569 posts categorized "Journal"

How Old is Your Stuff?

About a year and a half ago, Next Avenue published a story about how adult children and grandchildren these days don't want their parents' “stuff”. As Susan Devaney, president of NASMM [National Association of Senior Move Managers] told the writer:

“'Young couples starting out don’t want the same things people used to have. They’re not picking out formal china patterns anymore.'”

The executive director of the NASMM agrees:

“'[Millennials are] an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally, much more so than the boomers. They don’t have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did,' she notes. 'And they’re more mobile. So they don’t want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move across country for a new opportunity.'”

I've heard this from other sources. Times and cultural preferences change.

Probably because I don't have children and grandchildren, I'm not as concerned as some that relatives would reject my stuff and I have been working recently on cleaning out the detritus so that when the time comes, it will be easier for Autumn to close down my home.

Well, that's a bit of a lie. I've been thinking about ridding myself of the lifetime of stuff and haven't gotten around to actually doing it. That's just laziness but in all this thinking I have been surprised at how old so much of my stuff is.

When I was a kid, it was my job to polish the sterling silver every week. Oh, how I hated that boring job. Now, however, I've had that silver flatware since my mother died in 1992, saving it for dinner parties which are a rare occurrences these days.

(Funny how attitudes change when you grow up. I now recall those Saturday polishing sessions in the 1950s fondly.)

My mother began buying her silver in the late 1930s, piece by piece and when the family had a bit more money, place setting by place setting.

Those knives and forks and spoons I finally decided to use every day are nearly 90 years old and some pieces are pretty beat up but they connect me to my childhood and I like using them.

My set of china came from my great aunt and her sister, my grandmother, each of whom collected over decades one dish, one cup, one bowl, etc. at a time of the same 19th and early 20th century pattern while sharing extras to help one another complete their collections. I like using it every day.

Even my sofa has a long history. I bought it in 1983 at a Salvation Army resale shop (thank you, Joyce) for $250. It was already old then – an antique dealer friend told me it was at least 40 or 50 years old – but newly recovered, and I've never had a reason to get rid of it. I still like it.

Clothing too. I lost enough weight due to the surgery last year that a lot doesn't fit me now but is good enough for resale shops so I have emptied some of my closet (the only actual recycling I've done).

Even with that, I'm amazed at how old some of my clothing is – ten or so teeshirts, more than 20 years; two coats, 30-plus years; a few sweaters, at least 20 years

A good deal of my cooking equipment is ancient. In fact, I have the first pan I bought when I left home in 1958 – a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Several strainers and graters go back at least to the early 1970s and I noticed the other day that my best knives, still in good shape, date to 1977 or so, if I recall correctly but close enough.

Then there is my grandmother's hand-made quilt. I found it, never used, when my brother and I cleaned out her home after her death. She was born in 1892, and in those days girls in their teens made quilts for their trousseaux.

That makes it about 110 years old. It had been sitting on a shelf since Grandma Hazel died in 1984, and only in recent years did I pull it down to use on my bed in the warm months.

HazelsQuilt500

It's a remarkably modern design for its time, don't you think.

I'm impressed by the age of this stuff I have used for so long but by far, the oldest thing I own has no personal connection - it is a handle broken off a 2500-year-old amphora that an archaeologist at a dig I visited in Israel in 1999 (thank you, Sali) let me keep.

I like touching it regularly, holding it in my hand, placing my thumb in the indentation undoubtedly made by the thumb of the worker who crafted it.

To hold it awes me in the same way walking the old city of Jerusalem does: both strengthen my sense of belonging to the family of mankind - that people have walked those same streets, put their feet in the same places I put mine, for 5,000 years and we are all linked one to another through these many centuries.

Some people have no attachment to things, to stuff. As the above shows, that's not me. I like the memories that come with wearing old clothes, using those excellent knives I spent too much money on (and am glad I did) and even what I once thought of as that damned sterling silver.

When I was young, very young, the idea of living half a century was impossible to imagine – to me then, it might as well have been as long as Jerusalem has been there.

Now at age 77, I have no trouble knowing what living 50 years is like and more, I can see how certain pieces of my stuff, having been part of my daily life for decades, mean too much to my sense of myself and my life to get rid of any time soon.

(Sorry, Autumn, you'll have to figure out what to do with it when the time comes.)

Now, dear readers, it's your turn. How old is your stuff? What does it mean to you? Or maybe you're one who doesn't get attached to things. Let us know.



How Time Slips Away in Old Age – Or Maybe Not

Sometimes I go to bed on a Monday night and wake up on Friday morning. Okay, not literally but it often feels that way.

In addition, I am now so terrible at recalling how long ago something happened that I have taken to warning people - “well, when I say a year ago, it is just as likely to have been two or three years ago, or the reverse, six months ago.”

Year-end holidays are often the touchstone for old people with time shift problems. It's common for us to say, in March for example, “Christmas will be here before we know it.” And it usually is.

The increasing speed of time has come up frequently on this blog - how it is that the older we get, the faster time passes. For those posts, I looked into the issue and there are dozens of explanations but all are guesses. Nobody really knows.

Now, I have a new-ish guess.

As the years have passed in my retirement, my energy has waned - physical AND psychic - so I ration my time. One “event” a day is pretty much my limit. I can have a lunch date or a doctor appointment or go to a movie or visit with friends or grocery shop, etc. but rarely two per day and never three.

That's it. I'm done for the day and when I can, I like to take the next day off from public encounters.

Sometimes I am amazed to recall my middle, working years. Drop the laundry off on the way to work, stop at the bank before the office, produce a live TV show at 9AM, prep the next day's show with production meetings, pre-interviews, video editing, script writing while keeping a lunch date on the other side of town, meeting friends for drinks after work and later, a dinner date.

Whew. It exhausts me now to even think that once was a normal day – no big deal.

A couple of weeks ago, I had way overbooked myself for a single day. Doctor, veterinarian, prescription refill, groceries, book shop, lunch, writing the next day's blog post. Way too much activity for me these days.

But then a funny thing happened. As I noted above, my days generally run into one another so that I can barely recall them. In the case of my overbooked day, however, in retrospect it felt like it lasted a long time, much longer than what my old-age “normal” day generally feels like.

It felt like it lasted as long as eight or 10 hours should last if they hadn't been speeding up so much. And I think I know why.

I had many more encounters that busy day with more people in more places than I usually allow in a week. I did so many different kinds of things that when I recalled them, I had so sense of time disappearing quickly, as I usually do.

So maybe that is the trick to keep time from slipping away: not necessarily to be busy, busy, busy, but to make sure we participate in several varied and/or different activities during each day. It would probably help for at least a couple of them to be out of the house.

That's just a guess but I did a quick search around the web and of course, I'm not the first person to have thought of this. Scientific American tells us:

”Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period.

“In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight.”

Further, explains Scientific American, the phenomenon has been dubbed the “holiday paradox” and is a good clue to why time seems to pass more quickly as we age:

”From childhood to early adulthood, we have many fresh experiences and learn countless new skills. As adults, though, our lives become more routine, and we experience fewer unfamiliar moments.

“As a result, our early years tend to be relatively over-represented in our autobiographical memory and, on reflection, seem to have lasted longer.”

I like this explanation a whole lot better than any I recall from previous research and there is even a remedy. How cool is that.



Happy 93rd Birthday, Darlene Costner

Well, her birthday is actually tomorrow but this post will still be at the top of the home page then so we get to celebrate the beginning of Darlene's 94th year for two days.

Think of it. Calvin Coolidge was the U.S. president when Darlene was born in 1925, and she has lived through 16 more presidents' terms. She is old enough to recall World War II as a young adult. And to have witnessed teenagers' screaming adulation of crooner Frank Sinatra long before The Beatles came along.

Darlene is one of the people ageing experts call the “oldest old” - a designation given to people 85 and up. She shares that great age with these celebrities in the trailer for a 2017 HBO documentary titled, If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast. (Thank you Susan Penn for the link.)

They are right, those celebrities – mostly comedians – that no one knows why some live to become, as Darlene once labeled herself, one of the ancients.

I've known Darlene, via our blogs, email and phone calls, for at least a decade, probably longer. She is a fiercely partisan political animal with no reticence about stating her opinions. For many years she ran her own blog and more recently has become one of Time Goes By's most prolific commenters.

Whatever she says, it's always what she really feels. Recently, she wrote about living as one of the ancients:

”There are still days when I feel like I am going to live forever and the specter of death is not looming closer. Of course, that's nonsense. Nonetheless, that's a whole lot better than living in the doom and gloom of the knowledge that one day you will be no more.

“When the doom and gloom thoughts hover I am more prone to think of what my death will mean to my loved ones. I vacillate between thinking that it may be a relief to them to not have to worry about me anymore or thinking that they will miss my presence in their lives. Then I go from selfishly hoping they will miss me or being magnanimous and hoping that they are not too sad. How stupid is that?

“Today is a good day; the pain is minimum and so I will just enjoy the day. I can still hear the twitter of the birds joyously preparing their nests for another generation of feathered flyers and the morning air is cool so all is right with my world.”

She is also a great contributor of items for Saturdays' Interesting Stuff posts here and I've got a new one Darlene sent this week. It's longer than I usually publish and I don't necessarily agree with them all but I think there is in this list something for everyone. Like pretty much everything in life, take what you can use and leave the rest.

No author or origin is listed – it was one of those emails that gets passed along – this with some advice for people “between 65 and death.”

  1. It’s time to use the money you saved up. Use it and enjoy it. Don’t just keep it for those who may have no notion of the sacrifices you made to get it. Remember there is nothing more dangerous than a son or daughter-in-law with big ideas for your hard-earned capital. Warning: This is also a bad time for investments, even if it seems wonderful or fool-proof. They only bring problems and worries. This is a time for you to enjoy some peace and quiet.

  2. Stop worrying about the financial situation of your children and grandchildren, and don’t feel bad spending your money on yourself. You’ve taken care of them for many years, and you’ve taught them what you could. You gave them an education, food, shelter and support. The responsibility is now theirs to earn their own money.

  3. Keep a healthy life, without great physical effort. Do moderate exercise (like walking every day), eat well and get your sleep. It’s easy to become sick, and it gets harder to remain healthy. That is why you need to keep yourself in good shape and be aware of your medical and physical needs Keep in touch with your doctor, do tests even when you’re feeling well. Stay informed.

  4. Always buy the best, most beautiful items for your significant other. The key goal is to enjoy your money with your partner. One day one of you will miss the other, and the money will not provide any comfort then, enjoy it together. (For us this should read buy the best for yourself.)

  5. Don’t stress over the little things. You’ve already overcome so much in your life. You have good memories and bad ones, but the important thing is the present. Don’t let the past drag you down and don’t let the future frighten you. Feel good in the now. Small issues will soon be forgotten.

  6. Regardless of age, always keep love alive. Love your partner, love life, love your family, love your neighbor and remember: “A man is not old as long as he has intelligence and affection.”

  7. Be proud, both inside and out. Don’t stop going to your hair salon or barber, do your nails, go to the dermatologist and the dentist, keep your perfumes and creams well stocked. When you are well-maintained on the outside, it seeps in, making you feel proud and strong.

  8. Don’t lose sight of fashion trends for your age, but keep your own sense of style. There’s nothing worse than an older person trying to wear the current fashion among youngsters. You’ve developed your own sense of what looks good on you – keep it and be proud of it. It’s part of who you are.

  9. ALWAYS stay up-to-date. Read newspapers, watch the news. Go online and read what people are saying. Make sure you have an active email account and try to use some of those social networks. You’ll be surprised what old friends you’ll meet. Keeping in touch with what is going on and with the people you know is important at any age.

  10. Respect the younger generation and their opinions. They may not have the same ideals as you, but they are the future, and will take the world in their direction. Give advice, not criticism, and try to remind them that yesterday’s wisdom still applies today.

  11. Never use the phrase: “In my time.” Your time is now. As long as you’re alive, you are part of this time. You may have been younger, but you are still you now, having fun and enjoying life.

  12. Some people embrace their golden years, while others become bitter and surly. Life is too short to waste your days on the latter. Spend your time with positive, cheerful people, it’ll rub off on you and your days will seem that much better. Spending your time with bitter people will make you older and harder to be around.

  13. Do not surrender to the temptation of living with your children or grandchildren (if you have a financial choice, that is). Sure, being surrounded by family sounds great, but we all need our privacy. They need theirs and you need yours. If you’ve lost your partner (our deepest condolences), then find a person to move in with you and help out. Even then, do so only if you feel you really need the help or do not want to live alone.

  14. Don’t abandon your hobbies. If you don’t have any, make new ones. You can travel, hike, cook, read, dance. You can adopt a cat or a dog, grow a garden, play cards, checkers, chess, dominoes, golf. You can paint, volunteer or just collect certain items. Find something you like and spend some real time having fun with it.

  15. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to accept invitations. Baptisms, graduations, birthdays, weddings, conferences. Try to go. Get out of the house, meet people you haven’t seen in a while, experience something new (or something old). But don’t get upset when you’re not invited. Some events are limited by resources, and not everyone can be hosted The important thing is to leave the house from time to time. Go to museums, go walk through a field. Get out there.

  16. Be a conversationalist. Talk less and listen more. Some people go on and on about the past, not caring if their listeners are really interested. That’s a great way of reducing their desire to speak with you. Listen first and answer questions, but don’t go off into long stories unless asked to. Speak in courteous tones and try not to complain or criticize too much unless you really need to. Try to accept situations as they are. Everyone is going through the same things, and people have a low tolerance for hearing complaints. Always find some good things to say as well.

  17. Pain and discomfort go hand in hand with getting older. Try not to dwell on them but accept them as a part of the cycle of life we’re all going through. Try to minimize them in your mind. They are not who you are, they are something that life added to you. If they become your entire focus, you lose sight of the person you used to be.

  18. If you’ve been offended by someone – forgive them. If you’ve offended someone - apologize. Don’t drag around resentment with you. It only serves to make you sad and bitter. It doesn’t matter who was right. Someone once said: “Holding a grudge is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Don’t take that poison. Forgive, forget and move on with your life.

  19. If you have a strong belief, savor it. But don’t waste your time trying to convince others. They will make their own choices no matter what you tell them, and it will only bring you frustration. Live your faith and set an example. Live true to your beliefs and let that memory sway them.

  20. Laugh. Laugh A LOT. Laugh at everything. Remember, you are one of the lucky ones. You managed to have a life, a long one. Many never get to this age, never get to experience a full life. But you did. So what’s not to laugh about? Find the humor in your situation.

  21. Take no notice of what others say about you and even less notice of what they might be thinking. They’ll do it anyway, and you should have pride in yourself and what you’ve achieved. Let them talk and don’t worry. They have no idea about your history, your memories and the life you’ve lived so far. There’s still much to be written, so get busy writing and don’t waste time thinking about what others might think. Now is the time to be at rest, at peace and as happy as you can be!

  22. REMEMBER: Life is too short to drink bad wine or warm beer.

Darlene has contributed not only oodles of Interesting Stuff items over many years, her wise words in the comments, almost daily, are lessons for us “youngsters.”

Here is Darlene's big, beautiful birthday bouquet:

Dasrlenebirthdayflowers


Ollie the Cat: 2004 – 2018

PosingonBed

That's Ollie the cat in the bedroom late last year, healthy if a bit too fat. A few months ago, he got sick, made it obvious over time that he no longer liked his regular food and nothing else we tried was satisfactory to him. He'd have a few bites and walk away.

There had been no definitive diagnosis and even with the veterinarian's best efforts, Ollie continued to lose weight until his bones were sticking out. Last Thursday morning, he took up residence in a dark and comfy cupboard hidy-hole in the dining room – a place he otherwise had never shown the slightest interest.

On Friday night, I dragged out blankets and pillows from the bedroom and tried to sleep on the floor next to Ollie discovering, in the process, that I am officially too old now to sleep on the floor, even with carpeting and a couple of blankets for more padding.

I lasted there a couple of hours before returning to bed but as far as I could tell in the morning, Ollie didn't mind my having been in another room overnight.

He also didn't mind when I pet him but he didn't really care either – no purring and only the slightest acknowledgement of my touch.

His once bright green eyes had become dull and so on Saturday, another veterinarian from an organization called Compassionate Care came to our home so that Ollie's departure into the great kitty unknown could be done in peaceful, comfortable and familiar surroundings.

Our home feels so empty now and I am so deeply sad.

Here is Ollie in our New York City home early in 2005, when he was six months old.

Ollie6months

In those early days, we jockeyed for position over whose living requirements would prevail. Sometimes I won, sometimes he did but overall we accomodated our preferences fairly well, if you don't count his biting my ankle if I didn't prepare a meal fast enough.

This is Ollie in 2010 helping with the packing to move from Maine to Oregon.

Ollie2010forJB1

And here he is four years ago checking out the front patio/porch where local cats and the occasional squirrel sometimes show up.

OllieintheWindow2014

Ollie was a Savannah cat, a relatively new hybrid breed, a cross between a domestic cat and African serval. Ollie was one-sixth serval with the gorgeous coat similar to a leopard's.

I don't know if it is typical of Savannah cats, but what anyone who ever met him commented on was his direct, almost human-like gaze into a person's eyes. In the beginning it was unsettling how he looked at me with such intensity. It didn't take long to get used to it and and I loved that connection between us every day of our life together.

Here is a photo that almost catches that feeling:

DSCN1138

Many, many years ago, my then-father-in-law told me about how, on weekends, he and his wife might not bump into one another between breakfast and dinner as they went about their pursuits. But what was important is that they each knew there was another heartbeat in the house.

And so it was with Ollie and me but now, that other heartbeat is gone and it feels so empty here today.

As undoubtedly is true for you, I've been through this grief before with people and with beloved animals. I know that – as has already happened once – for awhile I will think I see Ollie out of the corner of my eye as he trots by. But that's just a mirage, right?

And someday I will be able to remember Ollie without weeping. But not yet. He always made me feel that to him, I was the cat's meow. To me, he was my best buddy for 14 years.

I'll leave you with a link to one of my all-time favorite blog posts that long-time readers will probably recall: the adventure of Ollie's disappearance from our second-story deck in Portland, Maine, in 2007. I titled it How Ollie the Cat Lost His Outdoor Privileges, a heart-pounding, scary tale with a lot of photographs and, at the end, my revenge.

Farewell my Ollie. You gave me so much joy. I will always love you.

OllieinRattanChair



Everything Takes So Damned Long When You're Old

The latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show is at the bottom of this post.

* * *

As noted here in the past, until I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer nearly a year ago, I was lucky enough to be disgustingly healthy.

There were colds and other minor ailments now and then but nothing that kept me down and out for long, nothing that left me with permanent changes to my capabilities.

Not so much anymore. Yes, the doctors say I am now cancer free (whew!) but recovery from the Whipple surgery lasted many months, chemotherapy took its toll on my energy, I had to slack off workouts for too long and recent hospital stays for internal bleeding, a blood clot, placement of a stent, etc. haven't helped.

The bottom line is that everything – everything takes longer than it once did. Yes, yes, I know: just getting older, even without any health difficulties, slows down everyone. Bodies wear out, muscles don't work as efficiently, we tire more easily.

But until this bump in my personal road of life, slowing down wasn't an issue. As far as I could tell, I walked as fast as I always had and particularly after I lost more than 50 pounds some years ago, I could blast through housekeeping chores leaving plenty of time for whatever other plans I had.

No more.

When we get old, I think we understand as never before that our greatest gift is time. Each day now is precious and anything boring that takes up any of that time is stealing hours – even days, cumulatively - from us.

Here are some of the new tasks that eat up even more of my time than a year ago:

Tracking daily medications, keeping the chart up to date as doctors change meds, getting refills on time and filling the pill holders (plural!)

Actually remembering to take the pills at the right times of day (Post-it notes are my friends)

Arranging other events in life around medical visits

Keeping daily records of health information for the physicians

Napping (a lot recently) when my body tells me to stop for awhile

Tracking the cat's medications and trying to get pills down his throat when he would rather shred my skin than swallow.

And those are only some time eaters I can identify. Mysteries abound, such as this one: I thought I could vacuum the entire apartment in 30 minutes. So why does the clock say an hour has passed when I'm finished?

Or why does changing the beds seems so much harder – and therefore slower – than it used to be?

There is only one solution to this time annoyance – something many of you identified last week in that marvelously wise and interesting discussion about aspects of growing old: acceptance.

As Anne said on that post:

”Having just turned 78, maybe I should accept this and live at the tempo I can manage.”

I am not any good at all at this kind of acceptance. You?

* * *

Here is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show recorded on Monday 7 May 2018.

If you would like to see Alex's entire two-hour show with other guests after me, you can do that at Facebook or Gabnet on Facebook or on YouTube.



Crabby Old Lady Watches the Academy Awards

Did you watch the Academy Award show last Sunday? Crabby Old Lady did. There wasn't much else on the tube then and it's the sort of program Crabby can watch here and there that doesn't much disturb the reading she's doing in between.

If you didn't watch, don't go getting all snobby about it. The Oscars are an American tradition – admittedly fading, probably with Crabby's generation – but still kind of fun to see the pretty ladies all dressed up in ways almost no one does anymore.

And having produced a lot of TV shows in her past, Crabby likes watching the production values on a program that's more lavish and complex, especially live, than most of what's on television.

This is an eye candy type of show. It doesn't take any special attention or thought – just let it wash over you. Or not.

It was heartening to Crabby from the start to see the diversity and inclusion of the landscape: Muslims, immigrants, a better mix of skin colors than usual and (drum roll) women, lots of women. Crabby thinks that might be something we can thank Harvey Weinstein for.

And then Sandra Bullock showed up as a presenter. Until that moment, it hadn't occurred to Crabby to think anything one way or another about old people's participation.

Bullock is 53 years old. She looked wonderful – gorgeous, in fact. So why did she think she had to say this?

“Wow, it’s bright,” she said. “It’s really bright. Guys, the set looks amazing, everything looks really great. The lighting is really well lit, but can we just dim it just a little bit so I can go back to my 40s? A little lower, 39, keep going, 38, 38, 38, no, 35, now that's the sweet spot!"

Did she think that was funny? It wasn't to Crabby Old Lady. It could have been if we lived in a different world, if old people were generally treated with the same respect as Ms. Bullock is at mid-age. But instead of inclusion, Bullock chose the opposite.

This disparagement of elders didn't stop with Bullock. In fact, it had started at the top of the show.

Host Jimmy Kimmel's digs at 88-year-old, best supporting actor nominee, Christopher Plummer, began with this gem directed at Plummer sitting in the first row: “How does Lin Manuel-Miranda compare to the real Alexander Hamilton?”

And Kimmel (age 50) didn't let up on age jokes directed at Plummer throughout the rest of the broadcast.

Crabby sat up at attention yet again when Jane Fonda (age 80) and Helen Mirren (age 72) took to the stage together. Mirren opened with, “Jane and I are very, very honored to have been asked to present together on Oscar’s 90th birthday.”

Okay, that's nice enough for an awards show but then Fonda responded, “Yeah, especially when we found out he’s older than we are. Right?”

No, Fonda, you're wrong. Crabby Old Lady thinks she looked lovely at the Oscars but ruined it the moment she opened her mouth.

Having spent several hours in the company of Hollywood actors on Sunday evening, Crabby could rant on about how plastic surgery plays a big part in perpetuating ageist behavior toward old people, but she will hold on to that thought for another day.

Even with all the age “jokes,” there were some magnificent bright spots involving old show biz folks. Start with Rita Moreno, age 86, who showed up wearing the same dress she wore – wait for it – 56 years ago, in 1962, when she won the Oscar for her role in West Side Story. Here's a little video of Moreno in that dress from the red carpet:

(That's Rita Moreno's daughter standing next to her.)

Ninety-three-year-old Eva Marie Saint was stunning in all ways as she presented an award - and she didn't make any ugly age jokes.

Agnes Varda, 89, was among nominees for best documentary feature, and James Ivory, also 89, became the oldest Oscar winner of all time for best adapted screenplay, Call Me By Your Name.

So Crabby response was mixed. She was pleasantly surprised at the diversity in general and specifically at the number of old people featured at the 90th Oscars. But she was terribly disappointed at the entrenched ageist beliefs that even some old people themselves won't let go of.

And don't go thinking this is a small thing. That it happens throughout the country in media and in everyday life thousands of times a day is what makes it so awful, these small insults aimed at old people - their looks, their behavior, their supposed slow-wittedness.

Every incidence of it perpetuates the indignities and makes it safe for others to join in. Crabby no longer believes this will change in her lifetime.



The Question of a Loneliness Epidemic

Just last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May created a new government position: Minister for Loneliness.

According to a 2017 report, more than 9 million people in Britain often or always feel lonely. May, quoted in The New York Times, said in announcing the new ministry,

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.”

“I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

(More about how the Ministry will tackle the problem is reported at gov.uk.)

It's not just a British problem. According to a U.S. study of 218 studies, loneliness is not only a social problem, it is harmful to our health:

"They discovered that lonely people had a 50 per cent increased risk of early death, compared to those with good social connections. In contrast, obesity raises the chance of dying before the age of 70 by around 30 per cent,” as reported in The Telegraph.

As the American Psychological Association [APA] reported on the same study:

”Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study...

“'These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness,' said [researcher Julianne] Holt-Lunstad.”

I do not doubt for a moment that there are millions of old people who are lonely but I think there is something else at work on this topic that the researchers won't understand until they are old: that many old people voluntarily withdraw from social life to greater or smaller degrees as the years pile up.

I can't prove that and I haven't seen a single study that addresses it, let alone agrees. But a growing body of anecdotal evidence, just in my own small circle, seem to indicate something the loneliness researchers don't know.

A reader named Albert Williams left this note on a TGB post about making friends in old age. It's a bit lengthy but worth it:

”Whew! I'm glad I found this site,” wrote Williams. “I was beginning to think that I was the only person with such problems, and that, perhaps, there was something wrong with me.

“However, after a bit of introspection, I realize that this is not completely true. (Completely? Try old, ugly, curmudgeonly, short-tempered, cynical, and a few more applicable adjectives...)

“Time has, indeed, taken its toll. I am now an old man. Most of my life-long friends are gone. I've never had any kids; I've outlived two wives; and almost all of my family on both sides have already died.

“I find it very easy to make new acquaintances, but these seem to never develop into the deep, trusting, abiding friendships I had when I was young. Loneliness, apparently, has become a permanent part of my remaining days, and my best friends nowadays are my dogs and my computer.”

In addition, a long-time internet/blog friend, Cowtown Patty, recently wrote in an email:

”Found that as I age, while I enjoy people to a degree, I am happier when I am at our 'farm' out puttering in the 'garden' or in the house somewhere alone. Even Kent, who is the easiest person in the world to get along with, can be an irritating intruder sometimes.

“Do you think we 'cocoon' as we age? Protection? Preparing? Insulating ourselves from a world grown too noisy?”

That may be true for me. Although I have always seemed to need a lot more alone time that many people I know, in recent years I've purposely chosen fewer social engagements in exhange for time alone (reduced energy may be a contibutor too).

It's not that I don't like people or don't enjoy time with them. I do. But as I follow my innate nature these days, I am eager for less of that than during most of my adult life and as far as I can tell, the biggest change that would bear upon the desire for fewer social engagements is that I've grown older.

Which doesn't sound too far off from Patty's “cocooning” idea – perhaps even subconsciously, we begin separating ourselves from a world we know we will be leaving much sooner than people who are younger than we are.

There is an interesting entry at the Wikipedia Old Age page on this subject (emphasis added):

”Johnson and Barer did a pioneering study of Life Beyond 85 Years by interviews over a six-year period. In talking with 85+ year olds, they found some popular conceptions about old age to be erroneous.

“Such erroneous conceptions include (1) people in old age have at least one family member for support, (2) old age well-being requires social activity, and (3) 'successful adaptation' to age-related changes demands a continuity of self-concept.

“In their interviews, Johnson and Barer found that 24% of the 85+ had no face-to-face family relationships; many have outlived their families. Second, that contrary to popular notions, the interviews revealed that the reduced activity and socializing of the over 85s does not harm their well-being; they 'welcome increased detachment.

The researchers spoke only with people 85 and older. I strongly suspect that if they talked with 60- and 70-somethings, the trend would be there already.

Certainly there are millions of old people yearning to make connections with others who are having trouble doing that.

But as with all things related to elders, I don't believe you can bundle all of us into one handy explanation for any issue and it could be that what looks like loneliness to younger researchers is a personal choice some elders make.

What do you think?



Senior Discounts: A Rite of Passage Redux

EDITORIAL NOTE: This week got so busy I couldn't find time for today's story so I have resurrected a post from the second year of TGB, 11 November 2005, about senior discounts.

In the penultimate paragraph, I mention that I was then working on becoming as comfortable with being an elder as I was for so many decades as an adult. Now, 13 years later, I have no doubts. I am an old person and that knowledge has come to rest easily on my shoulders.

* * *

Earlier this week, Colleen of Loose Leaf left a comment about having recently received a ten dollar senior discount.

As serendipity in timing would have it, last Sunday I got my first senior discount too – at a movie theater. I had never asked for one before – hadn’t even thought about it - so I don’t know what possessed me to say at the ticket window, “one adult and one senior, please.” (ASIDE: I wish I’d said “elder.”)

It turns out that discount is no small change in New York City where movie tickets go for $11 a pop. The “elder” ticket cost only seven dollars, a savings which almost covered a grossly overpriced small bag of popcorn.

Colleen, who is about ten years younger than I, admitted to being a bit shaken by her first discount for age. I, on the other hand, sailed right through it without a quiver and have been wondering since then what other discounts I’m missing.

These two little rites of passage remind me that we don’t become old – or seniors or elders – in our minds overnight or on a certain birthday. Our perception of time is flexible, moving along at different rates of speed depending on circumstances, and minds can be hard things to change. We back into new definitions of ourselves slowly, I think, becoming accustomed to them gradually as other people and traditional markers outside ourselves – like photographs and senior discounts - reflect to us our passing years.

In the 20 months I’ve been writing Time Goes By, I’ve accepted my status – at least on paper – as a person of age, as an advocate for ending ageism and age discrimination, and for exploring what getting older is really like.

But what I had not done is feel that status of elderhood viscerally. I have yet to make it my own, so a part of my being that I don’t need to discuss it anymore - what Jill Fallon of Legacy Matters says Buddhists call “the ever-present awareness” of our inner selves.

I sense now, however, that I’m beginning to close in on it. Asking for the senior discount without a hiccup and taking pleasure in Elisa Camahort’s redefinition of me as “ElderBlogger Ronni Bennett” seem to be indications that acceptance in the wings. It took a long time in my youth to get past the feeling I was play-acting at being a grownup. The goal now is to become as certain an elder as I became an adult for so many decades.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll look into what other senior discounts are available. Saving a little money is a powerful incentive to attitude adjustment.



Housekeeping Notes for This Blog

On Saturday, TGB reader and frequent commenter, Simone, left this message in answer to a comment from Ana on a 2008 post about being old without children:

”Ronni has set the standard here. It's a safe place, and we all like to share our thoughts, ideas, struggles and experiences openly, without reserve and with no rancor toward another.”

Thank you, Simone. God knows I've tried to keep it civil here and for the most part the effort has been successful. This is one of the best, smartest, most interesting conversation spots in the blogosphere where no one need feel shy about speaking up or speaking out.

Well, except for a few who overstep and Simone's comment reminded me that I've been meaning to do this housekeeping post for a month or two – as a reminder.

Let's start with what I consider obvious but apparently is not so to everyone:

  1. Comments containing defamatory, bigoted or hateful language about me or any commenter will be deleted. You get only one shot at this and if it happens, you will be permanently banned without notification or recourse.

  2. Argument, disagreement and opinion are good. Just keep it to the point(s) you dispute, not the writer, and maintain a civil tone. You get two shots at this after which, see the second sentence in number one above.

  3. We are all grownups here and sometimes it's hard to make a point without a bit of colorful language. Go for it – just don't overdo. Deletion or editing of the comment is at my discretion.

  4. Comments that are off-topic are deleted.

HEALTH, MEDICAL, FINANCIAL, LEGAL ADVICE
Advice, suggestions and recommendations in any of these areas are not allowed and are deleted. I don't know who you are, what your qualifications are nor do I have the time to vet whatever is being touted.

NO COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Time Goes By has been an advertising-free zone on the internet for many years and commenters may not include advertising or promotion for any commercial product or service. No exceptions. They are deleted.

The comment form has a space for a URL. If you include the address of your blog or other non-commercial website, your name at the bottom of your comment will become a link to that URL.

LINKS
A few years ago, I stopped allowing links in comments. There are a number of reasons: some people link to their business websites (see immediately preceding item); others post the wrong URL and/or don't know the html to make a proper link; and most of all, I don't have the time to check (and correct when needed) every link.

So, no links in comments. You are welcome to name the website or news article or whatever might make it easy for readers to search what you are referencing.

STRONG SUGGESTIONS
These are mostly to make your comments easier to read so that more people will actually do that.

  • Please use standard capitalization. All-lowercase text is difficult to read and your comment is less likely to be noticed.

  • Even more so, long blocks of uninterrupted text are hard on the eyes, especially old ones like mine. Please leave a blank line between paragraphs by hitting “enter” twice after the last sentence in a paragraph. This is for your benefit too; no one reads two or more inches of solid text.

  • As always, in email and anywhere online, messages in all capital letters are considered shouting not to mention that, as with the first two suggestions, they are hard to read. Please use all caps only for emphasis of individual words or phrases.

  • Finally, if your comment does not appear in the comments section right away, please don't jump to the conclusion that you have been disallowed. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the host server to publish the comment and sometimes it can be user error – yours. Other times, it might be a program glitch or it can be a server slowdown and on extremely rare occasions, it might be a server shutdown. Try again or give it some time before you start yelling at me via email.

EMAIL SUBSCRIPTIONS
If you want to comment and are reading TGB in the email feed, DO NOT click "Reply." Remember, you are reading an email and your comment will appear only in my inbox. To comment from the email feed so everyone can read it, you must go to the website:

  • Click the title of the story - it will open in your browser.

  • Scroll to the bottom of the story in your browser and click on the word "Comments". A new page will open with a form for your comment.

  • Write your comment, type your name (it can be any name you want) and, if you want your name to link to your blog or other non-commercial website, type in the URL, although this is not required. You are required, however, to include your email address but it is never published.

  • Click "Post" to publish your comment and you're done.

Several times a week I get a notes from some email subscribers complaining that they are not receiving the email feed.

This happens because the subscription service was originally via Feedburner, owned by Google, which abandoned it six or seven or more years ago. It just sits out there on the internet now gradually deteriorating, and eventually remaining subscriptions fail.

When Google announced they were jettisoning Feedburner, I switched to Feedblitz, a commercial newsletter delivery service for which I pay hundreds of dollars a year. Please use it. Here is how:

  1. Subscribe via the simple form at the top right of every TGB page.

  2. Follow the equally simple instructions when you receive the confirmation email from Feedblitz.

  3. You will then begin receiving TGB in your inbox.

  4. If the Feedburner delivery shows up again in your inbox, use the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the email to avoid duplicate deliveries.

There are other things I'd rather be writing about and I'm sorry to take up your time, too, with this note particularly since only a few readers need it. But there has been an uptick lately in over-reach so maybe this is a useful clarification. Thanks again, Simone, for the reminder.



A Small New Years Potpourri

During these end-of-year holidays, I've mostly kept it light in these pages and sometimes, too, let others do the telling for me. And so it is again today as we head into 2018.

RONNI BENNETT INTERVIEW
The senior center in my town is called the Adult Community Center (ACC) where I have volunteered in various ways, meet friends there for lunch now and then, and I currently host a twice-monthly public affairs discussion group.

Too many old people reject senior centers and they are missing a lot. You can read about that in this TGB blog post, Are You a Senior Center Snob?, from 2013.

I'm telling you this today because Nicolette Hume is the new volunteer coordinator at the ACC who is also the webmaster of the center's brand new blog. She just launched the first story in what will be a continuing web series titled “Everyday People of Lake Oswego – Life Stories from our Exceptional Community.”

And guess who is the first interviewee? Yay. Me.

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours with Cliff Newell, a recently retired reporter from the weekly paper, The Lake Oswego Review and he did a fine job of making sense of my ramblings.

You will find Cliff's story, Time goes by...A conversation with Ronni Bennett, here. Nicolette is the photographer.

Be sure to leave a note for them on the page.

THE COFFEE SPOT
doctafil is a long-time reader and commenter here at Time Goes By. She Canadian, lives in Montreal, travels a lot and then, under her real name Brenda Henry, writes wonderful little short stories about where she's been.

Her most recent collection is titled Weirdo Parfait which you can read about in this Interesting Stuff post from May 2017.

That is by way of a short introduction. doctafil has a way with words and she left this wonderfully fanciful description of Time Goes By on Wednesday's post this week. I am so charmed by it, so certain that if, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I just believe hard enough it will be true. Here's what doctafil wrote:

”Ronni, your blog is like a NYC coffee spot- friends drop by for java, conversation and good times. Ronni's Place is solid dark brick and stone outside, oak tables and a fireplace inside. There is a small stage with open mike nights for local writers, poets, blues singers.

“You're at your favourite table surrounded by your cyber pals. You're back in the city that never sleeps. Your apartment is upstairs. Ollie's looking out the window. He's smiling like he knew this would all happen. Fat snowflakes are falling.”

I'm pretty sure that from this day forward, I will always picture Time Goes By as this perfect, New York City coffee place.



Looking Back at 2017: Trump and Cancer

From any point of view, the year 2017 was one of the most momentous in my life.

The last time I lived through something of as much significance, I think, would be in 1992, when I moved to Sacramento for several months to care for my mother during the final months of her life. (Story of that experience is here.)

At least as consequential as the death of a parent, however, is life in the United States these days under President Donald Trump. It's not like I need to explain it to you:

The man is disgusting in word and deed. He daily trashes the norms of civil society, politics and, possibly, the law. He has so defiled the tenets and principles of a democratic republic that scholars, historians and journalists worldwide now regularly warn of parallels to 1930s' Germany.

And he may yet find a way to dodge special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation.

Is there any other news these days besides Trump? Only monumental hurricanes seem to qualify and then just briefly.

Remember the days when the daily White House press conferences were broadcast live only during crucial events? When presidential speeches interrupted prime time TV only for declarations of war or resignations from office? When the president actually spent his days working instead of sending obnoxious and ignorant tweets in between golf outings?

Nowadays, the only time we don't see Trump on camera is when he wants to hide what he's doing, as when he has signed a few unpopular executive orders behind closed doors.

It is bad enough knowing there is nothing I can do to change anything. Worse, it has become apparent that members of Congress will not do anything to stop him either. Big talk, no action and that's unlikely to change.

By June, worry about the future of the United States was never far from my mind. I was and still am frightened for all citizens and immigrants, for the spillover into the rest of the world, and for the uncharted future.

As many of us have discussed in these pages, the political turmoil has been exhausting with hardly any way at all to avoid it every day. And then. And then in June...

“They” told me I have pancreatic cancer. If our lives are pretty well divided into public and private sectors, suddenly every aspect of mine was fraught, and on a particularly large scale.

I'm lucky enough to have been eligible for the Whipple surgery, am getting through chemotherapy now and will know in March 2018 if any of it has been effective against this dread disease.

Meanwhile, there have been some changes. When my surgeon first explained the Whipple surgery to me six months ago, he said it involves a long, six-month recovery period. I have not believed that for at least two months; my external incisions are long healed and unless I forget a pill, there is no pain.

Then, a week or so ago, internal processes seem to have at last settled down to normal, pre-surgery function for the first time.

To explain, a good chunk of my pancreas was removed along with the entire gallbladder, the duodenum, a small amount of stomach and nearly two dozen nearby glands. Then, of course, all the various hoses among these organs had to be reconnected in new combinations.

The way the health professionals track how well all these internal changes are healing is to ask me questions about bowel movements. I was shocked and quite a bit embarrassed when beginning on the first day after surgery, every person who walking into my hospital room ask some version of “Have you pooped yet today?” “Have you farted yet?”

And they haven't stopped asking since then. These folks talk about bowels the way you and I discuss the weather and they want to hear about size, shape and color. Geez – no one told me how hard it would be to get used to that conversation. I'm still not quite there.

Because my much smaller pancreas can no longer produce the amount of enzymes my body needs, I take a pill to replace those enzymes before eating anything – even a small snack. When, on occasion, I forget, the pain is not pleasant and it had been turning up occasionally even when I had taken the pill.

That is, until about 10 days ago. Since then, pain is almost non-existent and those damned bowels I've struggled with to get right since June are at last as normal as anything I had experienced before the surgery.

Here is the weird kicker: this change arrived almost exactly six months to the day of the Whipple surgery – the amount of time the surgeon had said it would take my body to recover.

So you won't catch me questioning a world-class expert ever again.

These two events are the whole of my personal 2017. Trump and cancer cover it for me and if anything else of note happened, I can't recall. What I wish for now is that both are overcome in 2018.

Now it's your turn to tell us about your 2017.



Merry Christmas To All – 2017

This blog has been around long enough now – there was a first, tentative appearance in 2004 - that some traditions have been formed.

At U.S. Thanksgiving last month, there was the fifth annual rendition of Arlo Guthrie's epic monologue, Alice's Restaurant.

So it is only fair that today, for Christmas 2017, I have for you the sixth annual playback of Penelope Keith's marvelous reading – as Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle – of And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree: A Cautionary Tale for Christmas Showing That it is Better to Give than to Receive.

In the comments on the Christmas 2015 post, the writer, Brian Sibley, left a note for us about the recording:

”You might like to know that I wrote this piece and that it was first broadcast on the BBC (Radio 4) on 25 December 1977.

“You can hear the original recording on my Soundcloud page here. You can read the script here.”

That's enough intro – here is the wickedly funny Penelope Keith with And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Penelope Keith - And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree

Whatever you celebrate this time of year, Ronni, Crabby Old Lady and Ollie the cat thank you for the fine community you create and sustain here all year every year and we wish you a big, fat, bright red

Happy-holiday680


Inspiring Trees That Refuse to Die

At the beginning of this long holiday weekend, it feels unseemly to write about any on my long list of topics about elders and politics. Celebration and camaraderie and love should be the focus of these few days once a year. It may be just aspiration to do so but a good enough respite, don't you think?

Just in time, Darlene Costner sent an email with photographs of a bunch of trees that refuse to die. They continue living in ways that few could anticipate, but each used the circumstances it found itself in to prevail.

As you may suspect, given my big cancer event during this past year, it awes me to ponder the obstacles these trees overcame to keep going. Before I post the video of the photographs, here's what Darlene Costner said when she included the still shots in her email:

”You have deep roots so maybe you are a tree. Just refuse to die. Do you think that would work for us?”

They say that trees have been on earth for 370 million years. No wonder. I found the series inspiring to the point of teariness, and also soothing. Maybe, if I'm willing to bend to the circumstances of my changed life as these trees have done, I can survive longer than expected too.

(I found the inappropriate music mildly annoying. Like me, you may want to mute it. It was nice to watch in the silence.)



Downsizing and Old Love Letters

Quillandink

You might imagine that given my age (76) and with the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, I've been thinking lately about clearing out some of the detritus here in the ol' homestead.

Not that I've done much about it but it has come up in conversation recently with a couple of friends.

One of them, in New York City, tells me he tried arguing logic: “It's not like anyone is going to write my biography,” he said to himself and to me.

Too true, but I've had just that conversation with myself about my old love letters. In one case, a long, long time ago, the man I was dating spent a year in Europe as publicist on a TV miniseries while it was shooting in several countries there.

Back then, 1970s, there was no email, phone calls were problematic and expensive, and snailmail was oh, so slow – weeks even.

But he wrote me a letter every day – every single day - numbered them on the envelopes and saved them up until one of the actors was furloughed back to the U.S. for a few weeks before his or her next scheduled shoot.

Then I'd get a phone call: “Hi Ronni. I'm here in New York. Let's meet for coffee. I've got a batch of letters for you from J.”

Now, honestly, how can anyone expect me to toss 300 or so love letters with a story like that go to with them.

The fact remains, however, that no one cares and it's not like I've read them in the past two or three decades or will do so anytime soon. Why, then, am I keeping them?

Another friend here in Portland, Ken Pyburn, noted that without the fact of the letters themselves, one is free to fictionalize old stories from our pasts. I know what he means. We may change the details over time so that a story not entirely “true” to the details of what actually happened, but it's my experience that the essence remains. And maybe it becomes more true in its own way.

Most of us here are old enough to remember when snail mail was the only written communication we had and I have quite a collection – from lovers, a lot from my father, mother, great Aunt Edith, brother and friends too.

As I've been thinking that it's time to get rid of them I've also thought I should give them all one last read. And yet I have resisted. I don't know why.

It's been a long time now that email has mostly taken the place of hand-written letters and I've kept most of those too, the ones that were more than a quick exchange of information. They don't feel as substantial as words made with ink on paper and I've definitely not given them as much thought as those old ones.

Maybe all this is different if one has children, which I don't.

In the greater scheme of things, letters hardly matter, do they? I should really be getting rid of all the bigger stuff, all the duplicates, the too much kitchen equipment, old electronics and such, but so far have not done.


Chemo Brain and Bravery

[To be clear, I want to assure you that I don't intend to turn Time Goes By into a cancer blog - I have plenty of other interests in regard to aging.

But for the two weeks I was stuck on that prehistoric laptop with the speed of a slug, I could not bear to spend more than an hour at a time on it so it was less irritating and easier to write from current experience than about anything that needs backgrounding and research.

At last, on Saturday afternoon, my computer was returned to me in pristine condition, all my files intact and with normal computer speed restored, thanks to an ace tech guru a friend found for me.

I'm now in the process of putting my files in order, catching up on the real work of Time Goes By and I expect to be back to full production by the end of this week.

Meanwhile, I know that during the computer hoo-haw, I missed answering a lot of reader email and lost some of it due to the hinky email program I had to use. So if you were expecting a reply and didn't get one, my apologies.
]

* * *

CHEMO BRAIN
For three or four or five weeks after my cancer surgery in June, I was stuck with what hospital personnel called “anesthesia brain” which can apply after especially long surgery – mine was 12 hours. It was frustrating.

Just putting simple sentences together took more effort that I often had. There was a small hiccup of time between someone saying something to me and my understanding of it. And ordinary kinds of focus were almost impossible, in general and particularly on reading as I inexplicably lost interest after a sentence or two.

After that first month, the fog lifted rather swiftly over one weekend and until recently, I didn't notice any of those symptoms again.

Now, apparently, I have intermittent “chemo brain” which is defined differently in different medical circles. One of the nurses at my chemo clinic seemed thoroughly familiar with the phenomenon and implied that it does not necessarily disappear when chemotherapy treatments are done. Oh joy.

The Mayo Clinic, on the other hand, reports that little is known about chemo brain and seems to say that it occurs in cancer survivors, which I am not (yet).

”Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction.

“Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it's misleading. It's unlikely that chemotherapy is the sole cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. Researchers are working to understand the memory changes that people with cancer experience.”

In my case, it appears during the three weeks I am “on chemo” when I can tell my thinking gets fuzzy, although it is not as debilitating as it was after my surgery. On the week off from chemo the brain fog gradually lifts and then I start the routine over again.

There is no byline to the Mayo Clinic story, just “Mayo Clinic Staff” which can mean anything and anyone so there is no way to make a judgment about it. There are a lot of unanswered questions in the realm of cancer.

BRAVERY
I want to talk a bit about cancer and bravery. Last week, on my post about how busy cancer keeps patients, a reader named Barbara who blogs at Frugal Juice - Life Begins at 70, commented that

”...you are teaching me to be brave as you are so brave to meet each day.”

Barbara is far from the first or only reader, in these months since I was diagnosed, to mention how brave I am. It is not possible for me to express how much your repeated encouragement, love, concern and caring means to me as I tackle this new and unexpected journey.

But brave? We've discussed what it is or is not in these pages in the past and it was clear then that there are many definitions.

This time I am not so interested in what it is in the dictionary or philosophical senses. I care more about why (however many are the ways I might personally define bravery) I don't believe the word, the idea, the intention apply in my current situation.

Was it brave to undergo a 12-hour surgery that has required months of recovery to feel almost normal again? When I asked the surgeon what would happen if I refused such a dreadful-sounding intrusion of my body, he said I would be dead by the end of the year.

That's not bravery, that's survival, the inbred imperative of all animals to avoid death at nearly all cost.

Some readers have attached the notion of bravery to my willingness to write about my cancer experience. Well, here's one secret about that: whatever I said at the top of this post about other interests in life, cancer does tend to take up a lot of space in one's mind often leaving little room for much else so you get these missives.

I write as much to winnow out some meaning and understanding for myself while trying to find some universal significance for readers. That is not bravery and it embarrasses me to be included in the category.

I'm a fairly simplistic thinker and the first thing that comes to mind about bravery is, for example, the soldier who rushes into a hail of bullets to save his buddy – the kind of person to whom we award the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Or, that person who stood in front of a convoy of government tanks in Tienamen Square during the protests of 1989.

Or a parent who runs into a burning building to rescue their child. You know what I mean, and I say that even understanding other, less dramatic but equally stunning forms of bravery.

What I have chosen to do in this circumstance, as I see it, is to endure. To persist. To persevere. For as long as that may be possible.

And if you don't count the annoyances I have given full voice to here, it's not really a big deal what I'm doing because, as I often ask myself (more rhetorically now than otherwise) is what else am I going to do? What else is there to do?

The only answer I have is: just what I'm doing. Just what I did before this with the addition of those damned annoyances.

Oh my, this got much longer than I intended. See what happens when you give me back my working computer. I'll stop now.


It's Friday. That's the Best I Can Say For the Week

As Olga, who blogs at Act Three, posted in the comments on Wednesday,

“And some days are like that, even in Australia.”

And sometimes, Olga, whole weeks are like that here in the U.S. Australia too?

Today's public event in my life was supposed to be a simple little dental checkup in the morning.

Not so simple during this bad week. I took a wrong turn, got horribly lost on the way to his new office on Thursday and was nearly an hour late. The wait for my delayed turn and the work took a lot longer than expected and it was past 4PM when I got home.

In recent years, it is usual for me to lose all energy, physical and mental, by early afternoon so I have to get all necessary work - blog writing, household, errands, appointments, etc. - done before then. It's a challenge but I've learned how to live with it.

Nevertheless, trying to write even something this easy, is difficult at this time of day. So I'm just going to wander around here a little bit, say a couple of things to not leave anything hanging from previous posts and call it a day.

What happened, if you're not one to check in here regularly, is that Crabby Old Lady complained bitterly on Wednesday's post. (And, she insists still that it was fully justified). It was about how her computer died, that her cheapo laptop is so slow it may as well be on a dial-up connection and she had been worried for a week that the suspension of her chemo infusion last week might mean dire news for ongoing pancreatic cancer treatment.

But that last item turned out to be the single bright, shining moment of the week. On this Wednesday, when I went for blood tests and possible infusion, the numbers were all back to normal, the physician assured me this is a common experience with chemo and all was on track.So they poured that medicine into the infusion port and I felt fine. Forward Ho!

Isn't it weird to say that the way things are going this week, cancer treatment is the one good thing?

Also, apologies to those of you who mentioned feeling fearful for me at the headline on Wednesday. I probably went too far. Won't happen again.

That brings us to computer problems. A number of readers have emailed suggestions for a reliable computer fix-it folks. After some thought I'm going with a local freelancer (as opposed to corporate repair services) that a friend I trust on such things has used twice with excellent results at a fair price. Unfortunately, he's out of town until next week so I'm booked for that Thursday.

It means excruciating psychic pain in dealing with anything on this screen until “miracle guy” fixes the computer or I learn I need to get a new one. Bear with me please. It's going to be irritating in that way only computers can be, so posts may a little strange during the disruption because it is so difficult and so time-consuming to get around the web and even the computer itself to find what I need.


Adapting to the Changes of Old Age

Cicero

Being about midway into old age now, it seems to me that changes great and small come barreling down the pike lickety-split – that there are many more arriving at a much faster rate than at previous ages of life.

I can't prove that with facts and figures and numbers and charts but it feels about right and I've come to believe it is an important job of elderhood to learn to adapt as we are buffeted front and back, up and down, left and right and around again with each new, often unexpected development.

It's not easy. As you know, my life was upended three months ago with a cancer diagnosis. I'm still trying to find a way to make the large number of restrictions that control my days now as commonplace as, for example, brushing my teeth has always been.

It's frustrating that I'm not there yet. I have other things I'd rather do than try to remember if I took those pills after breakfast or treated my hands with that special lotion.

Although I've fought hard on this blog during its 14 years of existence against the generally accepted perception that there are no positives about growing old, it shouldn't be denied that loss is a part of it – more than most of us would like.

There are the ones to which we adapt with relative ease: eyesight and hearing can be successfully treated now; dental implants, if affordable, are almost miraculous; there are many ways to deal with graying hair and hair loss depending the degree of one's concern.

If you try to track down information on the internet about the changes that come with old age, the only things you will find are about health and debility. To the not yet old - the ones who make the rules and decide who is worthy - old people are defined entirely by failing health. Period.

(Keep that in mind as, in the next two months, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, will do his best to dramatically increase what old people pay for Medicare. Cuts to Social Security are being crafted too. Stay tuned for information here about these proposed changes soon.)

But there is much more to growing old than health and although there is crossover among them preliminarily, I have placed these changes into five general categories: Physical, Emotional, Social, Calamitous and Cultural. In old age, all of them take away something we have been accustomed to for a lifetime and, usually, enjoy.

The physical is obvious as our bodies wear out, we slow down and we collect a group of manageable but annoying conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, balance difficulties, even living with cancer, etc.

Emotional issues range from such things as my obstinance about accepting daily changes caused by cancer to sadness from losses as old friends die or move away, and recognition of our own approaching death – among others. These are no small change.

We lose a lot of social engagement when we retire or don't get out and about as easily as we once did or reduced income prevents us from past social pleasures such as theater and travel.

The calamitous, of course, has to do with dire health risks to oneself, a spouse or other people we love. Only a few days ago did I realize that if the chemotherapy is successful and I am pronounced cancer-free at the end of six months, I will still need to be tested every three months for the rest of my life.

Four times a year I will hold my breath waiting for test results to tell me something good or not good. I remember what that feels like from years ago when, a couple of times, I waited a week for answers from breast biopsies.

There are, of course, many other tests of our resilience in old age than these.

Oddly, given the last two paragraphs, it is the cultural category that most aggravates me. In the 20 years I've been studying ageing, the American attitude toward old age has not changed a whit: youth is perfection and old age is a personal failing worthy only of fear and pity.

It comes to each of us, the day when we step over a line in the sand that no one told us was there, the day when the world rejects us, ignores our knowledge and experience, maligns and scorns us.

And no, it doesn't cheer me that the people doing the maligning and scorning will join us soon enough. They have still robbed me of basic dignity - in their eyes if not my own.

Even so, I have found these years of growing old the most engaging, interesting and exciting time of my life. I may not get out and about as much as in youth and adulthood. I have lost interest in keeping up with the latest fads and fashion that I once had fun with. And at last, I have outgrown caring what anyone thinks of me.

But I am more passionate than ever about the two things that most engage me these days: our terrifying politics and what it's really like to get old.

It may not surprise some of you that I've been reading Cicero again, his Cato Maior de Senectute or On Old Age written in 44BC. There is much to learn from Cicero but two things come through strongly about my time of life:

To focus on what I have and can do rather than what I don’t have or can’t do

That age is no barrier to remaining engaged with life: intellectually, physically, socially

There are good reasons mankind has been reading this treatise for more than 2,000 years. Cicero advises us that wisdom is to accept the limitations of old age and look for opportunities to work around them:

”Nature has but a single path and you travel it only once,” writes Cicero. “Each stage of life has its own appropriate qualities - weakness in childhood, boldness in youth, seriousness in middle age, and maturity in old age. These are fruits that must be harvested in due season.”

By the way, Cicero is also the man who said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This has been rolling around in my mind for several days and easily could have been 20 pages longer. I've spared you that and feel confident that you will add and subtract from it as you see fit.]


Chemotherapy School

One day last week, I spent an hour and a half at chemotherapy school, given at the OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) clinic where my chemo will be administered.

They handed out a large Powerpoint deck at the class and I already been given a giant binder the week before with pages and pages and pages of lists and commentary on what to expect, what to do and other instructions to follow during chemo treatments.

ChemoBinder

Huh? Why didn't you guys who've been through this (and according to your comments here, there are quite a few of you) tell me that chemo is a full time, 24/7 job for the next six months?

Until now, I thought it would make me tired and maybe sick for a couple of days after each treatment. But oh no. All kinds of terrible things can go wrong and there are a dozen or more preventive measures plus a lengthy list of side effects a few of which require immediate emergency attention.

For that last item, they prepared a page to post on the refrigerator door for easy reference. Oy. I had no idea.

RefrigeratorList

Of course, these are generalized documents meant for all chemotherapy patients and which side effects an individual is subject to varies with the chemo formula. Some people escape with none or hardly any difficulties. Nevertheless, it is daunting. Among the possibilities:

Decreased blood clotting ability
Irritation of the entire gastrointestinal tract
Nausea and vomiting
Constipation or diarrhea
Neuropathy
Chemobrain
And my personal favorite (that's snark, folks), Hand-foot syndrome

That's when the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands become red, can crack and develop blisters. The prevention, they tell me is to take tepid, not hot baths and showers, and to wash dishes in tepid water.

That goes with the admonition that chemo compromises the patient's immune system so to avoid infection, one must wash, wash, wash hands constantly.

All that washing, of course, exacerbates hand-foot syndrome so there is a specific kind of lotion to gently rub on hands and feet several times a day. I can't wait – recall what I said above about chemo being a 24/7 job.

All right, I know I'm whining and I shouldn't. For someone with one of the scariest of cancers, I'm incredibly lucky. I am among the only ten percent of pancreatic cancer patients eligible for the Whipple surgery I had.

And now that I am facing chemotherapy soon, they tell me my “dose” will take about an hour to administer. Some people need six or eight hours each time. I am so grateful for these two pieces of luck.

Plus, all these and many more additional instructions, warnings and admonitions come with the care and concern of the medical staff based on their collective years of experience with chemotherapy patients in one of the best cancer centers in the United States.

But still, you could have mentioned this stuff to me. Okay, I'll shut up now.


Are Children an Elder Hazard?

In the nature of callow youth, when I was a teenager - and maybe a young woman too - I noted with some disdain that the homes of old people I knew were often in need of a design update.

If the décor fashion of the day was Danish modern, for example, I felt a kind of contempt for the people who were not keeping up.

It's not that their homes hadn't been cleaned but threadbare upholstery, nicks on chair legs and permanent stains on table tops pointed up some shabbiness. Oh, my disdain knew few bounds.

I've noticed through the years that a lot of children can be as judgmental as I once was and on some reflection, I wonder maybe that it's okay – as long as they aren't rude about it.

It takes a long time to form one's tastes and discernment and young people generally prefer the new to the old – and maybe that applies people as well as furnishings for them (I THINK that's a joke).

And, of course, there are a lot of understandable reasons an old person's home can seem dated to the young. It's expensive to reupholster an otherwise perfectly good sofa and money is generally tighter in retirement.

My latest reason for not spending much time thinking about replacements for whatever is worn is realizing that it probably isn't worth the effort for whatever time is left to me on earth. (I THINK that's half a joke.) Here's an example of one thing I won't be replacing.

Deskleg

When Ollie the cat first came to live with me 13 years ago, from day one he used a leg of my desk to hone his claws. It was a new desk then and I was concerned about what he was doing. At least he wasn't shredding the sofa upholstery, I told myself, but it was a nice desk that he was ripping into.

When I asked a friend what she thought I should do, she had a couple of questions: Is the desk an antique, Ronni? Are you planning to leave it to me in your will?

No to both. And my friend said, “So why do you care?”

She was right and I have not cared ever since nor do I have any intention of replacing the desk even if there are young people who, like me at one time, would see the desk leg as a sign of senile neglect.

All that is leading up to a more serious issue with children, mostly younger ones in this case.

At the hospital where my surgery took place, there is a long, wide hallway between the check-in lobby and the exterior stairs. A nurse was pushing me in a wheelchair as we navigated that space on the day I was leaving.

I was still shaky, in some pain, and acutely aware of my sore midsection where the long incision is. As we moved forward, an old man using a cane with one arm while holding the arm of woman I guessed was his adult daughter, walked past us in the opposite direction.

Suddenly, two boys – maybe seven, eight or nine – ran full tilt down the hallway, brushing the old man's cane arm as they scooted by and then, making a course correction, nearly bumped into my wheelchair.

I don't recall any previous time when I was frightened in just that way. I immediately pictured myself and the wheelchair tipped over on the floor of the hallway, my incision ripped open with blood pouring forth.

Okay, perhaps I was being dramatic but I was hardly myself yet with the effects of 12 hours of anesthesia still muddling my brain. And anyway, in the circumstance it was not an inconceivable accident.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago while shopping at the Saturday farmer's market an almost identical situation took place: I was wandering the stalls when a couple of young boys, playing tag or running just for the fun of it, almost set me off balance as one of them brushed my arm in passing.

I wasn't as vulnerable that time as I had been in the hospital hallway, but it frightened me in the way that pretty much all old people are afraid of falling (as we should be at our age: one-third of Americans 65 and older fall each year. Some of them die from the fall).

These two almost-accidents are a new phenomenon for me. Before them, I had never thought of young kids as an elder hazard.

It is one thing for young people to ridicule how old people live in their homes – most of them, like me, will outgrow it. It is quite another for them to endanger the lives of old people - and you cannot help but wonder where their parents are.

In my case, I came to my newfound feelings of vulnerability via a massive surgery but in time it would have happened anyway with the normal debilities of age.

But I know that from this moment forward I will give all young children a wide berth. They are not safe for an old person to be around.


Eclipse Day Reveals Some Personal Changes

Solar-eclipse-map

I don't know about everyone else but if, like me, you live within the path of today's eclipse or within easy driving distance, the event has been a local news story to rival President Trump.

All right, that's not quite true but it was the second or third lead many days during this past month and it has been a common topic of conversation.

A week or so ago, at a gathering on the deck of a neighbor one lovely evening, we discussed the upcoming phenomenon. We live about an hour's drive from the path of the total eclipse and not one of us had plans to make that short trip to experience it.

Even those of us who had never seen an eclipse shrugged. “A partial eclipse is fine for me,” or “I'll watch it on television,” we said. Certainly the expected 1.5 million visitors from out-of-state who are clogging the roads affected my decision.

All of us at the gathering are retired, ranging in age from about 70 to mid-eighties and our relative disinterest in the eclipse got me thinking about how age has changed my behavior. Maybe yours too.

There was a time when I would have weathered any amount of traffic to be on the spot when the mother of all lights goes out but that was a long time ago. Because I can, I arrange my life now to avoid being stuck in traffic, among other annoyances.

TRAVEL
In recent years, I have become a dedicated homebody under most circumstances. Even two or three hours away from the house for a restaurant meal, a doctor appointment, a meeting or errands and I'm eager to return.

And although I enjoyed all my business trips throughout my work years to almost every one of the United States along with world destinations and saw places I never otherwise would have, airline travel has become so dreadful, I am not sure what could compel me to do that now.

Not to mention that travel generally doesn't fit in my retirement budget.

Many people use their retirement for travel. Some go on cruises (have you seen those prices?). Others buy RVs to take their homes with them. Those vehicles interest me in the same way that boats and tiny houses do (so clever how every inch of space is used well) but not enough to live in one, and certainly not enough to drive it.

SLOWING DOWN
Obviously we slow down as the years pass. When I worked, I could clean the house (well, a New York City apartment) from top to bottom in one, three-hour swoop on Saturday mornings. Now I spread it over an entire week.

It's possible that I could still get it done in one go, although not three hours, but I just don't want to. So it's a room or two a day.

One of the oddest developments for me in old age is that as my time on earth becomes demonstrably shorter, the more willing I am to put off all kinds of things until tomorrow and beyond whether it is an onerous chore or a pleasure. I don't understand that but it feels like there is always more time.

In today's case, it's not as though there will be another total eclipse in my vicinity during my lifetime, but I'm staying home anyway.

NO PATIENCE FOR DISCOMFORT
Years ago, I believed elastic waists were for old people. Now that I'm an old person, I thank god for stretchy waistbands.

I also don't try to hold in my tummy anymore. I sleep when I'm tired. And before this newly enforced meal schedule thanks to my recent surgery, I ate when I felt like it which often had nothing to do with the three usual meals a day.

It's been a couple of years since I watched a movie in a theater. The last two or three I attended, in different theaters, punched up the audio so high it actually hurt my ears. Suggested ear plugs are useless – they either don't work or irritate my ears. And sitting farther away from the screen doesn't help since there are speakers all along the walls.

So I watch movies I am interested in after they show up on television via Netflix, etc. and I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

There's more but you get the idea.

As with today's eclipse, very little feels compelling enough these days to require that I discompose myself by leaving home for too long. And anyway, there is so much to do here: books, movies, cooking, the cat, this blog, good neighbors, visitors and there is a lovely park along the river just steps from my door. Even the weekly farmer's market is only a five-minute walk.

I wasn't always like this but I'm pretty sure I am not alone in my cleaving to hearth and home in my dotage. Nevertheless, I am equally convinced that plenty of others feel differently. How about you?