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Elder Paper Chase

Bill Gates once famously predicted the paperless office and we all know how well that turned out. Crabby Old Lady too has failed at a related prediction: she believed that when she retired from the workforce, she would be able to get along with a lot less personal paper.

Among other no longer necessary documents, there would be no need for a commuter card, office security ID, employee ID, business cards, company credit card, or expense receipts to clog her wallet. It would weigh in now at about half as much.

Wrong! And the biggest reason is healthcare.

Where once Crabby carried one card that covered medical, hospital and pharmacy, she now has four: Medicare, Medicare Supplemental (because Medicare doesn’t cover everything), Medicare Rx (the infamous Part D for pharmacy needs because Medicare doesn’t cover that either), and another ID required by the pharmacy Crabby uses.

Worse, all the cards have a different identification number, each of which is 1,487 digits long. Okay, Crabby exaggerates, but they are long enough that she will never memorize them or, if she does, she’ll never sort out which number belongs with which card. Plus, by some glitch in the laws of chance all four cards have a lot of threes in them as does, maddeningly, her new Maine bank checking account number. And you would be surprised how frequently there is a need for one or more of these numbers.

In addition, although one card is plastic, the other three are made of stationery-weight paper and the Medicare card – the main card – is oversized in length and width so that it took no more than a couple of weeks in Crabby’s wallet to become tattered and worn. Only a government that makes a dollar coin the same size as a quarter - twice in 30-odd years and then wonders why no one uses it - could create the one card elders are asked to produce more than any other of paper, not plastic.

Crabby could even forgive the fact that all four cards are variations on the same color scheme if this plethora of paper covering one small aspect of her life were the only additional paper involved with being old. But no.

Not a week goes by that Crabby doesn’t receive mailings from her supplemental and prescription insurance carriers and from the pharmacy. These are long letters or colorful brochures or catalogs of physician lists and healthcare facilities.

Even more arrive from competing insurance carriers encouraging Crabby to switch (who, do we suppose, sold Crabby Old Lady's name to these other companies?) and from all major drug store chains (is anyone confused about where they got Crabby's name?) with more brochures and letters about how they will walk Crabby through the labyrinth of Medicare. The stupidity of this marketing strategy is that by the time they get Crabby's name, she has already successfully mastered Medicare bureaucracy an doesn't need help.

A visit to a physician for nothing more than an annual flu shot provokes a windstorm of paper first advising Crabby (in case she forgot) that she received the immunization, then telling her Medicare paid X dollars and "this is not a bill." More paper arrives with a billing for Crabby's co-payment, followed a few weeks later by another mailing about what she paid to keep for her records.

None of this paper shuffle happens quickly. Only a month ago, more than a year later, Crabby received the final flurry of paper for her fall 2005 flu shot.

All the mailings from Medicare contain stern orders: Do not pay this amount! Fold here! This is not a bill! Sign below! Pay this amount! Crabby feels she should salute when she reads them. All the other kinds of mailings - the sales and marketing brochures - carry within them a paternalistic tone treating Crabby as a mildly retarded child who must be gently led by the hand while her pocket is being picked.

Most recently, the healthcare company from which she purchases drug coverage sent two, two identical, large, overstuffed envelopes telling Crabby she will save money on prescriptions if she uses their “preferred mail service pharmacy” which, when she waded through the small print, Crabby found to be owned by the insurance carrier. Nowhere is there mention of the dollar amount or even percentage Crabby might save but there is a handy, pre-filled-in, postage-paid card ready for mailing with which Crabby can authorize the "preferred mail service pharmacy" to obtain her prescription from her current pharmacy.

But mostly, it’s the paper itself. No envelope makes clear when it is something Crabby needs to know – like a change in coverage or increase in price, for example – or just more marketing junk. There is so much of it, sometimes two and three mailings a day, crammed with fine print deliberately designed to appear official and important when it is not that it is disheartening to try to decipher. And so they collect on Crabby’s desk until she can’t find her blog notes…

…hence today’s post. There was something entirely more uplifting she intended to write, but Crabby can’t find her research.

The Emerging Elder Generation Gap

category_bug_ageism.gif It’s kind of funny until you put more thought to it – that a late-life generation gap is turning up between baby boomers and their elders. Newly-arrived 60-year-olds at retirement communities are at odds with long-time residents who are 75, 80 and 90. At Rossmoor, in Walnut Creek, California, Dick Hayes, 71, who was once the president of the Residents Association, explains:

“I think there is an attempt, and it may be subtle and unconscious, to get rid of the 80- and 90-year olds.”, 27 February 2007

Marjorie Murray, president of the nonprofit Center for California Homeowners Association Law, quoted in the same news story, concurs:

“The message is: Retirement ain’t what it used to be…Everybody is going to be tap dancing and jumping on trampolines. Boards and property managers are re-engineering senior communities as destination resorts and health clubs. Senior homeowners who need wheelchairs don’t fit this marketing plan.

“Boards and management companies want to upgrade the amenities…to market to the next generation of retirees. To finance improvements, they saddle current residents with huge bills they can’t pay.”

And force some, who cannot afford the increased monthly cost, to leave – after 15 or 20 or 25 years in their homes. In addition to expanding fitness centers, adding Pilates classes and championship golf courses, some services required by older residents are being eliminated. At Rossmoor, a service that helped elders get up the stairs to their second-floor apartments has been discontinued.

The massive number of baby boomers now beginning to retire is going to put a lot of pressure on existing retirement communities to change their styles to suit younger elders. But management companies will need to be careful to not fall over the edge into abuse of older residents. And make no mistake, suddenly increasing monthly maintenance by hundreds of dollars for people on fixed incomes to pay a loan for a new golf course is abuse. Even more so is eliminating necessary physical aids.

This is the first news story I’ve seen about the rivalry developing between different elder age groups, but it will not be the last. Baby boomers have spent a lifetime bending the culture to their point of view and they won’t stop now. But to use the force of their numbers to change the rules at retirement villages should not and cannot involve removing the help to those who need it. And, doing so is likely to backfire on them, as 73-year-old John Reppert, who lives at Rossmoor, points out:

“…Reppert suggests that Boomers shouldn’t concentrate too much on aerobic treadmills, tennis and softball. Sooner than they think, they may be the ones who will be needing help.

“’People come here with the idea of growing old gracefully and then having a heart attack while they sleep,’ Reppert says. ‘But the reality is that 90 percent are going to face some kind of debilitating illness.’”

Several decades ago, when the phrase “generation gap” first made its appearance, it defined only the social, cultural and political differences between parents and children. Today’s emerging elder generation gap is more serious and could become deadly to the oldest elders.

World’s Oldest Blogger

A blog about aging cannot fail to note the arrival of a new blog from Australia titled The Life of Riley from Olive Riley.

“Oh yeah,” you may say. “You don’t announce the arrival of other new blogs with only two posts so far.”

This one is different. Olive was born in the 19th century. That’s right, she was born on 20 October 1899, and is 107 years old.

“My Friend, Mike,” says Olive, “has arranged this blog for me. He is doing the typing and I am telling the stories. He thinks it’s a good idea to tell what’s going on. He already made a film about me a few years back and people liked that, so they might like this blog too, he says. We’ll see.”


That’s Olive drinking a shandy (half beer, half lemonade).

Olive’s friend, Mike Rubbo, has a history of telling the stories of old ladies, as he explains his involvement with Olive’s new blog:

“In 1990, I made a fiction film called Vincent and Me, the story of a young girl who went back in the past to meet Vincent van Gogh. Into the fictional story, we injected a real person, Madame Jeanne Calmant of Arles, France. Jeanne was 114 at the time and had known Vincent as a young girl. She was the only person alive who’d had any contact with the famous painter.

“Being in my movie did Jeanne no harm, quite the contrary. She went on to live to 121, the oldest person ever recorded. She…only died, rumor has it, because her carers at the old folks home decided to cut her off from visitors when she turned 119 and she died of boredom two years later. I’ve never forgotten that. Jeanne died of boredom! We’ll make sure that never happens to Olive.”

There will be more stories from Olive with Mike doing secretarial duty and wouldn’t it be nice if some Time Goes By readers stopped over there to read Olives first two stories and welcome her to the elder blogosphere.

[Hat tip to amba of ambivablog. You’ll enjoy this little bit of elder humor that amba posted a couple of days ago…]

Elder Oscar Night

During the past two months, there have been the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and some other show biz awards, but those are all dress rehearsals for the “really big show”, the biggest celebrity bash of the award season – the Oscars, more formally known as Academy Awards which will be broadcast on Sunday night, 25 February.

What makes the ceremony worthy of mention this year at Time Goes By is that the Best Actress nominee list is dominated by old ladies:

Meryl Streep, 57, for The Devil Wears Prada
Helen Mirren, 61, for The Queen
Judi Dench, 72, for Notes on a Scandal

Their rivals for the coveted statue, Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet, are both 32.

Although the Best Actor category is not top-heavy with elder actors, it is nice to note that Peter O’Toole, age 74, has been nominated for his role in Venus which Susan Harris of Takoma Gardener reviewed for Time Goes By not long ago.

All three elder best actress nominees are so talented, so accomplished and have given so much pleasure over the years in the roles they have portrayed that it makes no difference, really, which one wins. But for the sake of elderhood and upholding the belief that practice and experience still stand for something, it would be good for one of the old ladies to win tomorrow night.

That doesn’t mean Ms. Cruz and Ms. Winslet are not good at what they do; undoubtedly all five nominees are worthy of the award. But tradition dictates that only one be chosen.

Few elders have won Oscars. Groucho Marx was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at age 83. The oldest “real” winners were George Burns and Jessica Tandy who each won at age 80, and Ms. Tandy was nominated again, although she did not win, at age 82 for Fried Green Tomatoes.

Although winning matters plenty to actors, it doesn’t make much difference the culture except for one small thing: a win, particularly by Helen Mirren or Judi Dench, would for a short while spotlight a terrific elder role model and we don’t have many of those.

As for the youngest of the three elders, Ms. Streep - well, this is her 14th nomination and could be her third win. There is no doubt that she would be a gracious loser to either of the other two stellar actresses. My hope is on one of them.

The "Problem" With Elders

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles has been "podcasted" by John Lindner at The Baltimore Sun for his Blogography presentation. You can listen to her gorgeous Texas twang right here.]

category_bug_ageism.gif The new Dove commercial we discussed yesterday may be a step forward for the portrayal of elders on television, but is no more than a grain of sand on large ocean beach.

A Tylenol PM commercial has been running for several months. Encouragingly, it opens with an older woman, passed her 50th birthday, who is not made up to appear younger. Then, unfortunately, she opens her mouth:

“Aging doesn’t happen one problem at a time,” she says. “First, there was high blood pressure. Then came arthritis…”

That, apparently, is how the owners, executives and creative types at Tylenol view the totality of aging – as one problem after another.

The company is not alone. It is a standard stereotype that there is nothing good about getting old. It is perpetrated by most product advertising and pervades all media influencing everyone – young and even the old – into believing that aging is the worst thing that can happen to a person.

Commercials are the one place on television where elders are numerous and in plain view. However, unlike beautiful young men and women, they are not driving shiny new automobiles. They don’t even use new laundry detergents. Not one has been spied with an iPod. Apple promotes its kewl computers using a hip, young kid contrasted with a dumpy old man portraying the rival PC. And even the latest AARP commercials feature children, no elders.

Elder commercial actors are pushing pain pills, constipation remedies, medical devices and prescription drugs meant to alleviate gastro-intestinal difficulties that would be better left undescribed. And that’s about all the air time elders regularly get.

The absence of elders in any media context except pain and suffering is what keeps those deadly, elder stereotypes alive.

Alternately, paeans are written to youth and young love, motherhood has become the latest celebrity trend and a fetish has been made of children – all stages of human development that are held up as the gold standard of life.

But who speaks for elders?

That’s what Time Goes By is for and a large part of why this blog was founded three years ago. Do I sometimes go over the top in extolling the virtues of elders? Sure. Am I partisan on the side of elders against the slurs and stereotypes flung our way? You betcha.

But there are few enough who take the elders’ side in any manner and way too many Tylenols who think elderhood is nothing but a problem.

N*ked Older Women

A couple of years ago, Dove cosmetics made a PR splash by using chubby women in their underwear who were older than 20 - but not by too much - to advertise their products. It was a pleasant departure from the skinny, drop-dead, fantasies of beauty we are accustomed to seeing in any and all ads, but it was hardly the cultural revolution Dove wanted us to believe it was.

Now Dove has launched a new campaign. The tagline alone – “This isn’t anti-age. This is pro age.” – is worth the attention. Anyone who takes on the phony-baloney anti-aging industry has my vote.

The new print and video commercials show several 50-plus, real (non-professional models) women in their birthday suits – head shots, super close-ups, wide shots – in all their varying sizes and glory. And it is glorious to see the varieties of elder women bodies. Here is the German version of the commercial from YouTube.

The English-language version – at the Dove website – is identical except for the language. The print ads, if you have missed them, are here.

For the past three years, Dove has commissioned a Global Study on Aging, a survey of opinions about aging women from aging women in nine countries. Some highlights from the most recent, 2006 report [pdf]:

  • 57 percent believe that if magazines were reflective of a population, a person would likely believe women older than 50 do not exist.
  • 69 percent aged 50 to 64 agree that aging is often hidden rather than celebrated by women.
  • 91 percent believe the media and advertising need to do a better job of representing realistic images of women older than 50.
  • 75 percent believe anti-aging ads often portray unrealistic images of women older than 50 using those products.

This excellent survey, with a forward by Dr. Robert Butler of the International Longevity Center, covers many more topics about women and age, and is worth a read. Or there is a good short version with quotes from a couple of the models at The Hamilton Spectator.

Undoubtedly some will see the news story in the Spectator (and on this blog) as an unpaid advertisement, but I think it is newsworthy when a company takes a turn from the commonplace and asks us to look at women’s bodies realistically, to help push the culture toward acceptance of the changes brought on by the passage of time.

What do you think of the ads and the commercial? Should more products aimed at older women be as honest in their portrayal of women? Would you think better of the products if they did? More likely to purchase them? It would be interesting to hear some men’s point of view too.

[PS: Do you think Dove cosmetics and Dove chocolates are the same company? Heh, heh, heh. Just kidding.]

Elder Media in St. Paul

category_bug_journal2.gif Those guest bloggers who so ably filled in for me last week were here so I could travel to St. Paul, Minnesota to tape three episodes of a PBS series on aging funded by Minnesota Public Television.

Except for the fine job Retirement Living TV is doing, there aren’t many television shows about getting old. In fact, there aren’t even many old people on television. So I’m glad my “old” friend, Ron Fried, is producing Life Part 2 with Lorraine Kreahling, and that another old friend, Lynda Sheldon, believed I would be a useful addition to the programs.

Although no broadcast dates are set, the shows will probably air sometime in June or July. You can be sure I’ll let you know in plenty of time to watch or record them.

Rosenberg The host is 57-year-old actor Alan Rosenberg who you have undoubtedly seen in movies and on television over the years. He’s smart, funny, warm and easy to work with which is a good thing for me. The toughest part for this one-time TV producer was being on the business end of the camera. As a producer, I sometimes worried that the guests wouldn’t deliver; now I’ve learned that it’s much more difficult not knowing what questions will be thrown at you. But Alan made that (almost) easy.

Abigailtrafford_1 If you are a relatively long-time reader of Time Goes By, you know that I sometimes quote Abigail Trafford who writes the My Time column about aging for the Washington Post. If you missed my story about her January column calling for a really big resolution for 2007, it is worth a read – even a second read and, perhaps, some action too.

Robert_lipsyte_1 It was a pleasure to meet Abigail and find that we share many attitudes and beliefs about the culture of aging in the United States. She and I spent a leisurely evening in the hotel lounge with another writer and show guest I’ve admired for several decades, Robert Lipsyte. All these years I’ve been reading his sports columns (it doesn’t matter with Bob if you don’t care for sports; his writing transcends the ostensible topic) I had no idea he has had and continues to have a separate career as a young adult novelist.

Kornfeld1 Comedy writer, actor, standup performer, Eric Kornfeld was another of the show’s guests when we discussed fear of aging, fear of dying and how men and women are different from one another as we get older. Eric kept us all in line whenever we drifted too far toward terminal seriousness, which doesn’t mean he isn’t sensitive and serious guy too – but he is also seriously funny and has just finished writing the comedy material for Bette Midler’s new tour.

The head butler himself, Jesse Kornbluth, was there too, dispensing his erudite opinions and advice along with some surprising thoughts on how aging is a mite different when there is a five-year-old daughter in the mix.

Some other guests, experts in their fields, grounded the shows in factual material and I think you’ll like the programs when you see them. For sure, I’ll let you know when they will be broadcast.

[Meanwhile, it was no fun at all to come home to my car buried under almost three feet of snow with higher drifts up the sides. Just one of the reasons I so loved not owning a car for 40 years in New York City.]

Elderblogger Deejay, Small Beer, Chinese Film and Great Conversation Away From Home

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I am most grateful to guest bloggers Jill Fallon, Joy Des Jardins, Frank Paynter, Mick Brady and Joycelyn Ward. It made a long trip easy knowing that Time Goes By was in such good hands while I was gone. Thank you all for your excellent storytelling and any readers who missed these posts, you will be doing yourselves a favor to go back and read them.]

As we have discussed here in several past posts, one of the best things about blogging is the new friends we make. And one of the surprises of blogging is that when we have the opportunity to meet a blog friend in person, it is not like meeting someone new. It is more like seeing an old friend after a long absence.

So when I knew I would be in St. Paul, Minnesota for several days last week, I immediately thought of one of the Elderbloggers listed on the left sidebar: Deejay of Small Beer.

Mattyb We met in my hotel lobby and walked a few blocks through the dry but freezing sidewalks of St. Paul to Matty B’s restaurant. We sat in the middle booth in this photo. Deejay explained the colorful history of the joint and I wondered if my grandmother, who once lived in St. Paul, might have dined there in the 1920s or 1930s.

As with all bloggers I’ve met in person, our words tumbled over another’s during the several hours we spent together. Deejay is an expert on the history of Chinese film. He speaks Mandarin, has worked in China and even appeared in several Chinese movies when the role of a Caucasian needed to be filled. But I’ll let him tell you those stories sometime in the future because…

…as serendipity would have it, this past weekend, on the event of the Chinese New Year, Deejay launched his latest endeavor: The Chinese Mirror – A Journal of Chinese Film History, a website he has been slaving over to create for several months. You must read his first post on the American roots of Chinese Cinema nearly a century ago. Who knew? Well, Deejay does, along with much more.

Deejay2007_02withglasssm This project is separate from his blog and maybe now that it is launched, Deejay will get back to more regularly posting about politics, sports and his other interests. It was a great pleasure to spend a few hours in St. Paul with Don Marion, alias Deejay, and I look forward to his renewed presence among elderbloggers - it's been sparse at Small Beer while he was developing The Chinese Mirror.

Isn't it amazing the people we meet in the elderblogosphere.

Guest ElderBlogger: Joycelyn Ward

[EDITOR'S NOTE: While I am away for a few days, five fantastic elders agreed to guest blog here at Time Goes By. Joycelyn Ward blogs at Maya’s Granny and is one of the best storytellers in blogdom. She titles this one, Waking Up Sixty and you’re going to love it. Please welcome Joycelyn with plenty of kudos and comments.]

Most of you have noticed that as we grow older we tend to become more comfortable in our own skin. When I was in my twenties, I worried about what strangers walking down the street thought of me. By the time I was in my mid-thirties, it didn’t worry me unless I was doing something I would rather not be seen doing: I worried about being seen carrying a Lane Bryant bag (someone might guess I was overweight if I were seen carrying a bag from a fat-girls shop, and of course if I weren’t seen doing that, no one would ever find out) or my skirt flying up when I fell down.

By the time I was into my fifties, my attitude had pretty much changed to, “if they don’t want to hear me sing, they can walk down some other block.”

I did fall one day when the sidewalks were so icy that I had to scoot on my butt to the curb and put my feet in the gutter to find a place where I could get the leverage to stand up. A young man carefully worked his way up the hill and asked me if I was alright. And I found myself answering, “Oh, yes. Nothing hurt but my dignity. Oh. Not even my dignity.”

That was me at 59 years, 364 days. Pretty comfortable with myself, unconcerned about my size or what other people thought - pretty certain that most people had enough things in their own lives to think about that they didn’t bother to think about me. Content with how I was living my life.

And then, on April 22nd I went to bed in that condition, woke up 60 and discovered a level of self-acceptance that somehow, in those few hours of sleep, had increased by a magnitude of hundreds. I went from accepting myself to celebrating myself. It was just the most amazing thing, to be me!

I found the level of increase astounding. There was a recognition of how important to my survival and sanity the most negative of my dark side attributes were. Of how natural were facets that had caused me embarrassment in earlier years.

And somehow, I wanted everyone to celebrate their natural selves. I began to praise my inner-bitch and invent new holidays. We could, for instance, have a day to commemorate the fact that your body can eliminate toxins - people would wear only brown and yellow. Or to honor our fertility by wearing faux maternity clothes with pristine tampon jewelry. Or folk skirts made with Georgia O’Keefe flower prints.

Guest Elderblogger: Mick Brady

[EDITOR'S NOTE: While I am away for a few days, five fantastic elders agreed to guest blog here at Time Goes By. Mick Brady blogs at Dancing in Tongues and at The Blog Brothers with his – well, brother, of course. His story here, which he titles, A Portrait of the Artist as a Free Man, is one all of us can happily heed. Please welcome Mick with plenty of kudos and comments.]

Not to paint too bleak a picture, so to speak, but the reality is that it takes a great deal of talent, perseverance, business savvy, a bit of luck and a willingness to toil in relative obscurity for long periods of time with little or no reward, in order to become a "successful" artist, American style.

Even then, assuming you meet all the requirements, the odds are slim that you'll become a star. In fact, they're roughly about the same as any kid shooting hoops in The Bronx, who's dreaming of becoming a starter in the NBA. But then, there are hoop dreams, and there are art dreams, and no shortage of dreamers to dream them.

The problem for many of these dreamers, both young and old, is that fame and fortune seems to be the sole measure of success. When it doesn't turn out that way, bitterness and disillusionment often set in and many find it hard to make the adjustment. The choice then becomes one of either throwing more time and energy into what looks like a losing proposition, or cutting one's losses and moving on to new horizons.

It's a tough place to be. Imagine you had chosen a medical career and after years of training and hardship you discover that they're only hiring a dozen doctors. Instead of doing brain surgery, you wind up flipping hamburgers.

As an artist myself, I have many friends who've had to make that decision. Some have started over and found new careers. Some, a fortunate few, found safety in academia where there is ample time to create. And some of the more determined are waiting on tables or mowing lawns to this day, still waiting to be discovered.

Some feel they've been cheated and look back bitterly on their lives as having been wasted on an empty quest. A select few have actually made it in New York, but even they are not all that happy, either.

My own art career has gone through almost all of the above except the part about making it in New York. I did attempt it as a young man, though, back in the 60s, but after a few tumultuous years, returned home to become a designer and illustrator. I had a family to support and bohemia just wasn't going to cut it.

This then led to a career as a college professor and the chance to return to fine art. Following a number of successful shows, I began experimenting with the computer and after accepting an early retirement and moving to Santa Barbara, I began showing my new digital paintings.

Attempt Number Three is still a work still in progress and I've been trying to remain optimistic. I recently fired my agent in New York.

A few weeks ago, however, my wife, who teaches at the Santa Barbara City College, forwarded an email to me which she had received from the director of the school art gallery. It was an announcement of an exhibit that was to open that week, entitled The Brothers Pedersen: Modern Masters. I had never heard of them, but then I had not spent much time exploring the art scene here in California. I think I'm still a bit of an art snob, being from New York.

Lately it seems, perhaps as a result of my own growing disappointment, I have tended to avoid art openings whenever possible, but something in the text caught my eye: “Aage and Jens Pedersen have a combined total of nearly 140 years of making art”, and this was to be “their first two-person show together.”

Jensaage Even more intriguing were the accompanying photos: there they were, side by side, the two brothers - warm, open faces, bright eyes filled with merriment and most incredibly, they were smiling! Openly. Joyously. In a New York minute, my cool postmodernist bubble had burst. I had to meet these guys.

No sooner had we arrived at the gallery that evening, when Jens caught my eye and walked over with an extended hand and a broad smile to greet us. "Hello. How do you do? Glad you could come. My name is Jens." Now, this was something I had never experienced before, either in New York or in L.A - the artist reaching out to greet his audience.

He then introduced us to his brother and the four of us spent the next half hour or so, with a few interruptions, chattering on excitedly about their work, their lives, and their history. Most fun I've had in an art gallery in a long, long time.

Originally from Denmark, Jens, 89, and his brother Aage, 86, had been making art since they were children. Their uncle, a professor at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen, had seen to it that their house was filled with paintings and music, and all of this seemed to mesmerize the two young boys. Paintings won out over music, and they would later wind up studying at that same Academy themselves.

Aagework2They probably would have gone on to experience certain success in their own country were it not for the German occupation of Denmark, which forced them and their fellow countrymen to endure five long years of fear, hardship and suffering. Not long after the war ended, they sailed for America.

Although well aware that New York at that time was on its way to becoming the center of gravity for artists, they wisely decided to move on to California, where relatives from their native country had already settled. They soon learned that shockwaves had already arrived from the east, created by painters like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, and they soon joined in the excitement, taking up the banner of modernist abstraction in their own work. They have never looked back.

Along the way, they both worked at other jobs to sustain themselves and their families, often painting on a part-time basis. Aage had become a watchmaker, Jens worked at a variety of trades, but they never lost sight of the art at the center of it all. As Jens put it, "I've worked many jobs in life, but now I'm back to where I've always belonged, painting full time." The dream never died.

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Jens, who is approaching 90, if it had become more difficult to work as he got older. He looked at me with bemused puzzlement.

Jenswork “More difficult? Yes, in this sense: It becomes more difficult each day to stay and finish my breakfast before rushing into my studio to work. I have more ideas than ever, they become more exciting each day, and my wife insists that I finish my breakfast before I start working. So, yes, it becomes more difficult." His wife, standing next to us, confirmed this, with a loving smile.

He then added, "If you're not doing this for the pure joy of doing it, then there is no reason to do it. You should find something else to do." I then understood the smiles, the twinkle in the eyes, the warm welcome. They were not interested in the fame or the fortune, they didn't need the recognition. They were true creators. They had never lost the excitement that they had felt as children when squishing paint between their fingers and smearing it all over that big sheet of paper. They were painting for the sheer joy of it, and by the looks of things, they may go on doing it for another 140 years.

Let's see, I'll be 65 in June. By my new way of reckoning, I have at least 25 more years of pure exultation ahead of me. Maybe even more, if I can just keep everything in perspective.

From the Artists' Catalog:

”Theirs is not cool, theory-driven painting but a passionate, lyric exploration. Historically, they seem more influenced by Wassily Kandinsky's spiritual-based attitude than Marcel Duchamp and his conceptual followers. The Pedersen brothers, known as artists' artists, are widely admired and respected in the Santa Barbara art community. They are true masters of their craft and are inspirations to all who come to know them and their work.”

Guest ElderBlogger: Frank Paynter

[EDITOR'S NOTE: While I am away for a few days, five fantastic elders agreed to guest blog here at Time Goes By. Twice in the past, Frank Paynter of Listics has filled in for me and now it feels like tradition, so I invited him back again. Frank neglected to title this piece, so I am calling it, My Feet Hurt. Please welcome Frank with plenty of kudos and comments.]

My feet hurt. My ankles are misshapen, deformed. It's congenital. My flat feet saved my life, kept me home from Vietnam. But that's the upside. The downside is I've never been a very fast runner, a very long jumper, and I dance like I have two left feet.

A month or so ago I bought two new pairs of shoes. I was listless, willing to be sold, and I accepted arch supports different from "my brand" the one that has kept the pain at bay the last few years. I knew what I needed but somehow let this shoe salesman sell me something more expensive, cooler looking, and for me useless.

I needed Spencos. I knew this. I've used them for the last few years since a foot doctor recommended them. Let me sing the praises of the Spenco arch support, a simple device that - when I finally found it - eased the terrible pains in my feet and ankles that I've felt all my adult life.

A few weeks later I discarded the useless but cool looking arch supports, returned to the shoe store, bought the simple green Spencos and began to limp along the road to recovery although, sadly, not before I'd done some real damage. Excuse me while I go pop an aspirin or two.

I'm overweight, clinically obese to tell the truth. If I lost fifty pounds I'd be back where I was when I was overweight twenty years ago in my early forties. Carrying an extra fifty or sixty pounds now doesn't help the foot problem. You'd think I'd do something about it.

Can you tell I've been depressed lately? What a great time to take a shot at writing a guest blog posting for Ronni. Still, these ill feelings certainly strip away any delusions, color the pink clouds a more realistic gray, and if the sun only shines for eight hours a day in these parts, at least it's bitterly cold to make up for it. Didn't get above zero all day today.

Why have you been depressed, Frank?

Time goes by.

When I was a kid, and by that I mean my childhood progressing until a time well into my thirties, we either didn't know about SPF or we didn't care much. I'm a redhead, or I was. If you check out the parts of my beard that haven't turned gray you can see the color.

I always seemed to burn long before I tanned. I experienced that stinging painful sunburn that eventually peels away in great sheets and burns again. So now I have skin cancer. No worries really, none of the varieties that they've identified are the scary kind... no melanoma, thank goodness. But, it needs to be treated and on doctor's orders I smeared my arms with Fluorouracil morning and night for three weeks. You should have seen those little cancerous lesions light up. Where before I had a few rough spots on my forearms, I now had big red welts. By the end of the treatment, well - you don't want to know. It's gross.

Consider chemotherapy. It's something we do because the alternative is worse than doing nothing. During this treatment, my ankles ached terribly. Reading the side effects it says nothing about aching ankles. Therefore the aching ankles were from inappropriate orthotics, right? Still when you read this about the goo that you're smearing on your arm, it gives you second thoughts:

”Many medicines have not been studied specifically in older people. Therefore, it may not be known whether they work exactly the same way they do in younger adults. Although there is no specific information comparing use of fluorouracil in the elderly with use in other age groups, it is not expected to cause different side effects or problems in older people than it does in younger adults.”

Did you read Ronni's recent post about Professor James (Mengele) Miller's proposal that elders be permitted drugs that haven't passed the FDA testing protocols, indeed that elders be considered a test group, and if it doesn't kill us then maybe it's safe for the youngsters? Scary stuff.

Managed care is scary stuff too. There's no individuality in the doctor/patient relationship in a managed care setting. Delivery of medical care according to the scientific management theories of Frederick Winslow Taylor seems more fitting for a science fiction story than for real life. I guess this shows how far we have come.

I'd trade "managed care" for a decent jet-pack or a flight to the moon though.

Guest ElderBlogger: Joy Des Jardins

[EDITOR'S NOTE: While I am away for a few days, five fantastic elders agreed to guest blog. Today, Joy Des Jardins of The Joy of Six has a good time thinking about Trying To Get Into Heaven and I’m so glad she includes one of her trademark poems at the end. Please welcome her with plenty of kudos and comments.]

Does anyone officially know the criteria one must meet to get into heaven? I’ve just had my 60th birthday, and I don’t think I can afford to joke around about this any longer. Just how forgiving is The Man upstairs?

We have all known people in our lives - loved ones included - who were terrors in their younger days, maybe worse, and as they got older seemed to mellow out to a mere irksome and much more manageable pain in the butt.

How heavy do their past discretions weigh against them when they’re actually standing there at the Pearly Gates? Apart from the obvious despicable acts that would automatically disqualify someone, what are the acceptable guidelines for entry? Could one teeter on the edge over a nasty squabble or two from their past?

My mother was a feisty lady most of her life. A hot-blooded Italian woman who became emotional in the blink of an eye…and not always with a sense of reason behind it. I often wondered why she never looked at the BIG PICTURE. Was it possible that the fun and loving side of my mother might not be enough to get her through to the other side.

I worried for her. I don’t think she really ever thought about how her life might be evaluated, when it counted, until she got much older.

In her elder years her faith, which had been put on the back burner in her earlier days, reappeared - along with her prayers and rosary beads. I didn’t even know my mother had rosary beads. Her Catholic upbringing had long ago gone by the wayside for reasons I was never sure of, other than something about marrying out of her faith, and for that reason I never grew up with a formal religion attached to me.

But here she was in her 80s back in the fold. Somehow I got it and I felt relief - for her and for me.

With only small lapses of anger and temper in her very elder years, my mom had begun to mend the fences with “the one that counted.” When she passed away in June of last year I had little doubt of where she was headed and how the sense of belonging again comforted her in her final days.

At least she always knew what religion she was raised in as a kid. I always told everyone I was a Capricorn.

I seemed to have a history of connections with “fallen away” Catholics, my husband being another one. Reared in a very close Catholic family, he was the only rebel in the bunch. And thus, my children all grew up in my religion - Astrologism.

Then there was my dad - the most loving, giving and compassionate man I’ve ever known. If ever those Pearly Gates would be open wide for anyone, it would be him; yet he was never attached to any religion either. He just lived his life the way I imagine “the man upstairs” hoped everyone would. Though my dad left this earth far too soon for me to ever worry about it, I know he walks among the clouds.

With age comes discovery. What is my life about? What makes me happy? Who makes me happy? How do I find peace and contentment? How do I survive figuring this all out? We re-evaluate - a lot.

We go back through the years. Sometimes it’s not such a great journey. Sometimes the memories are so beautiful that they fuel us to continue on in hopes of collecting more of the same kind of memories. Sometimes we’re ashamed - secretly or otherwise - of how we conducted ourselves during certain periods in our lives. Is there time to atone? Does it matter? Who’s going to know?

WHO’S GOING TO KNOW?? Well, WE are for one thing….and that should be enough. Thus, here is where we eventually wind up, every one of us: Trying to get into heaven. Hoping to have led a good enough life to get our ticket punched at The Gates and spend an ethereal existence amid wings and halos. It sure beats the HELL out of the alternative.

So what’s the lesson to be learned here? That as soon as each one of us is old enough to realize the gift that we have been given, we should give back and treat others the way they were meant to be treated - with respect and understanding, love and compassion. Not in bits and pieces, but every day. This is so good in theory, but not always easy in practice.

Or, do we go through life helter-skelter letting things - and people - fall where they may, hoping for a little forgiveness as we inch closer to our end. HE’s a very benevolent and forgiving guy, and I’m told he’s got a very high threshold of tolerance. But, I’m not so sure I’m willing to risk it. After all, it is OUR “eternal ending” we’re talking about - or at least until our souls are born anew. I wonder if I’ll be a Capricorn.

What do you think? Do you suppose this is all because I just turned 60?

Judgment Day

When your time on earth is over
and you’re due to make your call
upon the Maker’s mansion;
you can stand there straight and tall.

As he wraps his arms around you
in his Fatherly embrace;
and he blesses you for living
with sweet elegance and grace.

It’s He who knows the measure
of true beauty from within;
and he alone rewards your soul
to bring it life again.

He’ll look upon your loving face
and know you’ve stood the test;
to right the wrongs and do the good
that separate the best.

He knows what hearts are heavy
from the weight of life’s deceits;
and ones so “pure of purpose”
with the silence of their deeds.

He’ll lay his hand upon your cheek
and guide you through the door.
Sweet angels at your side
as you walk on heaven’s floor.

“You my darling child
have given life your best.
Compassion, love and honesty;
you’ve mastered every test.”

“You’ve walked down every road
and sipped life as you should.
You’ve touched and nurtured friendships,
And made them strong and good.”

“Your loyalty to friend and cause
is held in high regard;
and true your strength of character
has brought you great reward.”

“But clearest of all reason
why I’ve called you to my side;
you’ve loved to live, and lived to love.
You’re welcomed here with pride.”

Guest ElderBlogger: Jill Fallon

[EDITOR'S NOTE: While I am away for a few days, five fantastic elders agreed to guest blog here at Time Goes By. Jill Fallon writes at several blogs for which you can find links at my favorite among them, Legacy Matters, where she often posts stories about strange and quirky ways we humans deal with the ultimate mystery of life – death. Today she writes of her favorite elder role model in a piece she has titled, A Dame Commander Please welcome Jill with plenty of kudos and comments.]

Growing older has never really bothered me, perhaps because I was lucky in having wonderful role models of older women. Every May there is an alumnae parade at Smith College and the largest, loudest cheers go up for the oldest women in their 80s or 90s who march proudly under the banner of their graduating class. I’d be all right, I thought, if I could be one of them.

But it was seeing Margaret Rutherford for the first time that absolutely convinced me how delightful it could be to be like her. I was gobsmacked and totally enchanted when I first saw her play Miss Marple in the four “murder” films based on the Agatha Christie novels:

Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul, and Murder Ahoy - every one of which deserves prominent placement on the TGB ElderMovie List. [EDITOR’S NOTE: As will be done as soon as I return from Minnesota.]

She was endearing, stout as an armchair and as comfortable too, a bicycle-riding, tea-making, pie-baking sleuth with an admiring male pal, cheerful in cape and hat, perfectly dressed no matter what the occasion, sensible to human frailties, fearless, smart as a whip and as funny as all get out. Who knew that being an old lady could be so much fun?

A force of nature, she could do things with her mouth, her tongue in cheek, that have never been equaled and will make you forswear even the idea of plastic surgery if it would rob you of the expressiveness of a ravishing, totally lovable old face like hers.

Born in a London suburb in 1892, nine years after her father murdered her grandfather with a chamber pot, Margaret Rutherford was an only child. Her mother died when she was 3 and she was brought up by a pair of guardian aunts.

Maybe the experience of living with a mentally ill father who was readmitted to Broadmoor, a British hospital for the criminally insane, when she was only 12, disposed her to a life in the theater. She wasn’t pretty, but she was funny and I think a late bloomer. She was 33 when she made her stage debut at the Old Vic in 1925 and 53 when she married a fellow actor Stringer Davis.

She really came into her own in her late 60s and 70s when she began to play Miss Marple. She worked with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, winning an Academy Award best supporting actress in The V.I.P.s. In her 70s, the Queen named her first an officer of the British Empire, later a Dame Commander.

And what a Dame Commander she was, laying bare evil and overcoming it with goodness, everything made right. And she did it by becoming and being her magnificent self all the time. Take one scene from Murder Ahoy:

MISS MARPLE: Are you implying that I am unhinged?


MISS MARPLE: Then what are you implying, pray?

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR CRADDOCK: Well, just that you are temporarily not yourself.

MISS MARPLE: Chief Inspector, I am always myself!

In one interview, she said,

"I hope I'm an individual. I suppose an eccentric is a super individual. Perhaps an eccentric is just off centre - ex-centric. But that contradicts a belief of mine that we've got to be centrifugal."

Centrifugal she was, radiating out from a deep core of self, to delight and gift the world.

Since I believe that the point of aging is to become more ourselves, our best selves, and to give our best selves away, I would make Margaret Rutherford a patron saint of aging. She’s mine anyway.

Oh, the Stories We Can Tell

Many moons ago (in blog time, at least) a reader emailed to say that she could not imagine what stories she could tell because she had lived such an ordinary life. My response was – and still is – that we all have stories to tell even if we have “only” been married, raised kids and tended the backyard garden.

It is in the nature of elders to tell stories. Part of the reason is the urge, in later years, to put order to our lives, create a storyline to make sense of how we have lived. Another reason is to pass on the lore of our families and the times we have lived through because just as some beliefs, customs, practices and even utensils of past generations are a puzzle to us now, so will some of ours be to future generations.

One reason bloggers blog, I suspect, is that we enjoy telling stories. And it is ALL storytelling, you know. From rants to poems to reviews of movies and books, to politics and crafts and cooking and music and tech and introspective turmoil – we are all telling stories every day.

A while back, Norm Jenson of One Good Move introduced me to a secondary blog of his. It is called Anecdotal where Norm tells stories from his life, and he tells them marvelously – little gems of prose that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. He turned me on to another good storyteller at And another at

Here is a sample of Norm’s stories – The Repo Man - a favorite of mine from January.

Since that exchange with Norm, I’ve been mulling over an ElderStoryTellers idea which is beginning to gel now. Here’s what I have:

  • It will be called The TGB ElderStoryTellers
  • It will be an adjunct to Time Goes By either as a sub-blog or a stand-alone blog linked from all TGB pages
  • Only people 50 and older are eligible for publishing
  • All stories must be taken from the author’s life or the times he/she has lived through
  • Stories are limited to 750 words
  • Entries must be well-written and aspire to excellence in storytelling
  • The TGB ElderStoryTellers Award will be given for each month’s best story
  • An annual award will be given in February each year chosen from the previous 12 winners

None of this is set in stone yet and may be altered or modified before a final decision is made. Here are some other things I need help with and/or need to decide:

  • Will I be the sole judge? It is certainly less time consuming than coordinating a bunch of other people.
  • Instead, readers could vote on daily stories. The one with the most votes wins at the end of the month
  • If monthly/annual winners are selected by reader vote, someone needs to show me how the voting works technically and that it is compatible with Typepad.
  • Can voting be arranged so people cannot vote more than once?
  • Is this method fair in that stories published early in the month would probably gather more votes over time than stories published later in the month?
  • Need to have someone design a monthly winner badge for people to post on their blogs and another badge for the annual award. This should involve the TGB color palette, the words TGB ElderStoryTeller Award, month/year, and probably be no larger than 125x125

Beginning tomorrow, I will be away for several days during which time some excellent guest bloggers will fill in for me on these pages. Please give them all the attention and kind consideration you always give everyone here and if you can spare a few more moments, leave your thoughts, ideas, encouragements, discouragements, help and advice on the ElderStoryTeller proposal.

See you again Tuesday, 20 February - and don't have any wild parties that tear up the place while I'm gone.

Crabby's Senior Center Blues

On various occasions, when ranting about the age discrimination in the workplace, Crabby Old Lady has assailed the “experts” who offer the same-old, same-old advice for job seekers older than 40 or 50. It never varies over time or from person to person, and is always insulting:

  • Update your skills
  • Omit dates from your resume
  • Be enthusiastic and energetic
  • Update your wardrobe
  • Get a new hairstyle
  • Etc.

One demented fool directed older job seekers to get cosmetic surgery if they expected to be hired.

How do these folks think we have worked all these years without constantly updating our skills, buying new clothes as necessary, getting a haircut and all the rest. The advice and its repetition tells Crabby more about the prejudice of the job search experts against older people than it does about job searching.

Lately, Crabby has been reading a lot of about senior centers and has become convinced that their directors are moonlighting as job search experts - or vice versa. Like the employment advice, the principles senior center operators say they are based on all sound the same from expert to expert and senior center to senior center:

  • Successful aging begins with a positive attitude.
  • Aging well requires confidence in oneself.
  • Successful aging is defined as maximizing one’s potential.
  • Keeping busy with activities keeps you healthy.
  • Eat right and exercise.

Such a plethora of meaningless platitudes Crabby has not heard since the last presidential address. Do these senior center operators believe no one knows these things?

It is the banality, lack of imagination and condescension that bothers Crabby. Most senior centers offer the same activities – bridge, painting, ceramics, cooking classes - and with the exception of a computer class some centers throw in, the activities all sound like busy work to Crabby.

Many elders become socially isolated and lonely due to a number of factors. They no longer have the daily camaraderie of the workplace. Families may live far away. Old friends die. A place to meet others who would like some companionship seems like a good idea to Crabby. But most of the senior centers Crabby has been reading about are so brain dead-sounding that they may as well pass out doses of soma as people arrive.

There are a few senior centers that offer a better mix of more interesting activities and appear to be vibrant, appealing communities. But there are not nearly enough of them. Crabby has been wondering if the cause is those offensively simplistic platitudes about aging that senior center directors regularly regurgitate. It is not that they are false; it is that any meaning or usefulness is lost in the academic monotony of them.

ElderMovies and an Elder Nascar Driver

You may wonder what ElderMovies and Nascar have in common. The answer, at least as regards Time Goes By, is nothing. They are just two items I want to mention in the same post.

Three readers have recently submitted excellent new items for the growing TGB ElderMovies List. On Friday, I had lunch with fellow Maine blogger ML of Full Fathom Five. She was excited about a 2005 documentary, Ballets Russes, which concerns, of course, Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

ML says doesn’t even much care about ballet, but she loved the movie and the interviews with the former dancers who, now in their 80s and 90s, are as strong and vibrant as when they danced with the company in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I’ve added the film to our documentary list on ML’s recommendation, and also added it to my personal DVD rental queue.

Claude of Blogging in Paris sent an email recommending three movies for the list. Here is what she told me with links to what she’s written about them on her blog:

“I always meant to tell you about two movies that include some wonderful old characters. First one is The Holiday, with Eli Wallach, in a wonderful role. A very pleasant movie, in which elders and young exchange knowledge.

“Also, The History Boys, with Richard Griffiths, just great. Thought those two movies could be added to your database.

“Also, but I'm not sure you want to add a French movie, but just in case, called in French Les Petites Vacances, and in English Stolen Holidays, a very interesting movie, with Bernadette Lafont, born in 1938, one of the muses of the Nouvelle Vague, who hasn't done anything like Botox or surgery to her face and is just great.”

There is a new section now below the Documentaries titled Non-English Language Films. Although Les Petites Vacances is listed at the Internet Movie Database, no DVD is available yet. When it is and if there are English subtitles (there usually are), I’ll move the film up to the main list.

Jill Fallon of Legacy Matters recommends four films that rightly belonged on the TGB ElderMovies List from day one, but you will need to wait for Jill’s guest blog here next Wednesday to find out what they are.

Retirement Living TV, which has featured several elderbloggers on their network in recent months [full disclosure: including me], is sponsoring 72-year-old James Hylton in his bid, this weekend, to qualify for the Daytona 500.

"’James' spirit is everything that Retirement Television stands for,’" said Ed Beimfohr, vice president of marketing for Retirement Living TV. ‘We believe that you are never too old to go out and accomplish goals. James' quest to qualify for the Daytona 500, with the help of his friend JC Weaver, showcases that age is not an obstacle. We fully support his efforts beginning this weekend and into the Daytona 500. Achievement is ageless.’", 7 February 2007

I am not a race fan (except for horses) and I know next to nothing about Nascar or any other kind of auto racing. But I like that Mr. Hylton is driving and that Retirement Living TV is a sponsor. You can read more about James Hylton, who last drove at Daytona 20 years ago, here.

Retirement Living TV will produce a documentary special of Mr. Hylton's efforts for their The Art of Living program.

AARP's Ageism is Showing

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] A new story has been posted at this morning titled Wine, Foie Gras and Women's Longevity.]

category_bug_ageism.gif AARP sells a lot of different kinds of insurance to its age 50-plus members and some critics argue that its lobbying efforts (it supported the Medicare – Part D prescription drug coverage legislation) have less to do with benefiting members than maintaining and increasing its product revenue.

That’s worth considering whenever you read that AARP supports one political position or another and I have sometimes disagreed with policies it advocates. On the other hand, I frequently rely on the excellent research they produce on a vast array of elder issues and I enjoy some of the stories in the magazine and Bulletin. Aging is what AARP concerns itself with and here is part of how they say they see their goal:

“AARP is dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age. We lead positive social change and deliver value to members through information, advocacy and service…

“AARP celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.”

It is not unreasonable to assume from that mission statement that it is in AARP's DNA to respect aging and elderhood, and that they hold themselves up as an advocate for elders, a bulwark against ageism.

That would not be unreasonable, that is, until the most recent issue of AARP magazine arrives in your mailbox.

Aarpmirren There is a photo on the cover of 61-year-old actor Helen Mirren. Although the photograph appears to be airbrushed to look 20 years younger than the same woman I saw on television a week ago, it is a good tradition of AARP to always feature old celebrities on the magazine cover. No other publication does.

But then, that cutline up there on the left of Helen Mirren’s head pops out at you shouting: Look Younger Now. Erase 10 years (or more).

It is the same old ageist language that appears all over the media every day perpetuating the same cultural insistence that age is bad and everyone must do everything within their power to look as young as possible unto the grave. But this time it is worse coming, as it does, from an organization that says it represents elders. Or maybe they represent only youthful-looking elders.

The story accompanying the headline is a monthly staple of teen, beauty and fashion magazines: large, full-color photos of impossibly beautiful women. The only difference in this case is that they are age 52 to 75 selected, says writer Gabrielle deGroot Redford,

“…during our Faces of 50+ Real People Model Search…”

Real people? There is not a single neck wrinkle, eye sag or jowl among them. Their teeth are as perfect as a runway model’s and they all have professionally styled hair.

These women are as real as a movie star, as closely airbrushed as Helen Mirren’s cover photo with just a crow’s foot or two here and there for some minor authenticity.

The story also hypes dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her latest book, along with brand-name cosmetics she recommended for each woman during a two-day course in skincare.

Since any sentient being knows there is no skincare that can undo in two days what nature has done in five or six or seven decades, readers are being addressed as idiots. These women are either Photoshopped into perfect smoothness, have better genes than most movie stars or have had cosmetic surgery.

Contrary to what the youth and beauty police believe, smooth and unwrinkled are not the only criteria of facial attractiveness. Years ago when I lived in Texas, I worked with a woman who was then in her late sixties. She had grown up on a cattle ranch, had married a wealthy rancher and had, from the age of five or six, ridden a horse every morning for an hour or so – as she continued to do when I knew her. She had the weather-beaten skin of an old-time gold prospector and she was strikingly beautiful. Why are such women as she not held up to us as ideals?

As this article shows, the cultural coercion to reach impossible standards of beauty that begins in pre-teen years now extends clear into old age - and this time by a publication that says it “celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.”

[Hat tip to Judith Benenson.]

Wise Words on Fear of Aging

[EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the several good things that have come from my blogging at twice a week is meeting a remarkable woman named Marian Van Eyk McCain. Her interests range wide and include, among others, what you would expect for a woman whose way of living falls under the “crunchy granola” rubric.

Marianvmccain Marian lives as I would if I had more spine about what I say I believe in. Among the issues that raise her ire and indignation are destruction of rainforests, dangerously insane presidents, agribusiness, GM food, animal experimentation, fundamentalism, conspicuous consumption and – ageism.

Marian and I have similar concerns, but on that last item, we are pretty much two peas in an organic pod although we speak or, rather, write in different voices. So today, here is an article Marian wrote four years ago (before I was blogging here) titled Looking Where We Are Going: Releasing the Fear of Getting Old, first published in the quarterly magazine, Alternatives.

Marian also maintains The Elderwoman Website which is described as “a meeting place for women of age, maturity and wisdom” where you can subscribe, if you wish, to her free, monthly Elderwoman Newsletter. Here then, some wise words from Marian Van Eyk McCain on fear of aging:

It was one of those television shows that half the nation watches. But since my partner and I are fortunate enough not to share our home with a TV set, until last October I had never seen that show before.

On that October morning, I happened to be staying with friends, in a house where breakfast conversation was as long gone as the moa and the mammoth. So to be polite, when I walked into the room and found everyone dully watching the screen, I took my place on the sofa, alongside all the other millions.

The woman being interviewed was around fifty. The superb, high cheek-bones that had been her passport to success, were still apparent, and anyone more media literate than I would have known who she was. But oh dear, the skin that covered those bones was sagging now, and that is why she was here—a brave lady, said the producer - telling us about it. It was sagging in all the usual places where our skin loosens as we age and lose our youthful fleshiness —the cheeks, the forehead, around the eyes. (Mine has been like that for years. But then, I am nearly sixty-seven).

“I look so tired, now” she said, staring at her own reflection in the plastic surgeon’s mirror.

She did, too. But it was not the tiredness of a day’s hard labor in the fields or the delicious weariness of a long-distance walker. It was a thin, petulant tiredness, an empty tiredness that dulled her famous face, almost into nothingness.

You might walk past that face which had graced so many magazine covers and not even notice it. Not because her cheekbones were any lower, but because her eyes were empty. There was no soul showing. There possibly never had been, I suspected. But under the mask of make-up and the practiced, commercial smile, that had never mattered before. It was clear that what she wanted was to have her young face returned to her—or rather, a reconstructed version of it.

The camera panned a pastiche of magazines. There was her life. She wanted it back. And—for who knows how many thousand dollars—the kindly surgeon promised he would restore it to her. Was that not kind and noble of him to give this poor woman back her beauty? To glue the faded petals carefully on to the rose again?

In gruesome detail, he showed us what he would do. A simple little nick here, a tuck there, all neatly hidden behind the hairline.

That was when I got up and went in to the kitchen, to make myself some breakfast and have a conversation with the cat. At some later point, glancing back into the darkened living-room, I saw a brief shot of that woman’s sliced up face, swollen beyond recognition, undergoing its longed-for rearrangement. I felt too sickened to go back in and watch the rest.

I suppose I should have done. I could have gone in there with one of those little bags you find in the backs of airline seats, and sat the program out. I often tell myself that I really should make more effort to comprehend and understand the full awfulness of mainstream culture. But to be honest, I do not have the stomach for it.

While I was watching her talk to the surgeon and bemoan her “tired” face, all I wanted to do was to burst into that TV studio, take that woman by the shoulders and shake her awake.

After I had shaken her, what then? Oh yes, I fantasized that, too. I would put her in a taxi, take her to the airport, and drag her on to a plane for Africa or rural India or Bangladesh. And I would make her work. Not draping around in front of a camera, or mincing down catwalks, but proper work. Together, she and I would help the village women plough their ground. We would plant vegetables and weave baskets and fetch water. We would hug trees in defiance of the chainsaws, stop the dams, milk the goat, pick wild herbs, tend a sick child and a dying person. We would sing, play drums and dance in the firelight. We would talk together about the meaning of life and death, and watch the stars against a velvet black sky.

Some year, when she came home—if she ever did come home—she would look at her face again in the mirror and enjoy the face that smiled back at her. She would touch her fingertips to her weathered, withered cheeks and marvel at the grandeur of a wise, old face like that. And if you dared to suggest to her that she might want to slice it up and rearrange it, she would throw her head back and laugh a full-throated laugh and say you must be nuts. “But,” she might add, eyeing you shrewdly, “If you are offering, I’ll take the money instead, please. I know a village that needs cash for a new well .....”

Yes, it would have felt good to do all that. But all I did was to sit and finish my breakfast and complain to the cat about our society’s idiotic attitudes to aging.

How did we miss that sage piece of advice given by Carl Jung about what he called “the afternoon of life?” For as he pointed out, that afternoon has its own agenda. It should not be lived, he warned, according to the program of life’s morning. Which is what this poor woman with the empty eyes was trying to do.

It is a project that is doomed to fail. Botox injections, cosmetic surgery and HRT cannot keep us young. They only keep us looking backwards, longingly, at a youth we can never have again.

Imagine if we drove our cars like that—looking only out of the back window instead of at where we were going. We would soon crash. Which of course is exactly what so many people do. They crash into illness, obesity, depression; into meaninglessness, into emptiness. Or into an endless round of golf, voyeuristic travel to pretty places behind the safe portholes of a cruise ship, shopping for the sake of shopping, or worrying about investments and reading magazines about how to cope with incontinence, Alzheimer’s, and not being able to get in and out of the bath.

But there’s a new wave gathering. Just when it will run up on the shores of mainstream awareness, I cannot say, but I feel it getting bigger and stronger, all over the so-called Western world. It is nothing less than the full revival of powerful elderhood.

In little pockets of awareness here and there, the Baby Boom is, despite all its kicking and screaming, starting to wake up to the possibility that getting old might, after all, be a grand adventure rather than a disaster from which to hide one’s eyes.

In aging, as in everything else, the Cultural Creatives, as we call them, are the ones quietly crafting a whole new approach.

Ram Dass, that mushroom-tripping guru of the sixties, who has remained an icon ever since, with his self-deprecating wit, wide smile and ever-growing wisdom, started running “conscious aging” workshops, a few years ago, when he was 62. Then he began to write a book about this new approach. His book was almost finished when a massive stroke nearly killed him. Now, confined to a wheelchair & somewhat aphasic, but irrepressible as ever, he writes “I’m the advance scout for the experience of aging, and I’ve come back from the scouting party to bring good news.”

As he and others have attested, old age is not a disaster at all. On the contrary, if you really embrace it, the so-called “third age” can turn out to be an even more wonderful and interesting adventure than the other two ages—childhood and maturity—put together.

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, who was probably the first to offer workshops for conscious aging, has a name for this process of reframing our stereotyped image of what it means to get old. He refers to it as the move “ from aging to sage-ing”.

One of the hardest challenges for women—and the one that woman on the TV show could not rise to meet—is to accept the loss of youthful, sexy looks and the onset of gray hair, wrinkles, sagging skin and breasts. Trying to hold back this change reminds Ram Dass of “someone rushing around the fields in the autumn painting the marvelous gold and red leaves with green paint. It’s a lot of wasted time and energy.”

There are so many other things, he might have added, which could well have been done with all that time and energy.

In ages past, women—especially older women—were the healers and comforters, the midwives, the attendants at the doors of birth and death, and the trustees of wisdom. They had a special relationship with Nature and all the Earth’s creatures.

Persecuted, over several centuries, their numbers decimated and their power wrested from them, women have carried, in their collective psyche, a fear of reclaiming those important roles. But the time has come, now, for them to reach out and own them again. Only by so doing, I believe, can some of the current imbalances in the yin/yang of our planet be corrected.

To the fifty year old woman, faced with her increasing invisi-bility in the popular culture and her falling stocks in the sexual market place, being advised to accept the process might seem at first like the cruelest irony. That which made her feel the most womanly—her juiciness, her fullness, her raw energy, her sexual attractiveness—is what she is being asked to relinquish.

Yet these are the very things she has to be able to give up gra-ciously to be complete as a woman. It is the woman who no longer tries to be what she once was, but fully embraces what she now is, who is, truly, the most womanly of all. The elderwoman, or “crone” is more completely a woman than any other female person, for she is the one who has lived each stage of the cycle.

Only by living the whole cycle, from birth, through childhood, maturity and old age, can we experience the full range of what it is to be human.

To do so is, in fact a privilege, for not everyone is able to stay here that long. (If you asked any terminally ill person of forty or fifty whether they would swap their present predicament for a healthy old age, complete with wrinkles, how many would say no?) Our ancestors, just like those dying people, had to condense their whole life experience into a much shorter time span than many of us will have to. Archaeological studies show that Neanderthal people rarely lived beyond their thirties. Even in the 1800s, to be fifty was to be an old man or woman. So we are, if you think about it, incredibly lucky.

Yet how many of us move forward into these “bonus” decades with a full-bodied, open-hearted, enthusiastic acceptance of the aging process? How many of the Baby Boom generation see themselves as apprentices for real, wise elderhood; the sort of elderhood and wisdom our planet desperately needs and is so patently short of right now?

How many are there, waiting in the shadows, wondering if others are thinking the same way?

They are there, right enough. I think we shall be surprised how many.

So please come out and be counted. And don’t worry if your face looks “tired.” You’ll be tired all over by the time you are through. But it will feel good, I promise…

Is It Funny or Is It Ageism?

[EDITOR'S NOTE: In yesterday's poll about what we should best do to improve the U.S. healthcare system, expanding Medicare to everyone came out ahead of the other choices. But there are a number of different takes on the issue raised in the comments on that post and the one from the day before. As the 2008 campaign develops, we will be publishing a lot more on healthcare and look forward to a growing discussion.] is the second largest job website after You can post a resume there, search jobs by field of expertise, location and salary, read advice on job searching along with various services they provide to help people find employment.

And sometimes, like other kinds of websites, Careerbuilder publishes an interactive feature to catch your interest and promote their name.

One of those features, called Age-o-Matic, is currently running on Careerbuilder where it appears regularly among the banner promos that are rotated at the bottom of the home page. It also appears as an ad in some other places around on the web. Here's a small version of the banner ad:


That’s all I will tell you about it. When you have a few moments today, make sure your audio is on and spend a few moments visiting Age-o-Matic. Notice the quick, little splash page that comes up when you first land on the page and then follow the interactive instructions on the next pages. If, when you get to the audio step, there is no microphone on your computer, you can just type in a word or two or even just a couple of letters. It won't a difference to the outcome.

When you are finished, stop back here and tell us about your experience at Age-o-Matic, your opinion of it and whether or not it changes how you feel about Careerbuilder or not.

[Hat tip to Cowtown Pattie at Texas Trifles.]

A Question of Healthcare – Part 2

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A new story about the other important book Betty Friedan wrote has been posted at BlogHer today.]

category_bug_politics.gif When I got sick when I was a little girl and if my mother thought I was too ill to travel or it appeared I had something contagious like chickenpox, the doctor came to our house. When I needed immunization boosters or a routine visit with the pediatrician, we went to the doctor’s office.

At the end of the visit at home or the office, my mother paid the doctor in cash or by check. Credit cards did not exist in the late 1940s (or were barely known) and employers did not widely offer health insurance as a benefit yet.

Medical needs were generally affordable. Doctors, even in cities, did not drive Mercedes and they often reduced their fee or did not charge at all when they knew a family’s budget was stretched thin.

Life is not so simple anymore. Healthcare has become more sophisticated and complex involving million-dollar machines and procedures. Physicians have been divided up into specialists so that the person we see for an ailment is often a stranger. And healthcare has become big business operated from the top down by the insurance industry and giant HMOs.

Aside from the insurance industry which reaps billions of dollars in annual profits, no one is happy with healthcare we have, and there is no doubt that the system in the U.S. is at crisis level, ready to implode.

Yesterday, we covered some of the myths of American healthcare. Contrary to what our leaders repeat to us, our system is just about the least effective among nations in the developed world and costs twice as much as other governments spend.

So far among announced presidential candidates, only John Edwards has laid out a definitive healthcare plan. His would cover everyone by 2012 and to pay for it, he would abolish the tax cuts President Bush rammed through for people who earn more than $200,000 a year.

The plan would require that all employers cover every worker or contribute six percent of each worker’s salary toward coverage the worker would then purchase. Government-funded insurance would be supplied to low-income adults and children.

The difficulty I see with this plan is that is leaves most insurance still in the hands of employers which was a poor idea when it was first introduced in the 1940s. Additionally and more important, it is not a single-payer system. The for-profit insurance companies remain in control extracting billions of dollars for themselves that would otherwise go to healthcare.

Senator Hillary Clinton has a history with healthcare, having chaired a committee to develop a new system in 1993 and 1994 when she was first lady. But do not think that was a single-payer plan anymore than John Edwards' is today. When Senator Clinton was in Iowa recently,

“One voter asked her bluntly what happened when she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, tried to expand coverage in 1993-1994 and what she intended to do now to reach that goal.

"’It's a fair question,’ Clinton replied, ‘because everybody who cares about this issue - which is nearly everybody in the country - knows that we tried very hard in '93-'94 and we could not put together the political consensus that we needed to make changes.'

“What followed was a 10-minute explanation of why the Clintons had failed then, how the problem has grown worse in the subsequent years and why she is not ready to outline in any detail her plan for the future. (‘I'm not ready to be specific until I hear from people,’ she said.)”

- Washington Post, 29 January 2007

There is no reason to hear from “people,” whoever she may be referring to. And, there are literally dozens of single-payer plans gathering dust on shelves of public policy organizations around the U.S. Pick one.

Many polls show that a majority of Americans want a single-payer system and there is already a decent plan that was re-introduced in Congress in January by its original 2005 author, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. The bill, named HR676, The National Health Insurance Act, which now has 78 additional sponsors, would expand Medicare to cover every American.

On the other side of the Capitol, at least two senators, Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank – both of Massachusetts – are on record supporting an expanded Medicare system. A virtue of expanding Medicare to everyone is that the bureaucracy is already in place, the kinks have long been worked out and it needs only to be enlarged while keeping tried and true procedures in place.

A difficulty in getting this or any such bill through either house of Congress is the huge donations insurance companies lavish on the campaigns of candidates for national office – a giveaway that voters cannot possibly match. So unless we all speak up and do so loudly and repeatedly, even the dissatisfaction of a majority of Americans can be drowned out by corporate money. Keep that in mind as this long, presidential campaign continues for two years.

No healthcare plan is perfect, but Medicare works quite well for elder Americans and a single-payer system works just as effectively for all citizens of every other developed nation in the world. Without hundreds of insurance companies and managed care behemoths controlling who gets what care, costs can be controlled; everyone would be covered; doctors, nurses and hospitals would be relieved of excessive paperwork to do the work they trained for, for so long.

Even so, many people oppose this bill and single-payer systems altogether. Certainly the insurance companies do and a large body of conservative voters oppose universal healthcare with that old bugaboo, “socialized medicine” - which is not what this is, so don't let the phrase scare you.

So – as CNN’s Jack Cafferty says every day, here’s the question [if you have some alternative ideas, please leave them in the comments section. Americans need all the help we can get on this issue]: