553 posts categorized "Journal"

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

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.