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October 2005

Fear of Getting Old – Part 1: Memory Loss

category_bug_journal2.gif In commenting last week on From an Old Woman To Her Son, Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles expressed her fear of losing her mental capacities as she gets older. She is not alone. In a recent survey about attitudes toward aging conducted by HSBC, 65 percent of Americans said they are afraid of losing their memory as they age.

The most frightening form of memory or mental capacity loss is dementia of which Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common. There is no known way to prevent AD, but it might be some comfort to know that out of a total 50-plus population, in 2000, of 297 million, it is estimated that about 4.5 million Americans are victims – about .015 1.5 percent.

More benign memory loss – forgetting names, words, where we left the keys, etc. – is commonly believed to be an unavoidable affliction of old age. According to the latest research, this is a myth:

“Between the ages of 30 and 90, the brain loses about 10 percent of its volume. Forgetfulness isn't an automatic result, however. Scientists have recently found that loss of brain cells due to aging isn't as steep as once thought. In fact, they now believe memory problems aren't a natural part of growing older. Studies have shown that people with bad memories as older adults probably had the same deficiency when they were younger. But later in life, we may attribute it to aging.”
- Psychology Today, July/August 2003

Memory research is not an exact science nor are there yet definitive answers, but progress is being made in our understanding. Some studies indicate that we don’t forget so much as it takes longer to learn new information as we get older.

“Memory studies have shown that about a third of healthy older people have difficulty with declarative memory [facts, people, places and things], yet a substantial number of 80-year-olds perform as well as people in their 30s on difficult memory tests. More good news: once something is learned, it is retained equally well by all age groups even it takes a bit longer for the older people to learn it.”
- Staying Sharp, 2004 [pdf]

[This ten-page research publication, from the AARP Foundation, is packed with information about age and memory including reminder lists of strategies for maintaining our cognitive abilities and characteristics common to people who do.]

No one can predict the future, but living in fear of the unknown can be its own debilitating affliction. One way to defeat it is to bring it out into the open and face it head on. Ram Dass has an interesting exercise on this subject:

“…identify the thing that frightens you and come as close to it as you can before you freak out. For example, if you are haunted by the fear of going blind, allow this thought and attendant images and feelings – the helplessness, the reliance on others, the darkness in your visual field – to arise without resistance.

“Watch how the fear manifests in your body, and guard against the desire to pull back. If this fear becomes too overwhelming to you, take a mental step back – our intention is not to create more drama, but to teach ourselves to hang out with our own fears or bogeymen, rather than to feed them by ignoring them.

“As we become more aware of the degree to which our fears are mind-states, rather than realities, we take our power back.”

- Still Here, Ram Dass

I’m not saying it’s easy to do this; it takes courage to shine a light on our deepest fears and confronting them as directly as Ram Dass advises doesn’t happen in one sitting. But the release from our fear and a less burdened life are the rewards for the effort.

Fear of Getting Old – Part 2: On Becoming a Burden


The Old Girls Calendar

As Bob Dylan once sang: "The times they are a-changing." Would you look at this:

Calendarwoman_copy

We had a different post planned for today, but thanks to Jan Adams at Happening-Here? we shifted those plans on the spot. As Jan said on her blog, "this is too good to pass up": a spectacular fund-raising calendar from the First Parish of Framingham in Massachusetts.

If I were the religious sort, this would be my kind of church:

“The Calendar Project,” it says on the website, “is part of an initiative to celebrate and honor the women in our church. October will be declared ‘First Parish Celebrates Women Month.’ This calendar focuses on the beauty and accomplishments of senior women ages 66 to 85 in a whimsical and naughty way!”

All the 12 women represented in the 2006 calendar are members of the church. “This is a thumbs-up to older women,” said Judy Perry, 71, also known as Ms. February.

It certainly is, and you can have your very own copy for just US$15 by postal mail or PayPal. I’ve ordered mine. How about you? And I've sent a note to the church suggesting men for 2007, but they've probably already thought of that.


Oliver Update

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Ollieatalex4

Oliver has been remiss in his blog posting, or perhaps he’s waiting for me to take more photos of him, which I haven’t done since his birthday in mid-August. These were taken by my former husband, Alex Bennett [scroll down], when Ollie stayed with him while I went to the Blogher conference in California in August. Ollie was much more cooperative for Alex’s camera than he is with mine.

Ollieatalex9

Decades ago, I owned Siamese cats who lived up to their reputation for being talkative. Yak, yak, yak. They never shut up among themselves, but they had little or nothing to say to me. Ollie, on the other hand, doesn’t chatter, but he does speak directly to me with intent. It is the oddest thing. He plants himself quite definitely at my feet or jumps on the desk when I’m there or tracks me down wherever I am, looks me the eye and makes a statement, clearly waiting for a reply.

There is no mistaking that he wants a response. When I answer, he follows up and there we go, back and forth, though it appears he has more understanding of what I’m saying than I do of him.

Ollieatalex1

I have more success understanding Ollie’s body language. When he’s lying around like this, he usually wants to be left alone and has no trouble forcefully expressing his point of view without saying a word.


Unremarkable Days

category_bug_journal2.gif Last week, I received an email from a former colleague, a woman I had worked with on a project for several months about ten years ago and had not seen or spoken with since. Her note was short. She was busy with hurricane work, she wrote, but wanted to let me know she had discovered my blog.

It is always nice to hear from an old friend, but I dallied for a couple of days before answering, searching my memory for something of importance to tell her - a notable experience, some touchstone events that could illustrate and help summarize in two or three paragraphs the journey I’ve made in the past decade since we were last together.

But life is messier, harder to condense than that. It is less a collection of tidy, easily recorded milestones – tragic and joyous - than the accumulation of days so unremarkable they pass without notice while we are grocery shopping, working, cooking, cleaning, playing with the cat, having dinner with friends.

In the third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town Emily, who has just died in childbirth, chooses to relive her twelfth birthday. Watching from the other side of the grave, she is struck with the beauty of the ordinary that she had overlooked in life: the white, picket fence around her house, the town stable and drugstore, how idle the chatter with her family at breakfast and how unaware they all are of their contentment in these things.

“It goes so fast,” she says. “We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed…”

These days, our lives are busier than when Wilder published Our Town in 1938, and busier still than the time of the turn of the 20th century in which the play is set. It is even more true now that we move through our days rarely pausing to appreciate the moment.

Kathryn Petro’s entire blog, A Mindful Life, urges us to become more aware, to live more in the moment. Tamar at In and Out of Confidence recently quoted Elizabeth Bowen: “To be quite oneself one must first waste a little time.” I don’t disagree with either of them. In the Sixties we called it taking time to smell the flowers.

But few of us are good at slowing down to notice or, rather, at sustaining it for long, and perhaps it is important that we appreciate the ordinary only occasionally and almost always in retrospect. Perhaps leaving unnoticed the routine activities necessary to the maintenance of life is how we keep moving forward and that there is measure of contentment in the unremarkable.

It’s just not very useful for an email to an old friend.


Ageist Business Media

category_bug_ageism.gif In August, Forbes magazine published "Age Vs. Youth", purporting to advise on how older and younger workers can get along in the workplace. The story could not be more demeaning in its assumptions about older workers if the writer had intended it to be so. Every one of them – there are many – is either wrong or perpetuates ageist stereotypes.

Let’s deconstruct a few.

1. “Older workers may feel threatened by their younger...counterparts who have up-to-the-minute skills.”
Who says the skills of older workers aren’t current? That sweeping generalization is unacceptable. There is no reason a 25-year old has any better skills than a 50- or 60-year-old and a good case can be made that older workers, having reason to be aware of age discrimination that younger folks haven’t faced yet, have made more effort to be up to date. This is a tired, false, old prejudice that needs to be buried.

2. “Workers in their 50s are often turned down for jobs because they’re too expensive – not because they’re too old.”
That is true in many cases, but is another misconception. Too expensive by what measure? Every study shows that older workers know more, take fewer sick days, are more reliable, punctual and make fewer mistakes than younger workers. There are also studies that show them to be more creative. They deserve higher pay for their greater knowledge and will reward the company by increasing revenue with their better work habits and fewer mistakes.

3. “Older workers who want to be treated well should ask about promotions and where their career is going. This tells the boss, ‘I’m committed and I plan to stay here.’”
The implication in this statement is factually incorrect and could be written only by someone who hasn’t taken his own advice to stay up to date - in this case, with current research. It is younger workers, not older ones, who hop from job to job. Older workers who have families, mortgages and kids to put through college, or are paying off those debts and saving for retirement (which is likely to be forced because of age) are far more stable.

4. “Older workers should be willing to break the stereotype and take on new challenges in new places…Think of new applications for your proven skills.”
This one is embarrassing. It is not older people who create stereotypes of themselves; it is younger ones. Older workers have been taking on new challenges all their lives and are expert now at adjusting and adapting to new situations in a workplace that changes these days with the speed of light.

Appended to this story is a list of seven tips for avoiding clashes between young and old at work. In an almost perfect example of unintended irony, the first one is: Don’t Make Assumptions.

This piece is ageist to its core, perpetuating the stereotypes it pretends to oppose. And if you don't think that's true, reread the assumptions above applying the TGB Bias Test: replace references to older workers with "African-Americans" and see if you think this story, in that instance, could have gotten past the editor's desk.


Thompson’s Garden

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[c.2000] I am one of a tiny minority of New Yorkers who has an outdoor garden - a patio behind my apartment that is, of course, laughably small by the standards of rural homes like this one in Pennsylvania.

Although it is not shown in this photo, the Thompsons have a plant called bee balm that attracts large numbers of beautiful orange bees the size of hummingbirds. I had never heard of this plant before nor seen such bees, so I am going to plant bee balm next spring in my new home I Maine and see what kind of bees I get.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
shutter451 @ 2003-12-04 said:
Lovely garden, interesting plant. Just be careful what you ask for, Ronni. Three inch long bees with an attitude? Scary.

av_producer @ 2003-12-04 said:
I had a back garden space (approximately 400 sq feet) when I lived on Sullivan Street that was bigger than the apartment/ That’s how small the apartment was!

virgorama @ 2003-12-04 said:
Great story.. I have no garden of my own, just a communal one, but grew up surrounded by a huge one. I’`s a wonderful thing to have

bandman @ 2003-12-04 said:
That is a lovely garden. I live in a condo so there is lots of foliage and plants all over the development. The best part, I don’t have to tend it.

jdiggle @ 2003-12-04 said:
Great story, maybe you should invite the bees to a garden party in their honour!


Stanhope

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[1995] Stanhope is legendary within the television news business and there are events you and the world might not understand as well as you do without his behind-the-scenes brilliance. I knew his reputation and had heard the stories of his exploits as a producer for the CBS Evening News and later at 20/20 when we finally met in 1995. We have been trying to decide, off and on ever since, what our relationship is and what, if anything, to do about it.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-12-03 said:
I can see him in a high white collar standing around the in one of those Dutch masters paintings.

jdiggle @ 2003-12-03 said:
Great story, like this idea of a flog to preserve the past. In a way mine reflects what I am thinking as I post very few pictures relative to what I shoot!

zinetv @ 2003-12-03 said:
His gaze is enough to tell you he has been there and done that.


From an Old Woman To Her Son

category_bug_journal2.gif My neighbor, just in the past year, is showing his age dramatically. His back – straight, if not strong, not so long ago - is bent now. His speaks haltingly and sometimes loses the thread of his thought. He shuffles when he walks and seems to be concentrating so hard on this act that sometimes I hesitate to interrupt him for a chat. I’m not certain he always knows who I am anymore. Len is past 90.

He reminded me, when I saw him yesterday, of something I ran across on the web. I copied it out and did not note its origin, though I remember that it is translated from the Chinese, written by a 75-year-old woman to her son:

When I Turn Old

When I turn old, when I am not the original me:
Please understand me and have patience with me.

When I drip gravy all over my clothes, when I forget to tie my shoelaces:
Please remember how I taught you what not to do, and how to do many things by hand.

When I repeatedly tell you things that you’re tired of hearing:
Please be patient and listen to me. Please don’t interrupt me. When you were young, I told you the same story over and over again until you were sound asleep.

When I need you to help me bathe:
Please don’t scold me. Do you still remember how when you were small I had to coax you to take a bath?

When I don’t understand new technology:
Please don’t laugh at me or mock me. Please think how I used to be so patient with you to answer your every “Why”.

When my two legs are tired and I cannot walk anymore:
Please stretch out your powerful hands to lend me a hand, just like when you were a baby learning to walk I held both your hands.

When I suddenly forget what subject we are discussing:
Please give me a little time to recollect. Actually, it does not matter what we are talking about; as long as you are by my side, I am so contented and happy already.

When you see the old me, please don’t be sad:
Please understand me and support me, just like how I was with you when you were young and were just learning to face life. At the beginning, I guided you to the path of life. Now I ask you to keep me company to finish this last leg of my life. Give me your love and patience, I will give you a grateful smile, and crystallized in this smile is my endless love for you.


A Very Crabby Old Lady

For more nights in a row than Crabby Old Lady can count - six or seven or so - she has been wakened in the middle of the night at least once, and on one occasion three times, by drunken youths who have commandeered the stoop of her house as a party venue, expressing their freedom of speech at decibals more commonly heard at a rock concert.

The most recent, about two hours ago, occurred when Crabby was wakened by a crash against her front gate followed by maniacal laugher. Upon investigation, Crabby found that a drunk young woman had apparently fallen against the gate and was now regaling someone on her cell phone about her inability to stop laughing - interspersed with more screeching laughter.

The street was, as it should be at about 3AM, otherwise deserted. Just as Crabby was about to give the woman a venomous lecture on Crabby's god-given right to uninterrupted sleep, lights went on in two apartments across the street. Windows were raised abruptly and in the best New York City tradition, colorful and angry expletives were let loose, almost in unison, and the woman fled down the block still shrieking into her phone.

Crabby hasn't had a whole night's sleep in a week. She is in a poisonous mood right now and if she attempted to write anything other than this little story, it would undoubtedly turn into a brutal attack on the loutishness of youth which she is mightly attempting to hold in check. In truth, however, no one past the age of 25 has ever wakened Crabby in the middle of the night.

Crabby hopes your nights are more peaceful.


The Dry Bones Blog

Shulsitanm3b People have been reading Dry Bones in newspapers around the world for more than 30 years. Now, the creator of the cartoon, Yaakov Kirschen, has launched The Dry Bones Blog in which he adds context and history and background that make the toons even richer in their commentary than the drawings alone, and you never know what surprising stuff Yak might pass on to us.

Click for enlargement and full commentary For example, he tell us below this toon that recent scholarship suggests Muslim martyrs may be in for a disappointment upon their arrival in heaven to find 72 grapes waiting for them rather than the promised 72 black-eyed virgins.

[Full Disclosure: Yaakov’s wife Sali Ariel, a well-known artist in her own right, has been a close friend since the late 1960s. I first met Yak ten years later. Sali has often stayed with me when she is in New York and the two of them have been outstanding hosts when I have visited Israel.]

Yak also lets us in on some of his personal relationships with big-name players he has known in the long and difficult Middle East drama. In July this year, Egypt’s new ambassador to Iraq, who had once represented Egypt in Israel, was assassinated. Appended to a toon about the new proximity of the Palestinians to Egypt now that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza was this story:

Click for enlargement and full commentary “[The ambassador] was an intelligent, creative man, and an avid and talented photographer. He made many friends in Israel. I was one of them. His death was a shock to those of us who thought there was nothing left that could shock us.

“Once, in his Tel Aviv office I took note of a lava lamp standing on his desk. He laughed, thinking that I thought of Egyptians as militaristic and had mistaken it for a model of an Egyptian missile. Two days later a limo from the Egyptian Embassy turned up at my home delivering the lava lamp as a present from Ihab, and presumably from the people of Egypt.”

Although Dry Bones, by its nature, is Israel- and Middle-East-centric, Yak has a knack for uncovering thoughtful connections to events in other parts of the world, like this one:

Click for enlargement and full commentary “In 1898 Mark Twain wrote an essay suggesting that anti-Semitism was caused by the belief (and fear?) that Jews were superior. Perhaps a similar belief that Americans are superior explains the current level of international anti-Americanism. Maybe that’s why the world was so shocked by the 3rd world violence and the bungled rescue efforts in an American disaster zone. Americans, like Israelis, are supposed to be “better” than other people.”

Yak publishes The Dry Bones Blog five days a week – new cartoons on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; golden oldies with pertinent commentary explaining their genesis and history on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Depending upon your political leanings, you might not always agree with Dry Bones, but that doesn’t mean you won't learn from it. Yaakov, always thoughtful and amazingly knowledgeable, is adding a great deal of useful information, along with the smiles, to help us understand the Middle East.

So please get yourself on over to The Dry Bones Blog and welcome Yaakov to the blogosphere. Dry Bones is an addition I’ve been awaiting for a long time.


Telephone Tree Rescue

About a year ago, Crabby Old Lady griped about the The Numerous Number of Numbers we are required to know in our modern, computer-driven lives: phone numbers, account numbers, tracking numbers, credit card numbers, license numbers, registration numbers, transaction numbers – each one containing a minimum of 437 digits and, sometimes, a few random letters just to keep it interesting.

Every corporation with which we do business is number-happy, handing them out like candy - except for one number that is so super-secret, it is revealed only to those in possession of the highest-level CIA clearance. That number is:

The telephone number, in any corporation, of a real, live human being.

Oh, the bills, statements and corporate literature list a “customer service” number (known as a lie in the vernacular). It is usually hidden in the fine print, but they could just as well shout it in 72-point, glowing pink type because it doesn't work anyway. It gets you no more than the dreaded telephone tree, miles of menus to navigate which, as once happened to Crabby, eventually advises you to call the number you dialed at the beginning of the tree 40 minutes earlier.

But now, through the magic of the internet, some hard work on someone’s part and the generosity of Elisa Camahort, there is a solution – what Elisa calls “A Really Useful Lifehack” and Crabby Old Lady calls a sanity preserver.

Under the ungainly name, Find-A-Human - IVR Phone System Shortcuts (USA), is a list of telephone numbers to get a person at about 75 major banks; credit card, cell phone and computer companies; big-time retail chains; airlines and more. But that’s just the start. For each one, there are notes on the insidious little codes these companies invent to make it as hard as possible to find a human:

  • Hit five, pause, then hit one, four, star, zero
  • Press 4, say "agent", then #
  • Press 3, 1, then 3 again
  • Say "REP" during the message

As Elisa notes in her post, “There's no damn way I'm making these calls and trying this out myself,” and neither will Crabby Old Lady. But even if only a few of them work, the time and irritation saved could extend your life by a decade. Bookmark it today.


Sing It, Sister Greer

category_bug_ageism.gif Back in March, Crabby Old Lady surveyed the top 25 newspapers in the United States to determine the extent of their coverage of aging issues. It was a disappointment. There were only four news stories, as ageist and demeaning as the culture at large, concentrated on ailments of old people.

When Crabby queried the writer of the fourth article about its being filed in the Health section even though it was about the stereotyping of old people in the media, she was told, without a hint of irony, "Aging and health (or the loss thereof) go together like love and marriage, a horse and carriage, etc." Sometimes Crabby Old Lady despairs.

The Boston Globe and The Washington Post are the only two papers in the top 25 with regular, weekly columnists covering age issues.

Donald M. Murray of the Globe is excellent, reporting on his life and the world about him through his 80-year old eyes, although I’ve never seen him take on the ageist culture. Abigail Trafford, of the Post, does occasionally address stereotyping but mostly in the workplace which avoids the issue of an entire culture determined to keep older people in their place – invisible.

Now, from across the Atlantic Ocean, comes an excellent treatise on ageism in the U.K. by proto-feminist Germaine Greer writing in the Guardian. It is as sharply critical of the issues as Time Goes By tries to be and as pertinent here in the U.S. as in Britain.

Where Age Power Resides

“…crime prevention officers in Northamptonshire and Essex are issuing bells for people ‘over 50’ to attach to their wallets and purses, to alert them if somebody grabs them. Incompetence begins at 50, it would seem, even though nearly all the captains of industry are over 50...Clearly there are two kinds of aged: the powerful and the powerless. The powerless, hung with bells like the fools of old, may safely be abused, exploited and ignored.”

No one’s hanging bells on us in the U.S. – yet - but common perception of competency in age, or lack of it, is just as much a class issue. Skilled workers at middle and lower levels are jettisoned in their prime, expected to be grateful if they can find a job as a K-Mart greeter, while Sumner Redstone continues at age 82 as Viacom’s chairman and CEO. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is 79, and the average age of the U.S. Senate is 60.

Denial
Germaine Greer, like me, refuses to pretend she is not aging and she runs into the same denials when she speaks up for her old womanhood:

“It is a proven fact than I am old, but if I refer to myself as an old woman, people around me start chorusing, ‘You’re not old!’ – consoling me, reassuring me, denying the obvious. They think that I am disparaging myself, doing myself down. But I am not a gerontophobe; 66, by any computation, is old. I call myself old by way of combating the prevailing gerontophobia…

“Gerontophobia is penetrating, instinctive and pretty well universal. Old people themselves are in denial about their degree of ageing and do not thank those who remind them of it.

We Are Our Own Worst Enemies
Ms. Greer also notes that as in the U.S., the stereotypes in Britain are so abhorrent that even old people will turn on their age peers:

“It’s not surprising then that most old people have no wish to join the club of the elderly. Instead of challenging this negative image, they live outside their age set for as long as they can…

“The fortunate elderly will not make common cause with the unfortunate elderly. What is worse, they will join in the chorus jeering them. Rich, 50-something actors are only too happy to make even more money out of caricaturing their less fortunate age peers.”

It is an event when mainstream media acknowledges the culture's - if not its own - age bias, and many thanks to Ian at Panchromatica for pointing out this one. It’s worth your time to read the entire piece - and let’s hear it for Germaine Greer.

“It is only for the powerful that old age is accompanied by ‘honour, love, obedience, troops of friends’; the powerless elderly have always been subjected to appalling physical and verbal abuse. Which makes it all the more important then that we never, ever take part in that abuse, even for a joke.”

Joe With a Friend

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[1992] Joe and I had become like brother and sister when we cared for my mother together during her last illness. A few months after her death, Joe visited me for two weeks in New York and he quickly came to love the city as I always have.

When he returned for a second visit in February 1994, Joe’s energy was low, but by pacing ourselves, we managed to visit every place on his list. Back home in San Francisco, his health deteriorated rapidly. An old friend, Jack, who had been an Army medic in Vietnam, cared for Joe and kept me informed when Joe was too weak to take phone calls. Then Jack called one day to say I should come quickly to San Francisco and I did. But Joe died of complications from AIDS on 28 October 1994, while my plane was still in the air.

Next...


Older Emmy Nominees

For those who follow such things, the The 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards for television arts and sciences will be handed out Sunday evening on CBS-TV. That would not be remarkable except - would you look at this: the average age of all 80 nominated performers in acting categories is 54 years.

Hollywood is generally more obsessed with youth than the culture at large. It is well-known that when women stars reach 40, few are likely to land a leading film role again. And writers of either gender have trouble getting work after age 40. But it appears – at least this year - that the television industry has taken a more - well, mature - approach.

Ray Richmond, writing last month in Backstage magazine, reported the results of his research into the ages of the Emmy nominees. He crunched those numbers and came up with these figures:

“…the average age this year of a lead acting nominee in the six drama series, comedy series and movie/miniseries categories is 45…

“Now let’s look at the six supporting acting categories. Suddenly the age average jumps 11 years to a fairly eye-popping 56. Of the 30 nominated actors and actresses, 16 – or more than half – are over the age of 60 and five over 70...

“If you merge the lead and supporting acting category ages [with] the nominees for series guest actor/actress…The average age there is just shy of 64. In one category, three of the five [nominees] are over 80…

“There is precisely one nominee below age 30. That would be 18-year-old Jonathan Rhys-Meyers for the CBS miniseries Elvis.”

Keep in mind that because actors notoriously shave a few years off their ages, so these averages, if truth be told, are likely even higher.

Mr. Richmond attributes the number of older Emmy nominees to the television academy’s penchant for ignoring cable programs that skew toward younger audiences. He cites such omissions as Rescue Me, The Shield and Nip/Tuck on FX, Entourage on HBO and Gilmore Girls on The WB.

I don’t know anything about the internal politics of the Academy, nor if this year is an anomaly that will have disappeared by next season’s awards. But for now, we can celebrate that in one, tiny little segment of life, older folks rule.


Farewell, New York Times

It's tough saying goodbye to an old and trusted friend of many decades. As this week gradually draws to a close, so too does my relationship with The New York Times.

Although I am aware of its shortcomings, The Times is my favorite newspaper. I’ve never figured out what its motto, “All the news that’s fit to print,” means to convey, but its unofficial tag, “The newspaper of record,” works. When facts of a story from other sources feel off or iffy or incomplete, The Times is my first choice for corroboration.

Although stories on lesser events sometimes turn up a few days late, Times’ reporters often make up for it with more depth and detail than other publications. And if there is a liberal bias to the paper, as some accuse, any sentient adult can take that into account. If you read no other daily paper, The New York Times can be relied upon to keep any reader current with need-to-know national and international issues.

And more than any other single source, The New York Times has informed this blog - if not by referencing specific stories, then in the intelligence of its overall coverage that has kept me abreast of the cross-currents of divergent topics that affect even the single topic, aging, of Time Goes By.

Even so, and sadly, all that will come to an end for me on Monday.

Beginning on 19 September, The Times will move all its “columnists in Op-Ed, Business, New York/Region and Sports” sections behind a paid firewall. From that day forward, it will cost non-print subscribers $49.95 a year to read these important writers.

There are a few other perks for the price – free news Alerts, previews of some Sunday pieces and 100 articles per month from the archives. Everyone else will continue to pay $3.95 per article for stories older than seven days.

Reading the Times on paper is a more enjoyable experience than on a screen and I’ve tried to subscribe to the print edition several times in the past 25 years. But because I live in a townhouse, my door fronts on the sidewalk and the paper is stolen about three days out of seven before I’m awake to retrieve it. Sometimes I buy the paper at the corner deli but usually, I prefer to catch up with what's happened in the past day or so and what the Times' thinkers make of it with my morning coffee, still in my granny gown. So the online version has been my edition of choice in recent years.

But it is no choice at all without the columnists. The nuts and bolts of the news, the five W’s, can be retrieved from hundreds of online newspapers, but not the crucial voices of interpretation of that news which play an important part in setting the agendas of nations worldwide. Trust me, Ahmed Challabi does not read The Kansas City Star. But he does pay attention to The New York Times columnists.

I understand that The Times is a for-profit business and people like me who read for free cut into those profits. But I believe there are other options. Among them is a simple one I have advocated for years: charge not $3.95 for an archived story, but 25 cents. I’ve never paid the $3.95, particularly since the abstract usually doesn’t tell me if the article contains what I’m looking for. But if the price were 25 cents, this news junkie and old-time researcher would click Buy, Buy, Buy all day. iTunes.com understands the psychology of this with their 99 cent music downloads (although I believe they should be 50 cents), and I hear tell they are wildly successful.

Although I'm not advocating this, if the entire paper were placed behind the paid firewall, I would happily pay $49.95 a year for it. But I feel cheated when asked to pay that much for what is, for me, one page a day - too much for too little.

Instead, on principle, I have removed The New York Times as my browser home page. I will pick up a print edition now and again, I'm sure, but for my regular input of news and commentary, I will rely on other publications from this day forward.

So I bid a sad farewell Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Bob Herbert, David Brooks, Nicholas Kristoff, Maureen Dowd and John Tierney. I haven't skipped a single column by any of you in years, but Times management has gone too far for me to continue.

Could I be the only one, do you think?


Language Sucks

It is the one of the jobs of young folks to attempt to shock their elders. It is part of the transition from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood, and any grownup with a few years on those kids can dismiss most of their behavior knowing it is a phase that will pass.

But some things, lately, have gone too far for Crabby Old Lady’s comfort. Take language, for example.

When did “sucks” become an all-purpose verb acceptable in any social grouping? For a decade or more, Crabby has heard it casually thrown about first in private conversation, then in offices, on television shows, and it even turned up in one instance she witnessed from a reporter covering Hurricane Katrina. If it’s bad, these days, it sucks and all other expressions of sympathy have disappeared from the language.

“Screw you,” often accompanied by the one-fingered salute, has been around all of Crabby’s life, but its wider use bothers her. Given the original reference of both suck and screw, she finds it jarring coming from the mouths of eight-year olds at the neighborhood playground.

And “frickin’” seems now to be the customary euphemism for the most notorious F word, showing up a lot in otherwise well-written pieces all over the internet, although "friggin'" remains its spoken counterpart.

But the one that most disturbs Crabby is “gangbanger” which – it appears, but Crabby could be wrong – references a teenage boy of a menacing bent. When Crabby was a teen, gang bang was slang for gang rape, so you can understand her discomfort at its current ubiquity.

Public nakedness has become just a bit too casual for Crabby too. On almost any block in New York City on any day but in deepest winter, she commonly sees young women whose entire bodies, except for the barest strips of cloth covering breasts and pubic area, are on display. And two or three inches of bare flesh between the top of a skirt, riding low on the hips, and the bottom of a blouse seems nowadays to be suitable office attire.

Crabby was especially bewildered several weeks ago when a very pregnant, young mother pushing an infant in a carriage walked by in a see-through bra and miniskirt that could not possibly be understood in any respect but as sexual allure. Fine at home with her husband, but in the street?

Crabby Old Lady has always prided herself on her live-and-let-live attitude. To each his own is her philosophy in most ways of life and by the way, she’s been known, even recently, to let fly a good deal of the language she is objecting to when her patience is tested too far. Not, however, casually tossed off in daily social and business conversation.

American culture has coursened dramatically during Crabby's six-plus decades of life. Vulgar language is no longer remarkable. Violence of the most gruesome sort is a staple of daily entertainment. And Crabby sometimes wonders if sex has left the bedroom altogether in favor public performance.

There is no doubt that the socially buttoned-up 1950s of Crabby's youth needed some relaxing and the pendulum of change always swings too far left or right before it settles back to a comfortable norm in the middle range. It feels like it's just about time for that to occur now unless Crabby has become nothing more than a dusty old nag.

When Crabby was a little girl, adults spoke of upholding standards. They were talking about decorum, public conduct, manners - the civilities that grease the wheels of social interaction and help keep the daily peace. Crabby hasn’t heard such talk in decades.

So you tell her, has she become hopelessly old-fashioned, behind the times and out of touch when, in her dotage, she now utters for the first time: What is the world coming to?


Katrina's Elderly

Without dismissing the suffering of other victims of Hurricane Katrina, nor comparing one to another, it may be the elderly and infirm who have been disproportionately affected and in need of ongoing special attention.

Although Louisiana nursing homes are required by law to have a detailed evacuation plans and signed contracts with private transportation companies, 70 percent of them were not evacuated. Thirty-two people died in one flooded home in Chalmette, Louisiana, when the staff ran off abandoning the residents in their beds.

In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, people in their 70s, 80s and 90s were dumped and left alone on the auditorium floor of a local high school without food, water or their medications.

And in Metairie, Louisiana, a man tried to get his blind, 78-year old father and crippled, 75-year old mother on a bus, reports the Associated Press:

“’I couldn’t get them on because the young people, the healthy people were pushing and fighting to get on the bus…’ said the man, Bruce Barnes of New Orleans.

“That happened time and again as buses appeared, filled up, and left. Even when a bus was set aside for the elderly and disabled, the workers wouldn’t let both Barnes and his 62-year old aunt accompany the parents. Rather than leave the elderly couple alone on the bus or the aunt behind, all four waited some more.

“Finally a doctor got them onto a helicopter to the airport where they boarded a plane for Austin, Texas.”

- Wired News, 7 September 2005

There are other stories of elderly left to suffer and die on their own in their homes, on roofs and in hospitals where doctors and nurses had not the means to care for them.

Not to slight the children, but kids are resilient and they can physically bounce back quickly. Not so with old people who, without food and water, in filthy stadiums and lacking their medications, will struggle to regain their health and equilibrium, if they ever can.

Yes, I know, old people are not as cute as the young and video of them is not as immediately poignant. Further, they are more often disoriented and appear to the rest of us to be crazy – a condition television news is loathe to broadcast. That does not make our responsibility for them any less important than the children.

Older people may also have a harder time than the young adjusting to be uprooted from their friends and neighbors. But:

“Older evacuees do have one thing in their favor, experts say. A lifetime of living may have made them tougher.

“’I was in (Hurricane) Betsy, I was in Camille, I was in all of it. And I’m still here now,’ Josephine Bigham, 68, said on a bus…’

“Dr. Carmel Bitondo Dyer, a geriatric physician and associate professor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, has heard plenty of comments like that while working at the Astrodome…

“Of course, she added, ‘the people who made it here are tough, and they’re the survivors…I suspect the dead bodies the evacuees are describing, many of them, we’ll find out were frail elderly who couldn’t sit in the sun for 48 hours.’”

- Wired News, 7 September 2005

To quote George Lakoff, “The central role of government is to use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives.” If our government’s unwarranted grab for Iraq and its massive transfer to wealth to the already obscenely rich did not do it, Hurricane Katrina has exposed the imperial presidency in all its naked greed.

But unless the president together with every elected representative in Congress immediately scale back the war in Iraq, rescind the tax cuts to the rich, withdraw from consideration repeal of the estate tax and reject the privatization of Social Security, we will know that no matter how many trips the president makes to the Gulf coast, no matter how he tries to spin this, government business as usual will continue and the next disaster will leave the same people – the poor, the children and elderly - to bear the brunt again.


Matron Lit

Fiction has fallen off my reading radar in recent years – unless you count the latest Harry Potter – and when I do seek out modern novel, it is probably written by Ian McEwan or Peter Carey, or I might pull an early John Le Carre or Eric Ambler off the shelf for a re-read.

Which undoubtedly accounts for my tardiness in realizing there is a hot, new genre of chick lit.

Labeled matron lit, hen lit or lady lit, these books, apparently an extension of romance novels, are aimed at women age 49 to 69, so the women protagonists are dealing with such decidedly non-bodice-ripper topics as hot flashes, aging parents and widowhood, conveniently packaged in large-print editions.

“Not everything has changed on Planet Harlequin, though. The heroines of Sandwiched and There’s Always Plan B still find Mr. Right. In Riggs Park Barbara’s already found him – Jon, her old high school sweetheart, graying but still buff. Through much of the novel, though, she has to struggle to hold onto him.”
- Wilmington Star News, 17 July 2005

There is even a sub-genre someone has dubbed “granny lit” written by people over age 60:

“[These authors] are creating a growing cast of midlife and older characters who serve as counterpoints to the hip young singles romping through popular novels…The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love…about a group of women in their 60s who begin new lives together at a North Caroline farmhouse” has spawned a popular series.
- The Christian Science Monitor, 3 February 2005

Even Lonesome Dove author, Larry McMurtry, has jumped on the bandwagon with his new novel, Loop Group about two “feisty 60-plus women on a road trip to Hollywood.”

Some of the titles leave a bit to be desired:The Hot Flash Club, Julie and Romeo and one that I’m particularly unlikely to dip into, The Red Hat Club.

But that doesn’t make this a bad idea.

“Referring to the potential of matron lit, [literary agent, Nancy] Coffey says, the climate is changing a little bit, but it will take a little more magic for the doors to open completely. Someday it’s all going to click. These books are giving women ideas, giving them hope for something that is available for them for the last part of their lives.”
- The Christian Science Monitor, 3 February 2005

Hope for something more, I assume, than what romance novelist Rexanne Becnel serves up:

“It was just such a pleasure,” she says, “to write about thunder thighs and varicose veins.”
- Newsweek, 12 September 2005

It’s good to have some older literary heroines, but Ms. Becnel goes too far.


Patrick

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[c.1990] Patrick died of complications from AIDS on 13 July 1993. I miss him every day and I talk with him still, usually when I’m in the shower. Sometimes I can almost hear him answer - advising me, loving me unconditionally, reminding me for the zillionth time how important it is to laugh at myself.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-11-25 said:
Great photo and a powerful memory.

In the mid-80’s when I was working for a theater producer, every week it seemed someone would cough, go home and few weeks later be dead. Awful. Just awful. Over and over again.

pellegrini @ 2003-11-25 said:
What a portrait and what an impressing and touching story behind!

ribena @ 2003-11-25 said:
I have been here, watching and absorbing.

trst2 @ 2003-11-25 said:
Why is the life like this?

reporter @ 2003-11-26 said:
I’m sorry about Patrick and appreciate his love for you. His love is eternal for you.