over the years!

From Elderwoman, I conclude that one of the big gender differences in elderhood is that women face it more collectively.  Men often face the challenges of ageing alone, and need new skills to find the collective support and wisdom they also need.  Marian uses phrases like “the stages of our female lives”, which it’s hard to imagine mirrored in a book for men.

An encouraging parallel, based on these two books, is the potential of all elders to be activists, whether by presence or more actively, around the big issues like sustainability.  Another is the opportunity to “start again from scratch” as she puts it.

Elderwoman is a book which faces the losses of ageing, but within an affirming and practically positive context.  It encourages people to become elders in their own way, and finally loosen the pressures of other people’s expectations, and the consumer society.  I support Marian’s view that the elders are best placed to break the addictive quality of Western Society to its way of life.

Marian sees the most important elderwoman principle as “radical aliveness…the art of saying ‘yes’ to life, remaining fully open to all experience, whether pleasant or painful.”  I’d regard this quality as vital for male elders too.

Peter Townshend’s Autobiography : Who I am

Jan 03 2013

Living our future out : brilliant insights

This is a situation where I’m delighted to admit to bias: I have loved The Who and their music since they exploded into my life in the Sixties.  I have regarded Pete Townshend as a genius since Tommy, and his book provides ample support for my view.

One of my favourite verses in Quadrophenia runs:


I have to be careful not to preach,

I can’t pretend that I can teach,

And yet I’ve lived your future out

By pounding stages like a clown.


Peter Townshend really has lived out many of the major issues of maturing men, and this book is a superb description of his shipwrecks and re-inventions, embodying many of the insights and approaches offered in my forthcoming book,  Out of the Woods: A Guide to life for men beyond 50 ..

I’ve recently become intrigued by the extreme pressures which it successful pop musicians, as a result of seeing the brilliant film about the Congolese group Benda Bellili – but that’s for another blog.

Pete describes these pressures vividly: the abundant booze and drugs, and the gorgeous women throwing themselves at him.  These pressures meant that Pete hit many of the classic crises of midlife men in his thirties or forties.

He writes very honestly of his heavy drinking, of his underlying ongoing anger, and his work addiction “I was a workaholic, running away from the present, and probably the past … I was myself a really desperate man”.  These shipwrecks forced him into one of the key moves advocated in my book: “To mature properly, I needed to reach back to my lost youth, the eight-year-old I still carried within me”.

In my book, I suggest that the underlying crisis for men beyond 50 is a spiritual one, which is echoed by Pete describing his own “deep, nauseating spiritual desperation”.  He describes the profound benefits he has found through the teachings of Meher Baba.  Another fascinating aspect of Who I am is the range of Pete’s musical influences: For example, he writes about Purcell’s use of elongated suspensions, which he used himself in ‘The Kids are Alright’, and how one of my Sufi inspirations, Inayat Kahn, gave him ideas for Lifehouse.

The stories of Pete Townshend and The Who are interwoven with many other great groups and musicians, including The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.  This book has plenty of vivid scenes, involving all these and more.  I rate it as a must-buy!