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A Web designer who lives on Whidbey Island near Seattle, Gordon Coale was an early blogger. His one-sentence, first entry dated 10 August 2000: “I blog, therefore I am,” could be an epigram for many of us these days. Another of his earliest posts was about Harry Potter and anyone who’s a fan of Harry’s is fine by me. Coale also hosts an online radio show, Testing, Testing, (which I’ve not had time to listen to) that showcases northwest U.S. musical talent.

This is an intensely political blog – leftie variety – and Gordon regularly discovers Websites and information that I don’t find elsewhere or are too far afield for the time I can devote to surfing. In a recent post, he pointed to a timely piece about Britain’s 1917 occupation of Iraq that begins:

“They came as liberators but were met by fierce resistance outside Baghdad. Humiliating treatment of prisoners and heavy-handed action in Najaf and Fallujah further alienated the local population. A planned handover of power proved unworkable.”

Gordon is an invaluable political resource, but don’t let his passion for politics fool you – there is plenty of other interesting material on this blog, particularly photography. He recently (21 June 2004) posted a picture of himself riding a “skycycle,” a bicycle taller than I’d have the nerve to get on. And I spent about ten minutes examining a closeup he posted (16 June 2004) of the hand of Michaelangelo’s David, just the hand, which is so real-looking that I mistook marble for flesh until I read the caption – a reminder that I must get to Italy before I die to see such genius for myself.

Some other “photographs” on this site are really scanned objects with astonishingly beautiful results. Gordy’s Dinner, March 9, 2004, is vegetables as you have not seen them before. And his scanned Dead Bugs overcome even my girlie-girl attitude toward crawly things.

Another special section on Gordon’s site is the story and journals of his grandfather, Griff, who was a Navy combat artist in World War II. A fascinating piece of history.

Whimsy turns up on Gordon’s site too and I especially like the tribute to Ray Charles he re-posted:

“Logical proof that Ray Charles is God:

1. God is love
2. Love is blind
3. Ray Charles is blind

Therefore: Ray Charles is God.”

This does not begin to cover the breadth of Gordon’s blog. It can be confusing sometimes because he frequently posts many different long entries on one day and it’s easy to forget where you are in time as you scroll through. But Gordon more than redeems himself for that minor annoyance with the best damned blogroll I’ve seen anywhere.

Blogrolls with hundreds of links down the left or right side of the page are ubiquitous and, alphabetized or not, useless. As a form of endorsement, they are not believable and they hurt your eyes when you’re looking for a particular link.

Gordon has at least a couple of hundred links too, but they are particularly well-chosen and he has grouped them into labeled categories and sub-categories that attract the eye rather than repel it. Gordon.Coale deserves your attention.

Glitter and Gloss

Today, Crabby Old Lady's complaint lies with the corporate manufacturers and purveyors of cosmetics.

There was a time, prehistoric to be sure, when Crabby and her contemporaries believed just the right shade of makeup, blusher, eye shadow, lipstick or the perfect combination thereof would render them irresistible to men. Many hours were spent experimenting with new colors and new application techniques, and when a member of the opposite sex did succumb to Crabby or one of her friends, some overly gullible portion of their brains believed it would not have happened without Luscious Mauve Raspberry No. 2.

Crabby came to her senses a long time ago about the effectiveness of faultlessly applied facial cosmetics in attracting the opposite sex and in any event, she is no longer out there trolling for men (though she is not numb to the idea). She just wants to tone down the blotchiness and age spots on her face so she feels presentable in public.

In a practical sense, this is not difficult. Foundation, a little powder, some subtlely tinted blusher and lip gloss would do the trick with little effort. What makes it nearly impossible, however, is that the cosmetics industry manufactures products entirely for teenagers intent on being noticed in a darkened nightclub.

Blusher now comes only with embedded sparklies. Eye shadow is available mostly in shades of iridescent turquoise. Mascara is made only in the jettest of jet black heavy with fibers for that wide-eyed Betty Boop look.

Take a glance at that last photo on the right up there in the banner. Now Crabby Old Lady asks you: Sparklies? Iridescence? Nuit Noir around the eyes? Crabby doesn’t think so. At her age, less is more and after 45 or 50, all women are looking to minimize, not enhance.

But Max, Estee, Christian, Elizabeth, Helena, Germaine, Pierre and all the rest who served her so well in her youth have forsaken Crabby in her dotage. Where is the foundation that covers nature's errors but doesn't cake in the lines? Eye shadow in matte colors of brown and gray without sparklies? Blusher and lip gloss that are brighter than Crabby's skin color, but not by much, and certainly not iridescent?

They aren’t in any department, drug or cosmetic specialty store that Crabby patronizes where row upon row of Radical Red prevails. In case you cosmetic manufacturers and marketers out there don’t believe there is profit in addressing an aging population, let Crabby enlighten you. In the U.S. alone:

  • There are 39 million female baby boomers, the youngest of whom turn 40 this year.
  • There are more than 56 million women older than 45.
  • Within five years, according to the Census Bureau, one-sixth of the population will be women age 50 and older.

How can it make economic sense to ignore more than half the adult female population of an entire country?

Crabby isn’t asking for the elimination of Golden Glitter Gloss. It’s actually quite cute used in its proper age range. All Crabby is asking for is equal representation at the cosmetics counter, a choice of more than one color for the over-18 crowd. Oh - and one other thing: could you ditch those 19-year old customer care girls? The ones who think iridescent purple eyeshadow is just the thing for Crabby?

UPDATE: See Radiant Elder Women - 9 February 2006

A mother’s final, best lesson: Part 5

category_bug_journal2.gif If I’d had any time to think it over, I would have been surprised at how easily Mom, previously independent to a fault, adapted to helplessness. Once bedridden, she deferred household decisions to me as she slipped effortlessly into an almost regal, though never imperious, manner in making known her personal needs.

Thirst was a constant. Mom needed lots of water and not just any water. Water with ice cubes, she said, was too warm, and she didn’t want ice to suck on. In trying to get the water colder than cold, I was running into the limitations of the laws of physics, which Mom had no use for. "Colder," she said. "It needs to be colder."

Eventually, I rotated glasses of water in the freezer checking every short while until I could see ice crystals forming in water that was otherwise still liquid. Inevitably, some would freeze before I got back to refrigerator. You sigh and start over.

With all that water, there were so many diaper changings that Mom learned to anticipate them: “You’ll need to get me a clean diaper in about 15 minutes,” she’d say.

One day, Mom called me into her room asking for her cigarettes. “They’re right there,” I told her, "next to you." “I know. Please hand them to me,” she said. I shrugged and handed them over. Later the same day, she called me for the TV clicker which was also next to her. “What’s wrong with your hand, Mom?” I asked. “Nothing,” she insisted.

After some experimentation, I found that her left arm was paralyzed. A small stroke, the doctor said, not uncommon in her condition. Nothing to be done. The result for me was many more trips to help Mom retrieve misplaced items she couldn't reach with her right hand. The funny part was that for the rest of her life, Mom refused to acknowledge that her left arm didn’t work and I never figured out if that was stubbornness or the stroke. Sometimes you can only laugh.

Mom’s hearing worked just fine, yet she intermittently blasted the television sound, so loud sometimes I couldn’t hear her calling for me. Nor could I convince her to keep the volume down.

Rather than sleep on a regular schedule, Mom napped an hour here, an hour there throughout the 24-hour day. She commonly called for me three or four times a night – for a pain pill, water, a diaper change or a misplaced TV remote - and I slept lightly, not wanting to miss her call. My vigilance and the sleep interruptions took their toll, and as the weeks passed, my weariness grew until I was never not tired.

Having attended to Mom three times one night, I wakened again in my bedroom down the hall. Did I hear my name, I wondered. I listened hard. Perhaps I dreamed it. I couldn’t be sure.

I laid there immobile, each and every cell of my body screaming for rest. I cannot pull myself out of bed one more time, I thought. I cannot do it. Joe’s in San Francisco tonight. I’ll just stay here and pretend I didn’t hear. No one will ever know.

Except me.

I dragged myself down the hall nearly weeping with tiredness. As I entered Mom's room, I slapped a phony smile on my face hoping she wouldn’t notice how resentful I was and walked in with as much false cheer as I could muster. “Hey, Mom. What's up?”

I am not religious. Nor am I superstitious. And I do not believe in otherworldly things. So I have no explanation for what happened then.

The fatigue lifted completely and I felt the false smile become genuine. My resentment disappeared, and as a deep pleasure at being there to help settled around my shoulders, Mom said an amazing thing: “You’re like a little nymph. I just think of you and you’re here.”

Now maybe she forgot she had called my name. Or maybe I’d become so attuned to the timing of her needs that I only thought I heard my name. Or maybe something else happened. I don’t know.

Whatever Mom needed done we took care of, then I pulled up a low stool beside her bed and we talked quietly. I don’t remember what we said that night, though it was not about death or why we’re born or what life is for or about family or love or God or making peace with dying. We talked of nothing profound or important. Just stuff.

When I went back to bed an hour or two later, we had settled some unnamed thing between us, something primal for which no words are needed. And it was good.

…to be continued…

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 1
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 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

Meditation on Mortality: Part 1

category_bug_journal2.gif NOTE: Some of you who come across this series will not like it. You will think it too morbid and that is fine. I’ll leave it here so you can come back one day when you are ready for it. - RB

“Today is the first day of the rest of your short, brutish existence as a sentient creature before being snuffed out into utter nothingness for all eternity.”

    - The Simpsons creator, Matt Groening

That is the crux, isn’t it, of the fear of death - that no part of our personality, none of our sense of self, survives.

I came to this meditation by means of my cyber-friend Tim, known in some circles as Hamlet, when he left this comment on Part II of the series about a mother’s final, best lesson:

“The thing I like least about entering middle age is that I now not only know people who have died, but also people who are dying. And it becomes so painfully clear that I, too, will die. It's not that ‘it all comes back to me,’ but some of it does. I won't deny it.”

It is all about “me,” Tim, for each of us, each in his and her own time. Unless one’s faith in an afterlife is unshakeable, knowledge of the certainty of our own death, when it first strikes, is a terrible, horrifying thing to behold. It struck me hard the first time when I was 11 years old.

Death was one of the two big-deal ideas I rolled around in my head at night, in those days, after Mom or Dad had told me to turn out the light and go to sleep. The nature of eternity was the other and although they are related, I dwelt mostly on death, on the impossibility of it applying to me. Intellectually, I knew it did, but the fear of it made my mouth dry and my chest heave and took my breath away. The only escape was to shove the idea away, bury it deep, deep, deep and think of something else. But it always returned the next night or the next week. Always.

A decade later, in the early afternoon of my 21st birthday, I strolled alone along the seawall where I then lived, in Sausalito, California. It was an important occasion, a life passage of consequence. I could now legally drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes and vote and sign contracts. I was an adult now for real - in the eyes of the law and of society and I wanted to mark this event with some private accounting of who I was, where I’d been, where I was going, what I believed or didn’t believe.

Part of that inventory was wondering how much longer I would live meaning, of course, when would I die. I found it no problem at all to hold two conflicting beliefs: I knew I would die someday and I also believed I was the one earthly immortal. I concentrated on the immortal part, because the fear from thinking about the dying part had diminished not one iota from ten years before.

Because we must get up and go to work and pay the bills and clean the house and see the dentist and do the taxes and blog and all the rest, there is not a lot of time to think about death, our own deaths, with any frequency or attention. And that is a good thing – some of the time.

But the fear doesn’t vanish for being ignored. It lies there beneath the surface of everyday stuff tingeing life a little bit grayer than it needs to be, ready to erupt when you are not expecting it - for instance, Tim, when a friend becomes gravely ill or some old lady you know only from cyberspace breaks the taboo against talking about it freely.

“To not think of dying is to not think of living.”

    - Jann Arden

…to be continued…

NOTE: I hesitated to post this now because two series at once might be confusing particularly when the two subjects are difficult for some readers to address. It makes sense, however, that A Mother's Last, Best Lesson series has raised this other issue and I want to set down my thoughts while they are fresh. I have pondered the mystery of mortality all my life, but this is the first time I have written about it. Besides, I've never been any good at small talk, so here are two series that may end up complementing one another.

What "they" are saying about us

As I’ve noted before, the term “baby boomer” has become, and will be for decades, synonymous with “old.” The oldest boomers are turning 58 this year, and it has recently reached corporate America and the print media that this group, along with the additional 48 million who are between the ages of 60 and dead, is an important target audience.

Private institutions and public agencies are turning out increasing numbers of thick studies purporting to know the truth about what boomers will do in their older years fueling speculation by journalistas who know a growing audience when they see one. Here are some of the recent facts, fantasies and contradictions about older people.

By 2010, between 60 percent and 70 percent of investment assets will be in the hands of people older than 60. [Fidelity Investments]

Even as they age, boomers will remain the most influential segment of the population. [The Next American Dream, Citigroup Global Markets, May 2004]

Boomers will not leave their children an inheritance. Instead they will leave them with debt. [Wilmington Star, 6 June 2004]

Baby boomers don’t want to retire at the usual age of 65. They plan to keep working and earning longer than their parents. [The Next American Dream, Citigroup Global Markets, May 2004]

Boomers should work until they are 75. The second career may be merely a way of earning money, getting medical benefits, augmenting Social Security or staying off the dole while trading a brief case for a grocery cart. [Wilmington Star, 6 June 2004]

90 million consumers currently use or have used products or procedures in an attempt to reduce their visible signs of aging. [National Consumers League, 15 May 2004]

People 65 and older now account for one in every seven facelift surgeries. [American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery]

Instead of discipline and sacrifice, boomers will use drugs and cosmetics and surgery as the way to health, or at least the appearance of it. [The Next American Dream, Citigroup Global Markets, May 2004]

One in four U.S. adults has doctor-diagnosed arthritis. It costs a total of $86.2 billion to treat, one percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. [CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 14 May 2004]

About 43 percent of people age 65 are expected to enter nursing home at least once in their lifetime. [Mutual of Omaha, 2004]

Boomers spend a much higher percentage of their disposable income on housing than their parents did. As they get older, they will indulge in “jewel boxes,” smaller homes with expensive kitchens, bathrooms and electronic amenities. [The Next American Dream, Citigroup Global Markets, May 2004]

Boomers will live in small, gated communities near cities with mild climates and cultural attractions. [Washington Post, 23 May 2004]

Boomers are not looking toward Florida or Arizona to spend their golden years; instead they are content with age-restricted, amenity-enhanced communities closer to the kids, grandkids, and their business contacts. [The Free Lance-Star, 1 June 2004]

Active-adult communities (restricted to those 55 and older) are not for boomers. They say it would be a stigma to live there. Also, they are uptight about the rules and regulations at active adult communities.” [RISMedia, 4 June 2004]

On 1 July 2002, there were 71 men for every 100 women age 65 and older. [U.S. Census]

The baby boom generation has fueled a remarkable increase in demand for recreational vehicles and will continue to do so for a decade. [Reuters, 6 June 2004]

Full Fathom Five

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.

     - The Tempest – Act II

With this song of Ariel from Shakespeare, Mary Lee Fowler began her Weblog, Full Fathom Five, in January 2004, by dedicating it to her father who was lost at sea in World War II. That war takes up a lot of space in Mary Lee’s blog, most recently with a touching entry about her visit to the new World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“The lines for hot dogs and soda were so long we had to wait forty-five minutes in the hot sun. The pilot had diabetes and a yellow tinge to his skin; another vet near us had oxygen tubes coming out his nose. Both of them refused to go ahead of me and my friend; we tried again and again, but they'd take no favors. And although they loved telling us about their service, they didn't want any praise. It embarrassed them, because they truly believe that the friends they saw die did most of the work. That's who they'd come for. ‘I still wake up in the middle of the night," one vet told me, "and wonder where they are.’”

Mary Lee, who turned 60 this spring, lives in rural Maine with her husband. She is a writer and teacher who is also an ardent tennis fan, an activist in local community affairs and a yoga practitioner. She is a careful observer who draws sharp, smart conclusions as in this post following her stint as a delegate to the Maine state Democratic convention earlier this year:

  1. if you're too skeptical to be swept away by political fervor, don't go to one of these things.
  2. if you distrust appeals to emotion and sentiment, ditto.
  3. if you're a born observer, and tend to stand outside events looking in, ditto.
  4. if you've always been more effective at the local level than at national or global politics, ditto.
  5. if you need fully developed ideas rather than phrases to understand things, ditto.
  6. if you don't like speeches interrupted every two minutes by standing ovations, ditto.
  7. if you're any of the above, no matter how hard you're recruited for one of these things, just say no.

Mary Lee writes with a grace and clarity you expect but rarely find in English teachers these days, and she is a joy to read whether it’s a short, funny comment and photo on the mating habits of ladybugs or her account last week of her father-in-law’s final illness - a hymn that is both a tribute and a cri de coeur:

“It wasn't right that we had to watch this man with the perennial spring in his step, flat on his back and struggling for every breath. It wasn't right that we had to stand or sit there at his bedside looking down on him, he who was the true head of our family. It was unseemly to witness him as a passive victim, so antithetical to his true nature. The tales of elderly from other cultures being put out on ice floes, and of animals crawling off into the woods to die alone, all make sudden sense now.”

I so enjoy Mary Lee, whatever she writes, that if I don’t stop now, I’ll quote the whole damned blog. Better you should click on over to Full Fathom Five and read it for yourself. You will thank me for the link, I promise.

Aging on the World Wide Web

Because Crabby Old Lady has, in life and at this Weblog, a vested interest in anything about getting older, she takes the World Wide Web temperature on that topic now and again by Googling “aging” and other synonyms for not young.

Going by the first page results today, Google believes the most important Websites about aging are those of government and quasi-government agencies with interchangeable names such as National Institute of Aging, National Council on Aging, American Society on Aging, Special Committee on Aging. These sites deliver "official" information about older people on financial matters, health, legislation, benefits, and “empowering the community,” whatever that means.

Crabby does not intend to deliberately bore you; only to give you a sample of what Google believes about older people: that we are sick, decrepit, money-grubbing, none-too-bright and – boring.

Which, unfortunately, matches fairly accurately the attitude of our culture at large toward older folks.

Crabby Old Lady knows this is a lie. Undoubtedly those agency Websites have reasonably good information and are a starting point when you need it. (Watch out, though, for those senators at the Special Committee on Aging which is essentially marketing information – spin, for their future re-election campaigns.) But what Crabby wants to know is, where is information about what getting older is really like.

If you go by what the advertisers on the right rail of the Google results page believe about us, older folks can be suckered into buying any kind of snake oil that promises to turn us into teenagers again:

Can Aging be Reversed? The startling truth about aging and longevity.
Clear a Congestive Heart: fastest most effective method to clean blocked arteries
Botox Like Results: Clinically Proven! Order your Free Sample Now.
Healthy Aging: Slow Aging Now! Easy Exercises.
Free Anti-Aging Cream. free sample…

All these sites sell bogus products or information. Crabby Old Lady is insulted by them and by the so-called professionals - experts on aging at those agencies - who, together, paint a picture of older people who will spend all the money they have on dreams of lost youth while drooling onto their bibs. This makes Crabby angry.

There is a lot more information about what getting older is really like at any of the “Older Bloggers” Websites, linked over here on the left, than at any of the Websites or advertisers on Google.

By sharing their passions, their hobbies, interests, stories, concerns about the world near to their homes and afar, and knowledge collected over a lifetime, these bloggers – all older than 45 - tell us more about what aging is like than any of the "experts" at those anonymous-sounding agencies. Every day, they refute the phony anti-aging products in their thoughtfulness and intelligence. And they prove that being older is not worse than being young. It is only different.

A mother’s final, best lesson: Part 4

category_bug_journal2.gif A family, even one as small as mine, is an intricate web of individual and group dynamics. The complexities are bound up in family history, personal sensibilities, secrets and memories which can be both faulty and true. A family cannot be understood by friends, certainly not by strangers and is often a mystery to family members themselves, though they know in their bones their roles. It is well for outsiders to keep this in mind.

By the time my mother was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in early 1992, our immediate family consisted of her, my brother who lives in Portland, Oregon, and me. Neither my brother nor I have children and we were both unmarried at the time.

My mother had an attachment to a family in Sacramento for which she was a substitute grandmother to the two boys, and her strongest tie was to her oldest, best friend Barbara. They loved each other like sisters.

Mom had been widowed by her third husband, Jim, a decade earlier. Because we were all adults when our parents married, my brother and I and Jim’s three sons felt no sense of kinship to one another and we had, in fact, met on only a few occasions. But something special had happened between Mom and Jim’s oldest son, Joe. Even after his father died, Joe visited Mom in Sacramento several times a year and kept in touch from around the world whenever his duty to the U.S. Navy allowed.

MomJoe1986smallJoe was about 43 years old and recently retired from the Navy when Mom got sick. When I telephoned him soon after my arrival in Sacramento, he drove up from his home in San Francisco immediately.

From that day forward, Joe stayed with Mom and me four, sometimes five days a week. He helped cook, clean, take care of Mom’s needs during the hours I was working and hallelujah – the man thought folding is the least tedious part of doing laundry. I questioned his sanity and gratefully handed over the chore.

Joe was a capable housemate who is the only man I've ever known who noticed, without being told, that the trash needed taking out, and as we worked and lived together week by week, I came to love him as though he were a brother by blood. But even with Joe’s help, my time was stretched thin, particularly when Joe needed to be in San Francisco, so I contacted a local hospice Mom’s doctor had said could supply a home health aide, someone familiar with the sensibilities connected to caring for a dying person.

After introductory pleasantries at the kitchen table, the hospice worker pulled a six-page form from her briefcase and asked to see Mom alone “to conduct the psycho-social family evaluation."

My guard shot up to code red as I grabbed the form. The questions, there were about 100, would probe Mom’s childhood, her marriages, relationships with family members, her sexual attitudes, medical history, religious beliefs and much more. I was shocked, then outraged. When I'd telephoned the hospice, they had offered help with no mention of preliminary interviews. There was no possible need for such information for an aide to bring a bedridden person a glass of water and a pill while I was out shopping, and it was out of the question to inflict a this intrusion on Mom. My mother was a woman who would give anyone an earful of her political opinions, but personal matters were her own, rarely mentioned en famille, and never to outsiders.

The interviews, with Mom and with me to be conducted separately, were a requirement, the woman said, no exceptions. As I led her to the door, she protested that the questions were needed to “prepare for the counseling that both the dying person and the caregiver would need.” She was quite persistent until I closed the door in her face.

Other hospice people telephoned several times warning me of the “dire consequences,” without their counseling, to my mother’s peaceful death and to my grieving process. Shameful scare tactics that some people, in our over-analyzed era, might even believe. By the time the hospice and I finished our final conversation a couple of days later, they were in no doubt at all as to my opinion of their deathbed psychobabble.

Dying is a natural process. There is nothing wrong with it. Humans have been dying on their own since mankind climbed down from the trees and survivors have devised uncounted ways, depending on heritage and belief, to honor their dead and console themselves. To believe that a stranger's probing into the most intimate particulars of a dying person’s life is either suitable or valuable to that person is arrogance run amok by the death and psychology industries.

There were no “dire consequences” as Mom and Joe and my brother and Barbara and I lived Mom’s final months together sans counseling. We were a patchwork little family whose main dynamic was simple: to give Mom all the love and care we had in our hearts for her.

I have no idea how other hospices operate and I am undoubtedly being unfair, but I am nonetheless suspicious now every time I hear or read of one.

…to be continued…

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 1
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 2
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 3
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

Pushing an elephant up the stairs

A Weblog title like this, Pushing an Elephant Up the Stairs, can hardly be ignored. You just must click on it, right? And what you find is a simple and elegantly designed page by British blogger, Francesca Gray, who is writing an uncommonly powerful journal of her struggle with depression.

There are encounters with her children who are as obtuse and distant as all teens teetering on the brink of adulthood. I’ve wanted to smack the daughter myself more than once, but they seem to be basically good kids behaving like normal teens.

Francesca doesn’t always sleep well. She tells us of dark, late nights of the soul searching for online friends with whom to talk. You begin to understand why when you discover her companion Weblog, Diet Coke, which focuses exclusively on mental health issues.

Recently, she posted a five-part series, When the Darkness Won. It is a compelling account of her suicide attempt and hospitalization where she was tended to for several days by a remarkably useless set of professionals who could not (would not?) help in any meaningful way. It is some of the most powerful writing I’ve ever read on the experience of depression from the inside. The terrible loneliness of it:

“…[I] wear my ok mask for the occasional visitor. No one unexpected so no one sees the beneath. No one looks too closely anyway. The mask becomes real.”

And the terrible fear of its return after “recovery”:

“Never again.

”Until the next time.

”Until the day I woke up to find myself once more peering through darkened glass.”

In chronicling her climb up from the darkness toward blessed ordinariness and letting us in on the daily struggle, Francesca, which is a pseudonym, is offering up her life as an example for others - a hope for fellow depressives and insight for those who love them.

Though Pushing an Elephant… is hardly a day the beach, I don’t mean to suggest that the mood of this blog is always dark. It surprises each time Francesca indicates her interest in the technological intricacies of blogging and the Web itself which seem to me to be out of character for her. Obviously I am wrong on that count and her glee today in snagging an early gmail address can be nothing if not encouraging for Francesca in getting that elephant closer to the top of the stairs.

Must-have book on health and aging

Did you know that the average length of time a doctor spends with a patient is eight minutes?

Did you know that every day more than 6,000 people hit their 65th birthdays?

Did you know that 25 percent of U.S. families are involved in the caretaking of a loved one?

The population of the U.S. (and the world) is rapidly graying. In the next decade or so, as the baby boom generation ages and the generation behind it is too small to provide all the health care needs the boomers will require, we older folks must take on more responsibility for our own health along with many other life requirements during our later years.

It is an idea I call Responsible Aging, and I touched on it in my introduction to the idea a couple of weeks ago. And now, right on cue it seems to me, the newly published Merck Manual of Health & Aging is an extraordinary aid to understanding and doing something for ourselves about our own aging.

It begins with an essay on an obvious and sometimes confusing question: “When Does a Person Become Old?” which introduces the idea of “healthy aging,” a subset of Responsible Aging.

“Healthy aging refers to a postponement of or reduction in the undesired effect of aging. The goals of healthy aging are maintaining physical and mental health, avoiding disorders, and remaining active and independent.”

The book contains clear, well-written, thorough explanations of more than 100 diseases, conditions and disorders that commonly afflict older folks, including reasonable mentions of non-traditional treatments.

But before the editors get to the encyclopedic list of medical conditions (written in language any lay person can understand), there are 200 pages of extraordinarily important and interesting information about aging that I do not believe has been collected in one place elsewhere.

There are sections on how the body ages; the demographics of aging in the U.S. and worldwide and what that means to our health and to our healthcare systems. There is solid information on maintaining nutrition; on drugs and aging; on understanding medical tests, surgery and rehabilitation; long-term care and caregiving; and on how to navigate the difficulties of financing health care. Our bodies are changing as much, though differently, as they did during puberty and it is essential that we understand how and what that means to both daily life and any illnesses we encounter.

My short description here barely scratches the surface. There is a remarkable amount of good, hard information to have at your fingertips when need arises. Before that, or in between, Merck has also scattered throughout the book essays by older people on what it’s like to get older – a topic close to my heart as you can see from my banner above.

The Merck Manual of Health & Aging is a rich resource you will use for the rest of your life. If the price seems high and it’s a choice between some light reading for the summer and this book, go for the manual. I’m sure you’ve got a friend who’ll pass on a good, trashy beach novel or two.

Public Lives, Private Property

Crabby Old Lady lives on the first floor of a Greenwich Village townhouse. Her bedroom is in front, on the street, and through a quirk of acoustics, any conversation taking place on the stoop of the house, even in a normal tone of voice, can be heard in the bedroom as clearly as if the speakers were sitting on the end of Crabby’s bed.

The stoop is the tallest on the block – about eight or nine steps – and over the 21 years Crabby has lived in this house, hundreds of strangers have made that stoop their own. Some treat it as a bench in a public park, leisurely eating their lunch or dinner while watching the people and dogs stroll by leaving behind, when they are done, paper bags, unfinished meals in open plastic boxes, dirty napkins, soda or beer cans.

Others use the stoop as their office or den, conducting cell phone conversations while taking notes, making appointments, sending email with their Blackberries and scattering a briefcase, notebooks, reports, sundry business papers and cigarette butts around them on the stoop.

Crabby Old Lady encountered a woman surrounded by just such debris one day when she returned from neighborhood shopping errands weighed down with too many bags. As she lumbered up the stairs fishing for her keys, the woman paused long enough from her phone conversation to warn Crabby not to step on her papers.

But the aforementioned acoustic intrusions into Crabby’s slumber are most commonly caused by the late-night lovers and party animals. Several times a week during the warm months, when she is dead out asleep, Crabby is suddenly wakened. Sometimes it is by loud, drunken or stoned laughter. Other times, by utterings more intimate than she cares to hear from anyone not speaking the words to Crabby herself: “Oh, baby, baby, don’t stop. It feels so good.”

By way of explanation, it has been pointed out to Crabby that the back seats of cars of her youth are unavailable to urban youngsters, hence the need for her stoop in service to teenage sexual exploration. Having once been young herself, Crabby sympathizes with the urgency of overactive hormones. However, call her old fashioned if you will, Crabby also believes that even in this most vulgar of ages in which we live, public sex is always inappropriate. Always. And that is most particularly true when it interrupts Crabby's sleep.

Whatever the nature of the audial intrusion – sex or general merry-making at 2AM - the result is the same for Crabby. To have any hope of a full night’s sleep, she is obliged to go to the door in her wild, witch-like, bed-hair and flannel nightie to chase the revelers off the stairs. Most move on without much fuss and there is even the occasional apology. Interestingly, the romantic teenagers are more polite about her request than the adult lunch crowd who have been known to ask who the hell Crabby thinks she is as she stands there, keys in hand, unable to find a path up the stairs.

Stoop-sitting is a venerable, New York City custom going back at least a hundred years, but it always involves conviviality with friends and neighbors on one’s own or neighbor’s stoop. Crabby is left to wonder when it became acceptable for private lives to be conducted on strangers’ doorsteps.

Crabby was wakened again last night and is in a bad mood this morning.


Howard Sherman of the Nuggets Weblog could have won my heart with nothing more than the John Updike quote he keeps posted near the bottom of his right rail:

“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.”

I guess that makes us both true New Yorkers, and the reality is that Nuggets is informative, charming, a whole lot of fun and it is just what the title says it is – nuggets of Howard’s thoughts about anything that strikes his fancy. And since his fancy is a close match to mine, Nuggets has become a favorite.

Howard says he a “keen observer of popular culture” and he seems to be particularly struck by oddities going on in the world, the Web and New York. Also, for anyone who immediately buys into that Updike quote, Howard has a sensational collection of New York City links, some of which I knew and some which are new to me. A small sampling:

And in the small world department, he’s even got my friend Laura Holder linked.

It’s always an interesting exercise to check out bloggers’ earliest posts. Howard started simply on 3 December 2002:

“burrrr. Pretty chilly today in NYC. The kind of cold that cuts right through you.”

I like that. No meandering around about starting a Weblog and wondering where it’s going and blah, blah, blah. Just the weather report.

In his second post, the next day, he made one of those dead-on associations of the James Burke/Connections type between The Osbournes, who were fairly new to television then, and The Loud Family from the 1970s on PBS. You need to be of certain age to remember the Louds, so if you don’t know and are curious, there is some information at The Louds Website.

Nuggets is a tidy site that is easy on the eyes. The tag line in his top banner is “Howard Sherman’s Random Thoughts on Technology and Life in New York City (as if you care).”

You can lose the parenthetical, Howard. You post a lot of good reasons to care.

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 3

category_bug_journal2.gif Having never raised a child nor nursed anyone who suffered from anything more complex than a bad flu, I was ignorant of what 24/7 caregiving entails, particularly over many weeks and months, and I didn't have the wit, as I prepared to move my life from New York City to Sacramento, to imagine much beyond administering pain medicine and holding Mom's hand.

My job, as I loosely articulated it to myself, was to help my mother get from life on earth to whatever comes next in the best way possible by her standards. I still think that's a pretty good goal for anyone caring for a loved one at life's end, but it doesn't have anything to do with the particulars of the day-to-day reality.

On my first morning in Sacramento, I went into Mom’s room with a basin of warm water, soap, a clean washcloth and towel. Mom was awake, sitting up and appearing much recovered from the fading invalid I’d encountered on my arrival the night before. She wasted no time before shocking me silly.

“Here,” she said, dropping something in my hand. “Would you clean these for me.” There in my palm were her dentures – uppers and lowers. In my shallow understanding early on of what caring for an invalid requires, it took all my will power not to recoil in disgust. I soon learned, however, that it is in the nature of caretaking that such a need is child’s play. A sick body has a much wider repertoire of messy indignities to inflict than false teeth. The only possible response is - get used to it.

And I did. By the next morning, I was holding out my hand: “Give me your teeth, Mom. I’ll clean them.” Even so, my shiny, new caregiver attitude was tested daily.

During the week following my arrival, Mom rallied. She could, with my help and the walker left over from her hip replacement a decade earlier, get out of bed and into the living room, dining room and backyard, though I wondered if she was doing it more from lifelong habit than desire. Soon she stopped trying except to use the toilet which she could do if I helped her get from her bed to her bathroom and back again. When even that walk became too difficult, I rented an item I had never heard of before: an adult potty chair. It worked for awhile, but before long Mom became incontinent, a development thrust on us the night I changed her bed sheets four times. I dreaded what I knew was the only solution.

How do you tell a 75-year-old woman, one who has always been defiantly independent, who happens to be your mother and who is dying of cancer but still has all her buttons, that you’re going to put her in diapers? It’s a question I would, in the abstract, be capable of mulling over for days, weighing just the right words and approach. But I had already learned that because enough unexpected things go wrong every day with a diseased and dying body, you just make a decision, execute it and move on to whatever surprise comes next.

Tact is not one of my strengths so it seemed magical to me how easily we discussed diapers without fuss or discomfort. I like to think that for once I chose my words well, but it is more likely that Mom’s desire to lighten my burden in the circumstance made the difference.

I somehow came up with jokes that got us through those first tentative cleanings, powderings and diaperings, and soon the jokes were unnecessary. In meeting Mom's needs and desires around the clock, there was no time to get hung up on the ick factor, and within a couple of days changing diapers became as commonplace as cleaning her teeth. Mom and I hardly noticed either among so many other daily demands on our time.

In my ignorant "before Mom" era, I had never once considered the time, effort and emotional strength required of fulltime caregivers. You are on call 24 hours a day. There are no weekends off. Your patient is, to whatever degree, dependent upon you for all or most needs for living. You become exhausted but cannot stop because the disease will not be denied its claim on the body. Love, respect, and sometimes only the fear of the guilt you will be stuck with if you slack off, drive you to keep going day after day, night after night.

I did this for three, short months and I knew up front there was a not-too-distant end point. Some people do this for years, for decades - unsung, unacknowledged and unrewarded beyond their personal satisfaction. My admiration and respect for them and for professional caregivers whose patients are not even family is now boundless.

…to be continued…

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 1
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 2
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

Journal of a writing man

Given the topic of my Weblog, there is no way to ignore John Bailey - aka the old grey poet - particularly after I had read this entry about his father:

“When I look in my mirror I can see him looking out. The same eyes. The same complexion. He's there as a young man and as an old man, smiling, not saying much. I don't feel haunted by him. It's nice to be prompted to remember those days we were father and son. And there's nothing sad about it. Just a safe feeling that, after all, he's still around. Safe, and warm. Satisfactory.”

My take is a bit different in a similar incident in regard to my mother, but we are thinking over the same kinds of things.

Bailey, a 64-year old poet, photographer and former systems programmer who has recently left south Wales for a bungalow in Lincolnshire, is the proprietor of Journal of a Writing Man which is, without doubt, one of the earliest blogs. In his first entry, dated 5 July 1998, John introduces us to one of his two cats, Harry, and notes in regard to the new Weblog, “I think I shall have a lot of fun with this.” He has been doing so every since.

Pay attention when you read John Bailey. His blog is deceptively simple as he seemingly natters on about the cats, the garden, preparations for lunch with his long-time partner, Graham, or describes his daily “medicine walk” prescribed for his “wonky heart.” But while he is cataloguing those domestic doings, he reveals himself to be a sly and thoughtful observer of himself and of life in general. While sorting his desk in preparation for the move to Lincolnshire, Bailey pondered the possibility of burning his decades of journals, files, folders, poems and other writings:

“Do I have a point here? Not really. Except possibly to observe that whereas an empty desk leads to empty thoughts a nice, comfortable jumble of paper is too full of useful ideas for emptiness ever to take hold."

Explore John’s older prose and poetry which is linked from the left rail of his Weblog, and don’t miss the photo albums from 1998 and 1999 of him and his partner, of his cats and flowers and landscapes. His recent entries contain breathtaking close-ups of flowers in his new garden and of the occasional oddity found while exploring his new surroundings.

One of my guilty pleasures is peeking into other folks’ homes when I can and I am most grateful to John Bailey for the excellent photos of two of his homes, both furnished with the care and good taste you would expect from from reading him. I eagerly await photos of the new house.

Old people and old pets

This is such a good idea it seems impossible that it hasn’t been adopted by every community in the country. Think about it: there are lots of abandoned dogs and cats languishing in humane societies unadopted because people generally want a puppy or kitten. There are also lots of older folks living alone, Why not put the two together?

That’s what Barbara Smith of Palm City on the east coast of Florida thought when she saw older animals spending months at the local humane society.

“…I would say, ‘this is bad,’" Smith told "There have to be people who would love to have a cat.”

So Smith, with her friend Liz Villasurda, created Save Our Seniors:

“The goal of the program is to find homes for senior animals – dogs and cats – with senior citizens,” says Smith.

Purina subsidizes the adoption program so that fees are low: $20 for a cat; $35 for a dog.

Although some other communities in the U.S. have similar programs, Palm City’s is unique in that the humane society will take a pet back free of charge if the owner is hospitalized and return it when the owner has recovered.

There are proven health benefits to owning a pet.

“It lowers your blood pressure,” says Smith’s partner Liz Villasurda. “You have a purpose to get up in the morning. With a dog, it means you get out and walk a little, so overall your health improves.”
“It reduces stress,” Smith adds. “It’s good for people who are depressed or lonely, especially with seniors who have lost a spouse or relative. Smith and Villasurda have found homes for pets with people who are as old as in their 80s.

What’s important about this story beyond the happy ending for older people and older pets is that it can be a template for solving other kinds of problems that when put together in this manner, solve themselves.

One that comes to mind is a Connecticut community that needs a new elementary school. It also needs a new senior center. Older folks outnumber younger ones in this community and they have blocked the school, and the senior center has not been built either. How about if they build the school and used it as a senior center in the afternoons when the kids have gone home, in the evenings and weekends?

They would probably need to write a couple of new town regulations to make it happen, but when there is only so much money to go around, we need to be creative in finding solutions that benefit the largest number of people and to me, one of the biggest wastes in our country is single-use buildings that lie idle a majority of the time.

I think the women who started Save Our Seniors on onto something that has implications way beyond older pets and people. Can you think of two problems in your community - or even your family - that could be solved by putting them together in the manner of old dogs and old people in this Florida town?

Older folks: a summer exhibit

The main summer exhibit at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe is titled When I Grow Up. Its goal is to break the stereotypes students and other people have about older folks.

"College students don’t even think about getting old and their own mortality,” says Museum curator John Spiak, “but the future is out there. Seniors really aren’t that different from the rest of us: they vote, they pay taxes, they pay rent, they live.”
                - ASU Web Devil, 1 June 2004

granny_majoretteFive artists are featured in the exhibit, which opened on 22 May, whose works include video documentaries, photographic stories and comic books about older folks. One series by photographer Troy Aossey, titled Sun City West Jazzy Poms, documents a cheerleading team of grandmotherly types who are determinedly thumbing their noses at the limited expectations imposed on older folks.

"For every Sun City West Jazzy Pom,” says photographer Aossey, “there are hundreds, or more likely thousands, of older people who because of society's pressure cannot do what the Sun City West Jazzy Poms do for us, defy aging by putting on the uniform and kicking away our outdated cultural attitudes toward the elderly.”

Villa Capri 1998, a video produced by Vincent Goudreau, is the portrait of life inside a Los Angeles nursing home showing the stark reality of daily life and planned activities along with interviews with residents revealing what led them to spend the last part of their lives at the Villa Capri.

“With existing taboos of aging and death,” explains Mr. Goudreau, “the work attempts to allow a space or an opportunity for the voices of those who have been culturally set aside.”

You are likely to have heard of another of the artists, David Greenberger, and his work, The Duplex Planet, which began as a homemade magazine in 1979, and has continued in a variety of forms ever since: comics, musical compositions and performances, theater pieces and Greenberger’s personal commentaries on National Public Radio.

"I took a job as activities director at a nursing home in Boston,” explains Greenberger. “I had just completed a degree in fine arts as a painter. On the day that I first met the residents of the nursing home, I abandoned painting. That is to say, I discarded the brushes and canvas, not the underlying desire to see something in the world around me and then communicate it to others. In this unexpected setting I found my medium. I wanted others to know these people as I did.
“From the start, my mission has been to offer a range of characters who are already old, so that we can get to know them as they are in the present, without celebrating or mourning who they were before. Since the elderly are already thought of by what they have in common - that they're all old - I try to recast them as individuals.”

David Greenberger has been doing that now for more than 25 years and he has succinctly put his finger on one of reasons I began this Weblog:

“With most every important transition in our lives we draw on our observations of others who have made similar changes. In the universal experience of aging we are desperately short of meaningful guidance. The Duplex Planet offers some lessons and examples.”

For anyone who lives near Tempe or can get there this summer, admission to the exhibit is free and runs until 11 September. The Museum’s Website has additional information about these artists and the other two who are included in the show.

Freda's blog

One of the best things about Freda is her understated sense of humor:

“People find it hard to realize just how much paper and electronic mail the average minister has to deal with. It is not so bad if one keeps on top of it, but all too easily it piles up and seems a mountain. Jesus once said that faith could move mountains. I’m not sure this was the kind of mountain he was thinking of.”

Freda, who lives on the island of Seil (population: 500) in Argyll on the western coast of Scotland, is a minister in the Church of Scotland. This involves a lot of island hopping on boats that she reports are frequently off-duty for one reason or another. On Christmas Day 2003:

“Two services today [at] Luing and Seil with a fast boat in between. (The ferry is on holiday.) I do not know who is coming to collect me or deliver me back. Trust is a wonderful thing.”

Although Freda’s daily entries are short and rarely link elsewhere, they are filled over time with a strong sense of self, of place, of community and of a wry take on mankind’s frequent follies. Recently, she was trying to buy a product to soothe her eyes and found more choices than she remembered from the past:

“Optrex for everyday, Optrex for giving bright eyes, and Optrex for sore eyes. What if you want to use it everyday and have bright, soothes eyes that are not sore? Where will it lead next I wonder? Optrex for dogs and cats ( probably already exists), or how about Optrex-at-sea or Optrex-for-the-over-fiftes? Sounds more like bright marketing than bright eyes.”

Recently, Freda has been ordered by her physician to desist from preaching, or even talking at all, to ease some problems with her voice. In commenting on the lay reader who has been filling in for her at services, she spoke of the man’s dog, Ruby.

“I am told she enjoys being up front but is not too sure about being in the pulpit. Reminds of a time last year, when I looked down the church and saw her head peeking around the corner of a pew. We do get a nice class of congregation round here.”

I enjoy Freda's Blog because of the window she gives me on a world so different from mine, for a gentle strength she has that feels like it comes from a good lifetime of experience with people, and for the fine, funny edge she puts on her observations.

A mother’s final, best lesson: Part 2

category_bug_journal2.gif Sometimes it seems that a thing is not real, does not have shape or size and does not take up space in the world until it has a name. And so it was with Mom’s cancer. Although her energy remained low after her surgery the previous year, she had not been sick. She shopped and cooked and swam and saw friends, continued to build her dollhouses and lived a slower, but normal life. Until she found out she had inoperable liver cancer. That day she drove home from her doctor's office and became an invalid.

As chance would have it, her friend Martha had been visiting from Reno when the doctor’s verdict was handed up. Martha extended her stay longer than originally planned to care for Mom during the two days it took me to arrange for a cat sitter in New York, pack for an indefinite period of time and sort out the details of taking my job with me to Sacramento. Martha telephoned several times a day with distressing news of Mom’s near-hourly deterioration.

She couldn’t get out of bed. She couldn’t eat. She was vomiting all day and all night. She couldn’t last another day. Hurry. Hurry. Mom was asking for me.

After 15 hours of delayed flights, missed, canceled and re-routed connections, I arrived in Sacramento at 10PM. Martha warned me not to be shocked at Mom’s appearance and when I entered Mom’s room, Martha’s telephone predictions about impending death seemed not to have been misplaced. Mom was weak, pale and alarmingly thin – but not so fragile to prevent her from following through at once on what was to her, apparently, an urgent agenda, one for which she had been husbanding her energy for my arrival.

Mom perked up the moment she saw me, despatching Martha from the room with embarrassing speed. When she was sure I had closed and latched the door, Mom directed me to collect her papers and other items from a file cabinet in the corner.

She had always said she wanted to die at home and what Mom showed me that night were the results of her careful planning for that eventuality.

Everything was neatly sorted and arranged. Bank account cards ready for my signature so I could handle finances in her name. Checkbooks, monthly bills, tax records, medical, life and auto insurance, car registration, birth certificate, other life documents, burial arrangements, cash for daily living – everything I would need. It was all in order, all there, including - her goddamned gold.

We had argued about the Krugerrands and other gold coins she hid in those fake food tins you can buy from such places as Lillian Vernon. I always suspected the burglars read the same catalogues and know all about false-bottomed olive and tomato tins but Mom had ignored my pleas over the years to rent a safety deposit box. She was a child of the Great Depression who had, from necessity, found her first job when 25 percent of the U.S. population was unemployed and from that time forward, Mom never entirely trusted banks or the government. If they let the worst happened again, she told me, real gold and not paper money would buy a loaf of bread.

In her room the night I arrived in Sacramento, literally on her death bed, Mom poured her gold coins out of those silly, bogus food tins onto her bed as she instructed me on what I should do with them after her death.

You should have seen her, propped up against a bunch of pillows, occasionally throwing up in a bucket beside the bed, running her hands through that pile of gold coins. She loved it. Like old King Midas she was relishing the heft and the glitter and rich jingle of the precious metal. I suspected she’d done the same thing on more than one occasion of an evening home alone even before she got sick. Then, it made her feel safe. And now, because her life had a cause of death and a time frame, she knew she had been right: the gold had kept her safe clear to the end.

…to be continued…

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 1
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

Mixing up the generations

It is undoubtedly true that people are generally most comfortable with others of their own age group because there is more in common. Mothers exchange child-raising experiences. Young singles meet up in clubs. Older folks play tennis with contemporaries to equalize the competition.

In the U.S., we carry this to an extreme. Television programs and movies are aimed at and labeled for specific age demographics. There are hardly any fashionable women's clothes for people with bodies older than 16. Older folks are encouraged to move into retirement villages where only other older people live and in fact, some villagers go so far as to segregate themselves by prescribing when grandchildren may and may not visit. There aren't a lot of places, pursuits or kinds of entertainment that encourage people of different age groups to spend time together.

A couple of volumes (at least) could be written on the age segregation we impose on ourselves, unnecessarily and to our disadvantage. But there is on the horizon a bright spot worth noticing in the mixing up of generations.

It seems that former CBS-TV Evening News anchor, Walter Cronkite, who was forced to retire in 1981 due to a corporate age policy (which is no longer legal), may be appearing on MTV to report on or provide commentary during this year’s election campaign. The idea came up after 87-year-old Cronkite appeared with 26-year-old MTV News correspondent, Gideon Yago, on the youth network’s voter registration campaign program, Choose or Lose: Work It, on 25 May (which I’m sorry I missed).

“Both Cronkite and MTV News boss David Sirulnick now say they’re open to the idea of future assignments,” writes Newsday’s Verne Gay, “including the possibility of an on-air role during the conventions and election night.”

As Gay points out, the average MTV viewer is 22 years old and not born yet when Cronkite, known as the “most trusted man in America” during his news anchor years, retired. So it is a brave move, in terms of conventional wisdom and preserving ratings, to bring on this old man.

MTV can only be saluted for this experiment in generational inclusion. Cronkite brings a lifetime of experience reporting for newspapers, radio and television. He was there in person for events that MTV viewers have only read about in history books: World War II, the civil rights movement, the moon landings, Vietnam.

At least once, he participated in making history. It was after Cronkite’s unprecedented personal announcement on the Evening News that he believed America should get out of Vietnam that President Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the 1968 presidential race convinced, as he said, that “if I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

It would be fascinating, don’t you think, to watch Yago and Cronkite bring together their personal and professional perspectives (which are 61 years apart in age) covering the conventions and election night. It is a rare event for something like this to happen with such a wide age distribution, and it would be an excellent public step toward generational understanding.

If it comes about, I know which channel I’ll be watching.

Hearing aids hit high note

category_bug_journal2.gif When I was a little girl, my grandfather’s wife, Bertha, refused to wear a hearing aid. She was deaf as a post and during family get-togethers, the irritating exchange frequently went something like this:

GRANDPA: …and then when all the kids were gathered around the fire, my father…

BERTHA: What’s that, Bob? What did you say?

GRANDPA (louder): …when all the kids were gathered around…

BERTHA (even louder): Speak up louder, Bob. I can’t hear you.

GRANDPA (even louder): …I said, when all the kids were gathered around the fire…

BERTHA (shouting): Bob, I can’t hear you.

GRANDPA (with dismissive hand gesture): Aw, shit. Never mind.

My brother and I would titter over the use of that naughty word, but the group of us would then lapse into uncomfortable silence and before long, Mom and Dad would find a reason for us to leave early.

Although I’m not making excuses for Bertha, hearing aids in those days were large, unattractive and there was the stigma of old age attached to wearing them. Now, that is about to change.

The Energizer company has hired 80’s singer Pat Benatar to be the spokesperson for their hearing-aid batteries. Baby boomers are reaching an age when all that concert-going is catching up with them and the marketers are working on making hearing aids cool.

A good number of celebrities have spoken up about their hearing loss, most notably in recent times, Rush Limbaugh. President Reagan wore hearing aids during his tenure as president and Bill Clinton finally gave in to tiny, almost invisible hearing aids in 1997 while he was still in the White House.

A lot of musicians suffer from tinnitus, which can be a severe hearing impairment. Those admitting to it include Barbra Streisand, Sting, Cher, Eric Clapton and Late Night host, David Letterman. Phil Collins stopped touring because of his hearing loss.

Marketers are counting on celebrity endorsements such as Benatar’s, along with baby boomers’ sheer numbers, to make hearing aids as cool as wearing the right kind of eyeglasses. I have no doubt they will succeed.

Marketing can be cynical business which too frequently creates phony trends, but some of what they do, like this campaign, is actually useful. If this one had come along about 50 years ago, I might have learned a lot more family lore.