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[1991] Sandee taught me that you can change history. When we were first getting to know one another, exchanging life stories during one of those rambling, half-drunken nights that stretch into the early hours of the next day, I summed up my romantic life as I had always believed it - a failure because all my relationships had ended.

Sandee firmly objected. She saw them all as wildly romantic and exciting. After considering her point of view for awhile, I decided to adopt it as my own. She’s right, I see now, and I’ve been blessed with knowing splendidly interesting men.


virgorama @ 2003-11-12 said:
Yes, it’s not so much the facts, but how one perceives them

bandman @ 2003-11-12 said:
I just discovered your site. Your friend Sandee has wisdom and is able to put a different perspective on issues than you apparently did back when.

Ronni at the Laundry



[1991] If you look at the micro instead of the macro, New York is not such a big city. Mostly, it is a collection of hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny neighborhoods that are as much small towns unto themselves as places like Shickshinny, Pennsylvania. The laundry on my block is owned by the “mayor” of our street and this is where everyone stops by to keep up with the neighborhood gossip and goings-on.


av_producer @ 2003-11-11 said:
I thought you were standing in front of one of those children`s height charts - I see that you have grown to 18 lbs tall. If you could it would be fun to get the sound that is made when a large bag of laundry is dropped on the scale!

zinetv @ 2003-11-11 said:
Is that 8:30 am or pm? As far micro and macro neighborhoods, that is really function of transient inhabitants. The longer people stay in an area the more they demand from their neighborhood in terms of services and amenities.

williambernthal @ 2003-11-22 said:
Sometimes I think New York is the last refuge of small-town America.

Gone To Blogher

Even if you’re one of the early risers reading this when it’s posted at 5:30AM, I’ve left the building - on a 6AM flight to California for Blogher Conference ’05 tomorrow.

In case you’ve somehow missed all the talk about it (if you have, you’re not keeping up), Blogher’s mission is to become “…a network for women bloggers to draw on for exposure, education, and community.”

This new organization and conference came about with the Blogher founders because the blogosphere is top-heavy with men who mostly talk only to and about each other while so many brilliant women bloggers languish in relative anonymity. Blogher '05 aims to figure out how to change that.

But don’t think this conference is anything near an old-fashioned, estrogen-drenched kaffee klatch. At least 20 percent of the attendees are men, although the speakers are all women. They’ll be covering blogging stuff from Blogging 101 for beginners to business, political and journalism blogs, legal tips, promotion and publicity, design and well – you can go read the session schedule yourself.

And I'm looking forward also to meeting so many terrific bloggers face-to-face.

I’m speaking in the afternoon on the How To Get Naked panel. Sorry, we’re not going to take our clothes off. Well, I’m not, anyway. We’re talking about the ramifications of letting the whole world in on it when you blog about your personal life. Jory Des Jardins is the moderator. My fellow panelists are Heather Armstrong (Dooce) and Koan Brenner.

A lot of people have signed on to live blog all the panels, discussions and events so you can follow what’s going on at Blogher as it’s happening. Check the schedule for web locations and if you can’t join us live, I’m sure we’ll all have plenty to report on our own blogs next week – I know I will. And I’m really curious to see how many other older women bloggers will be there.

The Blogher conference is an ambitious project and it has been pulled together from zero in record time. I've done this stuff and know how hard it is, so let’s have a round of applause for the Blogher Conference Team:

Elisa Camahort

Jory Des Jardines

Purvi Shah

Lisa Stone

Katrin Verclas

[The usual weekendTimeline entries will appear here, through the magic of technology, on Saturday and Sunday. I’ll be back in person on Monday.]

"You Look Great"

In an email exchange earlier this week, Danny Miller of Andy Hardy Writes a Blog noted that when people say, “You look great,” it’s really code for, “You look younger than I know you are.”

Reading that was a minor Aha! moment for me. Danny had winkled out one of the everyday ways we hardly notice in which old people are commonly dismissed and the culture's bedrock belief that old is bad is reinforced. In fact, to my shame, I have used this phrase to mean exactly what Danny has decoded.

I found another sort of covert message that old women aren't worth bothering with this week at the local, big-store drug store. Miles and miles of cosmetic aisles featured glittery iridescent lip gloss (grotesquely inappropriate after about age 40), and the only matte variety to be found was located on the lowest shelf in the back - two sad, little dusty bubble packs of an obscure brand that was probably discontinued last year.

Most ageist exhortations to appear younger than our years are more overt: hair dye commercials, Botox parties, cheap cosmetic surgery ads and of course, a near total blackout in the media of people who appear to be older than 35 or 40. The latest growth industry in the pursuit of everlasting youth is the anti-aging movement which foists human growth hormone and other useless potions on people desperate to avoid the social stigma of aging.

“Global retail sales of antiaging skin-care products - up 71% since 2000 - are rising faster than any other segment of the skin-care market, according to Euromonitor, a market researcher, hitting $9.9 billion last year.”
- Time magazine, 3 April 2005

Marketers of these dubious products cleverly imply in their carefully-worded ads that they will “reverse aging,” a tactic anyone with a few years on them should be able to see through. But older people buy this stuff anyway, and that makes us complicit in the cultural bias against ourselves. We can begin to change that when we stand up and say no - when we refuse to accept that we are unacceptable as we are; when we stop mindlessly repeating ageist code phrases.

The only way to fight prejudice against and fear of aging is to get it out in the open and shine a big, bright, burning light on it. Only then will we begin to believe that old people whose appearance matches their age look great too.

Crabby the Schoolmarm

When friends who are not of the blogging persuasion ask Crabby Old Lady what this thing is she spends so much time with, she gives them a short overview and then, being an ardent advocate, she launches into a list of the personal advantages.

On that list is “it improves critical thinking and writing skills” which everyone can use more of. For no matter how much some bloggers protest that they are writing only for themselves, they would die and go to heaven to reach even the level of Slithering Reptile in the TTLB Ecosystem.

Bloggers quickly learn they haven’t a chance of gaining so much as a toehold on that intermediate status without a firm grasp of the principles of language. The fastest way to lose credibility and therefore readers is to fill posts with sloppy grammar, syntax and choice of words - infractions that bring out the schoolmarm in Crabby.

Enervate / Energize
Twice in the past week on two blogs, Crabby has run across misuse of the word “enervate.” Both instances were variations on the sentence, “We were so enervated, we couldn’t sit still” which provoked in Crabby an image of a rock fan weakly attempting to pump his fist from a prostrate position on the concert arena floor.

Of course, what the writers intended to say was “energized” – defined as animated, electrified, enlivened. “Enervated” is its opposite: weakened, enfeebled, exhausted. Crabby finds it hard to understand this mix-up and if she were marking papers, she would dock these writers an entire grade point.

Less / Fewer
This error is so common that sometimes Crabby believes she is the last English speaker on earth who knows the difference. Consider these sentences:

  1. There are less older bloggers than young ones.
  2. There is less blogging among older people than young ones.

Number one is, of course, incorrect. “Less” should be “fewer” and this mistake, every time she sees it, causes Crabby to wonder (as she can sometimes annoyingly do) what has happened to standards?

To be fair, individuals are not the only offenders. Next time you’re in the supermarket, take a spin through the diet section: every package touts “Less Calories.” If Crabby didn’t already boycott those products on grounds of bad flavor, she’d do it to protest the bad grammar. And if you listen carefully to your local radio or TV news broadcasts, you’ll catch them in this error almost every day.

In case you’re one of those who has trouble remembering the difference between less and fewer, don’t bother reading a convoluted explanation in a grammar text. Crabby’s fifth-grade English teacher, bless her drill-sergeant heart, had an easy-to-use rule: when the noun being modified can be counted individually – as dollars – use “fewer.” When it is a collective noun – like money – use “less.”

[Hah! Here’s a grammatical laugh: Crabby just now wondered why Miscrosoft Word underlined “has” in the first sentence of the last paragraph. She punched up the grammar checker to find that it thinks “have” is the correct choice. Wrong! “Has” refers to “one,” not “those.” Good grief. Can we pin this one on Bill Gates too?]

And thus ends today’s lesson. Please don’t make Crabby Old Lady a liar when she’s out there plugging the virtues of blogging.

Appointment in Samarra?

category_bug_journal2.gif If blog readers are a microcosm of the population (which they are not), there was quite a large vote for the Older and Single by choice point of view here last week. Among women who commented, it’s those never-ending household chores, multiplied in a marriage, they most mentioned. And two men, bless them, stood up for their domestic capabilities proving once again that generalities, as contained in my story, are a bad idea.

But there was one comment that took me down another path of thinking:

“[My husband and I] share a common past that we can look back on with satisfaction. As well as that we share jokes, companionship, hopes, fears and the pleasure of watching our children and grand-children grow and spread their wings. We have ongoing in-depth discussions on topics such as history, science, economics and politics…”
- Jude, long-toothed hinterland dweller

I am generally satisfied with the mostly single life I’ve led, but one experience I’ll never have, even if I married tomorrow, is the knowledge of what it is like to share decades of life with one person, to grow from young adulthood and, having weathered all the difficulties, disappointments and calamities, arrive at old age with the kind of intimate understanding and companionship to which Jude speaks. I’m intensely curious to know that experience, but alas, it is one of the roads not taken.

Even as a happy single, I find myself longing occasionally for another heartbeat in the house (though not enough to alter my status) and sometimes I wonder how my life might have been different if I’d made other choices at some of those big turning points we all have faced. What if I had…

  • Like my brother, never left my home town
  • Never married my former husband
  • Decided to have a child or two
  • Stayed in San Francisco or Chicago or some other town I lived in instead of coming to New York
  • Taken a couple of interesting jobs I turned down

On some days when I am entertaining these ideas, it’s easy to imagine alternative lives for myself. But today I am leaning heavily to the other side of the equation where everything in my past seems to have been inevitable, as though written immutably somewhere in the cosmos on a stone tablet. Today, free will feels like a joke and the choices were not mine to make.

Which reminds me of the ancient Islamic story retold by W. Somerset Maugham in 1933, The Appointment in Samarra. (This story was also referenced in John O'Hara's first novel, Appointment in Samarra.) The speaker in the second paragraph is Death:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, "Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me."

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, "Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?" "That was not a threatening gesture," I said, "it was a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.’”

There is not one of us who can say for certain that our lives are pre-ordained or if we are free to choose. But at whatever pass we find ourselves, Jude also supplied this important piece of wisdom:

“Surely the secret is that as we grow older, we need to work out how to best manage in our own situation and be content with what we have.”
- Jude, long-toothed hinterland dweller

Not at Time Goes By

In response to my story last week about Frank Paynter’s blog Sandhill Trek, Shelley of BurningBird (a good technology blog) had this to say:

“If to the list of adjectives, you add in 'generous', 'caring', and 'playful', and tone down the 'old', this is Frank." [emphasis added]

Never gonna happen. Not here at Time Goes By.

The entire reason for the existence of this blog is to find out what it’s really like to get old - to break down the taboo against talking about age; to urgently oppose the prevailing cultural ageism; to make old people visible in the world; and to repeat until people get it:

There is nothing wrong with being old. There is no shame in it. It is not a sin.

At Time Goes By, we are rescuing the word “old” from its pejorative nature when applied to people. We use it as a neutral descriptor here. “Old” does not mean dull or stupid or ugly or useless or any of the other negatives the culture tries to pin on us. It simply means a person of a certain number of years, as does the word “young.”

To borrow a resource from Shelley's comment, here is Wordnet's first definition of "old":

"(adj) ((used especially of persons) having lived for a relatively long time or attained a specific age) 'an old man's eagle mind' - William Butler Yeats"

To apply a negative connotation to “old” is ageism and it is as hateful as any other ism. If you think that's an extreme comparison, substitute the word "Jewish" or "black" for "old" and see how Shelley's statement reads.

At Time Goes By, we don’t “tone down the old;” we get it out in the open air where it can breathe free. We appreciate, in others and in ourselves, the knowledge, experience, understanding and sometimes even that elusive quality, wisdom (all in evidence at Frank's blog), that are gained only by packing on the years. You can’t get these things from a book. No college degree grants them. You have to live it. That’s what we do here.

So soaked are our lives in casual ageism that, together with the ubiquitous promotion of youth as the gold standard of life, most people don’t recognize ageist attitudes in the culture, the media and in themselves. Hundreds of small, derogatory statements about age are dropped on us every day on television and in movies, in newspapers and magazines, in ordinary conversation, in blogs. And no one is called to account for them.

I don’t mean to pick on Shelley in particular. She, like most people until it is pointed out, is so habituated to the ageist culture that she appears to believe I have injured Frank by labeling him an Older Blogger.

Age is one of the last prejudices (along with fat) that is acceptable to voice in public without consequence.

But not at Time Goes By.

[NOTE: If you missed the link here over the past weekend, do read Danny Miller's magnificent ode to the beauty of aging at his site, Andy Hardy Writes a Blog. It's a potent antidote to our cultural obsession with youth.]

The Rooftops of Paris



[1989] This was the view from the apartment of my friend Joyce who lived in Paris for six months while she was researching a book. Bernard, the real person on whom the play and movie M. Butterfly were based, brought a case of wine for the party and we watched the fireworks from here during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Eiffel Tower. I might – I only said “might” – trade my Greenwich Village ground floor for a view such as this.


av_producer @ 2003-11-10 said:
I have only known a few spots (probably my own fault for not finding more) that would make me want to trade anything NY for somewhere else. Rome, anywhere, anyplace, any time but preferably near the Banco Santo Spirito. Paris on any spot where at dusk you can see the lights on the Tower begin the dance of illumination.

greeny @ 2003-11-10 said:
I concur with both you and Av P. What, pray tell, would one do without an around-the-corner option of the Vanguard?? Impressed, however, with such a distinguised guest as Bernard.

zinetv @ 2003-11-11 said:
Six months is all I could take living in Paris. I love the city, but after awhile, and I do like the French, but that’s the thing - they are French. Six months at a clip is about my limit.

A Song to Aging Beauty

Normally on weekends, we take a break from Time Goes By, but not today. Thanks to amba’s pointer in an email and at ambivablog, there is something just too good to leave until next week: a psalm to the uncut version of womanhood, those few in the media spotlight who face their later years unpeeled, unlipo-ed and unBotoxed, growing old au naturel:

“Keep your Maggie Gyllenhaal and give me Maggie Smith. Katie Holmes, please send in the ghost of Katie Hepburn on your way out. It’s not that I have some kind of wrinkle fetish (well, I DO think wrinkles around the eyes and mouths of women are extremely sexy even though the women in my life never seem that pleased when I point theirs out!), it's just that I find the combination of a lived-in face and body and a lifetime of experiences so much more appealing.”

That’s Danny Miller talking at Andy Hardy Writes a Blog, and the woman who inspired this ballad to the beauty of age is Liv Ullmann, age 66, currently appearing at your local multiplex in Saraband:

“How sick is it,” says Danny, “that I’m so used to actresses d’un certain âge doing anything in their power to look younger than their years that seeing Liv Ullmann’s lined face and aging skin nearly took my breath away? So that’s what it looks like! Oh, how grateful I am that this brilliant actress has never gone under the knife and transformed herself into one of those taut-skinned, wrinkle-free, cat-eyed robots with tattooed lip liner, teeth as unnaturally white as her patent leather Manolo Blahniks, and casaba melons stuffed down her Danskin.”

As Danny points out, too, there is a personal benefit when we are (too rarely) presented with older people who look their age in movies, television and magazine ads:

“It’s only when I see people like Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson that I realize how few images we ever get in the media of people over 60. I actually came home from the movie last night and felt better about myself when I looked in the mirror. Oh, look, I’m getting older…less hair, thicker all over, some skin discolorations here and there…how interesting! I believe that our country’s obsession with youth is fucking all of us up, even those of us who aren’t suffering from rampant Body Dysmorphic Disorder and think we accept the inevitability of the aging process.”

We say things like this all the time here at Time Goes By, but it’s much more powerful coming from the outside - and from a man - than at this insular little nook in the blogosphere.

Bravo, Danny, and thank you. I am nearly giddy with pleasure at this piece.

Ali McGraw and Ronni



[1989] After leaving The Barbara Walters Specials in 1988, I found myself producing a Lifetime cable show for awhile with interviews done by Matt Lauer and Ali McGraw.

Ali and I had never met before, but felt like old chums anyway because when she and Jim (remember Jim?) had worked together on the TV miniseries Winds of War throughout eastern Europe, she’d had to listen to Jim carry on about me while I read about Ali and Jim’s sight-seeing tours in his daily letters to me.


zinetv @ 2003-11-09 said:
Right Jim, the man who, according to the picture, was working undercover in eastern Europe.

einstein @ 2003-11-09 said:
wow - ali mcgraw - wow

einstein @ 2003-11-09 16:55 said:
Not irony - adolescent fantasy : - )

jungalero @ 2003-11-09 said:
You look like old friends here.

Rage at 35,000 Feet

Back in the pre-cellphone days of the 20th century, the seventies and eighties to be precise, Crabby Old Lady traveled for work so frequently she kept a bag packed with essentials near the door so all she had to do to catch a last-minute flight was throw in some underwear and a change or two of outerwear.

There were not yet laptops in those days or Blackberries or PDAs or cell phones and nothing was so critical yet that any boss Crabby knew would pay for a call from those $15 per minute airline phones. Best of all, in retrospect, no one could telephone Crabby.

So for two or six or ten blissful hours, Crabby could work or read or sleep in peace and no one could get to her. Even upon landing, she was left alone until she picked up messages at her hotel. Crabby loved those flights and when work needed to be done, she was never more productive than when she was encased in the noise-canceling drone of the airplane engines with no interruptions but the occasional meal.

Today, passengers are allowed to email and telephone until the last moments before takeoff, but those devices are blessedly silent while in the air.

Now, that is about to change.

“The Federal Communications Commission has already signaled its willingness to lift the restrictions that it put in place in 1991 because technology ensures that chatting at 35,000 feet won’t interfere with cellphone service on the ground.”
- The Christian Science Monitor, 19 July 2005

The Federal Aviation Administration has weighed in with caution, citing possible interference with navigational systems, and both the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department warn of potential security problems. Less official sorts who oppose high-flyng electronic chitchat have your and Crabby Old Lady’s comfort in mind:

“Flight attendants are concerned not only about terrorists, but also about passengers’ air rage if they’re forced to sit and listen to some else chatter for three or four hours.

“’We’d have to deal with all the situations that could arrive from that, the disruptions that could escalate to where there are physical ramifications,’ says Candace Kolander, a flight attendant…'So while the technology may be available to make it possible, there are some environments, like an aircraft cabin, where cellphone use is just not appropriate.’

“Much of the public appears to agree.”

- The Christian Science Monitor, 19 July 2005

But when has the public (or a flight attendant), Crabby wants to know, ever won out over corporate greed?

Think of it. You have left behind earthly cares in favor of a John Grisham novel for a few hours, eager to find out what happens next. Or you’ve had a sudden inspiration for the solution to a problem at work and you’re getting it down as fast as you can so not to lose it. Or you have just dozed off into that pleasant half-life between awake and asleep, beginning to dream…

“Hey, Mary, how ya doin’? Yeah, I’m on the plane…What did you say? You’re cutting out…What? Can you hear me? It’s Delta flight number 2254…I said, 2254…You’re cutting out again…No, I don’t think you’re being silly…Hold on, the Crabby Old Lady next to me is telling me to shut up. Listen, you crazy old bitch…What? No, not you…”

Over and over again, with no escape, all the way to Singapore.

Believe Crabby Old Lady, this is your future; an FAA study on the impact of cellphone use on avionics due out in December is expected to report that cellphones will not be a safety hazard.

Crabby Old Lady is glad her frequent flyer days are over.

Sandhill Trek

Frank Paynter, who blogs at Sandhill Trek, has a lot on his fertile mind. He’s been ranting about Rove lately, but he’s just as likely to tell us that he counted 35 varieties of flowers on a morning walk near his home in Wisconsin, or to explain why most of us would never have eaten an Oscar Meyer weiner if it weren't for his biochemist dad:

“Without my dad, generations of Americans would have missed the ‘Wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener’ jingle, as they would have missed the ubiquitous alternative tranportation system known as the wienermobile. For without national branding, the Oscar Mayer wiener would have remained a cultural regionalism, unsung on network TV.”
- But enough about me...what about MY DAD?


The name of his blog undoubtedly stems from this:

“I worked on Sandhill Road in the seventies, and I live in Sandhill Crane country today… Beth said she heard the Sandhill Cranes out on the marsh this afternoon. They always show up right around Washington's birthday.”

(Do click that link for some photos of those birds. As a New York City girl, I am astonished that anyone can watch such magnificent creatures without going to a zoo.)

I had been reading Frank for a long time before I got around to blogging and in an earlier incarnation of his blog, he was a lot wordier than he is these days. Even so, he is still capable of writing stuff like this that is a bit - uh, dense for me…

“Nietzsche's trivial attempt at linguistic equivalence notwithstanding - schlecht and schlicht and the rest of that reductive nonsense based on some 18th century epistemology unframed by linguistic anthropological referents…”

Sometimes you lose me, Frank, but then I never went to college. Still, he is equally adept at pop culture and has recently joined the ranks of fans like me who believe this is the best-written show on television:

“For me commercial television avoidance is almost a fetish. Imagine my surprise at being sucked into West Wing re-runs. They've been renewed so it looks like I have a lot of soap opera enjoyment ahead of me. This is almost as good as the Sopranos and I get to write blog posts while they're selling soap!”
- Bravo

And he's pretty good at partisan poetry, like this little ditty:


No C-heney
No A-shcroft
No R-umsfeld
No B-ush
and Absolutely NO RICE!

Although I wouldn’t call Frank a political blogger, politics plays a good-sized role on his site and he's not shy about letting his readers know where he stands on the issues:

“Here in Wisconsin, embarrassingly enough, the christian ignoramuses have locked a school district into teaching something called ‘creationism.’ Makes me want to puke. Really…Hard to believe that what we thought were dying embers of superstitious claptrap when we studied 19th century history have flared up anew in the 21st century bonfires of the fanatically ignorant.”

Rants notwithstanding, what comes through strongly when you read Frank is an enormous warmth and kindheartedness. His praise for other bloggers is abundant; he writes about and links to others generously, and he generally reminds me of everyone’s favorite (opinionated) uncle. He even tries to understand his dog's transgressions:

“It seems to me like the chaotic distribution of my footwear across the house when I return after a day's absence may have certain algorithmic properties that only an Australian Shepherd is capable of getting its teeth into…

“Oddly, I am sure the dog doesn't think the distribution of shoes is messy, but rather that it has order and beauty best appreciated by creatures closer to the floor than the housemonkeys that provide the food and water.”

- Messiness, Miscellany, and Mad Dogs

It’s always worth your while to make Sandhill Trek a regular stop on your blog rounds.

Crock of Ages

[ANNOUNCEMENT: Beginning today and each Wednesday following, I will be blogging at the ThirdAge Blog. This endeavor, new for me and for ThirdAge, is a community blog where more than a dozen writers are contributing from their various areas of expertise about getting older. I hope you will join us.]

In keeping with my need to apportion my time differently until my move to Maine is accomplished, below are a couple of short excerpts from The Last Gift of Time – Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn G. Heilbrun - one of the few books about aging I like.

Ms. Heilbrun is unsentimental, thoughtful and wise. In these passages, in which she quotes May Sarton writing of the same period in her life, they both, although somewhat less exuberantly, agree with Anne LaMott – that the later years are the most satisfying.

No less an authority on the "mystery of being" than Abraham Johsua Heschel once "addressed the White House Conference on Aging, when, like Maimonides, he spoke of old age as a disposition to achieve moral virtue, as the age of opportunity for inner growth." [Hat tip to amba at ambivablog for the link.]

It’s hard to find, but if you seek it, older writers – particularly women – universally agree on the pleasures of our later years which leads me to wonder if all the cultural pressure to appear perpetually youthful unto death is a crock perpetrated by the young who have not yet experienced the enrichment that comes with age.

What we need, I venture, are more older writers discussing what it's really like to get older, and perhaps a moratorium on anyone writing about age – in books, movies, television, magazines, newspapers and advertisements - who has not passed the half-century mark.

Carolyn G. Heilburn:

"…in articles and speeches, I suggested that aging might be gain rather than loss, and that the impersonation of youth was unlikely to provide the second span of womanhood with meaning and purpose.

"What I had scarcely considered at all was the decade I was myself just passing through, the sixties. I, who had thought only of the rite of passage at fifty, have now discovered, at seventy, that the past ten years, the years of my sixties, were in their turn notably rewarding…I was savoring a combination of serenity and activity that had hardly been publicly attributed, as least as far as I could discern, to women in their seventh decade. There seem to be few accounts depicting the pleasure of this time of life."

"May Sarton, in her journal At Seventy, remarks on having been asked to speak on old age at a Connecticut college. In the course of her talk she said: 'This is the best time of my life. I love being old.' A voice from the audience demanded: 'Why is it good to be old?' As Sarton recounts it:

"I answered spontaneously and a little on the defensive, for I sensed incredulity in the questioner. 'Because I am more myself than I have ever been. There is less conflict. I am happier, more balanced, and' (I heard myself say rather aggressively) 'more powerful.' I felt it was rather an odd word, 'powerful,' but I think it is true. It might have been more accurate to say 'I am better able to use my powers.' I am surer of what my life is about, have less self-doubt to conquer."

Older and Single

category_bug_journal2.gif Recently, a past lover contacted me with a thought toward renewing discussion of an idea we once lightly entertained: living together in our old age. Even though that was only a decade ago, old age still seemed a long way off to me then, and now that it has arrived, I have come to understand myself well enough to know that living as half a couple was never my strongest inclination.

Let me tell you a story:

In the middle of the night, many years ago, my husband and I received a call from his mother. His father was not expected to live - a brain tumor, she said, and we must come to San Francisco immediately.

After the funeral, my husband returned to his job in Houston while I stayed behind for six weeks to help his mother take care of details and adjust to her new life. Keep that number – six weeks – in mind.

On my return home, the first thing I noticed in the kitchen was an oozing, greenish-black blob with fur growing on it. It was not as though you could miss it; it was spread over most of the counter on one side of the sink.

“What’s that?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he answered. With a few careful pokes at the distance of an extra-long knife, I deduced that it was a rotted avocado undoubtedly placed on the counter to ripen a month-and-a-half earlier and forgotten in our haste to get to San Francisco.

“Why didn’t you clean it up?” I asked. “Because it was icky,” said he. “I didn’t want to touch it.”

Cut to some years later. Different man. Same theme:

ME: The dentist called and said you didn’t show up for your appointment today.

HE: Was it today?

ME: That’s what she said.

HE: Well, why didn’t you remind me?

Why is it that a man becomes helpless when there is a woman in his life?

Is it all women or just me? With the exception of one (whom I lacked the wit to grab while I could), the men I’ve had a daily working knowledge of are incapable of basic domesticity. No amount of noxious odor emanating from the kitchen garbage bin can induce them to take out the trash without being asked. Change the bed on their own? The sheets would rot first. Do the laundry? “I don’t know how,” they whine.

Don’t get me wrong: I like men. They are warm and fuzzy and endearing in many ways and I count a number of them among my friends. But after dinner or a movie these days, they go home – to their homes where, apparently, they clean up their own dead avocados, or pay a cleaning service to do it.

There was little time in my adult life when I was without a man of significance to one degree or another, and men were pretty much the major topic of conversation among my women friends. Most of them – the men and the women – married long ago now, but the right time or the right man never came along for me.

Nowadays, I have come to believe that whatever my generation’s cultural indoctrination toward marriage in our youth (it was powerful) and humankind’s natural inclination to pair, some of us are different. I relish my single status now and this seems to be more common among older women I know than men.

This is a Drug Plan?

category_bug_journal2.gif The Bush administration has begun sending officials on tours of the U.S. to tout the new Medicare prescription drug program that goes into effect on 1 January 2006. Voluntary enrollment begins on 15 November 2005.

I am not eligible for Medicare until December 2006, and I don’t use prescription drugs except for the occasional antibiotic. But one never knows and that date is close enough to be thinking about it. What I’m thinking is not kind.

Too Many Choices
On their road tour, the officials selling the plan – which sometimes includes the U.S. Surgeon General – have no details about the monthly premiums, available drugs, their prices or eligible pharmacies. That information won’t be available until mid-September. What is known is that any health insurance company that meets the minimum standards set by Medicare can - and undoubtedly, will - offer its own plan, but…

“Private plans can charge different premiums and co-payments and will cover different drugs, creating a potentially confusing situation for beneficiaries.”
- The New York Times, 17 July 2005

No kidding. We’ve been down this path before with drug discount cards. Why does it have to be this hard? And what happens if two drugs someone needs are available only through two separate companies? Must they join two plans then, and pay two premiums?

How It Works
Medicare says premiums will be “about” $37 a month, but will vary depending on the plan and health insurer chosen. The payout works like this according to the Medicare website:

  • You pay a deductible of $250 annually
  • On drug expenditures between $251 and $2,250, you pay 25 percent, or $500
  • You pay the entire cost from $2,251 to $3600, or $2850
  • After reaching the $3600 threshold, you pay five percent thereafter and Medicare pays 95 percent until the next year when it begins all over again

Why is this so complicated? What they are really saying is that for a total prescription drug expenditure of $2,250 a year, you pay $750, or 33 percent. For a total prescription drug expenditure of $5100 annually, you pay $3600, about 70 percent. Following that you pay five percent.

Not bad until you consider the 2.4 million low-income elderly.

Asset Restrictions
For those with limited income and resources, the new Medicare drug plan includes extra help that can increase the benefit to between 85 and 98 percent of prescription costs. To qualify, income from any source must be below $14,355 for single people and $19,145 for married couples living together. But there’s more…

To be eligible for the extra help, the value of other assets cannot exceed $11,500 for individuals and $23,000 for married couples. The definition of those other assets includes

  • Real estate other than primary residence
  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Certificates of Deposit
  • Stocks, bonds, IRAs and mutual funds
  • Cash lying around the house or elsewhere

So a widow with a modest savings of $51,500 (the average for 60 percent of single women 65 and older) which, invested conservatively, can earn about $1500 a year, would be ineligible for the extra help which could price her out of the prescription drug plan altogether. The average Social Security benefit in 2003 was $11,065 a year, making it impossible for our widow to afford $3600 she would be required to pay for her drugs if they cost $5100 a year on the non-extra-help plan.

It is unconscionable that any old person in the richest country in the world can go without needed medication.

The Painful Kicker
The legislation creating the new Medicare drug program explicitly bans the federal government from negotiating price discounts with manufacturers, which gives new meaning to the phrase “corporate giveaway.”

According to a Congressional Budget Office study released in June 2005, government programs that negotiate discounts on prescription drug purchases pay less than half the average wholesale price. The Department of Veterans Affairs pays an average of 42 percent; the Defense Department pays 41 percent.

When this new drug program goes into effect next January, Medicare will become the pharmaceutical industry's largest customer and it is insane to prohibit negotiating for price discounts. It means fewer drugs at higher cost which will increase the annual cost by billions of dollars to both beneficiaries and Medicare. Can you spell ballooning deficit?

But the worst part is that those who need financial aid the most won’t be eligible just because they saved a little money during their work lives.

Paul and Lili



[1989] When we were kids, my brother had a cocker spaniel named Taffy. He felt about her the way he looks here with Lili when she was a brand new puppy. During her later years when she became diabetic, arthritic and blind, Paul kept Lili with him 24 hours a day – at work, home, the boat, everywhere. Lili died in 2003, but oh, how she once loved to chase seagulls on the beach.


boogers @ 2003-11-08 said:
Hi Ronni. That’s a sweet story about Lili.

grantbw @ 2003-11-08 said:
Taffy must have been the in-fashion name for cocker spaniels when those of us of a certain age were young. My family had one too - with a most unfortunate affinity for skunks.




[any year] Neither of my parents had brothers or sisters, so I have no aunts, uncles or cousins. At its highest, the family people-inventory totaled seven, including me. I am still surprised sometimes at holidays with Neil and Donna, at the high number of immediate family – and every one of them brings dessert.


cristi @ 2003-11-05 said:
Wow that is what I call LOTS of food.

einstein @ 2003-11-05 said:
Yummy : - )

alwayslookaround @ 2003-11-07 said:
Yum, yum, yum!

jungalero @ 2003-11-09 said:
There was a year at Christmas when we had this many pies. My mom made my father a plate with a sliver of each, so he had all these little pieces lined around the plate like some sort of food clock. I’d love to dig that slide out one of my next visits home.

The Abundant Pleasures of Getting Older

You may have noticed from some sloppy posts in the past few weeks that it has been a stretch to keep up this blog while attending to all the selling/buying/moving details in preparation for leaving New York City to live in Portland, Maine. So I am grateful when I come across something excellent I can post without the usual effort.

The following story is one of those. It speaks eloquently to everything Time Goes By - what it’s really like to get older is all about and I’m deeply envious I didn’t write it.

It was emailed to me by kenju at JustAskJudy who got it from a friend of hers. It is untitled, but attributed to novelist and Salon columnist Anne LaMott as published in O, The Oprah Magazine, but I can’t confirm that.

Wherever it came from, it should be read by everyone who fears getting old.

I was at a wedding Saturday with a lot of women in their 20s and 30s in sexy dresses, their youthful skin aglow. And even though I was 30 or 40 years older, a little worse for wear, a little tired and overwhelmed by the loud music, I was smiling. I smiled with a secret Cheshire-cat smile of pleasure and relief in being older. I would not give back a year of life lived.

Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life - it gave me me. It provided the time and experience and failures and triumphs and friends who helped me step into the shape that had been waiting for me all my life.

I fit into me now - mostly. I have an organic life finally, not the one people imagined for me or tried to get me to have or the life someone else might celebrate as a successful one - I have the life I dreamed of.

I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I could be. There are parts I don't love - until a few years ago, I had no idea that you could get cellulite on your stomach - but I not only get along with me most of the time now, I am militantly and maternally on my own side.

Left to my own devices, would I trade this for firm thighs, fewer wrinkles, a better memory? On some days. That's why it's such a blessing. I'm not left to my own devices. Because the truth is I have amazing friends to whom I can turn.

I've learned to pay attention to life, and to listen. I'd give up all this for a flatter belly? Are you crazy? I still have terrible moments when I despair about my body. But they are just moments - I used to have years when I believed I would be more beautiful if I jiggled less, if all parts of my body stopped moving when I did. But I believe two things now that I didn't at 30. When we get to heaven, we will discover that the appearance of our butts and skin was 127th on the list of what mattered on this earth.

And I know the truth that l am not going to live forever, and this has set me free. Eleven years ago, when my friend Pammy was dying at the age of 37 we went shopping at Macy's. She was in a wheelchair, with a wig and three weeks to live. I tried on a short dress and came out to model it for Pammy. I asked if she thought it made me look big in the thighs, and she said, so kindly, "Annie? You just don't have that kind of time." I live by this story.

I am thrilled-ish for every gray hair and achy muscle, because of all the friends who didn't make it, who died too young of AIDS and breast cancer. And much of the stuff I used to worry about has subsided -what other people think of me and how l am living my life. I give these things the big shrug. Mostly. Or at least eventually. It's a huge relief.

I became more successful in my mid-40s, but this pales compared to the other gifts of this decade - how kind to myself I have become, what a wonderful, tender wife I am to myself, what a loving companion. I get myself tubs of hot salty water at the end of the day in which to soak my tired feet. I run interference for myself when I am working, like the wife of a great artist would: "No, I'm sorry, she can't come. She's working hard these days and needs a lot of downtime." I live by the truth that "No" is a complete sentence.

I rest as a spiritual act.

I have grown up enough to develop radical acceptance. I insist on the right to swim in warm water at every opportunity, no matter how cold, no matter how young and gorgeous the other people on the beach are. I don't think that if I live to be 80 I'll wish I'd spent more hours in the gym or kept my house a lot cleaner. I think I'm going to wish I had swum more unashamedly, made more mistakes, spaced out more, rested.

On the day I die, I want to have had dessert. So this informs how l live now.

I have survived so much loss, as all of us have by now - my parents, dear friends, my pets. Rubble is the ground on which our deepest friendships are built. If you haven't already, you will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken; and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of a beloved person.

But this is also the good news. They live forever, in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a leg that never heals perfectly - that still hurts when the weather is cold - but you learn to dance with the limp. You dance to the absurdities of life; you dance to the minuet of old friendships. I danced alone for a couple of years, and came to believe I might not ever have a passionate romantic relationship - might end up alone! I'd been so terrified of this my whole life.

But I'd rather never be in a couple or never get laid again than to be in a toxic relationship. I spent a few years celibate. It was lovely, and it was sometimes lonely. I had surrendered; I'd run out of bullets. But I learned to be the person I wished I'd meet - at which point I found a kind, artistic, handsome man. We have been together 20 months now. When we get
out of bed, we hold our lower backs, like Walter Brennan, and we smile.

Younger women worry that their memories will begin to go. And you know what? They will. Menopause has not increased my focus and retention as much as I I'd been hoping. But a lot is better off missed. A lot is better not gotten around to. I know many of the women at the wedding fear getting older, and I wish I could gather them together again and give them my word of honor that every one of my friends loves being older, loves being in her 50s, 60s, 70s. My Aunt Gertrude is 85 and leaves us behind in the dust when we hike.

Look, my feet hurt some mornings, and my body is less forgiving when I exercise more than I'm used to. But I love my life more, and me more. I'm so much juicier. And, like that old saying goes, it's not that I think less of myself, but that I think of myself less often. And that feels like heaven to me.

Grumpy Old Women

Jude at long-toothed hinterland dweller was wondering what Crabby Old Lady would say about a plan by the British Psychological Society to design an anger management program specifically for "grumpy old women."

“Phooey,” is what she said. “What a bunch of hoo-haw. Don’t those shrinks have more important things to do than find another way to keep women in their place?”

“While men actually mellow as they approach the twilight of their life,” reports the RTE website, “women start falling out with their friends, get irritated with strangers and let modern technology get on their wick!”
- Health, 8 July 2005

And why not? asks Crabby. Everyone has a couple of friends who have hung around too long anyway, strangers can be a pain in the butt sometimes and technology is a bitch; it never works the way they say it will.

Crabby is also puzzled about what men have to do with this. If they want to snooze away their old age in their rocking chairs while the world disintegrates around them, why should women? What makes anyone think it’s a problem when old women finally let ‘er rip?

"As women get older they would appear to believe that expressing once-suppressed anger as now being assertive and a positive thing.”
- Health, 8 July 2005

You betcha. And we old ladies don’t need no stinkin’ anger management classes.

Crabby Old Lady reminds you of what Gray Panthers founder, the late, great Maggie Kuhn, (who spoke with more elegance than Crabby) had to say on this subject:

“Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week.”

As Crabby and her friends liked to say in their youth: Right on!

Those Geezers Will Gitcha

category_bug_ageism.gif There is a story in the July issue of Inc. Magazine titled “A New Wrinkle on Age Bias” warning employers that due to a Supreme Court decision earlier this year, it is easier now for employees to file age discrimination claims.

That would appear to be a good thing, an opportunity for the writer to explain to businesses what the law (not to mention, ethics) requires in terms of maintaining an age-neutral workplace. Instead, the tone of the entire piece is, “you better watch out or those greedy ol’ geezers will gitcha.”

“Business owners beware: This past March, the Supreme Court made it a lot easier for workers to file age discrimination claims in federal court.”

“The timing couldn’t be worse for business owners…as the baby boom generation – about half the U.S. work force – gets older.”

“…consider requiring departing workers to sign a separation agreement pledging not to sue…”

“There is some good news…The recent Supreme Court ruling…just makes it easier to get a claim into court; it doesn’t make it easier for employees to win a case…”

-, July 2005

What kind of an attitude is that? It assumes an adversarial position from the get-go - that older workers are gunning for employers, but if you cover your butt, the nasty old coots can’t win anyway. And that is the way employment and employment business writing works today.

When I began dating at age 15, my contemporaries had curfews. My mother didn’t place one on me, so to not be out of the step with the local high school culture, I lied. I told my friends and my dates that if I were not home by the prevailing time limit, my mother would kill me.

Some years later, I asked mom why she had not given me a curfew. Because, she said, “if I hadn’t taught you the difference between right and wrong by then, it wouldn’t help; you were in deeper trouble than a curfew could fix.”

She did impose plenty of other limits and woe betide me if I did not respect them. Today, though I could be wrong, I sense that parents – my generation and beyond - generally set fewer rules for their children than when I was kid. Could it be that those indulgences have left some children - now adult business leaders - with a sense of personal entitlement that has spilled over into the workplace?

The zeitgeist of the business world was different when I began working nearly 50 years ago. In the first two decades or so of my career, there was a feeling of cooperation between workers and bosses. When revenues dropped, employers asked workers to take a temporary salary cut. They did everything possible to avoid laying off people and when business improved, workers’ salaries went up too.

Today, executives set the tone of the workplace by giving themselves obscene compensation totaling in the nine figures while not raising workers’ salaries enough to keep up with inflation. If declining revenues threaten their lavish lifestyles, they lay off a few hundred or a few thousand employees and vote themselves another bonus for saving the company money.

Mom knew what she was talking about. Everyone knows in their heart when they have done right and when they have done wrong. But the business world has become every man for himself – especially at the highest levels - setting up an adversarial relationship of them against us, employer versus employee.

Lawsuits are expensive, especially for average-income workers who, unlike corporations, cannot write off legal fees as a business expense. But until corporate America respects the law (and what they know in their hearts to be right) in relation to the people who make their widgets, it will need to continue to defend itself against the few tiny advantages workers (of any age) can find instead working together to solve the problem.