Amelia Kanan

Writer + Photographer + Producer

Category: Tributes

Citizens of Seniority: Growing Old in America

www.ameliakanan.com

When venturing into the modern world with my grandmother, it’s clear to understand how she feels as if the world is pushing her out.

We hadn’t even stepped into the local Trader Joe’s before I witnessed her feelings of fear and invisibility. Shuffling through the busy sliding doors, a stranger unknowingly brushed past her and the gentle impact had set her off balance. As she grasped my arm, I felt her sway with the ebb and flow of patrons.

It dawned on us both that she should be better equipped for this grocery-foraging journey. She retrieved her confidence with a shiny, red cart and surged forward with her hands gripping the handle.

Every time she stopped for an item, she parked the cart, as if she was ready to sit and read the Encyclopedia among the frazzled shoppers.

Yet the time she took was not leisurely, in the least. It was cautionary; time well spent. Constantly on guard, she protected her ghost-like frame from a carelessly swinging basket and a grabby limb that desperately jabbed for a $1.99 bag of Organic Spinach.

Despite logically validating her struggle, my impatience groaned inside. Noticing that after 15 minutes, she had only gathered two of the five items on her list. Ignorantly,  I offered to “go ahead” and “quickly grab” the last three things she needed.

Her annoyed, but polite rejection prompted me to take note. Perhaps this was another instance that will make her feel pushed, just like the unassuming stranger’s neglectful nudge.

Finally, with her collection of five provisions, she turned toward the checkout lanes, the finish line.

However in this stretch for victory, she noticed a rogue toddler with a mini, child cart.

Her panic gave way to survival strength and she swiftly swerved the cart – the wrong way. Luckily, the nimble toddler pivoted to avoid a collision. Everyone walked away without injury, but my grandmother did make a plea for emotional distress on the car ride home.

Later that evening, she would share our grocery journey with her 95-year-old boyfriend over dinner.

Recounting emotions of fear, insult and neglect, she would make large and general accusations like, “everyone” has become too busy, too preoccupied with themselves to care about little old ladies.

I cannot argue, because I agree. I am unfortunately one of them.

So, I listen and attempt to understand. Try to recognize how the world that she gave love, and good, strong-hearted children to, is telling her to leave. Notice that no one depends on her opinions, actively seeks her wisdom or honors the struggles she’s had to endure to keep surviving in this mad, chaotic place.

Maybe, if I can uncover those challenges and feelings of elderly invisibility today, the pain of tomorrow will be less. Or, when they do begin to arrive at my doorstep in years to come, I will be able to embrace them, as they will be packaged with the memories of my grandmother.


This is a small glimpse of the inspiration behind my new photography series, titled “Citizens of Seniority: Growing Old in America.”

According to the article “The U.S. Isn’t Just Getting Older. It’s Getting More Segregated by Age.” age segregation and age-awareness are growing issues.

It is my mission to educate myself and others about senior issues, from healthcare and financial to behavioral and death. Exhibit how aging struggles unite every human being.

Visually compare the living histories that walk within today’s modern world, from those living alone on sidewalks to others who are surrounded by support. Reflect the confusion, worry and embarrassment in wise eyes. And display examples of how this demographic is too often not considered.

If you would like to learn more or know of a potential subject who would like to participate, please contact me at info@ameliakanan.com or ameliakanan.com with the subject “Senior citizen series.”

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Nothing Special

Tree (1 of 1)-2

That would be the title of my book. “Nothing Special.”

Inside would be a random collection of colorful images that I’ve lovingly captured and categorized as exactly that. A young girl waiting for a bus alone, a home cooked meal that isn’t stylistically plated or professionally lit, an oversized tree on a small lot and tress. There were would be lots of trees.

At 15 years old, I took my first photography class at 15 years old and never thought, or even hoped, that it would become my career. Photography was like that childhood best friend who you could always count on for candid connections, edgy mischief, and unfiltered self-discovery. The one with whom you’re secretly in love, yet maybe too shy to do anything about it.

Just like the first whiff of darkroom chemicals, it wasn’t love at first sight. At any rate, sparks of true kinship were there. I felt it, venturing into neglected areas hoping to catch something new and feeling protected despite being alone. Or in the nervous excitement that came through the lens, as I pulled focus on something small and unseen.

And that was just the beginning! There was pulsing anticipation, loading a spiral in the pitch dark. Then thrill, once the film dried and displayed crisp, well-balanced frames. Soon thereafter, calming comfort in the chill darkroom, calculating exposure and developing an enlargement. And finally, the best spark of all – the final print. With each one, I could feel my heart expand, knowing that such a long, arduous and triumphant journey would forever be safely preserved.

When you’re young, experiences or relationships such as this can often get whitewashed and taken for granted. You may also be a little unaware that although something has taken root, doesn’t mean you can stop watering it.

Time and time again, my contact sheets were full of nothing special. In the beginning, that was okay. But, after awhile I discovered some troublesome themes. An abandoned home with broken windows and graffiti. A crying baby and a distressed mother. Shattered glass in a bed of roses. A lone stranger, deep in thought. Gravestones at night, lit with my flashlight.

The dry roots were ejecting my buried vulnerabilities from the dark, bursting aberrations into my viewfinder.

Being the novice that I was, troubleshooting was out of the question as was asking for help. Instead, I turned a cold corner and retreated from the negative space.

After 3 years, the time had come to break up. I masked my special love, along with my tender inner truths and said goodbye to my high school sweetheart. Clearly, I thought, the relationship was dead and it had nothing to do with me.

It was time to discover something new, something more mature, something special.

Mysteriously and problematically, photography wouldn’t let me go. Like that ex-love that always comes back, it seemed to always find a way to thread itself into every pursuit I embarked on. College, jobs, gigs and projects – it found a way to reconnect with me no matter where I went.

Begrudgingly, I took it by the hand and worked with it. Capturing all kinds of scenes, faces, events, new businesses, causes, families and even a few celebrities.

Before I knew it, I found myself depending on it financially. But, more incredibly, we had discovered a new kind of nothing special. One that was full of brightness, alive with vibrancy and composed with clarity.

My settings had adjusted and my aspect ratio was corrected.

My “nothing special” hasn’t only been a career-saving grace, it has been my insightful guide, partner in crime and better half.

Photography overexposed my truths – over and over again – until I acknowledged and embraced them. It gently nudged me to work on underdeveloped traits, such as patience, direction, focus and being quiet. It provided me with filtering and diffusing techniques and helped me widen my view. And made me understand the real value of background and memory.

What’s more, it instructed me to listen, look at the same thing from different angles, remove myself from the picture and remain still in the midst of a chaotic scene.

And, the most transcendent of all, photography taught me that old, sturdy roots are not necessarily restricting or prone to decay. They can push you to stretch and sway freely in the wind, but ensure you’re secure so you don’t get lost in a strong gust. It can be your daily source of great escape.

Photography was the prime picture I needed to trust and release fear so that I could expose myself to better, ambient light. It was the proof I needed to understand that if you allow nothing special to develop at its own speed, it could become your most valuable life treasure.

“I love everything that’s old, – old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine.”

Ameliakanan.com (30 of 31)

Stephanie and I were best friends before we even met in person. Two months before we moved into our college dorm, we talked on the phone almost every day and told each other everything.

Steph wanted to experience as much as she could. She wanted to travel, share awkward moments with strangers, write about the things that impacted her, capture life and create the most epic catalog of memories.

As for me, I just wanted to find a husband. Feeling like I had already done everything on her list, my naiveté led me to believe that my next chapter was supposed to involve a minivan, the PTA and a husband who had sex with me in the garage after our kids’ soccer games.

Looking back, it’s funny to see how obvious it was that both of us desired lives that weren’t necessarily true to our natures. For instance, all I wanted was to be a homemaker, yet my nomadic spirit kept me from sleeping in my own bed most nights of the week. And as determined as Steph was to be spontaneous and free, she was quick to nest and root down in our neighborhood.

Gradually and unknowingly, we learned each other’s tricks. Stephanie shared her important tools of dependability and commitment and I exhibited survival skills for living life spontaneously.

For better and for worse, our friendship had no boundaries. We served up reality checks and called out flaws. Yet even with the harshest of fights, our intentions were never to hurt, but to inspire growth within the other. We didn’t just help each other identify the flaws, but examine them. Was it a scar or a wound? A fear? Or was it just a character trait that hadn’t been built yet? She wanted me to embrace the reality of roots, rather than run from it. I wanted her to learn that goodbyes didn’t always mean that you had to lose something, but maybe gain something better or more evolved.

We didn’t just live together, we developed who we were together. We learned our strengths, weaknesses, dislikes and needs vs. wants. She helped me find pride in my independent life and I helped her see how much of nurturer she truly was. Most importantly, we learned that life was not a stark contrast of black and white, but instead the most beautiful array of gray.

16 years later, 1,000 miles apart, we still talk almost every day and tell each other everything. Although I still tease Steph about living in the same neighborhood and frequenting the same businesses, I am in awe of how she has managed to achieve all of the goals from her 18-year-old list and then some. She has not stopped traveling, sharing awkward moments with strangers, writing about the things that impact her, capturing  life and creating the most epic catalog of memories now with her husband Ryan and their son, Ro – both of whom I adore more than words can begin to describe, but that’s a whole other blog.

Stephanie, Ryan and Ro thank you for teaching me that new chapters can begin without having to say goodbye. Here are a few snapshots for that epic catalog.

Not pictured: the nightly strolls, Ryan’s professional driving skills, Nicholi’s story about catching on fire, the woman at Faros Beach, yogurt breakfasts and singing “Be My Baby” a capella – over and over again.

 

Dr. D: A Naturopath Fairy Godmother

Dr. D looks at my happy blood cells.

Dr. D looks at my happy blood cells.

My blood looked sad. At least that’s what Dr. D said.

It was my first appointment with the naturopath. For so long, I had felt like a hypocrite, preaching the natural way of life yet heavily reliant on Western medicine to “fix” any health problems.

Dr. D, reminded me of one of Cinderella’s fairy godmothers and even though I felt so comfortable with her, I was still riddled with anxiety. Before my blood came into play, she said “Honey, you need to breathe.”

Such a simple concept but something I had easily forgotten while on hiatus from yoga. I closed my eyes and did what she said. Her breathing got louder the closer she came to me. Typically, I struggle with loud breathers but since Dr. D was like a grandma, I found a calming comfort in her shallow lung capacity. My muscles relaxed even more as I listened to her hands rub some kind of ointment between them which she soon massaged into my neck and shoulders.

When I opened my eyes, she handed me a small plastic cup with purple fizz.

It was delicious and just as I thought I couldn’t be soothed any more, I melted another inch into the chair.

“Now, how’s that?” Dr. D asked like a proud grandma who just served up some freshly baked apple pie.

After studying my fingernails she kneaded my hands and said, “We need to throw your thyroid and adrenal glands life jackets -your estrogen isn’t getting properly dispersed.”

My hands never looked so small as they were engulfed by the doughy ones.

She was checking my pulse and crinkling her eyebrows. “Hm. You burn, on average, 1800 calories a day – without doing anything!”

“Wow, that’s awesome because I have not been working out at all.” Between my knee and sciatic nerve problems, I hadn’t been able to do anything other than walk on flat ground.

Her face got serious, “I don’t want you worry about that stuff right now. We need to get your muscles and organs clean and working properly before you push them any harder.” I liked the way she thought.

“You’re a natural athlete, your body never lets go of that.” I couldn’t wait to compose a mass text to everyone in my life, quoting her on that.

She sat back down behind her desk where she had her microscope camera connected to her monitor. I didn’t have any time to tell her I was scared of needles before she pricked me and dripped 6 beads onto a glass plate. Her screen turned on and there they were, my sad-looking blood cells.

The blobs scared me, reminding me of those micro-bugs that live in motel beds.The bitty goons were creeping in slow-mo all over her screen. Some were even thorny, which meant I was dehydrated. That wasn’t much of a surprise considering I drank a bottle of Tempranillo the night before.

“Oh, sweetheart you must be exhausted.”

I nodded, grateful for the sympathy.

“See how some of these cells have linked together and made chains – that means they are all deprived of nutrients and they’re trying to share the goods.” I felt like a bad mom – not providing my babies with what they needed.

“You’re very strong – and smart but you’ve just felt foggy for a long time. You probably don’t remember what it’s like not living in a fog.” Even though I was curious to know how she knew that by looking at my blood cells, I was too consumed with my guilt of being so awful to body. What she was saying was true. I’ve been apathetic, slow moving, foggy in my thinking, and unable to really focus. I nodded as tears puddled at the bottom of my eyes.

Dr. D was a little surprised by my drama. “Oh, sweetheart.” She took off her glasses and looked me in the eye. “You are one talented person, very smart. The world won’t know what to do with you once we flush all this stuff away.” She really knew how to hook me.

Next, she let my blood dry and wrote down an ideal daily diet plan along with the supplement routine. The only vegetables you should eat cooked: butternut squash and brussel sprouts. The only fruits you should eat are berries and apples. Also, applesauce to rid the metal in your body. Actually, at 9:30am, eat a combination of quinoa, oats and applesauce. Those are your only grains for the day. No Dairy. Coconut Milk or Almond Milk. ATP, PMG, progesterone, iodine, yadda yadda.

Back on her computer screen, my blood cells were dead. This time, the still images weren’t unlike the terrain of Mars. Dr. D traced the craters and geographic-looking patterns with her finger as she explained to me the history of my body. Jumping by 4’s, she told me exactly what was happening with my body from birth until today. She knew that I’ve struggled with anxiety since the age of 5. She knew that I was in a bad car accident when I was 15. She knew I was in the best shape ever at 25. She knew my fitness hasn’t been consistent since 29. She also knew exactly what sports I played.

I was sold, on Dr. D and was ready to subscribe to anything she put out.

30 days after that first appointment, I went back to see my fairy natural godmother.

“Amelia! Look at you!”

Truthfully, I really don’t think I looked any different but, I definitely felt different. I was happy to report her that my energy levels were soaring and optimistic demeanor was back. My sleep pattern was satisfying and even without afternoon coffee, my daily urge for a nap at 3pm was gone. And, even though she had told me not to worry about it, I was back in a fitness routine and not because of guilty but rather the sheer enjoyment.

Then, we looked at my blood on the big screen. Those little marshmallows were unrecognizable. Fluffy and bustling about, it was crazy how happy they looked. No thorns or linked chains trying to share nutrients with each other. My babies were healthy.

Well, that was all I needed to be a believer. I’m so grateful for Dr. D and reset she gave me.

My Sandbox Partner in Crime

AlfredI remember being at a dinner party, surrounded by people you would’ve hated, in a city on the other side of the country, when I heard someone say your name.

My stomach dropped. Hearing those syllables. I felt like a baby bunny. Sensing danger but unsure of the direction in which it was coming.

I realized that the guy, speaking so cruelly about you, had never met you.

I sat up straight, no longer threatened and crinkled my brows, perching myself for an attack. I glared for awhile with that look you always hated, buying time to think of something cunning to say.

“Do you realize how mediocre you seem, saying something like that?” I asked, with a smirk and a chest puffed out with rage.

There I was, defending you with the same behavior that drove you away. My beady-eyed coldness and one-liners that were carefully crafted to dig, deep inside where the flesh was most tender and weak. Mindfully wanting to damage the most precious piece of you that was

I had left you, so long ago and never looked back. Who was I to defend you, I didn’t even know you anymore?

Crickets chirped while everyone stared at me.

Who was the women with so much evil? Her outwardly-facing softness and smile that had greeted everyone so warmly was gone. Ready for a defense. Eager for some kind of socio-economic debate. That wasn’t what I was trying to defend though. You were broke. You were injured. You were struggling. What I wanted to prove was that you were wiser because of your humblings. Your struggle, your perseverance actually put you in front of them. Making all those wide-eyed, mouth gaping people who were staring at me, losers. Not to mention, you had more heart than the sum of all the hearts around me. I missed that big, stupid and throbbing heart.

My stupid anger. My stupid follow-that-heart logic.

Looking back, I wish I wouldn’t have used that anger to propel me back to you. We know that aftermath: a moving truck and a two-year domestic challenge to assimilate and compromise that too quickly evolved into authentic-self sacrifices.

There’s no doubt that we loved each other. Not only did the passion prove that but so did the desire to forfeit so much just to make each other happy.

I’m not sure if I will ever fight for anyone as hard as I did for you. I don’t believe in forever anymore, which for I’m grateful. It’s liberated a huge load off my shoulders.

I’ve loved since you. The first one, was a rekindle ex love. Before I added any more notches, I wanted to feel loved by someone who knew me well – flaws and all. We all know how loveable I am at first glance…the challenge comes later. At least, for you it did. I needed to be re-assured that someone can love me long after that shine dulls.

I missed you today. I’m glad I can miss you. I don’t get angry when I hear your name. I don’t even get sad. You taught me too many good things. Not to mention, you made me feel like I wasn’t the puzzle everyone makes me feel like I am. You made me feel easy.

To this day, It’s still your voice I hear when I need to push past my fear. “Don’t run from fear, run into it” or the simpler version “Don’t be a baby!” Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I argue back “I’m not being baby, I’m being smart. Something you don’t know anything about…”

Detroit, thank you for being my sandbox partner in crime.

I will always defend you sweetly.

A

Grief

My aunt passed away last week. Actually, it was more than a week ago, now. She was one of the oldest out of my dad’s 10 siblings and even though she was in her 80’s, it was sudden. I feel guilty mentioning her age. She considered herself one of the younger ones. Dancing, laughing, playing cards, having a few cocktails, my aunt was a true joy, right to the end.

I call her my aunt because, well, that’s what she was genetically but, in my heart she was a lot more. Since my grandparents had so many kids and my dad was the last to be born, they died a long time ago. Everyone always felt bad for my brother and I not knowing them, but we ended up with 6 grandmas because of it. All of them spoiled us with hugs, snuggles, gifts, laughs, food and even happy tears.

My aunt who passed away was one of my favorites, although I shouldn’t admit that for fear of hurting one of the others’ feelings. The thing about her was that she possessed this strength and resilience that carried her through miscarriages, her young husband’s death, raising two boys, her work and in the most recent years, her declining health and loss of the independence in which she knew. Yet, in all this strength, she was never bitter, angry, jealous or woeful.

When I was in college, I came home for some holiday and found myself sitting on my cousin’s front porch, talking with my aunt. She opened up to me about being a widow, having sons as opposed to daughters and how hard it was to consciously choose to be happy. That talk was over ten years ago but is one that I have thought about often. That moment became life-altering for me because right then, my unfaltering aunt became a human to me. It was after that, when our relationship changed. We became peers to one another as opposed to aunt and niece. We could tease each other and confide in one another. I could  be honest with her and we could share things on the most personal level. Her advice, guidance, perspective and honesty about life’s hardships were things I took to heart because she gave it so realistically and wisely.

I was able to see her before she died. I’ve seen a few people in this final stage of life but because of my age or relationship with her, this time was different. When I saw her laying in this hospital bed in her son’s den, in and out of consciousness, I tried so hard to hold the tears back because no one else was crying. Why do we do this? Why do we feel shame in expressing such emotion? For me, the shame came from her being just my aunt. It was her sons, daughter in law, grandchildren and siblings who deserved to cry. Not me. I needed to be strong for them.

I sat next her and put my right hand in hers, while my left hand held the top of hers. “It’s me, Mia.” I was smiling and trying to talk normal but I started to cry. “May I kiss your cheek?” She opened her eyes and nodded with as much of a smile as she could muster. I kissed her cheek and told her, “I love you so much and will try my hardest to be as great of a person as you have been to me.” Another cousin of mine sat across from me, holding her other hand. After a while, we needed to help our aunt  go to the bathroom and as we did so, I could feel her humiliation. Even though she was foggy from the morphine, she made small gestures that signaled to us that she wanted to do this herself. She, even while weak, doped up and dying was embarrassed. Embarrassed.

When I said goodbye that evening, I knew that would be my final goodbye. Part of me wanted to keep saying goodbye but the logical part of my brain reassured me that I had said everything I needed to say.

Two days later, she died.

I was trying to fall asleep when I got a call from my dad. He began to cry and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry, dad.” I couldn’t sleep that whole night but for the first time in my life, I found myself grateful that death took someone I loved so much. I know that sounds ridiculous but my aunt lived a long, lively life and being dependent was not her style. She left this world respectfully and with dignity, which is exactly how she will always be remembered.

Her body was laid out for 2 days at the funeral home. Which may seem weird but, #1 she had a lot of friends and #2 it let us be with her just a little bit longer. It’s odd because for the 2 days I was at the funeral home, I was okay. I think mentally, I felt like she was just on the other side of the room, talking to someone. It wasn’t until we were at the church when they closed the casket that it hurt the most. It hurt like it did when I saw her dying. When we went to the luncheon after, I just kept thinking “I wish she was coming too” and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt like that by the number of cocktails that were ordered.

I also know that sometimes when people die, everyone says these grandiose things and maybe even brush some things under the rug. The thing is, my aunt was human and not perfect but that’s exactly what made her so perfectly loved.

Cookies, for a Dead Woman

Banana Cookies with Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chips

I have this weird thing with dead celebrities. I, naturally, blame Catholic grade school. It was there that a teacher told me that whenever I wanted to talk to someone who was dead, all I had to do was think of them and BOOM, they’d be right next to me…listening and watching. This, not only terrified me for years to come but also made me think of all the famous dead people with whom I wanted to talk to or hang out with. I remember when Jackie Onassis (my model for life) died, I had this weird bittersweet feeling. Part of me was sad that she and I would never sail together but the other part of me was excited to be able to actually talk to her whenever I wanted. I told myself it was for her benefit: “She probably feels really lonely and scared, being dead and all.” Somehow, that made me feel less crazy…

I’m not sure how necessary that backstory is because #1 Jackie was an extreme case and #2 Julia Child, my muse for today, never had that sort of impact on me. However, I did really like the movie Julie & Julia (although, Julia would have not). Seriously though, what I do love about Julia is how she brought quality and artful cooking into the domestic kitchen. She taught us that you don’t have to fly to Paris to eat a Poulet au Porto, in fact you don’t even have to leave your house (unless you need to go to the market for your ingredients).

Being the kitchen lover that I am, I felt some sort of obligation to honor her memory and what better way than to cook something new. As I stated in my previous Guilt Pleasure Fridays: Yummies! post, I’ve been wanting to make baking apart of my routine. I haven’t baked since I blogged that and I’ve already broken two promises to living people over things I would bake. So, this morning when I woke up, I made a promise to Julia…(see, I did have a reason for over sharing about my talking to dead celebrities). I told her “I promise to bake something new today.” My day didn’t go as planned and after being gone since 8am, I easily could have bailed on Jules. I was hungry and tired when I got home at 5:30pm, had worked all day, still had more writing to do and excuse after excuse etc. But because Julia, my dead celebrity who, because I had thought of, was listening and watching me since I had to to stay true to my word (see how loyal I am?). And regardless if she really actually was watching me or not, I’m really glad I took the time and made the effort because it really, truly made my evening enjoyable and surprisingly, relaxing. Not to mention, it was an excuse to invite one of my favorite flavor connoisseurs over to lend his invaluable critique.

Here’s the link to the recipe with a few of my own amendments:

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies:

-1/2 Almond Meal and 1/2 Whole Wheat Flour

-Stevia instead sugar

-1/2 Semi-sweet chips and 1/2 Peanut Butter chips

-Melted some semi chips and pb chips and drizzled on top

Notes:

The consistency was a bit crumbly but not to the point of messiness. They weren’t crazy sweet yet they can scratch your sugar itch.