547 posts categorized "Journal"

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

Dreading Dementia

More than once or twice I have complained here about how the media seems to work overtime scaring the pants off old people about Alzheimer's disease. There is more reporting about it than any other of the diseases of age.

So today's is hardly a new topic but circumstances change. Or, perhaps, it is one's perception that does the changing. One way or another, the thought of dementia feels different to me lately.

Here is a list of things that happened to me during a single day last week. Actually, it's a list of only the ones I remember. I'm sure you will appreciate the irony of that caveat in a moment.

  1. As I grabbed the broom from the laundry room where the cat's litter box also lives, I made a mental note to clean the litter box when I returned the broom. A couple of hours later, when I was again in the laundry room to drop some towels in the washer, it hit me that I had failed to do that when I returned the broom. Didn't even cross my mind.

  2. Leaving the house to go shopping, I took a stamped envelope with me to drop in the outgoing mailbox on my way to the car so it would go out that day. On my way home from the store, I saw the envelope on the passenger seat. I had apparently strolled right past the mailbox without stopping – even with the envelope in my hand.

  3. As I walked through the door of the supermarket I thought, “Oh, I should also pick up the local weekly.” I clearly remember saying that to myself. The next day I realized I had not bought the newspaper.

  4. I forgot to put detergent in a laundry load. Never did that before in my life (that I, ahem, recall).

  5. That Thursday evening, the fifth night of Hannukah, there seemed to be too many candles remaining in the box. A quick count showed that yes, I had missed one night of lighting them. I look forward to this eight-day ritual every year, it's one of my favorite annual things, I eagerly polish the menorah in the lead-up and I cannot work out how I forgot one night.

Thursday was not an isolated bad memory day. I could make such a list - and longer - on most days.

The reason I'm thinking so much about this is that although I've been forgetting similar such small things that require a functional short-term memory on a daily basis for a long while, they seem to be increasing recently.

I don't know that for a fact but it feels that way and for the first time, I'm worried or perhaps the more honest description is that I am frightened, scared.

When I first realize I've again forgotten something nowadays, I can't shrug it off. Instead, it's hard to breathe for a moment or two. Or, sometimes, my brain freezes – nothing there but pure fear bouncing around. I've never felt that way about aspects of being old before.

You and I, dear readers, have made many jokes in these pages about the kinds of memory mistakes that matter and those that don't. “If you can't find your keys,” we say in our laymans' certitude, “you're okay; if you don't know what they're for, you're in trouble.”

We invoke senior moments as another way of finding humor in our ageing selves but they contain, too, a bit of a chill, a sense of whistling past the graveyard.

I can't prove it but it feels like I lose a thought, on average, about once an hour throughout a day and that some of those intentions disappear within a single second.

It's one thing to half-joke, as I did in a recent blog post, about finding the “sweet spot” about the moment, with a diagnosis of dementia, to commit suicide before one's mind is too far gone to accomplish it.

It is quite another thing to wonder sincerely if the need for that act is becoming reality.

Part of me keeps saying, oh, you're just imagining this increase. Even when you were young, you found yourself in rooms wondering why you'd gone there. And then I think it's time for an appointment with a neurologist. Undergo some tests.

When I allow that thought, I'm paralyzed again, not quite rational for a few moments as I desperately reach for a distraction. As they have always said, ignorance is bliss and that seems to be where I am stuck for now.

Because who wants to know for sure this particular dreadful diagnosis.

Maybe I'm fine. Maybe I'm a victim of too much Alzheimer's talk in the media. Maybe I should not have attended that screening a few days ago where I saw Still Alice for the second time. Maybe I am imagining that my memory has gotten worse. Maybe I feel guilty for being remarkably healthy at my age when others are not.

Maybe these thoughts will fade away soon and I'll muddle along as I always have for lot more years. Maybe I'll forget I even wrote this blog post. (I don't even know if that's a joke.)

I'm not writing this because I want your advice or suggestions. I don't need medical references; I've done mountains of research. I am well informed on this subject and it is not out of the question that is what has got me into this uncomfortable spot.

What I hope in doing this today, I think, is that it might be useful to express what I'm feeling so some other old people who sometimes find themselves in a similar place know others of us are there too.

We are all presented with frightening things as we grow old – some rational, some not. But we generally don't talk about them out loud, not in a real sense of how it actually feels when we are alone in the dark with these thoughts.

Writing this brought to mind a delightful quotation from the recent book, Let's Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties by Patricia Marx, a long-time writer for The New Yorker and Saturday Night Live:

"Indeed, sometimes, when I look for my glasses while wearing my glasses, I think, 'My, my, it's going to be a very smooth transition to dementia.'”

Happy Thanksgiving 2015, Everyone

A SHORT NOTE: Before I get to the holiday part of today's story, let me mention that I will soon be posting the annual gift ideas for elders column. If you have a suggestion or more, please forward them to me via the "Contact" link at the top of the page. I will consider them all but no promises that all will be included.

If you have a personal blog you want me to link to with your suggestion, include the name and URL in your message. Deadline is midnight Pacific time on Saturday 28 November.

* * *

In 2013 I vowed that due to my delight at rediscovering Arlo Guthrie's epic Thanksgiving fable, Alice's Restaurant, after the decade or two it lay somewhere in memory limbo, I would make the song the annual holiday anthem of TimeGoesBy.

As I noted that year, I was equally delighted to discover that with a couple of minor lapses, I still knew the entire monologue by heart. I can't say why but it gives me a great deal of pleasure to sing along for the entire 18 minutes, which I took the time to do (with gusto again this year) before readying this post.

Maybe you want to try that too.

It's a fine ol' song, don't you think.

A couple of weeks ago, Peter Tibbles – he of the Sunday Elder Music column here at TGB – emailed an early version of this now venerable tune, recorded live by Guthrie on some unknown date at Gerde's Folk City in Manhattan. It's obviously a work in progress and quite different from the final version - a rare treat to listen in on the development of a classic:

♫ Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant live at Gerde's Folk City

Just because I can and it's a holiday, I am giving myself a vacation from posting not only tomorrow, Thanksgiving itself, but Friday too. But I'll be back here on Saturday with the latest list of Interesting Stuff.

For everyone who honors me all year long by reading, commenting and/or generally hanging out here,


One Old Woman's Solitude

A couple of months ago, I stopped publishing this blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During several months prior, I withdrew from a couple of outside organizations I had been working with. And I made a new rule to turn off the computer no later than 4PM daily.

The reason for change to long-held routine is rarely simple – at least, with me – and most often, there is more than one although typically, they are confused or unclear at first.

Soon, I came to see that I had been chasing my tail for many years. For a long time not a day had passed that I did not feel pressured, behind in both necessities and desires as my to-do list regularly grew from a few lines each day to a page and even two pages.

Among three or four dozen Google Alerts, about the same number of email newsletters and RSS feeds and nearly an equal count of bookmarked websites I try to visit at least two or three times a week, I was always in a rush.

When something out of the ordinary arose – good things, mostly, like lunch or dinner with a friend, an afternoon movie, a day trip to the coast, for example – I pushed even harder in the time leading up to it so I would be ahead on the tasks. But that rarely made much difference.

In addition to publishing less frequently and reducing outside activities, I've cut back on the incoming news and information, sort of, by ditching the aggregators since by the time they arrive I've usually seen the originals. That way duplicated effort is down.

Several months into my more relaxed routine now, I have realized that there is a big difference between being 65 and 75. (My 90-year-old friends – you know who you are – will once again assure me, and please do, that I don't know nuthin' yet about getting old until I live through the differences between 75 and 85.)

If I had slowed down by age 65, it was not enough that I noticed. What I know now is that even having lost 40 pounds and being so disgustingly healthy that the only advice my physician has is to keep doing whatever I'm doing, is that I tire more easily now at nearly 75 than I imagined until I reached the point of being overwhelmed (see all of above).

It's not that I need to lie down to rest or to nap. It is more a psychic tiredness. At those times even the little things are too much. Heating a cup of soup for dinner seems an insurmountably difficult chore. Walking garbage out to the trash bin feels beyond the bounds of the possible.

There isn't nearly as much of that now.

What I had been missing is solitude. Quiet time alone to just be. Something I have needed a lot of since childhood but in recent years, even after retiring from the busy workaday world, I had too often forgotten.

For the record, regular meditation is no substitute for solitude – they serve different needs. Another distinction we often do well to make is between being alone and loneliness.

What is not enough noted, however, is that solitude is not the same thing as alone - it is a richer experience, more imaginative and satisfying than simple aloneness, a kind of stillness.

If I am not fooling myself, I made more time for solitude when I was working. I recall that I especially liked long airplane flights then, the six- or 10- or 12-hour ones – back when passengers were not sardined into our seats as now - and there was a sense of suspended animation, a separation from earthly matters and no one could bother you.

In those pre-internet, pre-mobile phone days, I also welcomed nighttime when interruption from others was less likely. Nowadays, having finally stopped fighting the sleep disorder that wakens me as early, sometimes, as 2:30AM or 3AM and most often at 4AM to luxuriate in the early morning darkness and peace, all to myself.

Solitude is suspect to many in the United States. Somewhere, sometime in the past, the novelist Erica Jong rightly described the consensus about it as “un-American." The writer and critic Marya Mannes agreed with Jong pointing out that it is the “great omission in American life” that should instead be understood as the “incubator of the spirit.”

It certainly is becoming so for me again. Solitude is my friend. It creates the space for serious thought and allows me to find out what I really believe neither of which can be done in short interrupted bursts.

My mind is sharper in solitude than in company. It deepens my connection with the present and gives me time to reflect on what living is and life is for. It intensifies my enjoyment of small pleasures.

Solitude, now that I have made room for it, seems uniquely agreeable with old age and leaves me to wonder if maybe it is part of what the late years are for.

Personal Rituals of Age

The big rituals of life – you know, religious, social, community, rites of passage, family, even some political events - serve to initiate, transform or reaffirm the philosophies and values by which we live.

But I have nothing that grand in mind. Today I'm interested in the individual rituals of daily life, the personal routines that could be called simply habits except, depending on the relevance we assign to them, help define our days and give meaning to our lives.

If I had any of these before I got old I don't recall or, perhaps caught up in the whirlwind of midlife and career, I didn't pay attention to their importance. Now I am surprised to see what a nice little collection I have been putting together and how they arrange my days.

They are simple things: That it would feel wrong, for example, to have my first cup of coffee before ten minutes spent greeting the day with the cat. He is insistent on the timing, the routine and its duration, and I have come to agree with him about its significance.

That no matter what I'm doing, I end it and turn off the computer for the day at 4PM.

And this: The last morning chore before starting the day's work or play is to make the bed. I can't follow through on any plans until that is done because I know that at the end of the day, returning to an unmade bed makes me feel slovenly. There is no other word for it, slovenly - quite unpleasant and so easily avoidable.

That particular ritual, and some others, came to mind recently when I ran across a poem by Peggy Freydberg who died in March at the age of 107, just as her latest book was being published.

The poem is titled, Chorus of Cells and I think you will see how it sent me down the path for this post.

"Every morning,
even being very old,
(or perhaps because of it),
I like to make my bed.
In fact, the starting of each day
is the biggest thing I ever do.
I smooth away the dreams disclosed by tangled sheets,
I smack the pillow's revelations into oblivion,
I finish with the pattern of the spread exactly centered.
The night is won.
And now the day can open.

"All this I like to do,
mastering the making of my bed
with hands that trust beginnings.
All this I need to do,
directed by the silent message
of the luxury of my breathing.

"And every night,
I like to fold the covers back,
and get in bed,
and live the dark, wise poetry of the night's dreaming,
dreading the extend of it improbabilities,
but surrendering to the truth it knows and I do not;
even though its technicolor cruelties,
or the music of its myths,
feels like someone else's experience,
not mine.

"I know that I could no more cease
to want to make my bed each morning,
and fold the covers back at night,
than I could cease
to want to put one foot before the other.

"Being very old and so because of it,
all this I am compelled to do,
day after day,
night after night,
directed by the silent message
of the constancy of my breathing,v that bears the news I am alive."

The mindfulness in this simple act of making the bed.

Chorus of Cells is the first from Freydberg's collection titled, “Poems from the Pond,” published by Hybrid Nation this year.

There are six or seven earlier collections from Peggy - although most are out of print - that were published under her full name, Margaret Howe Freydberg.

Happy Birthday, Millie


This is a day early – it is tomorrow that Millie Garfield will be 90 years old but since I don't post on Tuesdays anymore, we can all celebrate with her for two whole days.

I've known Millie longer than anyone else I've met through blogging. In fact, she started doing this before I did.

Back in October 2003, Millie's wonderful son, Steve, set her up with a blog he called My Mom's Blog. You can see her first month of posts here.

Early on, with Steve as producer, cameraman and editor, Millie did a series of videos for her blog called “I Can't Open It.” Here's a sample episode and it shows one of the most important things to know about Millie – she loves to laugh, she does a lot of it and it's hard not to laugh with her:

She did another video series, a Yiddish class, and since she moved from her condo to Brooksby Village three years ago, she's been holding Yiddish classes in person for some of her fellow residents. Here's the video Steve and Millie made when she first considered the move to Brooksby:

There is a wonderful cookie and cake bakery here in Oregon called Faustine's and whenever there's an occasion – a birthday, for example – I have special cookies sent to friends. In a fabulous surprise for my 2014 birthday, Millie contacted Faustine's and had these special New York City cookies made for me:


Isn't that great? I Love New York teeshirts, high-heeled shoes, big apples and all. Thank you again, Millie. That was fantastic.

And now, Millie's birthday has rolled around again (of course, I sent some tasty Faustine's) and it is a big damned deal being 90 years old.

Such a big deal that as Millie related on her blog a few days ago, Steve started celebrating back in July and part of that included a cake with the inscription, "A freilekhn geburtstog Matel" which is "Happy Birthday Millie" in Yiddish.


There are more celebrations to come this week.

It's hard to have a virtual party online. No Pin the Tail on the Donkey, no party hats, no cake and ice cream, no way to sing Happy Birthday together. I've been wracking my brain for something special everyone can do on Millie's big NINE OH and this is the best I can come up with:

At this blog, we celebrate age. So in honor of Millie's 90th birthday, let's see how many years we add up to, all of us together. Undoubtedly, it will go off the rails as more than one person at a time participates but what the hell – parties should get kind of silly.

Here's how it goes: I'll start with Millie and me. Take her 90 years, add my 74 and we're already up to 164.

Now, the next one of you should add your age to that number and leave it in the comments for the next person to add onto and so on and so forth. Let's see how high we can get that number.

But before we get started, we must have a big bouquet of Millie favorite flower. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MILLIE. I am pleased and privileged to be your friend.


You can leave a birthday greeting at Millie's blog too.

Bringing an Old Woman to Tears and...

UPDATE 2:40PM I have just finished a telephone call with a representative of Dotster who has promised me that he will set up a session with their tech team to work on the problem by taking control of my computer, checking all the settings while working at their end too for a solution.

It's Friday afternoon here now so this may or may not happen over the weekend. But I want you all to know that your efforts have borne fruit and I appreciate your help so much. I'll let you know how it goes.

Again, thank you, thank you, my friends.

...why I'm telling you about it.

I had planned to write about sex today - that would be fun - but technology and the people assigned to handhold those of us who are unschooled in the ones and zeroes of digital electronica have thwarted me.

Wait - I take that back. It has gone way beyond thwart. On Wednesday, when one of those so-called technology helpers said he couldn't help – that is, could not do what I pay his employer for – I burst into tears. Let me explain.

For more than a month, no email, none, sent during the night hours when my computer is off or asleep has arrived.

I won't bore you with the gory details and I am definitely not looking for suggestions from you. But there is a story to tell – an amazing and unbelievable story - and a request to make of you.

In the early weeks of this difficulty, I emailed the support site of my domain registrar, Dotster, with an explanation. In each instance, I received an answer that there was no problem and email being delivered properly - something that was patently untrue.

After too much of this, I switched to the telephone support service.

On Wednesday morning when for the 30th or 40th day in a row no overnight email arrived, I again called customer service. For the gazillionth time in these several weeks, I explained the problem to another new “helper” (I have never spoken or emailed with the same person twice).

The man listened and then said he couldn't help, admitting that he didn't know how. Awful answer but giving him points for honesty, I asked to speak to the next person up the line.

Here comes the unbelievable part:

He said he could not do that; he said he didn't have phone numbers for them. Stunned for a moment, I then found my voice and asked what I should do next.

He said he did not know.

Now you would expect someone who, in some circumstances, refers to herself as Crabby Old Lady to go ballistic and most of the time you would not be wrong. Even I would expect that of myself in such a Twilight Zone moment.

But this time, I shocked myself. Unexpectedly and unbidden, with no volition on my part, tears poured forth.

Right there on the telephone with a man whose body undoubtedly is shaped exactly like a brick wall, this 74-year-old woman, competent in all manner of things, did not just cry. She wept and wailed and moaned and could not stop herself.

This was no dainty little shedding of a teardrop or two. Oh no. It was a loud, honking, uncontrollable lamentation on the order of a death in the family.

(I blame frustrated exhaustion for the sudden tears. This has been going on for at least six weeks with no overnight email, no help and no apparent concern from Dotster.)

Many men are frightened of women's tears and perhaps that is what gave the man on the telephone Wednesday morning a swift kick in the butt because I then heard him say that he would get his supervisor on the phone (so much for an honest man earlier in the conversation). And he did.

Aki carries himself – at least on the telephone – in a manner of calm capability. My tears subsided.

Over the next hour, a seemingly useful exchange of information led to a suggestion for another solution – the sixth or seventh by my count – along with a promise that if by the next morning it had not worked, to ask for him by name on the support phone line and he would take my call.

Alas, when I booted up yesterday morning nothing had changed. The latest fix was another dud; there was no overnight email. When I phoned and asked for Aki, I was told he was in a meeting but had said he would call me when he was free.

As I finish writing this late in the day, there has been no call from Aki nor from anyone else at Dotster. I have sent some technical information asked of me via support ticket by yet another helper I've never heard of although he (she?) says the email is being delivered to me properly.

(To be completely fair, I suppose it is possible all this lengthy mess could be something wrong with my with my email program but I have now made so many changes at their direction, there is no way for me to know. And even if that is so and it is not their problem, certainly the company that handles my domain registration is obligated to tell me more than "I don't know" and not return calls they have said they would.)

Actually it is two parts.

All the email that has never been delivered to me is permanently lost they tell me. Unrecoverable. Thousands of them in these many weeks. That means:

Undoubtedly stories for The Elder Storytelling Place that have gone missing.

There are messages from friends and acquaintances responding to my emails I have never seen.

There are appointments unconfirmed (hello, Jan Adams).

And uncounted questions, Interesting Stuff suggestions and more from readers.

As you now know from all the above, I am not intentionally ignoring anyone. So here is an interim fix:

1. If your message(s) was sent between the hours of about 4PM and 4AM Pacific Time (I don't know why you would recall this, but there you are), and the message is important to you and/or me, please write again.

2. Because the problem (hereafter referred to as the torture) is ongoing, I have set up a short-term, webmail address. It is ronnib[at]outlook[dot]com

3. That address will be available for only a short time - a few days. Please be judicious in choosing to email or not. I'm already spending excessive amounts of time tracking such time-critical items as electronic bills, notes from dentists, doctors and insurance people, banking and other personal matters.

4. I will respond if necessary, as soon as is reasonably possible.

Here is the second thing, if you are up for it. In such extreme circumstances as I believe this is, sometimes shaming a company that has behaved badly helps resolve the problem.

Dotster has a corporate Facebook page that is regularly updated with sales information and not much else – the point being, someone at the company monitors it.

You might go there to ask why, for more than a month, they have been torturing this nice old woman who has faithfully paid for their service for more than a decade. Then link to this post. If you do that, please be polite.

Whatever happens with this debacle in the next few days, we'll get back to that subject of sex on Monday.

Vanity, Oh Vanity, Thy Name is Elder

As I announced several weeks ago, I have cut my Time Goes By publishing schedule from six days a week to four. This simple change has made a remarkable difference in daily life, a great deal more than I had anticipated.

For the past 11 years or so I have lived with a daily blog deadline that, even if of my own making, was arduous.

When, on occasion, I took time to read a novel or watch a movie or spend an afternoon with a friend, for example, it meant playing catchup later when, had I been smarter and less vain, I should have been done for the day.

But for a long time, I actually savored it. Daily – sometimes hourly – deadlines were my literal bread and butter for most of my working years. I thrived on them.

(Actually, if you want to know the truth, I welcome deadlines because there comes the moment when there is no choice but to stop and in that way you never need blame yourself for less than a job well done. “It's the best I could do,” you tell yourself, “in the time allotted.”)

And in fact, during the first year of blogging, I was commuting more than four hours a day to and from work while meeting that daily deadline. But I was a decade younger than now and until this latest change in routine, I flattered myself that my energy, focus and attention remained as strong at age 74 as at 63.

I know differently now. In these weeks of increased down time, I feel like a fog has cleared from my brain and I am aware, as if these were new phenomena (they are not), that I am often distracted from the task at hand and that it takes longer than in the past to sort through information for the best, most important and/or useful items.

Further, I have failed to give enough attention to a lifelong stamina shortfall that has certainly grown in recent years: I have all the energy I am going to have – mental and physical - in the first half of the day. Each morning, I leap from bed ready for bear, starting with an intense, 40-minute, at-home workout while ideas for blog posts and whatever else is engaging my mind flit around at neuronal speed.

In those first hours of the day, I feel like Superman. But there is a price: I am done with any worthwhile brain work and physical activity after 2-3PM.

It has always been this way. So much so that a woman I worked for in the late seventies noticed. “If you need Ronni to get anything done before the day it over,” she once said, “be sure to ask her before mid-afternoon.”

Now. It is almost ritual among the newly retired to profess to anyone who will listen, “I'm so busy I can't figure out how I ever had time to work.”

This declaration is a point of pride, of vanity: “See how full my days are. My years don't show on me the way they do on those other old people who sit around playing cards or watching television.”

Of course, no one says this out loud; they barely admit to such a feeling to themselves. But among elders whose health holds up better or longer than some others, it is there to observe by anyone who cares to notice.

That's what my reduced blogging schedule is giving me (among other things) - time to notice, and time to make something of what I am noticing.

Proclaiming one's busy-ness in retirement is not much different from the struggle to attain a crude illusion of youth via surgery, Botox, creams and lotions and potions, although it requires some psychological contortions.

Take me: I have spent more than a decade pretending not to pat myself on the back for how well I am ageing even as I bloviate in these pages about acceptance of getting old.

That doesn't make me wrong about ageing but does prevent me from living my own old age to its fullest and most conscious.

Slowing down, making time for reflection and for sometimes doing nothing revealed my own unnecessary vanity and that gives me breathing room think about a larger view of what it's like to grow old.

Long Weekend Potpourri

That's the title of a poem for today from Marc Leavitt who blogs at Marc Leavitt's Blog.

On this day we praise the fallen, who fought and died in war;
The men who gave their all to guard the freedoms we adore.
Some watch parades that celebrate their sacrifice for peace,
Recalling ancient battles in the wars that never cease;
And others make this solemn day an opportunity
To pass the day relaxing, scorning all solemnity.

No use to scold the shoppers who descend upon the mall;
Or try to shame the picnickers at gatherings great or small;
Or rail against the worker drones who pass the holiday
In sleeping and drinking; to them, it’s just time off with pay.
Brave soldiers, lying in their graves, invisible, alone,
No longer care in any way, they’re merely heaps of bone.

Marc is a regular contributor to the Time Goes By companion blog named The Elder Storytelling Place. Today's potpourri post gives me an opportunity to introduce TGB readers who may not know that for the past eight years (!), hundreds of elders have contributed stories and poems that are published one at a time, Monday through Friday.

Plus, in the archives now are more than 2,000 wonderful stories of love and loss, of living and dying, of reminiscence and observation and inspiration - sad and happy, poignant and funny.

If you haven't done so, give it a try and note, too, there is always a direct link to The Elder Storytelling Place here in the TGB left sidebar. There is some fine poetry and storytelling going on over there.

One day last week, after knowing them both online for nearly a decade, I finally got to meet geriatrician Bill Thomas and his producer/editor Kavan Peterson in person.

It was a splendid event for me and I'll tell you more about it on Wednesday. Meanwhile, on Sunday Kavan posted a photo of the three of us to his Facebook page. You can see it here.

Now that I have released myself from writing essays for this blog Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have time to putter about and think and read in a more leisurely manner that is so much more fun and, even, edifying than rushing through life as I have done too much of for the past 10 years.

New books around here pile up and tend to get scattered so a few days ago, I did a roundup of unread and partially read books. The idea was to put some reading priority to them but oh my. I had no idea it had gotten this far ahead of me.

I made a list of them all to help me sort and I've copied that here more for me, I think, than you. Hey, it's a holiday and because so few readers turn up on three-day weekends, I'm vamping. You are more than welcome to skip past this:

The Basque History of the World – Mark Kurlinsky
The Library at Night – Alberto Manguel
The Age of Dignity – Ai-Jen Poo
In Praise of Ageing – Patricia Edgar
The Long Life – Helen Small
The Ripley Books – Patricia Highsmith
The Accidental Universe – Alan Lightman
Evening's Empire – Craig Koslofsy
The Siege of the Villa Lipp – Eric Ambler
The Care of Time – Eric Ambler
Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed
The Life of Images – Charles Simic
My Life in the Middle Ages – James Atlas
Will the Circle be Unbroken – Studs Terkel
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel
The News Sorority – Sheila Weller
Through the Window – Julian Barnes
Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood
Fart Proudly – Benjamin Franklin
Grand Central – Sam Roberts
As Luck Would Have It – Derek Jacobi
The Letters of Noel Coward
Solar – Ian McEwan
A Place of Greater Safety – Hilary Mantel
The Middle East - Bernard Lewis
On the Move – Oliver Sacks
Supreme City – Donald Miller

The difficulty, as you no doubt realize, is figuring out where to begin in a list that is even longer when including the 10 or 12 on my Kindle and the too many returned unfinished or, sometimes not even cracked open, to the library because they are due for the next person who has placed a hold on them.

For the record, over the weekend I did read Ursula Le Guin's excellent 2004 collection of essays, The Wave in the Mind.

Now and then I like to let you know about elderbloggers who have written books – specifically, elderbloggers we have come to know and love here at Time Goes By.

You know this author by her comment pseudonym, doctafil, with which she entertains us almost daily. You may have followed that link to her blog, Jive Chalkin'.

BrendaHenryBook150Now, under her real name Brenda Henry, doctafil has written a terrific little book of travel vignettes titled You Lost! Get Off Bus Now!. It's funny, sweet, informative, often fascinating and did I mention funny?

She covers her early years as an English teacher in Bangkok and subsequent travels throughout a lot of the rest of the world while also giving us a native's view of her hometown, Montreal.

I especially liked the chapters about the Afghani women refugees now making their homes in Montreal to whom she taught English while learning their customs and cuisine, as they all became friends.

doctafil is a world-class noticer of the small things that help define places and people we, her readers, have not experienced. Such as the striking sketches of characters in a coffee shop one early morning and others who show up at the food bank where she volunteers weekly.

There are several chapters on Rio and on Santiago, Chile, that will have you booking flights before you finish the book. She's especially good about a five-day cruise off Patagonia on which she managed to get by in six languages she doesn't speak.

It's doctafil's way with the English language that makes her so much fun to read. “Security in Rio is oyster tight,” for example, and describing the Southern drawl of a Georgia woman, “She stretched that word so far I had to run to catch up.”

You Lost! Get Off Bus Now! is available in paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon.

Things I Do Differently Now That I'm Old

Some people – well, many people – see old age as nothing more than decline and that's not entirely false. Our bodies slow down, we become more susceptible to the “diseases of age” and we soon learn we are invisible to younger generations.

What they don't know yet is that there are compensations. According to some research, old age is the happiest time our lives. We also stop worrying about wrinkes and sags, we don't care as much what other people think of us and due to certain changes in our brains, we actually become a bit more wise.

Even so, there are changes that come, usually by personal choice, that are directly related to growing old. Here are some of the things I now do differently at age 74:

I don't drive on highways and I don't drive after sunset. The latter is lifelong – I couldn't see well at night even when I was a kid. But highways now make me tense so I take the long way around and usually it's a lot more interesting.

I renew memberships and magazine subscriptions for only one year. Yes, it's a few dollars more expensive than two or three years but why spend the money when I might not live that long. If you subscribe to as many as I do, the savings is substantial and I can use it elsewhere.

I haven't bought a dozen eggs in years. It's not about cholesterol and anyway, the “experts” are saying recently that we can eat eggs again. But I live alone, use them mostly hard-boiled in salads now and then and even with only half a box, some go bad before I get to them.

I don't finish any book (or movie) that bores me. How is it that for most of my life I felt obligated to read to the bitter end just because I had begun? I'm over that now.

It still breaks my heart but I don't wear high-heeled shoes anymore. There was a time when I couldn't stop buying them. I had more than a hundred pairs and worried that when I died, they'd compare me to Imelda Marcos.

Then one day they hurt my feet enough to make me cry and I couldn't recall if they had always hurt that much and I'd finally had enough, or if they just started hurting that day.

(Speaking of shoes, earlier this week Senior Planet included my shoe fetish in a story about Flaunting Age. I particularly like the idea of pimping out hearing aids.)

I stopped eating red meat a decade ago because it began causing stomach aches and the upside is that it is much easier to keep my weight in check. Once or twice a year I crave a really good hamburger and I figure eating one that infrequently won't hurt me (or the environment) much.

I no longer pay attention to dressing fashionably – only what fits well and is appropriate to the occasion. And no more cleavage, not that I ever had much.

Unless it is extremely important and someone else is paying, I have decided to top using airplanes. They are expensive, unpleasant, uncomfortable and an overall miserable experience.

And finally, I have given up pursuing happiness. I don't even read the ubiquitous “research” studies about happiness anymore because no one – not the researchers nor the respondents – know what they mean by the word. I'm doing fine, enjoying my old age so far and that's good enough for me.

Now it's your turn. What do you do differently now that you attribute to growing older?

Growing Old with Unrealized Ambitions

It has been awhile since we've had a reader-suggested conversation which makes it high time, I think, to do so.

Today's comes from Anne Brew who tells me in an email that although she spent her career as a primary school teacher, she always liked loud engine noises and her undercover ambition was to

”...be on the deck of an aircraft carrier, guiding the jets in with what looks like two table tennis bats.

“Since Great Britain no longer has an aircraft carrier I suppose I would have to use an American one. And I suppose I would have to enlist to be trusted with that job.”

I get that. Similarly, though less exotic, I have spent years enjoying those lively dancing traffic directors in busy intersections when I see them. You know the ones – usually in European cities, sometimes standing on a box who make traffic control look like a fun to do.

I've always thought I would be good at that. And there is the obvious frisson of danger – not too much, just enough to keep you on your toes (so to speak) – that a driver might skim past just a little too close.

That possible career choice along with dozens of others have briefly engaged my mind as alternatives to where I spent my work life though none were anything I longed for or regret not doing.

One big unrealized ambition, actually a daydream, is not career- or job-related. It's about wealth.

There is plenty of good one can do for others with unlimited wealth and I like to think that I would do that. How many homes does anyone really need or cars or expensive gadgets and doodads.

That doesn't mean, however, that people of great means should not indulge personal whims; only that they should also share their good fortune. But that's for another time. Today, we're daydreaming.

If I had unlimited wealth, I would buy me my own large airplane, an Airbus 380, and outfit it as a splendid traveling hotel with living room, eight or 10 guest suites, entertainment areas, a world-class kitchen and chef.

For style, think updated, greatly enlarged private railroad car from the 19th century with luxurious fabrics on well-made furniture, fine wood trim and pretty little wall lamps.

There would also need to be an excellent gym because the reason for the big, roomy airliner with all possible comforts available in flight is to gather up certain friends, the ones who are adventurous about great good food, and travel the world eating the best there is in their places of origin in season accompanied by the finest wines or whatever local libations are the recommended accompaniments.

From Parisian haute cuisine to the biscuits and red-eye gravy in Nashvville. From a tajine in Marrakesh to lobster in Maine. Fresh gnocci in Rome, sushi in Tokyo and so on.

The gym, then, to keep our bodies from turning into Jabba the Hut.

You can probably tell that in odd moments, I've daydreamed this for decades, redecorating the plane as my tastes have changed, adding phones, movies, large screens and recently, wi-fi along with a mental list of restaurants as I read reviews from storied restaurants great and small from around the world.

I suspect that if this ever became reality, I would quickly tire of being always on the move but that does not detract from the enjoyment I get from thinking about it and that's all I really need from the idea – it's fun to imagine.

Anne Brew concluded her note to me with this:

“It suddenly occurred to me that as a 66-year-old woman living in the U.K. and not being a member of the armed forces, it's now certain I will never do this and it's come as a bit of a shock.

“Do you or your readers have secret ambitions that will now never be realised and how does that make them feel?”

Now it's your turn, readers. Following Anne's lead, what are your secret dreams – career or personal. Did any of you accomplish them? Was there disappointment when you realized you've reached an age when it won't happen? How have you, if necessary, dealt with letting go?

What We Are When the Striving Ends

Western culture is uniquely concentrated on striving. It is the whole of our lives.

Even in the womb, the fetus is barraged with Mozart. Toddlers must learn to walk and talk and eat without drooling, to run and jump and not put square pegs in round holes.

In school, there is reading and writing and 'rithmatic, history, science, government and a heap of after-school activities college admissions officers require of successful applicants.

From there it is the pursuit of career success: money, fame or – ideally – both as the ultimate prize. Workers are programmed by media, experts, coaches and bosses to strive, compete, perform, accomplish and achieve.

There is no time to think. If you're not busy 24/7 in pursuit of winning and, these days, crushing your competition too, you are ipso facto, losing.

There is always, whatever you have accumulated in the mid-years of life, a better job, more money, a bigger car, a more impressive home and a better school for your kids to strive for. Gotta keep moving forward.

Never a moment to think about anything else, about the value of what we are pursuing. It's just busy, busy, busy. Do, do, do.

Then after 40-odd years of working and striving, the busy-ness comes to a halt. We move into retirement and wonder what to DO. Even the word “retire” assumes work is the center of life and without it, the question automatically follows, what is my value now?

But wait. Before we can consider that important, universal question, there's more to do. Even in ageing, we are pressured to do it “successfully.”

By that, the mid-life adults still running the world, require that we must behave like younger people, like them. Seventy is the new 40 and they like us best when we hike and bike and run marathons, start businesses, learn a language or two, volunteer six days a week and never, ever admit to being tired.

Dr. Bill Thomas, in his landmark 2004 book, What Are Old People For?, speaks to this phenomenon:

”Anywhere adults are gathered together, you can hear the 'Adulthood Forever' anthem being played if you listen for it. It starts slowly, modestly: 'My mother is eighty-seven, but she's still as sharp as a tack; she lives by herself in Phoenix.'

“Such an unassuming claim is sure to be followed up with something more substantial: 'Well, my grandmother – she's ninety, but you would never know it; she manages her own stock portfolio and is finishing her master's degree in French literature.'

“Then comes the coup de grace. A man, silent until now, speaks up: 'My great uncle is ninety-six years old and he's just got back from climbing K2. He spends his winters in Florida because he likes to barefoot water-ski, in the nude.'”

Lots of old people are complicit in this adult game of one-upmanship in derring-do until we die. But it doesn't have to be that way and I don't believe it should be.

Dr. Thomas tells us that we don't need to buy into the cultural imperative to pretend to be young.

”The first sign that a person is preparing to grow out of adulthood is the dawning awareness of how heavy a toll is taken by the things he or she 'has to do'.”

Four years later, in The Gift of Years published in 2008, Joan Chittister took up a similar theme:

”This is the time of coming home to the self. I find myself stripped of all the accessories of life now. I am face-to-face with myself. And the fear is that there isn't one.

“I have spent my life being somebody important, and now there is nothing left but me...

“What am I when I'm nothing else? What's the left over of me when everything else goes: the positions, the power, the status, the job, the goal, the role, the impact – and all the relationships built up and woven around those things?

“...Of course I am all the experiences I have ever had, on one level. But on another level, I am only what people see when they look at me now.”

Because it has been shown to me so many times (and I firmly believe) that if it happens to me, it happens to millions of others, sometimes what I'm going through is what you get in the these electronic pages.

That is what this post today is about. I've been busy, busy, busy all my life. I didn't even stop when I was forced out of the workplace ten years ago; I already had this blog and I just kept going.

Now, three weeks into cutting my writing days from six to four per week, I have for the first time, run into myself and I have time now to seriously think about these and other questions that are part of what old age is meant to be.

Email Issues Affect Time Goes By

I will get to those email issues in a moment, but first:

This is the third week of the new publishing schedule at Time Goes By – Monday, Wednesday, Friday instead of Monday through Friday. Saturday (Interesting Stuff) and Sunday (Elder Music from Peter Tibbles) remain unchanged.

For more than 10 years, I've written or, occasionally, arranged for posts to be written by other people, 365 days a year. That's plenty of time to settle into a habit and even petrify it.

Now, cutting that schedule by close to 30 percent is a dramatic increase in the amount of personal, unstructured time I have. You might even compare it to retirement or, better, going from full-time work to part time.

Routine is a powerful force and a sudden change to it is disruptive, even mildly disorienting.

So far, in two-and-a-half weeks, I've read three or four books I wouldn't have done before haviing this “extra” time. But most of all, instead of anything new, I've spread out everything else I regularly do – chores and pleasures alike - slowed it all down and done a lot more pottering about.

You know the old saying: Pottering increases to fill the time allotted.

Perhaps this experience is comparable to that of newly retired people. I didn't go through that because by the time I realized, after a layoff, that I'd never be hired again, I had already been writing this blog every day for a year.

There was hardly a blip in my routine from a full-time salaried job to a full-time unpaid job. My brain was equally engaged and I still had (self-imposed) deadlines so I didn't notice much change except that my commute was dramatically shorter.

So this is the first time in retirement that I have faced unstructured time. I have no concern about using it. I have enough interests and curiosities to fill up my days ten times over. I mention it because it is a novelty for me and it's kind of fun watching what I do with myself during this period.

However, those two extra days are not yet entirely mine which brings me to the email issues.

After a period of consideration and research, three or four weeks ago I gave up my old email program, the one I had used for more than a decade, for a new one.

I had given the change serious thought over several weeks, learned all the particulars of moving my settings, addresses and storage, etc. and spent the greater part of a day making it happen. Before a week had passed, I realized I'd made a terrible mistake.

The details are too tedious to relate and not important. Basically, I didn't like using the new program. The upshot is that after spending another several hours restoring the settings of the old program, my email went to hell.

A large percentage of it has stopped arriving. When it does arrive, some is in duplicate, triplicate and even quadruplicate. Others arrive hours, even a day late. There is no pattern. Among the missing emails are subscriptions, personal friends, monthly bills (eek) and blog comments.

The company that hosts my two blogs allows me to have each comment emailed to me. That way I don't need to constantly check the site to read what you guys are saying while I'm doing other things on my computer.

Now, only some of those arrive and as with all other kinds of email, almost nothing is delivered from overnight. In the past, there easily were 100 to 150 new emails when I signed on each morning.

I've been working with my domain registrar to fix the problem but so far, nothing has been found that is amiss. Work continues.

The most vexing problem for me is not knowing what I am missing. In relation to TGB, in addition to comments, what questions have readers asked? Are there suggestions for Interesting Stuff not getting through? What about suggestions for blog topics? If you have emailed me in the past two weeks or so with either my main email address or via the “Contact” page on the blog, it may or may not have gotten to me.

So I am asking for your help that might aid in fixing the problem. If you have emailed something in the past two weeks or so that needs a response and not received one, please let me know.

To do this so I actually receive your emails, I have created a temporary web-based account to use instead of the “Contact” page or my main email. Here is that temporary email address:


(In case you don't know how to use that configuration, replace [at] with the @ sign and [dot] with a period.)

Inflicting my tech problems on blog readers is not my idea of a good use of this space but until this is sorted out, some unknown number of people are not receiving answers from me. Plus, I'll never know how I might really use this new time I've carved out for myself until email is working again.

Remember, I need to hear from you only if you have emailed recently without receiving an answer.

Thank you in advance for your help. I appreciate it.

Meanwhile, you might also have something to say about going from full-time work to all that open time after retirement.

Disengagement in Old Age

Readers sometimes send me interesting questions about getting old (as if you think I actually have answers). When they are specific and about topics on which there is a body of knowledge and consensus from experts, I can act as researcher when I have time.

Then there are questions like the one from Jim Harris we discussed last week and today's from Lynne Spreen who blogs at Any Shiny Thing.

Lynne's question, which has been sitting on my blog to-do list for longer than I realized, is about her 89-year-old mother's apparent ennui.

Here are the most salient bits of Lynne's email:

”What do I say to my mother, who is asking, 'What's the point?'

“Mom is sharp and healthy, although discomfited by damage from a broken femur of 3 years ago. She lives in a 55+ community, where she participates, but she's older than almost everyone, and can't keep up with the younger peeps of 75 or so.

“Still, she does crafts, drives, has community and church activities, but says she feels like she's swimming through Jello. She laments the slowness, forgetfulness, dependency, and general fearfulness. She deals with grief, over and over again, when another friend or sibling dies.

“Not that she doesn't have joy! But sometimes she feels like she's just going through the motions...At 60, I don't know what to say to help her. She lives 4 blocks away and we include her in 90% of our activities, including those with great-grandchildren, which she enjoys.”

With mood or mental changes, it is good to check for physical reasons and my first thought was medical: is Lynne's mother takng a large number of medications – including over-the-counter drugs? This is officially called polypharmacy or overmedication and is a common problem in old age because it can lead to dangerous drug interactions, and is a serious issue because it is easily overlooked.

Dr. Mehrdad Ayati lists potentional side effects of overmedication in the book I told you about on Wednesday, Paths to Healthy Old Age, and they are many:

”...heart failure, seizures, disorientation, confusion, weakness, sedation, falls, fractures, hypotention, incontinence, electrolytic disorders, anxiety, delirium, mental decline, blurred vision, constipation, GI bleeding and loss of appetite.”

Because elders are often treated for several diseases and conditions at once, each with its own specialist physician, it is easy for a variety of drugs to cause negative interactions. If you use the same pharmacists for all prescriptions, those professionals are a good backstop for negative interactions.

You should keep an up-to-date list of all drugs with you always, including over-the-counter medications, supplements, etc. to give your doctor so he or she can check new prescriptions against the list.

If the problem is not an excess of drugs and Lynne's mother is not clinically depressed, then what?

Part of Lynne's message about her mother is a good description of old age in general: our bodies slow down, we become forgetful, dependent and our personal worlds contract, if we live long enough, as our friends and relatives die and the number of people who share our world view declines year by year.

These are the burdens specific to old age and they are not easy – particularly, I think, with grief because in the U.S., we do not grant ourselves much time for bereavement; we expect people to be “back to normal” in a couple of days.

On this, let me quote a bit from Sogyal Rinpoche's brilliant and wise Buddhist spiritual classic, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He speaks of how we can help the bereaved who, he writes, may be

”...shattered by the array of disturbing feelings, of intense sadness, anger, denial, withdrawal, and guilt that they suddenly find are playing havoc inside them.

“Helping those who have just gone through the loss of someone close to them will call for all your patience and sensitivity. You will need to spend time with them and to let them talk, to listen silently without judgment as they recall their most private memories, or go over again and again the details of the death.

“Above all, you will need simply to be there with them as they experience what is probably the fiercest sadness and pain of their entire lives. Make sure you make yourself available to them at all times, even when they don't seem to need it.

It takes a long time to grieve a loved one's death, time we don't readily acknowledge in our culture and in old age not only is time necessary, the deaths keep coming one after another; there are so many to mourn.

There is another factor that affects those who are very old. In all that I've read over 20 years of studying aging I have never come across a reference to it (that I recall). I have only personal experience.

My great Aunt Edith was my favorite relative. For most of her old age, she lived on the west coast and I on the east but we wrote letters (remember those?) and we spoke on the telephone about once a week for an hour or so.

Aunt Edith read widely – books and magazines. She mailed me articles that interested her – political, social, weird news, etc. - and she also liked to send cartoons from The New Yorker.

She had a good sense of humor – about life and about herself especially, as they occurred, her diminishing physical capacities. She was well into her eighties when she told me that after scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees, no matter how hard she pushed, she couldn't stand up.

She had to crawl into the living room and pull herself up with the help of chair.

Aunt Edith laughed throughout the entire story (which she dragged out because she was a good storyteller). And we laughed some more when I told her that they'd invented this amazing new cleaning tool she might want to look into – it's called a mop and has a long handle.

It was about this time that I first noticed other kinds of changes in Aunt Edith.

Her letters didn't arrive as often and when they did, there were not as many cartoons and other clippings. She stopped sending her cooking-for-one recipes (she had never married and had a large collection). More frequently than in the past, I did the telephoning as if, perhaps, she had forgotten. Or was distracted. Or something.

None of this was sudden and it took awhile for me to notice. Gradually, over a period of two or three or four years, I came to see that she was withdrawing from life. She had less interest in news and politics. She wasn't reading as many books. Her stories were fewer. She wasn't as generally curious anymore. Our conversations became shorter.

There was nothing wrong with her mind. She just became less and less involved with the world and its activities.

Aunt Edith died in 1985 just a couple of months short of her 90th birthday. Since then, I have given a great deal of thought to her steady disengagement from life.

In doing so, I have come to believe that if you do not die suddenly or linger in great pain from disease or injury, a period of letting go makes great sense. It feels "meet and right" to make time as the end appears to grow near, perhaps over a few years even, to look inward, to make private peace, accommodation and to find some harmony perhaps within the mystery of being.

As it did with Aunt Edith, I suspect this goes on without need of discussion about it with other people, friends or relatives.

I have no basis in fact for any of this although I have noticed its possibility in three or four other people, including my mother who knew she was dying, that it would be soon and who, as she grew weaker, had less and less to say.

Does any of this have anything to do with Lynne's mother? I have no idea. In the (embarrassingly long) time since Lynne first emailed (January), I've poked through my library of books on aging, consulted Dr. Google and can't find anything that directly applies.

Her question, “What's the point?” already comes to my mind now and then and I'm 16 years younger than Lynne's mother. I'm not sure it needs to be answered or that there are any answers. Not to be too flip, but it occurs to me that you first have to figure out if it is meant cosmically or just about whether to replace a shabby chair.

What I hope is that my rumination has given us all a few things to think about and I'm looking forward to see what you, dear readers, might say. Remember, it's the internet and there is no space limitation – just please, please use paragraphs (hit enter twice) if your comment is long.

The Day after 7 April

Did you enjoy Peter Tibbles's musical silliness yesterday for my birthday? I did and thank you again, Peter. I spent my 74th birthday on a day trip to the Oregon coast with a friend, Ken Pyburn, and I know even as I write this a couple of days ahead of time that we had a wonderful time.

[Insert on Wednesday morning: As I predicted, the day trip to the coast was wonderful - I'll tell you about it sometime soon. Thank you so much for all your wonderful birthday wishes yesterday while I was gone. I read them all when got home in the evening. You are the best readers any blogger could have and I appreciate you so much.}

If you're reading these three or four paragraphs, it means I didn't feel like writing a blog post when I arrived home yesterday evening. But here is a quotation I like from writer, editor and literary critic Edmund Wilson when he was 73 in 1968:

”Old age has its compensations. I feel that I can loaf in the mornings, be less anxious about what I am going to write and not suffer afterwards so much about gaffes and errors I have made.

“My regrets mostly nowadays are about the things that I can't any longer do; but I dwell on old love affairs, and this does not impose upon me any further responsibility for them.”

That gives a thoughtful chuckle.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Welcome Home