An energized Carmel senior publishes a little book of inspirations.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Most people prefer to start their day with a cup of coffee. Carmel’s Harriet Shanner, 92, wakes up with a session of headstands.
Every day she lifts herself onto a shoulder-bracing contraption she bought 30 years ago, swings her legs high, and holds for 3 minutes.
She says the exercise increases circulation and gets blood flowing to the brain: “It wakes me up and gets my mind ready for the day.”
One recent morning, after Shanner’s cup of headstand, Brad Armstrong, a friend from her yoga class, stopped by for tea. Conversation steered into life and romance. At one point Shanner attempted to describe her relationship with her late husband, but couldn’t find the words. So she got up to find them.
“She went and got her three-ringed green book,” Armstrong says. “It was all written on a typewriter. She read me a quote that was both touching and poig-nant. I was enchanted with it.”
The quote drew from the 1936 movie Rembrandt. “There was a man in the land of Uz and the Lord gave him all that the human heart could desire,” says Charles Laughton (as Rembrandt van Rijn), “but beyond all, this man was in love with his wife.”
It’s one of many she’s collected for decades. Sixty years ago, she walked into a stationary store in search of a simple book that, like her headstands, would help her collect her thoughts.
“I am not certain when I first encountered on a printed page a thought or an idea expressed by a writer that struck me as though it was my own,” she writes in her book’s introduction. “But after I had copied a few such extracts and preserved them on fragments of paper in a rather unsystematic fashion, it occurred to me to make a journal of the collection.”
Armstrong felt Shanner’s book of scavenged wisdom could be very valuable to others. He took the book to Texas, where he had a friend and novelist, Rachel Hector, read it over. She went to work organizing the quotes and interweaving Shanner’s commentary. Hector then photographed the pair of green jeans she was wearing and added yellow Post-Its to create the cover.
Shanner loves the finished product – but adds, “I would never wear jeans like that.”
Uplifting quotes in Little Green Book, like “You can ride out the rough patches, and if you do, you’re richer for it” (from Jessica Tandy on marriage) and “Very few people ever really are alive, and those that are never die, no matter if they are gone” (from Ernest Hemingway), hold tidbits from a lengthy lifetime.
“People don’t realize that there may be 20 years between each page that they are turning,” Shanner says.
Yet Armstrong and Hector’s interest surprised Shanner, a longtime “professional volunteer” for the Red Cross and Arthritis Foundation, among other groups. She thinks younger people wouldn’t want to listen to what she has to say, dismissing her as an “old fogey.”
Not that a book she intended as a personal tool can’t help others, as a Beatrix Potter quote that appears in its pages hints: “The wisdom and experience of old age is largely wasted.”
“In the world in general, we make the same mistakes over and over,” Shanner says. “Young people have to experience life on their own. I cannot tell them how to live it.”
But her advice certainly can’t hurt, especially if Armstrong’s daughter, Kate, is any indication.
Shanner’s collected words and active life, Kate says, provide “a very powerful model of what it can mean to live into old age and never really be old.”
But Shanner never planned on being a published author, let alone inspiring.
The inspiring one, in her eyes, remains her late husband William Shanner, a longtime academic at the University of Chicago and director of research at the University of Oklahoma.
“Some of the most wonderful moments of being married to my husband came from watching and observing his ability to teach and inspire others,” she says.
Asked to flex her newfound authority as a sage of sorts, she provides three-part advice for people of all ages: Use your body every day, take care of your feet and cherish your relationships.
Then she adds one more thing: People should do the things they love.
Her loves? Words and cocktails. Her drink of choice: Jack Daniels, nearly neat.
“It aids in digestion,” she says.
When it comes to processing life, so does her little book.