"greedy for life"

Eddie Mae HolmesI met the incomparable Eddie Mae Holmes, a barber in Richmond, California, through my friend Silver Rose. So I followed right up on her email suggestion to get in touch with a psychotherapist-turned-filmmaker named Laurie Schur. Schur is at work on a documentary called “The Beauty of Aging” about women 80 and up who’ve aged well.  Schur’s engaging short, “Greedy for Life,” highlights two of them.

Lavada Campbell and Shirley Windward are indeed beautiful, but I like the title “Greedy for Life” better than the anodyne “Beauty of Aging.” It strikes at the heart of the matter: that great old age and enormous appetite can and do coexist. The variable is personality, not age or circumstance.  Our preconceptions about what makes another person’s life worth living are deeply subjective and deeply held, though often deeply flawed — a seductive point of view dubbed “the psychologist’s fallacy” by William James in the 19th century.

Curious about what we might have in common, I asked Schur what had drawn her to this subject. After working on a PBS series about centenarians, she’d been struck by a newspaper article about a woman in her late 80’s who’d decided to do stand-up comedy in LA.  “My initial intention was to do a film about outrageous older people,” Schur explained over the phone from Los Angeles. But the project kept shifting as it came into focus. Her mother, who’d died, unhappy, at 64, kept coming to mind. Pushing 60 herself, Schur began telling people that “I was looking for women who are living not only longer but better and happier lives than my mother. I don’t think I was conscious of it initially.” She initially planned to film women aged 60 and up, “but all my referrals were for people 80 and over. So I switched. I think I’m meant to do a film on the next age: 80, 90, 100.”  

I was expecting parallels to my own quest, but not such distinct ones. I suspect that “outrageous older people” was Schur’s non-threatening passport into the scary territory of old age, the way “older people who work” was mine. My mother was terrified of immobility and old age, and I’m very conscious of wanting to do it differently. Like me, Schur had no idea how compelling her subject would become, saying, “It kind of crept up on me.”  And she, too, is realizing that the central story is her own.  In her latest newsletter, she writes, “I am making a new trailer for the film that will reflect the new direction of the story to include my personal journey to find these wonderful women and the lessons they have to teach about aging well.”