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College Bias

Much was made this week in the coverage of the death of the ABC-TV World News Tonight anchor, Peter Jennings, that he not only had never attended college, he was a high-school dropout. Even so, they said in a tone suggesting awe and amazement at such rare accomplishment, he was well-read, deeply knowledgeable and informed on a wide range of subjects.

But why shouldn’t he have been?

College does not necessarily confer curiosity, interest in the world or even in learning itself. I’ve known plenty of college graduates, a few with graduate degrees too, who are as dim and uninformed as a box of rocks. No small number of people believe learning ends when they leave school and they haven’t picked up a book since then. (Of course, no one who reads this blog falls into that category.)

Jennings was fortunate that he chose a field which isn’t a stickler for academic credentials. Never, in 25 years of television production, was I asked if or where I attended college. What mattered was your “reel” of broadcast stories: whether they were clear, intelligent, factual, well-written and well-told.

That changed when I switched to the web ten years ago where, in looking for work, I have often been disqualified out of hand for not having a degree. In cases of electronic submission, the software refused my resume if I left the college entry box empty. And applicants don’t dare invent a degree; if the recruiter or hiring manager checks with the college, you are doomed as a liar.

Again and again, during this last year of job hunting, one of the first questions I was asked was which college I attended and the conversation ended abruptly - "we only hire college graduates" - when I told them I have no degree.

This is a mistake of magnificent proportions. Don’t get me wrong. There are some career specialties where college and graduate degrees are essential. Medicine comes to mind. Rocket science. The law. Engineering. I’m not so sure about computer science; kids seem to absorb that in the cradle these days, but I could be wrong.

What I am not wrong about is that 50 years ago, a high school education was at least the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree today. Our teachers - who were mostly unmarried women called spinsters in an era with almost no other career opportunities for them - were the ones who today choose instead to run corporations, become doctors, lawyers and secretary of state. They were smart, dedicated and demanding and they crammed a lot more knowledge into our heads back then than most schools do today.

A much smaller percentage of students went on to college 50 years ago because they didn’t need to. Yes, I understand that the amount of knowledge has increased exponentially since then and even without the decline in educational standards, young people would probably need another four years of study today to be ready for the real world. But that requirement cannot and should not be applied to older workers.

Demanding a college degree of anyone older than 50 or so is an arbitrary HR decision that makes no sense. It is ageist thinking from human resources people who don’t know the history of U.S. education which, you would think, might be a requirement for their field. But if that were so, we’d be living in a non-ageist culture.

Also, in the U.S., no credit is given for non-academic learning - the Peter Jennings kind. We autodidacts are a belittled and disparaged group culturally. But what do people - recruiters, in this case - think I’ve been doing with my mind since I left high school in 1958? Do they think I have been operating personally and professionally on that limited amount of knowledge without adding to it?

That must be so. And if Peter Jennings (fame notwithstanding) had left broadcasting to look for work in another field, he too would have faced a brick wall for lack of a degree.

Test Yourself For Hidden Bias

category_bug_ageism.gif Hardly anyone is completely free of bias, even, sometimes, against their own kinship groups., a web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, notes:

“Studies show people can be consciously committed to egalitarianism, and deliberately work to behave without prejudice, yet still possess hidden negative prejudices or stereotypes. So even though we believe we see and treat people as equals, hidden biases may still influence our perceptions and actions.” links to a site of Hidden Bias Tests, developed by psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington. Among the topics of these tests are race, gender, weight, religion and (why else would I be telling you about this?) age.

Yesterday, I took the test for age bias and the results were enlightening. For 18 months, I’ve spoken out for older people on this blog and I’ve been researching aging in all its aspects for three or four years. You would think I would be bias-free, but the results came back like this:

“Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for young compared to old.”

That’s discouraging. But not, according to, irredeemably so:

“We would like to believe that when a person has a conscious commitment to change, the very act of discovering one's hidden biases can propel one to act to correct for it. It may not be possible to avoid the automatic stereotype or prejudice, but it is certainly possible to consciously rectify it.

“If people are aware of their hidden biases, they can monitor and attempt to ameliorate hidden attitudes before they are expressed through behavior. This compensation can include attention to language, body language and to the stigmatization felt by target groups.”

Are you curious about what your hidden biases might be? Click on over to the tests, follow the simple instructions and try one or two. Then report back here on your score. If it’s not so good, there is no shame in it; personal awareness and commitment to change are what matter. Be sure to read this primer on hidden bias and its effects too.

The Good Old Days

It is a Crabby Old Lady’s inalienable right, now and again, to invoke the “good old days.” Google that phrase, which Crabby did recently, and you get almost 900,000 web pages most of which are saying the good old days never were. But that’s just the cliche used by reporters to show readers how hip and au courant they are.

Crabby thinks she's pretty hip and au courant too, but she wants to remind you that not every old idea is bad, just as not every innovation is progress. And don’t go saying, as you read this, “Yeah, but what about _____________?” Insert polio vaccine, reliable birth control, the internet or any other improvement you think is a worthy trade-off for what’s been lost. Life isn’t a zero-sum game.

Here are some things, in random order as they occurred to Crabby, that were better in her old days:

  • There was no junk mail.
  • There was no hole in the ozone layer.
  • One’s religion was a private, not public, matter – at least where Crabby grew up.
  • Kids actually learned stuff – or they weren’t promoted to the next grade. And grade inflation was unheard of; it took work to earn an A.
  • Voters and not the Supreme Court elected the president.
  • People could afford to pay the dentist, the doctor and the pharmacist in cash.
  • A single-wage-earner family could afford a mortgage and a college education for the kids.
  • The only time police appeared at school was to teach kids how to cross the street safely.
  • It was not a point of honor to work 80-plus hours a week. Employers believed family time was important.
  • Nobody talked in movie theaters.
  • Doctors made house calls.
  • Kids spent summer evenings lying on the lawn imagining the idea of endless space instead of blasting people into oblivion playing Grand Theft Auto on the computer.
  • The government couldn’t confiscate your house and give the property to big business.
  • Corporations and rich people actually paid taxes like everyone else.
  • Toilets finished the job in one flush, not two or three.
  • The rain forest wasn’t disappearing at a rate that will denude it in a few decades.
  • No one made you feel stupidly unimportant by taking phone calls during dinner.
  • Popular love songs were about moon, June and spoon instead of bitch and ho.
  • Presidents said things like “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” instead of “Bring ‘em on”. And they didn’t use the one-finger salute – at least not in public.
  • Grandma and Grandpa usually lived right down the street.
  • Loud, raucous music didn’t blast your brain from loudspeakers in every store, shop and passing car.
  • Baseball players cheated with Vaseline and spitballs, not dangerous steroids and HGH.

From the seriousness of the ozone layer and rainforest to the irritation of talkers in movie theaters, these are quality of life issues. Of course, there have been amazing improvements over the years. Some advances in medicine are nothing less than miraculous. Others, small conveniences, give daily life an ease our parents and grandparents could not imagine.

Americans have a penchant for the new and we discard the old merely because it isn’t new, without weighing the loss or consequences. Crabby just wanted to remind you of this. Feel free to add to the list.

So Much More Than Our Bodies

Most of us can expect to improve our capabilities, skills and expertise over our lifetimes. But how is it to live, I wonder, knowing that by only 40, you can no longer do the thing at which you are best?

That is what happens to professional athletes.

To young players starting out with a team, often at no more than 18 or 19, 40 is so far away that it is unimaginable. Then some years go by. Reflexes and stamina decline a bit, but not so much that a little extra effort can’t win the game. By 30, however, they are the old men of the team, still strong, still powerful, but pulls and strains hurt more, injuries turn up more frequently and it takes longer to recover.

By the time an athlete is 35, it has become apparent that playing ball is not a lifelong possibility, but 40 doesn’t look quite as close to dead as it once did either. How, I wonder, do athletes, after 15 or 20 years of perfecting their sport, come to terms with its passing at so young an age?

Not every player has the talent to continue at his sport as an announcer, writer, commentator, team executive or even coach. And few are as prepared for a post-team career as Bart Oates, who was a full-time attorney off-season during his 11 years as center with the New York Giants.

It is not uncommon for retired players to become small-town real estate agents or run a car dealership. I don’t mean to be elitist about this, but I have trouble believing that when an athlete's body is telling him it's time to go, he’s thinking, “Oh, man, I can’t wait to become an insurance agent.”

This reminds me a bit of Lauren Bacall. She was gratuitously hard to get along with when I produced a television interview with her years ago. Others report similar behavior over the years and it was clear, on the days I worked with her, that she wasn't just in a bad mood that would pass. General unhappiness was her state of being.

And no wonder. She had met and married Humphrey Bogart when she was 19 years old. They were "Bogie and Bacall," the social king and queen of Hollywood long before Frank Sinatra and his rat pack ruled. Nothing but the best movie scripts were offered. She occupied the pinnacle of the entertainment world in the days when stars didn't confess their drug addictions and they carried off their fame more glamorously than jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch.

Then Bogart died fairly young when Bacall was in her early or mid-thirties and I decided, when I worked with her, that she was difficult because in the intervening years, she had come to understand that her life would never be that good again. And in fact, last week I ran across an interview with her in which she acknowledged this:

“When everything happens to you when you're so young, you're very lucky, but by the same token, you're never going to have that same feeling again…the second one is never the same.”
Time, 8 August 2005

Imagine - living every day knowing it won't ever get better...

And don't you think it must be so with many professional athletes, especially those who have no other abiding interest or passion? The peak comes so early in their lives and in such a headier manner than most of us experience: the feeling of accomplishment in a great season, perhaps setting records, the adulation of the fans and of course, the joy, in youth, of knowing one's body, trained to the nth degree, will do whatever is asked of it.

When their bodies can no longer deliver what once came effortlessly, how do they come to terms with it? Is it enough to have been there? It wouldn't be for me – not at 35 or 40.

Eventually, every one us must make peace and accommodation with declining strength, but never as young as sports stars. From my perspective now, I think of 40 not as the beginning of old age, but as finally having enough experience to soar.

Not needing exquisitely tuned bodies, most of us have many more years than professional athletes before our physical abilities begin to wane in ways that matter. And even when it happens, we can still get better at what we like to do best and take on new kinds of challenges too. We are so much more than our bodies.

Ronni with the Woodpile



[January 1992] The 1990 census reported that seven homes in New York City still heated with wood. Well, they didn’t ask me, and I’m here to correct that count upward by one. Besides being expensive, electric heat in my apartment fails to help much when the temperature falls below 35F degrees, so I use an amazingly efficient wood-burning stove during the coldest months of the year.


smith @ 2003-11-14 said:
I heat with wood in a small house in rural Pennsylvania, but never imagined anyone in the Village doing this anymore (beyond someone wealthy with a fireplace and a bar in the East Village). Begs the questions, where do get your wood? How many cords do you use a year? Amazing story!

einstein @ 2003-11-14 said:
Do you know the other seven?

bandman @ 2003-11-14 said:
Ah ha! Now I know where the tree in my back yard went! Did you at least remember to give the squirrels 24 hours notice before you cut it down?

zinetv @ 2003-11-15 said:
You heat your apartment with wood!!!!! You feed birds to your cat!!!! Did anyone mention that you live in New York and not New Hampshire???? Just kidding. If I had a fireplace I would burn wood in the winter.

trst2 @ 2003-11-15 said:
You look like the woman I would want to talk to...

yolima @ 2003-11-15 said:
Wow Ronni, what an impressive woodstack you have there in your back yard. When I lived in the Berkshires, in the mid and late seventies, all the houses I lived in had woodburning stoves. I just loved that smell!

Beau Bennett in the Sun



[1991] Like many of his breed, Beau had terrible (and expensive) dental problems. Even though he moaned from the pain when he ate ice cream, he knew a Haagen Dazs container from 50 paces and demanded his portion. Over time, he became accustomed, if his food had been in the refrigerator, to my bringing it up to room temperature in the microwave. When Beau brought home birds he had caught, he dropped them on the counter in front of the microwave, stared intently at me and stamped his front feet, seeming to ask that the birds be warmed up for him.


kobayashi @ 2003-11-13 said:
Oh, please warm the birds for him.

zinetv @ 2003-11-13 said:
You feed your cat birds?!? I can’t get my guys to eat a store bought diet without a weekly food strike.

And birds - after a short time they will demand I catch them myself.

hillspan @ 2003-11-13 said:
I love it when they get all squinty.

arto @ 2003-11-14 said:
He does look like he had a mind of his own.

Offensive and Contemptible

On Wednesday, I came across a blog post that is the most cruel, shameful thing I’ve read since I cruised white supremacy sites a few years ago when I was writing a television documentary on hate crimes.

Such repellent bilge can usually be dismissed as ravings from the wing-nut fringe, but this one stuck in my craw, after such an extraordinarily inclusive conference, for having been written by one Blogher attendee about another Blogher attendee. I’ve wrestled with myself about posting this. Is it better to isolate the writer by ignoring her or to get it out in the light of day by naming names?

I have come down on the sides of both. Although it is hard to resist in these times, I try not to do politics or social issues here at TGB except as they relate to aging, but some acts transcend the topic of one little blog. So here goes:

I shared the How To Get Naked panel with an extraordinary woman. Her name is Koan Bremner and she blogs at about her life as a transgendered person. Talk about getting naked to the world! As Koan explained on the panel, she chose to out herself to blunt other people's weapons and she is openly tracking her transition, in all its aspects, from male to female on her blog and in podcasts.

Koan and I talked at length in several conversations at Blogher. She is smart, articulate, insightful, beautiful and I am proud to feel a burgeoning friendship with her.

I first heard of transgendered people about 40 years ago and later, during my radio and television career, I interviewed about a dozen. Another is a personal friend. In trying to understand what being transgendered means when it was new and confusing to me, I came to this: imagine if I were me, all that is the internal essence of Ronni, the genetics, upbringing, learned cultural behavior that affect my outlook, interests and attitudes which create my essential, female womanliness, the things that make me who I am from the inside but - I was trapped in a male body.

Our sense of being man or woman is similar to, but more elemental than being tall or short, fat or skinny, pretty or plain, black or white. Being male or female is our first definition of ourselves and our physical body is the least of that definition - until one's inside is in conflict with the outside. When that happens, how would you know who you are at the most basic level? Fortunately, these days, there are remedies which Koan is bravely undertaking.

Here then is what ambra nykola, a substitute speaker on the Political Blogging Grows Up panel, posted to her blog during the conference:

[UPDATE: 11 August 2005: The fact of my link to ambra's site has bothered me every day since I posted this. So I've removed it. If you must go there, you will need to track down her blog in some other way.]

“There is a fairly good male population here--around 20%. I expected that. What I didn't expect was a male dressed up as a woman (commonly referred to by the progressive society as a ‘transsexual,’ a term I will not use because it consciously validates our society's dysfunction). People with testicles do not get to claim womanhood without a menstrual cycle, cramps, and at least having once had the semblance of the ability to push a watermelon through a Cheerio…”

(There’s a bit more in that quote that is not precisely applicable to this post. You can read the rest at her blog, if you are so inclined.) Aside from her crudeness, ambra seems to have confused transgendered with transvestite but even if she were less ignorant, she would be no less contemptible.

Grace at I Am Dr. Laura’s Worst Nightmare (who I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet at Blogher) posted a fairly strong statement pointing out ambra’s “asshattery” and her “disappointment” in ambra’s attitude. Some of the comments there (aside from those that support ambra’s position) seem to excuse – or at least try to “understand” - ambra’s diatribe citing her youth (23), her intelligence and her “snarky” blog persona.

All of this is way too polite and not good enough. ambra is magnitudes beyond disappointing, and age, intelligence (?) and snarkiness are both beside the point and demean the importance of the issue. Make no mistake: this is hate speech and it is unacceptable under any circumstance, ever.

Koan is a remarkable woman and I admire her sly response:

“So, I was beginning to think that prejudice had died in the world...Apparently, [ambra] doesn't think I deserved to be there.

“At last! I *knew* I'd find someone if I waited long enough. ;-)”

It is my experience that the best people often hide their distress behind public humor, but ask yourself, what is the private anguish?

There is a well-known educational tool used to help teach kids about the pain, arbitrariness and folly of prejudice. For a day or two, all the blue-eyed kids are shunned, excluded from activities of the group. Then for a couple more days, it is the brown-eyed kids who are ignored. It is a powerful lesson to be made invisible and unlikable for something over which you have no control. Maybe ambra missed that week in school.

It occurs to me that the current political atmosphere in the U.S., which is doing it damnedest to insinuate Christian fundamentalism into every corner of public life, may be making such hate speech more acceptable than it has been in decades. This gives us even more reason than personal abhorrence to shout our outrage at such hatefulness as ambra’s.

The Constitution gives U.S. citizens the right to free speech – even hate speech - (there may be one or two legal exceptions, but they are rare and arcane) and although today, I might like to amend that a bit, it is a crucial freedom. In additional to helping prevent tyranny, it helps expose those who would persecute others for being a bit different and I think it also gives the rest of us the duty and responsibility to speak our revulsion at any kind of bigotry wherever, whenever it erupts – to stem its spread.

So get yourselves on over to Koan’s blog to meet, if you haven't already, and support this astonishing woman whom Grace describes perfectly as “ridiculously intelligent, articulate, appealing and forthcoming,” and don't bother darkening ambra's blog door.

Blogher Bliss

Many others have written such excellent reports and reflections on Blogher ‘05 and I cannot do better. So think of this as a Bold-Faced-Names column that I hope will convey some of the exhiliration that filled the entire day. Every person I spoke with was someone who, under any other circumstance, I could spend hours with in delicious conversation. There just wasn’t time for it in one short day.

It started on Friday when, feeling shy, I walked into the room for a scheduled, pre-conference meeting of session panelists. In seconds, Jill Fallon, whom I’d met in person before, waved me over.

Almost immediately, Nina came by to give me a hug. It was our first face-to-face, but we knew one another fairly well from our blogs and some email. Then Jory Des Jardines, one of the conference organizers and my editor at the ThirdAge blog, was beside me and Elisa Camahort, another conference organizer, shook my hand. And Lisa Stone too. Then…

… did I say I felt shy? Forget it. Not allowed at Blogher. And that remained so with everyone for the entire event. The camaraderie kept growing throughout the day as we listened, learned, debated, laughed, sought out bloggers whose work we knew, eagerly got to know others we’d never heard of before and pounced on panelists and audience members at the end of sessions to hear more.

In two conversations during the day – one with Jory and another with Lisa Stone, I learned the most amazing thing: MommyBloggers, who I’ve never much thought about, are the kind most flamed. It seems some people believe that raising children removes a woman’s right to have an opinion or to take on projects unrelated to motherhood. I see some similarities here with older people and I’ll come back to that commonality one day soon.

In one general session, I made a point to sit at a table populated only with people I didn’t know and they made me not a stranger. Other people joined and left as we talked and I didn’t get all the names except smart and energetic Tish Grier. She’s irresistible.

Elise Bauer had me blushing with her compliments about TGB and left me wondering about the regular readers we all have who don’t leave comments and so we have no idea such interesting people are visiting us.

There was a long, alternately serious and lively conversation during the post-conference cocktail hour with the charming Katie Burke and my How To Get Naked panel-mate Koan Bremner. You’ll find a link to an MP3 of our session at Koan’s blog, which, of course, also includes the sharp-witted Heather Armstrong (Dooce). I wish I could think on my feet as fast as she can.

Susan Mernit and Julie Leung ran an excellent session on Blogging 101 that I attended because I’ve somehow fallen into helping a lot of blogger newbies get started in recent months and I wanted to know what Susan and Julie know about that that I don’t – a lot, it turns out.

When I got in the wrong room for one session I’d planned to attend, I was sucked in and couldn’t leave. In $$ and Sense, moderated by Elisa Camahort, Toby Bloomberg told the astonishing story of the flak she took for creating the first commercial character blog. I hope the blogosphere is over the purity issue now.

At various moments and meals, I talked with Matt Homann (love his title, chief thinking officer), fellow ThirdAge blogger, Yvonne Divita and Liz Ditz. Renee Blodgett gave me a lift to the post-conference dinner and I felt proud as a peacock when Halley Suitt (who I’ve been reading for years and years) told me she likes my blog.

There wasn’t enough time or opportunity to talk with so many others who shine so brightly: J.D. Lasica - I’ve wanted to meet him for years. I got only 30 seconds each with Chris Nolan and Sylvia Paull as we all ran off to other sessions. And a whole lot more. I’ll have to wait for next year to catch up with all the amazing people...

I've left out some from this year because - well, there are too many memories of too many conversations with too many smart, funny, thoughtful people to recount them all. To those who have turned up missing here, my sincere apologies.

The conference was more than I think any of us anticipated it could be - spirited, inspirational, productive - fires were lit and I think there will be as many new ideas to work on from Blogher as there were attendees. Listen to how Halley Suitt summed up Blogher ’05:

“This event felt so ‘SWITCHED ON’ the whole time!

”You left with a feeling that women have all been lurkers in this land and suddenly let loose and what an amazing outpouring! A veritable flash flood of female fun and womanly wisdom.”

Dissing Older Bloggers

Well, I can report that being quoted in a Washington Post story on older bloggers together with appearing on the paper’s online Live Chat feature on the same day does amazing things for one’s blog stats. And thanks also to Frank Paynter at Sandhill Trek and amba at ambivablog for their contributions to the numbers.

Before I start this mini-rant, let me say that when the reporter, Jennifer L. Huget, interviewed me last week, she was respectful and appeared to have a genuine interest in my site, my topic and blogging in general.

That's why I was surprised when I read the story yesterday morning. Here are Frank’s and amba’s thoughts:

“…she suggests that older people (‘Seniors. Retirees. Empty-nesters.’) have time for blogging that younger people lack. Maybe, but I think that writers will write and I know that there are a lot more younger bloggers than older ones…it's clear that it's an assignment that doesn't particularly interest her. I think my willingness to enjoy the story came to an abrupt halt with her use of a neologism, ‘elderblog.’”
- Frank Paynter

“…this article by ‘youngster’ (early 40s) Jennifer L. Huget, who's just young enough and just old enough to (one senses in the subtext) find the topic icky.”

- amba

I couldn’t agree more. The entire piece is typical, I think, of how mainstream media too frequently is dismissive of older people by treating us as if we are sort of dotty, a bit lazy and probably lost the equivalent number of I.Q. points on our 50th birthdays.

The entire tone of the piece is, as Frank notes, one of disinterest as though the reporter were forced to do it by her editor and couldn’t work up a lick of enthusiasm for older people or blogging and so chose the easy, lazy way out:

“If getting old’s really such a rich and rewarding experience as these bloggers say, then why are so many of them (us?) sitting around in front of computers? Shouldn’t we be out doing something more, well, vital with all that vitality?”
- Washington Post, 2 August 2005

Was that supposed to a joke?

The changes in outlook and attitude that come with aging are not something that can be learned. They become evident only with living it and for that reason, I think there should be a moratorium on anyone younger than 50 or 55 reporting on older people. I mean, you wouldn’t want me covering hip-hop music and the youngest baby boomers, which this writer is among, don’t have any more of an inkling of what older people are about.

It was fun to see such amazing stat numbers for a day, but I am disappointed that once again older people are marginalized by being made to look foolish.

Now that that’s done, back to Blogher '05 tomorrow.

Blogher '05 - Part 2

[UPDATE] The Live Chat was terrific fun. Great questions. There is a transcript here.

[SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: There is a story about older bloggers in the Washington Post today for which I was interviewed. And at 11:30AM ET, I will be interviewed at the newspaper's Live Online feature, produced and moderated by Katie McLeod. The audience can ask questions or make comments too, so please join us if you can.]

In cruising around yesterday to read other attendees’ impressions of Blogher, I found that many feel as overwhelmed as I did/do - hard to put our thoughts together for a coherent reaction so soon. What is universally evident is that we all came away energized, excited and eager to figure out where to go next and thrilled to meet so many bloggers we know from their pages along with many new ones we had not discovered before.

First, however, I am so proud to have been included on the How To Get Naked panel with three extraordinary women. Jory Des Jardines, who moderated and is one of the conference organizers, ran the panel with skill, humor and aplomb. Heather Armstrong (Dooce) and Koan Bremner were so articulate about identity blogging that I felt underwhelmed by my own performance. And the audience (which Jory smartly included from the get-go) in the crowded room was equally thoughtful and compelling.

At the closing session we were asked to create to-do lists sparked by the conference. I can’t make a definitive list yet, but here are some items that have been rolling around in my head:

Time Goes By is about aging and I’ve been thinking almost exclusively about that since I started this blog about 18 months ago. That won’t change much in the future, but Blogher inspired me to see some ways to expand on it.

I rarely write about blogging itself but out of personal interest I closely follow its development, the news and commentary. This is as much an aspect of my getting older as other topics around here, so there is now a new section called Blogging where I'll post about that in relation to aging, women and the blogosphere in general.

Inspired partly by those wonderful young women at Blogher who told me they read TGB regularly (which delights me) and by Elisa’s mention of her mother’s disappointment at Elisa’s stories of her treatment as a woman in the working world, there will soon be another new section here called Generations. Not just about women and our place in what is still sometimes a man’s world (though that will be part of it), but about the differing experiences and perceptions of people of different generations. I wouldn’t have thought about doing this without Blogher and the misunderstanding provoked by Elisa’s post. (So thank you, Elisa.)

It was a happy surprise to see the number of older people (past 50) at Blogher – some currently blogging and some newbies attending to find out how to do it. I’m so encouraged about this that I’m lobbying the organizers now (can you hear me Jory, Elisa and Lisa Stone) to let me moderate an older bloggers - or perhaps call it a "generations" - panel next time.

Blogher was a way-over-the-top, positive experience for me. I was enlightened, educated and inspired by other women every moment of the day. But Niall Kennedy who is, due to his association with Technorati, a well-known name in the blogosphere, disappointed me with this reflection on his blog after the conference:

“You could hear the passion in the quivering voices of women as they stood up to speak in front of this crowd of hundreds and share their story.”

I didn’t hear a single voice “quiver” and “sharing our stories” makes Blogher sound like a 12-step meeting. It was nothing like that. Serious topics were discussed and debated in a professional, friendly, open manner in which all points of view were welcome. There was, simultaneously, a whole lot of humor and fun too. More than "stories," people shared their expertise, opinions and questions - just like the conferences that are 80 percent men. Crabby Old Lady would say, “Watch your language, Niall.”

Also, I want to mention Jay Rosen’s comment at the closing session of Blogher that provoked some surprise among a number of attendees. Here’s what Jay said:

"My second discovery was - and I didn't expect this part - terror. Lots of people brought up the terror of the Internet and what to do about it. People attack me, what if I have a stalker, how do I protect my kids, my family, how do I not get fired. This is an important consideration. We live in a world of terror. Instead of accepting it, the people at this conference are bringing the terror on. There are ways to defeat that. There are ways to blog where you can't be attacked anymore. There's something important about going out and meeting this terror. I never realized how important blogging was - in terms of facing fear of strangers, fear of being attacked. That's my take away..."

That wasn't my experience. I don’t know what other sessions Jay attended; we were in two together that I know of: How to Get Naked and Suffragette Journalists: Op-Ed Pages of Our Own, and probably Shame, Blame and Flame, but in no way did I have any sense that fear, let alone terror, was as big a concern as Jay indicates, aside from practicalities.

It is certainly worth considering, for example, whether or how much to blog about one’s children. Certainly some bloggers have been flamed and stalked in scary ways, even occasionally threatened. And these topics were discussed. But I didn't feel the women at Blogher were overly concerned about it.

But what I think now is that Jay, like me, may be more comfortable with the written than spoken word. Jay posted this excellent clarification at PressThink the day after the conference:

“A blog, you see, is a little First Amendment machine. The people at the BlogHer conference did see that. Many of them saw it better than I did. For in addition to its glories they spoke of the terrors of truly free speech that reaches people. This seems to me a more balanced picture.”

Blogher '05 - Part 1

[NEW UPDATE - SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: There will be a story about older bloggers in the Washington Post on Tuesday for which I was interviewed. And at 11:30AM ET, I will be doing a live chat about aging and blogging at the same newspaper's Live Online feature, produced and moderated by Katie McLeod. The audience can ask questions or make comments too, so please join us if you can.]

[UPDATE BEFORE PUBLISHING] Just as I was ready to publish this, I checked my email and there is a note from Elisa Camahort clarifying her intention in the post I discuss below, and then I almost trashed this post.

But I've changed my mind. Besides making some points I think are important about generations, it's an object lesson to all of us about care in choosing our words when we write. But most of all, it still expresses my biggest non-blogging experience at Blogher and proves you're never too old to learn critical life lessons. Please be sure to read Elisa's update at her blog.]

Blogher was the best time I’ve had all year. And during this week, I’m going to tell you about why and how. In fact, in the longer term, I’m going to write about blogging more frequently and even add a new section called Blogging because as much as I believed before Blogher that it is an excellent tool for older people to have in their repertoire of activities, I believe that even more so now.

As I said, Blogher was the best time I had all year, but not so much right now.

After a day of travel yesterday, during which I made a lot of notes about what I wanted to say about Blogher on Time Goes By, I thought I’d take a whirl around some attendees’ blogs and see what those who didn’t need to travel as far and long to get home had to say. I happened to click on Elisa Camahort’s blog first, and didn’t get any further. She discusses a statement Jay Rosen of PressThink made as the closing session. Then she added:

“…just like Ronni shared that she had never been part of a "women's organization" before, having thought they would bore or marginalize her...and that she would never make that assumption again. Just like finslippy admitted that she felt that MommyBloggers were the marginalized of the marginalized.

”We applauded Ronni and finslippy.

“Why wasn't it equally patronizing for Ronni to "validate" us by saying, OK, Some women were finally smart enough for her to change her mind about women's groups?
Why wasn't it equally negative for finslippy to complain about feeling marginalized when mommy and identity blogging had two of the biggest sessions of the day, and when one of the few women who consistently makes the "A-List" in all its many forms is a MommyBlogger?

“Why? Because we accepted their comments as genuine, heartfelt expressions.”

I never got to the rest of the blogs I intended to read last evening. Instead, I posted a long comment on Elisa’s blog and you can read it there, or I’ve repeated below here. I expected to have gotten over it after a night’s sleep, but no. Elisa’s post has, for the moment, taken all the wind out of my sails - after such an extraordinarily interesting, fun, enlightening day at Blogher, to be so misunderstood – even with the “genuine, heartfelt” closer.

Here’s my comment at Elisa’s blog:

I'm so embarrassed that what I said came out the way you describe, even with your disclaimer at the end. If I said some women were "finally smart enough" for me to change my mind about women's groups (which I don't remember saying), it's not what I meant. I've avoided women's groups most of my life because of my history.

I'm of an older generation that was born into a world where women were expected (forcefully) to marry, have babies - period. There were hardly any jobs available that were not waitress, secretary or nurse and middle-class women worked as filler for a few years until they found a husband.

In those days, when women got together, they talked about babies and housework and clothes and recipes and very little else. We were taught never to show our intelligence (often even to one another) and that no man would marry us if they knew we were smart.

And then, just as I was getting around to joining that army of suburban housewives, in 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique and the world changed. Not overnight, we worked hard and it took a lot of years, but finally we were allowed to unleash our intelligence.

Still, those of us who I have always called the "interim generation" (raised for one kind of life but adopted a brand new one - we didn't even know what it was yet - in our twenties) took a long time to lose our childhood training of what women were "supposed" to be like.

Anyone born after about the mid-sixties doesn't remember what women's lives were like before then, how few options we had or how we really were second-class citizens.

Just one example: when I divorced in 1971, even though I had handled all the family finances, my husband got the credit rating and I couldn't get a credit card in my own name for several years. Few women could in those days.

My point it not the unfairness of that (and many other things), but how it affected some of our (my) behavior. I never was comfortable in the woman's role I was raised to fill and I distanced myself from women - or, rather, groups of them - rightly or wrongly. They bored the crap out of me. They didn't read books; they didn't follow politics or any of the other things that interested me.

It was a slow process as the women's movement gained ground and some women did begin to behave differently - to show their smarts - but plenty of others of my generation and older rejected the movement.

So women's groups didn't much interest me and I hardly thought about them through the years. Though I HAVE often thought about what it is like to be your age, never having known the barriers my generation faced. How fabulous and freeing to know from the cradle that you could aspire to anything you could accomplish. And I'm proud to have played a small part in making that happen.

Back to women's groups: old habits die hard. And in the ensuing years, I worked hard at terrific jobs and just kind of ignored them.

Then you invited me to Blogher. If you remember, I turned you down at first. A women's group! Geez! But then you said the magic word - that you wanted my generation represented. And I wanted to meet you and a bunch of other women I respect so much from your blogs. I arrived having consciously set aside my lifelong skepticism and wow - was I right to do so.

I learned a lot at Blogher from the various sessions I attended and from the many conversations in between, and I'll be writing about some of that at my blog.

But most of all, I learned how terrific women in groups (or at minimum, THIS one) are these days - and undoubtedly have been for a long time, and I wasn't paying attention.

That's my biggest personal takeaway from Blogher. In no way did I intend my comment at the closing session to have anything to do with "validating" anyone. That IS patronizing.

I was speaking from my heart - I didn't do it well (like Jay Rosen, I get nervous speaking to groups - men OR women), but the point I was trying to make is that I was - and am - thrilled to be disabused by so many fabulous, smart, funny, thoughtful, sensitive and accomplished women, of all ages, of a prejudice I've been harboring for too many years.

I'm so sorry it didn't come out that way.

[As noted above, please be sure to read Elisa's update.]