561 posts categorized "Journal"

The Terrible Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – Part 2

As I explained in Part 1 on Monday, for four months this year, I tried to function on two to three hours of sleep a night. This was due to the sudden onset, sometime in January, of a nightly crescendo of horribly loud noise from the apartment adjacent to mine.

The snoring was operatic in scale, volume and duration and there was nowhere in my home to escape it.

My life and routine became disjointed. I was exhausted pretty much every waking moment and lack of time became a big issue.

What one normally accomplishes in a full 12-14 hour day, I needed to cram into the morning hours before I ran out of what little steam I had. You can imagine that I never got anywhere near completing the goals of my daily to-do lists.

Looking back now, I think that for a long time I was so mentally impaired that I did not recognize how distorted and diminished my life had become.

Also, it seemed to be something I wanted to keep a secret although I don't know why. But I didn't tell anyone except two or three good friends and then only toward the end of the ordeal.

Finally by May, it felt like my world was falling apart. I was desperate for relief, desperate to sleep.

One afternoon about two weeks ago, I spoke with the condominium association. I explained my situation and asked if there was anything that could be done about the epic snoring.

After a week, they got back to me. Apparently, I was told, anyone can make as much noise within their home as they want. There is no recourse. However, neighbors of this snorer were approached, my problem was explained and it was hoped that they would then get the message back to him.

Maybe that worked. About six or seven days ago, the snoring stopped. Well, I don't know if stopped but it is no longer being transmitted through the wall into my apartment.

That first night with no snoring, no being shocked awake after a couple of hours or so, I slept for an uninterrupted 10 hours and nearly as long in the days since then.

The difference in my physical and mental capabilities now is amazing. I would almost call it euphoria from just being normal again. I'm thrilled at how I good feel and from this point forward, I will never again take being rested for granted.


There is an additional bit of complexity to my sleep problem that pre-dates the snoring issue.

It took me years to find out why I couldn't stay awake later than about 7PM or 8PM. It is called Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder or ASPD and I first wrote about it here.

It is rare, it affects mostly old people, one percent of us, they say, and it means I irresistably fall asleep in the early evening (which does make dinner with friends difficult). Then, of course, I would wake at ungodly early hours – 2AM, 3AM or thereabouts.

Some time after I discovered what ASPD is, I began waking after only three or four hours – wide awake, ready for bear, no going back to sleep. I struggled to do so but after awhile, I gave in and read a book or watched TV for awhile or puttered around the house until I felt sleepy again in a couple of hours.


I recalled having read somewhere about second sleep and found it again in a book, At Day's Close – Night in Times Past, by A. Roger Ekirch.

There is growing evidence, Ekirch explained, that for centuries, maybe thousands of years, the normal sleep pattern for humans was in two parts:

“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. Thomas Jubb, an impoverished Leeds clothier, rising around midnight, 'went into Cow Lane & hearing ye clock strike twelve' returned 'home & went to bed again.'”

Since Ekirch's book was published in 2005, more references to segmented sleep have turned up. The earliest (so far) is from the Greek poet, Homer. In The Odyssey, he wrote, “In his first sleep...”

A Harvard website on sleep notes a contemporaneous report that Napoleon (1769-1821) slept

”...just a few hours at night before rising at about 3AM to work. He then typically takes a hot bath and returns to sleep for a few hours in the late morning.”

Most researchers I've read recently are coming to believe that this was the norm until the advent of electric lighting allowed people to be active much later in the evening than ever before and humankind switched to one long sleep cycle.

Since nothing I had tried kept me from falling asleep much later than early evening, I made segmented sleep my own. Until the snoring problem, it had worked quite well for me.

I would wake sometime around midnight, read for a while or get up to write or watch a movie until getting sleepy again within 90 minutes or a couple of hours.

As I mentioned above, I am currently sleeping much longer, presumably making up for the long deprivation. But as soon as is practical, I will try to get back to my routine of a segmented sleep schedule. Oh, wait. And lose those damned 10 pounds that was so hard to do as part of my 40-pound loss two years ago.

Thank you all for your commiserations on Monday and your concern and those who pretended to not notice the fall-off in the quality of posts here. I appreciate you all.

Not that I am out of the woods yet: I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the snoring guy isn't just on vacation.

The Terrible Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – Part 1

There is a reason sadists keep sleep deprivation in their torture arsenal. As Dr. Kelly Bulkeley writes at Psychology Today online:

”...prolonged sleep deprivation is an especially insidious form of torture because it attacks the deep biological functions at the core of a person’s mental and physical health.

“It is less overtly violent than cutting off someone’s finger, but it can be far more damaging and painful if pushed to extremes.”

For the past four months or so I have rarely slept more than two, sometimes three hours a night and often fewer. It is only for the past week that I have been able to return to a normal amount of sleep and can now make some sense of the distress I have been living with since January.

It is hard to overstate the misery one suffers during the other 21 or 22 hours of the day with only two or three hours of sleep at night.

During those months, it took days, even weeks, to work up the energy for the normal chores of daily life. Mopping the kitchen floor, vacuuming the carpet, doing the grocery shopping required such effort that I skipped them for long periods of time.

I shortened fitness workouts from 45 minutes to 30 to 15 and then none although I did manage the shortest time once or twice a week. I stopped walking any farther than the car and trash bins. Physical exhaustion along with a deep, aching ennui was ever present.

The mental fatigue was even worse. It did not seem unreasonable to me when I found myself thinking (frequently) that every news writer online had lost the ability to put a coherent sentence together.

My brain was so foggy that I couldn't always follow a simple news story on television and it was hard to pick up the thread of what I was reading after turning the page of a book.

Writing this blog came to feel impossible; I thought about quitting. There is a growing list of stories I have wanted to do that take a good deal more research and other work than, for example, writing something like these descriptive paragraphs of a personal event.

But I could not concentrate enough to gather the information, let alone organize it along with my own thoughts into a coherent form to write it. Even keeping track of the URLs of links to include with the stories seemed unachievable.

None of the above symptoms are news to sleep researchers. Here are some of the consequences of sleep deprivation from WebMD's section on the topic:

Significant reductions in performance and alertness
Memory and cognitive impairment: inability to think and process information
Inability to sustain attention such as to watch movies

And those are just the short-term effects. Here is WebMD's list of some of the long-term consequences of chronic sleep deprivation:

High blood pressure
Heart attack
Heart failure
Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
Mental impairment
Injury from accidents

In regard to blood pressure, throughout my life I have sometimes been rejected from donating blood due to low blood pressure. Now, for the first time in my life, it is higher than normal.

Certainly my attention has suffered, there is no doubt my cognitive ability has waned and although no one would label me a happy-go-lucky sort of person, my world view has been much darker than usual.

Even the obesity consequence has affected me. Without changing my diet (exercise has next to no impact on weight), I've gained eight or nine pounds since January. That doesn't sound like much unless, as with me, it is tacked on to my 120-125-pound average.

Further, according to WebMD,

”Studies show an increased mortality risk for those reporting less than either six or seven hours per night. One study found that reduced sleep time is a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure, and heart disease.”

Having lived with another, less destructive sleep disorder, I'm not unfamiliar with this information but only as research material until now.

Here is what happened:

One night in January, I was shocked out of a dead sleep by a huge, loud noise that sounded like it was next to me in bed. For a few seconds, I was frightened that someone was in the room with me but no. It was thunder-like snoring coming through the wall from the apartment behind mine. The best I can describe it is that it's what walruses sound like. As it turns out, that's a close match which you can listen to here.

I've lived in this apartment for six years. In that time, never once – not ever – have I heard a peep through that wall. Not music, not TV, not people talking, nothing. Suddenly, it was as though someone had torn down the wall – it was that loud and felt that close to me.

After 15 or 20 minutes of the din that night, I dragged my blankets to the living room to the sofa. I discovered sleeping there might work when you're 25, but maybe not at 75; I woke in the morning unable to turn my head to one side due to a pain - probably from sleeping crooked – that took two weeks to heal.

Meanwhile, I returned to my bedroom. Not a single night went by that the snoring did not wake me. I tried sleeping in the guest room but even with the doors closed, the godawful snorts and groans wakened me.

I began to go to bed each night in a mental crouch, waiting for the roar to begin. It never failed. I tried to get to sleep before it started, which was usually about 2AM, but the rescheduling didn't work because my entire circadian rhythm was now screwed up.

I no longer had a wake/sleep schedule. Mostly, I had an awake schedule without a sleep section to it and as far as I could see, no recourse.

If there were a loud party disrupting my sleep, I tried to reason, I would let it go for one night. If it continued a second night, I would say something. But what do you say about someone snoring? It's not something they can control.

Twice in the ensuing months, I knocked on the door of the apartment without a plan – just hoping I would figure out what to say when I met the neighbor. No one answered the knock.

You may ask why I did not take further steps and I ask myself that question now. This is a condo, after all, and there are rules but I don't know why it took me so long to act.

It's certainly possible the problem was my cognitive impairment from so long without sleep. It was difficult to concentrate on anything, I was easily distracted and I know now that throughout winter and into spring my brain, even on simple tasks, was not working properly. Most of my days were spent in a hazy mental cloud of distraction.

Although I tried hard to compensate, I wasn't successful and for four months, I dragged myself through every day like a zombie. Only now that I am recovering nicely, can I see how debilitated I was.

Part 2 is here.

The Ordinary Artifacts of Everyday Life

Because we are human, we have our frailties. One of mine is that it is hard to imagine the world without me in it, a world in which I am not taking up some amount of space along with the things, the stuff that mean something to me. That's not uncommon and maybe it is also not uncommon that it comes to mind more than occasionally.

It's been like that with me even when I was young but it happens more frequently now as my age makes it impossible to ignore the fact that the day approaches when I will be gone.

Often it is the objects of my life that occasion these thoughts - favorite items, ordinary stuff I use around the house, that cause me to contemplate my not too distant fate and their fate too: how they will be hauled off to a dump after the better part of a lifetime of good and useful service.

A cast-iron frying pan. Nothing fancy and not particularly large, eight or nine inches, bought when I lived in my first apartment at age 16. Other pans have come and gone, scratched, worn out or damaged in some other way. But this one is as good as it was on the first day, almost 60 years ago.

My sofa has been with me for about 35 years and it is much older than that. A friend found it at the Salvation Army and telephoned me to get there before someone else bought it. It was perfect, she said, for my then-new apartment and she was right.

Carved, wooden frame and front arm panels, obviously an antique that was newly reupholstered when I bought it for $250. Many friends have slept on that sofa; all have praised its comfort as well as its beauty. It pleases me as much to look at it from a chair across the room as to sit or lie on it to read or contemplate my ultimate destiny.

A younger everyday object is my dining room sideboard that was new, made just for me, in the mid-1990s. My friend Neil Thompson built it to fit into a uneven setback in the wall next to my desk in New York City - an odd, trapezoid space duplicated in this personalized piece of furniture. Who will know the reason for it's peculiar shape when I am gone.

There are some other things whose little stories from one person's life, like these, will die with me. Until then, in their daily ordinariness after so many years with me, they are old friends. They help hold together the continuity of my years and give me pleasure still to see and use.

This came to mind a few days ago when I was perusing an old book of poems by U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, one that I may not have opened in a decade.

We are the same age, Collins and me – he is just two weeks older than I. Sometimes to read him is to feel that he can see into my mind, maybe even my soul, but I know he speaks as much for others too.

This is from his collection, Questions About Angels, published in 1991. You will easily see why it brought today's little anecdotes to mind – and he says it so much more elegantly than I.

There is no need for me to keep a skull on my desk,
to stand with one foot up on the ruins of Rome,
or wear a locket with the sliver of a saint's bone.

It is enough to realize that every common object
in this sunny little room will outlive me -
the carpet, radio, bookstand and rocker.

Not one of these things will attend my burial,
not even this dented goosenecked lamp
with its steady benediction of light,

though I could put worse things in my mind
than the image of it waddling across the cemetery
like an old servant, dragging the tail of its cord,
the small circle of mourners parting to make room.

Me, Myself and I in Old Age

A friend who lives on the east coast mentioned to me last week that his wife, at an age when they are both coasting toward retirement, says she feels more and more like being a homebody these days.

Me too. Even in childhood, I had no trouble being with myself but in the years since I retired in 2004, I have gradually become more appreciative of my own company, to even crave it when life sometimes feels too busy.

This does not mean I don't want to be with other people. I just seem to want a bit less of it these days, of shorter duration and to give myself more time between each encounter.

Scheduling can get tricky because my weekly visit to the farmers market during the season seems to count as visiting time for me as do long telephone conversations – an hour or two each – that I regularly have with friends who live far away.

Not often but now and then, up to three days can go by when, not counting a short greeting with a neighbor at the mail box, I don't see or speak to anyone. And that doesn't bother me.

But it sure does bother people whose jobs are in the field of ageing. Old people are lonely they tell us. Their social circles dwindle as they age leading to more time alone and the isolation that results can be deadly:

”Isolation has been associated with people developing more chronic illnesses and facing a higher risk of death. Hypertension, less physical activity, worse mobility and increased depression have been tied to loneliness and isolation,” reported U.S. News & World Report last year.

“Not too surprisingly, mental abilities can suffer as a person's world shrinks. Cognitive decline and dementia may become more likely with isolation.”

A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.”

Some have called elder loneliness in the U.S. and in the U.K. an “epidemic” but how many old people are lonely is highly questionable. An AARP Foundation study [pdf] published in 2012, was unable to quantify it:

”...current estimates indicate that isolation could impact up to 17% of Americans aged 50+.”

Estimates? Could?

What is not hard to know is that wherever the health of old people is being discussed, loneliness and isolation are hot topics and the remedies suggested are always the same:

Take a class
Join a club
Move to a retirement community
Get a pet

(ASIDE: You can always tell when someone who is not old yet is writing about being old. It doesn't occur to them, for example, that for many elders, a pet might be too expensive, too difficult to care for or that concern it would outlive you and maybe not have a new home is too hard to contemplate.)

It is not unreasonable to assume that some people who are lonely don't want to admit it to people they know and we should all try to be sensitive to that with those we know, to do what we can to help.

But what I don't like is the sense conveyed by the ageing media that all elders are at “risk” for isolation and loneliness. Some of us, probably more than those experts realize, find increasing comfort in being with ourselves as we grow older, and being alone is not synonymous with loneliness.

This idea has come up in the past at this blog and a lot of us are on the same page with it as shown on Monday's post about Jung's seven tasks of ageing.

“I have learnt to enjoy my own company much more than I ever did before,” wrote Chillin.

“Solitude is not a sin--far from it. And it's good to use it for writing, including writing remembrances or memoir. Toward the end of life I think it's natural to experience occasional loneliness. We can survive it!” said Barbara Young.

“I'm 69 this year and I'm already tired of AARP reminding me to stay connected, wear high heels, get another job and stay busy! I was very very busy, employed, and connected for 55 years and now I'm going to embrace my essential introvert and explore these tasks in depth,” wrote Susan.

“I love to park my car at the pier, turn on some satellite music, eat my lunch, contemplate life and write. It's peaceful,” said doctafil.

It is a good thing in old age, I believe, to spend some time with me, myself and I. In that regard, here is a lovely little poem I found on the internet some time ago titled The Secret Place by Dennis Lee.

I suspect it was written for children but you and I are old enough to know that doesn't matter.

There's a place I go, inside myself,
Where nobody else can be,
And none of my friends can tell it's there -
Nobody knows but me.
It's hard to explain the way it feels,
Or even where I go.
It isn't a place in time or space,
But once I'm there, I know.
It's tiny, it's shiny, it can't be seen,
But it's big as the sky at night.
I try to explain and it hurts my brain,
But once I'm there, it's right.
There's a place I know inside myself,
And it's neither big nor small,
And whenever I go, it feels as though
I never left at all.

A TGB Extra: Tech Support Fun

Darlene Costner emailed the following joke that had me laughing all day. Anyone who has ever had computer problems and relationship issues will get it. I suspect this one has been around the web for many years and you may have seen it in the past. Doesn't matter. It's still funny and it's still true on so many levels.


* * *

A young woman wrote to tech support and their reply is a stroke of genius. She wrote a letter as a joke and only remembered about it when she unexpectedly received their responding email.

Dear Tech Support:

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slowdown in overall system performance, particularly in the flower and jewelry applications which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0.

In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs, such as: Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5, and then installed undesirable programs such as NBA 5.0, NFL 3.0 and Golf Clubs 4.1.

Conversation 8.0 no longer runs and House cleaning 2.6 simply crashes the system. Please note that I have tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix these problems but to no avail. What can I do?


Dear Desperate:

First keep in mind, Boyfriend 5.0 is an Entertainment Package while Husband 1.0 is an operating system. Please enter command: I thought you loved me.html and try to download Tears 6.2 and do not forget to install the Guilt 3.0 update.

If that application works as designed, Husband 1.0 should then automatically run the applications Jewelry 2.0 and Flowers 3.5.

However, remember, overuse of the above application can cause Husband 1.0 to default to Grumpy Silence 2.5, Happy Hour 7.0 or Beer 6.1.

Whatever you do, DO NOT, under any circumstances, install Mother-In-Law 1.0 (it runs a virus in the background that will eventually seize control of all your system resources.) In addition, please, do not attempt to re-install the Boyfriend 5.0 program. These are unsupported applications and will crash Husband 1.0.

In summary, Husband 1.0 is a great program but it does have limited memory and cannot learn new applications quickly. You might consider buying additional software to improve memory and performance. We recommend: Cooking 3.0 and Hot Lingerie 7.7.

Good Luck!

What are the Late Years For?

Last week, on a post titled What is Successful Ageing?, I wrote this about reflecting upon our lives:

”This takes quiet time, alone time. Make notes, write a memoir even if it's only for yourself. These years are the time to remember, recall and work out what it all has meant..”

A few days later, a TGB reader who I don't remember hearing from before emailed to say:

”What an idea for an eventful life!! Writing a memoir to myself. I think by 70, everybody has had an interesting life, as the obits always show. A personal memoir, though, is something I have never thought of.

“No legalities or deadlines, just a history of an interesting life. It does not have to be published, so it could be 'bare all'. Thank you for a great idea.”

After such a kind email, it would be nice if I could take credit for the idea but I first read about it decades ago. It is contained in psychologist Carl Jung's Seven Tasks of Aging which, in short form, are:

  1. Facing the reality of aging and dying
  2. Life review
  3. Defining life realistically
  4. Letting go of the ego
  5. Finding new rooting in the Self
  6. Determining the meaning of one’s life
  7. Rebirth – dying with life

In the earliest days of this blog, I was lucky to come across David Wolfe, a brilliant man, a visionary really, who wrote an important blog called Ageless Marketing. (He wrote a book with that title too)

You would not think that a blog from a consultant about how to market consumer products – even to people 50-plus - would be on my radar and generally you would be right. But David was different.

David didn't just study consumer behavior, he studied people's behavior and then applied what he learned to marketing. For me, it was his writing about how old people come to be and are different from younger people that kept me going back to his blog.

David WolfeDavid died in 2011 but the email note from that TGB reader reminded me of a series of posts David wrote in 2007, about Jung's seven tasks of ageing. I excerpted short points from each before linking to his full exposition of each task. Now, nine years later it is every bit as relevant so I am repeating them for you today.

Here is my introduction to the excerpts as I wrote it in 2007:

”David’s purpose in his series on Jung is to convince marketers that elders are not ordinary consumers. Our mindsets are different from midlife and unless marketing and advertising people understand these differences, their products will not sell.

“If you are reading Time Goes By, you are probably not a marketing professional, but that should not deter you from David’s series where you will find the clearest explanation of Jung’s tasks I’ve read anywhere among the general commentary.

"To nudge you toward doing so, below are links and short excerpts from David for each of the tasks.”

The title of each task links to the full version at David's blog.

Task No. 1: Facing the Reality of Aging and Dying
“Those who have successfully carried out Jung’s first task of aging have grown ageless in their outlook. Moreover, they have discovered that the last quarter of life is not as lousy an experience as they might have anticipated at age 40.

“One benefit of reaching this state is an almost adolescent feeling of being beyond harm’s way. Abraham Maslow saw this arising from a lifestyle in which “A day is a minute, a minute is a day.” It’s about living in the moment in a constructive way.”

Task No. 2: Life Review
“…the second of Carl Jung’s Seven Tasks of Aging – life review – can have a deeper effect on many people than nostalgia does, especially the older they are.

“Life review involves a critical examination of one’s life leading toward reconciliation between the sweet and the sour in life. It is a process for removing regret and anger from one’s worldview.”

Task No. 3: Defining Life Realistically
“In Winter, the primary developmental objective is to develop a sense of oneness with all and reconcile the sweet and the bitter in life. The main life focus is reconciliation – finding harmony and peace with ourselves, others and life in general.

“Winter’s mythic theme is irony, reflecting a persistent anticipation that the unexpected is always around the corner – though not necessarily in a negative sense. In fact, the unexpected often delights the older person as much as it does a child. Irony is particularly therapeutic in how it helps us cope with what we can’t change. And, it often provides us with a certain comedic twist to ease the burdens of old age.”

Task No. 4: Letting Go of the Ego
“Letting go of the ego enhances personal well being by taking one to new and higher levels of life satisfaction. Beyond that, research indicates that getting beyond the self to turn more attention to helping others improves the efficiency of the immune system. People who help others tend to live longer and healthier than those who stay wrapped up inside themselves.”

Task No. 5: Finding a New Rooting in the Self
“The worldviews of people in the first half of life are generally rooted in the external world. In contrast, the worldviews of people in the second half of life tend to be rooted less in the physical or mundane and increasingly in the nonphysical or metaphysical (or spiritual).”

Task No. 6: Determining the Meaning of One’s Life
“Life meaning among the young is framed by styles of appearance, language, material acquisitions, and social affiliations in the quest for a solid footing in the external world...

“However, the search for life meaning undergoes a major shift in the second half of life. Whatever people’s material success, many find less and less meaning from 'things.' So, they begin to look inward rather than to the outer world in their search for life meaning.”

Task No. 7: Rebirth – Dying With Life
“Jung’s last task of aging, 'Rebirth — dying with life,' is a familiar theme throughout the religious genre, but he was not thinking religion when he framed that task. Success in prosecuting this task leads to loss fear of life and death alike. Rebirth after dying with life transports a person into the timeless domains of an artist lost in his or her work or a child absorbed in play when living in the time of a delicious moment is all that matters.”

Ronni here again:

As you can see even from the short excerpts, these are no ordinary tasks. Rather than doing, they require being and a conscious contemplation of unconscious changes that take place within us.

Perhaps I came to studying and writing about old age in my own old age from reading Jung when I was young.

How Time Flies – Or Not Sometimes

Most old people agree that the older we get, the faster time goes by. But in under an hour early Tuesday morning, I had a good lesson in just how slowly time can pass in certain circumstances.

By 8AM, I was stretched out in the dentist's chair while enduring first, two massively painful needle sticks in my lower jaw followed by the extraction of a bad molar and insertion of an titanium implant.

Those procedures took about 35 minutes in real time which surprised me. It had felt like at least an hour and a half. I was exhausted.

In the book, Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time that I mentioned on Monday, the author Marc Wittman (translated by Erik Butler) reports on the results of recent research into the subjective experiences of time.

”In situations that trigger intense fear (note: I am always convinced the dental pain killer won't work), time expands enormously...Unusually stressful situations lead to subjective time dilation in all human beings.”

Directly finishing the dental work, I walked across the street to the pharmacy I use and waited 20 minutes for an antibiotic prescription to be filled. Again, the wait seemed much longer than it was. Wittman again:

”While waiting at the doctor's - when one is paying attention to time...half an hour may pass in an intolerably slow fashion.”

No kidding. As my Tuesday morning proved. Twice.

On several past occasions I have written about how time speeds up for elders, including the most popular explanation for the phenomenon: that when you are ten years old, for example, a year is one tenth of your entire life. When you are 80, it is only one-eightieth of your life making a year seem, supposedly, of shorter duration.

That explanation has never been good enough for me. It just seems “off” and Wittman agrees – although for more substantial reasons than mine.

He is a research fellow at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health, Freiburg, Germany who has been studying the psychology of time for many years.

He believes that the perceived increase in the speed of time in old age is much more complicated than the popular explanation. One way that is true is that time perception varies depending on whether a person is sensing it as a memory of the past or a current sensation (as my dental appointment) or anticipation of a future event.

It is an important finding in several studies, says Wittman, that our experience of the speed of time depends a great deal on memory of events.

”Numerous studies from the field of cognitive psychology have shown that the subjective duration of a span of time depends on the number of events stores in memory and the number of changes experienced in this period...

“A large quantity of changes perceived over a stretch of time causes duration to expand subjectively, compared to the same span spent under conditions that are monotonous and poor in experience.”

In addition, the discrete number of unique events, which change over the years, also affects people's sense of the passage of time .

”...childhood, youth and early adulthood are phases of life marked by the accumulation of constantly new experiences: the birth of a younger sibling, the first day of school, the first vacation spent without parents, the first kiss, and so on...

“Three years of adult life often mean three years of routine: getting up, going to work, watching television, sleeping, getting up again and so on...The result is a lower quantity of memory contents...

“What stands out are the experiences that occur for the first time; as such, events from the early phases of live prove especially enduring.

In old age, Wittman tell us, due to

”...increasing routine and the decreasing novelty-value of experience that this entails, time seems to accelerate subjectively as fewer and fewer memories are stored over the course of a life.”

There is substantially more to know about the many ways we experience time than I am giving you in this short blog post, including the role our emotions play in creating and recalling memories.

Even without that information, it is easy to understand Wittman's smart advice for those of us who might like life to slow down even a bit.

”In order to feel that one's life is flowing more slowly – and fully – one might seek out new situations over and over to have novel experiences that, because of their emotional value, are retained by memory over the long term,” he writes.

“Greater variety makes a given period of life expand in retrospect. Life passes more slowly. If one challenges oneself consistently, it pays off, over the years, as the feeling of having lived fully – and most importantly, of having lived for a long time.”

Or, I suppose, you could just spend more time in a dentist's chair.

Will I Live Long Enough to Use All This?

Have you seen those human interest stories that turn up now and then about super-dooper coupon clippers? You know, the mothers who feed a family of six for $3.27 a month because they are such world-class coupon collectors?

I have no patience for coupons and anyway, if you don't count ice cream, they are never for anything I eat. Only high-sodium, high-calorie, hi-sugar processed stuff that also contains a lot of unpronounceable chemicals gets discount coupons. Never fresh produce or fish or good cheeses.

That does not mean, however, that I don't keep an eye on other kinds of sales at the local grocery stores.

Over the past few years, the house brand of steel cut oatmeal at one of the local markets has become a personal staple.

Regular price for the one pound container is $3.99 and because it is my standard breakfast (stuffed with berries, banana, apple sauce and yogurt), I buy a lot of it. So when it is on sale three or four times a year at two for $4, that's a bargain and I buy four or even six canisters at one go.

One of my pet peeves is the high price of paper products and I am almost as crazed as those super coupon women about never paying more than a dollar for the “boutique” size box of tissue. When I see them on sale occasionally for $.89 each, I buy a dozen.

Generally, I keep a good eye on what I spend at the supermarket, but those two products are about as extreme as my bargain-hunting fetish goes.

Except now and then.

Few people these days sit down and have a long visit on the telephone as we commonly did in our younger years. But I have several friends with whom I do that almost every week – ones who live far away.

One 40-year New York City friend and I spend a good deal of time talking about what it's like to grow old – what our lives are like now in our mid- and late 70s, how our interests have changed, the kinds of things we do differently now.

We keep a mordant eye on how we have settled into life as, respectively, a little old woman and a little old man.

Good food has always been a top pleasure for each of us and we are both reasonably good cooks. Recently, we were discussing our grocery shopping habits.

Pushing my cart down an aisle one day, I told him, I noticed that tinned tuna was on sale for $.89 a can. Wow, I thought to myself, I should buy ten of them. Just in time, I remembered I had already done that only a few days earlier.

“Yes, yes, yes,” my friend exclaimed in solidarity. “Except I went that one further step and bought them. Then, when I got home, I saw that I already had 10 new cans of tuna in the cupboard.”

We decided together that it might be a reasonable bet he would not live long enough to eat 20 cans of tunafish.

And then, even though separated by 3,000 miles of digital ether, it felt like we were in the same room for a few moments as we shared a great, long, wonderful belly laugh at the folly of our aging memories and selves.

What is Successful Ageing?

For several years now there has been a lot of talk about “successful ageing” (also called “ageing well”) and how to do it. Hardly a day goes by that I don't see a new article about it and in fact, Google the phrase and you'll get nearly half a million returns.

The not-very-clever joke told by people like me who don't like the phrase is, What is UNsuccessful ageing? Death?

The advocates of successful ageing - who are government and non-governmental agencies concerned with old people, academic researchers who specialize in ageing, and healthy lifestyle advisers who range from physicians to media bloviators like me – emphasize the big three prescriptions for successful ageing:

Physical and cognitive fitness
Active social life
Good diet and other healthy habits

There's nothing wrong with those admonitions except that they are all we are told about successful ageing with the accompanying implication that they will help us maintain a facsimile of youth.

As if that is the meaning of growing old. It is not.

So today, let's take those three “rules” as a given, set them aside and talk about some some other ways to think about how we age.

It is a blessing that I am intrigued with how my body and face show increasing signs of age - almost by the day now. A deeper wrinkle next to my mouth. Creases in my forehead more permanent. The crepe-y skin on my belly getting crepe-ier.

I cannot take credit for my fascination with these changes; it just happened along the way but I am grateful for it.

Imagine what it must be to regret one's face in the mirror every morning. It would be a dreadful affliction made worse in that it cannot be changed and attempts to do so – Botox, surgery, etc. – fool no one.

We all get old. When we do, we all look old. Get over it, stop paying attention to wrinkle remover ads (none of them work) and do something more interesting.

Without giving a single inch to the cultural conviction that growing old is only about disease and decline, it is good to learn acceptance, as becomes necessary.

If you can't clean the whole house in one go anymore, slow down. Do it in two days, three days or as long as it takes.

If, like me, you need a day off from people the day after a social engagement, do it. Learn to say no.

In recent years, there has been a not-so-subtle urging for old people to push themselves to physical extremes. Every time there is a news story about an 80-year-old climbing Mt. Everest or bungee jumping off a bridge, the unspoken question to the reader is, what are you doing sitting there watching television?

Do not accept this kind of thinking.

Even among the healthiest among us, if we live long enough, our physical capabilities will wane. It's okay. Do as much as you can or feel like doing and let the rest go. You won't be a bad person for it.

One of the most common things you hear from the recently retired is that they don't know what to do with all the time they have. Advice from the advocates is always the same: volunteer, join a club, get active.

You can do all those things if they are what interest you but now, at last, there is time to reflect on your life, think about where your life has taken you, what you have learned, note your accomplishments, forgive yourself for your failures and maybe set a new course.

This takes quiet time, alone time. Make notes, write a memoir even if it's only for yourself. These years are the time to remember, recall and work out what it all has meant to you.

This hardly covers it. The point I wanted to make today, and this doesn't really do it well, is that the emphasis of the “successful ageing movement” is pretty much 100 percent on physical health and the appearance of youth, and that is not good enough.

There is so much more to life and whatever the gurus of ageing well think, that IS what we are still doing at our age: living. In all ways available to us. Just like younger people.

The first and most important thing to remember about growing old is this: there is no wrong way to do it.

* * *

AFTERWORD: I was/am dissatisfied with this piece. It had been rolling around in my head for several days, I liked the general idea and had made some notes. But as happens sometimes, it is lacking. It just didn't develop well.

Nevertheless, I needed to move on with other plans and – good, bad or indifferent, the post needed to be to be finished.

Now, five or six hours later on a Sunday afternoon, I've been reading a couple of chapters in a book about perception of time that I will tell you more about at a later date because a great deal of it addresses the issue of how time seems to accelerate as we age.

In that regard, there is a relatively short passage that relates to the question of ageing well that applies to today's post. It is from Felt Time by Marc Wittman.

The author is discussing a work titled On the Shortness of Life by first century CE statesman and philosopher, Seneca, in which he scolds his countrymen who put off living until too late.

”...in Seneca's opinion, life only seems short to us – that is, to pass faster and faster - because we waste time on so many useless activities. 'Useless' does not necessarily mean lazy Sunday afternoons on the couch. Seneca endorses anything but an unconditional work ethic," writes Wittman.

“On the contrary, he wants to demonstrate that many of our pursuits in life – and especially the work we choose, which eats up all our time – keep us from things that would really prove fulfilling and offer an emotionally rich existence.

“At this juncture, the reader may reflect on his or her own activities. What is keeping us from doing what we really want to do? In other words: life is, in fact, long, if only we know how to use our time.

“In the language of memory psychology: Live in such a way that your life is varied and emotionally rich; then you will live for a long time.”

Wittman and Seneca are a bit more concerned with longevity than I intended to discuss today, but Seneca's advice is an excellent prescription for successful ageing.

Or, I could have kept this a lot shorter by quoting Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss."

“About” Taking a Day Off

Life has intruded and for a day or two I need take a short break from writing that requires actual thought. So here are a couple of things that won't tax my brain and I hope will amuse you.

As I was explaining to my friend Erin Read who is director of strategic planning at Creating Results, I like pigs almost as much as I like cats.

Also, I am a long-time connoisseur of television commercials. Except for people in the business of creating them, hardly anyone believes they are an art form, but they are and I keep an eye out for the exceptional ones. They are few and far between but they do exist.

One turned up recently that involves a pig. A blissed-out (stoned?) retired couple are walking their miniature pig along a waterfront. It's shot in moderate slow motion. The music is a bit odd and (to me) unrecognizable but catchy. The whole thing is a little off kilter, mysterious and strange.

And those are the reasons to stick around until the end to find out what it's all about. Take a look:

Did you catch the bewildered look, about halfway through, on that little boy's face? And the woman holding the pig in her arms like a small child at the end? In a bank?

I've watched this commercial about a dozen times and am still befuddled and charmed. It's beautifully done.

After frequent airings for a large part of 2015 and then disappearing, another commercial that is as brilliant in its way is in rotation again recently.

It's about a guy who is checking off items on his ageing dog's bucket list and I tear up a bit every time I see it. This is the long version that is rarely shown on television.

At our ages, we've all been there and not only with a pet. It's a great commercial.

Now. About that “About” word in quotation marks in the headline today.

The link named About above the banner on every TGB blog page goes to another page where you will find links to Peter Tibbles' bio, the Photo Timeline and an About Time Goes By page.

Except, that last one has been a dead link since the blog was redesigned in 2015. The intention then was to rewrite the About TGB page and I didn't get around to it until now.

For those of you who keep asking why that page is missing, my apologies for the delay. You can go directly to it with this link, or click “About” at the top of this page for all three About choices.

So How's Retirement Going for You?

There is a new survey of 1,583 retirees about what makes them happy in their post-employment years. In general, I don't find the the poll useful for several reasons:

All the respondents are long-time customers of a financial services company, TIAA, that commissioned the report

The respondents disporportionately hold advanced education degrees

74 percent have made only “minor or no financial adjustments” in retirement

That certainly does not reflect the real world and most of the 100-plus questions in the survey are about satisfaction with TIAA products – retirement planning and financial packages. That makes a good sales tool for the company but not much interest ordinary folks.

Nevertheless, in reading the survey, I realized that I have never, in 12 years since my last paid employment, given any thought to how life is for me now in comparison to before. Apparently, I just slipped into retirement, kept going and here I am.

At first, I intended to show you a couple of charts from the TIAA survey – one about lifestyle changes and another on activity levels - but for reasons in that list above, it doesn't seem useful and I'm more interested in how you, dear readers, whom I suspect are a better cross-section of elders than the survey respondents, are enjoying your retirement.

Me? I never decided to retire. In fact, I didn't think about it when I was working even into my sixties. I just assumed I would work until I didn't want to anymore, whenever that came about in some indistinct future.

And so it was. Until it wasn't. I was 63 when I was laid off and even giving it a year of intensive searching, I never found another job.

However, during my last year of employment, I was already publishing this blog so I just kept at it. It is what I do now quite similarly to my life when I once produced TV shows and websites, and I am no less engaged with the blog than that other kind of work.

The worst of retirement is that I couldn't afford to remain living in Manhattan where I had been for 40 years. It is the only place I ever felt at home and not being there means that I am not living in the right place, always feeling slightly off-kilter.

But so what. Shit happens in life. There's nothing to do but deal with it and god knows I try in a hundred little ways.

Since this blog bridged my working and non-working years, it is almost as though I haven't retired – except that I luxuriate in the freedom now to schedule time at my whim and not an employer's.

Aside from TGB, the days are filled with fitness workouts, community activities, friends online and in person, reading, cooking, keeping up with politics and a couple of other areas of interest, a weekly current affairs discussion group, and the boring parts of life – shopping, cleaning, etc.

What I have come to appreciate now is something I had not anticipated – time to be. Time with no purpose. Time be quiet and alone with myself. I recall having that kind of time as small child, lots of it, but it got set aside for the most part in the mid-years and I am pleased to have it back.

Life is more fluid and open-ended these days. Without demands from employers, the only obligations are those I choose to make and although “happy” is not in my personal vocabulary, I am essentially content with life as it has come to be now.

So that's how retirement is going for me. How about you?

ADDENDUM: I finished this before realizing that even though I read the entire TIAA survey which is concerned almost mostly with money, that subject didn't occur to me while I was steeped in writing this.

Certainly money is important in retirement. It takes on greater meaning in old age, I think, because most people are stuck with whatever we've got – it's never going to change much, and far too many elders live in poverty. (We'll talk about that here soon.)

For now, do I wish I had more money? Sure. Are there things I go without for lack of money? Yes, but nothing crucial.

I budget carefully, I put aside money for emergencies and worry that it's not enough. And in a world economy as volatile as the one we live in, I wonder what might go wrong before I die that will leave me in financial dire straits.

And then I remember that there is no point in buying trouble, particularly the kind I cannot control.

With that, we're back to the end again: How's retirement going for you? And if you are not retired yet, what do you expect or anticipate from it when the time comes.

(If you are interested in the TIAA survey, the executive summary is here [pdf], the full report is here [pdf].)

The Century-Old Quilt – Like New

The weather has warmed enough where I live that it was time this weekend to put away the winter bed quilts for something lighter.

As there are a number of color and style choices on my shelves, I can pick and choose depending on – oh, who knows or cares. It's not a decision that matters much.

Except for that quilt.

Usually I ignore it. In fact, I've been shoving it aside each spring for (quick head calculation) 32 years. Wow. I had no idea it's been that long.

My grandmother made that quilt. My father's mother. Dad was 10 years old when he saw her for the last time. I met her once, in 1968, at her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. She died in 1984, which is how the quilt came to be in my possession.

It is not an exaggeration to say that part of my family and/or their behavior, can be described as gothic. But I didn't truly understand that until quite recently.

The dawning of that realization came about when a New York City police officer knocked on my door one day in December 1984, to give me the news that my grandmother had died. As I explained in a 2009 story in these pages,

”A St. Paul attorney, whose telephone number the police officer had given me, told me my name and address had been noted among my grandmother's papers marked, 'in case of emergency.' She had been found in her home, he said, frozen to death.

“It got worse from there.”

If you are curious, that 2009 story in four parts titled, The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old, Woman, can be found here. Until this past weekend, I had not read it in nearly seven years and it's an amazing yarn, if I do say so myself. And by “yarn,” I do not mean to say it is untrue. It is not.

Nor was it my intention on Saturday to dredge up that event along with the the rest of the family history it recalls. I will deal with that in my way but today's post is about a teeny, tiny part of that yarn, Grandma Hazel's quilt.

While closing up her St. Paul home in 1984,

”In another drawer, I found a never-used, hand-made, patchwork quilt, probably sewn by Grandma Hazel in her teens, as girls born a hundred years ago did for their trousseaux.

“It is a remarkably modern design for its time (Hazel was born in 1892), and I've kept it. Early on, I thought I'd use it on my bed, but cats and antique quilts are not a good mix. So, as in Hazel's home, it sits folded in a drawer.”

Not “probably sewn.” Definitely sewn by Hazel and if we arbitrarily choose to have “teen” in her case mean 15, that quilt is now about 110 years old.

Two days ago, while rummaging around through the bedding, I decided to take a look at Grandma Hazel's quilt. I hadn't done so since at least 2010 when I moved here and that's all it took for the terrible story of the death of an old, old woman to come flooding back.

It's a tough story. Harrowing. Sad. Disagreeable. Embarrassing. Enraging. Wretched. The odd thing is that it seems even worse as I recall it now than it did when it happened and when I last wrote about it.

But it has also brought me one small piece of clarity that I am quite pleased with.

The quilt is lovely and as much like new as if it were finished yesterday. As I spread it out on the bed, here is what else I thought in addition to the memories:

So what if it's 110 years old. Who cares if the cat's claws get caught in it. What difference does it make if you spill ice cream on it while watching old movies in bed. What are you saving it for. You're 75 years old and you don't even like that woman. Use the damned quilt.

And here it is. Sorry fat, old Ollie the cat is in shadow but I'm glad he thinks it's a nifty place to sleep.


The Imperative to Live and to Die


Somewhere among the tiniest twists of our DNA, we are programmed to fear death, to avoid it at all costs and to live. To Live!

To live is, borrowing from Star Trek, the prime directive.

In addition to the practicality and pleasures of our five senses, each is designed to alert us to danger when there is a threat to our own life and, often, others' lives too.

In many cases, it is sub-verbal. We touch something too hot, our hand pulls back on its own. A kid runs in front of the car, we slam on the brakes – no thought necessary.

So fundamental is the human (and other animal) imperative to live that young people, against all evidence, believe they are immortal. I once felt that way and undoubtedly you did too.

Now I know better.

One of the ways that old age is dramatically different from youth and the middle years, and which society does not generally acknowledge, is the courage it requires to be old.

When dying becomes up close and personal, each old person, mostly in quiet times when we are alone, must bravely stand up to all that DNA self-preservation juice and make peace with, in time, letting go of life.

We must do that while keeping the prime directive - living our best possible old age. As Anatole Broyard wrote in The New York Times in 1990:

”If we face the reality, at 63 or 70, 75, 80, or 90, that we will indeed, sooner or later, die, then the only big question is how are we going to live the years we have left, however many or few they may be?

“What adventures can we now set out on to make sure we'll be alive when we die?”

I love that part: “...make sure we'll be alive when we die.” Lin Yutang said something similar in his book, The Importance of Living back in 1937:

”If man were to live this life like a poem he would be able to look upon the sunset of life as his happiest period, and instead of trying to postpone the much feared old age, be able to look forward to it, and gradually build up to it as the best and happiest period of his existence.”

I've been collecting quotations on old age and dying for 20 years and I could copy out dozens of inspiring thoughts for us all day. But I want to get back to the idea of courage.

As en-courage-ing as all the quotations of these wise people are, what many leave out is the loss, the pain - and the fear, too - that accompanies our journey in the final years.

Surveys repeatedly show that the most common regret of old people is not what they have done in their lives but what they have left undone – from travel to not telling someone how much they were loved. We live with those sorrows, especially the ones where we have failed others.

For some, there is physical pain that is often chronic and untreatable. Elders are mostly stoic about it, rarely mentioning how difficult it makes their lives.

The cumulative loss of loved ones and the different sorts of holes that creates in our lives. When my mother died, I remember feeling bereft that no one living now had known me when I was a child. I still haven't worked out, 25 years later, why that leaves an empty spot and still does.

And then, the fear of approaching death when we can no longer pretend it is far away. Like I said, it takes a lot of courage to get through old age and I am surprised how little this is noticed – by others maybe understandably but by elders themselves particularly.

Over these years of thinking about the meaning of old age, I have come to believe that it is part of our job in these last years to cultivate acceptance of the ending of our days and to weave the work of accomplishing that into the structure of our daily lives.

It does take work. You can't just decide one day that you are are comfortable with dying and be done with it. Particularly when, for me, I have never felt as closely connected to life and living, so attached to the shifts in light and weather and the changing seasons of our world as I do now.

Without any effort on our part, death will find us when it is time. But I want more. I seek to stop running from death and to make peace with it as the proper outcome of life.

My greatest encouragement and comfort in that so far is astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson's “We are all stardust” speech:

“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago," he said.

“For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.

I'm not there yet but that knowledge gets me a whole lot closer to understanding death as the good and proper outcome of life.


On Becoming 75

[BIRTHDAY NOTE: Thank you all so much for the many kind greetings you left in the comments yesterday. You made my birthday extra special and I appreciate every one of you. You too, Peter Tibbles, for that excellent musical party.]

* * *

It is not an easily ignored birthday, 75. At least not for me, having been thinking about “what it's really like to grow old” nearly every day for more than 20 years.

Seventy-five is one of those round number, big-deal birthdays notable especially in that it is three-quarters of century. That's saying something, having navigated that many years.

There's no foolin' around anymore. I'm old. No argument. No wiggle room. No forgetting that my mother died in her 75th year, when she was about nine months older than I am today.

A lot of people die at my age and it's not much of a surprise when they do. Even so, I am willing to bet that a lot of them felt as I do today – healthy, focused, curious, engaged - with no reason to think they would be dead tomorrow.

But always a certain number are. They get hit by a car, succumb to a terrible diagnosis or just quietly die in their sleep for no good reason except they're old.

Caught between being fascinated observing my body and my mind as they gradually accumulate the changes of old age and ignoring it all, I play a game with myself: Be careful, I say. If I think too much about what can go wrong, that will bring it on. It might not happen if I ignore the idea, but I can't pretend I never think about because while I'm pretending I am thinking about it and...

Well, you see how it goes. The human mind is a wonder to behold in the way it/we can confuse, obfuscate and bemuse ourselves.

I read somewhere that the body starts to seriously fall apart after age 75. However healthy anyone was before that birthday, it will change for the worse from that point forward.

First one thing, then another and another. It won't be so easy, they say, from 75 on. Maybe so but I think I will wait to cross those bridges when I get to them.

Nevertheless, such a remarkable birthday as 75 requires some reflection and perhaps an adjustment in how one lives, don't you think. It feels like a good time to make some changes in how I spend my time, to choose more carefully, more wisely, maybe, than I have in the past.

Doing so would definitely be something new for me.

Although not in much detail, I do recall deliberately deciding, one day in my early twenties, that because I had no idea what to do with my life, I would just follow along where the wind blew me and see what happened.

And mostly that's what I've done these 50-odd years since then with a few important exceptions of opting out rather than opting in.

No children because I knew raising them would take more effort than I was interested in devoting to it. Parents always tell me the time and sacrifice was worth it. I don't believe that is so for everyone and I made the right decision for me (and for those unborn kids, too, I'm pretty sure).

When I left my husband, it was to save my soul. I didn't know who I was any longer and I believe that if I had stayed, I would have disappeared, turned into something smaller and more invisible than I already felt.

As you can see, basically I have good self-preservation instincts but that's not particularly useful in deciding how to live a good or wise or just life which seems to concern me on this birthday.

My home holds an extensive library on the subject of ageing, quite a lot of which are individual takes in varying degrees of wisdom on growing old.

From antiquity there are Epicurus, Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, more recently Montaigne and others. Then there are my contemporaries and near contemporaries – Simone de Beauvoir, Donald Murray, Helen Nearing, Penelope Lively, Ram Dass, Virginia Ironside, Judith Viorst, Helen Small, Wilhelm Schmid, Carolyn Heilbrun, even Dr. Seuss and others I wish I could invite to dinner.

What most of them have done in regard to the topic is pay attention to the details of their personal journey into this “other country” of old age then make educated guesses on how those observations might apply to the universal condition of humankind.

I've been waiting a long time but finally, I think, I may be old enough for this course of action.

Similarly to the negative choices of not having children and ending my marriage, I backed into writing about ageing and making it my work for the past 20 years.

Before beginning this open-ended study, my career allowed me to be a generalist – report on cancer one day, a movie star the next, fashion, cooking, finance, politics, disasters, book authors and hundreds more. I loved it.

Nothing in my background would have led me to believe I would stick with one subject, still fascinated with how much there is to know about it, for 20 years.

But here I am, ready I believe to take a page from the books of those philosophers, thinkers and writers who have taught me so much and trust my own experience as I try to clarify and untangle in these pages “what it's really like to get old.”

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf wrote:

”The compensation of growing old is that the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained – at last! - the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence – the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly in the light.”

ELDER MUSIC: The 7th of April 2016

This is Peter Tibbles. I'm usually lurking over there on Sunday but now and again I pop up my head on other days and take over the column, so here I am again.

This is because Ronni turns 75 today and that's a significant number, three quarters of a century. Naturally I've baked a cake for the occasion.


So, because my usual gig is music, that's what I'll be doing today. The musicians featured all share Ronni's birthday and she's in pretty good company as you'll see. Besides those, I'll mention a few others who share her day as well.

Ronni Bennett

That, of course, is Ronni pretending to be Norma, the Assistant Musicologist.

I'll start with the very best today, and that is BILLIE HOLIDAY.

Billie Holiday

Trying to select just one song was a real challenge. There were many possibilities and several strong contenders. It came down to me saying to myself, "Oh just pick one.” This is it. God Bless the Child.

♫ Billie Holiday - God Bless the Child

Also birthday boys today are a couple of actors Jackie Chan and Russell Crowe.

JOHN OATES was the dark haired one in Hall and Oates.

John Oates

He was the one who played the guitar. Daryl mostly sang lead but John sang quite often although probably not on this one, Rich Girl.

♫ Hall & Oates - Rich Girl

Another actor, James Garner.

For a complete change of pace here is RAVI SHANKAR.

Ravi Shankar

He recorded several albums with the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin who doesn't share the birthday. The track they play together is just called Sitar and Violin Duet.

♫ Yehudi Menuhin & Ravi Shankar - Sitar & Violin Duet

Francis Ford Coppola has a birthday today.
JANIS IAN had a hit single when she was still a teenager.

Janis Ian

The song, Society's Child caused her to be banned by the usual suspects and other crackpots. She released a well received album called "Between the Lines" that contained the single At Seventeen.

♫ Janis Ian - At Seventeen.

Happy birthday Jerry Brown and Wayne Rogers.

BOBBY BARE had a huge hit in the late fifties and no one knew about it.

Bobby Bare

That's because it was released under the name of Bill Parsons who was a friend of Bobby's. That was because Bobby was called up for military service and couldn't tour to support the record so Bill lent his name to the record and toured in his place.

People soon knew something was wrong as Bill wasn't the singer that Bobby was. That song was a bit of a send-up of Elvis called All American Boy.

♫ Bobby Bare - All American Boy

A bit of quality now, William Wordsworth.

CAL SMITH had a lot of songs on the country music charts and several number ones.

Cal Smith

However, he really wasn't a cross-over artist apart from the song Country Bumpkin, which we won't be playing today. What we have is Honky Tonks and You.

♫ Cal Smith - Honky Tonks And You

A couple who were involved in politics in vastly different ways, Allen Dulles and Daniel Ellsberg.

FREDDIE HUBBARD was classically trained but at the same time he was doing that he was playing jazz with the locals around town (that being Indianapolis).

Freddie Hubbard

The jazz won out in the end. He played with all the greats during his life and listening to him, I can detect more than a hint of Miles Davis in his style.

Freddie plays Up Jumped Spring with some serious fluting going on by James Spaulding.

♫ Freddie Hubbard - Up Jumped Spring

The last of these extras, two who reported on politics in different ways, Walter Winchell and David Frost.

I'll end with PERCY FAITH.

Percy Faith

He's far from my favorite but someone must like him as he sold many records, particularly in the fifties, which is when this was a hit. Everybody Loves Saturday Night.

♫ Percy Faith - Everybody Loves Saturday Night

Uh oh, we should have blown out the candles sooner.


Once Again for the Last Time?

One of the most common laments of the oldest old is for the things left undone. A large number say they wish they had traveled more. Others are sorry they didn't take more chances or that they didn't study harder in school or stayed with the wrong spouse instead of moving on.

The regrets of people who are near the end of life are remarkably similar. We know this because there is no lack of academics and other researchers who regularly poll elders with the question, “What do you most regret about your life?” or something close to that.

When I read these surveys, I feel terrible for people who are summing up their lives in such a gloomy way and for awhile, I worried that when I sense my life is coming to a close someday, I will be thinking like that.

Then I realized it is, of course, the gloomy question that takes them to that dark place and probably not their normal demeanor.

When my mother was dying and we talked, one day, about life and death, she said to me, “Don't feel bad, Ronni. I've had a good life and I'm ready to go now.”

Poll questions nothwithstanding, maybe that is how most people who know their death is imminent really view their lives. Or maybe it's just how my mother rolled.

If the latter, it apparently runs in the family because I have few if any regrets. Or rather, when circumstances have brought me to moments of regret, I wail for awhile or, when I have behaved badly or made a poor choice, wallow in the pain for a period, allow myself to grieve and then get back to living.

What I have, rather than regrets about what I have not done, is a curiosity about what I have done and left behind:

”Although I don’t dwell on this, it interests me to think there are things I may already have done for the last time and don’t realize it yet.

“At first, the idea pierces my heart reeking, as it does, of the end being nigh. On further thought, however, I find that it would be good if I could know I would never do that thing again, to mourn it a bit, maybe light a candle for its passing out of my life and send it on its way with a hug and kiss.”

When I wrote those words on this blog 11 years ago, I still lived in New York City. Since then I have lived in Portland, Maine for four years and then moved on to Oregon where I live now. But that 2005 list of things I may have done for the last time hasn't changed much. Here it is:

  1. Swim naked in a secret stream on a hot summer day

  2. Dance the tango (if I still know how)

  3. Drive down the highway in a convertible at 100 miles an hour with Joe Cocker’s Cry Me a River blasting at full volume

  4. Make love

  5. Walk the beach alone in northern Oregon at 6AM

  6. Walk Greenwich Village streets in a blizzard

  7. Read all of Shakespeare’s plays

  8. Visit London, Paris and the towns in the hills above the southern coast of Spain

In the eleven years gone by, only two items have changed: I have done number 5 again and I would definitely change number 6. I am not so interested in walkiing in the blizzard, although that's nice. Today, I would rewrite it thusly: Return to live in Greenwich Village, or any part of Manhattan.

Okay, it looks like I do have one regret - having left New York City. But it definitely will not be what's on my mind as my life draws to an end.

Ultimately, for me anyway, regrets – even one of this much personal pain – are absurd, as American poet Richard Siken has pointed out:

“Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying.

“And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, 'I am falling to the floor crying,' but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well.”

It may take a while to get there, but what else is there to think about when there is no way to change past events.

It is worth ending this as I did in 2005, noting that I will take time now and then to recall the things I may have done for the last time because Madeleine L’Engle knew what she was talking about when she wrote:

"I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be...This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide…"

      - A Circle of Quiet [1972]

The Theme of an Old Woman's Life

The specifics of this story are unlikely to match any of yours but perhaps there is something in your life that provokes a similar longing.

It begins at Christmas 69 years ago. I've told this part of the story on TGB in the past and if you know it, well – too bad. It belongs here today too.

As a gift that season, my parents received a 78 rpm record set of Manhattan Tower, a musical suite about New York City composed and conducted by Gordon Jenkins.

I was only five years old that Christmas but I was captivated with it. I listened and listened and listened until I knew every word and then I listened some more over all the years of my childhood and youth, placing myself within the story of the songs, dreaming of living in Manhattan some day.

(You can listen to Manhattan Tower here in four parts. It's about 16 minutes long altogether.)

The recording stayed behind when I left home after high school in 1957 and I don't recall if I thought about it in the following years. I suppose I must have because I certainly didn't lose the idea that I would someday live in New York.

Life has a way of interrupting all kinds of dreams but eventually I married and over a few years, we moved from San Francisco to Houston to Minneapolis to Chicago and then, in 1968, to New York City. Manhattan.

My first grown-up magazine subscription ten years earlier had been to The New Yorker and that's how, through the years, I learned my way around the city even before I got there – the streets and avenues, names of the neighborhoods, the subway lines, Broadway theaters, museums, the main library with the lions, restaurants that came and went, what parts of town they were all in and more.

I also read biographies and autobiographies of well-known New Yorkers. I read histories of the city and politics, and pored over maps. I went to movies that were shot in New York whether I cared about the stories or not and generally absorbed as much of the sense and sensibility of the city as one can get from a distance.

You can read about my first day in Manhattan here. On second thought, no. This too belongs here today. I want it all I one place and if this gets to be too long for you, it's easy to click away. Besides, I'm writing this more for me than you.

So, from 12 October 2004:

On my first day in Manhattan 35 years ago, having just stepped off a bus, I stood on the corner of 50th and Broadway orienting myself as to east, west, north and south to determine which way to walk to my destination.

It was noontime and the crowd was the largest and busiest I’d ever seen, a whirlwind of bodies weaving in and out and around one another, each independently intent on their individual goal.

As I sorted out the street signs from the profusion of gaudy neon, flashing store front lights, and walk/don’t walk indicators, a single voice made itself apparent above the din of traffic and several hundred people.

When I located the source of the shouting, I was mortified to see a man in a propeller beanie yelling, “Pervert, Pervert, Pervert,” while pointing directly at me.

No one stopped as they passed, but they glanced at him and then at me, and I wished with all my might to be made invisible. In a panic, I took off in the direction I hoped was the one I wanted, with that pointing finger and his words, “Pervert, Pervert, Pervert,” following me across the street.

A few minutes later, as I waited for my friend in front of the entrance to Saks Fifth Avenue, taking in the amazing crowds of New York City at lunchtime, a well-dressed man of about 30 suddenly grabbed my arm and asked, “Are you married?”

Having escaped the verbal assault just 15 minutes earlier and shocked again at being singled out by a stranger in this strange, new town, I managed to stutter, “Uh, well, uh, yes.” The man looked at his companion as they walked on and said, “Damn, I’ll never find anyone to marry me.”

Welcome to Gotham, little girl.

Nothing like those two incidents had ever happened to me anywhere in my life and when the surprise wore off, I loved it. They made me laugh and what I learned was that anything, any amazing thing could happen at any time – even twice within an hour.

And over the next 40 years, they did, many times, and I made Manhattan my home as much as if I owned the island, as if I had been born there.

In fact, I came to believe (still do) that it was where I had always belonged, and it was just that the gods had maybe been busy on 7 April 1941; that they got the location mixed up a little on the day I was born.

Leaping ahead 40 years, after nearly 12 months of banging my head against an immovable wall trying to find work at age 64 following a layoff, I made the soul-searing decision to sell my apartment in Greenwich Village and leave Manhattan.

Although I knew I had no other choice, it took a three-day weekend home alone weeping and wailing to come to terms with it before I could start planning.

A short time later, Dr. William Thomas, in his book, What Are Old People For?, supplied an explanation for why it was so hard for me even in the face of financial ruin if I didn't:

“…far more powerful is the older person’s attachment to place,” he wrote. “This should not be confused with nostalgia or simple habit. A sense of place is woven into the being of an elder in ways that adults have a hard time understanding. A sapling can be dug up and transplanted with little difficulty. Uproot a mighty oak and it will die…

“The gift of place is the gift of meaning. Human beings possess a remarkable ability to unite meaning with the material world. This is how a person, place, or thing becomes sacred.

“Is a Bible, a Torah, or a Koran made of paper, ink, and glue? Yes. Is it much more than paper, ink, and glue? Yes, again. Holy books are different from telephone books because the former are enriched with meaning while the latter have none…

“For the elder, a loss of place carries with it a potentially lethal loss of meaning. Taking meaning away from a person or place is a form of profanity…”

Well, not lethal in my case but too strong an attachment to get rid of like a pair of worn-out shoes. New York is my home.

Now, at last we arrive, you and I, at what I've been leading up to all along.

A couple of days ago, in a long phone conversation with an old friend who lives in New York, we talked about how, sometimes, a certain song can perfectly capture an era.

Oh so correctly in that regard he named Billy Joel's New York State of Mind as being that perfect song for the city in the aftermath of 9/11 - that it did then and still does rip at your heart in the way that awful day did and makes you ache for that certain spot on the planet, for your home there that you love almost like a person.

We went on about New York songs a bit and I told my friend that I had once made a playlist for myself (I would never inflict it on friends) of the hundred-plus songs about New York that I own. He countered with the fact that he has a much longer list.

Yesterday morning, he emailed it to me. Oh my. Thirty-two single-spaced pages of New York songs. Okay, some are the same song by several different artists but still.

I have been gone from New York now for nine years. I miss it every day and I sometimes think this is how exiles (back in the days of ancient Rome and other olden times when exile was a punishment for crimes against the state) must feel.

From time to time, though not often nor for long, I allow myself to wallow in the depths of my yearning for New York.

I did that yesterday morning, and as I perused my friend's New York song list, I recalled what we had said about New York State of Mind while I let my fingers wander over the computer keyboard until I arrived at YouTube.

As it always is when I think too hard about New York nowadays, my heart was aching even before I clicked the play button. And the last 90 seconds of the song just about destroyed me - in the best and worst possible ways at once.

This was recorded live at Madison Square Garden in 2009, the concert for the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.

I don't care if it's Chinatown or Riverside...

There wasn't any way for a little, five-year-old girl to know in 1946 that a Christmas gift to her parents would create a theme that has carried through her entire life.

A Welcome Snow Day

Recent weird and dreadful weather worldwide notwithstanding, one of the things I miss about living in the northeast United States is four definitive seasons.

Each one of them has its charms and I never tired of feeling the change in the air with the arrival of the first hint of a new season.

In New York City, it was fall that you could feel most sharply – the first morning you could discern that little bite in the air that presaged the coming need for a coat and hat.

Here in northwest Oregon where I live now, we are surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. What we do not have, however, is the kind of weather that makes a “real” winter. You know, one with snow. Essentially, we have only three seasons.

Until yesterday.

I waken so early that it is dark for several hours after I arise and I often have no idea what the weather is until sunrise. Look what surprised me when the sun came up yesterday:


The snowfall around my apartment grounds was heavy enough that it looked like it might actually last long enough to build a small snowman. Here's another shot while it was still coming down:


It's been a long time since I've seen a big deal, giant snowstorm like this one in New York City when I was still living there in 2006:


Or how about this white Christmas in Maine in 2008, when my car got completely buried overnight:


Now THOSE are snowstorms to write home (or a blog post) about.

Alas, the snow yesterday ended about 20 minutes after I took the photos above. The accumulation was no more than an inch disappointing my personal criteria for real snow: that you can't see the grass.


It's cold enough this morning that the snow may stay on the ground for awhile but a slight warmup is due along with rain this afternoon.

Too bad for my little kid excitement. But it did give me a reason to postpone reactivating brain cells after the holiday vacation from actual thought needed to write a real blog post. It's amazing how intellectually lazy I can get in only two weeks.

New Year's Eve Eve 2015

If you have been here for previous New Year posts, today's will be repetitive. I don't do New Year' Eve, not in what is supposed to be the traditional way. I have not been out of the house on that evening in – oh, 30, maybe 40 years.

I don't like crowds, drunks, the sentiment, the forced cheer or the damned song. (Is there such a thing as a grinch for New Years?)

All that notwithstanding, I do believe in marking the passage of time and the arrival of a new year is among the better reasons.

My personal ritual is long established now. I cook an evening meal that I don't usually indulge in – something I love that is fattening, unhealthy, expensive or, sometimes, all three - a glass or two of nice wine and a good book I've been eager to read. I am usually asleep long before the fireworks.

This year on the menu are broiled loin lamb chops. In general, I don't eat meat but I make an exception three or four times a year for lamb. Garlicky mashed potatoes with a large mound of roasted broccoli, asparagus and carrot coins will round it out. Oh, and mint sauce, of course.

For two years in a row, my selected New Year's Eve book was by the brilliant British novelist, Kate Atkinson. I've chosen non-fiction this year, and an American, who is no less brilliant than Atkinson, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I'm a long-time fan from about 2008 when he started writing regularly for The Atlantic online and in the print magazine; he is one of the smartest, most thoughtful people writing today about the black experience (and pretty much anything else).

Betweentheworldandme I have come think of Coates as the successor to and following in the footsteps of great black thinkers - James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Lorraine Hasberry, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou among others. So much so that when Between the World and Me was published last summer I bought it immediately, started reading and somehow it got set aside.

The book has since won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction and certainly must have figured in Coates' selection for a "genius grant" in 2015 from the John D. and Katehrine T. MacArthur Foundation.

So Between the World and Me is my carefully selected year-end/new year book this time.

And what about you? How will you spend the transition to 2016?

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE. I'm looking forward to sharing another wonderful year with the best bunch of readers/collaborators any blogger could have.

Darlene Costner, Mending Well at Home

If you read the comments here regularly, you know Darlene Costner. She usually has something smart or pithy or funny to say and more readers leave such comments as, “What Darlene said,” than they do anyone else.

Darlene also supplies a lot of the items for Saturday's Interesting Stuff column so you've seen her name there quite frequently.

I had already started to wonder why I hadn't heard from Darlene in awhile when an email arrived yesterday. On Saturday, 5 December, she wrote, she had fallen in her home and five days later, she was

”...transported by ambulance (my private limo) to the ER when I was in excruciating pain on Friday morning at 1:30 am and was admitted to the hospital for observation.”

It turns out she had broken a vertebra but after thorough examinations, doctors allowed her to go home to recover, avoiding rehab, as long as there was someone to help 24 hours a day. Darlene continued:

”Mark (her son) will be here tomorrow so Gail (her daughter who lives with Darlene) can go to work. I am wearing a brace and I now have sympathy for knights in shining armor.”

It is difficult for Darlene to type at the computer right now so I've been emailing with Gail who explained further on the fall Darlene took:

”We were having friends over for dinner on Saturday night when Mom's inner hostess kicked in. Without thinking of using her walker for balance, she grabbed two trays and started toward the living room. She lost her balance and fell straight back.

“She's so tough that she acted like nothing was wrong throughout the dinner party, wouldn't hear of going to urgent care on Sunday and proceeded to walk around for the next five days as if all was normal.

“Finally in the early morning hours of Friday, she woke to find the pain was so severe she couldn't move at all. A few paramedics, a stretcher and an ambulance ride later, we heard the ER doctor telling us that she had fractured her T12 vertebra and there was significant swelling.

“They checked her into the hospital for observation and an evaluation by the physical therapist. Fortunately she could get out of bed by herself and walk with the help of a walker and his recommendation was for home care.”

Let me remind you that we celebrated Darlene's 90th birthday here earlier this year. As Gail, says, she is one tough woman and this isn't the first time she has been astonishly brave through a broken bone. Five or six years ago she fell at home, broke her hip and spent 10 or 12 hours lying on the floor before she could crawl to the phone to call for help.

Darlene recovered well and with her usual sense of humor. I have no doubt the same fortitude will get Darlene through this recovery with her usual aplomb.

It must be at least ten years now that I've known Darlene through the magic of the internet. She is one of a handful of my closest blog friends and I'm sorry we have never met in person. Getting old changes things like that but I treasure our friendship and I know others of you also do.

For all the usual good reasons, I won't post Darlene's email address so you can leave messages, jokes, good cheer or whatever else you are inclined to say in the comments below.

Here is a photo of Darlene with Jan Adams of Can It Happen Here? blog when Jan visited Darlene two or three years ago.

Jan Adams and Darlene Costner