Living Today The Salina Journal Sunday, January 26,1986 Page 11 A special calling Woman answers city's need through local crisis hotline Salinan Pat Ackley says managing her team of 58 volunteers is "the best job in town.' Craig CJwndUf By SHERIDA WARNER 'Living Today' Editor i. urning 40 was a crisis in Pat Ackley's life. The Salinan went "kicking, screaming and biting" into middle age. But she knows well a crisis often brings positive change. Soon Ackley found, as TV star Linda Evans claims on a current commercial, that 40 is not fatal. In fact, Ackley, who now is 42, swears the best tune for a woman is after 40. While many her age "think they should go over to Ryan's (mortuary) and order their caskets," she enjoys a new freedom. Ackley says now she finally can be herself, after years of being her parents' child, her husband's wife and her daughter's mother. Her daughter is 21, so family demands have diminished. But Ackley sidesteps the empty nest sydrome. "The family no longer needs my attention; they just appreciate it." Since her dreaded birthday, Ackley has built a career around her forte — dealing with crises. She directs HOTLINE—Crisis, Information and Referral, a 24-hour telephone answering service in Salina. Ackley, the only paid staff person, manages a force of 58 volunteers. Her duties include recruitment, day- to-day direction of the phone line and program financing. And being in her forties, she says, enhances her concentration and awareness, qualities that may not have peaked in a younger career woman. "My eyes are clearer," she says. From behind the tidy desk in her warm yellow office, Ackley talks at a pace that parallels her unremitting enthusiasm. A novelty coffee cup, with a peculiar slant, tattles on her sense of humor: "Don't bother me, I'm having a crisis," it says. Ackley says her priorities have changed with age. For example, at home she often leaves her bed unmade and prepares quick and easy meals. She is grateful for modem conveniences. "The person who invented the microwave oven should be sainted." An advocate of community service, Ackley says she always has been interested in the dynamics of volunteerism. Before moving to Salina from Michigan six years ago, she donated her time to a similar crisis intervention phone line. Now as director of HOTLINE, she believes she has the best job in town. "These volunteers are positive, caring, committed people giving up a big portion of their lives. I can't be depressed around them." And the usual employer/employee gripes don't exist. Of the 58 volunteers, she says 10 percent are men. Most of her staff have experienced serious life crises themselves and know how devastating the stress can be. Some are recovering alcoholics, others are rape and incest victims. Ackley tells them they are "tempered by fire." They become paraprofessional counselors with 29 hours of intense training and monthly in-service programs. On the telephone, they must deal with domestic problems, child abuse and sometimes suicide. "All of them become personally involved with the human condition." The human condition is of prune importance to Ackley, too. About a year ago, two Chapman teens commited suicide within months of each other. Such a tragedy "here in the Bible belt" shocked her. Now as a member of the American Association of Suicidology, she presents programs to local and area high school students. Suicide is the second leading killer of teens in Kansas, Ackley says. (Automobile accidents are No. 1.) Parents can do little to stop teen-age suicide, she says, but teens' peers can do a lot. She tries to alert them to the signs. Ackley attributes self-destructive behavior in teens to the pressures in today's competitive society. "As soon as kids hit junior high, they are expected to function in an adult world. They go from playing in mud puddles to computer engineering. Adults don't have as much pressure as kids." A familiar comment from teens is "My parents expect so much of me," Ackley says. They are allowed no mistakes and no time for fun. She says she is not blaming parents for their children's suicide, but cautions that sometimes unrealistic expectations are nonverbal. "We take the puppy to the pound if he doesn't behave, for example. Kids feel if they aren't the best, they won't be loved." Ackley says parents need to give their children permission to fail by saying, "We're still going to love you if you're not perfect." Television movies depicting teen-age suicide only glamorize it, according to Ackley. Indeed, the incidence of suicide rose nationwide around the time several such shows were aired, she says. Ackley responded by writing a 15-minute play in which she asks students to participate. The main character comes back to visit her hometown 10 years after committing suicide. In an effort to dispel the notion suicide is a means of getting even with loved (See Calling, Page 12) Artists fear loss of their creative skills in old age By The New York Times : NEW YORK—This is a portrait of the artist in old age. Twelve artists sat for the portrait, in places as distant as the manicured lawns of exurban Connecticut and the tawny hills of northern California. All are greatly talented, all famous, all still at work despite physical ravages that have diminished some. The baby among them is 70. The oldest is 91. : In them all burns a creative flame that only death or mental incapacity can extinguish. That sets them apart. So, too, does the unending challenge of the empty canvas, the .blank page, the unfilled space — and the nagging fear that one morning, they might be unable to meet that challenge. When creativity ends, they all say, life ends also. In this portrait are the composers Gian Carlo Menotti, William Schuman and Morton Gould; the sculptor Louise Nevelson and the painter Robert Motherwell; the film director 'John Huston; the choreographers Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille, and the writers -Eudora Welty, Isaac Bashevis Singer, M.F.K. Fisher and Robert Penn Warren. There are no performing artists in the group, because their art is of a different kind and because advancing age treats them, with few exceptions, differently and often more lharshly. , Life ultimately showered prizes and endless praise on the 12 artists who speak here about age and creativity. Life has also given them heart attacks, strokes, Parkinson's disease and a host of lesser ills. They go on. "Why me?" said Agnes de Mille, age 80, a crooked right hand held to her chest in her Greenwich Village living room. She stabbed her questioner with a blue glare. "Why not me?"' Of all the group, de Mille, practitioner of an art that describes itself through movement, has been the most devastated by illness. A crippling stroke felled her 10 years ago. "I can't do dances anymore," she said. But she has written three books since then and is working on another. The spunk, the tart wit, keep breaking through, even though she describes herself as held together with "spit and Scotch tape" and she reduced a visitor to helpless laughter with jokes about her infirmity. "Angry about being old?" said John Huston in Los Angeles. A gravelly cackle rattled out of his wrinkled face. "Yes," he said. "All the time." He is 79, and yet critics found "Prizzi's Honor," his 39th and latest feature film, as fresh and exuberant as the work of a young man. Louise Nevelson, age 86, appeared at 10 o'clock of a sunny weekday in her house in New York's Little Italy. She wore ounces of eyebrow pencil, bristling black lashes, a gypsy scarf around her head, a gold lame underblouse and black satin pants slit to reveal black lace stockings. "Oh, dahling," she said, as she stroked fingers up along her chiseled cheekbones, "I've never been lifted. But I do like a bit of glamour in the morning." After all these years, "I still want to do my work," she said. "I still want to do my livingness. And I have lived. I have been fulfilled. I recognized what I had, and I never sold it short. And I ain't through yet!" Gallant these artists may be, financially secure at last, recognized the world over. But old age and even fame have their bitter fruits. "I loathe my body," said Gian Carlo Menotti, 74, slender and elegant-looking, as always. "The liver spots, the sagging flesh." He finds himself more vulnerable, weeping in public at the sight of children, or when memory overcomes him. It embarrasses him, he said. Robert Motherwell, 71, called the public's appetite for famous people' 'a mouth as big as a mountain." He fled from that omnivorous mouth and New York and its power junkies 15 years ago to the greenery and isolation of Connecticut. He relishes his solitude still. Isaac Bashevis Singer, now 81, went unrecognized for years and was delighted to meet for coffee with any stranger. Then he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. "It did not really change me; it changed the public," he said. Now, he complained, "I run from the telephone to my manuscript and from my manuscript to the telephone.'' Eudora Welty, 76, is grateful she lives "a long way from the competitive world of New York," snug in her girlhood home in Jackson, Miss. She is losing her hearing but, she said, "I can still see, thank God." From the bedroom where she writes, "I see the mail coming, and the laundry, and friends coming. I want to keep on writing as long as I can think." It is their work — the demands of it, the daily discipline and the dissatisfactions — that fuels them all and is central to their lives. The painters look at their blank canvas, the writers and musicians at "that terribly empty page that stares at you," in the words of William Schuman, 75. And then they begin. "We all start with nothing and make something," 72-year-old Morton Gould said. "That is creative discipline." de Mille called the creative urge "that demon that will not accept anything second-rate." Nevelson, asked what she saw before her when embarking on a new sculpture, did not answer for a moment. Then, without a word, she slowly drew a large question mark with her forefinger on her black lacquer dining table. Schuman has gone through a heart attack and triple-bypass surgery but described gleefully how he had just delivered an important commission 14 months before it was due because "I was so hot I couldn't stop." Robert Penn Warren published his first poems when he was 17. He is 80 now. He said, rasping and almost inaudible following throat surgery, "I don't know what stopping really is." His wife, Eleanor Clark, author of "Rome and a Villa," is also pegging away at her life's work in an adjacent barn at their Connecticut home. M.F.K. Fisher, 77, slowed to a snail's pace by Parkinson's disease, can no longer type or use her dominant right hand, but she lies awake "writing all night in my mind" on her open-air sleeping porch on a California ranch. "I'm always working, oh God, yes," she said.' 'I can't help it—I love it." The woman who used to write up to 5,000 words a day must tape her stories now, "which I hate," she said, "but it's my only way out." "I believe one thing," said Martha Graham, the doyenne of the group at 91. "That today is yesterday and tomorrow is today and you can't stop. The body is your instrument in dance, but your art is outside that creature, the body. I don't leap or jump anymore. I look at young dancers, and I am envious, more aware of what glories the body contains. But sensitivity is not made dull by age." They are all aware of time running out and of death, conscious, as Robert Motherwell, who has had three heart operations, said, "that the lightning can strike at any moment." But they are far more afraid, as Gould put it, that "I'll wake up tomorrow morning without a creative idea in my head." Or worse, that their minds will fail altogether. Men move into leadership of National Organization for Women By The New York Times NEW YORK — The recent election of Dr. Robert Seidenberg as the first male'president of the Greater Syracuse Chapter of the National Organization for Women inspired an editorial-page cartoon in a local newspaper. It showed a bearded man, wearing a dress and high- heeled pumps, being sworn into office by a woman in a man's pin-striped suit. The significance of the cartoon was lost on its subject, he recalled, until the paper ran a letter to the editor noting that robes are worn by judges, priests, professors and others in offices of prestige. "So," Seidenberg said, "it was fitting that I be in women's robes." This 65-year-old psychiatrist, an early and active feminist, is among a handful of men moving into leadership positions in NOW's 800 local chapters. The exact number of chapters headed by men is unknown; the leadership roster of 1,500 names is not broken down by sex, but it is thought to be about 10. Many more NOW chapters, including its two largest, New York and Los Angeles, have elected men to vice presidencies and other high offices. Men have always made up between 5 and 10 percent of NOW's membership, which stands currently at 173,000. Yet, according to longtime members like Frances Kolb, who is writing a history of the 20-year-old organization's first decade, men have not always been welcome in its inner circle. In the beginning, said Kolb, an Ashland, Mass., historian, "we felt it was good to have men in the women's movement because it showed we were fair and equitable and we believed men and women should have good relationships!" As a result, at least one male face appeared on the national board until the early 1970s when the election process changed and when, she said, "active hostility against men surfaced in NOW and other feminist organizations." Though traces of hostility persist, Kolb said, "now we just don't care about that kind of thing." "But no men have been national officers, " she added. "Nor, I guess, are they likely to be." Some feminist leaders, notably Betty Friedan, a founder of NOW, advocate recruiting men as one cure for what she calls the "profound paralysis" of the women's movement. "It's passe," she has said, "for feminists now to see men only as the enemy, or to comtemplate separatist models for emotional or economic survival." "Sex roles and stereotypes are as deterimental to men as to women," said Karen De Crow, a former president of national NOW and a board member of the 200-member chapter headed by Seidenberg. "We want to get rid of sexism and the way to that is men and women side by side." Despite such encouragement, some men leading NOW chapters say they hesitated at first to run for office, even when pressed by nominating committees. It was not that they feared the ridicule of other men, they said, though there has been some of that. Nor was it the criticism of women, though there has been some of thattoo. As Seidenberg, who took office last month, put it: "I felt it would resonate too boringly with the image of the male taking over. That's why I served as secretary for several years—to break stereotypes." For some male leaders, joining NOW was a logical outgrowth of civil rights activities. Others were inspired by women in their lives, usually wives and friends, but also mothers and sisters. Gerald Blum, a 42-year-old nuclear engineer in Pittsburgh, became a member of the national organization 12 years ago, during a second divorce. He said the experience "awakened in me a realization of sex roles and stereotypes." For two years Blum did no more than pay dues to NOW, read the newsletter and write letters to legislators. After joining the local South Hills chapter, however, he found himself picketing the White House, traveling to conferences and defining feminism before the Lions Club and other male audiences. In talks to men's groups, Blum, former president of the 160-member chapter and now co-president, is often asked whether he encounters reverse discrimination. "Occasionally I do," he acknowledged, "from a small minority of members. You have to understand there are many women who have been treated badly by a few men in their lives and have difficulty not generalizing negative feelings to other men.''
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