By Elizabeth Gracen:
Flapper Press is proud to feature the work and musings of Dr. Roger Desmarais—poet and professional consultant to major firms, government agencies, and professional groups. Through years of research and experience in the practical application of Emotional Intelligence in the corporate world, he has been deeply involved in the design and implementation of various types of team-building programs and processes to improve and facilitate personal and team programs of change. Dr. Desmarais writes poetry about positive aging and the passage from adulthood to Elderhood.
Elizabeth Gracen recently interviewed Dr. Desmarais about why he believes in the transformational power of poetry.
EG: Your poetry has such a specificity and personal voice. Why do you love poetry, and why are drawn to express yourself through it as an art form?
RD: Our lives require that we come to understand what is and has been most significant and meaningful in those lives. The format of poetry is the language of the soul itself as a symbol of the capacity to change or transform understanding. Poetry uses personal feelings and symbols, universal images and life metaphors that contain the significance and meanings that stimulate and support our physical, emotional, and spiritual transformations.
The symbols, images, and narratives in poetry have the power to reach us in deep and intimate ways, often signaling what is most important to us. When something is deeply meaningful, we often use figurative or symbolic language to express it. Meaning in life is expressed by all cultures through music, art, and literature.
Poetry points to what is meaningful and to the hidden presence that awaits us in the spacious and empty places between thought and feeling, where the spirit resides. The language of poetry is the language of the heart of symbol and transmits meaning in a way that touches us deeply and leads us to the wisdom of ourselves.
This creative and symbolic form of poetic expression integrates memory, experience, and imagination to provide opportunities for reflection and to help us see what is truly meaningful in our lives.
The process of poetry touches and expands our emotional and spiritual intelligences in order to facilitate experiencing more deeply our selves, others, and our worlds of private life. This in turn enhances, at a deeper level, the many facets of intellectual intelligence that too often are limited because of emotional illiteracy. Poetry opens a window of insight into our individual souls and spirits and helps stimulate reflection on how we define ourselves in the context of personal fears and pains, growing "Elderly" and becoming "old."
Poetry of personal reflection offers reality at a deeply personal level as an opportunity for each to listen to those “deep down things” that are sources of energy and/or dis-ease in our lives. It provides a "present moment" in which to hear our selves at a deeper level. The individual’s conversation with self will create a space in which to understand our relationship to ourselves, a connection that exists in the nooks and crannies of our souls but often never seems to reach the light of clarity. Poetry is a time to put into perspective the opportunity to awaken to the beauty of discerning life and plumbing the depths through courageous inquiry needed to touch the inner prize of our souls in the aging of our lives. Poetry is an opportunity to engage in a conversation with ourselves in order to discern those edges in our lives that keep us from being more of what we aspire to become, those sharp edges that cut deeply into the fabric of our beings and limit our ability to expand our consciousness beyond the narrow place in which we find ourselves. This personal time will suggest issues that enlarge as well as themes that limit our personal lives. This will be a time to reflect on our own lives and begin again to discern our paths into the present, out of the past, and on into the future.
EG: Who are your favorite poets? Which poet has influenced you the most?
EG: Your posts and poems deal with the journey of aging. Why do you think it so important to write about it and discuss this natural process?
RD: I am aging! After a marathon at 60 when my knees were replaced and gradual physical capacities began to drop off the phylum of my living, I began to realize that I was in the real process of "aging," not just existing or retired. Coming from academia, I began to research my own process of growing into Elderhood, created several courses on “Inside Aging” and “The Gifts of Aging,” which I taught at the Senior Center, retirement communities, the university, etc. I am a volunteer Mini Van driver on Friday mornings and enjoy very much my time with those who have lost their driving independence. I used poetry in my classes to help facilitate an opportunity for the elderly to creatively share their aging experiences in a kind of "anti-anti-aging" rising. Not a movement but a personal acceptance of the beauties of the elderly aging-senior population. This group is sometimes without voice, and poetry provides a new language of the heart in an area without many models of growing graciously older with an outdated language of productive prose that has no real words for the deep new experience of the new unknown. It is the quiet time mom reflection and savoring the fruits of a long life of labor.
EG: What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about aging? How can we look at it differently?
RD: The attitude toward aging is so blatantly advertised as an "anti-aging" philosophy. Food is sold with the caveat of "Discard after ten days," "Shelf life of 30 days," "Poisonous after two weeks." Then there is the the "Slow Lane," the "Handicap Zone," the white cane, the shuffling gait of arthritis, etc. The new normal in the aging process is difficult to accept because it reflects a real ending, a gradual letting go of capacities, a walk into the fearful unknown beyond doing and death.
The beauty of growing older, of aging, of gradually "maturing on the vine" allows for a time for quiet and peaceful reflection and meditation on the fruits of the labor of living a full life: a fermentation beyond being locked in a barrel for three years to "age." It is a time for acceptance of the final phase or stage of life with the same hope and desire of the younger versions of self when life was still in its public, productive self and not preparing for the end of that heady time given in the process at just the right moment for meditation and contemplation.
EG: Do you have a basic philosophy of life? Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
RD: I do consider myself a spiritual person. As a young boy growing up on a farm in Washington, I was very aware of a kind of divine intelligence working in the land: the predictability of the seasons, the harvest, the beauty after the storm, being part of the creative process in the land. I searched in life for more and entered the Jesuits to be a teacher. I designed a graduate program in Religious Education at Seattle U to further insight into a kind of co-creation of spirituality beyond traditional “It is God’s will.” I gradually outgrew the narrow definition of God and subsequent church developments and decided to leave to continue my search. I had a family (of three grown to eight grandchildren), brought Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence to the Intellectual Intelligence in organizations. And in retirement continue to research my own growth and development within the trajectory of growing old in age, wisdom, and grace. I wanted to share the journey with my peers. In many ways, I am continually drawn back to nature as the pure realization of spirituality—and that includes the human species in the process of co-creation.
As a high school teacher with an MA in Literature, I was given an opportunity for three years to teach and learn again the depths of a new poetic lexicon that touches the heart and soul of life. I carried that love into my business profession and used poetry to facilitate change at the corporate and leadership level. I wrote poetry about experiences in leadership training programs and organizational development seminars and retreats and shared the with subsequent groupings. Requests led to publishing a book on "Disruptive Poetry: Upsetting the Perfect Status Quo." It was natural that I would use poetry as a vehicle within my working with the elderly to facilitate growth and change. Poetry is in so many ways the language of romance and spirituality, especially of the process of growing old graciously and wisely. I continue to write poetry about my own growth and development within the context of Elderhood; it is a therapy to search and discover the "Gifts of Aging" that enrich my life and those around me in our common search for that Divine Intelligence operative in our lives.
EG: If you could put your finger on the biggest issue facing our world, what would you choose, and how do you think we should approach a solution to making the world a better place for all?
RD: The preponderance of future generation's energies will not just be the creation of new technological developments to enhance the world but to enhance the world of a preponderance of the elderly in that world. The numbers and ratios of old to young generations is beginning to become staggering. One-Child families is not an answer. The growing homeless and mentally ill reflect a large percentage to be the elderly who feel the brunt of job loss and health care the most. Living on the streets cannot be an answer. We have come a long way since the poor houses and old-style nursing homes, expensive retirement developments, and assisted-living communities that do not provide for the growing numbers of elderly needing care and understanding on so many fronts: spiritual, physical, and mental health, healthcare, financial support, housing, work, etc. Education about the elderly, created and delivered by parents to their children, will begin to create an environment of understanding and support, love, and care for the elderly in the future.
Theorists such as Erick Erickson and Abraham Maslow began to create an understanding through their phases of growth and stages of development for the individual. But they did not go far enough—they hadn’t yet lived the elderly stage enough to appreciate a stage beyond self -actualization, namely that of Transcendence of the soul and spirit that is reserved for the elderly, for only they have the deepest existential understanding of the aging process. They, the elderly, as a group need to be able to articulate this stage of life for everyone. And the language of the soul and spirit, mind and body for this extraordinary opportunity in life is poetry.
Prose can carry the ball to legal and financial support. However, poetry is the language that touches the soul and heart with empathy and sympathy, understanding and care, love, and presence.
EG: One last question. If you could sit down with the twenty-year-old version of yourself, what would you tell him?
RD: I wish I could recall the conversations I must have had with myself at that time, because they positioned me to face life basically as I did over time. At twenty, I was aware of the ongoing reality of changes in life—as I first experienced them in the process of growth and decay in the natural world around me at the time: nature and the inevitability of "endings." I would emphasize that change is not so much about giving up or letting go of the known capacities of an old normal but of reaching for and nurturing new visions and horizons in the belief that "out of the ashes, the Phoenix will evolve." Almost to the point of stating that the more anxious the fear of letting go of old strengths might be, it is a good sign of the depth of what that new Phoenix might look like (to give up the old gravity of Earth to walk the new gravity of the Moon). Most of all, the search must focus on an inner work that becomes primary even as the ego works hard to learn how to navigate the present, exciting, and challenging world of business and finance. I think I had that same conversation with my children when they grew to that ripe old age!