June / July
The MSCN Newsletter

 Welcome to Your JUNE/JULY 2020 Issue!
Oksana Levchishina - Sunrise. First Ray (1998)

This newsletter opens with  "The Magic of Zoom," a thought-provoking article by Anne Cass asking us all how we feel about this technology. I admit that I had a lot of fun illustrating Anne's essay, searching out old posters depicting the early days of "moving pictures." We are in the early days of online classes for senior colleges. But, as you will see from Online Offerings Across the Network nothing is going to slow down lifelong learners for long! 

I also have an essay by Arlin Larson, where he describes preparing to teach a class about the Mayflower and the pilgrim settlers. This class was to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower's landing in America. Arlin addresses waiting and worrying during today's challenging times. He also reminds us that the founder of the senior colleges, Rabbi Harry Sky, "Believed that senior colleges would meet a spiritual as well as intellectual and social need for Maine seniors." We find ourselves exploring our brave new online world together, endeavoring to express Rabbi Harry Sky's vision in our new virtual classrooms.

Finally, thanks to Pat Reef, we have a jolly good book to recommend for your summer reading enjoyment!

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

The Magic of Zoom...
by Anne Cass
Edison's Greatest Marvel - The Vitascope

As Senior College and OLLI members, we have multiple opportunities to stay connected to our community; one of them is Zoom, the application that enables virtual face-to-face meetings all over the world. It is everywhere these days and is especially alive and well at a number of Senior Colleges and OLLI for the foreseeable future. The Maine Senior College Network is now looking at all fall classes being held through Zoom.

Lyman H. Howe's High Class Moving Pictures

I am reasonably experienced on Zoom, and completely aware that I still have more to learn. I serve on two boards that use Zoom. I take notes at a weekly Zoom meeting of the Maine Senior College Network (MSCN), serve as tech support for an OLLI class on Zoom, will be teaching a class this summer via Zoom, and regularly meet with friends and relatives using my University of Maine System Zoom account. (Contact the MSCN Program Director, Anne Cardale if you are an instructor, or Senior College board member and want to work with Zoom.) Each we ek as I listen in on the MSCN meetings, I hear representatives from the 16 other senior colleges across the state, finding more and more creative ways to reach out to stay in touch with their members.
The Wild Party - 1929

People, of course, vary in their responses to this ubiquitous technology. Some are excited adopters and regular users. They relish new learning by taking courses or listening to lectures. They check in with grandchildren, hold bridal and baby showers, and even weddings. They find old friends - in one OLLI discussion course, a long-time instructor was able to partner with a favorite former colleague who had moved away from the area - the reach is possible online. Some schools are using Zoom to hold reunions. Organizations are using it to provide trainings, run staff meetings, and implement their business plans. Families that are widespread are connecting more often - I know one family that regularly Zooms with relatives overseas, a new practice for them.

On a recent walk around Fort Williams (it's opened to people!) with Kathy Crosson, an active OLLI member who is also a Regional Director for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, she shared that she and the eighteen other regional group directors previously met once a year for a two-day conference; however, there was limited routine communication among them otherwise.  During their now daily one-hour meetings, they share best practices, have developed a survey instrument, and planned a virtual national conference for almost 500 nationwide volunteers.  They get to know more about colleagues as other family members move in and out of the Zoom squares; colleagues catch glimpses of what surrounds their fellow directors in their personal spaces - art, photos, book collections, plants and flower arrangements.  Kathy notes that while they might have achieved similar outcomes under normal conditions, the new technology has enabled the group to solve hard issues, develop innovative solutions and to move forward with a renewed purpose.  A silver lining has been the special friendships and bonds that have evolved as [they] have worked together.  

Dynamic Science Fiction - December 1952
Others are wary or a bit fearful. Uncertainty around new technology, or making a mistake, or not being able to figure out the application can lead to reluctance even to take a chance. Many people doubt the possibility of holding personal conversations of any meaning, believing one can't get to know someone well or build a connection if it's online. I disagree. At least two experiences I've enjoyed since early March have turned out to be more effective online than in person.

One of my boards is a non-profit that gives scholarships to Maine high school seniors based on their exemplary character. We recently held interviews of our nine finalists on Zoom. It was better than last year because the students could interview from their homes, no one had to take a multi-hour drive to Portland, and the interviewers could take breaks in their own sunny living rooms (rather than sit in a windowless conference room for 9 hours). The process felt more effective.

In an OLLI course where I serve as tech support, participants after only the first two classes agreed that the warmth of personality comes through, there is ease of conversation, people feel closely connected as they listen deeply to classmates and a thoughtful and reflective instructor; classmates have experienced more openness, authentic communication, and safety in the Zoom environment than anyone expected.
The Invisible Ray (1936_poster)

Still others express profound indifference or distaste: I'm a Luddite, and proud of it - not touching the computer; it's not for me - not my thing. I wonder what could happen if the skeptics reimagine their doubt and take a supported risk?

How are you feeling about this technology? Whatever your view, I suggest that there is magic in using Zoom - after a full day of meeting, I felt energized. After a two-hour class, I relish the energy and joy of productive conversations and laughter. Each time my husband and I connect with friends (from all over the country), we feel grateful and warmed. 

Using Zoom (and other apps) to connect and learn long-distance, especially given the importance of keeping ourselves safe and Covid19-free for the duration of the pandemic, has become a viable and relatively easy option. 

Footlight Parade (1933 theatrical poster)

OLLI and senior colleges are offering fun training sessions for Zoom instructors. They are creating tech committees and recruiting volunteers willing to run their classes on Zoom. Individuals who are open to learning the new technology are stepping forward to provide tech support to classes. As members of Maine's Senior Colleges, you can access an ever-growing number of classes on Zoom. Senior colleges are offering places in these online classes to their members first, and then if they have spaces, they are opening up seats to other senior college members from around the state!

Having participated in several training sessions, I know that my comfort level went up rapidly. Even if you don't take a class, and you want to figure out Zoom, are available to help you do just that.

Genuine connections between individuals build relationships; relationships build friendships and new interests, and these in turn build new learning. And after all, aren't we are all looking to stay alert and curious as we navigate lifelong learning?

This article was originally posted in the June issue of the OLLI Newsletter.

Online Offerings Across the Network

Acadia SC
Augusta SC 

SC Belfast

Highlight: Conversation & Cocktails With Churchill & Hamilton - Presenter Pete Reilly July 8 (Winston Churchill). July 22nd, 4-5 pm (Alexander Hamilton). 

Lewiston-Auburn SC 

Midcoast SC 

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) 

Penobscot Valley Senior College 
Summer Zoom Classes 

Sunrise SC 
Highlight: Presidential Election Series Four Sessions with Political Scientist Robert Arseneau

York County SC 
SCBelastWaitingSenior College Belfast

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting  for . . . ?
by Arlin Larson
Édouard Vuillard In the Waiting Room

Waiting, waiting, waiting - but for what? That is how I have been feeling recently. Senior College starting up was one of the things I was ready for. For the past year I had been re-educating myself about the Mayflower, Pilgrims, and English settlement of North America. It was going to be really fun to teach a class marking the 400th anniversary this year. Then came the pandemic. Maybe we could have a spring session anyway. No. It will have to wait - but until when? 

Another expectation was getting back out on the golf course. OK for that to be delayed - the weather isn't even all that good. Then there was a trip to see our son and family. Same for a trip overseas. When will it be safe? Life is in suspended animation. We might not mind waiting a while for any one thing, but it feels different now that it is everything.  Then beyond waiting, there is worrying. Waiting AND worrying, waiting AND worrying, waiting AND worrying . . . but worrying about what? That feels pretty global too. Getting sick - how sick? Vulnerable friends and family (one member living in a nursing home and another working in one). Where is it safe to go? What precautions? What chances to take? Are family visits OK? People you know well? Businesses and jobs? Financial security? Worries that the waiting only makes worse.

Gerrit Dou - Man Writing by an Easel 

I'm not sure it is a good idea, but I am keeping a mental list of the strikes that are called against me -  old, male, conditions similar enough to the ones they call "underlying." That
makes three, and I'm not yet out, but have just learned of a fourth - growing up in a highly polluted city - Los Angeles!

They say this pandemic is not so bad as many in the past - e.g., smallpox, bubonic plague, measles, yellow fever - because it is "mostly taking older people." Do you find that thought comforting? Society will slowly revive just because a large portion get mildly ill and are done with it. But what about us seniors for whom infection may be much more dangerous? Is society going to move on with our demographic on indefinite lockdown?  Just when the corona virus hit, I happened to be reading William McNeil's Plagues and Peoples as background for the Mayflower class. The Pilgrims arrived on the heels of several pandemics that had devastated both North and South America. The Wampanoags of Cape Cod had lost 80% or 90%. It wasn't much better for the Pilgrims. Half died the first winter, and bubonic plague had recently taken 25% of London and would again in a few years. Those people truly "walked through the valley of the shadow of death." Natives and English alike took the horror as punishment from the gods.  

At that time, they found their hope in the possibility of mending their ways and restoring harmony with the gods. Knowing now about virus, bacteria, and vectors of transmission,we don't expect that any amount of moral uplift would stem the tide. However, I suspect
that some of that old dread is still with us, especially among us vulnerable seniors, that the gods, or God, or the universe might really not be on our side.

Rabbi Harry Sky

The founder of Maine senior colleges, Rabbi Harry Sky, believed that senior colleges would meet a spiritual as well as intellectual and social need for Maine seniors. What he saw is that seniors just as much as anyone else are looking for meaning and significance in their lives. Senior colleges would encourage that by being senior  led, taught, and run and by providing classroom opportunities for seniors to reflect on their lives while exploring new topics. 

Teaching at Senior College has been especially gratifying for exactly those reasons. Students and fellow faculty mature and experienced with life create a rich environment for gaining perspective as well as for learning. Perhaps this time of uncertainty and enforced isolation can prompt us to deeper reflection on who we are, where we have been, and where we are headed. Then being back together will be even richer. . . endowed with patience gained from the waiting and newly discovered insights from the worrying.

The Rev. Dr. Arlin T. Larson has taught courses at Senior College at Belfast since 2006. He has served on the Board of Trustees for eight years, three of them as president. He retired to Belfast in 2011 after serving as minister of First Congregational Church of Searsport.

This article was originally posted in the July 2 issue of the Corona Chronicles.

OLLIbookCORNER The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

The Book Corner
by Pat Davidson Reef

City of Girls
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Riverhead Books /Penquin Random House 2019
Pages 469 
Price $28.00 Now in paperback $13,58

Best seller lists of books can be misleading. I have been disappointed in the New York Times Best Seller List in the past but this time they found a winner in the book "City of Girls" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved it. It is beautifully written with compassion, humor, and insight. Gilbert's writing style brings you right into the novel.

The author begins her story in the prologue by explaining that 89- year- old Vivian has received a letter from Angela, a woman she has only had contact with three times in her life; once when she sewed her wedding gown, once to say her father died, and once to say her mother died in 2010. In the third letter Angela included, "Now that my mother died could you tell me what you were to my father?" A haunting mystery permeates the book as flashbacks of Vivian's many traumatic experiences are revealed.

Chapter one opens with the following: "In the summer of 1940, I was 19 years old and an idiot. My parents sent me to live with my aunt Peg who owned a theater company in New York City in Greenwich Village called the Lily Playhouse. I had recently been excused from Vassar College on account of never attending any classes. Looking back at it all I cannot fully remember what I had been doing with all my time. But my parents could not control me so I was sent off to aunt Peg."

Vivian was overwhelmed as she stood in Grand Central Station waiting to be picked up by her aunt. Vivian says, "New York in 1940 looked like an orchard trapped in a paper weight." That was her first impression as she was sent out of conventional life and invited into a creative life in a New York theater group. The story evolves as she enters a different world.

Aunt Peg says, "Welcome home, kiddo," as Olive Thompson, her aunt's secretary, brings her into the theater. Aunt Peg was too busy with her theater group to meet Vivian at the station. So Olive picked her up at Grand Central instead. Vivian meets the chorus girls in the Lily Playhouse and they try to help her adjust to New York.

The whole story is one of love, warmth, humor, and creativity. Everyone is broke but the play must go on and some how they make ends meet and share what little they have.They all live for theater and the hope of being recognized one day.

Vivian has brought with her clothes, some books, and a sewing machine. The girls are so impressed that she can sew!  Celia and Gladys ask if she can create costumes. Vivian says yes and she makes friends right away because she can fill a need for the girls. They all are responsible for their own costumes. Each chorus girl has her own story of survival. Vivian, having grown up in a boarding school environment, sheltered from the life of chorus girls, receives an education in life much broader than Vassar College had offered.

Vivian became costume director of the Lily Playhouse and was happy. She states, "No one stopped me from calling myself that because nobody else wanted the job."

As the story evolves, exciting adventures dealing with the girls emerge. Olive and Vivian go to the Stork Club in New York to straighten out Walter Winchell at his table. He was once the most powerful man in the media. In 1941 the Stork Club was Winchell's unofficial office. Olive squelches an outrageous article with photos that would be obscene, reflecting badly on the Lily Playhouse (and Vivian), if it went into the paper the next day. This is an incredible story of pathos, humor, loss and survival of women in the theater in New York during World War II.

Things were desperate because of lack of funds but by 1950 Vivian stopped designing costumes for the Lily Playhouse. She decides to sew copies of wedding gowns from Bonwit Teller's, and opens, with her friend Marjorie, a boutique.They develop their own high style wedding gown shop and have many traumatic experiences. I laughed and cried at the same time at the difficulties they faced and were able to overcome.
Vivian had many lovers. She was a liberated woman before Women's Liberation and as co- owner of the shop and creative designer, she gained self confidence to always remain independent. This intricate, amazing,and wonderful story with natural dialogue, sharp humor, and insight into the human condition, is worth reading. The humor will touch your heart as well as the love story. Did Vivian have a great love? Was it with Angela's father? If you want to find out you will have to read the book. I recommend it highly.

Submitted by Pat Davidson Reef, Osher Lifelong learning Institute (OLLI)

Image Credits

Images Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Rabbi Harry Sky - Portland Press Herald

Don'y miss this!

Senior College at Belfast was recently featured in the Maine Seniors Magazine.

The MSCN newsletter is sent to each Senior College board. The boards then forward the newsletter to their membership. However, if you are not a member of a Senior College or perhaps you are, and you simply want the news "hot off the press" subscribe here! 
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