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February 2007
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A Golden Oldie

Contrary to claims of some people who must be, I suppose, classified as age deniers, if you live long enough there are liable to be some physical problems. Although many conditions and diseases can occur at any age, elders statistically rack up more arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer's Disease, stroke, heart attacks, etc. than younger people.

I will have more to say about that another time. For now...

Yesterday a skin cancer was removed from the back of my left leg, the hole repaired with a graft from my groin. The pathologist says all the cancer cells were removed and there is nothing left now but to heal. Nothing, that is, except for the fatigue I was not prepared for.

So, today, instead of a new post, I am linking to a golden oldie. Given the unpleasant blogospheric events of this past week, I think it is a good idea to give readers a better idea of who one of the unfairly indicted participants is. (I wish I had some past posts on the others.)

These days, Frank Paynter blogs at listics. But when I wrote about him in the summer of 2005, his blog was called Sandhill Trek. Give it a click - all the links there still work - and meet the real Frank Paynter.

Me? I'm going back to bed. I'll see you soon.


Youth and Age Together

In Harford County, near Baltimore, a good, smart thing is happening. As the county’s director of community services, Mary F. Chance, said:

“We have figured out how to put kids and seniors together and make it work. This is the way public buildings are supposed to be used.”

- Baltimore Sun, 27 March 2007 [free registration required]

Ms. Chance was speaking at the dedication of the new Havre de Grace Center, where teens can play basketball while seniors take an art class. Where parents can meet about local issues or run a book club. Where there will be a gym, dance room, classrooms, library, study hall, computer lab along with a pool for youth relays, a therapeutic spa for elders and disabled swimmers.

The nearly-finished $6.4 million center is being built with public funds and more than $600,000 in private donations.

When people reach retirement age, some move to age-limited facilities, usually designated for 55 and older, with attached golf courses, tennis courts, modern gyms and other upscale recreational facilities. More want to remain in their homes, in the communities where they have lived for many years.

Even so, when we leave the workforce, when we get older, social opportunities become more limited. There is not the daily camaraderie with our colleagues. Families may live far away. Old friends begin to die and elders can become more isolated. I believe blogging can go a long way to creating virtual communities and we have discussed how close our online friends are – as important as those in our “real” life but whose numbers may be dwindling.

With such community centers as Havre de Grace, local residents can get to know one another and as the Baltimore Sun writer notes, “allow generations to mingle, socialize and work together seven days a week.”

Generally, the bookend generations – the very old and very young – are not given much opportunity to know one another. Karen Brown, the education director at a local Harford boys and girls club, pointed out how this new center can change that:

“This building will…give kids an understanding of what keeps older people young, and the seniors will find out [that] not all youth are hooligans. It will be a great learning experience at both ends.”

I haven’t done the homework to know if this sort of center exists much or is being built in other places around the country, but they should be and we could all pressure our local governments to get started. When I was a kid growing up in Portland, Oregon, there were such community centers dotted all over the city and I spent a lot of time at the one near my home. Grownups, elders and kids participated separately and together in all kinds of activities.

Elders are too often out of sight and out of mind, particularly from the worlds of young children. Unfamiliarity breeds ageism and these centers can help change that. There is no downside to this idea.

At the building dedication ceremony in Harford County, The Havre de Grace High School Jazz Band played big-band era classics and 87-year-old Elsie Collison said,

“I will call this place home. This is going to work, and we are all going to make it work.”

In the Matter of Kathy Sierra

[Cross-posted from Blogher.org]

My issue, my main interest, my reason to be in the blogosphere is the topic of aging. If I can’t relate a post to aging, I don’t write it – at least not for Time Goes By and BlogHer. But a second strong interest, as a member of fairly long standing, is blogging itself and I try to keep up.

It was on Monday that I first learned of the Kathy Sierra issue from a listserv at BlogHer. That evening there were few opinions, just links to Kathy’s post wherein she explains her reasons for canceling a speaking engagement and dropping out of the blogosphere:

“I've been getting death threat comments on this blog. But that's not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs...”

There have since been what must be millions of words from bloggers with, I have no doubt, at least an equal amount in the works (including this post). Most I have read are in support of Kathy, rightly deploring the atmosphere of fear, hate and misogyny the threats create. But before the commentary buries the original issue, I’d like to explain my initial reaction to Kathy’s post.

Dotted throughout her post are these:

[continuing from the clip above] “…blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers. People you've probably heard of. People like respected Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Chris Locke aka Rageboy).”

“People linked to by A-listers like Doc Searls, a co-author of Chris Locke.”

“At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics’ Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called meankids.org.”

At first, it was words, writes Kathy. Then it was images, one involving a photo of Kathy with a noose next to her head. I happened to have visited meankids.org in time to see the Photoshopped image Kathy describes. It was, I thought – well, “mean”. And if not done by a “kid”, then by someone whose development was arrested at about age 15. There are plenty of those in the world. I moved on without another thought.

“I don't know which participant actually made the picture,” Kathy continues. “It may have been Joey, or Chris Locke, or perhaps Allen Herrel... the same Herrel (or someone pretending to be Herrel).” [Joey, says Kathy, left a comment below the image: "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."]

Nasty stuff no one wants to read about themselves or anyone else.

But let’s take a closer look at Kathy’s post than many who support her apparently have: I can’t remember when I have read, aside from ignorant political wingnuts, so many aspersions cast, acts implied and innuendo as in Kathy’s post.

As far as can be determined from the few facts she relates, the attacks on Kathy were made anonymously. However, she has tried and convicted Chris Locke, Jeneane Sessum, Allen Herrel, Frank Paynter and, to a lesser extent, Doc Searls without a shred of proof that they were involved. As Chris notes in his rebuttal post,

“I think her response, as it pertains to anything I personally wrote, was unjustified - but highly effective - character assassination. As a result, I'm sure I'll be explaining for years to come that I'm not really an ax murderer and child molester. Nice work.”

Undoubtedly so of Doc, Jeneane, Allen and Frank too. Many people do not read as carefully as they should and will not catch Kathy’s well-crafted, but false indictments especially when juxtaposed with the gross attacks she relates. In fact, it has been widely noted now that Jeneane was in the hospital during the postings Kathy refers to, but as of this moment, Kathy has not absolved her.

Although I have run across Kathy Sierra’s name here and there, I had never read her blog before this post and have not ventured into her archives now. Perhaps she is an otherwise fair and accurate blogger who lost her sense of balance due to these vicious verbal and pictorial attacks. However, no less vicious are her insinuations against these five people.

[Full Disclosure: Although I do not know Allen Herrel or his blog, I consider Frank, with whom I spent a spectacularly interesting afternoon a couple of years ago, and Jeneane to be blog friends. I had been reading Doc and Chris for years before I started blogging and continue to read all four for their intelligence, wit and unique points of view.]

As it turns out, Frank owns the URL meankids.org and some of the others contributed to the site. It began as satire and was gradually taken over by heinous trolls. That does not make Frank or the others responsible and if you think so, consider the trash comments you have had to remove from your own blogs. It is why some people moderate comments. Others of us take our chances; the delete button is a marvelous invention.

As soon as Frank was made aware of the attacks on Kathy, he killed the site. He also issued an apology on his blog, listics, to the extent of his involvement as site owner. I don’t believe that was necessary, but Frank is one of the all time good guys in the blogosphere.

In the ensuing commentary from many corners of the blogosphere, some have suggested that Kathy over-reacted to the attacks and although none of us can judge others’ levels of psychological trauma, I tend to agree.

Shocking as words and images can be, they are, after all, words. As Chris Pirillo noted in his post,

“This isn’t new, folks - far from it. Kathy is just one out of (certainly) millions of people who suffer at the minds of psychotics. And without trying to minimize this particular situation, I’ve gotta tell you - this sounds like high school to me. Literally. Granted, I’ve had just as many death threats ONLINE - but they didn’t just start last week…”

Indeed, not last week. Personally, I save my panic for when gunshots are fired, repeatedly over a week or more, at the building where I was in the middle of producing a live, all-night radio talk show, as happened a long time ago. Then, the Hell’s Angels lent support by escorting – front and back – my car when I traveled to and from home.

Or when, during the letter bomb scares of the 1970s, a viewer of the network television show on which I worked wrote to warn me that his next letter would be a bomb intended to kill me. (I had rejected him for an appearance on the program.)

Or, in the days when phone calls could not be easily traced, a man telephoned every day to tell me what I had been wearing on my way home a few minutes earlier, that my red bra had been peaking out of my blouse in the restaurant where I’d had lunch the day before, that I’d been ten minutes late to the work that day, etc.

In the second case, the police bomb squad checked the show’s mail every morning for several weeks. In the third, I took sane precautions when I left home and hung up the phone, on the advice of the police, as soon as I realized it was the stalker. The calls stopped after about two weeks.

More recently, I’ve dispatched nasty blog trolls who have personally attacked me by deleting their comments and never responding. They get bored and leave fairly quickly.

Without dismissing Kathy’s anxiety, this stuff happens every day. Should we stop it when we can? Of course. If laws are broken, as Kathy believes in this case, the police should be contacted as she says she has done.

But never, ever may fear and anger be used to attack innocent others. Kathy owes Chris, Jeneane, Allen, Frank and Doc a bold, ALL CAPS apology blasted to the entire web to counter the damage she has done with her reprehensible insinuations. Her tepid acceptance of Frank’s apology is an not enough.

UPDATE: In response to those at BlogHer, including Kathy Sierra, who disagree with my point, I posted there this follow-up:

I am not an attorney and I have no idea, from what Kathy has told us and not told us, what may or may not be forbidden speech. Neither does anyone else I've read yet.

You see, I am a First Amendment absolutist and I would like to read, amid the discussion of how the Delete key should be wielded, some more nuanced discusssion than I have seen on just where anyone believes the line should be drawn in censoring the Web, blogs or any other speech.

Certainly the words and images directed at Kathy are hateful and abhorrent. If a law has been broken, the accused should be prosecuted. Let's do keep in mind, however, that that person is the one who created and posted the words and images.

Beyond that, I don't see what can or should be done publicly. In case anyone hasn't noticed, anonymous abusers are not the sort of people who "own their words." There are bad people in the world. They do bad things. Bad things happen to good people.

And it multiplies the violation when good people respond in kind.

If it had been my site on which someone posted those images and words, would I have removed them? Yes, because they are personal attacks. I would also have removed Kathy's post - because it too is a personal attack. That one is more frightful and graphic does not make the second less offensive. And what is to be said of the commentators who are publishing the one available image?

There is a rush to judgment regarding the owners and administrators of the site. The offending site is gone now and for all anyone knows, it was removed as soon as the owners/administrators were made aware of the attacks.

Kathy's insinuations and innuendo against Frank, Chris, Allen, Jeneane and Doc have not been removed. Some people will believe what she has implied, not realizing it is unfair and unfounded. So it would be good to see some more nuanced discussion of that as well. Or are victims given a pass for their bad behavior?


Healthcare - One American's Story

category_bug_journal2.gif My friend Mary and her husband, John, [not their real names] are in their mid-50s, married for the second or third time each. Two of their combined total of seven children from previous marriages live at home - one is working, having dropped out of college for the indefinite future; the other will start college in the fall on a partial scholarship.

Both John and Mary work full time - Mary as the office manager of a small investment firm, John as a landscaping foreman. They have a low-interest mortgage on their home in the suburb of a large city in the middle of the U.S. They are newlyweds so they haven’t built up much equity yet – maybe $20,000 in a housing market that is declining in their area.

They own two cars with a total monthly payment of about $500, three cell phones on a family plan and credit card debt of about $3,000, half of which paid for some emergency dental work and car repair.

Their combined income is in the high five figures. Four percent of Mary’s salary goes into a 401(k) and her employer provides health coverage for Mary, but not John or the two live-at-home children. John’s employer provides no retirement benefits, no bonus or profit-sharing and John has not had a salary increase in more than four years. Nor is there any health coverage through his employer at any price.

These are not extravagant people. They eat at home six nights out of seven and rarely go even to the movies. Vacation is a four-day weekend once a year to a favorite, nearby wilderness area. They have no expensive hobbies, no skiing, no boat, no motorcycle. Their biggest extracurricular activity is their garden.

Like millions of middle-class Americans, John and Mary live paycheck to paycheck and are one serious illness or accident away from bankruptcy.

A year ago, John was diagnosed with a serious skin cancer that required extensive surgery and skin grafts. Before the treatment, Mary was able to add John to her employer-provided health coverage for $600 per month, but it stretched their budget to the limit so – living on a wing and prayer - they dropped the coverage when John’s treatment ended.

Now, a week ago, John was diagnosed with additional skin cancers and the treatment must be undertaken soon. It is possible to add John to Mary’s coverage again – at a higher premium than last time - but it would not go into effect until June and is useless for now anyway since the cancer is considered a pre-existing condition and would be disallowed for from 12 to 18 months.

The same conditions attach to other coverage Mary has so far researched.

Most insurance is a gamble for both parties. When we purchase, for example, homeowner’s insurance, we are betting something untoward will happen and if it does, we will be reimbursed for the repair or replacement cost. The insurer is betting that of the many homes they insure only a few will require payout and they will make a profit. It is unpleasant, in paying insurance premiums, to be always betting against oneself, but it is a sensible purchase to maintain family fiscal well-being.

This was once true as well for health insurance - back when a simple x-ray did not cost $500 and when the price of an average hospital stay was not in tens of thousands of dollars.

Treatment for a serious condition is now commonly discussed in percentages of millions of dollars. Even though an approximation of the 80/20 business rule applies to healthcare (20 percent of the people use 80 percent of healthcare), modern treatment and equipment are so expensive that private insurance is out of reach of most Americans and, increasingly, corporate healthcare programs as well. (There are other, more unsavory, reasons, but not for today.)

John and Mary’s options are few:

  • Sell a few assets they have that might or might not cover the cost of the treatment
  • Go deeply into debt, if it is even possible to get a loan
  • bankrupty, which the last Congress assured with new legislation, is difficult to qualify for

Ignoring John’s cancer is not an option; untreated, it is life-threatening.

Mary and John are just one example of thousands of such crises a day in a healthcare system that is irredeemably broken. That statistic of 47 million with no healthcare coverage cited so often in the press doesn’t include the millions of underinsured, those with mental, not physical health problems or dental care (pretty much every one of us) which, when untreated, can lead to health problems elsewhere in the body and even death.

The United States is the only developed country in the world without a universal healthcare system. It is still widely believed that we have the best healthcare in the world, which is far from the truth by every standard benchmark.

Every time I write about the need for a single payer (universal) healthcare system, there are one or two comments relating a personal healthcare horror story in Canada or England or France. That is no reason not to insist that our government ditch private insurance to see that everyone has access to a doctor when they need one.

No system is perfect. Mistakes are made. Delays happen. But in no way can those problems in other countries be compared to the more than one-sixth of the U.S. population who have no affordable access to basic healthcare. The time is long past to change that.

It will not be easy. Our elected representatives in Washington are provided top-of-the-line health coverage for life. So what do they know about real-life healthcare. And the top-tier insurance companies and corporate health providers donate big-time bucks to their campaigns.

Keep that in mind as you follow the presidential election campaign. Tell the candidates the time is now for universal coverage, a single-payer system. Write about it on your blogs. Make a video about it for YouTube. Get your friends and neighbors involved. Only large numbers of loud people can overcome a government that now exists by and for the wealthy elite.

And remember, you too are only an accident or a rogue cell away from the non-choices Mary and John have.


Three(ish) Year Blog Anniversary

According to the date archive over there on the right sidebar, Time Goes By has been stirring up this corner of the blogosphere for about three years. But that’s not quite true. The Control Panel on Typepad, the host of this site, tells me I’ve been a member going on four years, since August 2003.

That is when I started to design TGB and work out its parameters, what questions it would address and attempt to answer and how best to do that. In short, its reason to be.

Back then, I believed the blog would force me to organize and think more clearly about all the research I’d been doing on aging since 1996 or ‘97. I had been in the news and television business for most of my career, long enough to know that aging was not one of the top ten – or even top 100 – sexiest subjects in the media. And so high traffic numbers, a goal I was paid to pursue for decades in other media, could not be the point.

While Time Goes By is hardly an a-list blog, it is astounding to me that now, three-plus years later, readership is as large as it is and continues to grow almost daily. And I didn’t even do anything much to promote it except show up here every day.

Part of the reason readership is growing is that the media times are changing in relation to aging now that the oldest boomers have hit 60, and people even older than that are lately some of the biggest stars on YouTube and MySpace. Some good progress is being made in such places in the recognition and inclusion of elders.

Just in the past week or two, a lot of new names have turned up in the Comments section. Whether you are new to TGB or maybe de-lurking after silently hanging around for awhile, here’s a big, sloppy welcome to Leopold, Mrs.R, Heidi, belladonna, Vivian, Meg, Florida Fanny, Vera, Brian, Cindy, Matt, Wendy, Lu, Marilyn, Ray, Anna, Mary Duffy, james, Pat Temiz, lakedawn, Betty and all the rest I apologize for overlooking in this short list; it is not intentional.

I am grateful to you and to every “regular” as well who stop by to leave your thoughts, ideas, arguments, opinions, perspectives and experiences because what I did not know three-and-a-half years ago is that a blog is first, and most importantly, a community. Without you, I’m just spitting into the wind every day.

Sometimes I can hardly believe how lucky Time Goes By is to have such a large community of smart, wise, perceptive and often, funny people who take seriously what is written here and contribute so much to the conversation. Others have begun to notice how compelling you are. Listen to what they are saying, in the Comments section here and on their own websites, about you:

Meg: “Love all the comments...each one adds to my understanding of this question and this time in life.”

Paula Bruggeman, Retirement Living TV: “I love all the conversation on your site…because it helps me remain alert to ageist assumptions that might creep into my work as I develop story topics for future shows.”

Matt Thornhill, The Boomer Project: "…the comments are great, too.”

Kate at Kate Thoughts: “[Time Goes By] has a readership that leaves insightful comments…”

Chuck Nyren, Advertising To Baby Boomers: “…the comments by Ronni's readers are as fun and vital as her posts. Time Goes By is a true virtual community.

So, happy three-ish anniversary to all of us, and give yourselves a hand. In fact, get up from your chair to applaud because you deserve a standing ovation. Who woulda thunk it – not me – in 2003 and 2004, that such a strong, versatile, exciting community could grow up around talkin’ about getting old.


"It Shouldn't Be This Way" - Long-Term Care

category_bug_journal2.gif If you haven’t already, it is likely that you will one day find yourself caring for an aging, sick relative. Once upon a time, this kind of caregiving was done at home and indeed, when I was a child, many of my friends and playmates helped with that care. “I can’t go to swimming today, Ronni,” they would say. “I have to take care of gramps while mom goes shopping.”

Today, for a variety of reasons, home care is frequently impossible, or impractical, so you will need some form of professional long-term care. And it will not be easy:

“[Long-term care] is the country’s best-kept embarrassing secret. Almost every adult in this country will either enter a nursing home or have to deal with a parent or other relative who does. Few people, however…are prepared to deal with a system that is seriously flawed.”

Those are the opening words of a book by brother and sister, Robert L. Kane, M.D. and Joan C. West - It Shouldn’t Be This Way: The Failure of Long-Term Care - which tells the story of their quest for appropriate, quality care for their mother over the final three years of her life following a stroke.

I met Dr. Kane recently in St. Paul where I shared a panel with him during a taping of a PBS series titled, Life (Part 2). He holds an endowed chair in long-term care and aging at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. His sister is an educator, currently an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, New York.

Their story is harrowing in the practicalities of choosing appropriate facilities as their mother’s health declined. Assisted-living has as many definitions (and regulations) as there are states, and there is no mechanism, even in the age of the internet, to properly assess the suitability of facilities, especially as they are operated by chains of for-profit corporations:

“Most assisted living facilities have a sales office. Although the sales people were friendly enough, we knew to approach them with the same caution one employs in a used-car lot. They have a product to sell. No assurances are too great, no claims too exaggerated.

“Because family, not the resident, is often the real customer, many assisted-living facilities invest heavily in the look and feel of the common areas. This is what people see when they come in. Little of it is ever used by the residents, however. For them the salient aspects are rooms where they live, the food, and the staff.”

Following each chapter, Kane and West provide an excellent checklist of important points to remember, “Lessons,” which in the case of choosing an assisted-living facility include:

  • Make sure you see the actual room promised, not just the common space or some showroom.
  • The term assisted living has come to mean anything a vendor wants it to…In general, you get what you pay for, but the formula is never that simple.
  • Assisted-living facilities will continue to look to family members to intervene in crises and to provide services.
  • Most assisted-living facilities do not view themselves as health care providers and are very likely to respond to a resident’s health problems by sending the person to the emergency room.

When your relative can no longer live at all on his or her own, a nursing home is the next step. They are an entirely different animal from assisted-living facilities with fixed rules and regulations, but can still vary widely in quality. Some of Kane’s and West’s “Lessons” from that chapter:

  • It is essential to shop carefully for the right nursing home…Try the nose test: If it smells like feces and urine, get out. If it smells like disinfectant, beware; to much may be sacrified to achieve cleanliness. But if it smells like chicken soup, this could be the place
  • Informal caregiving, the jargon for family care…never stops, even after a person enters a nursing home.
  • Nursing home residents need active family advocates. Like it or not, squeaky wheels do get the grease.
  • No matter how “out of it” a person with dementia seems, moments of lucidity are possible.

This and the rest of the knowledge and advice in this book are hard won. Even Ms. West and her brother, a respected gerontologist with a worldwide reputation in his field whose mother had substantial financial resources often felt nearly defeated by the long-term care system in the United States. Their experience can help you navigate the labyrinths.

While recounting their mother’s story, Kane and West cover rehabilitation facilities, assisted living, dementia units, nursing homes, doctors and hospitals and informal (that’s you) care. They are clear-eyed, informative, compassionate and angry about the state of long-term care.

“No organized voice speaks for long-term care consumers and their families. Most nonprofit advocacy groups are organized around a specific disease…The time has come to create a national organization to build a groundswell of concern and attention for long-term care,” they write.

Good long-term care makes a big difference in the lives of those who need it and their families. Good care does not happen by accident. It must be actively pursued and it can, say the authors, be done:

“Universal long-term care is feasible. Other countries have developed universal programs that cover long-term care. Some use public monies; others use a combination of public and private money.”

I read a lot of books on various aspects of aging. Few are worth the effort due to too many feel-good platitudes and not much new thinking or information. It Shouldn't Be This Way is extraordinarily worthwhile, filled with hard facts, compassion, understanding, instruction and good ideas we will all need one day for as the writers report:

“…40 percent of all adults in this country who live to age sixty-five will enter a nursing home before they die. Even more will use some other form of long-term care. Few people, however…are prepared to deal with a system that is seriously flawed.”

When one of the most respected gerontologists in the world – someone who can pull rank to speak directly with physicians and directors at long-term care facilities – cannot get through the bureaucratic maze without superhuman effort, what will the rest of us encounter? Dr. Kane’s and Ms. West’s guidelines are an indispensable guide.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Dr. Kane has graciously agreed to answer any questions readers may have about long-term care. Please leave them in the comments below. The cutoff date is 31 March and I will post a followup-story with Dr. Kane’s answers shortly thereafter. Please keep in mind that he cannot comment on specific health conditions or facilities.]

UPDATE: Questions are now closed.


Getting Old and Slowing Down

category_bug_journal2.gif These days, I do some things more slowly than when I was younger.

For about five years now, I have spread out housecleaning over several days – a room or two per day. My previous, lifelong habit of tearing through the entire project on Saturday mornings had begun to tire me, but dusting, scrubbing, sweeping, vacuuming, bed changing, laundry, etc. is so tedious, I wonder now why I hadn’t thought of this before. It is not as boring when done in short spurts.

I know I walk more slowly because in the year or two before I left New York City, people had begun to pass me on the sidewalk. There aren’t enough people here in Portland, Maine, to make much of a comparison, but I doubt I’ve speeded up. Part of the reason is that I don’t see the point. What was the rush, I wonder, all those years? And there are interesting things to see.

These days, I even read more slowly. Sometimes dim light makes it difficult when I’m too lazy to get up and turn on a lamp. Still, I reread a sentence or paragraph more frequently than in the past, particularly when it is a writer I admire, to savor well-made sentences, turns of phrase and new ideas.

For 50 years I had to rush through showering in the morning to get to an office on time. Nowadays, I savor my morning shower as one of the great, small pleasures in life. I’m pretty sure I could still get through it swiftly, but why should I when there is no need and I enjoy the feel of hot water falling over my body. It's a good place, as well, to think through future blog posts.

Most of all, I am capable now of puttering away vast amounts of time, or allowing myself to become distracted in the middle of a task by something that is, for the moment, more compelling. I was, in the past, more disciplined. It’s not as though I’m less busy than when I was employed; it takes more time to turn out this blog along with outside assignments I take on than any job ever had. I’ve relaxed, it seems, about meeting deadlines – self-imposed or otherwise – and I still manage to deliver on time.

It’s hard to know if I'm slowing down due to aging or a new attitude. Certainly housecleaning and maybe walking reflect diminished stamina, but a part of my mind tells me I could still do those things at top speed if I wanted – I just don’t want to now. Perhaps retirement, when we are no longer required to live on an employer's schedule, is time to discover one's own inner clock. Of course, that clock is different from when we were young.

One of the characteristics of youth is to hurry up and experience everything - to always to be running and doing with a sense that you might miss something if you slack off. It is a paradox of aging I’ve written about before that as one’s time on earth becomes demonstrably shorter, the urgency to do as much as possible as soon as possible fades.

I don’t understand that change, but it’s handy that it appears as one’s body begins to slow down. Sometimes, though, I like to flatter myself that taking it easier is a choice brought on by the wisdom of years.


Who is Responsible For Boomer Blather?

Boomer-Living is not the first website attempting to exploit the numerous baby boomer generation with empty feel-good messages of eternal gray-haired youthiness. It is only the latest of many which not only add nothing to the cultural conversation about aging, but contribute to the perception that baby boomers are selfish twits with an overdeveloped sense of their own uniqueness.

Yes, baby boomers are the generation that supports the Ponce de Leon syndrome, spending millions on cosmetic surgery and wasting billions more on anti-aging nostrums that don’t work. And yes, baby boomers appear to be the generation most convinced that one more spin class will render them immortal. Baby boomers make it way too easy to mock them.

But with each day’s kneejerk boomer news stories and each new boomer-targeted website, I am well on my way to being persuaded now that it is not so much boomers themselves who are irritatingly self-centered. It is the news media and business community who demean boomers with their spiritless, insulting messages devoid of anything resembling real life.

Chuck Nyren of Advertising to Boomers started a list of the hackneyed drivel to be found on every boomer website:

  • Redefining Life After Fifty!
  • Don't Just Live Longer. Live Bigger. After 50 Life Becomes Yours.
  • Our mission is to inform and inspire the Boomers and to promote a new vision of life after fifty.
  • Our mission is to encourage our readers to live bigger. To take risks and pursue their dreams.
  • Our vision…is to rewrite the rules of getting older and transform the voice of aging from one of limitation to one of possibility.
  • [-] is a media company focused on empowering individuals to live the lives they imagine.

Hey there, reader. Wake up! I've got more to say:

The Never-Never-Land world of baby boomer websites is bland, colorless and unimaginative - a place where no one gets tired or can’t find clothes that fit nor is age-discriminated out of a job and most of all, where everyone pretends old age is no different from age 40.

Like its counterparts, the just-launched Boomer-Living is packed with plastic platitudes that will put you to sleep faster than one more round of (all together now) “re-de-fin-ing re-tire-ment.” If baby boomers are not insulted by this pabulum, then I’m wrong in rethinking who is responsible for it and boomers deserve what they are getting.

Do yourself a favor: skip Boomer-Living and watch Retirement Living TV instead. And while you’re at it, please help out their campaign to be carried on cable systems in more cities. You can do that by clicking the badge on the right sidebar or just click here.


Elder Joke: Memory

It is widely-held belief that short-term memory loss is an affliction of aging. Not long ago, I lost my car for an hour in a vast parking lot at the mall. (There are more red cars than you would think.) But I’m convinced it had more to do with not having the habit of making a mental note of its location when I park (I hadn’t owned a car in 40 years when I moved to Maine) than a memory slip.

I was in only my thirties when, after a tedious and lengthy search, I found my house keys in the refrigerator. And there were uncountable times long before my 50th birthday, when, like nowadays, I stood in the bedroom or the kitchen or the bathroom or somewhere wondering what I was there for.

Although I do a lot of reading and writing about getting old and therefore try to pay attention to my own journey through this new land, I can’t determine if this kind of memory loss has increased over the years.

Experts disagree on whether short-term memory declines with age in healthy individuals, and some say it is not loss of memory function as much as a problem of distraction which can occur at times at any age. But this is too serious a topic for my mood this morning.

Although it is annoying, it is kind of funny as well to catch oneself standing stock still in a room without an inkling of why. Which is the reason I so enjoyed this piece emailed by my friend, Neil Thompson. Yes, yes - it perpetuates what may be a false stereotype of elders, but I laughed out loud anyway. Enjoy...


Recently, I was diagnosed with A. A. A. D. D.: Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.
This is how it develops:

I decide to water my garden. As I turn on the hose, I look over at my car and decide my car needs washing.

As I start toward the garage, I notice that there is mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mailbox earlier. I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.

I lay my car keys down on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full. So, I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first.

But then I think, since I'm going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first. I take my checkbook off the table and see that there is only one check left.

My extra checks are in my desk in the study, so I go inside the study to my desk where I find the can of Coke that I had been drinking. I'm going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Coke aside so that I don't accidentally knock it over. I see that the Coke is getting warm and I decide I should put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.

As I head toward the kitchen with the Coke, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye; they need to be watered. I set the Coke down on the counter and I discover my reading glasses I've been searching for all morning.

I decide I better put them back on my desk, but first I'm going to water the flowers. I set the glasses back down on the counter, fill a container with water and suddenly I spot the TV remote. Someone left it on the kitchen table.

I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV, I will be looking for the remote, but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs. But first I'll water the flowers.

I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor. So I set the remote back down on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill. Then, I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day:

  • the car isn't washed
  • the bills aren't paid
  • there is a warm can of Coke sitting on the counter
  • the flowers don't have enough water
  • there is still only one check in my checkbook
  • I can't find the remote
  • I can't find my glasses
  • and I don't remember what I did with the car keys

Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I'm baffled because I know I was busy all day long, and I'm really tired. I realize this is a serious problem and I'll try to get some help for it, but first I'll check my e-mail.

Do me a favor, will you? Forward this message to everyone you know, because I don't remember to whom it has been sent. Don't laugh; if this isn't you yet, your day is coming.

Growing older in mandatory.

Growing up in optional.

Laughing at yourself is therapeutic.

P.S I just remembered: I left the water running in the driveway.


Chuck Nyren on Advertising and Elders

Category_bug_interview We spend a lot of space on this blog discussing the impact of advertising on the perception of elders and that old people are mostly invisible in print ads and television commercials except for products to relieve pain and suffering.

Because advertisers’ job is to create as many sales as possible, it puzzles me that they ignore – and sometimes alienate – millions of older consumers. So I decided to ask an expert.

Chuck Nyren, founder of nyrenagency, is an award-winning advertising video producer, creative strategist, consultant, and copywriter focusing on the baby boomer market. He runs a lively blog at Advertising to Baby Boomers and the newly updated, revised version of his book, Advertising to Baby Boomers has just been released. Please make him welcome.

1. What do you think is the importance, if any, of the new Dove campaign featuring over-50 women? Is it an inroad? Will it lead to more elder models being used to advertise other kinds of products?
That’s the big question. I hope it’s a watershed campaign. I love it. We’ll have to wait and see. A few years ago I predicted that there would be a watershed campaign. Perhaps this will be it.

2. One of the things that ticks me off big time is advertisers and media writers who use the phrase “baby boomers” when they mean all older people. Some real-life headline examples [with my comments]:

  • New Electric Trike For Baby Boomers [Do they card you before purchase?]
  • Skin Care For Natural, Radiant Baby Boomers [Formulated to work only on people 43 to 61]
  • Baby Boomers Are Big Targets For Fraud [Everyone knows older people are too smart to be taken in by con men]

I am undoubtedly in the extreme, but I make a point of not buying brands that are advertised to baby boomers in this way. Here is what baffles me: why do corporations cut out 46 million people older than 60, either by name or with images, from their potential revenue pie?
Ronni, I try not to comment on the press – although I do every so often. I try to limit my observations and opinions to advertising and marketing.

Using the term “Baby Boomers” in news articles doesn’t bother me much (except that I’m getting sick of so many news stories lately). But using it in advertising (“Hey, Baby Boomers! Here’s the product for you!”) is pretty dumb. You don’t want to talk at people by defining who they are. This is insulting. Just tell me about the product, tell a story about it – and do this with the sensibility of the generation that you are targeting.

The problem is that in most cases the copywriters and creative folk are in their twenties and thirties. I talk about this in my book, on my blog, when I consult and speak.

And the reverse is true. You wouldn’t want someone 50 or 60 coming up with a campaign for people in their late teens/twenties. They would talk at’them. As I say in this blog post,

“It wouldn't be too bright to trust my gut to come up with a campaign for a product aimed at twentysomethings. My gut would tell me, ‘… Ummm ... ummm ... Wait! I got it! We get some twentysomething girl an' spike her hair an' give'er tattoos and a nose ring an' put an iPod on her head an’ bed some hip-hop music an' have her hold up the toothpaste! Yeah! They'll buy it! They'll buy it!’”

Cutting out people older than Baby Boomers: I’ll answer that in question 3.

3. There are 46 million people in the U.S. (one-sixth of the population) who are older than 60. Yet marketers and advertisers refuse to acknowledge that we exist except in commercials for pain and suffering remedies. There are no commercials for new cars, iPods or even laundry detergent that feature elders. Why?
It’s ageism. Something you write about almost everyday on your blog.

I get a bit queasy talking about ageism and racism as being too closely related. Racism was and is an issue that has affected and destroyed millions of people in this country since its founding. However, in the broadest senses of the terms – and in advertising – they are related.

Forty, 50, 100 years ago, the conventional wisdom was, “Why advertise to Negroes? They buy products anyway. And do we really want to associate our product with this group?” That’s what’s happening now with ageism and advertising.

4. Older baby boomers (let’s say 55-plus) have more in common with people my age (65) than with younger boomers in their forties, yet marketers lump all boomers together and ignore elders. How does this make sense in terms of targeting the right market for products?
I agree completely and I’ve written about this at greater length here.

I also agree that it doesn’t make much sense. However, even targeting people over forty is something new for advertising. Actually, most advertising was age-neutral before 1970, but since then the 18-34 demographic has ruled – and still does. It’s silly and shortsighted.

So my point is this: At the moment, just targeting anybody over forty is good news. Eventually, there will be more focused targeting. (Or at least I hope so.)

5. I’ve read that there are few creative types in ad agencies who are older than 40. If that is so, I think it has much to do with how off-kilter and tone-deaf advertising is when it does target older people. This must be reflected in fewer sales than would be so if they got it right. Hasn’t anyone thought of hiring some elders to point those “young ‘uns” in the right direction in regard to older consumers?
Ronni, this is my book. You’ve summed it up well.

Advertising agencies before 1970 or so had a good age mix. That’s what I preach about – bringing back a better age mix.

6. Ageism, which includes age discrimination in the workplace, is as serious a problem in the U.S. as racism and sexism, but hardly ever acknowledged as such. I read somewhere that Americans, on average, are subject to 5,000 marketing messages a day, many of which not only reinforce cultural ageism, but create it. What responsibility do you think corporations and their advertisers have in this regard?
I answered this with question 2. I’m not so sure it’s quite as serious as you do – but it’s serious. As far as responsibility, let me answer cavalierly: Forget responsibility. It’s just dumb business practice not to advertise and market general products and services to people over forty-five.

7. What do you think is the cultural impact of elders being absent from those 5,000 messages a day except for products to relieve pain and suffering?
This is one of the major themes of your blog, Ronni. I read it regularly. I also soak up the comments by your readers. I send people to your blog when they ask me about ageism. I agree with most of what you and your readers say on the subject, and don’t have much too add.

8. Do people you know in the world of marketing and advertising ever discuss targeting older people for products other than medical appliances, gastric remedies and painkillers?
That’s all we talk about. We’re evangelical about it. David Wolfe, Ken Dychtwald, Brent Green, Mary Furlong, Matt Thornhill, etc. If your readers are interested, Google these folks.

Whether the marketing and advertising movers and shakers are listening - that’s another story.

9. As you recently noted on your blog, baby boomers were the first generation to be marketed to in childhood. How does that make their demographic, from a marketing point of view, different for advertisers from people older than boomers?
Again, it’s how you define baby boomers. And at this point, I’m not sure that because we were marketed to as children has or will have any effect on marketing to us today or in the future.

As far as people over 70 (an arbitrary number on my part), I’m not an expert on that demographic. Most marketers and advertisers don’t care about baby boomers and they really don’t care about people over 70. That’ll change over the next 20 years as baby boomers turn 70. At least I hope it will.

10. I have a theory that marketers target baby boomers by name because they’ve got that cute name which other generations – younger and older – don’t have. Could they be this unthoughtful about what they are writing and presenting?
Again, it’s dumb to call baby boomers baby boomers in ads. The press calls them baby boomers, and when talking B2B (business-to-business), we use the term baby boomers. My book is titled, Advertising to Baby Boomers but it’s a business book.

11. In what situations would you recommend using older models and spokespersons to your clients?
I’m not wild about spokespersons. Older models? Absolutely. However, I think advertising to the 50-plus demographic is usually better off concentrating on the product. Often, you don’t need models of any age.

This link also helps to answer question 9. Make sure to read the comments attached to the above posting. I don’t agree with all the comments, but they’re interesting.

12. In using older models/spokes people, is there a difference in impact between choosing men or women? I'm thinking of a current TV commercial and print ads for TD Ameritrade with actor Sam Waterston. They've been going on a long time now, so they must be fruitful. Would using a similar type of woman of the same age be as successful?
I think so. However (and this won’t make you happy, Ronni), some research has shown that older women don’t respond favorably to older women alone in ads – at least ads for products other than cosmetics and whatnot. It seems to reinforce the fact that a huge chunk of women over a certain age are alone – divorced or widowed. However, this attitude is changing. That’s because women’s attitudes are changing. For more, read this blog post.


Those Dove Commercials…Again

Three or four weeks ago, I published a story about the new Dove print ads and commercials that feature women of all sizes who are older than 50. “Pro-Age” is what Dove calls this line of products to counter, I suppose, the “anti-aging” industry which concerns itself with the pursuit of eternal youth.

When I first saw it, the commercial struck me as a good step toward possibly making older women more realistically visible – although I don’t disagree with donna from Changing Places blog who left, in part, this comment:

“Heck, this society has such a phobia about nakedness in general that we have no idea what anybody actually looks like.”

And now comes ell, blogging about the ads from Canada at the pomegranate tiger with this piece of news:

“I saw the aforementioned ads on TV. I was impressed. They were beautiful and tastefully done. And yes, the women were naked…”

“…to my utter dismay and absolute disgust, I found out that these tasteful ads have been banned from US television because of the nudity.” [emphasis added]

Now how did I miss that? More important, how is it, as ell points out in her story, that we are shown all manner of gore on television every day along with video of panty-less celebrities getting out of limousines, simulated sex that leaves nothing to the imagination and my latest favorite, actresses portraying supposedly serious attorneys on courtroom dramas with décolletage down to their navels – but these attractive, older Dove women are censored?

The Dove models display no more of their bodies than the lingerie models in Victoria’s Secret commercials which are deliberately produced to exude maximum sexual titillation. There are only two differences between the commercials in the pictorial portrayal of the models: no underwear is showing in the Dove spots and the Victoria’s Secret models are young.

Which leaves one to wonder what the people who rejected the Dove commercials are really censoring.

On the other hand, I can find no announcement or news reference to the banning of the commercials by television networks, and there are only a couple of obscure stories on the web about some family and women’s groups calling for a ban. But, a video about the making of the commercial at the Dove website where the commercial is also available for viewing, states in a voice-over, “See what you can’t see on TV...” So maybe the banning idea is just a clever marketing ploy by Dove.

If so, it seems to have worked quite well.


Elder Fashion - An Oxymoron

[Reposted from blogher.org] I am 5 feet 2 and for decades I weighed 110-115 pounds. My body (as opposed to me) has always wanted to weigh more and for forty years following puberty, I counted every forkful that went into my mouth to maintain my svelte figure.

Inevitably, the number on the bathroom scale would creep up (I like to cook and I’m good at it). The panic point was 125 at which time I redoubled my exercise efforts, filled the refrigerator with gallons of V8 juice and pared off the excess. It’s not fun to lose weight. I know; I’ve done it dozens of times. But it’s not hard either.

Well, it’s not hard until menopause after which, weight loss requires super-human effort. It is exhausting and, I suspect for many in addition to me, a (non)losing battle. So one day about ten years ago, I wondered what would happen if I stopped thinking about my body size and ate anything I wanted.

Anyone could have predicted it. Tubby would not be an unreasonable description of my new shape. My body settled there and although I ditched the bathroom scale when I stopped counting calories, I can tell from how clothes fit that I don’t gain or lose anymore.

And with that, I have arrived at the point of this post: elder fashion – the ultimate oxymoron and the forgotten woman.

Everything above size 12, even 10, comes with too many flounces, too much trim, an excess of pleats and an abundance of cheap, machine embroidery. Colors are indistinct, ranging in the vicinity of peachy pink and greenish blue, while fabrics lean toward oily-feeling polyester. And style? It is obvious that anyone who designs for elder women flunked out of FIT.

Even shops that cater to hefty women ignore those of us in the upper age groups. The grandmother of “plus sizes”, Lane Bryant, and the more modern shops too have way too many waistlines and belts - not a smart move now that my waistline matches my hips. The spring and summer tops now on display feature see-through fabrics which, although they follow the nude trend for youth in the past few years, are unseemly for a 65-year-old or, at least, this one.

Old standbys from my working days like Nordstrom, Saks, Bloomingdales, etc. carry some clothing for larger women. But they are upsized from styles originally designed in size 0 for those six-foot, emaciated models, and anyone who thinks fashion design knocked off from those to sizes 12 and above are workable doesn’t understand the principles of proportion.

It took a long while of studying it to figure out the problem of older women’s clothing which is this: designers believe older women who have put on weight natural for their ages are the same as younger “plus-size” women. We are not. Our bodies are shaped differently; the weight is distributed differently and what hangs well on a 30-year-old of the same height and weight as I am does not fit me.

No designers are creating clothes for women my age. There is nothing available for older bodies that is smart, stylish and fits well. I know now what would fit well and look good, but not how to create it; it’s not my line of work.

The baby boomers coming up behind my generation will add about 38 million women to the elder population who need more attractive clothing that fits our bodies. Any fashion designer who wants to make a few million, give me a call. You can have my research for free.


Caffeine and Elders

category_bug_journal2.gif All nutrition reports must be read skeptically. One researcher says fish is good for us; another says the mercury will kill us. For a long time, nutritional supplements have been touted; somewhere last week I read that some might be dangerous or, at least, useless.

Personally, I’m waiting for ice cream to be declared one of the seven major food groups after which I will dismiss all follow-ups, fat and happy in my ignorance.

Caffeine is the most widely-used drug in the world. I doubt I could turn out this blog every day without my morning supply of coffee (although never in ice cream) and when I occasionally skip it, it takes a couple of hours of ass-dragging before the sleep-induced, cognitive cobwebs clear out.

There have been enough negative reports about coffee and/or caffeine over the years that I have sometimes considered giving it up. But never seriously. In old age, it is my drug of choice, so I quickly accepted as gospel truth a new report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which concluded that:

“Habitual intake of caffeinated beverages provided protection against the risk of heart disease mortality among elderly participants…”

“Elderly” being people 65 and older, and no protection was found in younger people.

"The protection against death from heart disease in the elderly afforded by caffeine is likely due to caffeine's enhancement of blood pressure," says John Kassotis, MD, associate professor of medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. The researchers were from the medical center and Brooklyn College.”
Senior Journal, 27 January 2007

The advantage, say the researchers, appears to be dose-related: the more caffeine, the more protection in people without hypertension.

In a survey taken in 2004, 18 percent of respondents 65 and older said they would not give up coffee in exchange for eternal youth.

Now, it appears, they don't need to.


Time Flies – Faster and Faster

Eons ago in internet time, during the first year of this blog, there was a discussion over several posts about theories – reasonable and farfetched - on the well-known phenomenon of time appearing to speed up as we get older.

Everyone knows how it works: you just get the Christmas decorations put away and Thanksgiving is here again – or so it seems. We’ve been saying, “Where does the time go?” since at least our 40s.

Birthdays fly by and I’m fond of saying that time goes so fast I’ll be dead before I know it. I make an appointment for my next semi-annual eye exam while I’m in the office for the current one and before I get home, the assistant calls to remind me my next visit is scheduled for tomorrow.

Mostly, for me, the phenomenon has related to months. Now it is days.

For many years, I’ve used one of those drug store boxes with seven compartments to parcel out my daily vitamin and mineral supplements. There are only four pills, but it has been more efficient to fill up the box once a week than to open each bottle every day. It has the added advantage of being a reminder of what day of the week it is which tends to get away from me. (Once, many years ago, I was halfway to the office wondering where all the traffic was before I realized it was Sunday.)

Recently, that little pill box has emptied out at a speed NASCAR drivers could envy. No sooner do I fill it up than it needs replenishing. This has also happened with the weekly trash pickup on my block. As soon as I have brought the recycling bin back upstairs, the sanitation truck is rumbling by again.

Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog has noticed the increased passage of time as well, and in a recent phone visit we laughed about how quickly the seven-day pill box empties. Millie came up with the sensible solution of buying an additional box, thereby filling them only once every two weeks.

I’ve done that now and time has since appeared to slow down a bit. So listen to Millie. At 81, she’s got 16 years on me and she knows what she's talking about.


When is Someone Old? – Part 2: Medical

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I've posted a new story at Blogher.org - Elder Fashion - An Oxymoron.]

category_bug_journal2.gif In Part 1 of this series we discussed the language of aging which often, in the U.S., is used to marginalize elders. In a small effort to counteract this, the word “old” is used on this blog as a neutral descriptor. It just means a person has lived many years, nothing more.

Today, let’s look at the medical definitions of old.

One of the failings of our culture is to stereotype old people as being all the same. Although the exact divisions fluctuate, the research and medical communities know better, dividing elders into three categories which fall into these general age groups:

  • The Young-old: 55 to 74
  • The Mid-old: 75 to 84
  • The Old-old: 85 and up

Some skip the “mid-old”, including them with the “old-old”, and some place centenarians in a fourth category all their own.

It is important to remember that people are as different at these stages as children are from adolescents, as different as a 35-year-old is from a 60-year-old. Also, individual elders age at dramatically different rates so that sometimes an 80-year-old’s decline can be no more than that of a 60-something. Other times, a 60-year-old can have aged as much as an average 80-year-old.

So while aging is highly individualized, determined by a combination of genetics, nutrition, activity, health and a variety of other, unknown, factors, the changes themselves that occur with getting older are understood. They begin to become evident even before we reach the young-old category and continue throughout late life.

Bones lose calcium. Kidneys become less efficient. Heart muscle becomes stiffer. Gallstones may develop. Skin becomes thinner, drier and less elastic. Focusing the eyes becomes more difficult. For men, the prostate gland enlarges. Hearing can deteriorate and here is an interesting note: men tend to lose the ability to hear high tones; women to lose the ability to hear low tones.

These are normal changes that occur in the body beginning in our 50s. No matter how many face lifts a person has, or Botox injections, or how many miles one runs or weights one lifts, or how careful about nutrition, the body gradually loses some of its capabilities.

Nothing known to medical science will reverse these changes although medical intervention can control the effects of many, which is how lifespan has been increased. And, contrary to much popular belief, mental and physical activity, good nutrition, appropriate medical treatment when necessary, strong social connections and acceptance of one’s age can make the later stages of life as abundant in their way as our younger years have been.

So the medical/physical answer to when is someone old – on average, between 50 and 55.

When is Someone Old? – Part 1: Language


Red Hats Versus Blue Thongs

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Back in December, Mick Brady of Dancing of Tongues posted part 1 of a series, "Instant Karma Nearly Got Me" on his second blog, The Blog Brothers, about his personal sojourn through the dark days of the end of the 1960s. Part 2 has finally arrive and like the first, it is beautifully written, haunting and harrowing. If you don't have time to read it now, save it and savor it later. It is some of the best personal writing in in blogdom.]

It’s no secret around Time Goes By how I feel about The Red Hat Society and I had generally forgotten about it since posting two stories here and here some time ago. But this is just too funny not to comment upon. The Red Hatters and the Blue Thongers are having a spat:

BLUE THONG: “The Blue Thong Society encourages rebelling against the norm and emphasizes the importance of ‘staying hip, beautiful and chic forever'."

RED HAT: “I wish they had checked with us a little bit. We’re all about sisterhood,” said [Red Hat founder Sue Ellen Cooper]. “I don’t know why they’re doing this apart from us.”

dailybulletin.com, 11 March 2007

What, you’ve never heard of the Blue Thong Society? Get ready. You will.

“We think you should stay great looking as long as you can. Forget about this embracing (growing old) crap,” says 51-year-old [Blue Thong co-founder Jackie] Tushinsky. “I’ve already had some (plastic surgery) work and I’ll keep getting work as long as I can.”

“[Chapter founder Debi] McLain said the Blue Thong logo – an ambiguous icon that looks both like underwear and a flip flog – is a natural selector of group members.

“If someone looks at the logo and thinks of it as a [panty)thong, they’re probably right for the society,’ she explained. “If they have to have it be a flip flop, they’re probably not right for us.”

Whereas the Red Hatters limit membership to women older than 50 (younger members must wear pink hats), Blue Thong Society requires only that members be 21.

“’…so you can drink, of course,’ Tushinsky says. The drink of choice – blue thongatinis…

“Wearing a thong is not a requirement of the society but the Blue Thong ladies do ask: ‘Please, no visible panty lines.’”

Blue Thongers have a way to go to reach the 40,000 chapters of the Red Hat Society and Ms. Cooper, who sounds a bit petulant, sees rivalry between the two groups as inevitable:

“This will probably end up happening. I think they kind of took their ideas from us,” she said. “I’m confused why they didn’t join us. We’re all about sisterhood and friendship.”

This can only get funnier.


Who Am I Now That I’m Old?

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Over there on the right sidebar just below the fold a bit is a badge for RLTV - "TV for our generation" - a campaign I mentioned in a post last week. Clicking it will take you to a page where you can fill in a short form that will help urge the big-time cable companies to carry the new network. Our voices can make a difference. Please take a few moments to do this.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Not long ago, writing about “Choking on Being Retired,” I said,

“Apparently, in the eyes of the culture, as is believed about elders in general, retirement causes stupidity and hence, retirees couldn’t possibly have anything of interest to say, let alone contribute to society.”

My belief about the culture in that respect hasn’t changed, but I’ve become more interested in who I am now that, according to the Social Security Administration, I’m officially retired and am not mainly identified by how I make a living.

We all wear many labels, the importance of which ebb and flow as we go through life: son or daughter, brother, sister, student, mother, father, citizen, worker, consumer, caregiver, grandparent and, eventually, retired.

In the middle years we mostly identify ourselves by our professions. I am or have been, among other jobs, a cocktail waitress, office worker, radio show producer, journalist, television producer, writer, editor, web producer and now blogger.

But they are only what I do, not who I am and I have been taking on a new sense of myself over the past couple of years. Who am I? is a question I didn’t consider much when I was young. In my earliest years after schooling, I was waiting to become something by which I seemed to mean some combination of wife, mother and a profession I had not yet found.

By the time I was into my forties and a decade divorced, I had removed wife and mother from the list and pretty much settled on my work title as the cultural/social definition of myself. After all, “What do you do?” is one of the first questions we ask of one another when we meet and it mostly suffices to explain ourselves. Unless one has more of a philosophical bent than I, you don’t get much further than that.

But none of this is what I mean. An (admittedly quick) trip around the web on this question results in a whole lot of religion, more new age-y than not, including a fair amount of self-help blather about empowerment and being more than you think you are. Please. I have no patience for this sort of Bandaid for the psyche.

Closer to what I am feeling are Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging - most particularly, right now, the fifth which is the need to find “a new rooting in the self” bringing together opposites in “the most complete expression of our wholeness.”

Among the little that I believe for certain is that we each are, in the greater scheme of things, unimportant. Should anyone die unexpectedly, from world leader to lowliest peasant, there is someone to take our place and the universe continues unshaken. At the same time, on the micro level of our daily lives, we sometimes make a difference in ways others could not.

Perhaps accepting that is a small part of what Jung means about bringing together opposites, but I’m too practically-oriented to go flying off into theories of individuality versus the cosmos.

To keep myself grounded in what’s really important, I meditate regularly. For a while afterwards, I am more completely myself than at any other time and have no need to wonder who I am. But the feeling is short-lived – an hour maybe – and then I’m back to uncertainty about who I am.

I feel profoundly different at this age and less attached to previous ages than I have been at any other time in my life. There is a sense that a continuum has been broken and I’m in new territory I don’t understand yet.

Or maybe it’s just something I ate…

I’ve relaxed about the term “retired.” I don’t like the cultural baggage associated with it, but it’s a shorthand that in some circumstances moves the agenda forward and I don’t feel that it attaches to me negatively as much as I once did. But I also don’t feel attached, lately, to the obvious other labels - woman, blogger, “international bloviator on aging” and all the rest – but they will have to do while I stir things around in this cauldron of late life, all of which probably has some relationship to making peace with dying one day.

Is anyone else playing around with this stuff?


Generations of Feminism

[EDITORIAL NOTE: BlogHer.org contributing editor, Nina Smith, has posted an interview with me in her "10 Money Questions" series. It was personally enlightening to think about these issues and you might find them interesting too.]

category_bug_journal2.gif [Reposted with minor revisions from blogher.org] I have recently been taken to task via private email by a Time Goes By reader. For the second time in as many months I am accused of being “defensive” about feminist ideas.

Among my various sins this time was including men in an important ageist issue. (“There are always women who need to come to the defense of men.”) Another transgression, apparently, is not giving elderblogging a feminist spin. The writer says she is feeling discomfort with elderblogging because ”it's [sic] primary mode is reflection on the past, being ‘nice’ in traditional ways, and not raising the hard questions.”

Aside from the absurdity of excluding men from the issue of age discrimination in the workplace, the word elderblogging (coined by BlogHer founder Elisa Camahort) describes the age of certain bloggers and nothing else. There is no political agenda, feminist or otherwise, except as individual elderbloggers care to apply one. Or not.

Although anyone who has known me for any length of time would put “nice” at the bottom of any list of descriptive adjectives, despite the fact that reflection on one’s life is a critical task of aging and hard questions are regularly raised on this blog – I’m not here to defend myself.

I’m here instead to remark on the unreasonable requirements some feminists place on other women. (To be clear, I’ve come to think of all women (and many men) as feminists. I mean, could there possibly be any who still believe women are not entitled to all the rights and privileges men enjoy?)

At the final, general session of the first BlogHer conference in the summer of 2005, I stood up to say that although I had avoided all girl clubs most of my life, the 300 smart, accomplished, friendly, witty women attendees had changed my mind. I was feeling unexpectedly warmed, enlightened and engaged by new friends and acquaintances – so much so that saying it in front of everyone in a big room had made me a bit weepy.

Yes, there had been the exception that morning of a highly-visible, well-known executive who looked at me like I was a worm and walked off while I was telling her how much value and pleasure I get from her company’s software. And I took some minor licks a few days later from two bloggers who made mirth of my weepiness. But it wasn’t enough to sour me on my newly-felt sisterhood. Men don’t have a hammerlock on bad behavior, and some women are unkind to other women.

Which is my point about some feminists. Too frequently, women argue about the minutiae of their personal versions of feminism, branding others as insufficiently committed. Too frequently, women, as my blog reader did in her email, ascribe motives and experiences to other women about whose lives they have no knowledge. And it is an unfortunate trait more common to women than men, in my experience, that disagreements are often fatal to friendship.

My email correspondent is not the first feminist I’ve met through blogging with this point of view. They see every issue through a feminist prism and have judged me deficient for not making elderblogging more feminist. I, on the other hand, while aligned with the feminist cause, am concerned at Time Goes By with aging which is, by natural law, gender neutral.

No wonder so many young women reject the feminist label when old women are carrying on cat fights about who is the better feminist. With apologies to Bill Maher, here are my old New Rules:

  • They may need some more education and we’re working on it, but men are not the enemy.
  • My style of feminism is as valid as your style of feminism.
  • Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.
  • I won’t tell you how to run your blog; don’t you tell me how to run mine.

Do we really need to say these things this late in the game? Please set me straight if I am wrong, but these rules are so redolent of my grammar and high school days that perhaps they are an issue only with women my age (I’m 65). Maybe younger women have overcome this adolescent cattiness. If so, how disappointing that some of my generation haven’t.

But we sure did kick ass with second wave feminism in the 1960s and ‘70s. All of us, of every feminist stripe. We’ve come a long way, baby, as those cigarette commercials once said, and made it possible for baby boomers, gen-Xers, gen-Yers, and millennials coming up behind us to be the doctors, lawyers and corporate chiefs that were impossible for women to aspire to when I was making career choices.

If you “young ‘uns” can get past our elder bickering, it’s your turn now to finish the job of knocking down the remaining barriers to equality with men. I may not burn my bra this time around (a tough thing to do since I don’t wear one), but I’ll help in any other way I can. Just not on my blog about aging.


Old and Tired of Ranting Against the Same Old, Same Old

category_bug_ageism.gif A couple of days ago Suzanne, who blogs from Canada in French and English at Au Fil Du Temps (hey, that translates to AS Time Goes By, heh heh heh), remarked in comments here:

“Aging itself is not allowed. Taking care of your body is no longer a personal choice, it is a duty. We are drafted in a war against the normal process of aging. That too is age nullification. We are denying aging like we are denying dying. Do looking tired, or old, being wrinkled, have to be punishable crimes against society. If you are not part of the herd running to the gym, eating a-b-c-d-e-f-g vitamins, you are guilty of something. I'm only 47 and I already feel all that pressure…”

By chance, a New York Times piece titled Is Looking Your Age Now Taboo? [subscription required] has been sitting on my desk awaiting attention since 1 March. Reporter Natasha Singer writes:

“Are wrinkles to become a thing of the past for the self-selected few, like crooked teeth after the advent of modern orthodontics? At the very least, wrinkles are being repositioned as the new gray hair – another means to judge attractiveness, romantic viability, professional competitiveness and social status…

“By now the disdain for [wrinkles] is ingrained in the culture. This month even the magazine of the AARP, a group dedicated to fighting ageism, published a coverline exhorting readers ‘Look Younger Now: Erase Ten Years (or More)’ – effectively canonizing the notion that a face that telegraphs age is out of date.”

In other words, the war against elders is growing more militant. If you aren’t getting a face lift or Botox injections, just put a bag over your head. No one wants to see you.

Two or three evenings ago, I caught an Olay commercial on television for – get this – Age Defying Body Wash which promises to “wash time away every day.” Soon, it won’t be just facial wrinkles that are taboo; we will be forced to cover our hands, knees and elbows as those wrinkles are deemed as offensive as the ones on our faces.

The requirement to maintain a facsimile of youth is unrelenting and those smug holy joes who regularly turn up to tell the rest of us that "age is just a number" and to ignore the cultural pressure have no doubt never been dismissed as “overqualified” when applying for a job.

The Times writer quotes a real estate broker in Maryland who has already partaken of Botox injections, chemical peels and laser treatments at the near-infant age of 33:

“If you want to sell a million-dollar house, you have to look good,” she says. “You have to look good, and you have to have confidence that you look good.”

Translation: "Good" = young and your job is in jeopardy if you are not.

From where I sit, the woman sounds sadly superficial, but she is not far off from the truth, growing every day, that not using all possible means to eliminate signs of aging is a crime punishable by exile from life itself.

I was wondering, after seeing that Olay commercial, what amount of outrage there might be if people with dark skin were as constantly exhorted to use chemical and medical means to lighten their skin. Will someone please tell me what is different about the ceaseless admonitions to eliminate wrinkles.

In the three years I’ve been ranting here about the age and beauty police, the cultural pro-youth/anti-wrinkle lobby has grown by magnitudes. I am tired, today, of bucking the trend. Tired of age discrimination in the workplace and second-class healthcare for elders.

Tired of elders labeled lesser beings for not dying young.

Tired of youth as the gold standard of life.

Tired of repeating myself.

Oh so tired…