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September 2006

Is It Real or Is It Memorex

category_bug_journal2.gif At my first office Christmas party nearly 50 years ago, when the drinks had been going around liberally, the company president said to me: “You know, I almost didn’t hire you. It was a typing job and you tested at less than 20 words a minute.”

“So, then,” I asked, “why did you hire me?”

“Well, you got a hundred percent on the English test, but that’s not the reason. Lots of people easily pass that test. I did it because you’re the only job applicant who ever got a hundred percent on the math test and I figured there must a place here for someone who could do that.”

The punch line has nothing to do with today’s story, but I couldn’t leave you hanging, wondering why I’d been hired. But it’s the typing I’m here to talk about. Sort of.

Last time my typing speed was tested, when a bunch of us were feeling silly around the office one day with nothing much to do, I beat everyone with 120 wpm and no errors. We can knock off 20 words for using a computer which improves everyone’s speed, and I did the first employment test on a manual typewriter, so if there had been computers 50 years ago, I might have tested at 30 or 40 wpm.

The point of typing speed is to be able to do it without errors. And yeah, for years and years and years, I was fast and mostly error-free. You had to be so before there were computers because if the page got too messy with erasures, you had to retype the whole damned thing. (Believe it or not, some of us are old enough to remember the days before White Out existed which, I suspect, has gone the way of typewriter erasers which came before White Out.)

But I’m straying from my point, which is:

Do all old people worry about what might be early symptoms of dementia? I’ve begun to wonder. Some typing errors, along with the advent of a couple of new kinds of mistakes, nag at me a bit.

These days I don’t need speed. And ordinary typos aren’t important. But the errors I’ve been making lately are of a new class that occur with just enough frequency to be mildly alarming.

Or not. I don’t know.

In these paragraphs so far, there have been half a dozen such mistakes. Somewhere up there I typed “plant” for “place,” “god for “job” and “much” for “mostly.”

You can see there are similarities in the last two pairs - kind of - and in the first instance, I’d just been watering the plants on the deck before I sat down to write. Also, I often type a homonym for the word I intend: right for write; son for sun; red for read, etc.

These are new kinds of errors for me. My brain is doing some things it has never done before.

Another word error I make is to omit a, and, the, with, to, for; the connector words. It’s not a new error for me, but the frequency has increased by a factor of five or six or seven. I do it a lot.

Three years ago or so, I attended a meeting to sort out a yes-or-no answer I needed about coding an online test. After a good deal of discussion, we arrived at an answer, but when I got back to my desk, I couldn’t remember if it was yes or no.

I noted how odd it was to forget something in less than two minutes, something I’d needed to know for awhile to be able to move forward. I shrugged it off to having being bored blind with the project from day one, but since then there have been some similar incidents with either/or, up/down, left/right sorts of questions.

Most recently (this is either funny or serious, I don’t which) – I’ve had trouble with the hot and cold water taps. I don’t remember ever thinking once in my life about which tap is which. When I need hot, I turn on hot. I need cold, I turn on cold. What’s hard about that, except…

A few weeks ago, when I stood at the kitchen sink waiting way too long for the hot water, I finally realized I’d turned the wrong tap. How and why could that happen after a lifetime of getting it right several times every day?

It’s hard to tell if I’m still having trouble with hot and cold because it has so disturbed me that every time I’m at a sink I tell myself left is hot, right is cold. As a memory aid, I’ve reminded myself that they are in reverse alphabetical order. Maybe the first time was only a minor brain fart that I’ve made too much of and thereby turned it into an issue.

That’s the trouble with dwelling on something too much; you just further confuse yourself. But these things keep occurring, so I keep thinking about them.

A quick check around the web for early symptoms of dementia (I’d rather not know too much about this) bring up these – among others:

  • People with dementia often find it hard to complete everyday tasks that are so familiar we usually do not think about how to do them. A person with dementia may not know in what order to put clothes on or the steps for preparing a meal.
  • Occasionally everyone has trouble finding the right word but a person with dementia often forgets simple words or substitutes unusual words, making speech or writing hard to understand.

Of the ten symptoms on the list, it appears that only two apply to my recent problems and not to the degree described. And maybe they aren’t new problems. Not counting the hot/cold issue, maybe I’ve always had similar brain farts and have only become sensitive to their possible portent because I’m older now.

Or maybe there are other reasons. I know, thanks to easy access on the web, that I take in way too much unrelated information every day and don’t remember half of it. That’s just information overload and doesn’t concern me.

Another reason might be almost six years of daily, unrelenting stress: fourteen months of unemployment followed by two-and-a-half years of a four-plus-hour commute, then another year of unemployment which continued for another year waiting for my New York apartment to sell. I could feel it taking a psychic toll while it was all happening and did my best with meditation and other techniques (is blogging a stress-reduction technique?) to mitigate the effects.

But why would stress catch up with me now when I’ve alleviated the cause? I guess you can’t know these things until the day comes when your blog readers can’t make sense of what you’ve written because your typing has turned into gibberish.


Small Pleasures

category_bug_journal2.gif It was still dark when Ollie the cat woke me this morning. There was a gentle, steady rain, the soaking kind, and that led me to forgo my usual walk along Casco Bay in favor of coffee on the deck. Only raindrops on tree leaves broke the silence as the sky turned from black through purple to gray until a lone seagull greeted the day with a complaint. I have lived 65 years, until now, without knowing the pleasures of a covered deck.

On mornings when Ollie allows me to sleep in a little, this is what I see when I first open my eyes. Now don’t laugh at that funny roof across from my deck. Well, go ahead and laugh. It's okay; I do it every day. You have to wonder what the architect was thinking when he designed that odd, little topknot.

Morningdeck

It spoils the view, but if I could afford oceanfront property, I would have and anyway, Casco Bay is only two short blocks away. Besides, even if the peculiar-roofed garage weren’t there, houses on the next street would would block the view.

It may not be New York in size, but Portland, Maine is just as much a city, a municipality, an urban area of cars and concrete. Still, we’ve got plenty of critters here. Too bad this isn’t smell-o-web or I could introduce you to the skunk who wanders by of an evening now and then. I’ve never seen him, but he (she?) is otherwise evident - as it were.

Squirrels are everywhere, as out my library window. They habitually run around on electric wires and when the power occasionally goes out for a few hours, I’ve been told that fried squirrel is often the cause. Perhaps that explains their puny tails.

Electricsquirrel

Local cats, obviously well-kept pets, prowl the neighborhood, but even though cars are sparse on my street, I’m not willing to take that chance with Oliver. In fact, I didn’t allow him on our deck until this week. Look at this - I should have named him Ferdinand.

Olliepinkflowers1

It’s tough on my nerves when Oliver’s on the deck. It’s not beyond his walnut-sized brain to take a flying leap in pursuit of a bug or a bird and it’s a long drop even if it’s only the second floor we live on.

Olliefence

There’s no accounting for what piques a cat's curiosity. You’d think flowers, plants, birds, bugs, the sunshine would be a compelling draw, but oh, no. There is a door to the laundry room off the deck where Oliver checks out the washing machine in great detail every time we’re outside.

Ollielaundry

And maybe next year, when I do a proper deck garden, Ollie will help.

Ollieflowerpots

More likely, he’ll continue to give me the willies by getting too close to that fence for comfort. By the way, does anyone know if cats can get fleas from hanging out on a deck with potted plants?

Ollieredflowers

One of the best things about blogging is the people you meet. I was still unpacking boxes when Mary Lee of Full Fathom Five welcomed me to town with a whole bunch of plants for the deck. All of them in the photos above are from Mary Lee, including this lemon balm and this begonia. If you look closely, you can see tiny, white flowers that recently popped out on the balm.

Begonia_lemonbalm

Hamsa2 Shortly before I left New York, I had lunch with Tamar of Mining Nuggets just as she was leaving on her trip to the Isle of Rhodes. Even in her anticipation of that important trip, she thought to bring me a hamsa for my new Portland home.

A hamsa is a Jewish charm traditionally hung by the door as a blessing for the home and to ward off evil. Sometimes called God’s protective hand, it is said that if you touch it as you leave, you will be safe while you are away.

Kitchenwitch2 Then one day not long ago, an unexpected package arrived from Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles. Another charm, this one a kitchen witch to keep meals warm and tasty, prevent burnt pots and to weave the family together.

Here’s a Kitchen Witch’s Creed I found on the web:

In this pot, I stir to the sun
An' follow the rule of harming none.

Banishment of bane when goin' winddershins;
An' with water and salte negativity is cleansed.

Household duties are more than chores,
Magick abounds when mopping floors.

With this broom, I do sweep
To clean my house and safely keep.

Marigold, Basil, Thyme and Yarrow
My spell is cast for a better tomorrow.

Lemons for joy and apples for health,
The power within brings great wealth.

And, in this kitchen I do pray
To truly walk the Witches’ Way.

Beautiful plants and mystical charms to remind me, when they catch my eye each day, of fine friends. Not such small pleasures after all.


Can We Talk about Sex? Eldersex?

Mention, the other day, of woman-seeks-man as the boringly repetitive storyline in movies got me thinking about age and sex. It’s a topic so abhorrent to writers (or perhaps it’s the publishers and producers who find it so offensive) that there’s hardly anything in mainstream media and literature about people older that 40 being intimate.

Oh, there was a trickle of interest a year or so ago in what some people labeled matron lit - books that were (and may still be) extensions of romance novels wherein women discussed hot flashes and other midlife issues, but were still looking for their one true love – or their second or third.

Earlier this year, Gail Sheehy took a stab at resurrecting her decades-old Passages thesis, stealing what was a shocking book title (Sex and the Single Girl) when Helen Gurley Brown thought it up 40-odd years ago and turning it into an eldersex trend with Sex and the Seasoned Woman. Media interest lasted about ten minutes.

And don’t go telling me about that movie with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton a while ago. Such films turn up about once every five years; hardly a trend. Plus, they always star actors who were hot stuff in their youth and so carry some of that allure in their later years – at least for us older folk if not 20-somethings.

But the media’s taboo against elder sex isn’t what I’m here to talk about today. There’s more than enough public sex to go around and perhaps it lends a little dignity to our later years to be excluded from the display.

What I’m really here to talk about today is elder sex itself. I have a confession to make: not only do I have no interest in sex, but when I’m occasionally moved to think about it as today, my lack of libido is one of the top five best things there are about getting older.

It hasn’t always been this way. When I was in my 20s and 30s and as recently as six or seven years ago, sex was way up there on my list of compelling interests. So high up, in fact, that I sometimes wonder in retrospect how I got anything else done.

Sex is time-consuming. First you need to find the man who pushes those buttons, although that’s hardly difficult when the horns are out. But unlike the kids who “hook up” today, there was at least the pretense of getting to know one another first – dinner, theater or a movie, maybe a late-night club drop-in before heading home for playtime. And that was just on week nights. Losing entire weekends in sexy little hideaways out of town played havoc with getting the laundry and house cleaning done. But sexual adventure always took precedence.

And don’t forget the additional prep time: an extra shower after work, redoing makeup and hair, trying on several outfits and high-heeled shoes to produce just the right effect before setting out for the night. And what for? I never met a man who, once he knew he could get you in bed, ever backed out because your hair wasn’t just so.

Sex is a powerful motivator that consumed a large part of my consciousness every day, and I never understood how thoroughly hormones controlled my behavior for so many years until they didn’t anymore. It is a welcome relief to be finished with it.

I was sad when I first noticed my waning interest in sex. I mourned the loss of that definition of myself – sexy chick – for several years, and also the loss of an activity that had given me so much pleasure. I mean, come on - sex feels terrific. But you can’t fake interest in it or, at least, I can’t.

Then I discovered that it’s not gone completely. The urge toward sex is just much more sane that it was for most of my life. It lies in wait - asleep, hardly noticeable - until there is an object of its desire. Then it bursts forth as in the past, although not with quite as much intensity. It is ignorable now, if I choose, which it wasn’t when I was younger and for that, I am grateful.

When day is done now, the last thing I want to do is primp for a man. When, some evenings, I slob around in my oldest, hole-y, oversized teeshirt while crawling around the floor to play with the cat, or when I nod off to a repeat of Law and Order, I am no sight for male fantasies. But I am a contented old woman.