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February 2006
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Kids’ Games For Aging Brains

category_bug_journal2.gif According to the business press, the adolescent market for video games is shrinking. But wait. There's a whole new market out here in consumerland: you and me. Elders.

Brain Training For Adults, a package of cerebral workouts aimed at the over-45s by the Japanese game console and software maker Nintendo, is said to improve mental agility and even slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
- China Daily, 8 March 2006

The last part about slowing dementia and AD is probably hype, but anything that helps keep aging brains active, couldn’t hurt. The idea is to solve short puzzles as quickly and accurately as possible - simple arithmetic problems, quizzes, drawing, soduko, reading aloud, etc.

“What's the sum of 6+7 and 7+2? How much time has passed between 12:10 and 1:30? Given two minutes to look over two dozen words, how many can you write from memory? […]OK, so it's not exactly rocket science. But this light mental workout has been endorsed by one of Japan's premier brain researchers as just the thing to help you stay alert.”
- BusinessWeek, 8 March 2006

Ryuta Kawashima, a professor of neuroscience at Tohoku University, who helped develop Brain Age, says he has proof that a few minutes every day spent exercising a particular part of the brain brings improvements.

“During research he captured images of various brain functions and found the organ functions best when confronted with simple calculations than when multi-tasking during a conventional computer game.”
- China Daily, 8 March 2006

The software titles have sold 3.3 million copies in Japan in less than a year and will arrive in U.S. stores - renamed Brain Age - on 17 April. A second title, Big Brain Academy, is due for release in the U.S. in May.

The games are played on a handheld device call the Nintendo DS, with 3D graphics, touch-screen and wireless communication technology. It sells in the U.S. for around $130.


In Japan, “The elderly - including baby boomers - who had never played video games before, have bought the software and console…”
- BusinessWeek, 8 March 2006

The question is, however, how many of the "elderly" used the devices after purchasing them. There is one not-so-small flaw in the product: that tiny screen, difficult for many elders to read. It's funny to think about how a company can go through the entire product development cycle and not consider the physical needs of the consumer they are targeting.

3.3 million copies sold in Japan sounds impressive but who knows - maybe they could have doubled or tripled sales if the games were available for large PC and Mac screens.

But, even on small screens, the games will work for some elders and it’s going to be a hoot to watch kids watching elders tapping away on their handheld game machines.

The Retailing of Healthcare

category_bug_journal2.gif According to former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, the new Medicare drug plan (Part D) is a rousing success. In two recent surveys, says Gingrich,

“…two-thirds say the benefits are worth the time and effort to evaluate their options and plans; 59 percent of self-enrolled seniors say they are saving money.”

Writing in the Boston Globe this morning, Gingrich and his co-author, David Merritt, who is a project director at the Center for Health Transformation which Gingrich founded, also tell readers that

“Competition is driving down prices. Total federal spending will be 20 percent lower than projections because seniors are shopping for plans with lower premiums…Medicare estimated that monthly premiums for the new drug plans would be $37 a month. Competition and consumer empowerment have brought the price down to $25 per month.”

Gingrich uses this good news to leap into his prescription for “saving Medicare,” first by touting Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) which, he says, “have had a dramatic impact in private healthcare in just two years” for the four million enrolled in such plans.

Four million in two years out of a population of nearly 300 million is a success? Sounds more like a failure to me, and the connection to Medicare is unclear. HSAs are offered primarily by corporations to their employees and are unavailable to the 46 million who can’t afford health insurance let alone an HSA.

Gingrich also calls for wider use of information technology in healthcare to “empower consumers to manage their healthcare better,” and for the wider dispersion of information about healthcare “products and services” they will “purchase.”

I agree that the healthcare industry is woefully behind in adopting technology, but the language of such plans as Gingrich’s bothers me as much as the idea that “consumers” should choose their own healthcare “products and services.” In the latter instance, patients are not qualified to choose treatment. That’s why we go to trained physicians.

Although the first instance is less obvious, what advocates like Gingrich are trying to do by repeating such “retail” language is commercialize healthcare, to make us comfortable viewing treatment for anything from bunions to cancer in the same light as buying a car. It is not the same thing, and we should resist both the language and the turning over of healthcare to the market economy.

Healthcare is not a retail choice. When things go wrong, we must seek treatment. And when accidents or illnesses that rob us, even temporarily, of our decision-making faculties, “managing our healthcare” is not humanly possible even if we knew what we’re talking about which, without a medical education, we don’t.

The surveys Gingrich and Merritt quote are not as impressive as the two men appear to believe. If 59 percent of Medicare recipients are saving money on prescription drugs, 41 percent are either paying the same as before Part D went into effect or are paying more. That is not an acceptable result.

Three months ago, I not-so-jokingly wrote here that because I could no longer afford private health coverage, I would stay in bed until Medicare kicks in for me on 1 April. I’ve managed to traverse those 90 days without a health calamity and can get out of bed, finally, on Saturday.

At my age, I am one of the lucky Americans, old enough for what is, essentially, universal healthcare available to the 42 million people who are 65 and older. Medicare is not a perfect program and Part D is not as rosy a picture as Gingrich reports. But in general, it works pretty well and is certainly better than no healthcare at all.

It’s time for Congress to enact universal healthcare for Americans of all ages and to reject the retailing of healthcare.

Elder Drivers - Pro and Con

At first glance, the statistics appear to be devastating. According to The Wall Street Journal, quoting insurance industry statistics and the federal government:

“…older drivers, the fastest-growing demographic on the road and increasingly among the most dangerous…Motorists 85 and older now surpass 16-year-olds in frequency of fatalities per mile driven, and nearly match teenagers in rates of insurance claims for property damage…”
- The Wall Street Journal, 25 March 2006 [subscription required]

But then, there is this:

“A 2004 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study compared fatal crashes nationally by age group adjusted for the number of miles traveled. In that study, drivers across the country, ages 65 to 74, were in fatal crashes two times for every 100 million miles driven, slightly more often than the 1.6 involving drivers ages 35 to 64 and the same as those 25 to 34 but still far less than teens and 20 to 24 year olds.
- The Journal-Gazette, 26 February 2006

Obviously, the statistics in the two stories compare apples and oranges. And that is a crucial point, rarely made clear in the national campaign that is building steam to restrict elder driving. There is a big difference between the capabilities of the young-old and old-old.

Additionally, recent reports tend to offer fender benders at any age past 65 as proof that elders are incompetent drivers, although younger drivers are not so accused for the same "crime."

The backlash against older drivers is hitting close to home these days as I prepare to move to Portland, Maine, and will be buying a car within the next few weeks. I am acutely aware that the day wll come, sometime in the future, when declining faculties will make it necessary for me to turn in my keys, but it is difficult for anyone to know when that time arrives.

As the number of elders increases dramatically in the next few years, there are questions all elders, and local governments and communities, need to consider: Should a different kind of testing be required for elder drivers? If so, at what frequency? Should there be a standard cutoff age for driving in later years as we have for teenage beginning drivers? Are there medical conditions that should automatically require revocation of driving privileges? Should there be an age at which license renewal by mail is no longer allowed?

Also critical is what alternative transportation can or will communities provide when elders can no longer drive but are capable of living independently? According to the Beverly Foundation, which promotes alternative transportation for elders,

“…about two-thirds of seniors live in low density suburbs or rural areas - both offer fewer transportation alternatives.”

Another concern is that people age at dramatically different rates. Some 60-year-olds have declined enough that driving is hazardous. Others, at 80, are still safe drivers. But bureaucracies are not designed for determining such subtleties. We allow drivers licenses to all 16-year-olds who pass the road test whether they are emotionally mature enough to drive safely or not because it is convenient. So any age restrictions we may enact are bound to cut off the freedom of movement to many elders who should not be denied a license.

The reverse of this issue is brought home in the Wall Street Journal piece which focuses primarily on attorneys who help elders regain licenses after they have been deemed unfit to drive:

“Charles Navarro was 100 years old when he smacked into the back of another car while tooling down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in his cherry-red Cadillac Sedan de Ville. California decided that his driving days were over…

“Mr. Navarro's wife saw [attorney] Mr. Kendall's newspaper ad and telephoned him.

“Mr. Kendall showed his client a training video he made with tips and pep talks about keeping a positive attitude. He sent him to driving school and guided him through written and road tests. Mr. Navarro regained his license, only to lose it a second time after another fender bender on busy Wilshire. With Mr. Kendall's help, he recouped his license again in 2005.”

As much as I am inclined to oppose an arbitrary cutoff age for driving, allowing a 100-year-old a license does seem to be a case of bureaucratic madness although the story’s end is both happy and ambiguous:

“Last September, Mr. Navarro drove his wife to dinner at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara. One week later, he died at home in his sleep at 101. His license wasn't set to expire until 2009.” [emphasis added]

No one wants to give up freedom of movement and most elders do not live in communities where such simple necessities as shopping for food or seeing the doctor are possible without a car. Nevertheless, the safety of everyone is at stake.

As an aging population makes the driving issue for elders more urgent, it is important for local governments and communities to find a balance between safety for the general population and fairness to capable elders. It will not be easy.

Related Story: Elder Transportation
[Hat tip to Deejay at Small Beer for the WSJ piece.]

Media Stories About Elders Ring Hollow

category_bug_ageism.gif Two recent news stories report, each in a different manner, on cultural ageism. Neither is satisfactory.

Abigail Trafford's weekly Washington Post column on aging issues often feels tepid and unfocused. Last week was no exception when her report about a recent meeting of the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging in California lacked the basic facts required to fulfill the definition of news.

According to one speaker, reports Ms. Trafford, even experts in the field of aging (conference attendees) hold negative stereotypes of elders because until recently, all research focused on residents of nursing homes. For that statement to have newsworthy impact, you need to know that 80 percent of elders live independently until they die. But Ms. Trafford doesn't mention it.

She goes on to describe negative media examples of elders presented at the opening session of the conference and then limps to this conclusion, a quote from panel moderator, Hugh Downs, who is 85:

“I want to live long enough so that when someone says about me, ‘There is an old man,’ I know it will be a compliment.”
- Washington Post, 21 March 2006

If there were any ideas and suggestions put forward at this conference on how to change the negative stereotypes held by the culture at large and, most disturbingly, by the “experts” on aging, Ms. Trafford did not report them. But at least she understands there is an issue around ageism.

Not so, apparently, with Tim Harford whose story is headlined, tabloid style, “Fire Grandpa! Hire Junior!”. In it, he ignorantly bashes elders as unproductive drags on the economy who are holding back young workers from making the big bucks they deserve.

“Older workers, on the other hand, tend to be overpaid relative to what they produce… Decades of economic studies have produced the conclusion that average wages increase with age almost until retirement, yet average productivity seems to be flat or perhaps even declining after the age of 50.”
- Slate, 18 March 2006

He is wrong about productivity declining after age 50. He quotes no source for this statement and there are studies concluding otherwise. Mr. Harford, a British subject who is a columnist for the Financial Times continues:

“…overpayment of older workers seems to be an international phenomenon.

“This is a puzzle. Young workers can rightly grumble that they are paid a pittance for doing valuable work. Older workers also have good cause to worry: They are being subsidized, but subsidies are expensive, and that means they have every reason to fear the sack. Wouldn’t it make more sense for young workers to be paid a bit more, old workers to be paid a bit less…”

The real puzzle is how Mr. Harford arrives at the conclusion that recent graduates are worth more than the going rate since they have not a whit of experience yet. And it appears that he would not even allow for cost-of-living raises for older workers - which is all employees of any age in the U.S. have received for more than a decade losing out, year after year, in the race against inflation as real wages, except in the executive suite, have declined.

I would take his story more seriously if Mr. Harford did not all but admit that it is merely cheap sensationalism when he writes, “I can look forward to a big bag of hate mail for reporting on this research…”

“This research” gives it away. There is no referenced research for his claims of lower productivity from elders nor for the existence of their “jobs for life.” Who has had a job for life anytime in the past 25 years? When I was young, people held three or at most, four, jobs in a lifetime. Career specialists have been reporting for more than two decades that the workplace has changed so dramatically, everyone should expect to hold ten, 15 and even more jobs throughout their working years.

Neither of these stories is blatantly ageist, although Mr. Harford’s come close. They are just depressingly uninspired, badly researched and of no worth. There is little enough reporting on issues affecting elders, but in these two cases, we would be better off without them. They report nothing of substance.

The Non-Stop Roar of the Crowd

It appears there is a move afoot in the bowels of the federal government to allow airlines to sell passengers, for a nominal fee, the use of cell phones on airplanes above 10,000 feet. Here is Crabby Old Lady’s question:

When did the right to quiet become superseded by the right to make noise?

There is no public space left in the U.S. where Crabby’s ears are not assaulted. Department stores and boutiques blast music so raucous, Crabby cannot discuss the price of a pair of shoes with a companion without shouting over the noise.

In addition to never-ending - though blander - music, supermarkets and big box stores broadcast announcements of sale items at decibels beyond that of a jackhammer. Movie theaters blare music and inane quizzes in what once were the few quiet minutes before the lights go down. CNN announcers bray ceaselessly in every airport waiting area.

On recent train journeys, Crabby could not read the morning paper for a dozen people shouting banalities - what did you have for breakfast? - into their cell phones. Some continued, literally for hours - one call after another - constantly interrupting themselves with repetitions of “can you hear me? Say that again? You’re breaking up. What? What did you say,” etc. until a captive listener feels she might go mad.

Even iPods add to the cacophony. Crabby has yet to find herself next to a user of one of these ubiquitous toys that she cannot clearly hear tinny rhythms emanating from earpieces, all the more annoying for their scratchiness. The beeps, burps and bonks of handheld video games are no less irritating.

By saturating every silence with sound, we have destroyed the ideas of thought and contemplation. Sometimes Crabby believes this is a deliberate, political conspiracy: encourage the culture to fill every empty moment with noise and everyone will be so distracted, they won’t notice the loss of civil rights and job opportunities, the rape of the environment by corporations, government wiretapping and camera surveillance, political lies and the new (still subtle, though not for long) move to accustom citizens to the idea of war against Iran.

As miserable as air travel is these days, Crabby takes comfort in the drone of the engines - white noise that cancels every aural distraction except squalling babies and flight attendant announcements. For a few hours, Crabby can read or write with actual comprehension. She can nap if so inclined. And most of all, she can think. Thinking time anywhere but at home and on an airplane has become non-existent. Now, Bush and company want to eliminate the single, remaining public space where private thought is possible.

Cell-phone vulgarians (anyone who uses a cell phone in any enclosed public place is a vulgarian; Crabby will hear no argument otherwise) hold all other people hostage to their ill-bred, loutish behavior. So rude a society have we become that a ringing cell phone now takes precedence, in any social setting, over live conversation. And the amazing part is, so cowed by the self-important, cell-phone jackasses are those who are interrupted in mid-sentence, they never object.

It is unlikely there is any way to prevent the federal government from approving cell phone use on airplanes. To repeat Crabby’s original question: why is it, in American culture, rights default to the noisemakers and not to those they disturb?

Relaxing Into a New Place

category_bug_journal2.gif Having been in Maine all week with little access to the internet nor time for anything much more than house-hunting, there is no Silver Threads today. It will return next Sunday.

First, my gratitude to Fred First, Claude Covo-Farchi, Ian Bertram, Steve Sherlock and Tamar Jacobson for such excellent guest blogging while I was gone. My only request was that the pieces relate to getting older in some manner, and you all succeeded magnificently.

Thank you too to all who stopped by and left comments. What excellent conversations are taking place here. (Maybe I should go away more often.) There will be some more guest blogs when I go back to Maine again in about three weeks.

Although I did not find a place to buy, the Maine trip was fruitful. I saw a lot of houses in Bath and determined that the outskirts are not for me. I need to be in the “big city” - Portland - and the near-hour drive to Bath (which would be much longer on wintery highways) is not a drive I want to make frequently.

More importantly, I realized that already I have the core of a personal community. I chose well with the real estate agent I engaged. Through him, I have met several people with whom I have felt an immediate simpatico. They come from several walks of life: a financial consultant, an attorney, a banker, a photographer and of course, Mary Lee Fowler who teaches English as a second language and writes the Full Fathom Five blog.

I’d heard and read that Portland has a variety of excellent restaurants and one evening, Mary Lee took me to Uffa where I had a bouillabaisse at least as good as I’ve ever eaten in New York City’s best French restaurants.

I’m beginning to feel at home in Portland and can take myself off the main streets, inventing my own shortcuts now, as I walk to appointments without getting lost.

For such a small city - 64,000 - there is a large number of arts events. Portland has its own symphony orchestra and a permanent string quartet, plenty of movies (there was a Jewish film festival going on last week), galleries, plays, readings, museums, concerts of every stripe.

It struck me that I will take greater advantage there than in New York City where, with hundreds of choices every day, it’s as though there is no choice at all. It is too difficult to decide and if you don’t go now - well, there are just as many choices tomorrow. In Portland, even a poetry reading (there are dozens of those every day in New York) is an event worth attending.

My natural inclination is - or rather, was in my youth - to trust people until they prove otherwise. Early on in New York, however, I was burned enough times that I learned to work in reverse: show me that I should trust you. After several trips to Portland now, I have relaxed there into my more natural state of trust.

Every new acquaintance mentioned above along with shopkeepers, hotel attendants and other people I’ve had reason to speak with are so obviously solid, grounded, open, friendly and real that I don’t need uphold that Gotham guardedness New Yorkers acquire. Letting go of that provisional wall after nearly 40 years is extraordinarily freeing.

Of the seven U.S. cities I've lived in, all were chosen for me - by parents and by the requirements of my former husband's career. But this one is my choice. If I had any doubts - and they are always there in making a drastic life change - about my new place, they are gone. I chose well.

Guest Blogger: Fred First

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I'm returning from Maine today, so this is the last guest post until next time. Fred First, of Fragments From Floyd, writes beautifully (as he always does) of the moments that mark our lives in a piece he titles In Good Time. Please welcome him to TGB and don't forget to visit his blog too.]

I was, but I was not in time on New Year’s Eve, 1950. Events came and marked time’s passing—Christmases, and especially birthdays—measured by the number of fingers I held up, of candles I blew out and made a wish. But time then held no promise or threat of change in my life. If it moved at all, time parted around me; it moved with imperceptible slowness then and was no enemy.

I was twelve when I first grasped the potential of time’s gravity, and conceived of someday, being “old.” I watched time falling, counted down its hours, then the final seconds of 1959 as the Big Ball descended to welcome a new decade, a number divisible by ten small fingers. That night, I grasped that I stood at risk for more of these decade changes ahead in life. I did the arithmetic: in the auspicious year of 2000, I would be fifty two. For the first time, I looked far ahead into this mystery, dreading vaguely that I might, after all, be moved ahead by time’s current or more likely, that its unspeakable dimension would pass through my body as I held my place firmly in perpetual youth of heart and mind. And hold my place, I intended to do.

Life beyond eternal childhood held no appeal for me; I had returned again and again to watch Peter Pan fly above the clouds in perpetual childhood. I vowed I would become one of the Lost Boys. At that threshold of the sixties, I puckered my face in the mirror, forty years into the future, into a wizened distortion of an incomprehensible evolution to come and tried to imagine aging. I vowed that I would not go peacefully.

And yet, carrots dangled just beyond reach on the infinitely progressing front edge of time—girls, rock and roll, and driving—the kinds of adventure and reward that growing older promised. At fifteen, I was almost ready to put away childish things. Expectations beyond Christmases and birthdays filled a haunting place called The Future. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long” the Beach Boys sang at a high school dance. I understood.

Time was a barrier to be breached, a distance to be crossed between today and everything I thought I might want in my grown-up life to come. I was stuck in the present waiting, with years of sub-adulthood to endure. This odd force like gravity was an adversary, an empty wasteland of plodding youth that, barring a time machine—a recurrent adolescent fantasy—would have to be endured if I was to reach the prize: independence, adventure, amour, and freedom from acne. Adulthood.

Ten fingers later—it came so quickly, looking back—in 1970, I was married and in graduate school. That year my new passion for photography forever changed my view of time. I learned then to savor present moments. Every unique photograph snapped a marker in time, held it in the emulsion of memory, capturing in perfect synchrony that vertical line of precise moment where it intersects the coordinates of particular place.

No two photographic instants were the same, and there was no going back. Time was a moving stream and with my lens I fished from it as days flowed through the faces I knew, past the places I loved, leaving the lived, the known moments bobbing on its smooth surface, receding deeper and deeper, Doppler-like, into a realm that we could photograph, could know just once, just now.

I spent three more decades behind the camera, not wishing I were older, happy for the past, but savoring photographic instants in the present when one face or one flower, one sunset, yet another family pet or one more grandchild’s candle-covered birthday cake filled the viewfinder. And when the year 2000 came, I was still alive—much to the amazement of the freckled twelve-year-old me I could see in memory with such clarity that millennial New Year’s Eve.

And while my twenty-first century face was indeed pleated by laugh lines and crow’s feet, creased like my old first baseman’s glove, it was the face of the same Lost Boy, riding time like a pair of skates, surfing its glassy surface to the vanishing point, standing still but moving through it, moment by precious moment, aging, after all.

Guest Blogger: Claude Covo-Farchi

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I'm in Maine this week, several elderbloggers agreed to substitute for me. Today, Claude Covo-Farchi of Blogging in Paris writes of her mother’s last days, and of facing her own mortality. Please welcome her to Time Goes By and visit her blog too.]

Ronni Bennett has asked me to write a piece for Time Goes By as a guest blogger, which thrills me, but which I also find a bit frightening, considering English is not my mother tongue.

For a long time, I have been thinking about the way my mother died. Gitta lived some fifty years with Joseph, her husband, and for the last years of her husband's life, all her energies were turned towards taking care of him. Joseph had a heart condition and she did everything she could to keep him healthy. She behaved like a real Jewish mother to him.

So much so that sometimes, it even got on his nerves! When I visited, he suggested going for a walk with me, and in fact we would go to the café around the corner and talk over a cup of coffee.

When he died in 1982, Gitta felt totally useless and all the health problems that had been masked before his death started manifesting. She had been a heavy smoker all her life, and had only quit smoking in 1976. To Gitta, your body was like a car. If you were sick, you went to the doctor’s and told him where the pain was, and like a garage mechanic, he'd fix it. But emphyzema couldn't be fixed and although she ignored it while my father was alive, it started showing and growing after his death.

I visited several times a week and, weather permitting, we would go out for a walk. Her breath was so short that I had to carry a small stool along, and she would sit every five minutes to catch her breath. Soon, she needed oxygen, and we couldn't even do that.

I remember one time when I had to take her to hospital, which fortunately was across the street from where I then lived. She had to stay there for quite a while and started losing her bearings. Once, she told me how my sister-in-law had misplaced her plates –she thought she was still at home. One afternoon, she told me how she had seen German soldiers come and take a baby from the hospital during the night.

To hospital staff, her mind was perfectly all right, as some of the time, she made sense. Well, indeed she had not totally lost her mind, but she was lost in a place she didn't know.

Eventually, when she went back home, after a couple of weeks, she was back to her old self, at least mentally. But her strength was declining and eventually, she had to accept that she couldn't remain at home on her own.

This was really hard for her to accept. You see, Gitta had always been a very capable woman. Not submissive, not patient, not the sort of woman who could accept losing her independence easily.

Of course, writing about my mother's death brings to my mind the way I am going to grow older and die. It is difficult, almost impossible to imagine losing my independence. Since my husband's death, I have become quite a loner. I have a good many friends whose company I enjoy, but mostly, I do what I like when I like and have become a pretty independent woman.

And it's even more difficult to imagine feeling my body wane, my legs weaken and not carry me through long walks any more.

Through my experience of seeing Gitta or other members of my family who passed away, I feel that I should get my mind used to the idea that there will be a time in my life when I will need help. But I find it difficult to write about it. Or is it just hard to think about it?

When I started this piece, I had planned a short part about my mother and a longer part trying to reflect about the future. But somehow, my mind refuses to go there. I will cross those bridges when I come to them, no doubt, as I have crossed others, but it irks me to realise what a coward I am.

Guest Blogger: Ian Bertram

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Ian Bertram, who blogs at Panchromatica, is filling in for me today while I'm in Maine. He titles his guest piece, “Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be.” Please welcome him to Time Goes By and be sure to visit his blog.

"Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made."
- (Browning)

This year I cross one of those artificial age thresholds we so love to hate – in my case I will be 60. When my parents approached that age, they probably did so with some trepidation – both physically and mentally it was seen as the beginning of the decline. That isn’t the case now because of course we expect to live much longer as medical treatment improves.

One thing that hasn’t changed however is our attitude to aging or retirement. Many of us, supported it must be said by trades unions and the media, see retirement not as a change but as the end - as if we define ourselves by our work. Indeed the pensions system makes it pretty much impossible to do anything else. If my working life had been like my father’s – hot, hard labour in a foundry – I suppose I might have felt that way myself, but increasingly this will not be so.

How can we best equip people to adapt to change? The management writer Charles Handy has been arguing for years that we can no longer expect to stay in the same career all our lives. Typically, we must anticipate retraining two or three times over an average working life. As our working life extends, this need will presumably become even more acute.

When I was made redundant at 55, I could have looked for more of the same, but probably not without major upheaval if I succeeded. I was fortunate that my redundancy package provided a buffer so I decided to become a consultant. The business plan I worked out soon went out of the window but work came in nevertheless.

At the same time, some of my other interests grew to fill the space previously occupied by ‘wage slavery’ and began to offer the opportunity to generate income in their own right. So now I have become what Handy calls a ‘portfolio worker’. I work on short-term contracts via an agency, I work on a self-employed basis with one or two contracts at any one time, I have begun to develop a market for my photographic and print work, I have started other art and craftwork. I have two unfinished novels (but then who doesn’t!)

I started writing this with the aim of comparing me20 with me60, but having got thus far I found it curiously difficult. Part of the problem is that me20 was not introspective and faced the world, Candide-like, with an enthusiasm fuelled by a dangerous but heady mixture of ignorance and idealism. Consequently I don’t really have memories of what me20 thought of his life then and don’t think me20 could have imagined the life I lead now let alone anticipated it. Me60 has come a long way – in both time and distance - from the streets on which I grew up.

A memory of an even earlier me – me5 - from an autobiographical piece I prepared for a writing class.

On my first day at infant school we are all given slates and a slate pencil. The teacher writes our name on each slate for us to copy. I can already write my name so I rub out her version and proudly write my own. She is cross. I have written it in the wrong way. She makes me write it out as she has written it, not as my mother has taught me. It is my first exposure to the tyranny of adult conformity.

I suspect such naivete was always there and probably to a degree still is – despite my occasional pretensions of cynicism. Inside me60, me20 is still lurking – and hasn’t grown older and doesn’t see what is so good about ‘growing up’.

Real growing up - real growth - comes I believe from cultivating your me20 – and all those other ‘me’s still inside you. Think about it! Me20 was of course very aware of the opposite sex. Me20 may have looked at the occasional 22 year old girl but never – never - at someone as ancient as 30. By contrast for me60, the world is bursting at the seams with beautiful women!

For any life experience the same applies – by cultivating and encouraging your me20 – and all those other ‘me’s - you enhance the life you lead now. It isn’t nostalgia – it is an essential part of being you.

Guest Blogger: Steve Sherlock

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I'm in Maine this week, several elderbloggers are taking up the slack for me. Today, Steve Sherlock of Steve’s 2 Cents (and other blogs) is here with a charming story that has become family lore. Please welcome him to Time Goes By and visit his blog(s) too.]

One Mother's Day many years ago when the kids were old enough to do fun stuff, like go shopping for Mother's Day, they skipped out of the house with me.

She likes chocolate, we need to get her this.

Browsing in the Hallmark store for the right card. Crouching down to read the contents to them. They picked the big ones. The colorful ones. And then the One.

This was cool. It had a little button where we could record our own message.

Hey, that's like we just did on the answering machine!

Bright kids, these of ours. We had just moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts and got a new answering machine to record our message. The kids took turns to record the message. It took practice but it was fun recording. Easy enough to delete and start over.

Oh but let's keep that one with the giggles, they'll know it us!

After many tries, we did successfully get one with their voices: "You have reached the Sherlock Family. We can't take your call right now. Please leave a message." Of course, they added their beeps before the machine did its thing. That was okay.

So this was going to be easy. Just push the button and record our Mother's Day message. Push this other button to re-record. They had the concept down. But we only had ten seconds. Yes, just ten. This was not like the answering machine where time was endless, where we could talk and talk... 10 seconds. How long is that for a six-year old and a four-year old? Endless but not long enough.

We need to play some music! She'll like that.

Okay, now how much are we going to put into this message, kids. So we talked about what we would say. We tried it out. Didn't even get past the giggles before the first try ran out of time. We started laughing so hard, it almost didn't matter. We tried again. Got a couple of words in that time.

But I didn't get to say my part!

That's okay, we need to practice some more. We did finally get the message down and eventually agree on the music to add at the end. Yes, the music had to be there.

Fortunately the tape deck was pretty good to handle the cassette tape. (Remember them?) We picked out the section of one of our favorite tapes we wanted to use. It was from Mary Chapin Carpenter's Come On Come On album and the song we wanted to use a piece of was “Passionate Kisses”. We queued it up and had it ready to go.

If I say, and then Carolyn says, you get to say the kissy part.

It went something like that. The recording came out very nicely. All tidied up finally to fit in exactly ten seconds including Mary singing her couple of words: "passionate kisses". She sang them so much better than I could sing them. I was into the doing part, but that is another posting.

The day came. The card was a big hit. Dolores played it over several times. Helped by each of the girls of course. They were so proud of what they had done and well, they should be.

We had to take the card with us to grandma's house to show her and all the family. It was played several times there as well. Cool technology. The little microchip amazed the whole family with 10 seconds of history.

That's all it is now. History. A story for retelling at other family gatherings. A story captured here for a different kind of digital memory. You see, later that day at grandma's, one of the cousins wanted to see how it worked and found the record button. Just like that: the voices, the recording, all gone. Purely unintentional. But gone, none the less.

The girls are grown up now. Allison, a sophomore in college. Carolyn, a senior in high school. Young ladies about to make their mark in the world a lasting one. But in many ways, they already have. Like the recording once upon a time for Mother's Day that is living in memory.

Guest Blogger: Tamar Jacobson

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I'm off to Maine this week to check out possible new homes and some excellent bloggers have agreed to fill in for me. Today, Tamar Jacobson of Tamarika writes of “Shining With Energy.” Please welcome her to Time Goes By and visit her blog too.]

This morning I awoke suddenly out of a dream. My first boyfriend from when I was seventeen had called me up on the phone. Well, at least I thought it was him especially from the crazy-making conversation that ensued and his not ever telling me who he was.

That was typical of his style as we dated for two years when I was completing high school. In the dream I was quite excited to hear from him. After all, we have not had any type of contact for the past 39 years. I was curious about his life and asked him if he was married and had any children. Of course, he would not say.

I lay awake thinking about the dream. It was so vivid. His voice was so clear. There was an atmosphere of tension and excitement throughout the dream that was almost exactly as it had been 40 years ago when we dated. At the end of the dream he still would not reveal who he really was. However, his brother came on the line and left me his e-mail address: “gpt something @ author.edt.” As I lay there thinking about the dream and what it could mean, I smiled at the email address with the reference to author and editor as part of it.

Ah, memories. Are they becoming more vivid than ever the older I become? It is like catching a puff of smoke as it wafts by in the wind. Vivid snapshots of past times with all the feelings, smells, sounds, even ambiance, intact.

As I enter into the realm of almost sixty (after all I will be 57 this year), I sometimes find myself looking wistfully back to those good old days. Shooting pangs of regret stab in the gut as I wonder if I could have done it better. I mean, rationally, I know that I did the best with what I had and who I was then. So why suddenly the regret?

On Friday night as we were walking to the car from dinner, I seemed to notice all the young people passing us by. Slender and shining with energy, they seemed so fresh and open ready for everything life has to offer. The stabbing pang was right there. “Had I wasted those years when I was slender and shining with energy?” I thought suddenly out of nowhere. Tears filled my eyes and I said wistfully out loud, “Oh how I wasted my youth. I could have done it so much better.”

T. hugged me close and said softly, reminding me, “We all think like that now and then, Tam. It’s what happens as we get older.” A passing pang, fleeting moment and on with the present living the now. I’ve had my chance.

We had fun this weekend. T. took a number of photographs of me for my blog. We laughed so much because I hated every one of them. Shouting and yelling out, “Oh I look old, old, old!” Finally I chose one that I liked and stared at it for the longest time. It was almost as if I was getting to know me for the first time over and over again. The face was familiar. The gray hair too. I searched deeply into my picture. Where had the young me gone? I could sense her even as I searched the photograph. I could feel her deep within me. Throbbing, vital, shining with energy, fresh and open ready for everything that life has to offer. “She’s still here,” I thought. “Accompanying me on this new adventure into aging.”

Ah, memories. Reminders of days gone by when, honestly, I could not have done it any other way.

Accommodating Waning Capabilities

When we are children, there are things we can’t do because we’re not tall enough yet, or strong enough. I was always the shortest kid in class and for several years, until I gained enough height, teachers placed a wooden step stool under my desk on which to rest my feet so my legs, otherwise dangling in space, wouldn’t go numb.

Mom or dad helped out when I couldn’t lift or reach something, and they would carry me when the walk was long and I got tired.

We reach adulthood and for many decades there is little we cannot do. We “tote that barge and lift that bale” without thinking about it. We run for the bus, play a few sets of tennis before walking the miles of supermarket aisles and then go dancing all night. Nothing to it.

So it is a shock one day, trying to move a piece of furniture you’ve been shoving around for years, when it won’t budge. Or, you get a piece of luggage chest high and can’t move it from there into the overhead bin on the airplane. When that happened to me last week for the first time, I was slightly embarrassed to ask the sturdy, young man next to me for help, but he gallantly pitched in saying, “no problem” when I thanked him. At our destination, he retrieved my bag without my asking.

It is as though my strength has disappeared in a twinkling. As if yesterday I could do it and today I can’t.

Anyone who has ever changed planes in Atlanta knows the million-mile walk to the train to get to another concourse. On my way to Texas last week, that walk was longer than it’s ever been - in feel, if not reality - and pulling my bag along behind me felt as though I was hauling a boulder to Austin. So much so that when one of those electric carts beeped up beside me, I hopped aboard. Another aging first. I was relieved to see that several people a lot younger I am were also taking the easy rider.

Inevitably, as we get older, our capabilities wane and although it is hard for me, as on the airplane, to rely on the kindnesses of strangers, it is best I believe to ask for help, return a polite thank you and move on. Few will refuse and in my case, I have a lifetime of practice in asking strangers to retrieve items from the top shelf in supermarkets.

That doesn’t mean, in this case, that a class in strength training might not be in order (and I may look into that when I have finished the move to Maine), but nothing will return the strength of a 25-year-old to someone who is 65 and older.

Elders and children have many things in common, and although our culture makes great efforts to protect and accommodate kids, there are few - airport electric carts notwithstanding - for elders.

More often than not it is I, not a teenager or adult, who stands up in the subway so an elder may sit. My local neighborhood association is still fighting the Department of Transportation to extend the length of the green light at the corner so elders can get across the wide avenue without fear of becoming accident statistics. These efforts, over more than a decade, have so far been in vain.

As elders’ capabilities decline, there are simple accommodations that can be made. I spread housecleaning over seven days now instead of charging through all of it on Saturday mornings as I had done for a lifetime. I’ve been making additional trips to and from the markets in the past couple of years since I’ve found I can’t carry as much weight as I once did.

But communities and the culture must do their part too to ease the way for elders - as they do for children. It’s the right thing to do.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am off to Maine tomorrow, Tuesday morning, until the end of the week. As with my trip to Texas, several bloggers will be filling in for me. Please welcome them, leave lots of comments for them and do visit their blogs.]

Silver Threads - 3/19/2006

To quote a tune from 65 years ago, “Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde and the band played on.” As reported in the Guardian UK, rock-and-roll icons from the Sixties are playing on into their sixties as they continue to record and tour. I like what 58-year-old Ry Cooder has to say about musicians way older than he is: “I always thought you need to find the oldest person…because they know the secret things that can't be described…” [via Ian Bertram at Panchromatica]

This is too good not to repeat in its entirety - from Norm Jenson at One Good Move:

“Last week in Annapolis at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin , professor of law at American University, was requested to testify. He did so.

“At the end of his testimony, a right-wing senator said: ‘Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?’

“Raskin: ‘Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.’

“The room erupted into applause.”

All bloggers ego-surf and Frank Paynter at Sandhill Trek told us this week (via Doc Searls) of a site - - where our online egos can be ranked. I'm not sure what it means, being on the edge of the red zone as I am, compared with Frank's 7266, but I suspect egosurf will be another of those blog doodads that gets its 15 minutes of fame - and it's such a cute little meter. What’s your ego rank?


Ed Weiland is doing some seriously serious rhyming at his at his wegads blog. He calls his style of poetry “rhyme on rhyme on rhyme” and the cadences keep me going back as much as the commentary being rhymed.

During the ElderBlogger panel at SXSWi a week ago, Marshall Poe, who writes for the Atlantic Monthly, let us know about MemoryWiki, “the encyclopedia of memories.” There is a multitude of good storytelling there from historical events to personal history. And anyone can post a story, so do let us know here at TGB when you contribute.

Speaking of memories, last Monday’s Newsweek featured displays of popular design items from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The editors, unfortunately, label this “boomer design,” (as though no one else was alive and contributing to popular design then), but anyone can have a good laugh asking themselves, as I did about some of these, “what were we thinking?”

For a news junkie like me, one of the best things about the internet is the vast number of newspapers online. But keeping up with them all can be a chore. Now I’ve found a site, AmericaWatching, that specializes in collecting news from around the world telling us what other countries' media are saying about the United States. Fascinating. [via The Old Hippies Groovy Blog]

You don’t have to be a gardener to enjoy Susan Harris’s rant at Takoma Gardener on “America’s master gardener,” Jerry Baker. There is so much bad information passing as expert on so many topics these days, it’s good to have some sane voices among us to point out the errors.

88-year-old, 60 Minutes correspondent, Mike Wallace announced his retirement this week from CBS News. Reports like this one praised CBS for keeping Wallace (and some other elder reporters) around long past traditional retirement age of 65. I’d be impressed if there were more “ordinary” people of Wallace’s age still on the job. Mostly, however, corporate America allows elders to work into their 70s and 80s only if they are highly paid and visible - like Wallace, Andy Rooney, Bob Sheiffer, for example, and CEOs like Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch. Also, we might reasonably ask, where are the elder women still working at 70- and 80-plus?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of a Travel Mishap

As I said in one of my conference posts, SXSW is a 20-year tradition, an event the city of Austin is proud to host each year. Little did I know what a big deal and how powerful it is.

In these post-9/11 days of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and the presidential War on Terror, traveling on commercial carriers is fraught with a succession of security checks. You can barely buy a candy bar at the airport without a photo ID.

So I was horror-struck, when asked at the hotel check-in desk in Austin for a driver’s license, to find it missing from its accustomed wallet pocket. Panic. Then I remembered having had to produce it for about the tenth time at LaGuardia and in a rush, juggling more stuff than I had hands for, dropping the license loose into my handbag. Or so I thought.

A major excavation of said handbag while the hotel clerk patiently waited produced no driver’s license. It wasn't lodged in my book or magazines. Nor was it lurking among various other papers. In a lovely, down-home, Texas manner, the hotel clerk took pity on me, accepting instead a bunch of other ID without photos. But before I’d even settled into my room, I knew in my bones that Delta airlines would not be as accommodating for my return flight.

In an hour-long telephone call with Delta involving long minutes on hold and three or four deeply disinterested “customer service” people, I got nothing more than “You must have a photo ID.” When I said that I couldn’t believe I am the first person this ever happened to and there must be a remedy, I got the same answer: “You must have a photo ID.”

I had visions of living in Austin, Texas for the rest of my life instead of Maine.

The kindly hotel manager tried to help with phone calls of his own to Delta to no avail: “You must have a photo ID,” they said to him.

Assuming it would take hours to talk my way onto an airplane, I arrived at the Austin airport at 5AM on Monday for my 8AM flight home. A Delta booking agent of about age 28 listened to my sad story as he typed into his computer and shuffled through my remaining IDs - electronic boarding pass, a credit card, a voter registration card and an AARP card. I then mentioned that I’d been in town to speak at SXSW, and I handed over my conference badge.

The young agent grinned. “That’ll do it!” he said, and issued me new boarding passes for my return trip. Who knew how powerful that bit of plastic with a really bad picture of me could be.

“Is it going to be this easy at security,” I asked? “Will they be as impressed with my SXSW badge?”

“I can’t promise that,” said the agent, still grinning. And he was right. To them, anyone without a government-issued picture ID is a potential terrorist and I was all but strip-searched while the contents of my carefully packed bag were torn asunder and left that way.

Over the past few years, Delta has so frequently singled me out for this extra-special search that I can only believe short, chubby, grey-haired elders top their list of highly suspicious people. I always feel humiliated, and every time I’m searched, I fight back unbidden tears - which makes it even worse. I’m undoubtedly being unfair, but the deadpan, officious attitude of the security people, who appear to be on super alert waiting for me to make a break for it, remind me of movie Nazis. Put them in brown uniforms and I wouldn’t know the difference.

None of this makes any sense. Whether I believe “random” searches are useful or not isn't important. It is the way we live now and I don’t understand why it makes me feel so awful.

But I’m grateful to SXSW’s status in Austin, Texas. Without that badge, I might still be at the airport. Further, two days after I arrived home in New York, my driver’s license arrived in the mail from a good Samaritan who found it. He has received a big-time thank you by return mail.

So it appears that the bad and ugly - customer service and security - is well balanced with the good - SXSW’s reputation, a hotel manager, a ticket agent and a good Samaritan. Not so bad, after all.

Retirement Blues

category_bug_ageism.gif Many people, when they retire from the workforce, pack and up and leave the city or town where they have lived for many years. Some go to a second or vacation home they already own. Others head for Florida or Arizona where retirees congregate. And some, like me, choose a new place where they have few or no personal attachments in search of - well, in my case, less expensive digs.

Retirement. Retiree. Retired. I so dislike these words, I’m pretty sure I’ve used them in only one post over the two years of TGB’s existence. They smell of idleness and uselessness. Of sun and endless rounds of golf. Of “leisure villages” populated with elders, isolated from younger people and the mainstream of life. Of empty hours stretched out into a future that, these days, can be a third of one’s life spent in drowsy indolence.

Of course, that is only the stereotype created and maintained by the media and the retirement/leisure industry intent on parting retirees from their money. I have no statistics to quote, but I suspect, with the increase in healthy, post-65 years, many so-called retirees are busy with productive endeavors that contribute to the common weal, the well-being of their communities and the people in them.

Did I mention that I can’t stand the words retirement and retiree? Elders are so much more than the image those words conjure. We are writers, volunteers, teachers, students, mentors, activists, bloggers. Today, not a few are raising their grandchildren and/or caring for their aged parents. Many others would remain in the workforce if not for age discrimination, and for those who must work, the choices are few.

Television commercials feature grinning, elder Wal-Mart greeters. A year-old story on the AARP website I can’t get out of my head (and which I can’t locate right now) proudly declares the “success” of a former business development manager, shut out of his career at 60 due to ageism, finding work with the help of an AARP program mixing paint at Home Depot.

Some elders may enjoy these low-paid jobs, but I cannot imagine people who studied for a career in a field that engaged them from youth at which they spent decades of productive employment suddenly finding fulfillment in mindless busy work for minimum wage. If you have ever held an interim job out of necessity that bored you silly, you know how it sucks the life out your entire being.

Did I mention that the words retirement and retiree make me wince? When I am occasionally asked what I do, I say I publish a blog about what it’s really like to get older. (It’s funny to watch faces of those who don’t know what a blog is.) In filling out on- and offline forms, the employment choices are usually student, employed full time, employed part time, self-employed and retired. Since I have no income at the moment, but refuse to be classified with the negative cultural freight that goes with retired, I tick off self-employed.

Twenty-three years ago today, I moved into this apartment. Before then, I had moved 42 times in my life - enough! - and I told everyone I knew that I intended to be taken out of here feet first. If I had any thoughts of retirement then (I doubt it at age 42), it would have had something to do with increased participation in Greenwich Village politics and, perhaps, teaching of some sort. Barring accident or serious illness, I've never seen myself removed from productive activity that retirement implies.

When I’ve settled into a new home in Maine (move no. 43), I intend to find a way to remove myself from the retired category and back into paid employment of some kind. But the fact remains, for the moment, I am retired from the mainstream workforce, so I suppose I’d better get over my personal distaste for the word.

SXSW Conference Part 2: Other Panels and Ambience

Overheard at SXSW Interactive: Three suitably geeky 20-something men chatting while each tapped away on his kewler-than-kewl Apple laptop: “Yeah, but at the end of the day, the best thing about blogging is the friends you make.”

And people think young and old have little in common. Hmmph.

Friends Old and New: Crowds aren’t my style, but I can see how conferences could become a powerful attraction for personal interaction. I had lunch with two old friends, John Allsop and Maxine Sherrin who run westciv, a web standards software and learning company in Sydney, Australia. We had last met in New York in 2000. I mean, how often are either of us going to fly for 17 hours. So that was treat.

Everyone is hurrying off to panel sessions throughout the day, but somehow face-time survives. I was able to catch up with several women I’d met at last summer’s Blogher conference: Tish Grier, Liz Henry, Halley Suitt and Grace D, among others. And new friends - met over lunch, dinner, during post-panel chats and in hall encounters - too numerous to name.

ElderBlogging as an Interim Step: One of the most interesting audience ideas at the ElderBlogger panel was that while working toward developing programs, simpler software and hardware, corporate participation, etc. to improve the lives of elders (and others) with computers and the internet, blogging could be an intermediate step to engage more elders online and help reduce their newbie fear of technology.

Since caveman days around the fire, humans have been hardwired for storytelling. Books, movies, television, advertising, news, speeches, even scientific reports, conference panels and, of course, relating our life experiences to one another - it’s all storytelling. It’s how we best learn.

My panelmate Lori Bitter noted that after age 40 or 50, people become vitally interested in storytelling - life stories. Those of us who already do it know that blogging is a simple way to share our stories with one another, make new friends, keep our minds active - and that keeps us healthier as we get older.

The more elders we can involve in blogging, the more who will prepared, as elder numbers reach 20 percent of the population by 2030, to take on new methods of health monitoring and interacting with physicians, pharmacies, other healthcare professionals across the internet.

Audience Participation: Depending on how many business conferences you have attended, you know that presentations and panels commonly involve a lot of being talked at from the dais with lip service paid to audience participation for five or ten minutes at the end. Many times, I’ve seen speakers make no more effort than to read the bullet points off their Powerpoint slides. There can be some useful information imparted, but the ambience is deadly.

The Blogher divas - Elisa Camahort, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone - knew this and although they didn’t ban Powerpoint outright, they requested speakers at last summer’s Blogher conference, and at the five panels they produced at SXSW, to keep Powerpoint to a low roar and to interact with the audience from the beginning by both asking and taking questions throughout the length of the panels.

The difference is extraordinary. You can see it in the faces of the audience - animated, involved, enlivened. And you can feel it in yourself on the dais - new ideas pouring toward you, questions you hadn’t thought of, new information you didn’t know before.

Naming names would be unkind so I won’t, but the non-Blogher-produced panels I peeked in on, presented in the traditional top-down manner, felt stage-y and stolid and I don’t believe you can learn as much that way. After participating in the Blogher system - as a speaker and in the audience - I don’t believe I’ll have much patience, in the future, for being talked at for an hour. The point of conferences is to learn, and everyone gains when you tap the ideas and expertise of the audience.

In a way, the Blogher style of audience inclusion feels like an in-person version of blogging. My panelmate Lori Bitter and I set up the topic, Respect Your ElderBloggers [the blog post]. Audience members asked questions or offered their own experiences, knowledge and ideas [the comments]. Lori and I answered and asked questions [the comment responses]. And so on, just like blogging. [See Elisa’s recap of the ElderBlogger panel for a good sense of it.]

For years and years, technology conferences have been top-heavy with men. Few women attended and there were hardly any women speakers. Blogher is changing this dynamic, and one can't help but wonder if its style of more audience involvement doesn't reflect the larger interest women have in community than men appear to have.

It's not my intention, with this observation, to create a divide between men and women. I just want to point out how much more knowledge and information is shared when more people take part. And that can only be a good thing.

The SXSW ElderBlogger panel gave me as much and more than I brought to it. I have lots of notes, lots of new ideas, lots of new people’s brains to pick and you’ll be reading more on all this as time goes by.

SXSW Conference Part 1: ElderBlogger Panel

SXSW Conference Part 1: ElderBlogger Panel

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Thank you, Frank Paynter, Cowtown Pattie, joared and Mary Lee Fowler for filling in so beautifully while I was away. And thank you everyone else for all your terrific comments. Geez, I might go away more often now that I know TGB goes on just fine without me.]

It was a quick trip to SXSW in Austin and back: fly a day, spend a day, fly a day. But the “Respect Your ElderBloggers” panel and whole lot more were worth what has become, in recent years, the unfriendly skies. Travel seems to get more difficult and unpleasant every year.

For those of you who might not know, SXSW (South By Southwest) is an established and venerable conference straddling the film, music and interactive worlds. The three sections appear to keep unto themselves, and my short visit was concentrated on the interactive sessions.

My panelmate, Lori Bitter, is “entrepreneur, poet and catalyst” (that’s what her business card says) for the Mature Market Group of JWT. She not only has a vast amount of facts and figures about elders on the tip of her tongue, she brings understanding and empathy to the topic. I’ve learned a lot about many aspects of aging doing this blog, but Lori really knows this stuff and makes it easily understandable.

Lori also has a lot more public speaking experience than I do so in addition to panelist, she acted as moderator - to my relief - and I think we were a good team. To use a sports analogy, Lori was the reporter, I did color commentary and together, we made the business case for corporate outreach to the elder community that will grow 20 percent of the U.S. population by the year 2030.

If you are a regular of reader of TGB, you’ve heard a lot of what we presented: blogging helps maintain and even increase cognitive agility. As social networks shrink with age, when mobility may become an issue, online friendships support emotional well-being. When people are active and engaged, they are healthier - and that pays off for elders and for the whole country - even literally, in dollars saved, especially when we face a healthcare crisis and shortage of physicians.

With the right computer equipment and programs, much routine health monitoring such as blood pressure, heart rate, prescription adjustments, questions for physicians- can be done over the internet freeing up hundreds of thousands of doctor-hours for patients who must be evaluated in person. And that benefits people of all ages.

But it takes a lot of work and cooperation among business, technology, the healthcare industry, community groups, insurance and pharmaceutical companies and more. The question, of course, is: now that we have the idea, how do we make it happen?

The ElderBloggers panel was one of five at SXSW produced by Blogher whose founders wisely made it a point from the first Blogher conference last summer to include the audience from the getgo of the presentation (more about that tomorrow). So Lori and I threw that big question to the attendees and got lots of interesting feedback: A sampling:

In teaching elders to use computers, sign up with which allows you to take control of a computer from anywhere and help fix problems that newbie elders run into.

Dell has a touch screen monitor to help those with arthritis problems.

In developing computer hardware for elders, a lot can be adapted from utilities already designed for those with disabilities, and another person noted that “ageless design” would be good idea for all equipment.

Start a small program within a small community as a pilot project and showcase. (One jester noted that my upcoming move to Portland, Maine (64,000 population) might just be serendipity in this regard.)

Another good suggestion is to partner with a college.

It felt like we were just getting going when the hour was up and Elisa Camahort suggested that those who want to further the conversation keep in touch by email. A preliminary list of attendees’ email addresses is here. Please send me those I’ve missed which I’ll add to the list, and I would like anyone else interested who didn’t attend the conference to feel free to join in - we need all the ideas we can get.

Because I was in front of crowd, I wasn’t doing the best note-taking I’ve ever done and I’m hoping others who attended will jump in the comments below and add other ideas that came up that I’ve missed.

At the beginning of the panel, I quoted a comment Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog had recently posted to TGB, and her son, premier videoblogger (vlogger) Steve Garfield, made a video of that part of the presentation. He’s posted it on his vlog for all to see. Meeting Steve in person for the first time felt like re-meeting an old friend.

Another attendee, Raines Cohen live blogged part of the panel and posted it in the comments of my Elderbloggers story from a few days ago. Raines intends to start a blog soon about the elder co-housing movement, which I’ve been meaning to learn more about. No more excuses; Raines gave me a book about it and happens to be a neighbor here in the Village.

Elisa Camahort has published as excellent recap of the entire panel on Blogher.

Those three postings will give you some more flavor of the panel and I thank both Steve and Raines for their efforts - I hadn’t expected it and it was a nice surprise. Pete Beck has a report on his blog too, and Belinda Acosta wrote a good piece in the Austin Chronicle (scroll down halfway to 3.12.2006).

Blogher co-founder, Jory Des Jardins posted this note about the panel (emphasis is mine):

“There is so much opportunity for computer hardware/software companies if they decided to focus on elderblogging. This isn't a market that won't use computers; they won't use computers that are too complicated. Whoever can create tools for seniors will benefit from a growing piece of the Blogosphere…I wish more tech companies were there to get the message.

I agree; I do too. Attendees were more activists and curious than corporate honchos who can make things happen. But it takes time and work to start a movement and the panel/audience at SXSW was an excellent start.

Some thank yous are in order. First, to the Blogher divas, Elisa Camahort, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone - most obviously, for inviting me to be part of one of their SXSW panels, but also for their constant support of elderbloggers and including our interests in their endeavors.

Equally responsible for the higher visibility of women at this conference is Hugh Forrest who runs the Interactive portion of SXSW. He wanted more women involved, the Blogher divas responded and SXSW was much more gender balanced than most tech conferences .

SXSW Part 2 - Other Panels and Ambience

Ollie's Personality Problem

category_bug_oliver In the past month, Ronni convinced me that dry food is better for me than wet, especially for my teeth, and I now get a bowl of (fairly) delicious crunchy kitten food twice a day. I get thirstier than when I ate canned food, but she puts out a bigger bowl of fresh water for me every morning and evening than before, and drinking from the faucet when the water is running is a cool trick. It’s also fun to splash around in it.

Oliver on sofa When I first came to live here, I liked to nap in the back of Ronni’s computer keyboard drawer. I felt safe there, when I was still young and scared, and nobody could see me. I’d forgotten about that cozy place until yesterday and I tried to crawl back there again. It didn’t work.

I thought Ronni must have gotten a smaller drawer when I wasn’t looking, but she says I can’t fit because I’m as big as a full-grown house cat now. I’m only seven months old and they say cats grow at least until they’re a year old. I wonder how big I’m going to be.

Oliver on the bed2005_03_14b My new favorite toy is one of Ronni’s sheepskin-lined clogs. They’re made of heavy wood on the bottom - at least an inch thick - but even so, I can throw it around in the air. That fleece – I don’t know – there is something about the smell that thrills me. I like to have one of the shoes in easy reach so I can sniff whenever I want, and Ronni is forever asking me where I put it.

One morning, after I’d left one of the clogs in the middle of the kitchen floor the night before, she tripped over it on her way to feed me. You should have heard the words she said. Oh my, cover your ears with your paws. It's probably because she hadn't had her coffee yet.

But we’re having a more serious problem, Ronni and me. Once or twice a day, a weird feeling comes over me and I attack her and bite really hard. She tells me, “no bite” real loud and pushes me away, but then the feeling gets even weirder and I attack again and bite her even harder. Sometimes she bleeds.

Oliver between the pillows2005_03_14c I don’t want to hurt Ronni; I think this is best place to live and the best person a cat could have. But it’s like I turn into a different cat; I can’t control myself. I heard Ronni tell somebody on the telephone that my eyes get strange-looking with my pupils real big when I do this, and that I’m like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think that’s a book; maybe I should read it.

When I’m feeling fine, I tell myself I’ll never do it again. But then I wake like from a dream with my mind all fuzzy, and Ronni’s angry with me. That’s how I realize I’ve done it again. I don’t know what to do about this problem.

Do any of you have suggestions?

Your blogging friend,

Guest Blogger: joared

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I'm away in Austin, Texas, several elderbloggers graciously agreed to fill in for me. Today, joared - who is not a blogger (yet), but a prolific and thoughtful commenter here and on other blogs - writes “Some of What I've Learned Through The Years...So Far.” Please welcome her to Time Goes By.]

I've been aging all my life. Now, here in Southern California, where I've lived for about half my life, I'm flirting with my seventh decade. (You betcha I still like to flirt, and not with just the decades!) Furthermore, I continue to look forward to those unknown decades to come. Isn't that what makes life so interesting and exciting, that we don't know what's coming next?

I'm not ready to leave this planet yet, unless I could finagle a free ride on one of Branson's or Ruttan's commercial space flights. (Last I read, ticket prices were just a bit steep.) Haven't yet traveled all over the world as I wanted, so this way I could just do it all in one grand trip. If for some reason I didn't make it back, well, what a way to go!

I learned long ago there's no way to predict the future. I planned as best I could. Some plans worked out. Some didn't.

I learned I didn't know as much as I thought I did at times. I learned I knew more than I thought I did at other times.

I learned to not waste my time and energy blaming others for something that didn't go right, even though they may have deserved it. Doesn't mean I haven't and don't still try to rectify what I perceive as a few injustices along the way, just means I can do that and keep my life moving ahead at the same time.

I learned there are only so many self-help books you can read, then at some point I learned I just had to get on with life. Then, I wondered why I wasted so much time reading those books. Well, I might have gotten a nugget or two from a couple of them.

I learned that everybody has problems of one kind or another, at one time or another, in their life. I learned that somewhere, someone else has had the same problems I had.

I learned that when it comes to problem solving, one size does not fit all. The same problem experienced by two different people may require entirely different solutions.

I learned it takes such little effort to smile and be pleasant to people 'cause you never know what might be going on in that person's life. They might really need that kind gesture. I've hoped others would give me the same consideration.

I learned to enjoy quiet and solitude, to value time alone without feeling lonely.

I learned to treasure time with friends and family as they may not always be present in my life.

I learned to love others just as they are; to value our differences. Yes, I was a fan of Mr. Rogers, Kermit the Frog (It's not easy being green!), South Pacific's You Have To Be Taught.

I learned something from every job I ever had and I learned how to enjoy my time at every job I ever had. Doesn't mean there weren't some difficult times. By the way, I'm still working part time.

I learned that learning is forever. I still take classwork. I still learn from people of all ages.

I learned that every job and the person who performs it is entitled to be treated with respect. I hope I'll be treated that way, too.

I learned that music, theatre, art, books, travel, nature, good food, pets can bring genuine pleasure though this is an incomplete list and not in hierarchical order.

I learned that viewing life as a glass half full is healthier than an attitude that the glass is half empty.

I learned that laughter is truly the best medicine. Science has finally proven it with all those endorphins we release when we laugh.

If you haven't laughed for a while, I strongly recommend you do so now. I know there are a lot of really humorous blogs to tickle your and my funny bone, to suit each of our tastes, written by people of all ages. I keep trying to find time to explore all those blogs, but can't do that when I'm doing this.

Thanks to Ronni for allowing me to use her blog space. I'll be looking forward to her return, the sooner, the better.

[© joared 2006. All rights reserved.]

Guest Blogger: Frank Paynter

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I'm away in Austin, Texas for a few days, several elderbloggers gracious agreed to fill in for me. Today, Frank Paynter, who blogs at Sandhill Trek, titles his guest piece, “Three Ages.” Please welcome him to Time Goes By and be sure to visit his blog.

Thanks to Ronni for inviting me to be a guest blogger on Time Goes By while she's taking care of business.

We are given three ages: childhood/youth, which as we know is wasted on the young; maturity, an indeterminate period that separates the first from the third; and, that third age, old age.

I was proud of myself for figuring that out. (Although it didn't take much googling to discover that it's a modern commonplace). My reference model had been Shakespeare's As You Like It, and he posits seven ages of man:

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players,

They have their exits and entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.

Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice

In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,

With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws, and modern instances,

And so he plays his part.

The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,

His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide,

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again towards childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

But that's too granular, too complex for a blog post. I'd rather collapse it to three ages: the dependency of youth, the responsibility of maturity, and the seasoned existence of an older age.

Born toward the end of WW2, my high school class of 1963 was transitional. We were the last pre-post-war-baby-boom kids and we grew up with the boom right on our heels. Most of us, I think, self-identified as boomers. I know I did. There are millions of us boomers, unique snowflakes piled deep across the American demographic landscape. We know we're unique, but from a distance, we all look the same. Now, in the first decade following "the American Century" we each in our own way face the new realities of shifting past the boundary of the second age into the third age.

In 1905, Gustav Klimt painted "The Three Ages of Woman." What I don't like about that painting is the bowed head of the old woman. Maybe one of the things we've gained in the last hundred years is the ability to lift our heads and look straight at the artist. Certainly Ronni Bennett here at Time Goes By is one of the people helping us to face reality with gladness and a smile. My thanks to her!