Tuesday, 11 March 2014
ELDER POETRY INTERLUDE: Getting Old by Jack Gilbert
Someday I might tell you the story of why I never married again after divorcing at age 31. Or not, and not today. Instead, I give you a poem that resonates with me on that topic.
It arrived a few weeks ago from Tom Delmore, poet, whom I've told you about before. Titled Getting Old, it was written by Jack Gilbert who died in 2012 at age 87.
But now that I think about it more carefully, a couple of sentences from an article about Gilbert that Delmore included in his email is more strongly resonant than the poem.
Here is what you need to know before you read Getting Old: For many years, Gilbert had been married to a poet who had once been his student. They divorced:
”After they broke up, Gilbert fell in love with a sculptor named Michiko Nogami, and he moved with her to Japan. During all those years, he didn't publish another book — when he was asked why, he said that he was spending his time falling in love with those two women.”
You can find out more about Gilbert at the Poetry Foundation website (and maybe even the source of that quotation). Today's poem is from Gilbert's book, Collected Poems which is available from Amazon and other booksellers.
The soft wind comes sweet in the night
on the mountain. Invisible except for
the sound it makes in the big poplars outside
and the feel on his naked, single body,
which breathes quietly a little before dawn,
eyes open and in love with the table
and chair in the transparent dark and stars
in the other window. Soon it will be time
for the first tea and cool pear and then
the miles down and miles up the mountain.
"Old and alone," he thinks, smiling.
Full of what abundance has done to his spirit.
Feeling around inside to see if his heart
is still, thank God, ambitious. The way
old men look in their eyes each morning.
Knowing she isn't there and how much Michiko
isn't anywhere. The eyes close as he remembers
seeing the big owl on the roof last night
for the first time after hearing it for months.
Thinking how much he has grown unsuited
for love the size it is for him. "But maybe
not," he says. And the eyes open as he
grins at the heart's stubborn pretending.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Weather Stories or Colder Than a Well Driller's Ass
Monday, 10 March 2014
The Courage and Bravery of Elders
Recently, I ran across a quotation from Muriel Spark on the subject of growing old:
”Being over 70 is like being engaged in a war. All our friends are going or gone and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.”
Spark reminded me of a blog post I have intended to write for a long time (see above headline). But first, I wanted to be sure I know the difference between courage and bravery which most of us – me too and even some dictionaries – use interchangeably.
Fortunately, there is a respectable website called DifferenceBetween and I'm going to quote at length their explanation of the difference between courage and bravery. Added emphasis is mine:
”Bravery is the ability to confront pain, danger or attempts of intimidation without any feeling of fear. It is strength in character that allows a person to always be seemingly bigger than the crisis, whether he is indeed more powerful or is lesser than what he is tackled with.
“Courage, on the other hand, is the ability to undertake an overwhelming difficulty or pain despite the eminent and unavoidable presence of fear. More than a quality, it is a state of mind driven by a cause that makes the struggle all worth it.
“Unlike in the case of bravery, a person fueled by courage may feel inevitably small in the face of peril, pain or problems. The essence of courage is not the feeling of being certainly capable of overcoming what one is faced with, but rather is the willful choice to fight regardless of the consequences.”
So the basic difference is that bravery involves no feeling of fear in the face of danger and courage is the will to keep going in the face of fear.
Certainly there must be elders who bravely keep on truckin' without fear as the years pile up. I am not one of them. It is in quiet moments alone and in the dark of night sometimes, when I can't sleep, that I am fully aware of the disasters that can befall me.
Fully aware even when pretending that none of them will happen to me.
Fully aware even when recalling that actor Bette Davis was speaking from first-hand knowledge when she said, “Old age ain't no place for sissies.”
In 1983, Ms. Davis underwent a double mastectomy for breast cancer and two weeks later suffered four strokes followed soon by a broken hip – three of the most common scourges of old age crammed into one year.
There was a long period of recovery but Ms. Davis worked her way back to make several more films before she died in 1989 at age 81. The epitaph on her tombstone reads, "She did it the hard way.”
No kidding. And so do a lot of old people. Actually, I suspect that one way or another, we all do it the hard way:
Weathering the kind of loneliness Muriel Spark speaks of when too many old friends have died and there is no one left who knew you when you were young.
Of the medical horrors like those of Bette Davis. Not everyone comes back as far as she did but so many are surprisingly resilient in making do with limitations.
The drip, drip, drip of declining strength and energy in old, old age. Nevertheless, elders accommodate and keep going. I've known and continue to know many.
The bone-deep sadness (not to mention exhaustion) of caregivers watching spouses decline while they still find things to laugh about.
Approaching the end of our days wondering so much more seriously than when we were younger, what comes afterward. Hurray, I suppose, to those who are convinced of life ever after.
Those who are not convinced are left to contemplate oblivion.
There is courage in just walking around when you know that every year, one-third of people 65 and older fall and 20 percent who suffer a hip fracture die within a year. Remember when a fall meant a bruise or at worse, a broken bone that would heal quickly? No elder can count on that anymore.
Old age requires that elders become aware, as much as possible, of the catastrophes that can befall them and they do that with amazing good cheer most of the time as they arrive closer each day to the inevitable and only outcome life grants us.
All old people are amazingly brave and courageous, and none get enough credit for it.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: The Advertising Lesson
Sunday, 09 March 2014
ELDER MUSIC: Songs about the King
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
There are many songs about Elvis out there and we can ignore most of them as they rank from ordinary to awful. There are a few worth listening to though and those are the ones you will hear today.
One of the performers today who actually met Elvis is JIMMY WEBB.
In fact, his song is all about that meeting. I imagine if I had ever met him I'd write about it too. I didn't so you'll just have to go with Jimmy's version rather than mine. The song is Elvis and Me.
GLENN CARDIER is an Australian singer/songwriter and, well, a bit eccentric. Given that, he's a terrific writer and a wonderful performer. If you ever get a chance to see him, take it (although you might have to fly over to this wide brown land to do that).
Glenn can make you laugh and cry in the one song. This is one of those, Elvis at the Checkout.
There are a few versions of My Baby's Crazy 'Bout Elvis, most of them out of England. The one I've chosen is by MIKE SARNE.
Mike is best known as an actor, writer and director - however, in the early sixties he had a few records that made the charts, most notably Come Outside. This is another song from the same period.
A particular favorite song of mine on this theme is by GREG BROWN.
This is from probably his best album, "The Poet Game.” The song is Jesus and Elvis - that's all that needs to be said. I'll just let you listen.
Gather round cats and I'll tell you a story about an all-American boy. We know who that boy is; the singer in this case is BOBBY BARE.
That may not be obvious if you have the old 45 of the song as it claimed the singer to be Bill Parsons.
Bill was a bit of a singer and a friend of Bobby's who was in the studio the day it was recorded. Accidentally or not, his name made the record and he toured when the song became a hit as Bobby had been drafted and couldn't do that. Audiences soon found out he wasn't the one who recorded the song.
Here's the real Bobby with All American Boy.
Now for a song from a most unexpected source, JOAN BAEZ.
Joan's song is also rather unexpected. It sounds like a cross between early fifties' rock & roll and Chicago electric blues, neither of which we usually associate with Joan. There's more to her than we realize.
She's said in interviews that she started singing rock & roll and rhythm & blues before becoming famous for her folk style. Here she sings Elvis Presley Blues.
As with Greg Brown, the BELLAMY BROTHERS conflate others besides Elvis into their song.
In their case, they use real people not an imaginary one. Theirs are Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. The song is called Elvis, Marilyn and James Dean.
TEX, DON AND CHARLIE consists of Australians Tex Perkins (from The Cruel Sea, The Beasts of Bourbon and a solo career), Don Walker (from Cold Chisel) and Charlie Owen (a respected guitarist).
Tex had heard Charlie and thought he'd like to perform with him. A producer suggested to him (Tex) that he record with Don. Tex said he'd do it if Charlie was involved as well. Thus a new group was born. Their song is Postcard from Elvis.
I'll end with a song that's not about Elvis but it is one that he recorded.
I really have no time for Elvis impersonators; they're a blot on the musical landscape. There is one artist, though, who was cursed with a voice that was as near as damn identical to Elvis's. That man is RAL DONNER.
Ral wasn't an Elvis impersonator but there was no escaping his voice. For all of his career he tried to forge a musical existence separate from the King, with a little bit of success.
Even allowing for that, he was given the task of providing Elvis's voice for the documentary This is Elvis in 1981.
In spite of trying to distance himself from El, one of Ral's biggest hits was a cover of a song Elvis recorded first, Girl of my Best Friend.
It may sound like sacrilege but he did a far better job of the song than Elvis did. Maybe it was because El recorded it in the mid-sixties when he wasn't really trying.
There'll be some more Elvis related music in two weeks' time.
Saturday, 08 March 2014
INTERESTING STUFF – 8 March 2014
OSCAR WINNER: THE LADY IN NUMBER 6
So it makes sense that today we again celebrate Alice Herz-Sommer, who died last week, because that film about her life won the Academy Award last week for best documentary short:
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, was produced by Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed.
DOES HTML SOUND LIKE STD TO YOU?
Sometimes the stupidity and/or ignorance of people just leaves you gasping. Or laughing.
It is understandable that 77 percent of Americans don't know what the letters SEO stands for. And there is a certain loopy logic to the 42 percent of Americans who think motherboard is the name of the deck on a cruise ship.
But what is there to say about the 10 percent who think html is venereal disease. You can read more here.
VILLAGE FOR PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA
Midori Barstow sent this fascinating story about Village in the Netherlands named Hogeweyk that is especially for dementia patients. It's a far cry from nursing homes and hospital wards that we are more familiar with.
Among other changes, the patients' living quarters are designed to mimic the lifestyles they were accustomed to before they became ill. Some examples:
This is a short video from the BBC about the village:
A second dementia village is currently under construction in Switzerland. It is a new idea with barely a toe-hold yet in the world of eldercare but is one good idea among the many innovations in eldercare we will soon require as the elder population increases.
You can read more about Hogeweyk in this New York Times story from a couple of years ago.
BILL MAHER ON THE ONE PERCENT WHINERS
When Maher is good, he is really, really good.
SNAKE VERSUS CROCODILE IN AUSTRALIA
TGB's Sunday musicologist, Peter Tibbles, sent this item after having received it from his assistant musicologist, Norma. In her email to Peter, Norma wrote:
”Here's one to keep up our reputation for scary critters. Actually I'm surprised there are crocs so far inland, even freshies.”
It's not so much the kind of animals in Oz this time, as what happened when a croc met up with a
What astonishes me is that it was the croc who didn't have a chance. I would have guessed the reverse – I mean, wouldn't you think a crocodile would just take a giant bite out of the middle of a snake? I guess not.
You can read more here where there is also a collection of still shots of the event.
MINI-PIG TO MAXI-PIG
This is a much more benign, happy animal story sent by doctafil who blogs at Jive Chalkin'.
It seems these guys thought they were getting a pigmy pig but instead got Esther – 400 pounds of her. Here's the story:
You can read more about Esther and her owners' plans for her here.
SHERWIN NULAND DIES
When I first started researching what aging is all about 20 years ago or so, one of the most fascinating books I read was National Book Award winner How We Die written by surgeon and university teacher, Sherwin B. Nuland.
It was a pull-no-punches description of what happens to bodies as they reach the end of their time. He followed it four years years later with How We Live about the miraculous intricacy with which our bodies function.
I still read these two books. They remain among the most important in my ever-growing library on aging.
Nuland died last week of prostate cancer at 83. When these two of his books were published in the 1990s, the death with dignity movement was barely a glimmer on the horizon but I don't think that takes away anything from this notation in Nuland's New York Times obituary:
"Dr. Nuland confessed that he, like many of his readers, desired a death without suffering 'surrounded by the people and the things I love,' though he hastened to add that his odds were slim. This brought him to a final question.
“'And so, if the classic image of dying with dignity must be modified or even discarded, he wrote, what is to be salvaged of our hope for the final memories we leave to those who love us? The dignity we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives.'”
NAKED FRENCH GUYS' TOWEL DANCE
Norma, the assistant musicologist, is back with this video just in time to be included in today's Interesting Stuff. Two naked guys in a French nightclub. So silly. So funny.
Does the video remind you of anything? How about the Balloon Dance that was posted in Interesting Stuff about three years ago. (Scroll down – it's the last item on that day's post.)
Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.
You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.
Friday, 07 March 2014
Elder Role Models
Last week, the Guardian published the results of a survey the newspaper had conducted about aging. It appears the U.K. government hasn't done any better preparing for the big demographic shift to an older population than the U.S. government has.
We could discuss that and other outcomes of the survey but this is Friday and if you are like me, you prefer a lighter touch to end the week – this week, anyway.
So how about we play around today with this question from the Guardian survey: Who is a good role model for elders?
(This topic screams for photographs but the Guardian commissioned such good ones that it is futile for me to try find anything better than I can legally use. So go to the Guardian to see theirs.)
Most choices for good elder role models were, of course, Britons but not all. Star Trek's Lieutenant Sulu, George Takei, is included “because of his perspective, usefulness in campaigning and visibility around being older and gay.”
Nelson Mandela is on the list because “he showed that you are never too old to add to the wealth of nations."
Moving on to the Brits: "Sir Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Michio Kaku and Diana Athill. Intelligent, talented people who are still engaged and not defined by their age."
Actor and member of Parliament Glenda Jackson was not overlooked nor was poet Billy Connolly.
David Attenborough was mentioned because “his observations on life spread a much needed sense of wonderment and he has been going strong, doing what he loves, well into his eighties, sustainably."
[Although it is not directly related to this survey, that last quotation does remind me of the single thing I envy about celebrities (and many corporate leaders) – successful ones, anyway: that they are allowed to work for as long as they want, whereas we 99-percenters are forced out of the workplace as young as 45 and 50.]
All right, now it is our turn. How about we start with Evelyn from yesterday's post:
If you don't know who Evelyn is, you can see the video about her here.
Maybe you don't buy the idea that elders need role models but if you do, who would you choose? And be sure to tell us why.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: What's a Half Dime?
Thursday, 06 March 2014
Being Good at Being Old
TGB reader chlost, who blogs at Just My Life, sent this video that in a kneejerk manner of many years at doing this, I bookmarked for Saturday's Interesting Stuff list.
But it kept pulling me back so I watched it again. And again. And then I realized that in fewer than four minutes it contains so many good-to-know things about old age, it deserves a page and a discussion all its own.
Take a look at Evelyn's story. Maybe watch it more than once. I'll see you on the other side.
Here is what makes this video an important reminder – and inspiration - to all elders:
• Retirement communities into which elders have bought and paid can take away services any time they want. (This is another good reason for the Villages movement in which members choose and deliver what they need and no outside corporation or group can cancel them.)
• Government agencies can revoke privileges based on nothing but age. More and more states are considering an age cut off for driving licenses without any consideration of or understanding that everyone ages at different rates and in different ways.
Ninety-seven-year-old Evelyn is a capable driver. Some 50-year-olds are not.
• Yes we can fight city hall (or the DMV) and we can do it at any age. Do not think otherwise.
• It is important to do everything possible to keep our promises to one another especially so because not all institutions and government agencies are reliable.
• Perhaps moreso than at earlier times in our lives it is important for elders to be there for one another because the older we get, the fewer of us there are to do the helping. We need each other.
• And no matter how hard it is to do any of this, remember to laugh and to laugh a lot. Take another look at the video and at Evelyn's wonderful laugh. This woman is really good at being old.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: I Might Have Known
Wednesday, 05 March 2014
I don't think it is an overstatement to say that cataract surgery is a modern medical miracle. That said, there is some archaeological evidence that as far back as ancient Rome, surgery may have been performed to treat cataracts.
But it certainly was not accurate or as safe as today or in widespread use. Plus, they didn't have the chemicals for dilation and anesthesia we have nor the tiny instruments that make cataract surgery today as routine as any invasive procedure can be.
So blindness from cataracts was common until 20th century surgery techniques were developed and I sometimes think we - well, me anyway - take our modern miracles too much for granted.
Here is me on Monday an hour or so after I returned home from having my second cataract surgery done.
Even though my eye was still dilated and that protective cover limited my vision when I took that selfie, I could already clearly see things at a distance – something I have not been able to do without eyeglasses or contact lenses since I was ten years old, more than 60 years.
In choosing my new options, I repeated the “monovision” I have used with contact lenses for the past 30 years: my left eye is corrected for reading and other closeup work; my right eye for distance
I am thrilled to have these “new eyes.”
According to an excellent article at MedicalNewToday (MNT), age is the most common cause of cataracts exacerbated sometmes by underlying health issues.
Every elder should have regular eye examinations and adjust behavior to lower risk of cataracts. Some of the preventive measures below, reports MNT, are proven while there is strong circumstantial evidence for others. They are all things you already know you should be doing:
• Stop smoking
• Nutrition - eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unrefined carbohydrates, good quality fats (avocado, olive oil, omega oils), and either plant sourced proteins or lean animal sourced proteins
• Sleep - make sure you get at least seven hours of good quality, continuous sleep every night
• Obesity - obesity significantly raises the risk of developing diabetes type 2, which in turn is an important cataract risk factor
• Diabetes - be careful to have your diabetes under control; follow your treatment plan assiduously
The MNT article is the best I've found to explain pretty much everything you need to know about cataracts - risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, surgery and recovery.
In time, I will become accustomed to my new eyes and the thrill will fade. But right now, for a few days, I intend to wallow in the joy and excitement of the clearest vision I can recall having in my life.
At The Elder Stortytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Cycles