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Crabby’s Last Stand for 2006

[A new story, Ruth Rendell and Me - Getting Older, has been posted this morning at Blogher.]

We can’t let 2006 end without Crabby Old Lady getting in one last lick for the year.

She was preparing dinner one evening last week, listening with one ear to the news on CNN, when a story about Queen Elizabeth II of England turned up. Each year, the queen records a Christmas message to the Commonwealth, a speech that has in the past been broadcast on television. What makes it news this year is that it is also available on the internet as a podcast.

How cool, thought Crabby. The queen, that stodgy remnant of an earlier era in history when royals ruled by fiat, is catching up to the 21st century. Even better, given Crabby’s association with a blog about aging, the queen’s message this year is about listening to your elders.

Then the CNN reporter, Carol Costello, finished up her report with this comment: “Not the most hip message, ‘listen to your elders.’”

Crabby nearly cut her finger with the vegetable knife.

Did Ms. Costello need to say that? If it had been Bono who made that Christmas message or Angelina Jolie or Barack Obama, would Ms. Costello have trashed them for being unhip? Crabby doesn’t think so.

When an 80-year-old woman of a position and class not known for being au courant records a podcast, Crabby thinks she’s hip and cool whatever the message which, by the way, might be a beneficial reminder for a couple of children Crabby knows.

It was another moment of thoughtless ageism, and speaking of old-fashioned messages: Crabby Old Lady hopes Santa left Ms. Costello nothing more than coal in her Christmas stocking this year.


A Chance to Help Fight Corporate Downsizing

category_bug_ageism.gif As longtime readers of TGB know, I now reside in Portland, Maine, because I was forced out of the workplace and my home in New York City due, in large degree, to age discrimination in the workplace and corporate downsizing.

I am far from alone. The news media doesn’t report it much anymore, but corporate America has been cutting and outsourcing millions of job for a decade now. Among the first workers to go when jobs are eliminated are workers older than 40.

“In a corporate culture focused on keeping costs low, people in their late 40s and older are often viewed as too old to be valuable. ‘At some point in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a whole bunch of corporate executives’ attitudes changed toward white-collar workers, says [Barbara] Ehrenreich.

“’Blue-collar workers were always thought to be disposable, but now they started looking at white-collar workers as just expenses to eliminate.’ Thus, veterans of the job market are frequently laid off with little warning and must work benefitless contract gigs to stay afloat.”

- In These Times, 14 December 2006

That’s what happened to me. For two-and-a-half years, until I was laid off in 2004, I worked full time, side-by-side with employees, even while supervising some of them, but as a contractor with no medical coverage, no paid sick leave, no paid holidays or vacations, no 401k or any other benefits enjoyed by those employees.

This practice is mostly illegal, but corporations get away with it because contractors dare not file complaints with the IRS or the Department of Labor for fear of being fired and not finding another job.

Now veteran activist and journalist, Barbara Ehrenreich, is doing something about it. The author of the expose, Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream has founded United Professionals (UP) for white collar workers. Its mission is

“…to protect and preserve the American middle class, now under attack from so many directions, from downsizing and outsourcing to the steady erosion of health and pension benefits. We believe that education, skills and experience should be rewarded with appropriate jobs, livable incomes, benefits and social supports.”

Ms. Ehrenreich is concerned with both older workers and young college graduates who enter the workforce with an average of $19,000 in debt from college loans:

“’It is important to align the two groups [of workers],” says Tamara Draut, a UP Advisory Board member…’Pitting the generations against each other like we often do isn’t an effective way to organize, given that many things would benefit both groups.’”
- In These Times, 14 December 2006

United Professionals is just getting started, but it’s goals are admirable. They include lobbying Congress, legal resources, networking, local chapters of the organization and, in time, insurance aid.

Ms. Ehrenreich obtained $10,000 in seed money for UP with a grant from the Service Employees International Union, but they need further support. You can join the effort for just ten cents a day, $36.50 per year for UP membership. You can also follow some of Barbara Ehrenreich's other concerns on her blog.


Guest Film Review from Susan Harris

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A couple of months ago, I asked Susan Harris, who blogs at Takoma Gardener and Garden Rant, to review The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club because Portland, Maine, where I now live, doesn’t get many new movies. She did such a good job that she is now the semi-official film reviewer for Time Goes By. Here is her latest.]

Rocky6_175 GROWING OLD WITH ROCKY BALBOA Honestly, I'd never have seen the latest Rocky movie - in a theater, no less - if Ronni hadn't given me the assignment to review it. Time Goes By readers want to know! So I did the research and here's my TGB take on Rocky Balboa, the 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone's sixth movie in his famous franchise.

Now like everybody in the world, my heartstrings were pulled by the first Rocky, the classic underdog story with the stirring, trumpet-filled theme music. As for the sequels, including this one, not so much.

To me they're just expensive B-movies and not my genre. But guess what? The latest installment has been getting pretty good reviews, with quite a few "knock-outs" and "crowd-pleasers" in the critics' pool of nouns, though I'm more inclined to agree with these characterizations in The New York Times:

"…all heart and no credibility except as a raw-boned fable" and a "live-action cartoon that operates on cartoon logic."

So you should thank me for not explaining the plot. I suppose if I were a boxing fan I might agree with this faint praise in the Chicago Tribune:

"Certainly a bad film, but darn it, it ain't a half-bad movie."

THE EMBARRASSMENT FACTOR
It seems there's been a lot of buzz about Rocky's return engagement after a 16-year absence, fueled by reports of snickering at previews, but there's good news on that front. As one reviewer noted, we see Rocky's sun setting "with enough grace to make us all feel a little apologetic" about having doubts at all. So no cringing at the old guy here.

In fact, just look at the big balooka - he's still ripped! The character refers to having arthritis in the neck and calcium deposits in his legs, but Stallone looks fit as can be. And I like his attitude: "A few too many birthdays shouldn't be a reason not to fight."

Well, that's the problem to my way of thinking. Boxing's such a barbaric sport that it's crazy for anybody to do it, not just the older guys. Here, heroism is defined as how many punches you can take - classic masochism - and I'd prefer a healthier, more positive philosophy and a healthier, more positive sport - like race-walking or cycling or I don't know, rowing? Who cares, as long as it doesn't produce so much blood.

SHOWING YOUR AGEISM?
Like any loyal reader of Time Goes By, I'm on the lookout for ageist attitudes in the media and my perusal of the internet yielded these quotes for your thoughtful examination:

  • The Washington Post refers to that "old warhorse, Rocky Balboa. Old is right...He ought to be reaching for his AARP card, not his boxing gloves." Okay, a little yuck.
  • From The New York Times: "His body is just this side of muscle-bound and somewhat grotesque." But I think that's about the muscles, not the age of the body.
  • Rolling Stone magazine's reaction: "Stallone looks damn fit for a geezer." Another little yuck.
  • New York magazine's David Edelstein wrote: "It's not easy to look at Stallone. Whatever he did to his face is starting to become undone; parts of it are frozen while other parts droop." But that's really about plastic surgery - always fair game.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Times writer should have done a bit of homework. The drooping is not about plastic surgery or, at least, not all of it. One side of Stallone’s face has always drooped due to a childhood accident or condition; I can’t remember which. – RB]

PUMPING IRON
Frankly, the only part of the movie I enjoyed was seeing Stallone working out in the gym to get stronger and fitter for the big fight. I need to see my peers and especially my elders doing that; it's great motivation.

I say who cares about wrinkles on faces - it's the bodies we can do something about. We now know that women who lift weights and power walk can produce significant changes in their strength and bone density even when they start late in life. Men can do the same and even create Stallone-size muscles, if they make the (silly) choice to take it to that extreme.

Bottom line: I think we can relax about the world's reaction to Rocky Balboa. It's just another underdog movie and age just happens to be what makes him one.

[EDITOR'S POSTSCRIPT: Rocky Balboa has been added to the TGB ElderMovies List along with several other recently-suggested titles which are labeled with a "new" icon.]


Elderblogging on RLTV Today

[A new story, How Daily Living Has Changed in My Lifetime, has been posted this morning at blogher.org.]

category_bug_journal2.gif It’s been a long weekend of festivities with another celebration due on Saturday, so you might need to rest up a bit. Here’s a chance to do that for an hour today while checking out Retirement Living Television’s take on ElderBlogging on The Daily Apple show.

The program features Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog, Mort Reichek of Octogenarian, Susan Harris of Takoma Gardener – and me. Like the show last week, there are three ways to watch:

  1. Comcast subscribers in the Middle Atlantic and New England states can watch on Channel CN8 at 3PM eastern time.
  2. DirecTV subscribers can see the show on channel 238 at 12 noon and at 3PM eastern time.
  3. Anyone can watch at 3PM eastern time at www.rl.tv and at www.cn8.com.

You’ll miss it if you can’t watch at those times, but in the not too distant future, Retirement Living Television will archive past shows for viewing on their website at any time.

A field crew shot interviews with Millie, Mort and Susan in their homes. I went to Washington, D.C. for a studio interview with The Daily Apple host, Alexis Abramson.

It was the first time I had been in a television studio in a decade, and although I’m sure the backend technology has changed a lot in ten years, it was otherwise remarkably like every studio I’ve worked in and every show I produced for more than 25 years. I felt at home as soon as the production assistant met me in the lobby and walked me to the green room.

Luis This is Luis Blandon, the senior researcher at Retirement Living Television and the man who first called me about appearing on The Daily Apple. We spent so much time on the telephone and emailing after that first conversation that by the time I got to Washington, I felt like he was the good friend he has become.

Michelemarcello Next stop was the makeup room and the excellent ministrations of Michele Marcello who is charming and funny and an excellent makeup artist. She smoothed out all the blotchiness in my face and made me camera-ready if not as presentable as I’d like. Too bad she couldn’t do anything about my weight. I was astonished, watching last week’s show, how fat I am. I had no idea, and I wish I knew where that former 110-pound woman went.

And no, unfortunately that’s not television weight. It’s what I look like these days. Oh, well.

All those years producing television interviews, I coached hundreds, maybe thousands of people who were nervous about being on camera. I should know how to do this by now except that it’s one thing to coach, quite another to do – and I was surprised at nervous I was. I think it’s the difference, for me, between asking the questions, which is easy if you’ve done your homework, and answering someone else’s questions. I’m accustomed to controlling the interview - but not this time.

Studio time is expensive and as soon as Alexis had finished her sign-off, the crew started breaking down the The Daily Apple set and mounting another. I think it’s tradition that the staff - producers, director, writers, researchers, assistants, guests, etc. – does everything possible to subvert the crew’s work, standing around, getting in the way while talking down the show. That’s Luis again with executive producer, Matt Borten.

Luis_matt2

If you’re near a television set or your computer today at the times above, check out the show. It’s all about what we do - Elderblogging.


A Holiday Proposal

[A new story, Some Elder Women of the Blogosphere, has been posted this morning at Blogher.org.]

One morning about ten years ago, while working in midtown Manhattan, I took a different route to my office from the subway. Along the way, I passed a woman sitting on the sidewalk leaning against a building. She was begging.

I didn’t give her any money as I walked by but unlike other beggars I regularly ran across, she haunted my thoughts all day. She was extraordinarily thin, even gaunt. I noticed that her wrist was about half the width of my own, like a child’s.

Her eyes were as sad as they were enormous. She was, if you can tell with someone who has been on hard times for a long while, in her forties, wearing a black, plastic trash bag with nothing on her feet but dirty socks. She seemed to me, as hundreds of people rushed by, to be terribly alone.

After work, I altered my route again to walk past her. I had a $20 bill in my coat pocket, but she was gone, her place on the sidewalk empty.

The next morning, I woke thinking of this woman. At the time, I had been working again for about two months after having been unemployed for a year and in my worst days when I was without a job, I wondered if I would lose my apartment and have nowhere to live. It is a chilling thought.

My personal finances were tight as I applied every extra cent to pay off as quickly as possible the debt that had accumulated during my unemployment, but I had my home, plenty of food and, for awhile anyway, a job. It was a life the beggar woman could only dream of.

And so, on the way to the subway that morning, I hit the ATM machine for $400. It spits itself out in twenties and having no envelope, I wrapped the money in a half page torn from The New York Times.

As I walked my new route to work again, I spied the woman from a block away sitting in the same place, still wearing her trash bag and socks. Handing her the newsprint package, I said the only thing I could think of: “I hope this helps” and walked on.

In her position, $400 wouldn’t go far, but I hoped, as I approached the spot the next day, that she would at least be more warmly dressed. She wasn’t there and I never saw her again.

I don’t have the wherewithal to do that often, but after my encounter with the woman, I often stuck a ten dollar bill in my pocket when I left the house and gave it to the first beggar I saw that day. It’s not much, but ten dollars will buy a decent meal and if someone buys instead a bottle of whiskey or drugs – an argument some have made for not giving to panhandlers - that is not my business.

It had been years since I’d thought about the beggar women when I read this story in The New York Times. It begins:

“He was known as Secret Santa, a mysterious white-haired man wearing a red shirt and cap, who would hand a stranger in need a wad of cash and make a speedy getaway. During the holiday season, he would appear in cities across the country to dispense his largesse.

“Secret Santa started his mission in December 1979...”

Go read the rest of this story and if you are inspired, perhaps there is someone you can help out anonymously this holiday season - and during the entire year. As one commenter at The Times story notes, “…there is goodness that lurks in all of us.”


An ElderBlogger and the Media

category_bug_journal2.gif Many years ago, I got a fortune cookie that was either so funny or so metaphysically profound that I've kept it taped to my desk ever since to give me, depending on my mood, a giggle or a reminder of the bigger picture:

"Time is nature's way of making sure everything doesn't happen all at once."

Today nature failed in that task. The media, in relation to Time Goes By, has come together all on the same day.

The Baltimore Sun Blography
If you follow media news, you know that mainstream newspapers are struggling. With circulation dropping and advertising dollars migrating to the internet, the business side is scrambling to cut costs. Buyouts are offered, bureaus are closed, reporters are fired, even the size of the newsprint is trimmed.

Smart managers and executives are working overtime to figure out how to include their publications in the new digital media world. One of them is The Baltimore Sun where multimedia editor, John Lindner, among his other responsibilities, posts a weekly podcast, Blography, in which he interviews bloggers.

And yes, this week John allowed me, in my first podcast, to bloviate with him about Time Goes By, elderblogging and blogging in general. [When I lamented to John that I choke on the word retired and need something else to describe what I do these days, he suggested “international bloviator” on all things related to aging.

Hah! I love it. It’s a whole lot better than “retired” and we settled too on describing John as an “international bloviator facilitator.”

The Blography podcasts are available on The Baltimore Sun website in MP3 format which, when you click on the link, should open Windows Media Player. Here is the direct link to the Time Goes By podcast.

John interviews a wide variety of bloggers – well-known and not – and I hear tell that Doc Searls will appear in a week or two, so you might want to subscribe to the Blography feed.

Retirement Living TV Today
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to record two programs with Retirement Living TV. The first, titled Silver Surfers, airs today on “The Daily Apple” show, and there are several ways you can see it.

  1. Comcast subscribers in the Middle Atlantic and New England states can watch on Channel CN8 at 3PM eastern time.
  2. DirecTV subscribers can see the show on channel 238 at 12 noon and at 3PM eastern time.
  3. Anyone can watch at 3PM eastern time at www.rl.tv and at www.cn8.com.

You’ll miss it if you can’t watch at those times, but in the not too distant future, Retirement Living TV will be archiving past shows for viewing on their website at any time.

Retirement Living TV on 26 December
On the day after Christmas, “The Daily Apple” will broadcast a entire program on elderblogging which, in addition to me, features Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog, Mort Reichek of Octogenarian and Susan Harris of Takoma Gardener.

I’ll tell you more about that on 26 December along with some backstage photos I took while I was there.


More Movies With Elders

Marja-Leena Rathje alerted me to this story in the Guardian UK listing ten movies “Where the Old Do Not Go Quietly.” The reporter, who unfortunately uses the word “elderly” (which means frail) to mean elder, would have it that

“Hollywood seems to have forgotten elderly people exist, so here's a list of past celluloid moments in which the over-70s shine.”

We at Time Goes By, with our list of (so far) 86 ElderMovies, know that Hollywood has done better than we had imagined at portraying elders.

Several of the movies from the Guardian are already on the TGB ElderMovies List as are others suggested by readers in the Comments section. But we’ve somehow overlooked most of them. Here is a list of those – what do you think? Should we add them?

Seven Samurai for the old, village chief

Providence for John Gielgud’s performance

(Which reminds me of Ian McKellan in Gods and Monsters)

Rio Bravo for Walter Brennan

White Heat for Margaret Wycherly as Ma

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for Walter Huston as Howard

Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth in The Godfather – Part 2

Long Day’s Journey Into Night for Katharine Hepburn as Mary Tyrone

Make Way For Tomorrow

…and several more in the comments. Plus, a new film – Venus - with Peter O’Toole as an aging actor. (Susan of Takoma Gardener: are you ready for your next turn as the TGB film reviewer when Venus is released?)

Let us know what you think of these films. Unless there are reasons to reject them, I’ll add them soon to the ElderMovie List.


Blogging and Solitude

[Crabby Old Lady has published a new story, Cosmetic Surgery For Teens and Tweens?, at Blogher this morning.]

What a strong and interesting reaction to yesterday’s story about happiness and solitude. It appears that quite a number of us bloggers or, at least TGB readers, consider ourselves introverts. I hadn’t thought of myself in that way until I read a remarkable 2003 story by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic that John Franklin recommended and linked to. Some points that resonated with me:

  • “…for years I denied [being an introvert]. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests.”
  • “…introverts are people who find other people tiring...after an hour or two of being socially 'on,' we introverts need to turn off and recharge.”
  • “Extroverts...cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.”
  • “…many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors…”
  • “I suppose this common misconception [that introverts are arrogant] has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts. Also, it is probably due to our lack of small talk, a lack that extroverts often mistake for disdain.”

(These quotes lose the flavor and wit of Mr. Rauch’s piece; you really should read the entire story.)

I often feel that I’m acting when I’m in large groups of people – even small groups sometimes – but I’m fairly adept socially. And since childhood, people have called me out when I’m sitting quietly. My father used to ask, “What are you doing, meditating?” I wasn’t; I was thinking, but the message I got was that thinking and meditating were not altogether acceptable activities. (Please don’t judge my father on this one mis-step.)

I’ve been accused of arrogance, too, when I just didn’t have anything to say. Sometimes people ask me if I’m sad when I’m only thinking and once, a boss called me in to her office to tell me to smile more. (Go ahead and judge her if you want.)

In all these instances, I was emotionally neutral, pondering something. Well, neutral until someone questioned me.

Jean of This Too took the words out of my mouth with this comment:

“…one of the reasons I've found so many like-minded friends through blogging is probably that we all enjoy this very self-sufficient activity.”

[Be sure to check out the two photos on that link to Jean’s blog - a timely and beautiful representation of solitude.]

A study reported at the Eide Neurolearning Blog tells us that blogging, among other benefits, promotes critical and analytical thinking, is a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking and, apropos of this topic:

“Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.”

Perhaps it is in the nature of blogging to attract people who are introverts and those who enjoy their solitude.


Survey: Old Men are the Happiest

category_bug_journal2.gif According to a survey reported by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, men between the ages of 60 and 69 are the happiest people. Least happy are men between 20 and 29.

Some other findings reported on this program – in no particular order:

  1. older people are happier than younger people
  2. religious people are happier than the non-religious
  3. Republicans are happier than Democrats and both are happier than independents
  4. married people without kids are happier than married people with children
  5. Money improves happiness when people move up from poverty to middle class. Moving further up the economic scale does not improve happiness

Dr. Gupta also reports that at least one Buddhist monk who meditates 12 hours every day is very happy, and that children [see No. 4 above] and chocolate make people happy.

Happiness, says a physician Dr. Gupta interviewed, is good for your health too, of which I have no doubt. Happiness improves your immune system and “optimists live seven years longer than pessimists or unhappy people.”

The largest predictor of happiness, according to Dr. Gupta and his expert guests, is having love and gratitude for family and friends. Throughout the program, there were many shots of people smiling and laughing together and the overall impression left about the pursuit of happiness was that being with people, going places and doing things together – frequently - is what leads to happiness.

Well, just a minute now. Not necessarily.

I’ve just finished reading Gore Vidal’s second memoir, Point to Point Navigation [more at Blogher] and had a strong sense of simpatico with this passage within his discussion of the impact the 1937 film, The Prince and the Pauper had on him at age 12:

“Lonely children often have imaginary playmates but I was never lonely; rather, I was solitary, and wanted no company at all other than books and movies, and my own imagination…I wanted to be the identical twins who played the prince and the pauper. I wanted to be myself, twice…that a palpable duplicate of oneself would be the ideal companion.”

I, too, was most content as a child with my books and, to a lesser degree than Vidal, movies than with playmates. It has never been fashionable in my lifetime, as in past generations, to seek a life of the mind. I was teased regularly in school and can still hear echoes down the years of some kid shouting in the hall, “there goes the brain” because I enjoyed the lessons, looked forward to them and couldn’t wait to find out what new things teachers would tell us about each day.

And so it is today that I still prefer solitude. That is not to say I don’t enjoy the friends I have and don’t want to meet new people. It is always a pleasure. But if I added up the hours of solitude versus those of companionship, solitude wins out. I am never more exhausted than after spending all day, as at a conference or long meeting, with groups of people.

Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog has often said that what she likes best about blogging is no one interrupts her. That’s funny and we all can recognize the truth of it for ourselves. Continuing from there, I think blogging allows us (or, at least, me) to finish our thoughts in our own time - however long it may take - which conversation almost always precludes.

It is, I think, peculiarly American that those who spend a lot of time alone are, in some manner, suspect in the eyes of others. Try as I might, I cannot remember – ever – a television commercial that wished to convey happiness showing a person sitting alone with a book.

I watched Dr. Gupta’s program on happiness because television rarely addresses such difficult ideas. I was disappointed because the participants were so certain that constant social interaction is the ideal recipe for happiness. Solitude was never mentioned.

But I’m being picky; television is not designed for nor is it capable of conveying complex ideas.

Still, I wonder if those 60-to-69-year-old men, due to retirement from the workforce and undoubtedly a lot less partying than the unhappier 20-somethings, are happiest of all groups because they have a little more solitude in their lives than when they were younger.


Small-Town Old Lady

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Washington, D.C. for an overnight stay. It was the first time since early June, when I moved to Portland, Maine from New York, that I had been in a big city. And I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

As a little girl in Portland, Oregon, I dreamed of living in New York. I suspect the idea was planted in my head by a record album my parents owned, Manhattan Tower, that I first heard when I was five or six years old and which I appropriated from my parents as my own.

How many times did I listen to Manhattan Tower as a kid? Who knows, but when I heard it again after about 45 intervening years, I still knew every lyric by heart which is more than I can say for my Cinderella and Snow White soundtracks.

And so it came to pass, in 1968, that I fulfilled my dream of living in New York and for nearly 40 years, I considered it my town. Yes, it’s dirty, noisy, way too expensive and the traffic – vehicular and pedestrian - is abominable. But it is also a world-class city containing everything from the highest culture of its museums, libraries and concert halls to secret opium dens in Chinatown. Whatever it is you want, if you can’t find in New York City it doesn’t exist.

I wept when I was forced to leave.

My hotel in Washington two weeks ago was on 14th Street NW, in the heart of busiest section of town. Even though it is the seat of our national government, compared to New York it’s a small town. The streets are clean of trash. The traffic is far less chaotic than in New York. It’s just a much more civilized place (if you’re not referring to the politics).

The car service that was to take me to Reagan Airport for my return home was late, leaving me to wait in front of the hotel for 20 or 30 minutes. It was late morning, traffic was heavy. Trucks lumbered by, an ambulance tried to get through, horn honking ensued - not a single, short episode, but for the entire half hour I was standing outside. It was so loud, I didn’t hear my cell phone ring when my driver called to say he was almost there.

Now, I tolerated worse noise in New York every day of the 40 years I lived there. But that day in Washington, it made me nuts. I couldn’t think. I was getting testy and my head hurt. I couldn’t wait to get home.

For all my life, I’ve thought of myself as a big-city girl. I seem to have become a small-town old lady.


My Own Private Library

category_bug_journal2.gif One of the reasons I bought this particular home in Portland, Maine, was that I could at last fulfill my life-long dream of having a dedicated room for a real library. Last Friday, the carpenter put the final touches on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. It was six months to the day since the formal closing when the house became mine.

Here is what part of the room looked like before the shelves were designed and built. The wall is 8.5 feet high and 12.5 feet long.

Shelves1

After several months of interviewing designer/carpenters, I found Ned Merrick, a talented young man, a native Mainer who, at age 27, understood my twin concerns of esthetics and, in such an old house, weight distribution. He made some drawings, I approved and he went to work. About three weeks ago, he showed up to begin installation.

Shelves2

Some of that writing on the wall is from Claude of Blogging in Paris who added her two cents when she visited in October: “As time goes by, one makes wonderful new friends and I look forward to your coming and Blogging in Paris.” Another is from ML at Full Fathom Five: “Writing is discovering what you didn’t know you already thought.”

My own contribution was "Everything is interesting if you pay attention." Someday, another owner will tear out the bookshelves to put this room to another use and will dicover these bon mots. I wonder what they will think.

It took two or three days for Ned to carefully fit together the pieces of the bookshelves he had built and painted. He takes great pride in his work in which every detail matters.

Shelves3

And here is the shiny, new, pristine wall of shelves - finished except for some electrical work and paint still needed, when this photo was made, on the bottom molding to match that in the rest of the room.

Shelves4

Ned left his ladder for me over a weekend so I could reach the top shelves as I tore into book cartons and began sorting the library. It feels like Christmas every day to have my old friends at my fingertips again.

Shelves5

And here is the room almost done. The section labels are still stuck on the shelves and a lot of the books need sorting and organizing still, but it is a usable library now just a couple of steps from my desk. I have waited 60 years to have this room and my happiness cup runneth over.

Shelves7

There are still 13 cartons of books that won’t fit on these shelves. Ned and I have designed additional sets of shelves for the sitting room and a bedroom, and after the holidays, he’ll be back.

Ned gave his business a wonderful Maine-ish name - Harraseeket Woodwrights - and you can see a lot of his original, furniture design work on his website. Soon, photos of my shelves will join his exhibit.


An Old Lady in Meltdown

[A new story, Adjusting to the Limitations of Age, has been posted this morning on Blogher.]

If anyone reading this has written to Crabby Old Lady lately expecting an answer, you’re probably disappointed or, more likely, pissed off. Crabby is at the end of her rope, pulling at her hair, pounding the desk, throwing wadded-up paper at the cat - a deranged, screaming harridan teetering on the edge of her mental precipice.

The reason for her lunatic behavior? For every legitimate email she receives – a message from a friend, blog reader, colleague, subscription newsletter, Google Alert, etc. – there are a minimum now of 50 to 75 pieces of spam. Maybe more. Close to a thousand of them pour one after another - 10, 15, 20, 25 at a time - into her inbox day and night and that’s in addition to the hundreds of spam messages a day Crabby’s email filter catches before they hit her inbox.

Ding, ding, ding goes her email alert every ten minutes like Chinese water torture until, to preserve what’s left of her sanity, Crabby turned off the audio. A cascade of messages pours forth with pornography, financial scams, Hoodia sales (what the hell is Hoodia, Crabby wants to know – on second thought, never mind) and lately, god help Crabby, there are pitches for gifts “just like Oprah buys”.

CRABBY CAN’T STAND IT ANY MORE!!! This is how people are driven to go postal.

Crabby’s spam volume has increased by magnitudes in just the past six or eight weeks. It is so much work now, so vision-blurring, so time-consuming to scour through the spam looking for the real stuff that Crabby has given up. She telephoned her monthly banking and credit services last week to reinstate snailmail delivery of statements because she fears she’ll miss paying her bills for not finding them among the crap in her mailbox.

A few years ago, telemarketing calls reached such monumentally disturbing proportions that the federal government took action. There is now a “do not call” registry and the financial penalties to telemarketers are expensive enough – thousands of dollars per wrongful call – that it works.

But to Crabby Old Lady’s dismay and rage, there can be no such solution to email spam. A little research reveals that most spammers are based in other countries where the U.S. has no jurisdiction. And email filters are useless against messages buried in images which are, Crabby estimates, at least half of the spam she receives.

When telemarketing calls were rampant, at least there was the adrenalin release, when Crabby had been interrupted for the fifth time during dinner, of slamming down the phone. Clicking the “junk” icon doesn’t provide even a smidgen of the same satisfaction.

So where are all the vaunted genius techies now that we need them, Crabby Old Lady wants to know. This has become intolerable.


The Relative Importance of Isms

Last week, in response to a post here titled, Are We All Ageists?, in which I held forth on the lack of cultural condemnation of ageism, Elisa Camahort published on her blog a thoughtful comparison with other prejudices in which she concludes:

“Mass death, slavery and mutilation. These are more serious outcomes than the outcomes associated with ageism. The key being the very mass nature of the sins…I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is not the same.”

Elisa argues that because, barring fatal illness or accident, everyone gets old (while no white can become black or no man become a woman), it is understandable that younger people joke about perceived failings of elders.

“Because…our current culture doesn’t make aging seem all that appealing or attractive,” writes Elisa, “there is underlying black, ironic humor to be found in mocking that which we will inevitably be.”

To her first point above, it is folly, I believe, to try to rank oppression. Is slavery less a sin than genocide? Is lynching worse than starvation? Where does mutilation fall in the ranking? Is it all right to deprive an elder of employment but not okay to call a black a nigger? Where then, is the line drawn between what is tolerable and what is not? And who makes the decision?

Such ranking leads only to acceptance of oppression that is deemed a lesser evil and if history teaches us anything it is that oppression left unchecked leads to greater oppression.

It's not only age discrimination that targets elders. Elder abuse, by caregivers and even family, is a growing problem that sometimes leads to death, but is given less attention than child abuse. And elders die every day due to substandard and negligent healthcare, although no one calls it murder.

Did you know that new drugs are not tested on elders because, researchers say, it is too difficult. As a result, they are given the same dosages as adults when no one in the medical community would give infants and toddlers the same dosages as adults. Yet elder bodies handle drugs as differently from adults as children’s bodies do.

How many are sickened or die from this is unknown because no one considers elders important enough to do the research even though there are more than 36 million people older than 65 in the U.S. These deaths appear to be ranked as less significant than other wrongful deaths because they are not as shocking or visible as those that occur in an oven or hanging from a tree limb.

To Elisa’s second point about mocking a condition – elderhood – which everyone will reach one day may explain some of the acceptance of ageism, but it does not make it acceptable. We once, as a nation, tolerated racism and sexism and anti-Semitism. We don’t do that anymore as the reaction to Michael Richards’ rant has demonstrated.

Ageism appears to be a new-ish form of prejudice compared to the others. In most world cultures elders, historically, have been (and in many places, still are) revered for their contributions and experience, and consulted in matters of public concern for their judgment. That was still true where I lived when I was a little girl. It began to change in my teen years, the 1950s, grew from there and appears to be gaining ground.

Near the end of her blog story, Elisa wonders if the rising popularity of social media (video sharing, podcasts, blogs, etc.) might help people find common ground and realize the stupidity of our prejudices. I was immediately reminded of the deservedly famous New Yorker cartoon showing two dogs sitting at a computer. One says, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

All of us can only hope that Elisa is right although 2,000 years of anti-Semitism - on the rise again in Germany in recent years - doesn’t speak well for it. But maybe computers and the nature of the internet bode well for a better outcome.

Elisa also asks the all-important question, “How do we close the gaps of the isms that separate us?”

Racism and sexism began to decline in the United States in the 1960s. One of the first steps toward equality was to change the language. The people who were then universally called Negroes insisted on dropping the slave baggage associated with that word by demanding to be called “blacks” or “African-Americans.” And, the 50 percent of the population who had, whatever their age, been called “girls” until then, insisted on “women.”

When the language changes, so does the nature of the conversation. Respect is granted and gradually, then, attitudes change. Cultural bad habits die just as hard as personal ones, and women and blacks still have a way to go. But the march forward in my lifetime is remarkable.

When I got out of school, the only career choices open to women were teacher, nurse and secretary. Now, women run Fortune 500 companies and if there are not enough yet in those exalted positions, more barriers are broken every day.

Today, too, a black man and a woman are top contenders to be nominated for president of the U.S. in 2008, and no one is discussing their color or gender – only their political positions vis a vis the Iraq War, terrorism and social issues. In the vernacular of the Sixties, “We’ve come a long way, baby”, even if it’s not perfect yet.

I wish it were true for elders.

For three years here at Time Goes By, I have ranted and raved and railed about the demeaning language that is tolerated toward elders. I can’t say I’ve changed anything, but I did browbeat a New York Times writer into using “elder” instead of senior in a headline and a soon-to-be-broadcast television program will do the same at my instigation. And I’ve written hundreds of letters to the media when they print prejudicial and bigoted statements about elders.

It’s not much and my little blog isn’t going to change the world. But it’s a start. There’s an old joke involving a guy hitting a recalcitrant donkey on the head with a two-by-four. When a companion objects, the first man answers, “First, I’ve got to get his attention.”

Blacks and women got the media’s attention by beating them over the head about their demeaning language and attitudes. Nothing changes in these modern times without the media on your side and it’s the best place to begin to change ageist behavior too – not in debating the relative rankings of various prejudices.

Elisa is one of the smartest people I know (even if she does have a curious penchant for reality TV shows). She was also one of the earliest supporters of this blog, of elders and she even invented the term, elderblogger. Although she's gone "out on a limb" (as she puts it) to say that ageism is less important than other isms, her piece has the feel, to me, of exploration of an idea rather than a statement of belief. Perhaps we can find common ground.


Utterly, Unalterably Unbearable - Life Inside a Nursing Home

category_bug_journal2.gif Item: I can’t find the reference right now so you’ll have to take my word for it: something like 90 percent or more of people surveyed would do just about anything to stay out of a traditional nursing home.

Item: AARP’s research division produces some excellent reports and surveys but by their nature are cold recitations of facts and numbers and ratings which, while useful, don’t tell us anything about what it’s really like to be, for example, confined to a nursing home.

Item: AARP, in its member publications and on its website, is mostly a service organization which publishes information related to practical aspects of aging; it’s not much known for telling human stories about the real-life consequences of getting old that might afflict any of us one day.

That’s why this story, Embedded (a marvelous, although sad and terrifying, triple pun), is a surprise coming from AARP, and a cautionary tale for everyone: an inmate’s story of life inside a nursing home.

I have no answers or solutions, and although some people are making slow progress toward creating different and better kinds of long-term care, they won’t happen soon enough for everyone. Read it and weep.


Imagining Old Age

Recently, I was alerted by student Tara Rodriguez to an assignment from her journalism professor at North Carolina State University: write about what you think your life will be like when you are old – "old" being anywhere from 60 to 90.

The students were mostly in their early 20s. Six of the essays were selected to be printed in the Raleigh News & Observer. Among the total of 22 essays, four students believe Social Security will not exist by the time they are eligible, and most think they will be living with a spouse surrounded by grandchildren.

Here is what else some of them had to say about their old age:

Naimah Jabali-Nash, 21:

As I look out at the hillside, I can see sun rays beaming on Claude Monet's house down below. It is crowded on this Friday morning as hundreds of visitors from across the world come to catch a glimpse of his gardens.

The year is 2060, and I am 75. When I first visited Giverny in the summer of 2005, my first thought was, "This is where I want to be when I get older." It is my vision of the perfect countryside.

After a lifestyle full of traveling to the most renowned cities across the world, I find solitude in my quaint estate…

No grandchildren running around, just a glass of red wine and the sun beaming on my back as I enjoy another Friday morning on the hillside.

Liz Miller, 22:

Some people dream of grandchildren and retirement at 65. Me, I'd like to die about then, because I'm a weak coward.

Don't get me wrong, I love life and living it, but I want to die when my body still works -- before cataracts prevent me from photographing the world around me, or I have to pause every mile to catch my breath. Before osteoporosis cripples my legs and I can no longer throw a 25kg [55 pounds] backpack on and head off to see the world…

While many people plan their beachside Florida homes at 65, I have my fingers crossed to contract malaria while documenting the remote lives of a rain-forest tribe.

Rich Ivey, 22

When I'm 64, I will have a wife. I will have children. I will have grandchildren. I will, as most people hope of themselves, not become a crotchety old crab. Every other detail is superfluous.

…it's difficult not to long for a devoted companion with which to age gracefully, bringing out each other's best, refusing the imminent defeat of age and possibly renting that cottage in the Isle of Wight every summer…

That is how I would like to imagine life when I'm old, without any mention of medication, hip surgeries, wills, nursing homes or death. We'll see.

Ashley B. Roberts, 23

On cold and gloomy days, I will read to my grandchildren. Or we will drink tea and I will tell them of my adventures as a writer. Eyes will widen when I retell the time I broke my first big story. They will want to know about Paris and Italy. I will talk about the Louvre, but not about my brief and wild romance in Rome. When I am old, I will cherish each day, and relish my past. I will make sure to value both what was then and what is now.

Jenny Otvos, 22:

On the night of my 65th birthday I imagine I'll be sipping red wine with my husband and kids, contemplating retirement and ignoring the wrinkles at the corner of my eyes.

And what of Tara Rodriguez who emailed me about the assignment? Her essay didn't make the cut for the Raleigh newspaper - she thinks the reason is that it's too sappy. I disagree but maybe that's because, except for the husband and leisure, it's an astonishingly close description of my current life.

One day, shortly after I have turned 65, I will awaken in a soft bed to the late morning sunlight striking highlights through my long, grey hair. The space beside me in the bed will be empty, but the smell of espresso in the air will let me know that my husband is just downstairs, reading The New York Times. I will not have to work that day, or ever again.

I will pull on my robe, go to the window and look outside, attempting to gauge the temperature of the bright autumn day by the color of the sky and how cold the window-glass is to the touch. I won’t open it, in case it is cold. The leaves on the big tree in the front yard will have turned but not fallen.

I’ll head to my library to grab a book to read over coffee. My library will be huge, the biggest room in the house, with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a motley arrangement of books. Some of them will be finely bound volumes, and some will be tattered paperbacks that I have been lugging from dwelling to dwelling since college. Some of them I will have edited. At least one, I will have written.

I’ll pause for a minute, looking at a framed photo on my desk: three generations captured in a formal portrait on our large front porch. The youngest of the eight people pictured, my grandson, is a babe in my daughter’s arms. It was taken about a year before. I’ll select a work of fiction that I haven’t read in a while, and head downstairs.

My cats will wind around my ankles in the kitchen, happy to see me awake. My husband will give me a kiss good morning. I’ll fix myself a latte and sit down, the beginning to another leisurely day.

What about you? When you were 20, how did you imagine your life would be at 65 or 70, and how is it different now - or not?


Are We All Ageists?

category_bug_ageism.gif Yesterday, Crabby Old Lady complained about a website story that assumed elders’ biggest health concern is preventing wrinkles.

It was a small transgression and by itself, the story is just ignorant. But because there are so many similar ones published day in and day out in all kinds of media, it takes on greater importance as one among thousands that perpetuate the widespread belief that to be old – or to appear to be old - is to be of lesser importance than younger people.

This attitude is so deeply embedded that hardly anyone – writers or readers - takes notice. Not only does no one object when elders are demeaned, belittled and dismissed as stupid or useless just because they got old, the prejudice is not generally recognized for what it is and when pointed out, it is shrugged off as unimportant and sometimes even defended.

Comedian Michael Richards’ recent on-stage meltdown caused a firestorm of response. In case you’ve been in outer space, the incident involved Mr. Richards’ use of the N-word in responding to a couple of hecklers in the audience who happened to be black.

The story led the cable newscasts for several days. Civil rights leaders, pundits, bloggers, columnists and Mr. Richards’ fellow comedians, among others, expressed anger, sadness, outrage and/or concern in varying degrees leading to predictions that Richards’ public career is over.

In an attempt to stave off such a potential personal disaster, Richards’ hired a PR agent and made the talk-show mea culpa tour, kissing Jesse Jackson’s ring and prostrating himself in apology on Late Night with David Letterman insisting, “I am not a racist”.

Whatever can be made of this now-standard ritual when a celebrity’s misbehavior is deemed too offensive to dismiss with a snicker, let’s imagine that Mr. Richards – or any other comedian – had been heckled, instead, by two 70-year olds. And let’s further imagine that the comedian responded as Michael Richards did at the Laugh Factory [adapted from Richards’ rant]:

“Shut up…Look at that old geezer. What an old fart. Just an old coot. What? You don’t like what I’m sayin’? Too bad. That’s what happens when you interrupt a young man, you old fart... Oooh, now they’re gonna arrest me for calling an old man a geezer…”

What do you think the audience reaction would be if that happened?

I would bet big bucks that the audience would be laughing as hard as they do when comedians tell equally offensive incontinence/Depends and drooling jokes. And the next day, there would be no uproar, no objections, no lead story on CNN and no one would consider it noteworthy enough to post the video on YouTube.

A celebrity cannot demean Jews or blacks or women (although Muslims, these days, seem to share elders' fair-game status) without a media-enforced stay in rehab, and the resultant attention reinforces for everyone what the culture will and will not tolerate.

But ageist beliefs, attitudes and jokes turn up in newspapers, magazines, websites and on television every day without a whisper of objection. The jabs and stabs are usually more subtle than a comedian’s rant, but in their unchallenged frequency, ageism and therefore discrimination against elders is negatively reinforced.

And there are real-life consequences: employment is denied to elders, substandard healthcare is dispensed along with hundreds of everyday slights, such as being seated at the worst table in a restaurant even when better ones are available.

No one notices or cares when these things happen. No one believes ageism belongs in the same category as racism, sexism and anti-Semitism.

They are wrong.

Last week at blogher.org, there was an excellent, thoughtful discussion on racism begun with a post from laurad titled, Are We All Racist? All the commentary was compelling, but I particularly liked the response from Marianne Richmond:

“Racism is behavior, it is voluntary operant behavior. It is observable, repeatable, and measurable and to be a racist is a choice. And regardless of the cause of the behavior or the intent it is the ultimate consequences of the behavior that really determines racism - denying access to privileges to one group while allowing access to another group…

“…our behavior, our everyday, day after day behavior is conscious. We are only all racists if we let racists’ behaviors exist and let racism be regarded as acceptable for whatever reason.

“We can choose to behave better.”

This is as pertinent to ageism as racism: With apologies to Marianne:

“Ageism is behavior, it is voluntary operant behavior. It is observable, repeatable, and measurable and to be an ageist is a choice. And regardless of the cause of the behavior or the intent it is the ultimate consequences of the behavior that really determines ageism – denying accesss to privileges to one group while allowing access to another group…

“Our behavior, our everyday, day after day behavior is conscious. We are only all ageists if we let ageists’ behavior exist and let ageism be regarded as acceptable for whatever reason.”


The Language of Aging

This is the kind of stuff that turns up somewhere in the media every day and makes Crabby Old Lady nuts. This one is headlined, 10 Things That Can Age You Faster.

Crabby expected some superficial but possibly useful reminders about what contributes to – oh, say loss of flexibility and stamina, artery clogging, cognitive decline, that sort of thing.

But no. Seven of the ten are about preserving the appearance of youth, and six - six of ten - are specifically about avoiding wrinkles which, if you haven't heard, will put you in the grave faster than heart disease.

This ageist blather, from a website that targets people in what they call the third age of life, assumes - just like media that does not claim to speak specifically to elders - that looking older than 25 is the worst thing that can happen to anyone.

When the word “age” commonly becomes a synonym for “appearance,” we are so deeply embedded in a youth-centric culture that digging ourselves out may not be possible – at least not in Crabby Old Lady’s lifetime.

Crabby has said it a zillion times here: the constant repetition of ageist language leads to the belief that elders are lesser beings and if the same level of demeaning language were aimed at women or any ethnic group would be protested and condemned.

Whenever Crabby runs across ageist language or assumptions in the media, she shoots off a polite but firm email explaining why it is unacceptable. She has been doing this for the past three years and has never once received a response – which is a strong indication of how unimportant the media, from major magazines and newspapers to shoddy, little websites, think ageism is.

Oh, one more thing: In case you are wondering what those six tips are to avoid wrinkles:

  • don’t wear contact lenses
  • wear sunglasses
  • don’t sleep on the same side every night
  • don’t drink through a straw
  • don’t wear eyeliner
  • not seeing an eye doctor causes crow’s feet (huh?)

More tomorrow