Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Life Deductible

“Living the Good Long Life” by Martha Stewart

 Back with a vengeance comes Martha Stewart, the “Nemesis of the Nineties", to maximize her cultural influence and bottom line for the edification and expense of our generation. This, her latest of 77 books she claims to have written and published with Random House, is an encyclopedic tome about “living well is the best revenge”. In it, she ‘transitions,’ as they like to call it, from ‘Aspirational Lifestyle Queen’ to ‘Caregiver Extraordinaire’ for the aging demographic she has served (and milked) for over 25 years.

 I’ve got to hand it to her….Martha is always one step ahead of everybody else. Well me, at any rate. While my parents were aging precipitously, did I bother to make time between chauffeuring them to countless medical appointments and tests, shopping for their groceries, picking up their prescriptions, interviewing caregivers, checking out retirement homes, visiting long-term care facilities and, inevitably, planning funerals and shivas - to found and fund a Center for Living at my local Mt. Sinai Hospital? Did I even consider addressing the Senate Committee on Aging, like Martha did? (Do we even have one of those committees here, in Canada, or are those geriatrics in our Senate part of the problem, not the solution? Admittedly, either Senate is the logical place to start any discussion on the decrepitude and expense of supporting an aging generation).

 No, I didn’t. Not even once. I did think, however intermittently, about writing humorously about this stage of life, maybe for my blog, which I hadn’t written in for months because of the way life had of interfering with such worthier activities. I suppose I only have myself to blame if, when I wake up at the ungodly hour of 4am, I don’t just hop out of bed and give myself a facial and do an hour of yoga with my trainer, like Martha does. No, lazy moi, all I can bring myself to do is reach out for my iPad and play an athletic round of WordsWithFriends with my buddies, who can’t sleep anymore, either. And then stare off into space. (If you want to know how to waste what little time you have left, read MY book. When I get around to writing it!)

 Not so, Martha. Martha has lots of time to do everything and she encourages you to follow her lead in this all-inclusive ‘Death-Style’ guidebook for boomers. In order to do so with the utmost efficiency, which is necessary, since time is definitely running out, you might want to consider employing a staff of, well let’s just call it, in Martha’s own words, “a small army” of helpers. If you are wondering where she finds the time to write a book of this depth and dimension while attending to all her many chores (managing her many estates…or even finding time to visit them, starring on her daily television shows…are they still on? her frequent promotional and guest appearances, grooming her herds of Friesian horses, showing her beloved Chows at Westminster, icing cakes and creating paint colors, weaving broadloom, pruning her orchards, and kibitzing with the countless great and the near-great suitors besieging her on Match.com) the answer is simple.

 She doesn’t. Her army does it for her and she puts her name on the cover, the ‘Brand’ she has so assiduously developed and nurtured for over 30 years (with a little time off for bad behavior).

 Martha’s graciously acknowledged inspiration is her powerhouse of a mother, a woman often referred to as ‘Big Martha’, who is duly credited as the honoree in whose name the “Martha Stewart Center for Living” was established by “little Martha”(?) at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. I can’t help but think, “It’s a good thing” that the daughter is named for the mother, in this case, or there might have been a crisis of conscience over the billing! There is a faint hope that by ‘doing good’ and ‘giving back’, as rich people like to, with their leftover money, she will forever erase the taint on her ‘good’ name by helping to fund a center for the study and care of the newest disease sweeping the nation…. aging.

In Martha’s world, old people can be successful, productive and pretty healthy well into their 90’s, like her own mother, or could be if they’d only take her advice! She comments that most of her relatives lived long, healthy, useful lives, never complaining, (as if they’d dare!), and that she certainly expects to do the same. The idea that good luck or even good genes might be a factor is not really considered….Martha seems to believe in that good old American recipe for success: hard work and self-determination, and regular appointments with your colorist!

Anything less and you deserve what you get. Anything less is your own fault. All well and good, I suppose, but tell that to my friends with cancer, heart disease, worn out hips, Alzheimer’s or MS. They won’t be consulting her bible to research which wrinkle fillers to try, anytime soon. Documentation is a big part of Martha’s plan. How else to keep track of such a full life? (Her lists and charts sometimes remind me of the ones Jay Gatsby formulated as his life plan, and we all know how well that turned out for him!) The best part of this book, however, is not her self-satisfied musings of a life well lived (if you don’t look too closely at the trail of personal destruction left behind), but the excellent resources culled together by the many expert advisors (and co-authors?) in medicine, gerontology, social work and nutrition.

 Maybe I’m being a little harsh. The book is actually an excellent compendium of ‘what to do until the undertaker comes’ kinds of things, most of them constructive, logical and life affirming, especially for those with the wherewithal to provide a comfortable dénouement for themselves. Advice from leading experts in every field remotely connected to an aging life, as it is lived by the healthy and wealthy, abounds. We are spared those familiar, all too horrifying conversations about what to do when catastrophic illness strikes at the family savings (if there are any) or when you suspect a loved one might be losing his mind in bits and pieces, never to be whole again. This book of advice is not for the terminally ill or (cringe) lower classes, but rather for those who can afford to buy it and stash it on their library shelf beside the dusty Funk and Wagnell’s Family Health Encyclopaedia for occasional consultation.

 For the rest, there is always ‘Google’.

 Afterthought: Martha is now making the Media Circuit/Circus rebranding her image as a lonely single woman seeking love in all the wrong places. Match.com? I have to wonder if she owns it? Surely, with her resources, she could afford to hire a full-time Shadchen (matchmaker) on her staff. I could volunteer. Why would she (or her staff) want to sift through the thousands of mis-Matches lurking out there in cyberspace when she has so many other better things to do? And all this recent publicity about ‘sexting’ and ‘threesomes’? Is she so loathe to give up the post-menopausal spotlight to Paula Deen? 

This smells of desperation to me.

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