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(In)Tolerance of Difference

At The Elder Storytelling Place, there is a lovely piece published last week written by Susan Fisher of Suzzwords titled “The Man Who Thought He Was a Train.” Set in 1950s Jacksonville, Florida, it is about a beloved town eccentric, and Susan perfectly evokes the sensibility of that time in America half a century ago.

The 1950s have been much maligned as unenlightened, conformist and boring and I bought that fairy tale for many years. But we get older and in some things grow a little wiser, and I now see the 1950s as a short period of respite between long stretches of social and political turmoil, a little island in time of peaceful coexistence that hasn’t been that calm since John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the event which ended “The Fifties.”

The 15 years preceding The Fifties were dark and dismal. At its high point during the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment reached 25 percent. Many millions did not have enough to eat and bread lines were common in every city. In those days, there were no government safety nets and private charities did the best they could which wasn’t always enough.

The Depression segued right into World War II. Gasoline, coffee, meat, sugar, butter and other commodities were rationed. Recycling was invented then as women saved food tins and newspapers for the war effort. When the war ended five years later, more than 407,000 Americans had died fighting in Europe and Asia. At home, there was a gold-star mother on every block, meaning a son or daughter had been killed.

The post-World War II economic boom was a welcome relief from a long, dark period of difficulty and deprivation. Returning soldiers and sailors went to college on the G.I. Bill. Couples had babies like bunny rabbits causing the baby boomer generation and they built houses and settled down to some peace and quiet.

Yes, the South was still segregated (many parts of the north too) and blacks didn’t fare as well as whites in the boom of the 1950s. Women, who had gone to work as Rosie the Riveters during the War and supported families alone, still couldn’t be doctors or lawyers or corporate chiefs and were not yet much welcome in colleges at all.

There were many social and cultural inequities we have since improved. But you must never judge the past by current standards.

What Susan Fisher’s story reminded me is that in the 1950s we were much more tolerant of individual differences among us. Even when such superficial social standards as dress codes for every occasion, no mention of where babies came from and perfect front lawns were strictly enforced by peer pressure, many towns had their local eccentrics and we allowed them to be as they were.

There were other kinds of differences too. I went to school with more than a few kids who had club feet, cleft palates, small pox scars, limps from polio, and “retarded” kids attended the same schools as the rest of us. We were taught to help out with them. And without much ado, we made allowances for the kids with physical limitations so they could be included in our games. No one was ever teased for their small pox scars and dermabrasion was still far in the future.

Catholic kids, as they approached their confirmations, were let out of school an hour early two afternoons a week to attend catechism classes. Jewish kids too, for bar mitzvah classes. It pissed off the Protestant kids who had no such rituals, but it was a mock indignation. No one cared for real.

It’s different now. Today, as a couple of comments on Susan’s story noted, the “train man” would be picked up by the police and social service agencies would be paying for drugs and therapy to make him “right.”

Although medicine has mostly defeated those physical deficiencies of my childhood, we have developed much stricter rules since the 1950s of what behavior and appearance will be tolerated.

When was the last time you saw someone as harmlessly off his trolley as the train man? (New York City doesn’t count.) Or – here’s one for you - anyone who is halt, lame or disfigured?

Which brings me to Roger Ebert.

Ten months ago, a portion of the 64-year-old film critic’s mandible was removed due to salivary gland cancer. Subsequent surgeries to replace the mandible have not succeeded, he is temporarily without speech due to a tracheostomy and, as he put it recently, “he’s not a pretty boy anymore.”

As the opening of his ninth annual Overlooked Film Festival (Ebertfest) in Champagne, Illinois, approached last week Ebert revealed that he had been warned not to attend because the paparazzi would take unflattering photos and harmful things would be said.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn…” wrote Ebert. “I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers. So what? I have been very sick, am getting better and this is how it looks. I still have my brain and my typing fingers.”
Chicago Sun Times, 23 April 2007

Elders have a lot in common with the disabled, disfigured and mildly daft; we have all been made invisible in American life. Unless we conform to the gold standard of perpetual youth and beauty with perfect white teeth, glowing smooth skin, a brisk stride and conventional behavior, someone always wants to fix us. As we pay lip service to the culture of inclusion, we have made difference a crime and we are in danger of becoming a population of pod people.

Not everything about the old days was bad and we would do well to reinstate the kind of tolerance for difference among us that Susan Fisher so deftly recalls of the Fifties. Roger Ebert agrees:

“We spend too much time hiding illness,” he continued in his column. “There is an assumption that I must always look the same. I hope to look better than I look now. But I’m not going to miss my Festival.”

And he did not. Hurray for Roger Ebert:


[EDITORIAL NOTE: Timothy Grass, Part 2 of Judith Taylor's Tapestry series, in which a 50-year-old memento brings back memories of a certain summer, is posted at The Elder Storytelling Place today.]

Improved Communication - Sort of

A few days ago, Crabby Old Lady carried on a bitch session about the varieties of mis-communication that have plagued the Bennett household of late. A couple have resolved themselves and another stopped being a problem, but one - the internet connection - continues to be a serious on-again/off-again annoyance.

Right now, early Sunday morning, my pipeline to the world is cooking along at normal, cable-modem speed, but experience since the nor'easter two weeks ago, warns that it might degrade at any moment or stop altogether for a few minutes, an hour or two, most of the day - who knows? One never knows. There is no warning and no predicting.

The point is that unanswered email is stacked up like incoming airplanes on a bad day at JFK. So if you are expecting an answer and haven't received it in the past week or so or believe I probably should have written to you by now or have submitted a story to The Elder Storytelling Place that hasn't been acknowledged, I am not ignoring you. I'm running as fast as I can between outages.

Meanwhile, there is a terrific addition to the design over at The Elder Storytelling Place which now has its own banner. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Learning to Like My Mother

category_bug_journal2.gif My mother has been on my mind this week and no wonder - today is the 15th anniversary of her death. I was holding her hand when she took her last breath, and caring for her during the final months of her life remains the most profound experience of my life.

Love – of the family sort, anyway - I have found, is easy. Like, on the other hand, can be hard and my mother was a hard woman for her daughter to like.

When I was a little girl, she taught me to like poetry and had written some herself in the style of Edna St. Vincent Millay. She also taught me to read before I was old enough for school and indulged my book habit to the max. She started me at ballet school when I was four because she didn’t want me to grow up to be the klutz she was. When I wanted to learn to play piano, there was one in the house a week later and a teacher hired.

Mom wasn’t much liked by other mothers in the neighborhood nor by some teachers because she worked full time and was not available to help out with parties at school, to chaperone class outings and other activities mothers normally took part in.

But she always attended evening PTA meetings, went to all my recitals, ran a Cub Scout troop for my brother, taught Sunday School, had a bridge club, cooked every meal from scratch, kept a kitchen garden, canned fruits, vegetables and jam every year, made a lot of my clothes and in her spare time, dragged my brother and me to every damned historical (hysterical) monument in Oregon and Washington. She read books by the dozens and kept my brother, father and me in hand-knit sweaters, mittens and socks.

She loved holidays, any holiday, and was quite ecumenical about them - any excuse to decorate and cook special foods was fine with her. And amidst all this, she found time to have an affair that led to my parents’ divorce when I was 15.

So what’s not to like?

Mom drank and especially in her later years, she was a mean drunk. The woman who, when I was a child, took pains to instill in me the same attitude toward all ethnic groups and religions she had for holidays became a bigot, a far right-wing bigot who made Rush Limbaugh’s radio show her religion. Her social and political tirades appalled me.

I learned, after she retired (she didn’t take up drinking during the day until she stopped working) to never call after noon or 1PM and I tacked on my visits to Sacramento before or after business trips to Los Angeles so I could escape after two or three days.

For years and years, I steered our conversations away from most topics except cute cat stories and cooking. Anything else inevitably led me to rage, but I couldn’t argue because there is never any point to debating a drunk. And so it was between us, attached by biology and love and not much like, at least on my part.

I don’t understand how or why, but caring for my mother around the clock during her final months eased my rage. And although I don’t understand either how or why her beliefs and attitudes changed so much from my childhood, as I grow old now I’m proud to recognize some of her better qualities in me: resilience in adversity, emotional strength and courage of conviction even if I disagreed (and still disagree) – vehemently - with her late-life political convictions.

Another thing I don’t understand is how we all are so bound in adulthood to the lessons learned in youth. They are almost impossible to escape but in my case, mom’s childhood lessons have served me well. It has taken me many years to come to like my mother despite our differences. She had a million sayings for every circumstance in life. One of the most common that comes to mind today is, "Too young we are old, too old we are wise."

Yesterday’s post and some of today’s are adapted from what I privately call my “Mom Series” and publicly titled, A Mother’s Last, Best Lesson. I wrote and published it during the first year of this blog and have often thought I’d like to rewrite it (I’ve learned a lot about writing turning out Time Goes By every day for so long). But it is hard to find the time and so it stands in its original form. You can read it here.

[Susan Fisher is today's contributor at The Elder Storytelling Place. She tells of The Man Who Thought He Was a Train and I guarantee you are going to love it.]

Laughing in the Face of Death

category_bug_journal2.gif Physicians are notorious for cold, heartless conversations with family members when a loved one is dying or dead. They are not always much better when the patient is still alive either. My father’s oncologist, many years ago, was so distant, non-communicative and even brutal that he had to be fired even if he was considered the best chemo mixologist in the state.

A few medical schools have noticed this failing and some are beginning to take steps to correct it. Emory University School of Medicine has developed a mandatory course for its medical residents. Using classroom lectures and role playing with actors, the young physicians are now learning the art of compassionate communication.

Dr. Tammi Quest, who developed the curriculum, tells her students:

"’[Families] might not remember your name, but they will remember exactly the phrasing you used, how you said it, if they were confused. People can recall that event very, very vividly. People can relive that and replay that.’

“To avoid any confusion or misunderstanding, she advises the doctors to choose their words carefully. Instead of saying ‘passed on’ or ‘not going to make it, she tells them to be straightforward. ‘I've seen family members be confused when someone goes in to talk about the news of death and [the doctors] can't actually say the person has died.’", 23 April 2007 [video here]

My mother’s physician, when she was diagnosed with untreatable cancer in 1992, was a naturally kind man. In delivering bad news, he was straightforward and also gentle, but this time he wasn’t prepared for what came next.

As he told me a week later, he met with mom in his office to tell her the results of tests. It took about ten minutes to explain the details and that there were essentially no options. Some chemotherapy might extend her life by a few weeks, but she had about three months to live, four at most.

When he finished speaking, he told me, mom sat quietly with her head down, looking at the floor for a long time – longer than is comfortable between two people in general conversation. Then she raised her head, looked him in the eye and said, “Are you telling me I shouldn’t buy any green bananas?”

Dr. Hunt was stunned, having no idea what to say next – and then they both burst out laughing.

Doctors are the ones who most often give people the worst possible news, so it’s a good move to help them learn how. But who’s going to teach them to handle an odd duck like my mother, and how to know when it is okay to laugh.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Septuagent reminisces about his boyhood during the Battle of Britain. It is titled Gas, but you'll have to read it to find out why.]

There Has Been a Failure to Communicate

Crabby Old Lady has been in an unusually bad mood – even for her - since the nor’easter hit here in Portland, Maine on 16 April. First, her internet connection was down for two days and it hasn’t gotten much better with service available maybe ten hours a day (Crabby is guessing), but impossible know which ten hours or for how long it will last each time it returns during the day.

And even when Crabby is connected, it is slower than snailmail and impossible to get any work done. It’s damned hard running two daily blogs under these conditions.

But that’s not all that's bothering Crabby. Although each of her complaints is minor in itself, they add up – and they all seem to be about communication, or lack thereof.

ITEM: How is it that a voice message left by the doctor’s office on Thursday doesn’t arrive on Crabby’s cell phone until Sunday afternoon?

ITEM: Who at the Criminal Court in New York City is ringing Crabby's cell phone eight or ten times a day since Friday with a recorded message that she must call a non-existent number or risk arrest, and why do these calls get through when her doctor's message doesn't?

ITEM: Why does the agent for the insurance on Crabby’s condominium in New York keep calling about renewal twice a week after Crabby has explained that she sold that apartment nearly a year ago? What part of “sold” doesn’t the agent understand?

ITEM: And what fool thought Snap Shots is a good idea for blogs and websites? It is more irritating than Twitter because it is foisted on unwary users without their consent. Have you seen it yet? It hits Crabby now several times a day. It goes like this:

She’s having a fine ol’ time reading something she is enjoying when her mouse strays over a link and WHAM! A miniature, but still large pop-up of the webpage it links to covers what she’s reading.

When there are a lot of them on a page (there usually are) and Crabby tries to get her mouse away from the first pop-up, several more appear. Fair warning: Crabby never returns to a blog or website that uses Snap Shots.

ITEM: And wait until you hear this one: last week, Crabby was returning from the neighborhood deli. Yes, she will admit she crossed the street in the middle of the block, but hey – this is Portland, Maine where at the outside, 50 cars a day go down her street, and the coast was clear.

Suddenly, a car came barreling around the corner and Crabby speeded up to avoid getting hit. She didn’t see a manhole cover that is raised about two inches above the pavement. She tripped, went down hard, stunned by the pain in both knees, an elbow and her head. As she struggled to get up, the car drove around her and what do you suppose the driver was holding to his ear? If Crabby has to tell you, you've been - well, asleep at the wheel for the past decade.

The shiner on Crabby's right eye started out bright red, has been through purple and is just now turning a bilious shade of orange. And it will be a good while before she will be capable of kneeling again.

Communication is usually judged to be a good thing. Right now, Crabby Old Lady has her doubts.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: In Tapestry 1 over at The Elder Storytelling Place, Judith Taylor tells the tale of a youthful missed opportunity and its resolution half a century later.

The Meaning of Longevity

Nobody wants to die and longevity has always been a hot topic. Indeed, the now-standard Google Search test returns more than 17 million results with more than a few of them selling nostrums that promise to extend life. (Hint: they don’t work.)

Larry King believes the topic is such an audience grabber that a couple of weeks ago, he devoted his entire program to longevity with four guests: alternative medicine icon Deepak Chopra, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Oprah Winfrey’s diet and fitness guru, Bob Greene. (Make of that line-up what you will.)

If you subtract the stupid, taped celebrity questions, plugs for the guest’s books, outlandish claims for the near future (GUPTA: “We are starting to get to the point where we can live as long as we want to live.”), there were about five minutes of good advice, although nothing you can’t find on any reputable health website and probably already know:

  • Keep your weight down; eat less
  • Exercise – weight training is good; it increases metabolism
  • Sleep is important – it rests and rejuvenates cells
  • A multivitamin and omega-3 fatty acids are good. So is calcium for women. Other than that, save your money at the supplement shop
  • Learn to manage stress

Anyone could easily guess that this would not be a serious show and I would not have bothered with it (well, I didn’t; I read the transcript) except that television is how most people get their information so I had two reasons to check it out: to get a sense of the common zeitgeist on longevity and to see if there was any thoughtful discussion among the how-to of living longer about what being old is really like.

Answer No. 1: Everyone wants to live forever
Answer No. 2: No

The unspoken assumption of host and guests – not unexpected from five, highly-visible overachievers - was that the goal of extended life is to stay healthy enough to continue as in midyears to chase additional success, wealth and recognition.

There was not an inkling during the program that not everyone finds these goals fulfilling (even in midlife), and that after one has lived for five or six or seven decades, one’s attention might shift to goals and pleasures as different from midlife as midlife is from childhood and adolescence. That in later years, there might be a more complex reality to investigate and realize than continued career-building.

A big difference between elders and younger people is that elders have been the age of everyone younger; we know what it is like to be 20, 30, 40, 50. But no younger person can know what it is like to be older. Yet they assume, without ever considering differently, that their goals are ours.

In addition, a new difference is that when I was 35 or 40, I did not presume (nor, I would bet, did most TGB readers) that 65- or 70-year-olds lived like me or wanted to. Back then, the culture was only on the upward cusp of youth becoming the gold standard of life. We still believed that however elders chose to live, it was their right not to be urged, even harassed, into behaving like they were young.

Now that the culture of perpetual youth is fully established, the media – which pretty much is our culture – is operated exclusively by midlife adults promoting their stage of life as the right way, the only way, for everyone to live.

Children these days are forced to be as busy as Wall Street hedge fund managers; elders who are not as active as 30-year-olds are considered deficient; and sexually provocative thong underwear is marketed to everyone from age 5 to 95.

For many years, I’ve held to a not entirely unique idea of the stages of life. In this theory, there are three broad divisions. The first, up until about age 30, is the information-gathering phase: school, early career, gaining experience as professionals and at living. The next 25 to 30 years are the busy, go-get ’em period: growing a career, making a home, raising children while adding to one’s store of knowledge. The third stage, then, is for integrating all that information, making sense of the first 50 or 60 years and suggesting ways to put that experience to use for the good of society - be it as small as one's family or as large as the world.

More people are living longer, healthier lives than in the past and there are as many ways to use that longevity as there are people who attain it. But if the public discourse remains as superficial as on The Larry King Show, assuming that elders are nothing more than wrinkled (or Botoxed smooth) mid-lifers, society loses and so do elders who are pressured at every turn to remain as 40-year-olds in mind as well as body.

My favorite nugget of advice on The Larry King Show came from Deepak Chopra. It is undoubtedly a good idea and it made me laugh: “…avoid [eating] anything that comes in a can or has a label.”

[EDITORIAL NOTE: TravelinOma writes today at The Elder Storytelling Place of her Grama’s Hands which speaks well of the lore passed down from elders to the youngest generation that sticks with us all our lives.]

The Supreme Court Abortion Decision

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This was first posted at Blogher last week; it caused quite a stir there.]

category_bug_politics.gif A Supreme Court ruling on 18 April 2007, upheld a law banning late-term abortion with no provision for the health of the mother. In addition, the law is so broadly written that some legal experts believe it leaves the door wide open for individual states to further restrict abortion. Many already have by making life so dangerous for physicians who performed abortions that there is no clinic or hospital within hundreds of miles that will do it.

You may think, because old women are past child-bearing age, that this is not an elder issue. You would be wrong because:

  1. Women who are elders now fought hard 40 years ago for Roe v. Wade
  2. We lived in the days before Roe v. Wade and know the horror

I’m not here today to discuss the moral question of abortion. Whatever one’s belief in that regard and whatever the law, some women will seek to end some pregnancies. They always have. In ancient Rome, they left unwanted newborns on dung heaps to die of exposure. Today, women who cannot afford or do not have access to medical abortions, leave infants on doorsteps throughout the world. Now, if abortion is further restricted in the U.S., the coat hanger solution will return.

I remember it well in my teens and twenties. Not to be too graphic about it, imagine sticking a wire coat hanger up your vagina and poking around with it through excruciating pain and bloodletting risking failure and a mangled embryo or fetus, infection and hemorrhage. Some died.

Most communities in those days had one or more local abortionists whose names were furtively passed around when a woman was seeking to end a pregnancy. These were the kitchen table abortions, performed by people untrained in medicine or surgery, resulting in the same mangled fetuses, infections and hemorrhaging. Some died.

The third option was to find a brave physician who, because he (there were not a lot of women doctors in those days) believed in women’s right to choose, performed secret abortions at high fees and which subjected them to prosecution and jail if discovered. Because this kind of abortion was not performed in a hospital, when there were complications, some women died.

Let me tell you a story:

When I was 18 years old in 1959, I became pregnant. I worked as an office clerk taking home about $250 per month which covered my expenses, if I was careful, and no more. The father made it abundantly clear that he wanted no part of a child nor, any longer, me.

Another factor young women today may not appreciate when high schools commonly have day-care centers, is the stigma that was attached to becoming an unwed mother in the 1950s. So powerful was the shame attached to it that many pregnant girls and women were sent by their families to visit “Aunt Mary” which was, in reality, a commercial home for unwed mothers in another state where they stayed for the duration of their pregnancy, hoping that no one back home would learn the truth.

In actuality, everyone did know what was up and when the girl returned, she was ostracized by everyone, including her previous girlfriends, and her name was passed around among the young men in the community as a girl who was “easy.”

For a number of reasons, a home for unwed mothers was not available to me. That left abortion. I knew I didn’t have the guts to attempt the coat hanger solution and I didn’t want to die on a stranger’s kitchen table, so I approached a friend whose husband was a doctor.

A few days later, her husband met me on a corner in the business section of the city and had me write down the telephone number of a man in Seattle he said was a physician who performed secret abortions in an office unassociated with his practice.

A week later, I arrived at the Seattle office at the appointed hour. It was dark, dingy and not very clean. The linoleum floor was cracked. The paint was peeling. There was dust in the corners. As I lay naked from the waist down on a cold, metal table, the doctor, using surgical instruments of dubious sterility, poked and scraped inside me. There was no anesthetic. I screamed. The nurse (well, she was dressed in white and wore a cap) slapped my face and told me to shut up.

I screamed again. She slapped again. She told me the doctor would not complete the abortion unless I was quiet. I screamed no more, but I shed every tear my body was capable of producing and bit through my lip.

In under an hour, wobbly-kneed, I made my way to the airport and returned home.

I was lucky. There was no infection, no hemorrhaging and within a week or two, I had recovered. Some women in those days did not.

Do we really want to return to those bad old days? In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – the lone woman on the Supreme Court - called the Court’s decision “alarming” and “irrational.” She also said it

“...cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court - and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives."

Men and women bring differing sensibilities and attitudes to many issues. I have always believed society benefits from including and weighing these gender differences in public debate. But abortion is where I get radical.

Until a man is capable of giving birth and/or every man is forced by law to both financially support and participate in the gestation and raising of every child he fathers, and such law is enforced without exception (a permanent ankle tracking device for those who run comes to mind) no man has a right to discuss abortion, let alone to vote on it.

No one can convince me that pregnancy, birth and the choice to abort or not are anything but women’s domain, exclusively.

[Alan G has contributed a terrific story at The Elder Storytelling Place today titled The Art of Dying. Don't miss it.]

It’s My Blog and I’ll Do It My Way

Among the motivations for Friday’s post about the Elderbloggers’ List is the recent flurry of discussion – online and off - about blogging codes of conduct. As I mentioned in my rant on that subject, I have never posted a code because there is so little need for it on Time Goes By. People who comment here are remarkably capable of disagreement and argument without vitriol.

But who knew that such a nuts-and-bolts, little housekeeping post as Friday's would become contentious. In explaining how I choose blogs to list or exclude (subject to change without notice), I noted that I exclude wingnuts of the right (and also of the left) and blogs that support the Bush administration to which The Savvy Boomer responded in the comments:

“I'm amazed. You don't include Bush supporter blogs but I guess that means you must include other party supporter blogs? I'm amazed. I always thought the US was based on equal rights but I guess I'm wrong. And he's the President of the US!! We don't much like him up here in Canada either but you would think that an American based blog would at least allow links to several points of view, particularly one based on the leader of their country, no matter how much you don't like him.

“I was going to ask to be linked because I qualify for all the criteria (I think) but I'd rather find a non partisan group to be associated with.”

Bonnie agreed:

"We now know that all opinions or points of view are not welcome. I was with you including right wing nuts, but I agree with the Savvy Boomer. Talk about discrimination!"

That is a misunderstanding. Anyone may claim any point of view in the comments. I just don't link to Bush-supporter blogs and to no more than two, maybe three, other political blogs out of 200.

There is no way to know where Bonnie hails from, but perhaps there is a misunderstanding in Canada about equal rights in the U.S. Our Constitution does a pretty good job of guaranteeing those rights to everyone - in theory if not always practice - but there is no obligation on the part of any citizen to support points of view they do not agree with.

Perhaps, too, The Savvy Boomer and Bonnie are confusing American equal rights with the Fairness Doctrine that applies only to the broadcast media: if a television network, channel or radio station gives any registered candidate for public office free air time, they must give an equal amount of free time to his or her opponents. It doesn’t always work this way, but it comes close.

There is no obligation for any other media to be non-partisan. Most newspapers have a political bent to the left or right. So do some cable news networks as do most political magazines. I have had a keen interest in politics and government since childhood and have been an activist since I attended my first demonstrations against the death penalty at San Quentin prison leading up to the execution of Caryl Chessman on 2 May 1960.

In fact, if I didn’t write a blog on aging, I would probably write one on politics. But that space is well covered in the blogosphere. There are thousands of partisan blogs and I mostly confine my political commentary here to issues that directly affect elders.

Additionally, I choose to exert my political rights by not supporting governments, people and blogs with whom I do not agree or find offensive. It’s my blog, to which I devote more time than any paid job I ever had, and I’ll do it my way.

Of course The Savvy Boomer is welcome to try to find a non-partisan blog with which to associate himself. All I can say about that is good luck – there aren’t many. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Boomer, that your blog was not included in the recent update was an oversight. I had intended to add it, but my bookmarks are not well organized and I often unintentionally miss some.

My purpose in keeping the Elderbloggers’ List is to promote blogging among elders and to let readers know of other elderblogs they might like if they enjoy their visits here. Time Goes By has its personal sensibility, as do all blogs, which reflects my thoughts, opinions, concerns and yes, prejudices – some of which I’m aware of and others of which I am probably not. But the point is that the blogs on the Elderbloggers List are personal recommendations and I choose them carefully. Readers will always find something of quality in them.

Since Friday’s post, I have received about two dozen requests to be added to the list. Some not included in this update round were, as with The Savvy Boomer, oversights. Some are new to me and have been bookmarked to look at when I have time. Two or three asked for an explanation for not being included. I do not respond to those requests. It could be an oversight that will be remedied later or it could be that the blog doesn’t meet the criteria. But I haven’t the time to write analyses of individual blogs.

Do I make mistakes in some of those decisions? You betcha. I’m human. But it’s not one of my greater sins and since I hand code that sucker, which is profoundly tedious, I’m not going to worry about it. The next update will take place in two or three months.

UPDATE: Another email arrived, this one expressing the belief that one is not an elderblogger unless listed on the blogroll here - as though it is an award of some kind or a designation bestowed by me. In case anyone else has misunderstood, let us be clear: elderblogger is just a word, one that in this case indicates a blogger who is an old or older person. There are many groups of loosely-associated like bloggers: mommybloggers, daddybloggers, cooking bloggers, knitting bloggers. And so on.

I like referring to old bloggers as elderbloggers. Others may call them something else - senior bloggers is not unknown - or nothing at all or elderbloggers. I don't own the word. I don't decide who is an elderblogger. In fact, I once removed a link to the blog of someone who hates the word.

Being included on the Elderbloggers list confers no special distinction beyond my having chosen them as a worthwhile read. There are no badges, no trophies, no citations. It is just a blogroll by another name.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: There is a housekeeping update at The Elder Storytelling Place today.]

Elderbloggers List Update

Yesterday, I updated the Elderbloggers List on the left sidebar. The count is 200 now and I’ve marked the new ones with an asterisk so you can easily find them. To give you time to make new discoveries, I’ll leave the asterisks for a couple of weeks.

In no way does this list cover all the elderblogs there are nor does it try to do so. It’s a subjective list because it could not be otherwise, but there are some objective criteria and this seems a good time to repeat them:

  • The blogger must be 50 or older
  • The blog must publish at least once a week
  • The blog must be designed well enough to be easily navigable
  • The blog must be reasonably well-written and follow the generally accepted rules of spelling and grammar
  • No light-colored text on a dark background
  • It must be a personal, not commercial or business blog
  • The blog must have been regularly published for at least three months
  • The blog should be a compelling read

Well, that last item is subjective, isn’t it. In the interests of full disclosure, some other subjective criteria are these:

In general, group-written blogs are not included nor are blogs that promote a specific religion although blogs that discuss religion (or lack thereof) and spirituality in general are welcome. And it goes without saying, I hope, that no blogs are included that express prejudice or bigotry of any sort. Even once. In the past, I have removed two blogs which used unacceptable words for certain ethnic/religious groups in a derogatory manner.

That said, we all have our prejudices and I can think of two I apply in choosing blogs to exclude:

  1. Far right-wing politics and Bush administration supporters
  2. Mushy, platitudinous writing

None of this is particularly important (we all make these sorts of choices) except that I get a lot of requests for blogs to be added to the list and perhaps this will explain why some are rejected.

The length of the list is becoming unwieldy, but I haven’t found a solution for that. I have no reason to prune it and every reason to continue expanding it.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Norm Jenson's new story, Parental Control, at The Elder Storytelling Place is probably not about what you would first guess.]

Welcome, Please, The Zimmers

A group of about 40 elders, ranging in age from 78 to 99 and calling themselves The Zimmers, have recorded The Who’s tune, My Generation, at the historic Abbey Road studio in London. The video is one of the latest hits on YouTube. Lead singer, 90-year-old Alf Caretta, told the BBC:

“I can't believe this is happening. For me to have recorded a song in the same studio as the Beatles is just so exciting. I feel like the whole experience has brought me back to life. I was stuck in a rut and now I feel alive again.”
BBC News, 13 April 2007

The group was brought together by documentary filmmaker Tim Samuels, who has made a series about disenfranchised groups fighting back:

“'This is about old people sticking it back to the society that has cast them aside,' says Samuels."

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen – The Zimmers…

Zimmers’ producer, Mike Hedges, who has worked with U2 and other contemporary bands says,

“My grandmother died when she was in her nineties and my mother in her late, late seventies and I miss them. Old people are highly entertaining to talk to. Their experiences, the things they talk about are just fantastic - really, really exciting. People forget that they know a lot and they've been through a lot."

Isn’t this band cool and it's even cooler that the young professionals working with the band have their heads screwed on straight about age.

[Virginia DeBolt gave her story a terrific title: The Tomato Patch Smoocher. It's at The Elder Storytelling Place today.]

Storm Closing

category_bug_journal2.gif Have you missed me?

Early in the afternoon on Monday, the massive nor’easter hit here in Portland, Maine with lashing rain and up to 60mph winds knocking out the power and therefore my internet connection. And because I use VoIP telephone service, I was left with only a not-fully-charged cell phone.

My car, for which I have a cable to charge the cell phone, was at the body shop where the driver’s door is being replaced due to a minor accident a few weeks ago. Of course, lights, stove, refrigerator and television were inoperable.

I found an old transistor radio, but during the day and evening on Monday, I couldn’t find a local station with a news broadcast. WBZ, a Boston all-news station, came in loud and clear, but they weren’t reporting Portland news and all the Portland stations I could find played music or carried the standard, syndicated talk jocks without, apparently, any local news at all, not even five minutes at the top of the hour.

Early Tuesday - really early, 5AM, when the airwaves are less crowded - I finally located a Portland news station. Through four hours, they told me only this: about 112,000 Central Maine Power customers were without electricity and it would be two days or more before power was restored to some.

Yeah? Which some? Where were reports of what areas are affected, which can expect restoration when? How about a phone interview with a power company spokesperson? The mayor? The police chief? The station spent a total of about five minutes per hour on the power outage, closings and mostly, weather, which by then had spiraled down to damp, drizzly and benign.

And get this: at the end of each such report, listeners were directed to the station’s website for more detailed information. Say what? The power was out, fellas, and there is no municipal wireless technology Portland. The two so-called news anchors then returned to their news-free, uninformed speculation on the Virginia Tech shootings.

Mostly, I stayed in bed under four blankets due to lack of heat and I wondered how elders (or anyone else) in the area living alone, particularly those more frail than I, would get help if they needed it. What about people who depend on home breathing equipment and other essential aids that require power? The radio guys gave no emergency numbers so anyone in important but less than immediate, life-threatening need would be required to burden 911 which was undoubtedly already overburdened.

At 9AM, the station began their day-long broadcast of syndicated talk shows such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh whom I haven’t heard in about 10 or 15 years. If you too haven’t listened to these cretins, here’s a tip: don’t. They rot your brain.

So what other lessons did I take away from my 30 hours without power in Portland, Maine? In a broad-based emergency, there is no help, not even any instruction. You’re on your own. And so, my next household tasks are to:

  • look into a battery backup for the furnace – if there is such a thing
  • never go to bed again without plugging in the cell phone to charge the battery
  • stock food more substantial than cookies that can be eaten without cooking
  • keep more candles and a couple more flashlights in the house
  • consider obtaining a small, propane-fueled stove. I thought a lot about hot soup during the outage
  • Find out and keep a list of local buildings that are used as shelters in emergencies

Perhaps native and long-time Mainers are more accustomed such outages than this newbie and already have all this stuff. Perhaps they keep lists of phone numbers and addresses of shelters and services to help out in emergencies. Perhaps they know to keep a larger stock of food and candles than I had.

What I had not considered is that unlike New York City, where I lived for 40 years, there is not the density of people nearby who spend much more time out and about in the neighborhood and know one another. There are not delis on every corner where the moment a blackout strikes, you can pick up candles, matches, bread, peanut butter, batteries and other essentials to have for the duration.

Good lessons to have learned.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Because I could not post here yesterday, I couldn’t tell you about Tuesday’s automatic post at the Elder Storytelling Place, so I’m leaving it at the top of the page for a second day. Don’t miss the second installment Mick Brady’s series, Imagine a Bridge in the Distance. He has given us a terrific, imaginative twist at the end.]

Twitter Redux

[UPDATE: An story on Twitter that's worth considering.]

Ronni so wearied herself – on several levels – writing Sunday’s post that she’s resting now and leaving it to Crabby Old Lady to take up the slack today. But even Crabby can muster only a half-hearted response to Frank Paynter of listics in a comment here, and Betsy Devine at her blog who both tweaked her about her Twitter twitter.

“Whoa!” says Frank. “Twitter has value beyond dim witted presence announcements.”

“Ok, and she’s right, it does sound really stupid. But it’s also fun and rewarding,” says Betsy, “in ways that would be hard to justify to somebody who hasn’t yet moved past the silly part into the wow, amazing! part.”

Far be it from Crabby to pour cold water on the flames of others’ social media joy. Plus, Frank and Betsy are of the ilk that their recommendations should not be given short shrift. But for Crabby, even instant messaging which - in comparison to Twitter’s 140-character limit - is profoundly intellectual, is twitch inducing.

Maybe Crabby Old Lady is just slower than everyone else: her Netflix queue overfloweth, there are 30-odd books on the unread shelf, 10 or 15 emails that require more than a slapdash response, a cat beating up on her for more playtime and a stack of New York Times Book Review sections that date back to Christmas.

Crabby has never got the hang of multi-tasking and perhaps those who are more adept at simultaneous, multiple, communication input are eager so have an additional feed, so if Twitter is your cup of tea – go for it.

Ronni says to remind you that there’s a new entry at The Elder Storytelling Place today.

Still Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges

As M Sinclair Stevens was the first in the blogosphere to note when this issue was last addressed here, "We don't need no stinkin' badges." Unfortunately, Tim O'Reilly continues to flog this reckless idea even more determinedly.

It has come to my attention that O'Reilly Media - that's Tim's company - has purchased the domain,, effectively ensuring that he and the corporate entity that bears his name control what that code is. In an update last week to his original code of conduct/badge proposal, O'Reilly published a long and elaborate clarification without backing down from the idea of badges, now relabeled the more business-like "logos":

"The advantage of a widely agreed-on set of "rules of engagement" with associated logos is that people don't have to read someone's 'terms of service' to understand what the policy is on a given blog. It's conveyed by shorthand via a symbol."

Does anyone read terms of service statements on blogs? A first glance at the main page of any blog tells a sentient being if they want to read further. And if they want to read a terms of service, why then would it be the burden O'Reilly implies?

Adoption of badges linked to a common set of rules (even of the modular, pick-and-choose-your-favorites variety) cannot but become coercive, particularly when endorsed by someone as widely known as Mr. O'Reilly. In the wake of the firing of Don Imus last week, as I write this on Saturday, news anchors are already asking on camera and only half in jest, "Can I say that on TV now?" and "Am I allowed to say that these days?" Badges and codes in the blogosphere will have an equally chilling effect on online speech.

In the long comments section of O'Reilly's update post, most readers agree with him that some form of code and/or badge is needed to save bloggers of delicate sensibility from other people's rudeness. The lone voice of Seth Finkelstein, who has done yeoman's work there trying to get O'Reilly and his sycophants to see the error of their ways, stands out in sane rebuttal.

Seth sees O'Reilly's badge proposal as self-serving - an attempt, as an A-lister, to nanny the unanointed mass of longtail bloggers:

"Tim, does your Code Of Conduct help justice here in any way? I don't see it. Can you see why, frankly, it looks like empty pontificating at best, and attention-grabbing at worst?"

"I don't like the way you seem to be framing this as you're for motherhood and apple pie, and anyone who points out that frankly, your proposals seem knee-jerk, uninformed, naive, somewhat arrogant, and irritatingly, ONLY HEARD BECAUSE OF YOUR STATUS, is then going to be cast as some sort of bad guy for not joining the Shiny Happy People train about backscratching each other regarding the terrible, terrible problem of nasty blog commenters and how the A-list should fix it."

"A code-of-conduct that assumes that if an A-lister is upset, that's going to be _ipso facto_ equivalent to wrong, and occasion to call out the mob, is no great advance."

"But the whole problem of making these sorts of systems is that they have to work across widely divergent views of humor and propriety. Or, in sum, what are you going to do when a comment you find extremely hateful gets community-modded up as (+5, Funny)?"

How about some applause here for Seth Finkelstein. However, there is a more fundamental issue to this than one A-list celebrity's ego gone wild. It is the inherent censorship involved with badges and common codes.

Censorship, The First Amendment and Vigilance
It is as though Tim O'Reilly got his head stuck in an early computer during sixth grade civics class and didn't hear the teacher when the Constitution and First Amendment were taught. Although the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press...", it has commonly been established ever since that we the people, collectively and individually, live by those words in our endeavors and daily lives, and that Voltaire's dictum prevails.

Whenever an authority figure seeks to impose his tastes and standards on the mass and sycophants seek to enforce them - in this case, through codes of conduct and badges - what Jeneane Sessum calls "managed speech" is bound to follow. As with the currently nervous news anchors who are terrified they will be next to join Don Imus on the unemployment line, people begin to censor themselves. First it is words they say and write and before long, even their thoughts are subject to their own prior censorship lest they be caught in a slip of the tongue and be publicly flogged.

And since no code, as Seth notes, can cover every contingency that might offend the keepers of the PC flame, the tentacles of prior censorship burrow deeper and wider into people's psyches. Fear then becomes of the driving force of the blogosphere and it dies.

At the first BlogHer conference in 2005, NYU professor Jay Rosen of Pressthink made an observation so bell-ringingly clear in its truth that I keep it on the left sidebar here as a constant reminder. It has never been more crucial than in this code/badge debate: "Blogs are little First Amendment machines."

Rudeness, profanity and incivility are not crimes. It is dangerous to allow self-appointed police to regulate them, and it is naive to think, as has been argued by some slow-witted supporters, that the code and badges O'Reilly proposes are voluntary and therefore neutral. Whenever a powerful person who believes he holds the moral high ground anoints one class of people over others, dissenters are ipso facto oppressed.

Perhaps we should take up a collection to send Tim O'Reilly for a refresher course on these basic tenets of American freedom. For when, as now, a government no longer respects them it becomes incumbent on the rest of us to be further vigilant than we have previously been.

The Civility of Elderbloggers
To lighten the mood for a moment, the most hilarious comment on O'Reilly's post is this from one Bob Watson:

"The web is a changin' and if people want grandma and grandpa to participate (and they probably should) then there should be a way to make it easy and feel comfortable to them..."

It always makes me guffaw to hear young people who believe elders' pacemakers will crash at the mention of the word f**k. We're here, Bob. Been here a long time. Read on.

Although there is no lack of strong opinion on the elderblogs I check in with, neither is there much rude commentary. This may be due to one or more of the following:

  • Elders are more interested in ideas than being right
  • Elders long ago outgrew name-calling
  • Elders know that cogent disagreement and strong arguments can be made without personal insults
  • Elderblogs live exclusively in the longtail and don't draw the attention of many trolls and hate mongers

It is too bad the A-listers trying to impose their standards on the entire blogosphere don't pay attention to the longtail at large and to elderbloggers in particular. On this issue it can be said with a straight face and without irony that (grand)mother and (grand)father do know best.

The Origins of the Badge Proposal
It is worth recalling what sent Tim O'Reilly on his misbegotten badge and code crusade: The Matter of Kathy Sierra.

Based on this still foggy and confused event, Tim O'Reilly wants you to swear to his code of conduct and put a boy scout badge on your blog to prove your faith. Badges and codes cannot protect anyone from those who would trash talk in your comments (which you can remove) nor from those who would issue attacks from their own blogs. But if Tim O'Reilly prevails, and if you resist the gathering drumbeat for managed speech by refusing to wear a badge on your blog, you will become a target - not from the occasional and easily dispatched troll, but from a single, self-righteous watchdog with all the power of celebrity and his corporation behind him.

If you must have a badge, try one of these from stavrosthewonderchicken [via Jeneane Sessum and Shelley Powers - some of the good guys in this debate].

[EDITORIAL NOTE: There are some housekeeping notes at The Elder Storytelling Place today.]

Imus is Out; Ageism is In

category_bug_ageism.gif Just when it appears elders are gaining a little respect - when the mighty New York Times features a story about online elders and 79-year-old Peter Oakley is one of the biggest stars on YouTube, for example - along comes something so ageist, it amounts to ten steps back.

This time it is The Huffington Post – specifically, a writer there named Nina Burleigh, a Maureen Dowd wannabe described in her bio as a veteran journalist with 20 years experience covering “local and national politics, law, crime, and pop culture.”

Her topic on Tuesday was the Don Imus affair. Ms. Burleigh deplores the radio jock’s on-air utterings about the Rutgers girls’ basketball team, but she has a nasty, new take on the reason for Imus’s behavior. Are you ready? Wait for it: it happened because he is old.

Ms. Burleigh doesn't come right out and say it as directly as Imus; she's more subtle (but not by much); throughout her diatribe, she refers to Imus, his contemporary radio host colleagues and other older media pundits as “the Viagrans.”

“Speeding to [Imus’s] side are the Viagran Centurions,” she writes. “The I-Man represents something to the Viagran Centurions…” “…the Viagrans, with their extreme, can’t-you-take-a-joke ‘humor’ bolster the illusion that the safe old clubhouse in still intact…

“There are of course, certain very funny jokes you won’t hear the I-Man and his friends cracking. They are the jokes that their wives and girlfriends share with each other, but quietly, in order to hang onto their icky diamond rings and the rights to the sweet little retirement ranch.

“They have to do with what those little blue pills can’t cure forever.”

Whatever is to be made of Imus and his defenders, this piece is pure ageism, and the irony is that when the entire media is waxing horrified over racism, ageism is apparently acceptable at The Huffington Post.

NBC canceled their simulcast on MSNBC of Imus’s radio program, and late yesterday afternoon, CBS followed suit, firing Imus from his radio show. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post can’t see the relationship between Don Imus and Nina Burleigh.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Click on over to The Elder Storytelling Place for a terrific piece by a long-time reader of Time Goes By that will remove the bad odor left by this incident.]

Twittering About Twitter

The ubiquitous twitter about Twitter finally roused Crabby Old Lady from her knitting to check out what all the – well, twitter is about. Have you discovered Twitter yet? Do you Twitter? Do you even know what Twitter is?

It goes something like this:

  1. Sign up for a free account at the Twitter website
  2. Configure a few other details and you can Twitter from their website, text message a Twitter by phone, by instant message or from your computer desktop. You can even put a badge on your blog to Twitter from.
  3. Begin Twittering. Tell the world or just your approved friends what you are doing at this moment and the next and the next.

Here’s the catch - or the attraction - depending on your point of view: each message is limited to 140 characters. Which is about how long this paragraph is.

This restriction leads to such Twitter messages as these:

“Off skateboarding”

“investigating scoring disputes in fantasy baseball”

“Woke up at 2AM and couldn't sleep until 4! Now I'm groggy- I hate jet lag!”

“Had a wonderful array of sushi last night. I am addicted lately.”

“watching my NetFlix rentals”

“In a great mood :-)”


“Trying twitter @ home”

“I can't listen to my fav podcasts at work!!! New office, new rules - no headphones.”

“eating frozen waffles”

Are you brain dead yet? Ready to click off to something that actually engages your mind? Crabby thinks you should see a few more to get the full flavor of Twitter.

“back from the post office”

“watering my bonsais”

“so far so good”

coffee... I'm lov”in' it!”

“i left my cd's at home! oh no! what will i do w/o musical entertainment!?!?”

“going home”

That the folks behind Twitter urge users to place a Twitter badge on their MySpace pages tells Crabby something about who this “service” is aimed at. But a quick trip around the blogosphere also tells her that apparent grownups are twittering their every move. Even an elder or two - who should have better things to do with their time left on earth.

When Crabby Old Lady left the corporate work world, she was ecstatic to also leave behind instant messaging with its constant interruptions of such messages as “r u ready 4 meeting this pm? c u then”. At least there were one or two words of substance, a reminder even, in the IM. Twitter, on the other hand, has gone as far as humanly possible into the realm of entirely empty communication.

Crabby don't need no stinkin' Twitter any more than she needs IM and text messaging.

The Web world is all atwitter about Twitter, but Crabby's short stay in Twitterland has left her feeling like she’s had too many cups of coffee. She’s all jumpy, agitated and twittery.

For more fulsome communication, some substance to feed the mind, a thought or two to chew on, stop by The Elder Storytelling Place. The first week of stories there is the antithesis of Twitter.

Elder Bodies

My post on Monday about the Centrum Silver commercial got me thinking about bodies. Beautiful bodies. Ugly Bodies. Young bodies. Old bodies. Short, tall, fat, thin, wrinkled, smooth - all kinds of bodies. And that thought led to another, and another…

Michaelangelodavid Michaelangelo’s David must be the prototype, don’t you think, of outstanding male beauty. He’s gorgeous. Handsome, muscled just enough and not too much, sensitive hands, firm thighs, sensuous curls. In the 500 years since the David was so exquisitely sculpted, no one, in art, has matched his ideal.

And he’s young – 20, maybe 25.

Youth is exalted as the quintessence of human beauty. No one can resist it and why should we? A flawlessly rounded shoulder, the sensuous curve of a buttock, a young woman’s uptilting breasts, skin as smooth, still, as a baby’s bottom.

Renoir_younggirl These days, there isn’t much meat on the bones of young women who are considered beautiful, but that wasn’t always so. Rubens is well-known for his “Rubenesque” bodies and Renoir, in this painting, was portraying the epitome of his era’s idea of comely, young womanliness.

Saliarielnude My friend, Israeli artist Sali Ariel, was bucking the modern, skinny trend in female beauty when, in 1999, she made a series of womanly nudes in the Rubens and Renoir tradition. I’ve never seen a painting of someone as thin as Kate Moss or Nicole Ritchie, but I don’t think they could be as sexy as Sali’s woman. I own a framed set of these charcoals hung on my bedroom wall and never tire of them.

It is right when hormones are raging and fecundity is in bloom that the young should be so beautiful. But that does not make age ugly or unattractive. Only different, and frequently more interesting. It is wrong to judge age by the standards of mere youth.

Freudhead2 Contemporary British artist, Lucien Freud, has made almost a career of painting himself in unforgiving, honest detail as he has aged. (And everyone else he paints too; his 2001 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has been roundly criticized.) I can’t find an image of one of Freud’s full-body paintings, but this head will give you the general idea. Michaelangelo’s David is sexually breathtaking, but Freud’s self-portrait is fascinating. What living could have given him this face? It is said, you know, that he has fathered 40 children.

Vangogholdwoman2 Many of the old masters painted old people. This one by van Gogh is as honest in its way as Freud’s. Is she sad? I don’t think so. Maybe she is tired and wishing old Vincent would be done with it for the day. Or lost in thought, perhaps; she does not look at us.

Whenever I see old, old people, those who have lost the attachment to a pretense to youth our culture relentlessly demands, I spin stories to myself of the lives they have lived and wonder what magnificent memories will die with them.

There is dignity in this sculpture by Auguste Rodin – “The Old Courtesan” – of a woman who had once been a professional model.


It portrays the inevitable decline that comes to all men and women and is, in its truthfulness more penetrating than the David. There is more to wonder about in this, more to know, more to contemplate.

Youth’s beauty is easy to look at. It is about uncomplicated potential that may or may not bear fruit. We like it for its clarity, its obviousness and its simplicity. There are no mysteries in youth and that is sometimes refreshing in itself.

Oldyoungwoman Ah, but age is intricate and complex, made from decades of accumulated knowledge and experience compounded with the folly and error that no one escapes. It is hard for us to confront, with its intimations of death, more difficult to behold. Can you see the difference in this well-known optical illusion? Youth and age, one no better than the other. Only different.

[To Marie Grosnay] “No doubt you were extremely beautiful as a young girl, but your youth could never compete with your age now.”
- Charlie Chaplin, Monsieur Verdoux, 1947

Mainstream Media Discovers Elders Online

Without ever having produced a podcast or vlog (yet), I somehow got myself quoted in The New York Times this morning in a story by Keith Schneider about how elders are using audio and video to tell their stories online.

It was nice to discover that Cab Calloway’s daughter keeps a website about the music of her father called The Heartbeat of Hi De Ho. And the 79-year-old, British, YouTube star, Peter Oakley, is featured making an excellent point about the age of internet users:

“After retirement I became interested in computer and graphic design and attended local colleges to learn,” Mr. Oakley said. “I found that there were facilities within the Windows operating system that would do this, and with the ‘help files’ made my first video.

“I don’t really know why I uploaded it. I guess just to see if I could learn how to do it. The media picked up on it and highlighted the fact that an old man could or would do such a thing — invade a site that was the domain mostly of the young. Actually I had no idea that it was.” [emphasis added]

Now, can we finally put to bed that old stereotype about old dogs and new tricks?

Media and cultural assumptions notwithstanding, elders are here by the millions doing everything younger people do online and telling the stories – great and small - of our lives, creating a rich archive of what life was like during the second half of the 20th century on into the 21st.

Imagine the future now, when someone wants to know about, for example, 1950’s style. A current Google Blogs search returns 33,000 links. World War II – 315,000 links; Vietnam War – 119,000 links. Even Howdy Doody gets 5,000 returns. And those are just blogs – real people talking about real events, times and places they have been witness to.

History is written primarily about leaders, politics and wars. But I have always wanted to know if and how the Romans brushed their teeth or what kind of toys medieval children played with, how Victorian women survived summer in all those petticoats (is that why they fainted a lot?) and if my mother went hungry, actually missed meals, growing up during the Great Depression.

Many of the stories on this and other elderblogs that garner the largest personal response in comments are about how we lived at different times in our lives and if Peter Oakley is any indication, there is a hunger for the stories of real-life people, of what it was like in “the olden days” that we have lived through.

Which is a nice lead-in to the new Elder Storytelling Place blog. Today’s entry is from Mick Brady about his childhood in upstate New York. We eagerly await your story submissions too. They can be about yesteryear or yesterday. Fact or fiction. Real or almost real. Funny, serious, happy or sad. Tell us your stories.

Elder Strip Poker

Chuck Nyren, at his Advertising to Baby Boomers blog, takes exception to this Centrum Silver commercial:

I couldn’t agree more that, as Chuck writes, the spot is:

“Kind of clever. A bit hokey. Actually, a Cocoon knock-off. But cute.

“Of course, as a piece of persuasion - it fails. The spot is rife with ageism, and (even worse) portrays the target market as a bunch of delusional imbeciles…”

Chuck then goes on to explain how he would improve the commercial:

“These folks look to be in their seventies and eighties,” he writes. “As an exercise, let's refashion this ad for Boomers by making it appealing and persuasive [emphasis added].

Centrum Silver should hire Chuck; his commercial (go read it) would not only be more entertaining, it would remove the implication that elders are dotty, old fools. But, here is my question for Chuck: why rework it to show boomers in the final shot? What’s wrong with octogenarians playing strip poker?

Chuck would have the last shot be of “four people in their fifties/sixties, still looking pretty good - maybe with a few potbellies, a bald head, etc.”

I understand his blog is restricted to talking about baby boomers who currently top out at age 61, but the age of the people in the final shot is not what makes the commerical a failure. By replacing them with younger poker players, Chuck has removed the commercial’s original ageism and replaced it with a different kind.

In his TGB Interview last month, Chuck said:

“At the moment, just targeting anybody over forty is good news. Eventually, there will be more focused targeting. (Or at least I hope so.)”

This commercial targets every older person from boomers on up and in doing so, shows some very old people having some silly fun. That, it seems to me, ought to be Chuck’s kind of good news. There are few enough octogenarians on television.

[EDITORIAL NOTE] The new Elder Storytelling Place blog is taking off nicely. There have been half a dozen story submissions since Friday which will be posted one at a time over the coming days. Please take a look at today’s story from Cowtown Pattie, and we are eager to receive your submissions.

And Another Birthday Comes 'Round

category_bug_journal2.gif It happens every year, our birthdays, one after another receding into the past. Until she died in 1992, my mother telephoned on every birthday to tell me what she had been doing 30, 40, 45, 50 years earlier. That part of the call always annoyed me then and of course, now I miss it.

If not for the blogosphere, I might have missed this birthday altogether. Recovery from surgery, little more than a week ago, has naturally taken up a large portion of my attention. So it was almost a surprise and certainly a delight with my morning coffee to find so many greetings waiting for me.

Birthday wishes in the comments section on yesterday's post from Sage at Musings, Karen at Namaste, Mick Brady at Dancing in Tongues, Kristi at The Winchester Mantoni's, The Old, Old Lady of the Hills, Old Horsetail Snake himself, Kay Dennison at Kay's Thinking Cap, Cop Car and Inanna at Anything Goes.

Some others posted greeting on their blogs: Millie Garfield at My Mom's Blog, joared at Along the Way, kenju at Imagine What I'm Leaving Out, Claude at Blogging in Paris, Elaine at Kalilily Time, Cowtown Pattie at Texas Trifles and Harold at The View From Where I Sit.

Tamar of Mining Nuggets sent a musical, animated, interactive ecard you can see here, as did Elaine of Kalilily Time which is here. Take a look; both are fun to play with.

What can I say? It is a great, good thing to have a blogosphere birthday and I thank you all. (If I have left out anyone, I am most chagrined and you should let me know. I'll update.)

Thanks to a magnificent sendoff from Norm Jenson at One Good Move yesterday, the new blog, The Elder Storytelling Place, got an amazing amount of traffic on its first day. Norm's story, Curiosity, is the inaugural post and is not to be missed. Colleen Shannon of Santiago Dreaming has already submitted a story which will be published next week.

Remember, the new blog is yours. Its success depends on your contributions. Stories may be original for the new site, or they may have been previously published elsewhere and you may submit as many as you wish over time. The instructions for doing so are here.

A couple of people have commented that they will do their storytelling on their own blog, thank you very much. That is a good thing - there cannot be too much storytelling in the world. But part of the reason for The Elder Storytelling Place is to encourage non-bloggers to share their stories and some bloggers may want to re-post stories in another place so new readers can enjoy them while discovering blogs they didn't know about before.

Another great birthday gift will be forthcoming before long from Mick Brady at Dancing in Tongues. As it turns out, he was a web designer for a long time and has offered to create a unique banner for The Elder Storytelling Place. I am most definitely not a designer and after weeks of fussing around trying to come up with something I could actually accomplish in Photoshop, I gave up and just cloned the TGB banner.

That's not the best idea I ever had and I'm grateful to Mick for stepping in to help with my design deficiencies. Watch for it soon.

Thank you, everyone, for starting off my 66th birthday with such a bang.

Announcement: The Elder Storytelling Place

For a long time, I’ve been impressed with the storytelling talent of elderbloggers. It seems to come naturally to us and indeed, experts say it is important to collect and organize our stories for ourselves as we get older - it helps give meaning to the lives we have lived. But it is also good to share those stories.

Storytelling is an ancient art and mankind appears to be hardwired for it. Some say it is a necessity, second only to food and ahead of love and shelter in its importance. Even now, in times when communication opportunities have exploded, it is not just books, movies and TV shows which tell us stories; everything is storytelling – advertisements, news, politics, television commercials, the back of the cereal box. Each one, however short, contains a beginning, middle and end and engages us in its plot.

Everyone has stories to tell and because I believe it is a worthy idea to collect elder stories, beginning today there is The Elder Storytelling Place, an adjunct to Time Goes By. This is your storytelling blog and anyone, blogger and non-blogger, may submit stories to be published there.

Just in case you may think you have no stories to tell, it is worth reading this Time Goes By entry from 2005. Your stories can be about anything, in any tone, style and on any theme; something from your life, past or present, is likely.

There are a couple of rules and a few guidelines so that readying stories for publishing does not become my full-time job. They will not inhibit your storytelling. You will find them here and they are always available from the upper left sidebar of the new blog where there is also a link for submitting a story.

As I said above, this new blog is yours. I will occasionally contribute (when I’ve got a good story to tell) but mainly, it is for anyone 50 and older who wants to tell a story. It’s an experiment. Ideally, I would like to publish a new story on each of five days a week and if there are enough submissions, that will be expanded to seven. But it is entirely dependent on you. If you like the idea and there are enough contributors to keep the site fresh, it can go on indefinitely.

So please send in your stories. There is a permanent link to the new blog in the upper left corner of this blog.

The Elder Storytelling Place launches today with a story titled, Curiosity, from Norm Jenson. It's an animal story - part horror, part domestic relationship, part humor with even a bit of political commentary and a pun or two. You will love it.