What do an Emmy-nominated documentary producer and a Press Club of Long Island Hall of Famer do in their spare time? They spend three years writing a book on coming to terms with the unexpected, sometimes drastic medical, psychological and sexual changes “on the way to fossilization.”
Written by longtime friends and colleagues Barbara Paskoff, 73, of Roslyn, and Carol Pack, 67, of Westbury, “Over-Sixty: Shades of Gray — A Journey Through Life’s Later Years” is a 222-page collection of essays by the authors and 17 subject-matter experts focusing on the senior experience. It’s available in print, audio or e-book.
“Our intention was to fill a void with honest and interesting information for seniors and provide a go-to resource guide educationally, emotionally and psychologically making seniors realize they are not alone in their experiences as they undergo the aging process,” said Paskoff, also the co-founder of Roslyn-based Envision Productions Inc., producer of the Emmy-nominated “A Woman’s Heart” in 2001.
An author of 10 novels and novellas (including “The Library of Illumination” series), Pack says that “Over-Sixty” grew out of a collaborative process: “Either of us would not have written ‘Over-Sixty’ by ourselves. It was an idea that grew out of our friendship, our common professional experiences, and that we saw a need to fill for the often-ignored members of our generation.” The book was published by Artiqua Press, which Pack founded in 2009.
Pack was recently inducted into the PCLI Hall of Fame for her work with that group and the Society of Professional Journalists; she is also a former PCLI president.
The book was conceived at a birthday dinner in 2014 for one of their friends and colleagues, Carol Scibelli, 68, of Manhattan (formerly of Merrick). In 1995, the three friends started a tradition of having birthday dinners for one another. During one of those dinners, at Cipollini’s Trattoria in Manhasset, Paskoff started venting about the perils of aging.
“Seniors are ignored and not respected. All of the self-help books are written for people under 50; like those of us over 60 don’t matter anymore,” Paskoff recalled saying. Pack jumped in and said that they should write their own self-help book about aging. Paskoff and Pack were up for the endeavor, but Scibelli opted out — except as a contributor — because she was already working on her own book and blog, “Poor Widow Me.”
Finding their audience
A few weeks after the dinner, Paskoff and Pack started their research at the Manhasset Barnes & Noble, sifting through books about seniors. What they found, they said, was “very WebMD-ish and boring.” They found nothing on the bookshelves that discussed with empathy and sensitivity — and humor — the drastic changes seniors undergo. So they aimed to write a self-help book unlike any on the market, one that would take an honest, direct look at the trials and tribulations of aging. They also found out that the latest census showed that more than 40 million Americans were older than 60 as of 2010 — that was their market.
The authors agreed to meet once a week, at alternating homes, to discuss what to include in the book. After they arrived at a general structure, they began writing essays on their own. Then they would meet and review them.
“Over-Sixty” is presented in 16 thematic sections, each with related essays. For example, “Perception/Perspectives” focuses on the mindset of individuals as they age; “Sexuality” discusses an aging body and how it affects sexuality and relationships; “Image & Self-Esteem” explores how seniors have morphed into individuals they may no longer recognize; “C&C (Cancer and Cardiovascular)” includes a discussion of individual medical experiences and physicians’ recommendations, Paskoff writing one of the essays because she is a breast cancer survivor; “Digestive Dissonance” covers the digestive system, which may not work as it used to; “Other Voices” contains essays written by close friends who are subject-matter experts.
In the essay “Skin Deep,” the authors write: “Did I ever think that as I aged my legs would look like a roadmap? My veins, both thick and thin, travel down and around my limbs making them look like highways and small back streets.
“The bruises, scratches and bumps that complete the twisting roadway could represent outlying towns and pit stops. My favorite liver spot is a diner. I don’t feel old, and for sure I don’t act old, but that’s not what the mirror says or what other people see.”
Scibelli, in an essay, “Regrets and Gratitude,” discusses the loss of her husband and other family members. “I’ve lost many of my loved ones over the years: both of my parents, my sister, my husband and most recently my favorite nephew.
“Except for my mother all of them were in their 50s and it’s awful to grasp that they’ll never evolve to be more of who they might have been,” Scibelli wrote. “And, as much as it’s painful to be left here missing them, it’s also a blessing. I get to know my grandkids, and I get to see the world bloom with technology that I never could have imagined and often can’t figure out.”
‘Yin and yang' pair
When asked about the team of Paskoff and Pack, Scibelli said, “The reason they are so effective together is that they are like the yin and yang: They complement each other. Barbara is the outgoing one who is a Friar — like me — and has made many celebrity contacts, and Carol is the quiet novelist who owns her own publishing company, Artiqua Press.”
The authors wanted to self-publish so they could control the content and marketing of the book. Pack and Paskoff worked without an agent, calling on friends and colleagues to review drafts and offer comments. Paskoff, who graduated in 1966 from Emerson College in Boston, reached out to two of her college friends for help: Emmy Award-winner Henry “The Fonz” Winkler (Emerson ’67) and Vinny “America’s Funniest Home Videos” Di Bona, who also graduated from Emerson in 1966.
“Henry and Vinny have remained my good friends for all of these years and were more than willing to support us and also provide endorsements for the book,” Paskoff said. “I sent them drafts of the book, and they would give general comments on whether any of the sections needed rework or not.”
Another close friend, Joan Britvan, created colorful abstract illustrations.
They finished writing in September 2017, and since then Paskoff and Pack have worked to produce and market the book. Pack, married for 45 years to Andrew, 71, is an accomplished production and layout technician; she typeset the manuscript and purchased the cartoons and other graphics used in the book as the two authors found ones in newspapers or online that they wanted to include.
Paskoff, married for 49 years to Michael, 76, and who has one daughter, arranged for the marketing, including setting up book signings — one at the members-only Friars Club in Manhattan — and the details of publishing the book digitally.
Pack and Paskoff met in the 1980s at New York Institute of Technology’s cable news station. Pack had studied at the Old Westbury school, getting a bachelor’s and then a master’s in communications arts, in 1986 and 1987, respectively. Upon graduation, Pack accepted a job as a broadcast equipment manager for NYIT’s “Long Island News Tonight” daily cable TV news show. Over her 25-year career at the station, she rose to news writer and assistant anchor. She worked for and became friends with Gary Licker, the show’s production manager. In 1988, Paskoff joined the graduate school broadcast program, working closely with Pack and Licker until 1991, when she received her master’s in communication arts.
“They are both kind, honest and true professionals,” Licker said.
Pack and Paskoff remained friends and both were active in the PCLI and other professional journalism organizations. In 1991, Paskoff started Envision Productions, where she is executive producer and co-owner. Pack worked for NBC News and News 12 Long Island after her career at “Long Island News Tonight.”
Typical of the approach of “Over-Sixty” is an acronym the authors created to describe their current journey.
They write: “We are passionate about ‘Over-Sixty: Shades of Gray’ because it stems from our own experiences as we enter older-hood:
O is for olfactory glands that fail us
L is for the life we’ve lived to date
D is for depression that may strike us
E means elderly, a word we hate
R is for retirement, so sleep late
H is for the hair loss we may see
O is for how ornery we’re feeling
O — another “o” — you’re killing me …
D is for the dread we face in aging
’Cause we’re getting close to the last mile
So, we spoke to experts and wrote ‘Over-Sixty’
To help us face the future with a smile.”
Book signing today
Carol Pack and Barbara Paskoff will be signing copies of their book, “Over-Sixty: Shades of Gray – A Journey Through Life’s Later Years,” from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Over 50 Showcase at the Hilton in Huntington, 598 Broadhollow Rd., Melville. Admission is $8; call 516-621-1446 or visit over50fair.com.