Positively Ninety is a Positive Force

23 Mar

Positively Ninety

A chemistry professor, an avid traveler, a budding novelist, a family-chronicler, a devoted couple, a passionate gardener, a man who swam the Ohio River and twenty-one others: all of them vigorous, active, driven, all of them ninety years old, some of them, older.  This is the cast of very real characters that populate OC alum Connie Springer’s recent book, Positively Ninety: Interviews with Lively Nonagenarians.

The project, which was funded by a two-year City of Cincinnati Individual Artist Grant, combines journalism and photography to celebrate the wrinkles, smiles, and longevity of this exceptional group of elderly folk.  In her introduction, Springer provides a framework for the project, “My personal experience with aging had been less than positive.  Over a decade ago my mother, in her eighties and saddled with dementia, lived in a nursing home surrounded by peers with vacant stares and immobile stances…. I needed a different perspective.”  Springer began by interviewing a friend’s neighbor, ninety-one year old gardener June Edwards.  Inspired by June’s joie de vivre, Springer decided to turn the single interview into a full-fledged project.

The grant initially called for a public display, and in book form the concept retains much of the sparseness and accessibility I imagine would have inhabited the exhibit.  The photographs and the voices of the individuals are at the heart of this book, and it reads as a pure artist’s rendering.  Springer mixes mediums to offer her audience a richer story, while still allowing glimpses into the untold portions of her subjects’ pasts.  After finishing Positively Ninety, I felt a compelling desire to phone my own grandparents and to learn about their personal histories and life outlooks.  The conversation between generations is one the work freely engages in, and I find this to be one of its strongest points.

In addition to commenting on individual lives, the material also tells a story about community.  As we meet each of the nonagenarians Springer interviewed, we are also introduced to the children, spouses, neighbors, friends, places, and pastimes that have enriched and informed their ninety+ years of life.  As part of her work, Springer identified twenty common personality traits of her lively nonagenarians, many of which drew on the sense of community that both inspired and now carries the work.  Among these were being open to meeting new people, relating to younger people, being connected to friends and family, and involvement in enjoyable activities.

The combined effect is a work that is both uplifting and enlightening, a gentle reminder of the many invaluable and fascinating individuals often ignored by our society.  By allowing the voices of her subjects to render lifelike instead of probing or preaching her own agenda, Springer captures a distinct treasure-trove.  She concludes her introduction, and in many ways her quest for resolution, with this thought: “One thing is certain: from meeting these lively nonagenarians, I know now that the notion that time must inevitably inflict incapacity and despair is fundamentally wrong.”  Positively Ninety is a thoughtful book, as vital and vigorous as the generation it serves.

One Response to “Positively Ninety is a Positive Force”

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