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There’s a skinny old lady in here somewhere

category_bug_journal2.gif Weight is one of the – well, weightier - problems of getting older, and thank god for elastic waistbands. By the time I finished menopause a decade ago, my waist had thickened to the circumference of my hips and there was no longer any such thing as pants or a skirt that could be zipped and buttoned if it also fit my hips.

Unwilling to inflict my extra flesh on the outside world, I became a master of camouflage. Jackets and dusters over elegant, loose sweaters or big, dress-down teeshirts hid my lack of a waist. I chose heavier fabrics that don’t cling to the body too and fortunately, the color black is never out of style. If I intended to exercise my waistline down to a cuter size well, I never got around to it.

When I quit smoking nearly seven months ago, I knew I would pack on even more pounds. But I figured going tobacco-less was healthier even with some extra weight and, I believed, I could diet off the fat when I felt certain of my non-smoking status.

What I have been careful of, very careful of, in the intervening months, is to avoid looking in the mirror when I get out of the shower. Me naked with 40 more pounds than I weighed at age 40, or even 25, I knew would not be a pretty picture. And I never slipped up once, never caught myself even out of the corner of my eye, in that mirror. Until this morning.

Oh – my – god. Every nightmare I ever had, pre-menopause, of what I might look like if I ever stopped dieting has come true.

It’s not quite what I said above about never getting around to losing the first batch of weight I gained in menopause. I never really tried. I’d gone on a diet when I got chubby at puberty and had counted every forkful that went into my mouth for the next 30-odd years. So when middle age made losing those extra pounds a lot more difficult than it had been in the past, I said to hell with it - I wonder what it feels like to eat what I want without thinking about what it will do to my figure.

And it was fun. There is so much good food in the world. Haute cuisine French, Chinese dim sum on Sunday mornings, steak at Peter Luger’s. Cones ice cream and Murray’s Cheese shop on Bleecker Street. Rafetto’s fresh-made pasta and sauces. I’ve eaten it all and so much more.

And now it’s time to stop. No Atkins or South Beach for me. I believe they are nutritionally dangerous and there is only one way to lose weight anyway: take in fewer calories than your body uses. Up the exercise and reduce the amount of food.

It’s not necessary that my body looks like it did when I was 25, but I don’t ever want to see again what I saw in the mirror this morning. There’s a skinny old lady in here somewhere and I think I can find her in about six months if I’m diligent.


NPR Edwards' retirement draws near

category_bug_ageism.gif This is Bob Edwards' final week as host of the National Public Radio program, Morning Edition, and the last-minute round-up stories is accumulating.

On his final show Friday, Edwards will interview CBS-TV Sunday Morning host, Charles Osgood who says of Edwards in a Washington Post piece today by Jennifer Frey:

"Here is someone who has been able to provide something distinctly different from the run-of-the-mill, and they seem hellbent on doing what everyone else is doing. And I think it's an enormous mistake."

NPR ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, defends the network against the many accusations of age descrimination that have poured in, and justifies the decision to reassign Edwards by with a vague reference to young listeners:

"I receive e-mails from listeners who say they find the serious tone of NPR 'fogey-esque.' These (presumably younger) listeners still say they listen in spite of the length or the subject matter."

To me, that sounds suspiciously like NPR is planning to move toward the 90-second news story we've become accustomed to on television.

Edwards is not leaving NPR, he is being reassigned as a senior correspondent beginning in July. He was coy with Peter Goodman in Newsday about what the title means.

"If you don't write something that says I'm going to do this, it doesn't confine me to doing just that," he says. "I'm going to try to say, 'It's this, it's this, it's this over here.' Wouldn't you?"

Other TGB stories about Bob Edwards' firing:

NPR fails even older folks
NPR firing draws protests
Bob Edwards' firing part 3


Former husband returns to NYC radio

category_bug_culture.gif It surprises me that I did not think to mention this a couple of weeks ago. My former husband, Alex Bennett, debuted his latest radio show 19 April on Sirius satellite channel 143. The programs airs live from 9AM to 12 noon in New York City and from 6AM to 9AM in San Francisco where he hosted several popular radio shows after leaving New York.

It's been 33 years, a divorce and a recently renewed friendship between us since I last produced his show. We are both a lot older and it's good to know there are station owners who see the experience, talent and skill he brings to the medium instead of just his age.

Ageism is alive and well, though, as this thread discussing Alex's return shows. Plenty of others, however, such as protoblogger doc searls have welcomed his return.

You can't hear him, however, unless you subscribe to Sirius. Give it a try. Sometimes I agree with Alex's point of view and sometimes I don't, but for sure you won't be able to tell how old he is from his on-air delivery.


Is it memory loss or multitasking?

category_bug_journal2.gif One of the things about getting older is that you sometimes worry you can't keep up anymore, that your skills are slipping. Whenever you can't find your sunglasses or leave home to grocery shop without the list you carefully made, you wonder if your memory is going, if it might be incipient Alzheimer's. You don't tell anyone, but you wonder.

At brunch on Sunday with my friends Caroline and Sophy, the topic of multitasking came up. Caroline said she is lately suspecting that multitasking has contributed to a growing inability to concentrate. To counteract this, she is requiring herself now to do only one thing at a time, just one: Listen to music or read a book or watch television or cook a meal or answer email or eat dinner or talk to a friend on the telephone or pay bills.

Just one thing at a time.

The ability to concentrate is closely aligned with memory, and as we discussed this further, Caroline’s concern struck a chord with me. I’m older than she and Sophy by more than two decades and I have been mildly concerned with what I fear may be a short-term memory loss due to - what else? age. (That’s what we’re conditioned to do as we get older: blame everything that goes wrong on our disintegration.)

But since that conversation at brunch and Googling around the Web later, I now believe multitasking may have more to do with my memory problem - if there is one - than old age.

"There's scientific evidence that multitasking is extremely hard for somebody to do, and sometimes impossible," says David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (Registration required)

Chronic high-stress multitasking also is linked to short-term-memory loss, he says.

I do several things at once all the time and not just at work. Evenings, I frequently eat dinner, watch television clicking among several news channels, read a magazine and take phone calls at the same time. I’ve always been a news junkie, reading several newspapers a day. In the past, I could remember in which publication I read anything. These days I can’t do that as easily. Do you think it could be because I’m reading many more publications online and more frequently than I ever did in hard copy? And surfing from one news site to the next to next with no visual and tactile context to remind me of the sources?

Could be.

Corporate America laid off millions of workers in the past few years and parceled out the work load to the remaining employees. One person now does what two and sometimes even three or four workers used to do, and what was a buzzword in 2001, is a requisite job skill today. Multitasking is now so accepted that it is unremarkable. You can read about how to get better at it in this piece of breathless multitasking advocacy at Fast Company.

But quietly, off in a few corners of academia, experts have been questioning the health risks of multitasking and researching its effects. As Sue Shellenberger of the Wall Street Journal writes:

“A growing body of scientific research shows that one of jugglers' favorite time-saving techniques, multitasking, can actually make you less efficient and, well, stupider. Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time, and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task.”

Even without any researcher to tell me, I know I lose 15 or 20 minutes trying to recall the thread of my thoughts every time I’m interrupted at work. And I am always interrupted - by instant messages, phone calls, email beeps, someone stopping by to ask a question.

Just this preliminary survey around the Web has convinced me that my memory lapses have less to do with advancing age than with doing too many things at once. So I’m going to try Caroline’s experiment for awhile. One thing at a time. Conscious living. Mindfulness, as Buddhists call it. I’ll let you know how it works out.


News round-up - 2004 April 26

category_bug_culture.gif There has been a lot of newsprint chatter in the past week or so about older folks in the workplace. A lot of it is contradictory; here are some highlights:

A new book called The Coming Generational Storm is excerpted here. The gist, which most writers so far seem to agree with, is that the percentage of older folks will grow so large in relation to younger people in the not-too-distant future that we will have no recourse but to cut Social Security, Medicare and pretty much all entitlements.

One of the dissenters speaks up in a review on that book title link above. Scroll down to see what Dean Baker has to say.

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The Financial Times took on the related problem of employment in an aging population, mostly from a UK perspective, but the reporter notes that legal claims for age discrimination in the workplace have increased in the U.S. following the outlawing, in 1986, of mandatory retirement ages.

Ray Tallis, a professor of geriatric medicine at Manchester University says that standard retirement ages (still in place in the U.K.) are a “purely social artifact.” According to Professor Tallis, a 65-year old today has a younger outlook than a 65-year old in 1954. But he believes that extending working years past standard retirement age requires older folks to ruthlessly review their qualifications as they get older. That seems reasonable to me.

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CNNMoney reports that it won’t be long until older folks on in huge demand in the workplace. When too many of us retire and the generations behind us are not large enough to fill the workforce, corporate America will beg us to come back to work.

And not a moment too soon now that Enron et al have stolen so many older people’s retirement savings.

They also enumerate some of the advantages older workers have over younger workers, and reveal how age discrimination continues even though older workers are needed in the marketplace.


Stumped by retirement

category_bug_culture.gif There is a piece in The New York Times (registration and/or $ required) today about a bunch of overachieving women who are stumped about retirement. Says one:

“What do you do all day? She asked friends who had left the working world. “Then what do you do? She pressed unsatisfied by the first answer. What do you do on weekends? How do you even know it’s a weekend?”

The women interviewed for the story, who range in age from 57 to 67, include:

  • a partner in a consulting firm
  • the former director of procurement for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • a former editor of a major publishing house
  • the owner of a public relations company
  • a former chief administration officer at a design firm

These are accomplished women who rose to the top of their fields - undoubtedly smart, probably shrewd and certainly with enough money to maintain their lifestyles in retirement. And they are whining about what do to with their old age:

“You know those hollow molds at do-it-yourself pottery studio? I look at them and think ‘That’s the shape I used to be, and there’s nothing left inside.”
“It’s no fun watching the young Turks pass you by. The world is at their feet, as it once was for you, and that’s very painful.”
“[Volunteering is] a painful way to start retirement. [It means doing menial work] for a 22-year-old boss who doesn’t know you can do her job with one hand tied behind your back.”

And one wonders how she will introduce herself when she stops working. These women, who don’t’ even have the shame to recognize how stupidly self-induglent they are being in this interview, are an embarrassment.

The choices when income is not an issue are uncountable: They could indulge themselves in activities they had no time for when they were running companies. They’re smart – there must be many things they wish they knew and didn’t have time to study while they were so busy climbing the corporate ladder. Maybe the grandkids would appreciate more frequent visits. There must be travel destinations they’ve dreamed of. Gardening. Cooking.

Or how about something really useful like lobbying for an end to age discrimination in the workplace which could benefit them and millions of others.

Instead, they are holding elitist meetings, exclusive to woman, where they can whine about their loss of position in the working world. The article is entitled Last Hurdle for Trailblazing Women: The Gold Watch. Would that they would get off their elitest pedestals and blaze some trails by actually doling something that makes a difference. There are no

In case you disagree with me about these women and believe a weekly or monthly gabfest about the difficulties of losing your corporate title would be advantageous, here are several of the new organizations to help you out:

Project Continuum - but only if you are a alumnae of Barnard College

The Transition Network

Womansage


Two blowhards talkin' about age

category_bug_culture.gif There are a couple of guys – Michael and Friedrich - who call themselves “2 Blowhards.” Although I've not investigated their blog thoroughly yet, they seem to talk a lot about art.

But yesterday, Michael posted some notes about how his attitudes and responses toward art and ideas have changed as he has gotten older.

“Happy to admit,” says Michael, “that much of this change has to do with age. Happy to admit, in fact, that in this as in so much else I'm a walking cliche.”

Neither Michael nor Freidrich give their ages, though they admit to baby boomer status. Michael’s post and the comments from readers following, are fascinating. Another taste:

“These days, when I have an art-reaction, an art-thought, or an art-observation, I tend to feel relief. I feel like I've found what I was looking for all along, like I'm finally getting my head screwed on straight. Finally, after all those years of delusion, I can relax. I've arrived, and it feels indisputably right. Yet is there any reason to think that my current settling-with-gratitude-into-the-truth feeling is any more accurate than was my youthful wow-kapow-look-at-me feeling? Or are both simply experiences of no significance, mere functions of being a certain age?”

This is absolutely worth a read along with all the comments below the original story. Everyone there is male, so if you’re a woman, it might be interesting to see if you agree or if, in addition to the differences we find between our youthful and older selves, there are differences in our response to aging between men and women.


News round-up - 21 april 2004

category_bug_culture.gif Here’s a Q&A with the author of a new book called My Time: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life, about getting older. That title reminds me a bit too much of my mother who, when she retired at 65 said, “I’ve done it everyone else’s way all my life and from now on I’m going to do it my way.” She became perfectly obnoxious for the rest of her life.

And, the author, Abigail Trafford, comes off as a bit too perky for my taste, but that doesn’t mean the book isn’t interesting or worthwhile.

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The U.K. has a much more active protest movement against age discrimination in the workplace than the U.S. and Australia even has a whole month, April, devoted to older folks called Mature Aged Month. They making a greater effort than the U.S. so far is to address the age discrimination problems that persist, perversely, in the face of a graying population.

It’s a puzzle to me how prejudice persists over self-preservation. You would think age bigots would prefer that we older folks support ourselves rather than being supported by increased taxes they have to pay.

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Here’s a news story that raises my blood pressure. It reports on the increase in “phishing” attacks and cautions users about sharing personal information online. Nothing wrong with that except that the story is targeted specifically to older folks: Senior Citizens Must Be Cautious in Sharing Information on Web is the headline.

One more of the never-ending instances of the media slanting stories on the assumption that older folks lose every marble they had at about age 50. In fact, a recent survey by Symantec shows that people older than 65 are the least likely to be taken in by SPAM scams.


Learning to love those little jowls

category_bug_journal2.gif From an anonymous letter writer:

“A strange old lady has moved into my home…She is a clever old lady and manages to keep out of sight for the most part, but whenever I pass a mirror, I catch a glimpse of her…
“She must have a real sweet tooth, but she’d better watch it because she is really packing on the pounds…
“She has taken the fun out of shopping for clothes. When I try something on, she stands I front of the dressing room mirror and monopolizes it. She looks totally ridiculous in some of those outfits, plus, she keeps me from seeing how great they look on me.”

I’ve got one of those old ladies living with me too, and I resent the amount of time it takes, each and every morning, to make peace with my appearance:

  • That extra chin or two, especially when I look down
  • The long-gone jaw line
  • Those two little jowls
  • Those baggy under-eyes
  • And wrinkly eyelids
  • That neck getting raggedier by the day
  • And a waist line now the width of my hips

Each day I tell myself that I'm 63 - it's all right to look like this, there is nothing wrong with me, and it is not a moral failure to get older. All that convincing myself makes me tired. And it makes me angry that I succumbed so long ago to brainwashing by a culture that has, for a lifetime, done everything possible to make me believe that old is bad and that the only possible recourse is to do dangerous things to myself to appear younger for as long as possible.

Yes, I might have postponed some of those signs of aging if I had accepted the hormones doctors wanted to give me, but I might also be dead of cancer by now. I could try botox and collagen or plastic surgery, but they are expensive and I have better things to do with my money. Plus, I am interested in watching how aging happens. I like what Gloria Steinem said in AARP magazine about rejecting plastic surgery:

“…as I age, I notice my body doing something, and I want to see what it's doing," she said. "I don't want to interfere with that. It knows something I don't. It's like being pregnant. You don't know how to age, except intellectually. But your body knows.”

In the interests of full disclosure, here is what I said seven months ago comparing age 40 to 62:

“Best of all, I’ve lost my concern with what I look like…Now I rather like what I looked like then and only regret that I wasted so much time lamenting that I was not one of the great beauties of the world. I looked just fine – and I still do.”

I lied. Or, to be kinder, I wrote what I wished I could feel about my present-day appearance and hoped I would achieve someday. It is good to be able to report that "someday" has just about arrived.

All those mornings of trying to make peace with that old lady in the mirror are gradually paying off. Now and again, these days, I can almost love those two little jowls. More frequently than in the past, I actually “get” in a more real way than previously, how little appearance matters in the grander scheme of things. And lately, I’ve even caught myself thinking that you’re the loser if you reject me for being old.

I still wish my face weren’t aging by getting pudgier, but I felt the same way about my round face 40 years ago so it is no longer reasonable to lament that they gave Katharine Hepburn my facial bones by mistake.

Age is relative. The gerontology business even has names for stages of aging: young-old, old, and old-old. I suspect that by the time anyone reaches old-old, appearance is long forgotten as an issue in life. But I'd rather not wait until then to get rid of an attitude that takes up too much space in my brain. I'm working on it.

Meanwhile, don’t you miss that anonymous letter I mentioned above. It’s really funny.


The menopause industry

category_bug_health.gif A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see on television a commercial for a menopause test. Although it seemed to work like home pregnancy tests, the commercial was vague about what it measures and the usefulness of the results. Yesterday I got around to seeing what I could find about it online.

Googling “menopause test” returns 2,390 results. A few clicks, however, reveal that many are duplicates, the same test being promoted under a variety of URLs such as hormonecheck. And that is what the test does – check for a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone, an elevated level of which may indicate menopause – or not. In fact, the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) says on its site, “This test does not detect menopause…”

So I guess the idea is you spend US$20, or US$27, or US$39 (the prices I found for various brands) to find out, assuming you are in the general age range, that you might be in menopause or you might not be.

Since the baby boomers began hitting their menopause years about a decade ago, the topic has become widely popular. Google “menopause” and you get 2,780,000 results. An Amazon check returns 7,233 books. Undoubtedly the Lifetime and WE channels have produced deeply serious documentaries about a normal condition that has been promoted to disease status. Every month, most women's magazines carry another story on menopause, and the pharmas continue to push dubious, and very likely dangerous, hormone therapies on women during and following menopause.

All that adds up to a lot of billions of dollars being made on a normal bodily transition. And if that doesn’t make you angry, it should, because the menopause industry is built, unnecessarily, on scaring the hell out of women.

The same menopause test Website linked above lists no fewer than – count them - 45 menopause symptoms, including “missed periods (amenorrhea).” Hel-lo. I think that is one of the definitions of menopause and not anything to be concerned with. Others on the list could lead anyone to believe that women, following menopause, immediately become crazy old hags of the sort kids in the neighborhood point to and run screaming from:

  • Changes in body odor
  • Changes in mouth odor
  • Increase in facial hair
  • Feelings of dread, apprehension and doom
  • Bouts of rapid heart beat
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Disturbing memory lapses
  • Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, mental confusion
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, episodes of loss of balance
  • Electric shock or stabbing sensation under the skin

The truth is quite different and most symptoms for most women can easily be dealt with. Changes in odors? Well, by 40-plus we’ve all had a lot of practice at bathing regularly, so I am unclear why it matters if odors change.

I was shocked when, having missed a couple of menstrual periods, my doctor told me it was nothing serious, only the beginning of menopause. Menopause??? I was 43 years old. I had only the vaguest idea of what it was and had assumed that it was still many years in the future. But no.

Soon, hot flashes began and I still think it is astonishing – and kind of funny – what your body can do to you in an instant. One moment, you are perfectly normal, standing there in your nice, silk suit or dress; the next, you are as soaked through, as drenched as if you got caught in a thunderstorm without an umbrella.

Clearly, I had to forego silk and my mother had a terrific solution. She bought about ten sweatshirts (they have to be the cheap, thin kind to fit under suit jackets) and some lace. She dyed pieces of the lace the same ten colors as each of the sweatshirts and sewed the lace to the front of matching shirts.

I still looked dressy enough for work and the “sweat”shirts did what they are meant to do – soaked up the sweat without sticking to my body. Ingenious, Mom. Never would have thought of it myself.

As to dread and doom, fatigue, memory lapses, mental confusion and dizziness – I had no more than I was accustomed to all my life. The biggest problem I had, aside from hot flashes and night sweats that lasted only about six months out of ten years, was a decade of irregular menstrual periods which, come on now, folks, is only annoying. Hardly a big deal.

But keep your eye on those doctors – they are such shills for the pharmas. I quit two gynecologists during menopause because they wouldn’t stop pushing hormones on me. My skin would sag, a woman doctor told me. But everyone in my family dies of cancer, I countered. Those tests are inconclusive, she argued back. I prefer sagging skin to dead, I told her and moved on to another gynecologist.

Menopause is a normal, temporary condition. There are some unpleasant side effects, but don’t let the menopause industry scare you into drug therapy by telling you will lose your womanliness. Do your homework and use your own good judgment. And certainly don’t waste your money on tests that cannot tell you anything useful.


Hugh Downs: advocate for the aging

category_bug_ageism.gif 83-year old Hugh Downs celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary in March by renewing his wedding vows with his wife Ruth, and he regularly hits the lecture circuit, often on the topic of aging.

Downs was still co-anchor of the ABC-TV news magazine, 20/20, when I worked there. I was never lucky enough to produce a segment with him, but our paths crossed a couple of times and his presence in the offices gave a sense of calm dignity to an sometimes ill-tempered atmosphere brought on by fragile egos and looming deadlines. He was never less than a gentleman.

So it is no surprise to me that he has taken to the lecture circuit as an advocate for older folks, pressing the media to educate younger people about what aging is really like. At a recent appearance in Iowa City, Downs noted that American prejudice against older folks is so pervasive that we hard recognize it as prejudice anymore.

“I want to see a time in our culture,” said Downs, “when someone points to me and says, ‘There is an old man,’ and I know I’ve been complimented. There is never anything wrong with getting old.”

He’s right, but it is hard to know that when just about every media portrayal of older folks is as senile, silly and incapable, and when even our most respected radio network fires an anchor for being too old.

You can read more about Downs’ Iowa City speech in the Press-Citizen.


You know you’re getting older when…

category_bug_journal2.gif I can’t be sure of the date, though I know I was not much past age 40 and certainly no more than 43 when this happened. In Nashville to shoot an interview with Barbara Mandrell for The Barbara Walters Specials, I joined my colleagues that evening for a night of dancing at a club with a sensational local band. We had flights booked the next day to return home, but this was a free night to play.

The music was so good, the beer flowing so freely and the company so much fun that we danced almost every tune and almost all night. I didn’t get back to my hotel until 3AM, so I didn’t get much sleep before the morning wake up call to meet a 10AM flight.

I swung my legs out of bed to stand up and whoa! I was stuck with my upper body at a 45 degree angle, hips screaming in protest. The more I tried to get vertical, the worse the pain got. Never had I been more grateful, I remember thinking as I slowly hobbled in my jackknifed position toward the bathroom, that there was no man in my bed to see this newly-developed decrepitude.

With the aid of a very hot shower, my body gradually returned to vertical, though I had to grit my teeth hard to endure the pain as I pulled myself out of my seat when the plane landed in New York.

Unimproved after a night’s sleep in my own bed, I phoned my doctor who sent me to an orthopedist who made some x-rays and then sat me down for chat. After hearing of my six or seven hours of dancing for the first time in several years, he said to me: “People your age can’t do that anymore.”

Uh-huh. The only part I heard was “people your age.” I could see the humor in the painful result of a 40-plus woman behaving like a 20-something, but the fact is, I had no idea I shouldn’t attempt that much activity at my age. It was the first time my body had failed me in a manner that could be attributed to the passing years.

The hip pain was temporary, and with a few exercises the doctor gave me it was no more than a week before I could go dancing again. But it left a frisson of apprehension – a small indication I was unwilling yet to examine closely but which ticked at the back of my mind - that I was no longer of the younger generation.


Bob Edwards’ NPR firing part 3

category_bug_ageism.gif Last Friday, Marc Fisher of the Washington Post followed up on what some executives of National Public Radio and its affiliates are saying about the controversial firing of 25-year Morning Edition anchor, Bob Edwards.

The official explanation was worded in such dense corporatese, Fisher writes, that both audiences and affiliate executives demanded clarification. One NPR insider who refused to be named, explained that Mr. Edwards “didn’t have the pace and the engagement with reporters in the field that we are looking for.” In other words, he’s too old to appeal to younger listeners.

“The whole thing smacks of ageism,” Alan Chartock, executive director of NPR affiliate WAMC in Albany, New York, wrote to his listeners. “NPR is searching for a younger demographic, but there are a lot of us who do not think that we have ended our productive years.”
“It was postured as a move to help NPR respond to the changing needs of public radio listeners,” Jim King, director of radio at WVXU in Cincinnati, wrote to his listeners. “Since Morning Edition’s’ audience has more than doubled in the last decade and I’ve heard not one member complain about Bob’s on-air sound, I stand in utter amazement that this was the initial reason given…In my mind, it makes absolutely no sense to take the man, the voice, the identity of NPR’s most popular program and usher him out of the anchor’s chair.”

The bottom line, according to Fisher, is that NPR executives want to emulate the Internet by creating a feeling of constant news updates throughout the morning.

Oh good, just what we need – a little more speed in our mornings.

Bob Edwards is scheduled to leave Morning Edition at the end of April. I am sad to lose a long-time favorite radio companion. I am furious to lose him to age discrimination. If you agree, let NPR know:

Email: ombudsman@npr.org
Telephone: 202.513.2000

Previous TGB stories about Bob Edwards firing:
NPR firing draws protests
Even NPR fails older folks


Becoming the oldest generation

category_bug_journal2.gif For a long time, I was the youngest kid in my crowd. Growing up, I was uncomfortable with peers and because I was such a polite, little goody two-shoes in those days, grownups liked having me around – or, at least they didn’t mind. That’s not to say I didn’t have friends my age, but in general I felt better with people who were a few years older. This continued well into my adulthood.

Then one day in my early 40s, I looked around and saw that I was and had been for quite a while, the oldest kid in my crowd. It had escaped my attention through marriage, divorce, career and life that my friends and colleagues had gradually become mostly younger.

To be young is, in some ways, to be oblivious. We hardly notice the suppleness of our youthful bodies. After all, they have always been that way. Everywhere we look, our youth is reflected in the images of movies, television, magazine and advertisements. Older folks are hardly ever represented in the media so we hardly ever think about getting old.

But eventually the day of reckoning comes to each of us - no kidding around anymore - and the mirror confirms for sure that we are on the down side of the hill of life.

To grow old in the United States is to become invisible. We are encouraged to shut ourselves away in retirement villages and homes where the rest of the population – the younger folks – cannot see us. In the media, when we are portrayed at all, it is as dotty, irascible, dim or decrepit. Any wise old souls who sneak into our movies and television shows are usually aliens, never ordinary humans: Yoda, for example, Dumbledor and Gandalf. And did you notice too that none of those three are women? If the culture ignores aging men, it erases older women. We do not exist in America’s way of life.

As a result, we don’t know how to grow old. The culture offers only the negative advice of creams and serums and surgery to help us appear younger, reinforcing the feeling I’ve had recently that I’ve done something wrong by getting older, something offensive that I need to apologize for.

I resent mightily that feeling being forced on me.

I don’t feel obsolete and I reject the genrally accepted attitude that I and the rest of the 20 percent of U.S. citizens 55 and older are useless. That huge baby boomer population bulge is coming up right behind me and I don’t believe they will sit still for being sidelined in their old age. It is time to realign America’s attitude toward old folks.


Birthday time again

Ronni age 63

category_bug_journal2.gif It is my birthday today. Number 63. No time on a workday morning to be making photographs, so I took this one last Sunday, 4 April – close enough to the real day. As a comparison, here is a shot of me on my 40th birthday.

Each year since I turned 21 (a larger rite of passage in 1962 than now because then, U.S. citizens could not vote or drink alcohol until that age) I have set aside some private time on my birthday, an hour or so, to take a look at the past year, see where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what’s changed and what hasn’t, if I learned anything. And then to perhaps plan something for the coming year.

The big health news is that after many years of failure, I quit smoking cigarettes this year. It will be six months next Sunday and I have little fear of recidivism. I don’t miss it and certainly do like having the money – US$8.00 per pack in New York City – back. I wish my breathing had improved in these six months, but I cannot see that it has.

I gained some weight since stopping smoking and I think the sixth-month anniversary is a nice, round number on which to begin taking off some of it. It’s much harder to lose weight now than when I was younger, particularly when there is no time for exercise of any kind.

That is because I am still commuting four-plus hours a day to my job outside New York City. I try to leave with enough time two or three mornings a week to walk a mile or so toward Grand Central Station where I get my train, but the hour is so early that I don't motivate myself to do it as often as I should.

In the evenings, I am too tired to do little more than prepare a meal and get ready for my early bedtime so I can wake, relatively rested, at 4:30AM. Being away from home 13 hours a day leaves hardly any time for anything at all. This is the year, absolutely, that I must find a way to get my life back into the city.

A bright spot this past year is my discovery of fotolog.com. It has given me a way to be social at odd hours without leaving home. I can squeeze in visits to other fotologgers’ sites whenever I have a few moments and feel a connection with some other folks if not in person, at least somewhat personally.

There is more peace I need to make with getting older, most particularly, right now, with acceptance of the changes in my appearance. I don’t dislike what I look like so much as I dislike that this culture so despises older people, particularly women. But that is a lot of what this Website is about and what I intend to confront in the coming year.


Gerry is the latest negative slang

category_bug_culture.gif According to Geoffrey Nunberg, writing in The New York Times [registration and/or $ required] a week ago, there is a new slang term for older folks – "gerries" which is, he says, short for geriatrics.

I think we need to nip this abomination right here in its bud. In his story, Mr. Nunberg does a nice historical tour of slang terms for old people, all of which have always been derogatory. There are the usual suspects which, he tells us, go back centuries:

  • Fogey
  • Codger
  • Oldster
  • Fuddy-duddy
  • Coot
  • Geezer

The 20th century added:

  • Dinosaur
  • Fossil
  • Blue-hair
  • Cotton-top
  • Trog

The circumlocutions he lists are particularly loathsome:

  • Mature age
  • 70 years young
  • Golden-ager
  • Third-ager
  • and the ever-popular Senior citizen

But these apply primarily to old men or to old folks in the aggregate. Perhaps because he is a man and has not felt the sting, Nunberg skipped the slang terms for old women which usually reference the passing of sexual allure:

  • Hag
  • Crone
  • Witch
  • Old bag
  • Old bat
  • Battle axe

Even "boomer," says Mr. Nunberg, has become derogatory to baby boomers themselves.

Since it is unlikely the community and media will take up labeling us by the three positive descriptors that come to mind - wise, sage, venerable – there appears to be only one word for people who are no longer young: old. It is simple and has the virtue of being relatively neutral (even positive when applied to antiques), and it is precisely descriptive without being demeaning, derisive or contemptuous.

I suggest we adopt it quickly before “gerry” takes hold.


NPR firing draws protests

category_bug_ageism.gif It seems I’m not the only one who is disturbed about the firing of Bob Edwards from National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman reported yesterday that 17,000 listeners have telephoned and emailed NPR objecting to the decision. One woman even compared the shock of learning of Edwards’ departure to her diagnosis of possible cancer.

This can only give heart to those of us who are not ready to go quietly into our dotage. But Goodman also notes,

“…most employers have the same prejudices against older Americans that they had when “older” was younger…At the same time we expect older Americans to keep working to save Social Security, or simply their own solvency.”

Goodman also points out that Bob Edwards, at age 56, is considered too old by his employer to be a morning anchor, but John Edwards, at 50, is a fine presidential candidate.

Are you angry yet?


Quiet time is important time to older folks

category_bug_journal2.gif Ram Dass, in his excellent and most useful book on aging, Still Here, notes that “we quiet down and move inward with age.”

At 62, I have never felt more engaged with life. The stack of books I want time to read gets higher. The list of movies I want to see – new ones as well as repeats from the past - gets longer. And it has been years since I felt this strongly about the condition of U.S. politics with a commensurate need to be involved. And that’s just for starters.

At the same time, I know what Ram Dass means. I’ve let go, recently, of interests that consumed a lot of my time in the past. For example, I’m bored now with fashion. I like to look as nice as the next woman, but trying to follow what is “in” this season or not strikes me now as a waste of time. I can’t say I made a deliberate decision to stop paying attention; I just noticed one day a few years ago that I had done so. (Perhaps the added pounds following menopause aided that adjustment in my attitude; it’s seems dumb to spend money on fashionable clothes that don’t hang as well on a heavier body.)

Ram Dass includes in his book a pertinent quote from T.S. Eliot:

“Getting older, you refuse to fritter away your time on nonsense. You drop your masks, your little vanities and false ambitions.”

I’m not entirely there yet; I’ve got some little vanities left. But I know about not frittering away time. For many years, a favorite activity on rotten weather weekends was to stay home by the fire with a trashy mystery novel or two. Now I’ve got that stack of books on history and politics and aging. And I’d like to reread all of Dickens and Shakespeare before I die and there is a history of Cod that has been calling my name. I’ve loved them dearly, but mysteries seem way too frivolous as time gets shorter for me.

Still, attention must be paid to Ram Dass’s statement. I do not want to face my death one day still engaged with the world to the extent I am now. My great Aunt Edith lived to be 89, her mind sharp and sure right up until the end, but her interests waned.

All my life, Aunt Edith and I had engaged in heated discussions of politics by long distance telephone. She sent me her favorite cartoons. And we talked books and music and cooking on the telephone and by snailmail. Until her last couple of years.

Then, in Ram Dass’s words, she did “quiet down and move inward.” Fewer and fewer cartoons arrived in the mail. She didn’t watch as many news programs on television. She mostly stopped reading. She complained that she’d seen all the old movies on television too many times. She had less and less to say and she showed less interested in what I said. I watched her gradually let go of the world and then, after a short illness, she died, three months short of her 90th birthday.

I believe the mind has its own wisdom, separate from personal instigation, and Aunt Edith’s mind was showing her the way to whatever comes next. I believe that as the time to leave this life grows shorter, my mind will help me let go of earth’s attractions too. Or at least I hope so. I’ll be really pissed off if I die still wanting to know how the presidential election will turn out – or whatever the issues most important to me then are.