876 posts categorized "Culture"

Staying Sane in This Dark Night of the American Soul

It is no secret around here that I think John Oliver is the most brilliant of the bumper crop of smart, left-wing comedians we have now who help keep non-Trumpers a bit sane during this dark night of the American soul we are living through.

In keeping with that state of mind, I am taking a mental health break today and instead of a regular blog post that would require actual thought, I have for you Oliver's video essay broadcast last Sunday night on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight.

In it, he takes on Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner – something I've been itching to do but knowing I cannot possibly match Oliver's intelligence, wit and talent, I have not made the attempt. So thank god he has now done it for all of us and I don't have to.

Oliver is good every week but this one surpasses anything he has done so far this season. There are so many great, true and fall-down funny moments that to choose among them is impossible. But I do like this giggle a lot, referring to Ivanka: “The apple doesn't fall far from the orange.”

And by the way – here's a question for you: How come there are no right-wing comedians as funny as the ones who lean left?

Anyway, here is John Oliver from last Sunday. Enjoy, and I'll see you back here on Friday.


Books Today, Just Books, No Ageing

Bookstore

A friend said to me in an email that a certain non-fiction book is one of a shelf full that makes you understand why books have mattered for so many thousands of years.

People who are life-long readers instantly understand the truth of that. Which, of course, doesn't mean everything we read is so profound as to evoke such recognition.

But it sent me scurrying through my own shelves to track down a book I had set aside some years ago, The Book Lovers' Anthology, from the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

It is a compendium of quotations about books and about reading from more than 250 authors through hundreds of years. One of my many favorites is this:

”The advice I would give to any one who is disposed really to read for the sake of knowledge is, that he should have two or three books in course of reading at the same time. He will read a great deal more in that time and with much greater profit.” (Robert Southey)

True. True. True. Except that too often it takes so long for me to get back to one I've laid down for another I am eager to begin that I must start over. Right now there are – among the ones I can easily locate:

Wild Nights - Benjamin Reiss
City of Dreams - Tyler Anbinder
If Our Bodies Could Talk - James Hamblin
Weirdo Parfait - (friend of TGB) Brenda Henry
The Lonely City - Olivia Laing
The Genius of Judaism - Bernard-Henri Levy

Books3

When I was a little girl, younger than school age, on Sundays my father read the funny papers to me. As he did so, his finger followed the words and I remember still the exact moment and the thrill when I could suddenly read one of the word bubbles without his help.

Since then there has been no stopping me. Here is how Samuel Johnson explains the lure of reading, from the Bodleian anthology:

”It is difficult to enumerate the several motives which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to any other action, serves at one time or another to stimulate a reader.

“...but the most general and prevalent reason of study is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent of the hour or the weather.” (Samuel Johnson)

Reading-cat

It has been clear from the beginning of this blog 13 years ago that TGB readers, or at least those who comment, are readers too and I suspect you will enjoy a few more quotations from the Bodleian:

”Much reading is like much eating, wholly useless without digestion.” (Robert South)

”In hours of high mental activity we sometimes do the book too much honour, reading out of it better things than the author wrote, - reading, as we say, between the lines. You have had the like experience in conversation: the wit was in what you heard, not in what the speakers said...

“Our best thought came from others. We heard in their words a deeper sense than the speakers put into them, and could express ourselves in other people's phrases to finer purpose than they knew.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a king who did not love reading.” (Thomas Macaulay)

Today's headline notwithstanding, I can't end this without one good bookish reference to ageing:

”Alonso of Aragon was wont to say, on commendation of Age, that Age appeared to be the best in four things; Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, old authors to read.” (Francis Bacon)

Books1


It is Such a Relief to be This Old

In more ways than you might think, getting old is a huge relief. Stepping off the up elevator of professional life is one of them.

Just about every day I get an email or two promising to show me how I can increase my income by growing my blog audience on Twitter or Facebook.

Almost as often, emails arrive from website service companies offering “free” articles or infographics that are certain to grow my audience and of course, they all link back to a commercial enterprise. In the real world, this is called advertising, although they never mention that word.

10-tips-for-growing-your-social-media-audience

A variation on that theme are those who offer to write the friendlier-sounding “guest post” for TGB that, they say, will grow the audience while requiring a link back to their website that sells something or another.

Mostly, I hit the “delete” key. If the sender has made the effort to track down my name (most don't), I might hit “reply” and send a polite no-thank-you note.

Not too long ago, an interviewer asked what my future plans are for Time Goes By, how it will change and how I will – all together now, that same phrase: grow my audience.

In that case, I was was stunned into silence for a few moments and then confessed that I had no idea, that I have never thought of Time Goes By as a business that would require making the effort to find more readers.

Lots of people make a living with their blogs (or podcasts or Facebook pages, etc.) – some modestly, others moreso. But when I began TGB back in 2004, no one was doing that yet and it wasn't the point. It still is not my point.

And, anyway, I'm way too lazy. It would be more work and take more time than producing the blog itself to market, market, market it – because once you start, it never ends.

Spend-0.00-And-Grow-Your-Audience

My goals are different. Somehow, I am still fascinated with the subject of growing old. There is always more to discover, more to learn and think about and, importantly, to reassess previous stands I've taken as the years pass and I come to see things differently.

I like the need to keep up, to do the necessary research and especially I like writing – putting together what I want to say in what is, I hope, readable, interesting form.

And I always look forward to reading comments because somehow, without my planning it or working at it much, many of you, dear readers, are apparently as interested in what this growing old stuff is all about as I am and are willing to share your thoughts and experience.

What I am NOT interested in and am so relieved not to be required to think about it, is how to grow the audience. It is gratifyingly large now without being anywhere near – oh, say Huffington Post size. Actually, it is minuscule compared to HuffPo and that's fine.

There was a time in my life when I had to weigh everything that went into a website I worked on or a television show I produced in relation to ratings which, of course, translated into revenue.

It was important to be able to do that back then, to balance creativity with business. But I never, ever liked the business part – still don't – and it is such a relief to have left that behind. I can't be the only one who is happy to be old enough to give up the pressures of business and to measure success by something other than numbers of dollars.


Retired. Hobbies. Being More Than Useful.

A long time ago on this blog, 2006 to be precise, I wrote about the difficulty I'd had in those days with the word “retired.” Here is part of what I wrote:

”I choke on the word 'retired.' On the rare occasions I have used this term to describe myself, I’ve seen the same kind of veil come over the eyes of people who ask what I do as I saw on the faces of young interviewers (before I gave up looking for full-time work)...

“Now, when I use the word, it is amusing (or would be if it weren’t so infuriating) to watch the other person searching for a way to politely extricate him- or herself from our conversation.”

The problem with the word is that to be retired in the United States is to be perceived as irrelevant, uninteresting and quite possibly stupid. Even the late, eminent geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, had personal experience with the word being synonymous to others with “over the hill” which at age 80, he definitely was not.

Retirednotexpired3

Recently I had cause to choke on another word that in most situations should not provoke that response: hobbies. Actually, it took more than the word alone; it was the lead-in sentence to a list of hobbies that left me feeling gloomy about attitudes toward old people.

”Here are 11 healthy hobbies your aging loved one might want to consider.”

First, there is the tone of condescension, as though an old person doesn't already have his/her own interests. Then there is the dismissive word itself, hobbies, which sounds a lot like the idea is to just fill time until the “aging loved one” kicks the bucket.

Here are the 11 items.

  1. Creating Art / Doing Crafts
  2. Volunteering
  3. Swimming
  4. Walking
  5. Playing Games / Cards
  6. Dancing
  7. Gardening
  8. Practicing Yoga
  9. Golfing
  10. Caring for a Pet
  11. Family and Friends

There is nothing wrong with anything on that list except that elders already know about them and each one is much more than a mere pastime. Tens of millions of people, old and young, participate in numbers 3, 4, 8 and 9 for enjoyment and to help keep themselves fit.

Numbers 5 and 6 are among the many ways we have to socialize with others. And I would file 2, 7, 10 and 11 under the category not of hobbies, but of living.

In fact, the only one that could possibly be labeled a hobby is number one. Maybe. In some circumstance. But usually not, I think.

Using the word hobby for any of these is dismissive. But such an attitude is a pattern in regard to elders. Many people, apparently including the writer of this article, think that because you are retired, whatever you do with your time is not valuable or useful.

Really? Tell that to volunteers. To caregivers. To docents. To people who knit, crochet and quilt for the homeless and other charities. And tell that to others who spend their time learning, keeping fit, reading, relaxing, catching up with what they had no time for during their working years - and one more - an important one: "just" being.

Speaking of hobbies, too many people who believe they know a lot about old people and write about them make it their own hobby to exhort old people to do, do, do. God forbid any elder should spend some quiet time with themselves.

LivingForYourself

Which brings me to an important idea about which TGB reader, Rosemary Woodel, emailed.

She included a link to an essay by Parker J. Palmer, one of the contributors to Krista Tippet's On Being website. It is titled Being More Than Being Useful.

”I work hard at what I do, and I bet you do too. So maybe you need the same reminder I do: while my work is important, it is not a measure of my value or worth,” writes Palmer.

“Who we 'be' is far more important than what we do or how well we do it. That’s why we’re called human beings, not human doings!

“We pay a terrible price if we value our doing over our being. When we have to stop 'doing' — e.g., because of job loss, illness, accident, or the diminishments that can come with age — we lose our sense of worthiness.”

Okay, he's more flip than I would be about his idea but that doesn't make him wrong. He's talking about being centered, accepting of your own self, understanding your intrinsic worth.

The people who who make lists of hobbies for old folks, advise us to walk faster, find new friends and pick something from a list to do have forgotten - or perhaps, because they are usually much younger - have not realized yet that growing old is also an important time to, in addition to everything else, do less - to be.

Growing old is a perfect time to learn or re-learn that we are, each one of us, worthy just by the fact of being here. Being old and retired from the workforce does not diminish that worthiness even if some others think so. We should not allow them to disregard us by assuming we aren't busy enough and need help to figure out how to use our time.


Dining Out With the Opposite Sex While Married

This issue has been creeping into my mind unbidden for the two weeks or so since it happened. I can't seem to shake it.

At first, I didn't believe it was a topic for a blog about ageing. Then I recalled that a whole lot of us who hang out here spent a great deal of time and effort in our youth taking part in marches and other activities to promote equality for women. So we certainly do have a stake in this and maybe today's post will clear my head.

The eye-opening revelation was buried in a short paragraph halfway into a lengthy profile of Second Lady Karen Pence by reporter Ashley Parker in the Washington Post.

”In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”

VP Mike Pence

Before that one small sentence blew up the internet for a day or two, I thought it was fairly medieval but consistent with what I have come to know of Vice President Mike Pence which, that morning, led to a joke-y email exchange with a friend about Pence's apparent inability to trust himself sexually without his wife by his side.

We weren't the only ones to have that thought as the one-liners flying around the Twitterverse showed. But then the subject took a turn toward the serious. Some examples:

PenceTwitter5

PenceTwitter2

PenceTwitter1

PenceTwitter

Maybe I'm slow but it had not occurred to me that there would be a Republican/Democratic divide on the issue. A lot of the Republican pushback carried a hysteria that is hard to fathom, as this one from Katie Pavlich at the conservative website and print magazine, Town Hall:

”This, somehow, has been twisted as 'extreme,' with some on the left comparing his actions to Sharia Law. In actuality Pence is smart and does a service not only to his wife, but to professional women working inside the Beltway. His decision to err on the side of respect has certainly paid off...

“Washington D.C. is often a sleazy, filthy town. The stories you hear about smoky backrooms are true. Go to any D.C. restaurant at happy hour and you'll see scores of married men surrounded by and engaged inappropriately with younger women who are not their wives.

“This city is a place where a small, but vicious and significant population of men and women crave power. They will stop at almost nothing to get it, which includes breaking up marriages.”

Is Ms. Pavlich trying to say that without his wife at his side, Vice President Pence would succumb to the sexual wiles and aggression of a power-hungry woman? Is that what she's telling us?

This whole thing is sexist from so many retrograde angles that it can hardly be untangled. Let us repeat what is really at stake here. This from Olga Khazan at The Atlantic:

”A cheesy bon-mot popular among lobbyists goes, 'in Washington, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.' In other words, if you don’t schmooze, you lose — and so does the agenda you’re pushing. If Pence literally won’t sit at the table with women, where does that leave women’s issues?”

Exactly. And further, while this debate was at its most heated, I heard a woman who described herself as an evangelical Christian tell a cable TV news host that she was taught from childhood that once people got married, they could not have friends of the opposite sex, and that is how it should be.

What a cramped, impoverished view of life that, worse, results in discrimination against half the population. This is not, as the political right would have it, a moral issue. It is a women's issue.

Over the years, I worked, traveled, shared meals and drinks with married male colleagues sometimes in groups and sometimes alone with one. We each brought our areas of expertise to the job we were responsible for and I felt lucky, too, that my life was enriched by knowing these interesting, smart people. I do not recall a single instance of sexual suggestion or discomfort and I had no idea until now that there could be any question about it.

One of the best overall critiques of the Pence family meal policy and its consequences I've found is by Jessica Valenti at The Guardian.


A Few Things I've Learned About Growing Old

It has been more than 20 years since I began reading, writing and thinking about old age nearly every day. Some things have changed: there is a whole lot more to read nowadays than in the mid-1990s, and there is some improvement in cultural attitudes toward elders. But not nearly enough.

Some things have stayed the same: too many of the boring old stereotypes remain in books, movies, TV and online, in journalism, schools, even in science and medicine and certainly in the workplace.

Over these 20-odd years where I've spent so much time in the world of what it's like to grow old, it's been a lot like “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Here then are a few – only a few - of the random conclusions I've reached about old age in which I have some confidence. (Well, some confidence until new information requires revision.)

⚫ Stereotypes are usually mean and often unfair but they are not always without merit. We do not suddenly become sweet, little old ladies or get-off-my-lawn, curmudgeonly, old men on a certain birthday. If we do exhibit these characteristics, we were likely that way all our lives.

⚫ Cultural perceptions of old age have not changed much in the nearly 50 years since Simone de Beauvoir described them in her 1970 book Coming of Age:

”...we have always regarded [old age] as something alien, a foreign species.”

⚫ Contrary to a minor trend among some writers and self-appointed gurus on the subject, old age is not more special than any other time of life. But it is equally significant – it's just that our culture doesn't see it that way. Yet.

RSG-Aging_in_America

⚫ The old are granted less cultural power even than children.

⚫ Movies about old people still fall mostly into two categories: (1) old folks making fun of themselves while laughing hysterically and (2) old people dying in extremis. You will find more varied and honest portrayals of elders occur in supporting roles.

⚫ No matter how much sentimental types try to tell us otherwise, wisdom is not an automatic attribute of old age.

⚫ No two people age in the same way and they grow old at entirely different rates. Elderhood is more diverse than any other stage of life.

Thebestage

The truest thing I know about growing old is that it never stops being fascinating and there is always something new to know:

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

- Henry Miller


Crabby Old Lady and the Surprising Aggravations of Age

One of younger adult's favorite rebukes of elders is that we talk about our health, or lack thereof, too much. This is not always an unfair stereotype but Crabby Old Lady has had a revelation about it:

No one told us that in old age we would be condemned to constant noise in our ears, a new mole or other kind of skin eruption just about every week and that our ability to sleep through the night would go all to hell.

Eyedoctor

Most of these changes are merely annoying and don't rise to the level of medical intervention or even discussion in the short period of time most people are allowed with their physicians these days.

Recently, a 78-year-old friend told Crabby about this conversation with his doctor who had just finished examining a tender spot at the base of one of his thumbs:

DOCTOR: Arthritis.

FRIEND: Anything we should do?

DOCTOR: (Shrugging) Pain meds. [Pause] If it spreads to other joints, I can refer you to a rheumatologist. [Another pause] Some conditions arrive with age..."

Yes, some things in old age don't warrant much attention - at least, not professional attention.

TGB reader Harold, who blogs at The Way I See It, acknowledged this in a comment when some irritations of old-age were discussed here more than a year ago:

”When I do go in for my annual check ups someone always asks if I have any complaints, and I don't know what to say. Since I've never been this old before I don't know what it's supposed to feel like, but maybe it's supposed to feel like this.”

Exactly. Through most of Crabby's life, the ailments of old age didn't come up much in conversation and when they did, if she was as dismissive of her elders' health conversation (a not unreasonable, if shameful, assumption) as today's children and grandchildren are of current elders', why would she know what old age feels like, what is normal and what is not?

Bonesarteries2

Recently, Crabby Old Lady had a mild disagreement with her doctor. What he called a cough that might need treatment Crabby calls throat-clearing that comes and goes throughout the year.

Some time ago Crabby was relieved to find an explanation online: glands that secrete lubricating mucous around vocal chords decrease with age. Drinking water helps reduce the throat clearing so Crabby has filed this one with her growing list of (mostly) ignorable ailments.

There is hardly any end to these petty annoyances: general aches and pains with no explanation, constipation, sore muscles, stiff joints, insomnia, excess gassiness, spontaneous nose bleeds, hair loss where we want to keep it, new hair where we don't want it, fading vision, fading hearing, weight gain, dry skin, dropping things, minor forgetfulness and...

Recently, another of Crabby's complaints was confirmed:

Netflix sent a message announcing that The Manchurian Candidate had been added to the service's movie list for April. Crabby assumed it was the remake starring Denzel Washington and she was not wrong about that. But she was sure surprised to see that it had been released in 2004.

If you had asked Crabby, she would have said it had been in theaters a couple of years ago, not THIRTEEN years ago.

This is a change that hardly anyone places in the aggravation column (but Crabby does) – that time slips by at such an accelerating rate of speed now, everything from a decade or two ago feels like yesterday. Crabby no longer trusts any time estimate she makes that is older than a month or so and even then, she can be off by a year or two sometimes.

It's no wonder old people talk about their health a lot: it's because no one warned them about these surprise, minor but irritating manifestations of age. No one said that if you live long enough, here is how your life will change.

Crabby would like to have had some advance notice. But would she have paid attention? Would she even have remembered the notice when her time arrived? Probably not.

Now, however, Crabby Old Lady gives herself permission to ignore all the mean jokes about the afflictions of age and talk about them anytime she wants – at least among her peers.

20extrayears


Elder Orphans' Documents

Back in 2015, I wrote about elder orphans – old people who have no family or are estranged from their family and, either way, have no one they feel comfortable asking to handle health, legal and financial issues on their behalf if they become incapacitated or when they die.

Definition of Elder Orphan
In 2016, I carried on at some length here about a definition of elder orphans which is more complex for some people than can be obvious but has also been made more complicated than it needs to be.

Plus, some people who write about elder orphans – even some medical professionals who weigh in - are quite hysterical about how awful being an elder ophan is. That just is not true and I wrote about that last year. It's still worth a glance.

For today's purposes, the first paragraph above will do as a definition.

Lastwill

The Witnessed Documents
I have been remiss in not following up further on this issue. But a TGB reader recently emailed explaining that she, like me, is an elder orphan, that she had read the 2015 post in which I admitted to having made almost no arrangements for someone to make decisions for me or for my final wishes. She wondered if I have made any progress.

Happily for me, I have. I'm not finished but I've completed work on the major documents and, thanks mostly to my excellent attorney, John Gear, who pressured me in the kindliest way to get these documents done, it was not too painful.

I now have, duly executed:

Last Will and Testament
Durable Power of Attorney
Oregon Health Information Release Authorization

The documents, in order, (1) distribute my assets upon my death, (2) give my named agent (who, in my case, is also my heir) permission to act on my behalf in legal and financial matters, and (3) is an authorization to release my health information to my health care surrogate (same person).

POLST
Having recently found a new physician, I have also completed and signed a POLST, a Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment laying out what medical interventions I do and do not want in an extreme or end-of-life situation, and naming my surrogate so that medical professionals, in whatever condition I'm in, can contact her.

A POLST is a state-specific document in the U.S., called a MOLST in some states, that can be updated and/or revoked or changed, etc. if you choose. It is registered with the state for easy access by medical professionals.

That sounds like it should cover everything, but no. There are financial documents I have now completed too.

Ducks_in_a_Row

Financial Documents
At my death and upon presentation of my death certificate, my named beneficiaries will have full access to my accounts as if they were me. Both my local bank where I keep a checking and savings accounts and my investment advisor supplied the forms which I have executed and they now have in my records.

If your money matters are larger and more complex than mine there could be more to do. Consult your attorney and/or financial person.

Letter of Final Instructions for Survivors
This is a big deal - at least in size. It is an enormous document. It includes wishes for handling of remains, memorial service or funeral and complete list of property, various kinds of accounts, online assets, passwords, personal and family information and much more.

Although I have a file in which I'm collecting information, I haven't done this yet and I will probably break it up into two or three documents. (In my first draft of today's post, I made some lists of the items needed but it went on for several pages.

So instead of that, take a break now for a moment and follow this link [pdf] to the website of a financial consultant who posted a sample letter of instruction form.

Although it is nearly 20 years old – no spaces for email addresses or online information - it is amazingly thorough otherwise and extremely useful as a guide for collecting all the information your survivors will need and want.

According to my attorney (and many others), the final instruction letter should NOT be kept with your will which itself should not be in a safe deposit box because the bank will not release the contents of box until they have a death certificate. (A lot of people keep their will and other important documents in the freezer, sealed tightly in plastic.)

However you choose to store these documents, be sure the people you have selected to handle your end-of-life needs have copies or can easily get to them.

Also, you should review all your documents every year or so and update them as necessary. Your birthday a good reminder to do this.

Finding Your Surrogate
This blog post does not and is not meant to cover everything. There are other kinds of documents and an amazing array of different end of life choices.

Also, I understand that the biggest difficulty for elder orphans can be finding the person(s) to rely on to handle your affairs at the end. That's part of what took me so long and I have no advice to help you on that – only my personal experience.

My choice is an old friend I have known since she was a child who is now a mother. It is not ideal that I am on the west coast and she is on the east coast but I trust her completely and she has agreed to take this on for me.

My one worry is how difficult it might be to disrupt her life when I die or, moreso, if I am incapacitated and she needs to make life and death decisions as my health surrogate.

In just the past couple of weeks it occurred to me that there is one person nearby who I have come to know over three years who I would trust completely to make the right medical decisions for me and who is, like my east coast friend, enough younger than I am to probably outlive me.

Perhaps, I have been thinking, I could name him to be my health surrogate, leaving the rest to my friend on the east coast. However, he is also one of my various professional healthcare providers so even though we've become almost friends, it might not be appropriate to even ask him about doing this. I don't know. I continue to ponder it.

Meanwhile, writing this post has lit a fire under me to get that letter of instruction done. That will take awhile. An easier task is to arrange and pre-pay my green cremation. My east coast friend knows what to do with the ashes.

Hourglass


When Your Whole World Feels Empty

Grieving

Fairly regularly, we discuss loneliness at this blog mainly due to the oft-repeated cultural belief that all old people who live alone are lonely. The general media pick up this idea from startling research reports that loneliness in elders leads to early death, as much as by seven-and-a-half years.

I've read that research and it has convinced me. What I do not agree with, however, is the extent to which the media apparently believe all people older than 50 or 60 who live alone are lonely.

Certainly some people are generally lonely all the time but I think for most of us it is a sometime thing that comes and goes depending on circumstances – that for most of us it is not a permanent condition.

That said, I'm here today about a singular aspect or type of loneliness that I don't believe we have mentioned.

A week or two ago, I ran across a quotation credited to a man I had never heard of, Phillipe Aries, a French medievalist and historian of the family and children (according to Wikipedia), who died in 1984 at age 69.

Probably because we do talk about the difference between loneliness and being alone fairly often here, the quotation has been rolling around in my head ever since I first saw it:

”A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”

With each re-reading, my mind, my heart went straight to the handful of times in my life when, as I walked own the street, people were rushing to and fro, couples kissing, car horns honking, panhandlers begging, dogs sniffing at each other, music pouring out of a bar, a cop car's siren wailing and I wanted to scream: "What are you doing being so normal, doing everyday things? Can't you see that my world ended yesterday? That nothing will ever be the same?"

Not only was my world suddenly empty because someone I love died, I wanted the rest of the world to be empty around me.

The quotation is often mis-attributed to Joan Didion who referenced it in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking but is actually from Aries' book, Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present, published in 1975.

In addition, having now looked into the quotation fairly extensively, too often only the first sentence is quoted. It may be true on its own but it is a much richer, more important with both sentences.

Time was when people grieved the deaths of loved ones for a year or more. Widow's weeds and a circumscribed social life especially for widows - not so much widowers - and other rituals to help assuage the loss.

Nowadays, only the most religious Jews sit shiva for seven days. At memorials I've attended for people with other or no religion, we are expected to tell funny stories and, as the quotation shows, get on with life afterwards as though nothing has happened.

We have, beginning in the 20th century, deprived ourselves of our grief. There are any number of psychological treatises on death and grieving but I think those short two sentences from Aries are enough to know that we probably should rethink our reserve about expressing grief.

To get through it without much fuss – preferably briefly (see you tomorrow at work) – is our oh-so-modern way of a loved one's death. To repeat:

”A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”

image

A few weeks ago I met a woman near my age who is becoming a friend. As we are gradually exchanging life stories and episodes so to come to know and understand one another, I learned that she is a widow of about two years.

What did not happen in that conversation is that I did not say something like, “Tell me about him.” No one ever told me to skim right past such information but I know that it is sort of expected – I've seen it often and I've done it before.

Many of you know this personally and although I was married for only six years many decades ago, I don't I have any difficulty imagining emptiness when a husband or wife of 20 or 30 or 40 or more years dies. I have no trouble imagining that it will be a long time before you feel anything like having a full life again.

One of loneliest thoughts I had when my mother died was that no one was left alive who knew me when I was a little girl. Fortunately for me, I had two or three weeks to clean out her home with my step-brother who was staying with me.

We were together in our grief with plenty of time to talk, without reservation – or sit silently together sometimes - and my emptiness was partially relieved by spending those weeks with Joe. It was a good and healthy and fine time together for us.

It has not been like that when cherished friends have died.

One thing that happens is that other friends and acquaintances who know what happened verbally tiptoe around you for a few days but they don't make room for conversation about your devastating event beyond “Sorry for your loss” and then they move on.

I understand that people often don't know what to say but maybe we're just out of practice. Having given it some thought now – spurred on by a new friend and a quotation from a 42-year-old book – maybe we just need to say something as simple as “tell me about him” or “what do you miss most.”

And if it's too soon, undoubtedly the person will tell you and you can let it go for awhile. But I'm pretty sure the time comes when each of us wants to talk about a person who, when they died, made the whole world feel empty.

What do you think?


Old/Young Friendship

It's hard to keep up these days and it is worrisome how Trump's daily eruptions leave so little time to spend with stories, books, music, ideas and people whose thoughts and ideas help explain the world, expand our minds and give us joy. The best ones also teach us something about ourselves.

But on Monday, I accidentally bumped into one of those - a charming, luminous story (and writer) to believe in and cherish.

It happened while I was driving home from a meeting. The radio station I tuned in was partway through an interview with novelist, poet and playwright, Victor Lodato, with whom I was not familiar. He was discussing his essay on “modern love” that had recently appeared in The New York Times.

When I got home, I tracked down the essay in which Lodato explains that he was in his early 40s when he met 80-something artist, Austin, who lived next door to the house he had rented in a town away from home to finish a new book.

”From the beginning,” he writes, “there was something about our interaction that reminded me of friendships from childhood, in which no question was off limits.

“On religion, she claimed to be an atheist. I admitted to being haunted by the ghosts of a Roman Catholic upbringing. She said her sisters believed in hell and worried about her soul.

“Austin, though, seemed afraid of nothing, least of all death. I said I was still afraid of the dark.

“'Living alone,' she said. 'It can make you funny.'

“I laughed but changed the subject, telling her I would like to see her paintings.”
(I stole this image from The New York Times. It is by Brian Rea and I think he caught the essence and beauty of Lodato's story.)

NYTIMESBrianRea

When Lodato's six-month lease was up, he renewed because he hadn't finished writing his book and more, because he “couldn't imagine a better neighbor” than Austin.

“What was perplexing, I suppose, was not that two people of such different ages had become friends, but that we had essentially become best friends. Others regarded our devotion as either strange or quaint, like one of those unlikely animal friendships: a monkey and a pigeon, perhaps.”

Austin kept painting and Lodato kept writing and they kept hiking and reading and cooking dinners together until three years had passed. One day, Austin showed Lodato a copy of the vows that had been read at a wedding she had attended:

“'I never had anything like that with the men in my life,' she said, pointing to the vows. 'We loved each other, but we didn’t have that.' She was crying now, something she rarely did.

“I took her hand and said, 'Well, you have it with me. Everything but the sex.'

“At which point, the monkey kissed the pigeon.

“That night, I had an odd realization: Some of the greatest romances of my life have been friendships. And these friendships have been, in many ways, more mysterious than erotic love: more subtle, less selfish, more attuned to kindness.”

Lodato's is a compelling essay, not the sort you stop reading until you get to the end but that paragraph did it for me.

“Yes,” I found myself thinking – maybe I even said it aloud sitting alone at home - and I would add one or two adjectives to Lodato's list: comfortable and comforting.

Or maybe, for me, it is mutual old age that makes friendship with men now as special as Lodato explains. Certainly easier than the sexual romances of my past. But there are a couple of friendships in my life where we are separated by almost as many years as Lodato's and Austin's too.

Friendship is a mysterious thing. You can't plan it and although you can put yourself in places where you are more likely to meet people, friendship cannot be forced. It happens. Or not.

But what Victor Losado's essay does is shatter common expectations of with whom we can find it and how magically it can happen so quickly sometimes.

EdgarandLucy200Losado's story is more deliciously complex than I have shown you and you can read it at The Times. His second book, Edgar and Lucy: A Novel was published yesterday and is available at Amazon, among other booksellers.


The Shifting Sands of (My) Ageing

Over the weekend a friend who has been active in elder issues for many years said to me that he had mostly stopped reading about ageing, that everything important has been said.

We had other things to talk about and didn't pursue that line of thought for any distance but I recognized that without having made a deliberate decision, I too have been reading less about growing old for at least a year.

Although I still follow two or three dozen elder issues and topics in the news most days I am, after these 21 or 22 years at age research, a master at knowing from headlines and first sentences if I need to read further.

Books too have become easier to choose. With the exception of a handful of remarkable writers and thinkers, most often the answer is don't bother. There is a lot of repetition going on.

When I started studying growing old in 1995 – in my mid-fifties - there was hardly any popular or even academic writing about it and certainly not in any positive sense. Mostly it was about how awful ageing is and everyone should do anything possible, spend any amount of time and money to avoid it.

It was so widespread, I thought, “Geez, if it's going to be this bad, I may as well shoot myself now,” but I was too curious about how the future would play out for me to take myself seriously. (And I secretly never believed it is so awful.)

In books and magazines and videos and such, during the intervening years, a growing number of people have recognized that growing old has been unnecessarily maligned but nothing has changed in the overall culture:

After age 50, hardly anyone, no matter how qualified, can find a good job. Comedians still build careers with grandpa incontinence jokes. And the soft tyranny of ageist stereotypes in all corners of society continues without letup.

We are so accustomed to ageist representations of old people that even elders themselves don't notice. Here is an example from four or five years ago but if you pay attention, you'll see them every day.

VirginAmerica

This one which is widely used in many north American and European cities helps sustain the belief that old age is synonymous with sick and unhealthy. For the record, it is not.

Elderroadsign

Without having as much external input from others about growing old now that I'm reading less, here are some of the items that have been rattling around in my own head recently; obviously not fully developed (each one could be a blog post) but I think you'll get the point.

My age is only part of who I am but because all people are trained from the cradle to reject old age, it is the first and, most of the time, the only thing others think is important to know about me.

Of course, my age has a influence on how I see the world. At minimum that difference, after living all this time and always being a curious sort, is that I have a lot more knowledge and information to call on in making decisions and forming opinions.

Just because sometimes mine is not the “cool” point of view doesn't make me wrong nor invalidate my ideas. But too often old people are dismissed in what they say merely because they are old. And it is okay, in our culture, to do so with condescending amusement: “Isn't she cute, that old woman.”

Too many old people are in the closet about their age - from extreme cosmetic surgery that is always apparent to being coy about the actual number of their years.

What the deniers need to understand is that every time they pretend to be younger than they are or lie about their age or present themselves as “not like those other old people,” they reinforce tolerance of ageist behavior. They are part of the problem.

Those “get-off-my-lawn” old guys. (I suppose there are also women of this type.) Too often old people are their own worst enemies.

Way too many younger adults are talking about what it's like to be old and how old people should live and arrange their lives. You are free to call me a slow learner but all on my own without help from anyone else, I have learned two – and ONLY two – truths I believe in, in my seven-and-half decades:

  1. With the possible exception of trained medical personnel, no one knows anything about what it's really like to be old until they get there.

  2. The second one doesn't apply today but if you're curious: If it is happening to me, it is happening to millions of other people

It is long past time when people who make decisions about old people, individually and collectively - whether they are scientists, social workers, caregivers or government policy makers – must include one and preferably more old people in forming conclusions and making choices that will affect elders.

On a personal level, I am surprised that I haven't changed as much as I thought I would by now when I was younger.

For all the years I've packed on, I'm still carrying the same baggage from my upbringing as I did when I was 20 or 30 (I just see it more clearly now). The major emotional experiences of my adult years get in the way of my behavior pretty much as they did back then which is to say, not attractively.

But as I wrote a few posts ago, I'm done with self-improvement. Little, if anything, will change about me now. Maybe old people are all like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.”

* * *

RESISTANCE NOTES
There's a lot going on in Washington about meetings between Russian representatives and Trump associates during the election campaign and now in the White House.

Many citizens – even a large number of Republicans – are calling for a special prosecutor (or someone similar) to investigate these issues. The White House and many Congressional Republicans, especially those who head up intelligence committees, are trying to avoid doing this with the usual, "Move along, nothing to see here, folks."

This is just a reminder to keep up your calls to your representatives in Congress. I assume you have your telephone numbers. If not and you have a smartphone, you can download 5 Calls that makes it easy for you. It's available for iPhones and Android phones.

Last week, TGB reader janinsanfran who blogs at Since It Has Happened Here told us about another service she uses called Daily Action. Give them your phone number and Zip Code and they will text you a daily action alert. Obviously, you need a text-messaging phone for this to work but most so-called "dumb phones" can do that.


Old and Living Alone - Or Not

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, the percentage of people age 65 and older living alone increased from six percent in 1900 to 29 percent in 1990. And then it declined to 26 percent by 2014.

But that's the average of men and women. Divide them up and what you get is that the number of women in that age group living alone declined from a high of 38 percent in 1990 to 32 percent in 2014.

For men, the direction reversed beginning in 1990 from 15 percent living alone to 18 percent in 2014. Here's the chart:

EldersLivingAlong2014

One reason for the change, reports Pew, is that an increase in life expectancy means that more women are living with spouses rather than as widows. Further, says Pew:

”Overall, women still make up a majority of the 12.1 million older U.S. adults living alone, but their share has fallen significantly over the past quarter century – from 79% in 1990 to 69% in 2014.”

This isn't intended to be a post about statistics of living alone but a couple of graphs set the stage a bit. This one, also from the Pew research, shows how many more men and women 85 and older are living alone. Look at the yellow areas in the two bottom graphs:

LivingArrangements

Okay, I'm done with charts and statistics. If you want more detail, the Pew Research study has a lot of it.

What I would like us to talk about today is how we feel about living alone or not, and what appears to be – at least when you read as much about ageing as I do – a media epidemic of scaring the pants off old people who do live alone and their adult children.

Take a look at these three photos from, in order, a news magazine story about elder living arrangements, a caregiving website and the website of a regional U.S. assisted living corporation:

old Woman on bench

Elder at stairs

Lonely-old-woman-sitting-by-window500

How do you feel about these photos? How do they make you feel about yourself? What do you suppose younger adults think about old people when they repeatedly see this type of photograph?

These are only a sampling. I could show you dozens of similar stock photographs of lonely, frightened old people many of which accompany stories about “the dangers of seniors living alone.” Go ahead, Google it.

Commercial retirement communities use them as sales tools and reporters or editors unthinkingly use them as illustrations for such stories as the Pew research which, in this case, is neutral on the reasons elders choose one living arrangement over another.

This is not the first time I've ranted here about alone not being a synonym for lonely. Nor does living alone in old age automatically mean that something awful will happen to you or that you're afraid all the time. But the media is good at overkill.

Old people wind up living alone for many reasons: widowhood, divorce, never married and hey – how about this one: choice.

An excellent New Zealand ageing researcher, Dr Judith Davey, who blogs for Age Concern New Zealand and is also a senior research associate with the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, notes that the most frequent answer from elders about why they live alone is “freedom, choice and control and independence”. Further

”One person summed it up,” wrote Davey, “'(living alone) allows us to do what we want, when we want, and how we want'. This does not sound like a pathological state!” [as some have defined elders who live alone].

I live alone because I always have - well, almost always. I was married for six years and I lived with another man for four years but that's just 10 years out of the 60 I've lived since I left home. I'm comfortable in my aloneness.

When I think about it too hard, I can convince myself that living alone is a certain kind of selfishness akin to not having children. But I don't want my thinking interrupted as I write this any more than I ever wanted a short human tugging at my sleeve.

And, anyway, who does that selfishness – if that's what it is – harm? No one I can see.

It's important to acknowledge that sometimes I am lonely. Lonely for what my one-time father-in-law explained about the years he and his wife had lived together: “there's another heartbeat in the house,” he said.

But having a partner is no guarantee. I was deeply lonely during the last couple of years of my crumbling marriage.

As the above photographs imply, maybe I'll fall down the stairs (if I had any) or maybe I'll have a stroke with no one around to help. Maybe I will become too weak to bathe myself or too addled to pay the bills. Or cook. Or...

All true and there is a lot we could discuss about that and about becoming socially isolated or gradually losing our minds to dementia and more – all the stuff that the age media uses to scare us into buying retirement community condos.

But the truth is a large majority of elders make it to the grave living on their own so for now, I'll take my chances and flatter myself that I will be able to recognize, if the time comes, that I need to change my living arrangements.

What I am curious about today is how TGB readers who live alone – and partnered readers who have thought about the possibility of being alone one day in their old age – deal with living by yourselves.

Do you like it? Did you choose it? Do you worry about living alone? Would you like to change your living circumstances? What would trigger such a change?

Have you thought about other kinds of arrangements? Retirement community? Take someone into your home if it is big enough? A Golden Girls household? Co-housing? Something else?

Let us know.


Elder Use of Marijuana

[DISCLOSURE: I've been smoking pot recreationally since I was in high school with no ill effects I can see. I don't do so often nowadays because in my old age, it makes me cough too much. I haven't gotten around to trying the new edibles that are available here, but I will in time.]

Marijuana

One of the most common afflictions that comes with old age is pain – from arthritis to cancer to neuropathy to back and neck pain to those random aches and pains that come and go and seem to have no known cause.

For many, pain is almost a definition of growing old and these days, increasing numbers of elders are using cannabis (also known as pot, weed, reefer, maryjane, etc.) to treat their pain. As UPI reported in January,

”A new report has found that cannabis use by people over age 50 has increased significantly and outpaced growth across all other age groups.

“The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2000, 1 percent of Americans over 50 had used cannabis within the past year, but by 2012, that number had increased to 3.9 percent.”

In January of this year, The University of Iowa published a study looking into this increased use:

"'Some older persons have responded to changing social and legal environments, and are increasingly likely to take cannabis recreationally,' Brian Kaskie, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in a press release [according to the same UPI story].

"'Other older persons are experiencing age-related health care needs and some take cannabis for symptom management, as recommended by a medical doctor.'

“...The study participants were more likely to have started using cannabis before the age of 30 and many before age 18.”

Twenty-eight states now allow limited use of marijuana for medical purposes and a half a dozen others, including my state, Oregon, allow unrestricted use of marijuana by adults. It is sold in licensed dispensaries not dissimilar to liquor stores in many states.

And now marijuana is being used in some nursing homes even in states that have not approved its use. From The New York Times:

”At the Hebrew Home in the Bronx, the medical marijuana program was years in the making. Daniel Reingold, the president and chief executive of RiverSpring Health, which operates the home, said he saw its powers firsthand when his own father, Jacob, was dying from cancer in 1999.

“To ease his father’s pain, Mr. Reingold boiled marijuana into a murky brown tea. His father loved it, and was soon laughing and eating again.

“'The only relief he got in those last two weeks was the tea,' Mr. Reingold said.

“When Mr. Reingold requested approval from the nursing home’s board members, there were no objections or concerns, he said. Instead, they joked that they would have to increase the food budget.”

The Times also reports that because federal law prohibits use of marijuana, the Hebrew Home complies with that law and although they recommend and monitor its use, “residents are responsible for buying, storing and administering it themselves.”

The University of Iowa study is titled "The Increasing Use of Cannabis Among Older Americans: A Public Health Crisis or Viable Policy Alternative?" As Science Daily reports:

"The article also focuses on the misuse and abuse of cannabis. It then explores two other prominent public health issues - the misuse of prescription medications and the under-treatment of pain at the end of life - and considers how cannabis substitution may be a viable policy alternative to combating these problems.”

Given the reports of runaway opioid addiction in the United States, this sounds like a good idea to me. The New York Times again discussing a resident at the Hebrew Home:

"Marcia Dunetz, 80, a retired art teacher who has Parkinson’s, said she worried at first about what people would think. 'It’s got a stigma,' she said. 'People don’t really believe you’re not really getting high if you take it.'

“But she decided to try it anyway. Now, she no longer wakes up with headaches and feels less dizzy and nauseated. Her legs also do not freeze up as often.

“For [another resident], Ms. Brunn, the marijuana pills have worked so well that she has cut back on her other pain medication, morphine.”

And so what if, in addition to symptom management, users do get high? Why would anyone care.

All this movement toward cannabis legalization in more than half the U.S. states could be rolled back under the new administration and Congress in Washington.

Although President Donald Trump said during the campaign that he did not object to medical marijuana, so far he has reversed himself on almost every campaign promise.

Plus, both the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the new secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, have long records of opposing legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.

Without stretching one's imagination too far and with the growing use of cannabis by elders to control age-related conditions and diseases, any attempt by the federal government to remove or limit its use could be seen as withholding medication from sick and dying elders.


A Thank You. Presidents' Day. And More

Does anyone else have trouble tracking federal holidays after retiring? Sure, I have no problem with Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and the other big ones. But today, Presidents' Day, regularly escapes me.

One consequence is that I told at least one winner of Norm Jenson's book, Mostly Anecdotal: Stories, that I would put it in the mail today. Well, not so fast. No open post office today. So I will send them off tomorrow.

More on the holiday in a moment but first:

Thank-youC

A BIG THANK YOU, TGB READERS
Yesterday ended the week-long, annual donation drive for Time Goes By and it was a resounding success. Like last year, I am dismayed at your generosity and there are so many of you that it's impossible to thank you individually.

So I must do it collectively here.

It was terrific to read the personal notes some of you included with your donations and I enjoyed seeing so many names from so many different places – worldwide – that are new to me. Apparently a whole lot of you read TGB and never comment.

Nothing wrong with that – I do it all over the internet - but it is still a load of fun to see all the new-to-me names.

So thank you all - those who donated and every one of you who didn't too. The community we have created here is unique among blogs and you, the readers did that by paying attention, sharing your information, your knowledge and your opinions that make the comments so rich and thoughtful and fun to read every day.

SOME SAD NEWS
A TGB reader emailed a few days ago to tell me that Diane Schmidley of Schmidleysscribbling blog suffered a stroke, as her daughter explained on Diane's blog.

“This is Diane’s daughter. Mom has had a stroke and is in ICU at the hospital. If anyone reads this, please get the word out and keep her in your prayers. Thank you.”

On Saturday, her daughter posted again that Diane had been moved to the Acute Stroke Unit and further updated:

”She is at George Washington University Hospital in the District of Columbia if anyone is wanting to send flowers, and I can take cards to her. My postal address is: Connie Nystrom, P.O. Box 368, Rixeyville, VA 22737.”

Diane's name has often turned up here in the comments for many years. Of course, she is on our minds with prayers for a fast recovery.

PRESIDENTS' DAY – SOME THOUGHTS
The two-year mark since Donald Trump announced he was running for president of the United States is fast approaching. For a long time it was a joke to most Americans – me too.

No more and to way understate it, we now live in a world that is more uncertain that at any time, I think, during our long lives.

As a result of this new political circumstance, something in me has changed. Never much of a patriot, I took our system, our liberty and freedoms for granted. Not anymore.

Khizr-khan-us-constitution680

Maybe it started for me with Khizr Kahn holding up his little copy of the American Constitution at the Democratic Convention in July. It's not that I haven't read it many times – I own several copies and I sometimes carry a small, portable one with me to read in odd moments.

But during the campaign, my feelings about it expanded into a much greater devotion to the freedoms it grants us that I had before. I have a strong sense, now that it is under attack, that I am responsible for it, that I must be part of doing what is necessary to protect the provisions that created this unique government that is - as we learned to say in school - of, by and for the people. The people.

I wonder if any of that has happened to you.

Among our 45 presidents, a few were great, some might be better forgotten and the majority did pretty well with the times they governed through. So for Presidents' Day, I looked around the internet for some pictures of how they lived in their time.

I found a page of photographs of some president's private homes now preserved as museums. I particularly like the interior shots. Here are a few – take a look at this one, the library in President Harry Truman's home in Independence, Missouri:

TrumanLibraryIndependence

This is the dining room and tea parlor in Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson's home:

Jeffersonsdiningroom

The music room in President George Washington's Mt. Vernon home.

MusicroomatWashtingtn'smtvernon

Let's have one more – President Franklin D. Roosevelt's office at Springwood in Hyde Park, New York.

FDR DESK

There are about 25 more presidential home photos at Business Insider. (You need to cancel your adblocker, if you have one, to see them.)


Some Old People's Household Habits

There was a mildly sheepish quality to my voice. I could hear it as, during a long phone visit with a good friend, I tentatively asked (while also wondering to myself if I could quickly withdraw the question if it were poorly received), “Do you ever go all day without getting dressed?”

Not counting sickness of the type that keeps you in bed hoping to die, I had never in my working life of nearly 50 years done that. That is, not until half a dozen years into my retirement and since then, I certainly had not confessed it to anyone.

To my great relief, we had a long laugh together about blowing off the morning shower now and then and not leaving home all day, noting too that as official old people – I'm 75 and he is 78 - there are days when, for no good reason we are too weary of mind, body or both to do anything but stay home. So why get dressed.

There were some guilty feelings the first times I did this and some imagined difficulty in getting to the mailbox “undressed” until I realized that no one would notice, in winter anyway, because I sleep in sweats. In my area, that's daywear for many.

Then my friend and I considered the bed. Or, rather, changing the sheets which I have always considered to be the most difficult and annoying housekeeping chore.

THE BATTLE OF THE FITTED SHEET
In that career half century of mine, I changed the bed every Saturday morning and dropped it off at the laundry along with all the other dirty stuff. Let them try to fold the damned fitted sheet.

FittedSheetsWitch

But that's not the only fitted sheet aggravation. Getting it onto the bed is an exhausting struggle but using a flat sheet is worse when it comes undone during the week. So to this day I live with the battle of the fitted sheet.

For 20 years or so, somewhere there in the middle of my adulthood, I switched to a duvet and comforter but as the years went by, as I got older, trying to get what amounts to an Andre-the-Giant-size pillow case onto the comforter doubled or tripled the bed-changing annoyance. I gave it up.

At that point, I also gave up the top sheet because whether at home, in a hotel, staying with friends, wherever I was, overnight I got so tangled in it that getting out of bed became an Olympic event.

With that change, I took up thin quilts figuring that I could add and subtract them as the weather and bedroom temperature required. That is, until I realized I would need to wash the bottom one, next to my skin, every week creating the need – when I retired and gave up paying others to do my wash – for two loads of laundry instead of one.

Good god, it never ends. Get rid of one hassle in life and two more pop up.

Have I made it clear how much I despise all bed chores? I would have been a terrific rich person; I'll bet Melania Trump does change her own bed.

Ah, but wait. There was a solution.

For decades, I had slept naked but in my incipient old age had switched to those sweats mentioned above. Now that my body, with all its sweatiness, discarded skin cells and other detritus, was almost wholly covered at night, What harm could there be, I said to myself, in laundering that bottom quilt and that bottom sheet every two weeks instead of weekly, cutting in half the time I would need to do combat with the fitted sheet.

Since my first confession to my friend had gone so well, I tried the bottom sheet and quilt wash schedule and not only did he laugh, what a great story I got from him.

He too hates wrestling with fitted sheets and his current living arrangement came with a king-size bed. It, as you undoubtedly know, is the size of a football field - six people could sleep together without touching one another. So for one week he sleeps on one side of the bed and the next week on the other side. Then he washes the sheets.

Like me, he has cut his fights with the fitted sheet by 50 percent..

GETTING OUT OF THE HOUSE. OR NOT
We agreed too it gets harder with our advancing years to leave home or, more precisely, to want leave our homes. So often it just seems easier and more comfortable to stay home (with or without getting dressed).

I watch such changes as they come along and although I know perfectly well, as I've mentioned before, that if it is happening to me, it's happening to thousands, maybe millions of others, it was still a great, good surprise when a confession was met with agreement and laughs.

Another old friend in the same age range with whom I regularly have long phone calls told me recently that he too leaves home less and less frequently and was trying out a new home fitness routine to see if it keeps him as healthy as the gym he attends three times a week.

This friend reminded me that pretty much anything you want in life can be delivered - certainly in Manhattan where he lives if not everywhere else. “If this routine works out,” he told me, “I may never leave home again.”

I had another laugh over this stuff that day but not quite as hearty - maybe it is becoming too real...

Does any of this ring a bell with you?

* * *

RESISTANCE NOTES:
Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote in the Senate to confirm billionaire and public school ignoramus, Betsy DeVos, as secretary of Education. You know, the woman who has zero knowledge of public schools and believes guns should be allowed in schools because - grizzly bears. She and the vote are shameful.

Do not ever forget who cast this deciding vote. And do not, come the next Senate election, forget which senators voted to confirm her. It's easy to remember: Every Democrat opposed DeVos as did two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Every other Republican senator voted to confirm.

Now might be a good time, if you have a Republican senator or two, to call their offices and speak your mind. The main switchboard number is 202.225.3121.


Death With Dignity and the Supreme Court Nominee

It's not often I can combine an age-related post with a political one as directly as I can today so I'm taking advantage of it while the opportunity is here.

When I moved to Oregon nearly seven years ago, the state's Death With Dignity Act played no part in my choice although I knew it existed.

Having had plenty of time now to look into it and think about it, I am relieved to have this law. Understand that not just any person can request the drugs and die willy-nilly. There are restrictions:

”A physician must determine that the patient has less than six months and a second opinion is required,” reported my late friend, Pulitzer Prize-winner Saul Friedman in these pages in 2010. “The patient must make repeated requests, waiting at least 15 days between requests.

“If these procedures are followed, an Oregon physician can prescribe the life-ending drugs, which may be taken with or without a doctor present.”

Personally, I think the rules are too restrictive but they are better than not and changing public perception is a slow process.

Oregon was the first state to enact a death with dignity law and since the act was passed 1997, and through 2015, 991 patients have used it to end their lives. Here's the chart:

DWDAoregon

It gives me comfort to know that if my end days are filled with pain, for example, and my days are short, there is recourse for me. It's my life; no one else should have the right to prevent me from making this choice.

Last week, President Donald Trump nominated federal appeals court judge, Neil Gorsuch, to fill the Supreme Court chair left empty when Justice Antonin Scalia died a year ago.

That, I believe, is an illegitimate nomination that should not stand given that Congressional Republicans barely acknowledged President Barack Obama's choice, Merrick Garland, let alone held hearings on him. But let's let that go for today and take a look at who Judge Gorsuch is.

As the Washington Post reported last week, in the year the judge was appointed to the federal bench, 2006:

”...he published a book titled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. The front cover looks almost like a Tom Clancy novel, with purple all-caps block text set against a black background. But the book itself is a deep, highly cerebral overview of the ethical and legal debate surrounding the practices.”

Gorsuchdeaathwithdignitybookcover

I have not read the book so I am relying on the WaPo reporter, Derek Hawkins, who writes that Gorsuch opposes assisted suicide, euthanasia and death with dignity laws because “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Really? Even if the life-taking is done by the person whose life it is? I don't think that is at all as obvious as he makes it sound. The Washington Post again:

”Some of Gorsuch’s sharpest criticisms were directed at one of his fellow jurists, Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

“Posner has written in favor of permitting physician-assisted suicide, arguing that the government should not interfere with a person’s decision to take his or her own life, especially in cases where the patient is terminally ill.

“Gorsuch rejected that view, writing it would 'tend toward, if not require, the legalization not only of assisted suicide and euthanasia, but of any act of consensual homicide.'”

Huh? How does that follow? It gets even less rational as his argument continues:

”Posner’s position, he writes, would allow 'sadomasochist killings' and 'mass suicide pacts,' as well as duels, illicit drug use, organ sales and the 'sale of one’s own life.'

“Gorsuch concludes his book by envisioning a legal system that allows for terminally ill patients to refuse treatments that would extend their lives, while stopping short of permitting intentional killing.”

Judge Gorsuch is a young man - 49 now, 39 when his book was published. Aside from physicians trained in science and health and such people as hospice workers, I do not believe that younger adults have any idea what old age is really like. You cannot know until you get there.

Unless he has suffered through a prolonged period of debility and ongoing, untreatable pain, Judge Gorsuch cannot possibly imagine why an old person would find themselves arriving at a place where they know it is time for them to go and even yearn for it.

There are other good reasons to oppose Judge Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court but from my perch here as what a reporter at the Baltimore Sun once called “a bloviator on all things ageing,” this one issue is enough.

Particularly so because if he is confirmed and in addition, Congress follows through on President Trump's recent vow to the overturn the 1954 law restricting political speech by tax-exempt churches, we are heading deep toward Christian control of government.

The New York Times quoted Trump about that vow last week:

“'Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us,' Mr. Trump told religious leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast. 'That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.'”

These may never come to pass. But to potentially lose death with dignity laws while gaining unfettered political speech for religious organizations combined with the new survey showing that one-third of Americans believe a citizen must be a Christian to be a real American – well, you tell me what that means.


Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night?

As you might imagine, in 20 years of researching what it's like to grow old and writing about it for nearly 13 years, I think about death and dying now and then.

At the most pratical level, we who are still above ground have a lot more to arrange in regard to our dying than the people of our parents' generation and earlier.

In additon to wills, we have living wills, durable powers of attorney, DNRs or POLSTs or MOLSTs, advance directives, health proxies, instructions, perhaps, for cremation or burial or some combination of all this paper.

I had one friend who even left instructions for her memorial lunch including guest list, food to be served, music to be played (she made the tape herself) and which photographs of her to be displayed.

The legal documents are important particularly, in my case, the ones related to what level of care I want toward the end. It is unnerving, however, to know that even with properly executed documents, it is questionable whether relatives and health professionals will honor them (more about that another day).

As I told my new primary care physician recently, our job together is to get me to my demise as close to as healthy as I am now – which is generally good - and without a drawn-out medical drama at the end.

26_dylan_thomas175What brought this to mind over the weekend was Maria Popova's weekly Brain Pickings newsletter with a short (for her) section on Dylan Thomas's most famous poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

An editor Popova quotes says it is read at two out of three funerals. It's hard to believe that number (at least by the funerals I've attended) but the point he makes is not wrong: that since its English publication in 1952, the poem has taken on the force of immutable directive; the only acceptable way for anyone claiming membership in the human race to approach death.

The first stanza says it all:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Metaphorically, as all the critics and pundits tell us, the poem extolls the tenacity of the human spirit and the obligation to live at all cost, but I don't buy it. At the close of my day, when the light is dying, I will not burn or rave or rage. I want to go gentle.

That was the point of my post a couple of weeks ago about how my great Aunt Edith prepared for her death and how I would like to emulate her:

”Over time it felt to me as if, perhaps, interest in her own world and in the world at large was diminishing because they were becoming fuzzier, less clear - metaphorically, not physically - and she paid less and less attention.

“Her time to leave was coming nearer and she did that in 1984, at age 89 after what was to my eyes, decade long period of preparation, an unwinding if you will, and a letting go of her attachment to the world.”

None of what I am saying takes anything away from power of Thomas's beloved poem. I would just like it not to be the only culturally acceptable way of death it has become.

In her post, Maria Popova included a video of Dylan Thomas reading his poem. I checked around YouTube and there are a lot of different recordings. I prefer this one by Richard Burton whom, I used to say, I would listen to reading the phone book. (You can read along with the text below the video.)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

* * *

RESISTANCE NOTES:
Several times I have pointed you toward the Indivisible Guide – written by a volunteer group of former Congressional Staffers - as the best, smartest, most definitive guide about how to resist President Trump and the Republican Congress.

The guide is free to download and they now have a printable version that won't use up so much printer ink as the original.

Already, thousands of local groups have been founded. You can find one near you here or start your own.

The group is now publishing an Action Calendar – what actions to take when. Bookmark it and check back regularly. It is a good way to keep national resistance actions throughout the country on topic together on the same day.

And, a couple of days ago, the group published its first video:


Done With Self-Improvement

EDITORIAL NOTE: Please take note of a new regular section at the bottom of today's post.

* * *

During most of my adult life, the United States has been big on self-improvement. Thousands of books bear witness to this – such titles as the granddaddy of them all, How to Win Friends and Influence People from the 1930s. You will undoubtedly recognize some of the biggest sellers since then including

Think and Grow Rich
Psycho-Cybernetics
The Power of Positive Thinking
Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
You Can Heal Your Life
The Road Less Traveled
Dress For Success
Your Erroneous Zones
I'm OK, You're OK
The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People
Codependence No More
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom

And so on ad infinitum. These self-help classics and thousands of lesser volumes promise that if you just change yourself in one particular way, you will be rich and famous and happy.

Or something like that.

I was never a strong fan of self-help books but there is a lot of pressure in American culture to be working on bettering yourself. Constantly.

It's hard to resist and over the years I did succumb to several personal development books even as I was disappointed at how thin and shallow the advice is.

Whatever change they promised, the result for me - not surprisingly - was some measure of guilt and self-loathing at not being good enough to master the instructions. Not exactly the what I was going for when I picked up the book.

Now that I have reached an age where I ought to be able to skate toward the end, they haven't eased off, these self-help gurus.

There is hardly an elder website worthy of the name that isn't stuffed with articles about how to achieve “positive ageing,” “creative ageing,” “successful ageing,” “better ageing” “purposeful ageing,” and one of my favorites, “how to look younger as you get older.” And much more.

But here's the thing: At 75, I don't need any help to “exercise my mind” or take up “lifelong learning.” I've been doing those things steadily, day by day since before I can remember and I doubt there are many people who can avoid it. By now, I'm not going to “overcome any fears” that I haven't already. And I don't have enough time left to worry about “identifying my blind spots.”

It exhausts me just to even think about doing such things at my age. I'm not saying the self-help industry is a sham but I've learned that there is no secret ingredient, no idea, no revelation that will make you or me a better person.

That comes from inside, from quiet times with ourselves, from living by the values we believe in.

It may have taken me way too long to get to this but no book, no guru, no facile elder webpage about how to age well is going to change me anymore than they did when I was young. I'm done with self-improvement and getting on with living however many years of life remain to me, warts and all.

Old People at Play

* * *

RESISTANCE NOTES:
(So much is happening so quickly in the new administration that even large news organizations are having trouble keeping pace, let alone a little, one-woman website like this. So now and then when the day's topic relates to ageing but I want to pass on some short, resistance-related information, I will post it here at the bottom of the main story. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.)

Here is the first go:

On Wednesday, in his daily email newsletter from Axios, Mike Allen reported on America's latest reading habit:

"'1984 sales soar after Trump claims, alternative facts' per AP: 'First published in 1949, Orwell's classic dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of newspeak topped the best-seller list of Amazon.com [last] evening...

"Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel about the election of an authoritarian president, It Can't Happen Here, was at No. 46. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was at No. 71. Sales also were up for Hannah Arendt's seminal nonfiction analysis, The Origins of Totalitarianism."

This is terrific, good news. I re-read all four of these books during the election campaign along with Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. They are important instruction manuals for the times we are living in now.


How Do You Want to Live the Rest of Your Life?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Here is an old-fashioned word for you: nonplussed (to be surprised and confused so much that you are unsure how to react). That's how I feel.

There is such a gigantic amount to be said following the nominee hearings, the Russia-related political events of last week and Trump's attack on John Lewis on Martin Luther King weekend that I don't know what to say first. Or second. Or third.

I am politically speechless for the time-being so even though I think there ought to be a discussion about our collective political nightmare, we'll do something else today.

* * *

When I first started this blog 14 or so years ago, hardly anything was published in the popular press about ageing. When old people were mentioned at all, it was sure to be ageist, negative or both - often something about how awful life after 40 is.

That changed with a vengeance beginning in 2006, when the entire media took notice at once that the oldest baby boomers were turning 60 that year. Suddenly, ageing was lucrative, if not “cool.”

Every magazine did a cover story that year about the don't-trust-anyone-over-30 generation's crossover into old age.

A torrent of books followed, along with a slew of articles in print, on brand new old-age websites, and right behind all of that a sudden upsurge in the number of people self-identified as “senior life coaches” - apparently for those of us who need instruction on how to grow old.

All that and more are still around - a now well-established corner of the lucrative personal advice market - so much so that I receive half a dozen press releases in an average week about new books, sometimes a television show, magazine or online articles whose writers I am told I should interview.

The thing is, however, they all have the same advice. After you translate the psychological or academic jargon of many and plow through the filler, each expert boils it down “empowerment” - bumper sticker wisdom ready-made for embroidering on a pillow, or the internet equivalent thereof, that we've known for most of our lives:

Be positive
Be true to yourself
Be who you truly are
Age gracefully
Successful ageing

That last one is a common promise of age gurus that leaves me wondering what the opposite looks like. Some time ago, one “expert” I was being asked to interview believed that decluttering the house was all anyone needed to “empower” their old age.

Nothing wrong with cleaning up but let's not overstate its transformational “power” of throwing out old knick-knacks.

You don't have to go far to find old age advice but these banal prescriptions, a lot of them from the flourishing life coach industry, sound flimsy, inadequate and ineffective. And anyway, why can't we just let life happen?

After we got past the fireman and princess stages, hardly any kids I knew in school had an inkling of what they wanted to be when we grew up and only a handful of the few who were passionate about becoming a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief actually did it.

Although teachers regularly asked us to write essays about our career goals, I never could come up with an answer.

After high school with adulthood looming, I didn't need a teacher to goad me into thinking about what to do with my life although by then, in keeping with the predicable stage of development I was passing through, it seemed more an existential question than the need to choose an occupation.

Pondering what might bring me personal satisfaction didn't get me any closer to to finding a worthwhile or interesting way to pay the rent than high school essay assignments so I made a deliberate decision to not make a decision.

I clearly recall thinking it through when I was 20 or 21: I would just keep on keeping on, putting one foot in front of the other and see where it would lead me - starting out with my single marketable skill, typing.

And you know what? It worked. It worked out amazingly well for me: several related careers producing radio, then television, then being part of the team creatiing one of the first news websites in the mid-1990s which gave me an internet career for the decade until I retired.

Without exception, it was compelling, satisfying work thaty expanded my knowledge of the world every day while giving me the chops to do this blog which has extended the same pleasures and rewards into my later years.

How lucky is that for someone without a plan?

No small part of the ongoing research for this blog has been paying enough attention to the senior life coaches and other old-age gurus (as distinct from medical and health information) to keep up with what they prescribe.

So far, there has been nothing useful to pass on to you that the ancient Greeks hadn't already told us (see above list).

Although it is not their purpose, what these “experts” have convinced me is that I should live the rest of my life as I did during the preceding half century – just keep moving and see where it takes me. After all, it worked well then; why not now?

What about you? Do you have a plan for how to live the rest of your life? Did you ever have a plan or, like me, did you just let it happen?

Makeyoursoulhappy1


News About Old People - 11 January 2017

Here are a few items I want to tell you about that do not quite fit Saturday's Interesting Stuff and are also not big enough or meaty enough for a post of their own. Even so, I think you might be interested in some of them and unlike the Saturday post, these all relate to growing old.

If you like this, I'll do it every now and then. Let me know.

* * *

I'M NOT AGING “WELL” - I'M OLD

As you know, I insist on using the world “old” - there is nothing wrong with it or with being old. It's a perfectly good description of people from about age 60 on.

EricaManfredNot long ago, Senior Planet contributor, Erica Manfred, wrote about how deeply denial of age has wormed its way into our culture:

”People used to think of growing old as part of the natural progression of life from birth to death. Not anymore,” writes Erica. “Now we go directly from middle age to you’re-just-as-old-as-you-feel.
 “Old age” has been dropped from our vocabulary.

“'You’re not old!' people say when I describe myself that way. I’m 74 with an assortment of age-related ailments and a generous complement of sags and wrinkles. If I’m not old, who is?”

Erica wants elders to stop judging one another by how “youthful” we act or look and hurray for her:

“I’m taking a page from Martin Luther King:” she says. “I have a dream that one day elders will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tautness of their muscles but by the content of their character.”

You can read more of her essay here.

STUDENT LOANS IMPOVERISHING ELDERS

A new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reveals that elders (age 60/62 and older) are drowning in student loan debt:

Although most student loan borrowers are young adults between the ages of 18 and 39, consumers age 60 and older are the fastest growing age-segment of the student loan Market.

“This trend is not only the result of borrowers carrying student debt later into life, but also the growing number of parents and grandparents financing their children’s and grandchildren’s college education.”

The details are horrifying, as Huffington Post explains:

”A full 68 percent of older borrowers living in poverty with Social Security garnishment are only seeing their benefit cuts devoted to interest and fees.

“The federal government is profiting from this mess. Every time a debt collector scrapes a Social Security check, the U.S. Treasury Department collects $15.

“'Our government is shoving tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities into poverty through garnishment every year ― and charging them $15 every month for the privilege, “ says Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. 'This is predatory and counterproductive.'”

Read the full CFPB report [pdf] here. The Huffpost story is here.

86-YEAR-OLD INTERNATIONAL JEWEL THIEF NABBED

On 13 December 2016, reports The New York Times, 86-year-old Doris Payne

”...was arrested on Tuesday by the police in Dunwoody, an affluent suburb north of Atlanta, after she slipped a Lagos diamond necklace worth nearly $2,000 in her pocket and was stopped by a security guard, according to the Dunwoody police.”

It wasn't the first time. Payne has been stealing jewelry in the capitols of the entire world for 70 years – and getting away with a lot of it. There's even a documentary and a movie about her. Here's the trailer:

Apparently, she's really good at it. You gotta love her, criminal or not. You can watch documentary at YouTube for $3.99.

BEAUTIFUL RURAL RETIREMENT HOME IN JAPAN

In the mountains of Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan, sits an amazing retirement home for two old women.

It was designed by architect Issei Suma who is known for his intriguing buildings. This this structure shaped like five tents that due to the harmonious flow and the design that perfectly combines minimalism with an ecological style.

The building also features a spiral-shaped indoor pool that can be accessed by wheelchair and a common kitchen for both ladies, their caregiver and a cook. The 100 square meter complex is called Jikka. Take a look.

Thank lilalia who blogs at Yum Yum Cafe for this story.

TYPES OF DEMENTIA

If you read only the news media, you would think that Alzheimer's Disease is a synonym for dementia, and that just is not so.

Not long ago, Medical News Today (MNT) published a list with descriptions of types of dementia which typically involve problems with thinking, reasoning, and problem solving:

Alzheimer's
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Dementia with Lewy bodies
Frontotemporal dementia
Parkinson's disease
Huntington's disease
Mixed dementia
Normal pressure hydrocephalus
Vascular dementia
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

I'll bet that's a longer list than you thought - it's certainly true for me. There is more useful information at MNT.

ELDERS READING MANY MORE BOOKS THAN IN THE PAST

As the Gallup organization announced recently:

”Despite Americans' ability to access more information, social networks, games and media than ever before, as well as the lingering rumors of the book's demise, Americans still say they are reading books.”

According to the Gallup report, the most meaningful reading behavior since 2002 is evident among elders, Americans who are 65 and older.

”Collectively, they are reading more books than the same age group did in 2002. The percentage reading one or more books increased from 68% to 85%, including a four-percentage-point increase in those reading 11 or more, from 33% to 37%.

Here's the chart to go with that information:

BookReadbyAgeGallup

Most readers of all age groups are reading “real” books. Take a look at this chart:

BooksFormatsGallup

You can read more details at the Gallup website.