885 posts categorized "Culture"

Memorial Day 2017 and a 92nd Birthday

PlacingFlags2680

That is one of the U.S. soldiers who spent a good deal of time last week placing a flag at each and every one of the more than 400,000 military graves at Arlington Cemetery.

Today, beginning at 2PM EDT, there will be the National Memorial Day Parade down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. to honor those who died during their service to our country.

The other two big, national events - the National Memorial Day Concert and the Indianapolis 500 auto race - took place yesterday. I have no idea why this car race is always held on Memorial Day.

Other traditions on this holiday are small-town parades, picincs, backyard barbecues for family and friends along with fireworks in many cities and towns tonight.

And there is is one more celebration this Memorial Day weekend, a big one for us at here at Time Goes by: the 92nd birthday(!) of Darlene Costner today.

If you read the comments, you know her name, and you know she never pulls any punches. Darlene always says exactly what she means and I'm proud to call her a friend for at least a decade now.

So, everyone, please join me in wishing Darlene a fabulous and beautiful 92nd birthday.

BirthdayFlowers

EDITORIAL NOTE: I had plans for a more elaborate post today – you know, Darlene's big deal birthday, the holiday and maybe something about patriotism in the age of Trump.

But I've been under the weather for the past couple of days (nothing serious) and just ran out of steam so this will have to do. I'll see you back here soon.


Cheating Death is an Ancient Dream

PROTEST FCC CHANGES TO NET NEUTRALITY
Finally, John Oliver's direct link to the FCC comment page on the agency's net neutrality changes is up and running again.

To get there, go to this URL, click on the word, “express” at the far right of the page. At the next page, you can fill in the form and let them know that you support net neutrality and Title 2.

Again, here is the procedure – Oliver has made it so much easier than the FCC does:

  1. Navigate in your browser to gofccyourself.com
  2. Click the word “express” on the right side of the page
  3. Fill in the form to support net neutrality and Title 2

It will take you only a few minutes to do this and if enough people do, we can save net neutrality – like last time, three years ago. (If you need a refresher about this issue, click here and scroll down about halfway.)

* * *

A month ago, I told you about the quest of a bunch of billionaire tech executives who are spending large chunks of their personal wealth on longevity research convinced they can conquer death in their lifetimes and live forever.

Founders of Facebook, eBay, Napster and Netscape among others, reported the Washington Post, are driven by a certainty that rebuilding, regenerating and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells and DNA will enable people to live longer and better.

Oracle founder Larry Ellison says, “Death has never made any sense to me.” Google has backed a project called Calico with the ambition of “curing death.”

As I mentioned in that March post, the creepiest research so far is what I couldn't help but label “the vampire project” in which scientists say that old mice show remarkable rejuvenation when transfused with the blood of young mice. And the research hasn't stopped with rodents.

At a private clinic called Ambrosia in Monterey, California, people can pay $8,000 to have blood plasma from teenagers and young adults pumped into their veins.

Many of us were taught in school that 16th century Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon made it his mission in Florida to find the fountain of youth. That's probably a myth but tales of such magical waters have been told since at least the 5th century BCE.

Fountainofyouth3

I was reminded of this ancient pursuit of mankind a few days ago in a newsletter I receive from H.R. Moody, editor of the Teaching Gerontology at the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Moody linked to a wonderful story about the extreme ways humanity has tried to cheat death throughout history. Amazingly, blood transfers from young to old are far from being a new idea. Here is a sampling:

6TH CENTURY BCE
Those who want to live a longer life are advised to consume a mix of root powder, gold, honey and butter after a morning bath according to the Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit medical text.

1ST CENTURY CE
Pliny the Elder reports of Romans with epilepsy rushing to drink blood of gladiators to cure their ailment and gain strength and vigor. (Pliny did not think this was a good idea.)

4TH CENTURY CE
The alchemist Ge Hong describes a medicine made from the brains of a certain kind of monkey that, mixed with herbs, would lengthen life up to 500 years.

1489
Philosopher Marsilio Ficini suggests the elderly drink the blood of young men to rejuvenate themselves. A few years later, Pope Innocent VIII tried it. He died shortly after.

1667
French doctor Jean-Baptiste Denis performs the first animal-human blood transfusion. The human patient recovered afterwards.

1920
Eugene Steinach experiments with a popular procedure that involves a partial vasectomy. Among his patients were W.B. Yeats and Sigmund Freud. The latter hoped it might slow his jaw cancer. It didn't.

1930
British newspapers report that a man named Giocondo Protti successfully rejuvenated the elderly by performing blood transfusions from young donors.

And if you believe that...

These are just a few of the various historical attempts to avoid the grim reaper that you'll find listed at the Time magazine story.

I wonder if the tech billionaires will eventually join the likes of Ge Hong, Marsilio Ficini, Jean-Baptiste Denis, etc. as amusing sidebars in misbegotten pipe dreams or become more famous for their longevity success than for their technology companies.

Science-cheat-death



Old and Young Having Fun Together

Three or four years ago, I was invited to a “Brownie Day” at the Adult Community Center (ACC) – the name my town gives the senior center.

The nine-year-old members of a local Brownie troop (young Girl Scouts) each made a batch of brownies herself from a family recipe as refreshments for an afternoon of board games with members of the ACC, elders all.

At first, we were a little shy with one another; after exchanging names we were not sure what to talk about. But the ACC manager, who knows what she's doing, soon had us settled down at tables for the games.

By the end of the afternoon, thanks to the silly board games we played together with the sugar high from the brownies that had us all laughing and giggling together as if we were drunk, we actually shared some real conversation about our lives.

[You can find out more about that afternoon in this post from 2014.]

There is, in recent years, a lot of conversation around the need for more intergenerationality. That word is a mouthful and it sounds dull as hell. In most cases, it is.

Meetings are held, studies are done and with a few excellent exceptions, nothing happens beyond bureaucratic-sounding checklists of items that don't produce much substance. Like this one:

Get local foundations to support intergenerational projects
Lobby local government to make intergenerationalism a core value
Ask organizations that work with the young to collaborate with the old

You can't say anything is wrong with those ideas except that there is nothing specific to hang on to, nothing that says, “Hey, let's give this a try.”

What if people whose hearts and minds are moving in the right direction talked about, instead – oh, say

Young folks helping elders with technology
Young and old making music together
Playing games – silly ones and, for example, chess too
A hike and picnic with one another
Cooking meals together

I'm sure you can come up with more activities that old and young can participate in equally – the kinds of things that grease the wheels of conversation among age groups that don't get to spend much time together, and especially that lead them to laugh with one anther.

Something close to that has been happening recently in and around the U.S. Capitol.

GTG tech three girls

Last week, the Washington Post published a story about three 17-year-old high school students - Hannah Docter-Loeb, Kaela Marcus-Kurn and Aviah Krupnic - who started a group they named GTG Tech which, they say, stands for Generation to Generation and Grandkids to Grandparents and Giving the Gift.

”...they hold free training sessions at libraries, senior centers and community halls once a month [in the Washington, D.C. area]. It’s a nonprofit, volunteer group that’s growing as their friends join in to help.

“But it’s not like they’re trained computer experts, the girls reminded me. They’re working on the simple, everyday tasks that digital natives take for granted.

“'We just grew up in this, so we know how to do it,' said Kaela, a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.”

Here's a short video produced by One News Page about GTG Tech:

A whole lot more is going on than showing an 80-year-old how to text her boyfriend, or helping an 87-year-old who didn't understand how to use Wi-Fi:

”...there is also something magic about the formula, the intergenerational exchange that happens when young and old interact, especially when they aren’t related.

“'It’s like a blood transfusion. It’s about more than computers,' said Renee Dunham, 78, after the teens helped her with text messaging. 'I learn a little bit about their lives. How they organize their lives, their phones. What they’re listening to or what tech they’re using.'

“And, Dunham observed, it came with no strings attached. No long debates with her granddaughter about her hair and make-up, no reminders to tell her grandson not to slouch.

“'Like you can’t teach a family member to drive. That never works,' Dunham said.”

GTG tech one-on-one teaching

I'm not a sociologist nor a child psychologist, but those clauses I bolded strike me as right on the money with families. GTG Tech has been wildly successful both in terms of popularity and what young and old are getting out of it which is much more than instruction.

”Although it might be easy to make fun of Grandpa when he brings in his three maxed-out Hotmail accounts and isn’t sure how to delete emails,” writes the WaPo reporter, Petula Dvorak, “the teens have learned that he was once a hottie who flew warplanes. Or the lady walking with a cane used to be a ballet dancer.

“On a recent rainy Saturday at the Chevy Chase library, every GTG Tech slot was full. And for three hours, the teens gave digital advice to many interesting seniors: a retired linguistics professor, a pioneer FORTRAN programmer, a former wire service reporter.”

Grandchildren notwithstanding, few of us have opportunities to spend real time with people of a generation so different from our own, nor do many young people have reasons to hang out much with elders unrelated to them.

But in the case of GTG Tech, everyone is getting an up close and personal insight into what each other's lives are like - which is what happened to me with Brownie troop.

Do they give you any ideas? (The photos in this story are from the GTG Tech website which you will find here.)

Wide shot GTG Tech teaching


Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder

Earlier this week, I received this email note from Peter Tibbles, he who runs the Sunday Elder Music column and is a handful of years younger than I am:

”This morning I decided to take some cardboard down to the recycle bin (and yes, they were empty wine boxes). So with laden hands, I unlocked the door and attempted to pull the key out of the lock (I have a deadlock and I leave the key in the lock when I'm home).

“It wouldn't come out. I tried and tried, but nothing. Well, the door was open so I decided to take the cardboard downstairs and check it later, making sure that the downstairs door was snibbed open.

Lock

“Well, I got back and the key still wouldn't come out of the lock no matter what I did. Then it occurred to me that it should be aligned at 3 o'clock to come out, not 6 o'clock as I was trying to do.

“Thirty years I've been here.

“I offer these mitigating circumstances: the lock on the other side of the door requires the 6 o'clock orientation to remove the key. Perhaps I didn't know if I was inside or outside.”

Oh, I know all about such a memory lapse. They happen to me all the time. It takes a good deal longer than necessary to get blog posts done because I frequently have to hunt for the feature I want in OpenOffice or paint.net or my email.

Peter has his 30 years using that lock. I have two decades using these computer programs; I should be able to function with them in my sleep. But nooooooo.

A few days ago, my Kindle needed charging. I opened the drawer where the cable lives and – oops, nothing there. I stared in disbelief; I'm good at returning items to where they belong.

It took a few hours for me to recall that a month or two ago I had moved the cable to a drawer in another room.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. I had broken one of my own long-standing rules for being old: never, ever change the place where you have stored a tool for a long time because the first storage place will stick in your mind forever and you might never find the tool again.

These – Peter's and my own memory-related mistakes – will not be unfamiliar to most of you who read this blog. I have dozens of other examples and I'm sure you do too.

Yesterday, I heard from cyber-friend and fellow New Yorker, Esther Harriott. You may remember her name from the story here two years ago about her excellent book, Writers and Age: Essays on and Interviews with Five Authors.

Esther included a link to a video that has a load of fun with the topic of today's post. It may be as vaguely familiar to some of you as it was to me yesterday. I was surprised find that it had been posted in these pages as a written joke in 2007, and in 2011, this self-same video - which further underlines the transitory nature of elder memory - or, at least, mine. Enjoy.

I'm no doctor or medical researcher but I'm pretty sure none of these incidents should be read as incipient dementia. It's just, as the video says, age-activated attention deficit disorder. Nothing to do but live with it.


December/May Romance

When I was in my twenties, I came to know for awhile a couple in which the wife was 18 or 20 years older than her husband who was about my age.

Although I enjoyed meals, day trips and other get-togethers with them, I was still young enough to feel some discomfort hanging out with a woman who was closer in age to my mother than to me.

My failing, but I was young then without much experience with people a good deal older than I was who by definition were intimidating: parents, teachers and employers.

Many years later, I dated for a year or so, a man who was 14 or 15 years younger than I was. He was 27 when we met and I was in my early 40s. Most of my friends thought there were far fewer years between us than there were because, I suspect, we were in our middle years – 30-ish and 50-ish - when it is often easy to be way off when guessing a person's age.

While it lasted, it was a lovely romance and our breakup had nothing to do with age.

Undoubtedly you have heard by now that the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, age 39, has been married to Brigitte Macron (nee Trogneaux) since 2007, and that she is 64 years old.

That age difference has made for fascinating reading in newspapers and magazines. First, here is a short backgrounder:

This December/May marriage has generated a large amount of commentary in France and abroad, and unlike the same age difference – 24 years - between U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, some of it has been quite mean.

Town and Country magazine reports that
”News outlets snidely pointed to her deep tan, thin frame, and honey blonde hair, calling her a 'menopausal Barbie.' Some said he was 'hot for teacher,' or had mommy issues, and rumors flew that he was gay and theirs was a marriage of convenience.”

Others portrayed President Macron “as a 'mummy’s boy' who needs Mme Macron to wipe his mouth or give him 'a smack' for misbehaving.”

Glamour magazine reports that Macron has no patience with what he sees as the sexism and homophobia behind the attacks and has criticized the double standard

”... that allows men to marry much younger women while treating older women who do the same thing as deviants—or as covers for homosexuality. 'If I had been 20 years older than my wife, nobody would have thought for a single second that I couldn't be [an intimate partner],' he said.

"'It's because she is 20 years older than me that lots of people say, 'This relationship can't be tenable.'"

On Sunday, Brigitte Macron's youngest daughter from her first marriage, Tiphaine Auzière who is an attorney, defended her mother from those sexist and ageist remarks:

”'I find it totally outrageous in France in the 21st century to make such attacks...These are attacks that we wouldn’t direct at male politicians or at a man who would accompany a female politician. So I think there’s a lot of jealousy, and that this is very inappropriate.'”

No kidding.

The Telegraph in the U.K. saw the December/May romance in a lovelier light:

”The French want their women to be chic, witty, have charm; all characteristics that have little to do with youth; in fact which require experience.

“In fact, there are few more powerful words to a young Frenchman than 'une femme expérimentée'. Literature abounds with stories of young men 'déniaisés” (literally: made less stupid) by women who know what they are about.”

On the U.S. side of the Atlantic, Roger Cohen refused to acknowledge any French ageism, sexism or mysogyny in his New York Times column, and saw nothing but grace in the French reaction to the Macrons' age difference:

”People come to France for its beauty, but what finally beguiles them is its civilization, at once formal and sensual, an art of living and loving. I have been thinking of this non-judgmental French gift as the newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, and his wife, Brigitte, prepare to move into the Élysée Palace next week.

“They are an unusual couple. He is 39; she is 64. They met, as everyone knows by now, when he was a teenager and she was his drama teacher, a married woman with three children. Macron, through her, now has seven grandchildren whom he embraces as his own.

“To all of which the chief French response has been: Who cares?”

Well, maybe not quite but certainly as it ought to be.

Here in the U.S., it has always been acceptable for old men - often with a wink and a nod toward their masculinity - to take beautiful women young enough to be their daughters as their girlfriends and wives. (Some of those men have been known to turn in those wives for younger models when the first ones don't look quite as fresh and nubile as they once did.) But any woman who does the same is almost always viewed, in the words of Macron himself, a deviant or a beard.

I'm hoping that President and Madame Macron, who appear from outside to be as happy together as newlyweds, will help move women toward parity with men in romance because love isn't all that easy to find at any stage of life and no one should let age get in the way of it.


Sex and Old People

On Monday we talked about language, certain words that are offensive to some people, so why not move right along to talking about sex today, elder sex, and see how it goes.

Up movie still

When I began this blog in 2004, the words “old people” and “sex” almost never appeared in the same sentence in general-interest publications, especially when young adults were doing the writing. It was just too “eeew” for them to think about mom and dad or their grandparents doing the nasty.

In the years since then, this has changed. Google it and you'll get more than 30 million returns ranging from scientific studies to videos of actual sex acts with old people.

Before we go any further and so you know where I'm coming from, let me confess that the latter of those extremes is problematic for me. I get ootchy – always have at every age - viewing even the most artistic presentations of sex in movies whether the actors have gorgeous young bodies or wrinkly old ones.

However, do not let that lead you to believe that I find sex distasteful in any way. We'll leave my history out of this beyond saying that it has been joyful and abundant. Sex is a wonderful thing. I just think it's better in private – at least for me.

As that Google search indicates, there is little reticence in any media these days about elder sex. Everybody seems to be talking about it and the idea that old people don't get it on after some certain, unspecified age has been fading. As Huffington Post reported in January,

”...The New England Journal of Medicine...surveyed 3,005 men and women, between the ages of 57 and 85 and living in the US, about their sex lives. It found that the majority of older adults who were married or had intimate partners remained sexually active well into their 80s.

“In general, sexual activity tended to decline with age, but a significant number of men and women reported engaging in intercourse, oral sex and masturbation even in their eighth and ninth decades.”

That's one of the better surveys that didn't cut off the age range at about 70 as so many others do. Another study, reported in the Daily Beast a couple of years ago, revealed similar results:

”...sex among the senior set is important, with 46 percent of men and 33 percent of women over 70 reporting that they masturbate, and 43 percent of men and 22 of women in the same age bracket saying they engage in sexual intercourse.”

I'm not so sure these studies are not undertaken so much for general knowledge as to reassure young people that sex won't stop when they get old – or doesn't need to, anyway. What isn't often discussed, however, is that the urge diminishes over time.

For 10 or 15 years, in my case, it has felt like my hormone level must have dropped by about 90 percent. Even so, I continue to believe that if the opportunity presented itself, I would be as eager as at any previous time in life.

Not that anyone has lately given me a reason to test that theory which, according to one report (HuffPo again), may limit my libido:

"Janet Gibbens, MD, a gynecologist at Providence Health Systems in Portland, OR, says: 'Use it or lose it’ has to do with the fact that regular sexual acts bring more blood flow, and therefore more oxygen, to the vagina and to the penis.

"It promotes healthier sexual organs and improves lubrication and elasticity, particularly for women. Non-intercourse forms of sex are helpful with this as well.”

As wonderful as sex is, what I miss these days of living alone is what a friend calls "skin hunger" – the deep human desire to be touched, not necessarily sexually. In answer to that need, my birthday present to myself this year was an hour-long, full-body massage which I now schedule once a month.

Lovely Still movie

It is affordable for me because the local senior center provides a masseuse at a much reduced price compared to commercial services. A highly recommend it if you aren't already way ahead of me.

Another issue with old people and sex is that it may become physically difficult depending on health conditions. The internet's long-time guru of sex in old age, Joan Price, had some nice suggestions about that at Senior Planet last year:

“Explore each other’s entire bodies,” she writes. “Our skin is our largest sex organ. Invite your partner to touch your body all over—no goals, just pleasure. On a different day, switch to exploring your partner.

“Whether you’ve known each other for a long time or just a little while, this is the body you live in now, and there’s plenty to discover about how it looks and responds.”

Just about any article you read about old people and sex includes a reminder sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have been on the rise among elders in particular for a few years, and practicing safe sex is essential.

That makes it good to know that since 2012, Medicare Part B has allowed for free annual screenings for senior citizens for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis and/or hepatitis B.

It's been awhile since I checked around the web for what it is saying about old people and sex and it has changed mostly for the better. There is little reticence about it now even when the language is sometimes ageist or too cutesy.

What shows nowadays is that old sex is a lot like young sex if you don't count frequency or athleticism, as U.S. News reported last year:

”One of the biggest misconceptions about older adults is that they lack passion, Foley says. 'Some people have had this extraordinary long-term partnership where they remain very passionate,' she says.

“'And other people who are widowed or divorced, when they fall in love and they’re in their 70s or their 80s, they feel the same way as people who fall in love in their 20s. They’re gaga for the person. And their sex is great.'”

As I've always said (and forgotten who I'm quoting), sex is the friendliest thing two people can do.

Vicious TV show


Profanity and Crabby Old Lady

EDITORIAL NOTE: Ted Carr, who worked in the tech industry during some its most exciting years, retired about six years ago. He now hosts a podcast called Retirement Journeys – Real-Life Experience that Informs, Engages and Inspires and in February, he invited me to be a guest on his show.

We had a wonderful time talking about growing old, ageism, retirement, my career before that and much more. Ted has now posted the podcast at his website which you can listen to here. It's about 21 minutes long and there are more such podcasts you might find interesting.

Thank you, Ted. I am pleased and honored to have been asked.

* * *

Every now and then, Crabby Old Lady has been known to publish words in these pages that in her youth were never said in “polite company” and certainly not used in newspapers and magazines targeting general audiences.

When TimeGoesBy was new, back in 2004 and for some years beyond, she would never use “dirty words” any more than The New York Times or the Washington Post or The New Yorker would do so those days.

But time passes, tastes change and those venerable publications along with TGB sometimes allow such “profanities” as shit, fuck, cock, etc.

Crabby is certain that those titans of mainstream print have codified editorial guidelines for the approved use of such informal language. Crabby? She just goes with what feels right at the moment. Quotations, of course, are acceptable. And on rare occasions – particularly when a politician has said something exceptionally stupid or loathsome – she'll let fly a “What the fuck.”

What Crabby can be sure of when she does that is that a cluster of unsubscribe notices will arrive indicating “offensive” as the reason for canceling. So be it.

A week ago, in his monologue, Late Night host Stephen Colbert ran afoul of people with similar pristine sensibilities and before the show ended, #firecolbert was trending on Twitter.

Here is his transgression prompted by President Trump having dissed Colbert's CBS coworker, John Dickerson:

Crabby is pretty sure you can figure out what he said. If not, here is how Inside Edition published the remark on their website including their coy abbreviation:

“You attract more skinheads than Rogaine... You have more people marching against you than cancer. You talk like a sign language gorilla who got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is for Vladimir Putin’s c*** holster."

The usual suspects, mostly those of the conservative persuasion, erupted as expected and it didn't take long for FCC Chairman Agit Pai (you know, the guy who wants to gut net neutrality so the big internet providers can make more money) to threaten Colbert with “appropriate action.”

”The FCC's response will depend on whether Colbert’s remarks are considered 'obscene,'” Pai said according to The Hill.

“'We are going to take the facts that we find and we are going to apply the law as it’s been set out by the Supreme Court and other courts and we’ll take the appropriate action,” [Pai] told Talk Radio 1210 WPHT Thursday.

“'Traditionally, the agency has to decide, if it does find a violation, what the appropriate remedy should be,' he said. 'A fine, of some sort, is typically what we do.'”

To do that, the FCC will need to meet the U.S. Supreme Court's test for obscenity and blah, blah, blah.

All this had Crabby Old Lady assuming that, based on nothing more than conventional wisdom and her experience with blog unsubscribers, old people are a large percentage of those taking umbrage with Colbert's somewhat unusual choice of words.

But maybe not. A quick (very quick, no big-time research involved) trip around the internet turned up this, for example, from a 2011 report about a then-new Broadway show. From the New York Post [their abbreviations, not mine]:

”Standing under the marquee for Broadway smash The Book of Mormon, 92-year-old theatergoer Gloria Lewis is shocked by the musical she just saw. Packed with profane lyrics, such as 'F – – – you, God, in the a – -, mouth and c – – – ’' and characters with names like 'General Butt-F – – – ing Naked,' you can hardly blame the sweet little old lady for being a bit ruffled.

“But Lewis isn’t agitated in any negative sense. In fact, she’s blown away by the 14-time Tony-nominated musical, which is drawing enthusiastic, raving crowds of seniors just like her nightly.

“Very brilliant!” says the feisty senior citizen from Queens, who is a retired investigator for the Department of Labor and laughs in the face of anyone who thinks she or either of her octogenarian pals might be offended by the language.

“As her girlfriends, 85 and 88, smile and giggle by her side, Lewis says matter-of-factly: 'F – – – is a very common word today. Offended? Not at all.'”

Last fall, Stanford University published a widely reported study titled Frankly, We Do Give a Damn on the relationship between profanity and honesty. The researchers concluded:

"On the one hand, profane individuals are widely perceived as violating moral and social codes, and thus deemed untrustworthy and potentially antisocial and dishonest.

"On the other hand, profane language is considered as more authentic and unfiltered, thus making its users appear more honest and genuine.

"These opposing views on profanity raise the question of whether profane individuals tend to be more or less dishonest..."

"We found a consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level, and with higher integrity at the society level."

The study did not differentiate among age groups but Crabby Old Lady now feels free to assert that when she lets loose a long string profane invective after having banged a toe or includes a mild “what the fuck” on this blog in reference to a latest political idiocy, she is being authentic, genuine and honest.

Anyone who disagrees is free to unsubscribe.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday, Stephen Colbert issued on his show, a non-apology while including an acknowledgement to the overly sensitive who believed his original comedic tirade was homophobic. (Oh please):

And so go the culture wars. What do you think?



Making a Good Life in Retirement

WorkRetireSign

An acquaintance, looking to discuss his recent unsought retirement, emailed to arrange lunch. His efforts to deal with retirement, he said, have been “futile” so far and he hopes my “advice will inspire” him.

Oy vey. Advice is not an item on my resume.

Two or three weeks ago I published a story here about how retirement is a good time to discover being in a world that prizes doing. It was a useful enough post but it doesn't cover the larger, existential shift from career to the next stage of life.

I'm probably not far off to say that about 99 percent of the 21 million results in a Google search, “planning for retirement,” is about finance and almost all of those are aimed at people who have both money to save or invest and many more years to do it.

But there are a lot more ways to arrive at retirement than planning for it. I'm one of them, one of the people who was age-discriminated (is that a verb?) out of the workforce long before I had intended.

And that was five years before 2008 when tens of millions of U.S. workers much younger than I were laid off 15, 20 or more years before their expected retirement date. Millions of them have never again worked in their fields nor for anywhere near the salary they had been making before the crash.

Retirementburlapbag

So they were forced to retire only halfway through their expected career span living now on god knows what money or are eking out their years at minimum wage jobs until they are old enough for Social Security.

(An excellent piece of reporting on the latter circumstance can be found in a story titled “Too Poor to Retire and Too Young to Die” at the Los Angeles Times.)

But today, I'm concerned with the people in the middle, people like the friend I'm having lunch with next week and me and a lot of TGB readers: that is, people who may or may not have been surprised at finding themselves retired one day, who likely had to cut back expenditures but are not in dire monetary straits.

As I've related here more than once, I was lucky. I had begun this blog a year or so before I was laid off. It wasn't all smooth sailing – I flailed around working out money and living arrangements, and how to order my days without an outside schedule. But essentially I glided from a writing/editing web job with a four-hour, round-trip commute to a writing/editing web job with a two-minute commute, and it is still satisfying after 13 years at it.

In no way, when I started TimeGoesBy, did I have an inkling that it would become my main retirement interest - it was simple luck - and most people hit with unexpected retirement aren't even that well prepared.

Before settling into a new life, there are the practical realities, of course: money, location, healthcare. Once those are arranged, however, what comes next? What do I want to do with my time now? What will get me out of bed each morning? The questions are mostly short but hardly simple. Here are a few:

What gives me pleasure?
What do I most care about?
Can I use my career experience in new ways now?
What's been missing from my life?
What have I always dreamed about doing?
What gives me a sense of purpose?
What and who are most important to me?
What does an ideal day look like?

There are many others and the hard part is that no one can answer for you.

So for those of you who have already navigated to a satisfying life in retirement, how did you do that? And for those of you who haven't got there yet, how are you thinking about it? Or, maybe, what questions are you pondering?

Remember, this isn't about whether to move to a new city, state or country. Or whether to sell your home or what are the best investments for old people.

Instead, how did you or will you address these existential or life questions. How did you decide how to live these last years – maybe decades – in the most satisfying way for you?

This is important stuff for all older people and there may be hints in your thoughts for the rest of us.


Are Old People (and Everyone Else) Sleeping All Wrong?


Edouard_Vuillard_-_In_Bed_-_Google_Art_Project

ITEM 1: Everyone knows that insomnia is a common condition of growing old; it just comes with age, like wrinkles.

ITEM 2: We also know that the proper and natural way to get a good night's sleep is to bed down in a dark, dedicated room sometime in the evening either alone or with a spouse, sleep for seven or eight hours straight and wake refreshed in the morning.

Well, not so fast. Item 1 is definitely wrong. Statistics for insomnia are about the same among all age groups. And there is growing evidence that Item 2 has been the “norm” for only the past 200 years or so, and much to our detriment according to a new book.

AtDaysCloseBack in 2012, I told you about the interesting thesis of British historian Roger Ekirch. Until the invention and widespread use of artificial light in the 19th century, he reported, people in Europe had generally slept in two shifts – first sleep and second sleep.

From Ekirch's book, At Day's Close – Night in Times Past,

”...fragments in several languages...give clues to the essential features of this puzzling pattern of repose.

“Both phases of sleep lasted roughly the same length of time, with individuals waking sometime after midnight before returning to rest...Men and women referred to both intervals as if the prospect of awakening in the middle of the night was common knowledge that required no elaboration...”

“After midnight, pre-industrial households usually began to stir. Many of those who left their beds merely needed to urinate...Some persons, however, after arising, took the opportunity to smoke tobacco, check the time, or tend a fire.”

More evidence for the second sleep idea has emerged since Ekirch's book was published in 2005.

When I first read about this phenomenon five or six years ago, it seemed to explain my difficulty with sleeping: regularly waking after three or four hours and unable to return to sleep for an hour or two or even three sometimes.

It's not a nightly occurrence but happens more often than not. Now and then I try to find ways to sleep through the night but mostly I just live with it. Now I may embrace it. Read on.

However sleeplessness manifests itself from individual to individual, a good night's sleep is widely difficult to achieve and the billions of dollars a year spent by millions of people on physicians, medications, nostrums, self-help books, products and clinics in an effort to get a full night of restful sleep don't help anyone much.

WildNightsNow, in a new book titled Wild Nights – How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World – Benjamin Reiss, while acknowledging that Ekirch's thesis that electric lights reordered our sense of time and, perhaps, evolutionary rhythms, another at least equal contributor to widespread disordered sleep is the industrial revolution.

Before then, for many centuries in many countries, sleep was a social event involving adults and children together and even visitors:

”For starters, the notion of sleeping in a private bedroom, out of view of strangers or even most other family members, turns out to have shallow roots,” writes Reiss...

“Historian Sasha Handley reveals that even the idea of a 'bedroom,' denoting a room primarily associated with sleep, is rather new.

“Throughout the eighteenth century in England, most homes had rooms with overlapping functions depending on the time of day; and well into the nineteenth century, it was common for travelers to share beds with strangers.”

Sleeping-beauty-painting

Reiss writes that along with gas and then electric lighting, the arrival of the railroad with speeds no one in history had experienced before contributed to loss of sleep, he attributes it mostly to the migration of workers from farm to factory.

When employers needed to count on employees arriving on schedule to keep production humming, they even used wake-up bells to rouse the people in the factory towns:

”Time itself became a chief product of the industrial age,” Reiss continues, “and when clock time did not correspond to natural rhythms, artificial lighting could enforce it.

“Despite, or perhaps because of, the factory system's role in creating havoc with sleep schedules, the idea of a standard model for healthful sleep – eight unbroken hours – took hold.”

The change was helped along in no small manner by do-gooders who didn't like adults, children and strangers of both sexes mixing it up all together under one blanket.

Benjamin Reiss explains up front that his goal with his book was to unravel the reasons for our current sleep-obsessed society with ”a blend of literature, the social and medical history of sleep, cross-cultural analysis, and some brief forays into science...”

It is a fascinating read revealing that our current definition of “normal” sleep is far from being so, and our relentless pursuit of that norm may even be a, if not the, culprit in our widespread cultural insomnia.

The story is much more complex than I have space to explain, but below are a few more quotations that may help you, as I have, think about reordering your beliefs about sleep.

And who has more time than retired people who no longer need to waken to an alarm to try out different ways of finding satisfying sleep.

“...those who argue that there is no single way to sleep naturally or correctly give us license to be more forgiving of our own sleep patterns, to stop thinking that there is a 'right' way that we're failing to achieve.”
“...it's arguable that when sleep began to be shut off from social life, walled away behind closed doors, it became less pleasurable, more pressurized, more fragile, and more subject to the vagaries of individual psychology.”
“Other scientific research gives the lie to the notion that humans are wired to sleep the same way every night...

And one more thing:

“...ducks sleep in a row, with the ones on the edges keeping an outer eye open.”

Did you know that? I didn't know that.

Sleepinginpark1


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.