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A mother’s final, best lesson: Part 1

mom1940captionandcopy_copycategory_bug_journal2.gif In 1991, my mother was found to have cancer. Her right breast was removed and when the nice ladies from a cancer survivors’ group came ‘round with implant information, Mom thanked them and shooed them away. “What do I need breasts for,” she said. “I’m 74, not 24."

Tough old bird, right? Just you wait.

She had a prosthesis fitted so she wouldn’t look lopsided at the pool of the apartment complex and got on with living.

A year later, cancer was found in her other breast. During the final pre-hospitalization check-up, something alerted her physician who postponed the surgery and ordered new tests. Mom phoned me in New York from Sacramento.

She’d had two hips replaced, several years apart, and had been happy to recuperate both times without me. She did so again during her first breast cancer surgery. This time, however, she seemed to be not so cavalier. In our family, we neither showed nor acknowledged strong emotion, but I thought I heard a bit of worry in her voice, maybe even fear. I filed the observation under interesting, but did not mention it aloud.

Mom had not regained the 25 pounds she'd lost after the first cancer surgery and her energy level did not return to what it had been. As we waited, over the period of a week, for the results of the new tests, we spoke on the telephone every day which was hardly our custom. Beyond our cats and cooking, we had little in common.

I got the call from Mom on a Tuesday evening. More cancer. Liver. Inoperable. A few rounds of chemo or radiation might extend her life a few weeks, but the doctor's best guess was that she had about three or four months to live.

Because in our family we do not intrude or arrive unannounced, I asked Mom if she wanted me to go to California to be with her. “Oh yes,” she said. And after a pause, “please.” There was no guessing at what she was feeling this time. It was the most emotion I’d heard in her voice in my entire life.

The first thing I did when I was settled into an extra bedroom in her apartment was visit Mom’s physician. He told me this story:

He had called Mom into his office, he said, to tell her in person the results of the tests. He explained carefully and clearly, going over every option in detail, though there were, essentially, none. No hope. It took about ten minutes to get through it all, and then he stopped talking.

Mom sat quietly looking down at the floor, very still. She sat there without speaking for what, in other circumstances, would be too long. Just as the silence was becoming uncomfortable, she looked up and said to him: “Are you telling me I shouldn’t buy any green bananas?”

The doctor was stunned. He had no idea what to say. They both were silent, looking at each other, perhaps wondering what was next. And then they burst out laughing. be continued…

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 2
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 3
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 4
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 5
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 6
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 7
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 8
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 9
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 10
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 11
A mother's final, best lesson: Postscript

Backward Rain

This Older Bloggers’ listing breaks my rule requiring an entry to be posted at least once a week, but I like the idea so much that we’ll ignore that rule this time.

The title, Backward Rain, says Ron Horne who is recently retired, describes what he did for a living – irrigation contracting. What is so powerfully engaging about his Weblog is that he posts, side-by-side with his current entry, a backward look - an entry from his teen diaries written during the mid-1960s.

From 6 June 1968:

“On Wednesday Robert Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angelis…I stayed up all Tuesday night and morning watching TV and before he died I even went to church to say a prayer. I seem to be the only one at school who has been effected in any way. Most people seem unconcerned…”

On the same page, in his most recent entry about his current life wherein home is a 40-acre piece of land east of San Diego, Ron tells us about the effort to install new water storage tanks in what appears from his photo to be a wild, lonely space that is cougar country, though he hasn’t spotted one of the big cats yet:

“I gotta admit that lately, when I go for my morning walk, I start to wonder if I'm really alone. On our backpacking trip Catherine got into a tug-of-war with a bear over a sack of food. I had to use pepper spray to drive the thing off…”

"A tug of war with a bear?" That is a bit too much up-close-and-personal-with-nature for this urban lady who senses that the life of Ron and his wife Catherine is a tad more dangerous, particularly on an elemental level, than hers.

On 25 October 2003, Ron and Catherine had to evacuate their land racing against the encroachment of raging brush fires that came within three feet of destroying their home. It did take their outbuildings, and they have been repairing essential services since then. As dramatic as the story is, Ron didn't get around to describing the near-disaster on his Weblog until three months after the event.

He says writing is difficult for him and the words come slowly.

“One of my teachers in college would return my papers with criticism about awkward sentence structure. She really hammered the point home though my writing is still awkward and self conscious (and slow).”

He is working, less frequently than weekly but not so infrequently, to overcome his reluctance to write because, he says, “I want to remember myself.” Such a lovely phrase and I wonder if that is not what many of us are up to with our Weblogs.

Reading Ron's Sixties entries reminds me of my own teen self, and I believe the pairing of Ron’s 35-year-old “analog Weblog” with today’s digital version in some magical way helps his readers remember themselves as much as it does so for Ron Horne. It is worth your time to stop by Backward Rain.

Baby boomers and responsible aging

I am not a baby boomer. It is not going to be worth the effort to make that distinction much longer, so let me say it one more time just for fun and to get it out of my system: I am not a baby boomer.

Baby boomers are that generation born when their fathers came home from World War II. Officially, the boomer generation begins in 1946 and ends in 1964. I was born in 1941, when the War was just beginning, but I will go to my grave being bunched with the baby boomers. No way to avoid it because boomers have pretty well defined the culture for the past 50 years, and for the next 30 or 40 years the phrase “baby boomer” will be synonymous with “old.”

There are so damned many of them - 78 million - that nobody’s going to pay attention to the finer distinctions of a few birth years on one side of the generation or other. So like it or not, the world will see me forevermore as a baby boomer.

Baby boomers are not just a U.S. phenomenon. That pig-in-the-python generation exists throughout most of the industrialized world and our governments, national and local, and our social service agencies and our economists are wringing their hands lately about the graying of their populations. Even China, so concerned about overpopulation that in 1978, it imposed one-child-per-couple legislation, is now so equally concerned about the imminent increase in their over-60 population that they have loosened the one-baby rule - so far only in Shanghai, but other cities and the country will surely follow suit as the breadth of the problem becomes more evident.

In the short run, the population shift is good for us older folks. It won’t be too long until the marketing professionals twig to the fact that we are a better bet to advertise to than younger folks now because we have more money. According to MarketWatch [free registration required], people older than 50 control about 60 percent of the wealth of U.S. So there will be more television shows aimed at us, and more Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton-style romance movies and I’ll predict that soon there will actually be fashionable apparel for people whose bodies are past the shape and size of adolescence.

But in the long run – which isn’t all that long from now - the experts say, our increasing numbers are a nightmare. Gen X and Gen Y are much smaller than the boomer generation. There will not be enough people to meet the employment needs of the economy and therefore not enough tax money to cover boomer entitlements. There will not be enough money for us to benefit from the astonishing medical advancements of the past century. There will be too few doctors, nurses, hospitals and care facilities to meet our needs as deterioration sets in.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it won’t be you. It will be all those other millions of boomers who will not be able to care entirely, or at all, for themselves. Because you're going to win the aging-well lottery, right?

Whether you win it or not, there is going to be, in the next decade or so, a backlash of some kind against aging boomers and the amount of resources we use, which is one of the reasons I will be talking here over the coming months about what I call responsible aging. We’re going to need to do it differently from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. We are going to need to do more for ourselves with less reliance on community and public services and more reliance on each other. We are going to need to reinvent how we get old. And we need to start doing this now.

Meanwhile, however, boomers are so certain they are not going to get old and needy that they are even refusing to be called grandma and grandpa as Ellen Warren of the Chicago Tribune points out about one of the sillier, new boomer attitudes.

Boomers are wrong, you know, about denying the inevitable. Yes, we are richer, better educated, healthier and probably smarter than previous generations and statistics tell us that we will live a lot longer than previous generations. But we are not the first immortals and debilities of aging bodies (and brains) will catch up with us.

I had a different point when I started writing this piece and had no intention of getting so serious today. See what can happen when you get interrupted too many times...

All in all, though, it has turned out to be not a bad introduction to the idea of responsible aging. More to come...

Older Blogger Statistics

There is a new blogging survey from Henry Copeland at measuring various demographics and behaviors of the 17,159 people who participated in the survey between the 17th and 19th of May.

The first stat that caught my attention, though unrelated to age, is that only 20.9 percent of the respondents identified themselves as bloggers. 79.1 percent are readers only. Somehow, in producing this Weblog, I’ve been thinking that visitors are, for the most part, other bloggers. Give that one second's thought and of course it's not true. I can't imagine where I got that dumb idea.

Don’t forget that there are millions of bloggers plus who knows how many who read only, and participation is certainly skewed by which Weblogs linked to the survey. So the results represent a small, self-selected sampling of the blog universe [click the link above for other caveats]. But the survey is nevertheless interesting in regard to the results that relate to older people. I am pleasantly surprised.

AGE: 19 percent, 4800 respondents, are age 51 or older, and 170, one percent, are older than 71 for a total of 20 percent of us older folks out there playing in the blogosphere. I’m impressed. And that percentage is likely to grow as, according to another, more scientific recent survey, the 65-plus crowd is the fastest-growing demographic on the Internet.

RETIRED: 3.9 percent, or 669 people, identified themselves as retired, a word that feels increasingly anachronistic these days. Few people talk about doing that anymore as they approach their late 50s and sixties, but for those who have retired or will do so, the Internet is a sensational tool for keeping in touch and active, as I’ve written about.

POLITICAL AFFILIATION: This is worth looking at in regard to older folks because we tend to vote in larger numbers than younger people. A total of 60.4 percent identify themselves as Democrats or Independents. This number reinforces my anecdotal sense that there are a lot more liberals online than conservatives.

Of course, it is more than probable that my personal bias is showing in the sites and Weblogs I visit. But I spent a lot of free time over the past two months scouring the Internet for any kind of older bloggers, whatever their political leanings or interests, and far more often than not when the the blogs I found were of a political bent, they were liberal.

I have no idea if that means anything and it is not unlikely that it can be consigned to the same bin as my mistaken idea that all blog visitors are bloggers.

Mr. Copeland says he will release more information from the survey today, so check out the results and see what you think.


Deb is an American living in the U.K. because, she tells us, she’s married to a Brit, a man she met online. She describes her Weblog, Deborama, which has been around for about 15 months, as

“news links; history; politics; religion; sex; in other words all the things it is not polite to talk about at parties”

I suspect that Deb, much like me, isn’t very good at keeping her mouth shut at parties about those topics and she sure isn’t shy online. You don’t realize at first that Deb is mostly a pointer, supplying short lead-ins to excerpts and links, or three- or four-sentence mini-assessments of the items or sites she is linking to. She does it with such personal assurance and breathless energy that you’re convinced each entry is of earth-shaking importance – and sometimes, given the times we are living through, that’s so.

The fact is, Deb is really excellent at choosing sites with important, good, interesting, surprising, funny, well-written, need-to-know information. Her politics are unapologetically way left, and I’m glad she’s doing that since I bite my tongue (or is it cross fingers when you’re online?) every day to not stray off-topic on this Weblog.

Deb is, essentially, a digital gadfly – one of the greats – keeping disparate corners of the Web pulled together in one place so very little that's worthwhile, particularly political, gets overlooked.

She is also certain that she knows what’s best. She doesn’t just give you a list of books she’s reading; she gives you a list of books “You should read this year.” Yes, ma’am!

She’s got more sites on her blogroll than these old eyes can stand to parse. And more links to a whole lot more sites of various kinds on her “Fund of Knowledge” page and she’s got recipes for you too along with some nice photos of the two kids and new grandchild who has a beautiful name: Savannah.

Deb manages to give so much energy to static information that you’re not sure after a trip to her place that it isn’t all in Flash. I wish she would do something about that evil, little pop-up box that the Google blocker can't seem to handle, but that doesn't make Deborama any less worth the effort to click the link.

The small, enduring pleasures of getting older

category_bug_journal2.gif An unexpected bonus of getting older, I find, is discovering a deeper appreciation for ordinary things. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy them before. I did. But I was too busy being young (although that is well and good in its time) to pause long enough to savor the simple pleasures.

Is there anything better than waking in winter to the special hush new-fallen snow brings to the big city? It is different from silence. Listen carefully and you will find that the sound of the quiet can be heard, especially at dawn. It is irresistible then to bundle up in layers, pull on a fur hat and go out into the street just as the sky is turning from black to sapphire blue - and be the first on my block to make footprints, and even an angel, in the snow.

Laugh at me if you will, but I enjoy paying the bills. I like the feeling of being clean with the world, not owing anyone for a short while once every month. I’ve been doing it online for a long time now and modern electronics, relieving the tedium of physically writing checks and balancing accounts, makes the pleasure even greater.

And how about the dispensation that comes with stormy weekends. When there are thunder and lightning and raindrops as big as your fist, it is an ancient rule that you may skip running errands outside or taking care of indoor chores. Instead, you get to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea or two fingers of old port or good sipping whiskey - whatever suits your fancy - and while away the entire day while the rain beats a rhythm on the windows. The chores and errands will still be there when the weather clears.

The morning coffee ritual. No day is right without it. My Krups electric teakettle in which I boil the water is a triumph of modern design, so right in its black proportions for the eye and for the task that I believe it belongs in the Museum of Modern Art. Coffee itself from Porto Rico Coffee Company, a block from my home. I've been drinking strongly-flavored Auggie's Blend recently and have not felt the need to change yet, though I do so about twice a year. It would not taste quite so sublime, I believe, without my Bodum French press. It is a jewel of design too, and this particular example (may I never break it) has become more precious as the last purchase I made at the World Trade Center the last time I was there about a month before 11 September 2001.

And lastly, showers. Mmmm. Bubble baths are soothing and have their charms. But a hot shower – now that is sublime. Water beating hard on your body from high above, pouring over your head, your shoulders, setting up a rhythm on your back, and perhaps just a tad too hot so it becomes almost a meditation, a spiritual experience, maybe like returning to the beginning of life. Best of all, you get to do it every single day. How many pleasures can you say that about.

This list is short and by no means complete, and I am sure you have your own, different list of ordinary pleasures to hold as dear as precious gems. Youngsters can’t know these joys yet. Such gladness is the preserve of us older folks to whom appreciation is available only from years of practice and repetition.

What are some of your small, enduring pleasures?

Ageism can kill

category_bug_ageism.gif According to studies conducted by Becca Levy, an assistant professor at Yale University, a positive perception of aging can extend life expectancy by more than seven-and-a-half years.

In fact, says Levy, who studies attitudes toward aging, one’s perception of aging affects longevity more than such other factors as gender, loneliness, health and socioeconomic status. Writing for (free registration required), Denise Lang neatly condenses some of Levy’s findings:

“…not only does a person’s perceptions of aging form when they are young and are reinforced for most of their lives, but the formation of these perceptions are unconsciously internalized. In short, by the time you reach a point in your life when your thoughts turn to aging, your negative – or positive – perceptions of yourself and others have already become part of our attitudes.”

According to Professor Levy,

“People are not always aware they’re taking in these stereotypes. Part of it is transmitted by our culture and subcultures. Then there are also a range of other factors – like what we are exposed to on television, for example – how they perpetuate stereotypes, and the repetitive nature of these stereotypes.”

Every day, we are bombarded with off-handed, casual instances of ageism. They are so common we hardly notice most of the time and now, according to Levy, age prejudice, bias and bigotry are more than bad, and sometimes illegal, behavior - they can kill us earlier than we might have died otherwise.

Professor Levy encourages everyone to be vigilant about negative stereotypes of aging and I urge you to follow her advice:

“Question negative stereotypes wherever you find them,” she says. “We need to translate this knowledge into change.”

Send instances of ageism that you find – in magazines, newspapers, books, in movies and on television, at work and anywhere else. Send links if you have them, or just tell us your stories. One way to fight bigotry is to expose it to the light.

Older ladies and the red hat society

I’m going to catch some flak for this post for I am clearly in the minority on this, out of step with the mainstream, and I can feel the slings and arrows coming my way as I write.

Have you heard of The Red Hat Society? If you haven’t yet, you soon will. And if you’re a woman, you may even be a member already. It is the latest “thing” for folks of the female persuasion who are age 50 and older, and I’ve been running into it all over the Web for the past year or so.

A recent story from the Albuquerque Tribune supplies a good sense of what The Red Hat Society is about, along with this explanation from club founder, Sue Ellen Cooper:

"It's about getting older together in a positive way," she says from the club’s ‘hatquarters’ in Fullerton, California. "Because there are a lot of good things about this time. The kids are gone, there's more time for yourself, you probably care less about what other people think, and there are new vistas."

It’s hard to argue against that, so what’s my problem?

The idea of this group is that when members – who use such adjectives as “sassy,” “free-spirited” and “convention-spurning” to describe themselves - get together, they wear - all of them - a red hat and a purple dress. The genesis of this is a poem The Red Hat Society founder discovered a few years before her 50th birthday.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in the slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

- Jenny Joseph (1961)

I like the sentiment, but I don’t see how showing up once a month to drink wine and tell dirty jokes dressed like every other woman in the room has much to do with the spirit of Ms. Joseph’s poem. And the names they give their club chapters make me cringe:

  • The Red Hot Flashes
  • Hattitude Hotties
  • Feisty Dynamites
  • The Grateful Red
  • Red Hot Mommas of Sun City
  • Racey Red Hats

There is no possible way I would ever tell a friend I’m busy today because I’m going to a meeting of the Hattitude Hotties. It’s not in me. Not gonna happen.

Like I said up front, I’m the one who’s out of step on this. There are now 400,000 members of The Red Hat Society worldwide in 20,000 chapters, and it is reported that the number of chapters is growing at a rate of almost 400 a week.

Given my position about older folks on this Weblog, I should welcome and applaud this club. From what members say about it, the group seems to provide them with a sense of empowerment for two often-devalued groups – women and older people. So I ask again, what’s my problem?

One thing is that I’m embarrassed for folks who describe themselves as sassy, free-spirited and convention-spurning. Like nicknames, these designations have weight only if bestowed by others, and people who really are eccentric enough to be so described are, I suspect, far fewer in number than almost half a million.

For another, I don’t see how wearing the same dress and hat as every other woman in the Society is a whole lot different from the men I see in matching suits standing four deep at the bar at Grand Central Station every evening after work. It seems, again, to miss the spirit of Ms. Joseph’s poem.

Or maybe I’m just not a joiner. I was never a Girl Scout because I couldn’t last a year in Brownies braiding plastic lanyards. I might have been more successful in the Web world if I attended more of those networking parties, but geez – there were so many other interesting things do unrelated to work and a girl can’t work all the time.

It’s gotta be me, right? Not the Red Hatters. I feel like a churl objecting to this group, which appears to be harmless, and I’ve not been able to identify clearly why they bother me. But I can’t let go of the idea that something doesn’t feel right about The Red Hat Society - for me anyway. If I figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.

[See also Crabby's Bad Hattitude.]

Weblog Reviews Clarification

I’ve received several emails about my “reviews” of the ElderBloggers Weblogs, a couple being thank-you notes from the Weblog owners and some others wondering about my kindness in the reviews.

Let me explain: These are not reviews and it is not kindness. Nobody gets on the Older Bloggers list unless I like the Weblog.

I have an offline list of additional older bloggers sites, but for one reason or another, they don’t strike my fancy enough to be included. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad blogs; it just means I’m being subjective. And to that point, friends will tell you that I’m a tough critic, probably too tough.

There are two other criteria for inclusion: you must be at least 45 years old and you must post at least once a week. Beyond that, I don't need to be deeply interested in the topic of the Weblog or even agree with what the blogger writes (well, within some limits). What I want is to be engaged by what I read, and that is almost always closely related to the passion of the writer for his or her subject.

(Any or all of the above criteria may change as time goes by.)

So don’t think of these as overly kind reviews. By the time I write about a Weblog, I’ve already decided it’s good. My stories, in reaction to endless blogrolls with no apparent criteria, are to give readers some information on which to base a decision to visit.

Book of Life

UPDATE: Denny Coates discontinued his Book of Life Weblog on 1 July 2004, to concentrate on other endeavors. He left the door ajar to return one day and the blogosphere would certainly welcome him back.

Denny Coates, a former Army brat and West Point graduate who served as an Army officer for 20 years, settled some years ago with his wife in south Florida. He is currently the CEO of a company that publishes assessment and self-improvement programs for corporations. His Weblog, Book of Life is, he says, “a scratchpad for serious thought about my life.” And that it is.

He uses family events, local wildlife like the backyard bunny report, pets, recipes, visits to museums, the farmers’ market, a flower show and such - with a lot of photographs - to delve into questions and issues surrounding what it means to be human in general and Denny Coates in particular. A lot of it applies to any of us.

Denny, now 60, is a seeker – of knowledge, understanding and self-improvement which aligns with how he earns his living. Always a nice bit of accomplishment that: to work at what you care about.

At the bottom of each daily post, is a “Fortune Cookie” that relates to the theme of the post. These sayings, in turn, link to related pages of quotes, affirmations meant to inspire. Such has never been my “thing,” but I’ve learned that I am the odd man out on that sort of inspiration, and you should ignore my doubts.

What does inspire me at Denny’s site are such entries as his description of a visit to the Frick Museum in New York City. I am envious that I could not have the guide he tells us about for a visit of my own, and his appreciation of that guide is sensitively and warmly told.

And I have reread several times his contrarian view of Carlos Casteneda as a novelist, not a seer. One of his conclusions in this piece, that

“The ability to apprehend unadorned reality is the source of the warrior’s “power.” A warrior is simply someone who has the courage to walk that path as a self-reliant individual.”

ties in nicely with an idea from his first Weblog post in December 2003. He has just described some minor aches and pains:

“And a voice inside tells me, ‘This pain is your friend. You are still alive to feel it. I can describe a scenario in which you would do anything to have this pain again...’
“Some people might think these thoughts are morbid. To me, it's just being real. I guess I really buy into the idea that ‘death is your advisor, be aware of his presence always within arm's reach...’”

Some people find my Website morbid, discussing as it does, getting old, the natural precursor to death. Something Denny and I obviously share, is a desire – or perhaps a compulsion – to look past the American denial of death and see if we can make sense of it for ourselves.

One way of doing this is to look life right in the eye, in its “unadorned reality." Denny works hard at that and you will find his Weblog an inspiration for seeking your own answers - or at least the right questions - to the big puzzles of life.

A Death Too Young

category_bug_journal2.gif I met my oldest friend in New York City in 1970, when my then-husband and I moved his radio program, The Alex Bennett Show which I produced, from WMCA to WPLJ-FM.

She stood up and came around from behind her desk when we were introduced in her office. That day she was wearing a green suede miniskirt and matching vest with a silk blouse. She had huge, dark eyes, long, silky black hair, a warm smile and a deep, smoky voice. I shook her hand, but had no intention of becoming friends with someone as beautiful as she.

But I did anyway.

In those days, she had a funky studio apartment with a fireplace in a townhouse on West 9th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues – the prettiest block in all of New York City – just a few doors from Balducci’s where any and all manner of fine food could be had, for a price. We bought in small quantities in those days.

After I left my husband in late 1971, we spent a lot of good time at that apartment eating lightly to watch our weight, drinking good wine, smoking cigarettes and other funny stuff, and listening to music. She was the music director at WPLJ during the best years of rock-and-roll, and no one, to this day, can match her ear for popular music of all stripes, but particularly rock and blues.

We both loved New York City and we sometimes daydreamed in those days about our old age: buying a brownstone together so each of us could have a floor to ourselves and share the living room, dining room and kitchen.

Eventually she married and had a daughter. Lives being so different for singles versus married with children, we didn’t see so much of one another then, nor after she divorced. Life was busy during the week, she had a house in upstate New York where she went on weekends, so we, until the past year, kept up a lively conversation by email. She was smart, observant, thoughtful and articulate and a joy to “talk” with this way.

Sometime in the past 10 or 12 years, it had been discovered that she has hepatitis C. The hardest part for her to bear in the control of the disease was to cut alcohol consumption. I don’t mean to imply that she is a drunk by any means whatsoever. But she loved good wine and she knew more about good wine than any other woman I’ve known. She defied her doctors by allowing herself two or three glasses a week.

We hadn’t seen one another in a while when we met for dinner one evening in February 2003. I handed her the wine list to choose a bottle for us before I remembered, apologetically, the hep C. “For God’s sake, Ronni,” she said, “what do I care about hep C. I have cancer.” We laughed and she picked out a good wine.

Though she had quit smoking 25 years earlier, she had just been diagnosed with an aggressive lung cancer. Chemotherapy and surgery were prescribed.

My oldest friend in New York City died last week while I was out of town on business. She is Jewish, so the funeral was held before I returned, and although her death was not unexpected, it was – as deaths always are – a blow. Also, because she was five or six years younger than I, her death seems not fair to me. I am here and she is not. There is no making sense of the time we are each allotted.

Funerals, memorials, sitting shiva and other ceremonies of remembrance are never for the dead. They are for the living. We who are left to mourn, each in our way depending on philosophy, sensibility and religion, usually choose to believe that the dead have gone to a better place, or at least have been removed from suffering. And now we, the survivors, must find a way past the suffering of our loss.

There is no recourse, no second chance, no special pleading that will return loved ones to us. There is nothing else so final as death.

As fate or chance would have it, many of my friends have died young. Also by fate or chance, most of them, and my family who have died, lived on the west coast, 3,000 miles from me. Although we spoke on the telephone frequently and wrote letters (no email yet in those days), we did not visit in person so often. And what that means after they died, is that it still often feels to me that we just haven’t talked in a while, or made time to get on an airplane for a visit.

And this, through the years, eases some of the pain of missing them - we’ll get around to talking or visiting soon, it seems. And this time, with my oldest friend in New York, perhaps it be the same because we did not see one another as often as when we were young.

It strikes me today that this death is the first in my life due to old age. If the average life span is 70-something, some must die younger to create that mathematical average. So from now on – I am 63 - the deaths of my contemporaries cannot be said to be unexpected or “too young.” And it is unlikely that I will be so lucky, in the future, to pretend we just have not visited for a while.

But I still can do that this time.

The Internet and older folks

By definition, we older bloggers are computer savvy, but not all older folks are – yet.

Howard Millman is moving online computer literacy forward by teaching a class at Westchester Community College in buying and selling on eBay. He says older people and the auction site are a natural together.

"It's a good retirement activity, and they have a lot of stuff," says Millman.

And getting rid of her stuff is why one of his students, a 62-year-old, is taking the class.

"Spring cleaning," she says. "I have lots of things in my house. I want to divest and make more space in my house."

Older folks and the Internet are a natural for reasons way beyond eBay. Sometimes it’s harder to get around as we age. Maybe we stop driving too. When friends move to Florida and children leave the area, it's easy for older people to become isolated. The Internet is a terrific solution to keeping up to date, pursuing interests, finding new ones, staying in touch, making new friends and - even pubishing a Weblog.

A recent study from the Pew Institute on Older Americans and the Internet reports that people older than 65 are the fastest growing segment of new Internet users. So many older folks are jumping online now that the researchers referred to the phenomenon in the their report as the “silver tsunami.”

Even so, only 22 percent of people 65 and older are online as of March 2004, according to the Pew report.

Some people missed the computer revolution and haven’t been exposed to the charms of the Web. Others may have impairments that make it difficult to use a keyboard, a mouse or to see print on the screen. But developers are beginning to address these problems. Unisys (and undoubtedly its competitors) have a voice browser interface that allows retrieval of information through speech.

Microsoft has a large list of Windows-compatible products to assist users with visual, hearing and mobility impairments.

And a number of companies make add-on products such as Web Eyes to aid online readability.

More advances will be released in the coming years to satisfy all those baby boomers who will demand ways to get around any debilities that show up as they get older.

Andrea Sherman is a gerontologist at the New York University Division of Nursing. She believes that increased computer use among older people is a harbinger of a new kind of aging.

"The older adult of today is more forward-looking than in the past," says Sherman, quoted in the Westchester Journal News. "For so long, we've thought about aging as a problem, a disease. It's been seen as something to avoid. Now, there's a new paradigm. There are creative ways to grow old: You can explore, venture, create, all throughout your life."

You and I already know that. We’re doing it. Now let's pass it on. If there is someone you think could benefit from having a better grasp of computers and the Web, make some time to help out. Or teach a class for older folks at your local community college. Or if you’re upgrading to a new computer, give your old one to an older novice and throw in some assistance in gettng started.

Bring some others into our fold and let’s all be part of increasing that 22 percent of 65-plus folks using the Internet. It will change their lives for the better and make you feel good too.

Casual Ageism

category_bug_ageism.gif Ageism is defined in part by Robert Butler who coined the term in 1969, as the “systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old.” It is every bit as wrong and demeaning as racism and sexism, but is so deeply ingrained in American culture that it is perpetrated with impunity every day in the media and hardly anyone objects.

Catching up on my magazine reading on an airplane yesterday, this short book review, written by Barbara Kantrowitz in the “Snap Judgment” section of Newsweek, snapped me to attention. In its entirety, it reads:

Confessions of a Bigamist, by Kate Lehrer

You’ve got to feel a little bit of sympathy for Michelle Banyon, Lehrer’s 47-year-old heroine. She’s torn between two lovers: her high-powered Manhattan husband and a passionate Texas naturalist she meets when she literally runs him over and then nurses him back to health. Who will she choose? The title’s a hint. Her romantic juggling act is a middle-aged woman’s fantasy tale – hardly realistic, but a great escape.

That is the kind of “systematic stereotyping” Butler is referring to. In fact, Ms. Kantrowitz delivers a twofer with this bigoted review – ageism and sexism.

Imagine her review just as it is but with the protagonist of the book a 47-year-old man instead of woman, and substitute the male adjective and noun in the final sentence of the review so it would read:

“His romantic juggling act is a middle-aged man’s fantasy tale – hardly realistic…”

Oh, yeah? Tell that to Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and a slew of 60-plus movie idols. Of course, Ms. Kantrowitz would never write such a sentence about a man. But in her blind age prejudice – which holds in most of the media – no woman who has reached the advanced age of 47 could possibly be attractive, smart and sexy enough to inspire the romantic interest of one man, let alone two.

This kind of casual ageism enrages me, reinforcing the already deeply embedded belief that any woman older than 25 is ugly, unattractive and sexless. It is a lie, repeated every day in hundreds of ways as small and seemingly innocuous as this one, and no one questions it.

Let Newsweek know you think this is unacceptable bigotry. You can send a complaint online or email them at


I found these 2blowhards, Michael and Freidrich, thanks to Ian over at Panchromatica. They write on their site description:

“In which two graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy Ivy educations.”

And they do blow hard, no doubt about that. But it’s such high class, intelligent, wide-ranging blather that you gotta love ‘em, and quite frequently they are on to something.

Michael was musing not so long ago about how his attitudes have changed as he has gotten older.

“How to explain the fact that what we believe about the significance of our tastes, reactions and interests changes? As youngsters: "Wow, holy shit, the whole world oughta stop and take note." As crusty middle-agers: ‘Ah, finally, now I truly understand, what was I thinking of before?’”

Friedrich, whose 50th birthday is fast approaching, noticed, a week or so ago, that as the urgency of his sex drive diminishes, his appreciation, even wonder, at the complexity of his wife’s enjoyment grows.

“But thinking back to my younger days, I’m not so sure that the disparity between the masculine and feminine sexual experience wasn’t always present. I just don’t think I was prepared to acknowledge it when I was 25. Which is too bad, as the awe that I feel these days—and I can’t think of a better word for it—is a real and remarkable addition to the whole experience. Maybe the diminishing role of my ego is opening up a space for a certain amount of the sublime to enter in.”

I don’t mean to imply that the 2blowhards talk about getting older all the time. I chose those quotes because this Weblog is about aging and they are interesting about that topic. But they range all over the place. Even solitaire recently gave rise to a weird and funny exchange about men and woman:

“Does your wife love playing solitaire?” asks Michael. “My Wife loves Spider Solitaire, my sister loves Freecell, a niece loves Strict Klondike, and at work friend has Forty Thieves on her Windows desktop 24/7. Based on this statistically significant sample, I'm working on a theory that women love solitaire card games…”
"...But solitaire doesn't appeal to me at all. In accordance with my theory, I've decided to attribute my dislike of solitaire card games to my brawny and untamed hetero dude-hood. Does it hold any appeal for you?”

You gotta laugh out loud.

Unlike many non-political Weblogs, 2Blowhard draws a lot of commenters. Sometimes this is excellent, but frequently you just need the 2Blowhard talking with each other and the notes from readers are a bother. Just skip them if they get in the way.

Although these two guys can be a bit elitist for my taste, they are otherwise smart, funny, knowledgeable on a wide range of topics and are keen observers of themselves and of life. Take a look.

Getting old in a little town

I’m sure those desert cammies our troops in Iraq wear do whatever job they were designed to do, but one of them is not to help our guys look handsome. Even when officers are giving briefings on television in dressier uniforms, you can tell that style was not on the government’s mind when they thought up these duds.

Dad 1942But look at this guy. He’s my dad, Theodore Landis Haist, in about 1942, dressed in his Army Air Corps uniform just before he was sent overseas. Yes, he is impossibly young in this photo, but doesn’t he look spiffy in that World War II uniform.

The reason I bring this up is that I received an email a few days ago from a woman, Rana, whose Weblog banner is a photo of her dad in North Africa during World War II in the same kind of uniform as my dad’s. Those guys looked so slick and I wonder, sometimes, whatever happened to a sense of style in our lives.

But that is still not the most important reason to tell you about Rana’s Website.

At 40, she’s too young to be an Older Blogger, but she has a lifelong affinity for older folks. She thinks maybe it is because she was a late baby, born when her mother was 40, or that her housemate is 74 years old. Whatever it is, she “gets” older folks and that is abundantly evident in her short, short story, Getting Old in a Little Town, about the eccentric old folks she grew up with in west Texas.

There isn’t a lot of writing about older people any more than there are many movies or TV shows about us, so hardly anyone knows what we’re really like. But Rana does and she writes like a dream. Click on over there to read this story and while you’re there, dip into the rest of her site. You will be glad you did.


Sharon Brogan is the proud owner, she notes, of a rejection letter from The New Yorker magazine which she has pinned to her wall. Showing better taste, Calyx, a Journal of Art and Literature by Women, has published Sharon.

Watermark, A Poet’s Corner is filled with Sharon’s writing and many compelling photos, some which seem to deliberately accompany a particular poem and some for other blogging purposes or which stand on their own. What attracted me the first time I visited Watermark is an ethereal quality to the layout of Sharon’s Weblog that pulls me in, when I visit, in a quiet but insistent manner. Perhaps it is related to a quote she has posted from Alice Notley:

“I think the poet becomes more and more of a shaman, getting older, in the sense that so much happens to one, and there's nothing left but the poetry function, which is a healing, ecstatic function, as much as it is anything else.”

Do you think that can come through the screen from a Weblog?

There is a section, "Solstice Letter," which is a fairly lengthy series of short poems guiding the reader through Sharon's sensibilities of the seasons of an entire year.

It’s just my take, but I think Sharon’s great strength is the very short poem – almost haiku in form. Three that stand out for me:

She writes here
sitting alone
at a table for two
drinking lemon tea
this heavy braid
the only remnant
of my youth
body like a river
all slow curves
and pools

Sharon lives in way off Montana with a couple of dogs, a couple of cats, some other pets and nearby friends. Her Weblog is a special place, perhaps of renewal – and we can all use some of that now and again.

NOTE: I took issue yesterday with Sharon for not crediting me on another site. It was an innocent mistake and I believe we have resolved this between us.

Old enough to play nice

This is a flyspeck of a problem compared to the Iraq war, torture of U.S.-held prisoners and the deceptions carried out by the current administration in Washington. I cannot affect what President Bush and his cohorts do, but I can take care of my little issue.

A woman whose Weblog I listed under “Older Bloggers” began her own blogroll with the same title using links from my list. So far, so good. Wider distribution of Websites I like is the point of the blogroll.

She acknowledges in a post (buried because she only publishes excerpts on her home page) that her list is “completely stolen from Ronni Bennett,” and links my name to my “About” page with an additional link to home page. All that is still generally well and good.

Then I discovered she has posted all my links, no new ones, under the title “Older Bloggers’s Digest,” on one of those aggregate Weblog list sites, and doesn’t even credit me there.

That takes balls.

Use my stuff. Quote me whenever, wherever you like. Tell others about stuff you find here that you like. But play nice and give credit. That includes using the “via” convention to acknowledge the original source when you learn of a Weblog worth writing about from another blog. It’s the right thing to do.

Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest.

And I’ve removed the offender from my blogroll.

Fred's Challenge

Fred, who resides at Fragments from Floyd, posted a very nice piece there yesterday about my Weblog. He says he too thinks a lot about getting older and he related this excellent vision he once had:

“In this in-sight I saw the verb ‘aging’ to be akin to sailing, skating, surfing - an action verb implying the passage of the subject through a medium. The medium is time. It swirls past us as we remain constant, keeping our balance, wind in our faces. Its passage pulls at our skin, frays our joints, saps energy from muscles. But too, it gives us perspective, gives us laugh lines, makes us wise. But it does little to the core of our essential personhood that we have worn from the beginning.”

Yes! (she said, jabbing her fist toward the sky). Can’t you picture it. This feels so correct, so “right on” as we used to say. It is an image I will happily hold with me while I write about getting older here.

Fred also issued a challenge to all bloggers related to my banner up there at the top:

“Find ten photographs of you at different ages, up to the present. Make a Time Travel Montage and post it or a link to it on your weblog…This is a powerful image to me. I think this continuity of self you can see in such image-sequences could speak, too, to younger people who have not yet dealt with the reality of age - who perhaps fear it and shun or stereotype the chronologically gifted in a negative way. Whaddaya think?”

I think it’s a terrific idea, Fred. (Be sure to read all of Fred’s Challenge; I clipped part of it to quote more briefly here.)

Imagine a Website of such banners. And there is a bonus for you in doing this: the time you will spend plowing through and perusing old photos to find the ten you want to to use to demonstrate the years from childhood until now will bring forth floods of unexpected memories. Moments you have not thought of in years perhaps. Moods and feelings will return of the time and place a picture was made. There will be surprises you can't imagine until you do this.

You could lose several days on such a project, but it will pay you back many times over in personal pleasure, knowledge and understanding. And sometimes, it can even change beliefs about yourself and your life that you have held for years. I spent months sorting old pictures when I did my timeline fotolog and by the end, I had changed a whole lot of attitudes, ideas and beliefs that had been mouldering in the recesses of my memory for as long as some of the old photos.

So if you think Fred's Challenge is a good idea, get on with it. Start now. And pass it on by linking to Fred's Challenge to urge others to join in. Imagine if 10 people did this. And then 30 people. And then 50. "And friends," as Arlo Guthrie sang, "they may thinks it's a movement..."

Advantages of older workers

category_bug_ageism.gif When the owner of a German engineering firm near Stuttgart lost six mid-career employees he had trained for ten years to larger companies like Porsche, Daimler and Bosch, he was at first flummoxed about where he could find experienced replacements. But after some research, Otmar Fahrion had more engineers than he could use – excellent ones.

“We…found there was a pool of engineers with the know-how, experience, dedication, flexibility and eagerness right under our noses,” he says. “There were all these engineers with great skills who were pushed off into early retirement after about the age of 50.”

Even moreso than in the U.S., Germany squanders the professional talents and experience of its citizens. A recent survey there found that 60 percent of businesses employ no one older than 50, and only about half of German men between 55 and 64 are employed.

“That older workers are shoved off like they are is a shameful mistake from an economic point of view,” says Fahrion, “especially if you consider how much the state invested in their university educations, and a scandal from a sociological point of view. It’s madness. Almost no one will hire anyone over 50. There is a terrible obsession with youth in our society.”

I have more personal knowledge than I wish I did of how true that is in the U.S. too. Age discrimination in the workplace can begin as young as the mid-thirties. It ramps up by the time workers reach age 45 and accelerates from there. Although discrimination based on age is as illegal in the U.S. as discrimination based on race or gender, it is widely practiced due, probably, to the persistence of myths about what older people are like. Some of those myths are:

  • Older people are unproductive, inefficient and inflexible
  • Older people take more time off work for health reasons
  • It’s not worth training older folks because they will retire soon
  • Older employees cost too much and reduce profits

Every one of these statements is wrong. Older folks are equally productive as younger employees and frequently moreso because they have a lot of practice, knowledge and experience younger folks don’t have.

Insurance company data indicates that older workers use less sick leave on average than younger workers, and they are less likely to quit. Employers cite increased health insurance costs as one reason to not employ older workers, but the costs are frequently lower due to fewer dependents.

“They’re not only excellent workers,” Fahrion has discovered of his older engineers. “They have the staying power you don’t always see with younger engineers.”

Fahrion also says his older workers are more flexible, and their time off for health reasons is shorter because, unlike his younger employees who spend weekends hang gliding and mountain biking, they suffer fewer injuries.

These facts have been falling on deaf executive ears for decades as U.S. corporations shed or refuse to hire older workers with near-impunity. But age discrimination, in addition to being vicious and mean, is – from a business point of view – plain, old-fashioned stupid.

Just when science has given us the near-miracle of healthy, vital lives well into our uppermost decades, and just when shifting age demographics put us on the brink of a severe labor shortage, the trend in corporate America is to jettison their most experienced employees. You have to wonder where hiring executives’ minds are because the costs, to them personally, to their corporations and to America in general, are high.

Taxes are lost and therefore schools not built, police not hired and roads not fixed, which may be the least of it. The outlay for public and private support of able-bodied, accomplished people languishing without work is in the billions of dollars now and will increase in coming years if corporations don’t wise up.

We, as a society, can take our pick: consign older folks to the dust heap and take their rent, food and healthcare costs out everyone else’s pockets or, like the savvy Mr. Fahrion of Stuttgart, hire older workers so they can house and feed themselves and continue to contribute to the well-being of everyone with their taxes, creativity and ingenuity.

It looks like an easy choice to me.

Various Journeys

It doesn’t seem fair to take a closer look at the newest addition to the “older bloggers” list before the earlier entries, but Thomas posted a note here a couple of days ago and I got lost reading of his adventures as a peace activist at And the Various Journeys Continue.

At an age – 61 in his case – when many people are looking for a quieter life, Thomas, a Vietnam veteran, signed on with the Non-Violent Peace Force whose mission is:

“To facilitate the creation of a trained, international civilian nonviolent peaceforce. The Peaceforce will be sent to conflict areas to prevent death and destruction and protect human rights, thus creating the space for local groups to struggle nonviolently, enter into dialogue, and seek peaceful resolution.”

These days, however, Sri Lanka is a politically complicated and dangerous place where a brutal civil war has been raging for 20 years. Thomas writes more about his activities with his international group of colleagues in the Peaceforce than local politics, though he doesn’t dismiss the painful realities of life there and when he does address those issues, it is with great thoughtfulness.

Thomas is a poet. He’s been writing poetry, it seems, all his life and he includes older poems (there is a stunning piece written on a particularly bad day in Vietnam in 1968) with current, new work. And sometimes his poetry is written in prose, as in his reminiscence of a return trip to Vietnam in 2002, including a visit to the My Lai memorial which is every bit as poetic as any writing arranged in stanza and rhyme.

A peace activist since his return from military service in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago, Thomas holds strong beliefs about mankind’s inability to control our warring instincts and perhaps that is what fuels the growing collection of photos on his blog documenting the beauty of Sri Lanka which frequently accompany his lovely riffs on personal tranquility.