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Dr. William H. Thomas – Part 2

[Dr. William H. Thomas - Part 1]

Thomas_bill_3smCategory_bug_interview Long-time readers of Time Goes By will be familiar with the name of geriatrician, William H. Thomas. I have quoted his book, “What are Old People For?”, extensively in these pages on a variety of topics about elderhood, and it has become a favorite reference for me in writing about aging.

Among many other activities and accomplishments, Dr. Thomas is a professor at the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus and he is the founder of the Eden Alternative, a program to de-institutionalize nursing homes throughout the world. (You can find out more about him and his work here.)

Most of all, Dr. Thomas is wise and understanding in the nature of elders and aging, a fierce advocate for elders, and now he has joined us online with his new blog, Changing Aging. It is listed permanently under Elderbloggers on the left sidebar and I hope you will stop by to leave him a welcome message and also make him a regular on your blog-reading rounds. We all have much to learn from Dr. Thomas.

It is a remarkable thing for a renowned physician who is as busy and involved as Dr. Thomas to take on a daily blog. And somehow, he also made time in his schedule to do this interview for Time Goes By, which we conducted by email. Today, Part 2. You can read Part 1 here.

RB: It is rarely mentioned, but one reason for the pervasiveness of ageism is that young people don’t want to be reminded that they too will get old one day and they will die. Old people are living examples of that. How an that be addressed?
WHT: The evidence shows that the stronger the relationships young people have with individual old people, the less likely they are to hold ageist biases. It's all about relationships.

RB: Do you see any progress being made against ageism?
WHT: I loved the Dove pro-aging spots when they ran. I thought they were a good first step.

RB: In your book, What Are Old People For?, you write: “Old age may be a time of loss and decline, but it is not only that. There is a countervailing and equally significant increase in th4e power of adaption.” Would you talk a little about that power in elders?
WHT: We human beings live a long time after our reproductive peak. This is no accident. Our species took the necessity of aging and, from that, refined the virtues of elderhood. Elders are an integral, biologically determined element of the human cultural fabric and it is time they understood this role and begin to play their part.

RB: In that same book, you say that old age is different from adulthood. I don’t think many people make that distinction; they see elders mostly as wrinkly adults. Would you explain some of the differences?
WHT: Here's the SAT question: Childhood is to Adulthood as Adulthood is to…

The answer is: Elderhood.

Elderhood is as rich, different and distinctive as any other part of the human life cycle. It has its own challenges and rewards and needs to be engaged on its own terms.

RB: There is a lot of talk these days about successful aging. Do you know what that is? Or what Unsuccessful aging is?
WHT: Unsuccessful aging is dying. Those who die young (even if they are good) miss out on the things that can be known only in the fullness of life. Those of us whom wake up in the morning do so one day older than we were the day before. That is successful aging.

RB: Having chosen a profession that immerses you in the lives of elders, how will that inform your old age when you get there, do you think?
WHT: I think that I am, in many ways, an elder in the making. I often look at a problem in my life and try to imagine what my elder self will think looking back at that moment decades hence. Most often my elder self tells me to cool off and not get so wound up. It's pretty good advice.

RB: You are “only” 48. What physical changes of aging have you run into so far? Do they disturb you?
WHT: I am happy and proud to be in my late forties. My hair is thinning and my beard is turning gray. I use reading glasses when ambient light is low. I go running three or four times a week and find that, when I run with my 16 year old son, he can motor up hills - just the way I used to but no longer can.

I also find that I want more time to think and find less pleasure in chaotic situations with lots of noise and uncertainty. I also find that I get more pleasure over a meal and a bottle of wine with my wife than I ever thought was possible.

RB: You are 48. How do you think life will be different for elders when you are 78 than it is now?
WHT: The main thing that will change is that in 30 years elders will spend vastly more time with people who are not their blood relatives. In the past, aging was a family affair. In the future, it will be a function of the community and the communities will, by and large, be of our own choosing. I am likely to grow old in an intentional community and am very unlikely to grow old in the care of members of my own family.

RB: What are the most important one or two things you have learned from elders?
WHT: 1. Wisdom lies in knowing what to overlook. 2. In the end, no one gets out alive and so, for the time we are here, it is all about relationships. Nothing else really matters.

RB: Like it or not, celebrities have a great deal of influence on public attitudes about getting old. What public figures do you think are good role models for aging?
WHT: I think Oprah has done some good here. She looks, dresses and acts like a proud woman of her own age.

I thought that Kevin Costner did a good turn in The Guardian. He looked his age (more or less) and played the part of a man who was able to confront and overcome his own attachment to youth.

RB: What are you teaching your children about aging and getting old?
WHT: I believe that this kind of teaching works best when it is offered on a "show, don't tell" basis. So I try to show them how I feel about my aging. They say, “Hey dad your beard is getting gray." I answer, "Thank you very much!" “Hey dad, you are going bald!" "I am a proud of that and will be proud of you when you start to go bald."

RB: If you could choose just one piece of advice to give people about getting old, what would it be?
WHT: Let go of youth. It is but a flower. To know old age is to dive deeply into the very roots of life. This is what is real, what is hidden from the young, what enriches and sustains us. Old age is not something that happens to us, it is who we are, embrace it - and be made whole.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells us how just the silent presence of elders can soothe, in Grandparents in the Glass.]

Dr. William H. Thomas – Part 1

Thomas_bill_1smCategory_bug_interview Long-time readers of Time Goes By will be familiar with the name of geriatrician, William H. Thomas. I have quoted his book, “What are Old People For?”, extensively in these pages on a variety of topics about elderhood, and it has become a favored reference for me in writing about aging.

Among his other activities and accomplishments, Dr. Thomas is a professor at the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and he is the founder of the Eden Alternative, a program to de-institutionalize nursing homes throughout the world. (You can find out more about him and his work here.)

Most of all, Dr. Thomas is wise and understanding in the nature of elders and aging, a fierce advocate for elders, and now he has joined us online with his new blog, Changing Aging. It is listed permanently under Elderbloggers on the left sidebar and I hope you will stop by to leave him a welcome message and also make him a regular on your blog-reading rounds. We all have much to learn from Dr. Thomas.

It is a remarkable thing for a renowned physician who is as busy and involved as Dr. Thomas to take on a daily blog. And somehow, he also made time in his schedule to do this interview for Time Goes By, which we conducted last week by email. Part 2 will run tomorrow.

RONNI BENNETT: You have a unique simpatico with elders. Where does that come from?
DR. WILLIAM H. THOMAS: I grew up in Tioga County, in the Southern Tier of New York State just south of the Village of Nichols.

I was surrounded by older relatives since the day I was born and thought of my grandmother's house as an extension of my own. I think that the most important thing I learned was that older relatives were valuable and esteemed members of the extended family. In fact, they were the glue that held the family together.

RB: What did your parent teach you about getting old?
WHT: My parents were relatively young (by today's standards) when they had me, and I grew up being most familiar with the idea that my parents were just 20 years older than me. My Mom and Dad were 42 when I graduated from medical school. Even now, when I am in my late forties, they are in their late sixties and both active and working. My mom would always announce that the decade she was living in (40's, 50's, 60's) was the best ever and I tend to agree with her.

RB: Did you have elder friends as a kid?
WHT: Living in a small town I was always aware that people knew me, knew my family and knew where I was supposed and what I was and was not supposed to be. I remember returning home late one evening after being out partying with my friends. The next morning an older neighbor called my mom to ask if I was okay because "Billy got home pretty late last night." This wasn't controlling, it was concern and that kind of concern was all around me when I was a kid.

RB: How and when did you decide to become a geriatrician?
WHT: I backed into it. I had already concluded my formal medical education and figured I would spend my career working in emergency rooms. Then I took a part-time job in a nursing home and fell in love - with the people and the work.

Later I sat for the geriatrics exam and passed on my first try. I can say that NOTHING in my medical education encouraged me to see geriatrics as a noble and rewarding profession. You can see the consequences of this in the fact that the number of geriatricians in America is going down rather than up, as one might suppose.

RB: The opportunities to study cosmetic surgery in medical schools far outnumber those to study geriatrics. Was this a hindrance for you in medical school and after?
WHT: I have often wondered if it was my good fortune NOT to have found and embraced geriatrics earlier in my career. Instead of learning "how it is done", I was placed into a situation where I frequently had to think things out for myself.

I remember once being on the phone with a social worker discussing what we were supposed to be doing, "What is our work?" She got frustrated with me and kept saying, "We help people compensate for deficits associated with aging."

That answer felt wrong to me then and it feels wrong to me now. Luckily I have been given the opportunity to challenge that view of the world.

RB: The incidence of plastic surgery among boomers has zoomed upward in recent years. Not long ago, I saw a news story about home skin rejuvenation appliances and techniques that were previously the domain of physicians.
WHT: Let's be clear: youth and the facsimile of youth are two very different things. The Scots have a great phrase for this: "lamb dressed as mutton."

Because we live in a brutally ageist culture there will always be a market for things that help mutton dress as lamb but, in the end, mutton remains mutton. I do not think badly of anyone who seeks out and makes use of products and treatments that create a more youthful appearance. This activity is a perfectly rational response to a culture that punishes not only age, but even the appearance of age.

RB: What do you think are the cultural consequences of cosmetic surgery becoming routine?
WHT: Many people will be buried with strangely disfigured faces. I feel bad about that but I understand why it is happening.

RB: Some scientists think of aging as a disease. Many million in research dollars are being spent these days on extending longevity. Some even say that one day people will routinely live to be 200. Is this a good idea?
WHT: Not. Going. To. Happen. I won't get into the details of it but the fact is that the human organism has certain dimensions that will not change in less than evolutionary time. Think for a moment: what is the chance that people will grow to be 30 feet tall? Would a woman, ten yards tall, be healthy? Is this a good idea? We, as a species have a largely fixed lifespan, radical extensions of that lifespan would diminish our humanity. Aging is us.

RB: The number of geriatricians in the U.S. is shrinking every year just when the number of elders is increasing dramatically. Why is this, do you think?
WHT: Geriatrics requires advanced training and pays less than other specialties with less training. Do the math.

RB: Chad Boult, a professor of geriatrics at Johns Hopkins University, was asked a few months ago in a New Yorker piece, what can be done to ensure there are enough geriatricians for thye burgeoning elder population. “Nothing,” was his answer. Do you agree?
WHT: Sadly, I agree. Barn door open. Horse gone.

RB: What are the concerns in having non-geriatrician physicians treat elders’ medical needs?
WHT: Nothing if that person takes time to learn about the specific needs of elders. Family doctors, surgeons, and internists can all give quality geriatric medical care, if they know how.

RB: What’s an elder to do to be assured of good medical treatment?
WHT: The doctor no longer knows best. It is now a partnership between doctor and patient.

RB: We live in a profoundly ageist culture. How have you seen this affect elders in day-to-day life?
WHT: Newsweek recently ran a story on the "to gray or not to gray" hair color controversy. The article made it clear that something as minor and functionally insignificant as decreased hair pigmentation can lead to major changes in how people evaluate themselves and others. That is just the tip of the iceberg (which is white).

RB: Do you see a remedy for ageism? Will the aging of baby boomers make a positive difference?
WHT: The dominant vision of aging as a spectacle of decline must be overthrown. We need new stories and new heroes to tell them.

Dr. William H. Thomas - Part 2

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains how it is that her husband, Roy Has a Friend in Heaven.]

A Peek at Boomer and Elder Attitudes

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you missed yesterday’s post or put off participating, it would be terrific if you added a “review” of an elderblogger. And if you have been taking part in the Where Elders Blog feature only as a voyeur, we are waiting to see where you blog too.]

A new survey commissioned by Clarity, which makes products to help those with hearing loss, contains some interesting data about “Attitudes of Seniors and Baby Boomers on Aging in Place.” It’s a wide-ranging survey with, to me, some surprising results.

For all the media hysteria about the burdens of the “sandwich generation” – mostly boomers who care for both aging parents and growing children - there doesn't appar to be much to warrant the media's attention. Eighty percent are only somewhat or not concerned about their parents moving in with them, and 76 percent are only somewhat or not concerned about financially supporting aging parents.


Jewish sons’ eternal frustration with mothers who phone too often notwithstanding, both adult children and aging parents mostly think the amount of involvement with one another is just about right.


Since this is a survey on aging in place, both groups – boomers and seniors - were asked about monitoring parents’ health by placing cameras in their homes. Personally, I find this abhorrent and wonder that if cameras are necessary, whether the person should be living alone, and I wasn't surprised at the level of rejection of it by both age groups.


As all past surveys have shown, old people overwhelming want to stay in their homes as they age. There is much that communities, federal and local governments, non-profits, adult children and elders themselves can do to help make this possible, but it’s not getting done yet at the rate that is needed.


Seniors, defined as age 65 and older, have a way to go to catch up with the number of other age groups in use of computer technology. About half are not comfortable with or do not use a computer, email or the internet. But other surveys show they are the fastest-growing age group online.




What also did not surprise me in the survey is what seniors fear most. Losing independence came in first and fear of one’s own death tied for last place.


There are a lot of other interesting statistics in the “Attitudes of Seniors and Baby Boomers on Aging in Place” survey and it’s easy to read. Don’t be put off by the 157 pages; they are mostly graphs like the ones above and you can download the PDF file at the Clarity Products website. [Scroll down to "Aging in Place" section]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Leah Aronoff is having a Flash Back to a fearful walk home from school every day when she was a kid.]

Getting to Know the Elderbloggers List

Each of the blogs on the Elderbloggers List on the left sidebar has been carefully selected for its quality. If forced to choose just one to recommend, I could throw a dart and be pleased with wherever it landed.

However, the list is up to nearly 250 now (with more waiting in the hopper) and I don’t have the time to keep current with them all. I don’t think anyone does, and random clicking on blog names that are appealing leaves out some that you might think are gems.

There was a time a year or two ago when I “reviewed” one blog every week, but now it would take several years to get through the list and given the rate at which elders are joining the blogosphere these days I would never finish the job.

Still, I would like us to get to know one another better, so here’s a little project to help us do that.

  • Choose a blog from the list (no, don’t use a dart) that you have never visited or have not visited in a long time

  • Take a look around the blog, read some new and some old posts, check out the features, get a feel for it

  • Then come back here and in the comments section, tell us about the blog you chose

  • Keep your “review” to about 250 words or fewer so the rest of us can be sure to have time to read them all

To give it some form and ease of reading, we’ll create a format. Start your review with a header that is the name of the blog in bold and is also a link to it. Here is the html to do that:

<strong><a href="URL goes here">Blog name here</a></strong>

Just copy and paste the html into the top of the comment form and fill in the two blanks. Be sure to not lose any of the carets, slashes and quotation marks – they are necessary. Then hit the “enter” key twice for some space and start your review.

Since this isn’t Secret Santa and we’re not pulling names out of hat, some blogs may get reviewed more than once and inevitably some won’t be mentioned at all. As an old lady I knew a long time ago liked to say, them’s the breaks. If we like this idea, we can re-do it every few months or so and choose blogs that haven’t been written about before.

I’ve started us off with a "review" of the first-listed blog.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, there is - for me - a special story because it is as much a part of my personal history as it is the writer's: A World Remembered by Rabon Saip.]

Mapping Your Retirement

Let me start this by telling you how much I loathe self-help books. They are usually written by people – whatever credentials they do or don’t claim – who are certain their answer to any of life’s problems is the only answer. Some of them even try to solve problems no one knew they had before, and if you’ll just buy enough of their books, attend their weekend-long seminars at $1000 a pop and repeat the mantra 25 times a day, you too will find eternal happiness. Phooey.

But every once in long, long while, I’m wrong.

Mappingretirement Mapping Your Retirement, subtitled “A Personal Guide to Maintaining Your Health, Managing Your Money and Living Well,” edited by Mark Skeie, Janet Skeie and Julie Roles rises way above the norm in this genre. There are no pat or patented answers in this book, but there are a lot of questions to help you think about how you want to live the years of late life and pointers on how to accomplish it.

Drawing on the conclusions of more than a dozen researchers and experts in the fields of life, health and money, the book is packed with nuggets of useful and thoughtful information. How could I, the woman who has been haranguing readers for four years now to ignore the cultural imperative to pretend to be young forever, resist this on page 29:

“It is time to attribute new, positive meaning to getting older and ignore the societal adoration of youth. All stages of life have merit and problems. The stress of supporting yourself and your family during middle age is just as much of a problem as is adjusting to various losses in later life. This time of life is loaded with opportunities for meaning and satisfaction.”

Divided into those three general areas of importance – life, health, money - Mapping Your Retirement is - well, a map of how to approach old age your way. Some are lists such as “Character Traits for Aging Well.” Others are questions to ponder about how you may want to spend the next 20 or 30 years of life after retirement. And many are practical guides on what to consider on everything from figuring out if what matters in life now is different from before; to making a variety of healthcare decisions; to financial risk management; to reminders how to eat well – and a hundred more topics.

This is primarily a workbook. Most chapters supply pages with plenty of space to answer questions that will help you make the best decision for you and your circumstances. Lists of facts on each topic can be used as guides. Q&As of common questions on each topic further enhance it. And at the end of each chapter are URLs of additional resources you can find on the internet.

And don’t think from the title that this book is only for people still planning their retirement. Even if you left the traditional workforce five or ten or more years ago, there is plenty of "news you can use" here.

Not everyone will want or need everything in Mapping Your Retirement, but there is little that isn’t valuable. You can flip open this book to almost any random page and find something of interest that is well-organized, thorough and extraordinarily well thought out.

The comprehensive range of practical, straight-forward, easy-to-use information packed into this book should make it one of the most well-thumbed references in your library.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Kay Richard recalls the terrible trouble a tangle of teenage lies can cause in Party at the Sandbanks.]

Go Gentle Into That Goodnight?

category_bug_journal2.gif For more than a week I’ve been pondering the recent musings of Wally Blue (who blogs at The Resident Curmudgeon) about the Dylan Thomas poem most of us know so well:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I hadn't known, until Wally explained, that Thomas wrote the poem for his father who “was strong and fierce in his youth, but had become weak and gentle in old age,” and I wonder now at the arrogance of a son claiming to know what's best for the old man.

Youth, filled with ancient, hormonal urges to carve out and then battle to maintain a place for itself in the world, is built for burning and raving. And having no experience yet at the waning of energy that gradually comes over a body as the decades pile up, youth does, likely, interpret the gentling of elders as giving up - and no one likes a quitter. Hence, "rage, rage."

But with Wally's bit of biographical perspective, the poem can be interpreted as Thomas’s mistaken idea of what he thinks, in youth, old age ought to be. It is impossible, when we are young, can take the stairs two at a time and still have dragons to slay, to imagine settling into the dying of the light.

I don’t believe that means we cannot or should not rage against inequities and mistakes of our government, for example, or misguided leaders and in fact, our experience allows us to see them with more clarity than young people. But I am coming to think now that we, the elders, are better suited to being guides, pointing the way while leaving the passion and action to still-energetic younger folks. That way, we have the time and space for the more natural talents of age…

…as Wally eloquently explains them:

“As elders of the tribe older men need to be strong, yet gentle pillars for their grand kids to lean on. We are the story tellers, the joke tellers, and the ones that can be depended upon to set aside our dignity for any silliness that will bring a smile to a toddler...

“So, as time goes by, I'm going to allow myself to go gentle in the area of approachability, vulnerability, and kindness, while maintaining my strength to act as a family protector, advisor and loyal friend. And when it comes time for me to leave the planet, I'll simply slip out the back door unnoticed.”


[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Fran aka Redondowriter nicely evokes 1950s America as she sets the stage for My First Kiss.]

It’s Flu Shot Time

[EDITOR’S NOTE: With the addition of several more photos in the past few days, there are now 40 people showing us their work spaces in the Where Elders Blog feature. They all share one thing, of course - a computer. Otherwise, the differences are fascinating. Take a look and if you haven’t sent in your photo, instructions are here.]

category_bug_journal2.gif It’s that time of year again: winter approaches and with it flu season. Have you had your flu shot yet?

A few people who are allergic to chicken eggs should not take the vaccine. Some are opposed to flu shots for a variety of reasons. But consider this: People 50 and older are among the most vulnerable and some die of the flu each year. Plus, if you don’t take the vaccine and do get sick, how many others might you infect?

Now through November is the best time to take the vaccine and it gets easier to do every year. You could go to your primary care physician. I don’t because the cost of an office visit in addition to the price of the vaccine adds to the burden on Medicare and creates more medical paperwork.

There are many clinics around the country. Some cities provide the vaccine for free; others charge no more than $5 or $10. Nowadays, you can locate dates and times of clinics in your area and even schedule an appointment online:

The American Lung Association Find a Flu Clinic

My Flu Vaccine allows scheduling online or by phone

CVS pharmacies hold flu clinics which can be found online or from an 800 number

Undoubtedly there are others in your town.

You can get reliable facts and information about influenza and flu shots, when to take the vaccine, and who should and should not take them at these websites:

The Centers For Disease Control Flu Facts

The Mayo Clinic Flu Facts

Let’s have a healthy winter.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chancy tells us about a childhood “crime” at the remarkably young of six in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.]

While The Reality Based Community Was Sleeping

category_bug_politics.gif Three years ago, in October of 2004 – which was nearly four years into the Bush 2 presidency - a cover story in The New York Times Sunday Magazine about the “faith-based presidency” by Ron Suskind included this quote from an unnamed aide to President Bush:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ [wrote Suskind] which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’

“I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That's not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

The blosophere responded to the anonymous aide’s statement with irony as thousands of new badges were displayed on blogs declaring, “Proud member of the reality-based community.”

Our attention spans are short and most of those badges have been removed now. But the condition of the United States the aide described was then and continues to be our political reality.

“History’s actors” the aide refers to have successfully removed habeas corpus from among our Constitutional rights. Signing statements have been attached to more than a thousand pieces of duly enacted Congressional legislation declaring the president’s intent to ignore them because, he says, they are unconstitutional. The president and his designees have been given the right, under the Military Commissions Act, to declare any U.S. citizen an “enemy combatant” and imprison them indefinitely without recourse to legal counsel.

(There is much more, of course, but I would like to finish writing this blog entry before Hannukah.)

Some people dispute the last item. This from Naomi Wolf’s book, The End of America – Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot:

“Last September, concerned about the legal arguments being put forward by the Department of Justice,” writes Wolf, “I called a friend who is a professor of Constitutional law.

“’Does the administration assert that the president can define anyone he wants to as an enemy combatant? Including U.S. citizens?’

“’Yes’, he replied.

“’And does it argue that courts must defer to the government’s assertions that someone should be held as an enemy combatant, even when it presents no direct evidence?’

“’Yes,’ he replied.

“So doesn’t that mean they are saying that now any of us for any reason he decides can be seized off the street and imprisoned in isolation for months and interrogated?’

“’Yes,’ he said.

“’So why isn’t anyone saying that?’

“’Some people are. But a lot of people probably think it would just sound crazy,’ he replied.”

Much of the public silence surrounding the Bush administration’s assaults on our liberties, I think, is due to the professor’s explanation. It’s crazy to believe a president would propose and Congress would approve legislation allowing an American citizen to be snatched off the street and imprisoned in secret. You’d be nuts to think a president can just decide not to enforce the law, as in the signing statements. It’s insane that a democratic republic would abandon the centuries-old right of habeas corpus that has guided all civilized nations.

None of that could be true, could it? There must be some mistake.

Maybe that’s what German citizens believed in the 1930s as laws restricting Jews’ activities were enacted one by one until Jews were left without even the right to live.

Another reason for the deafening silence, I believe, is political correctness. It is unseemly and impolite, we believe, to invoke Nazi Germany in discussing the usurpation of power by the executive branch, and using the word “fascist” brands one a fanatic.

We must get over that. There are, now, disturbing similarities between the early stages of Nazism and what is happening here. Dissenters to the war in Iraq are accused of treason and aiding the enemy. Groups who gather to protest the president and his policies when he gives public speeches are fenced in, away from his and the media’s view. Bill Maher lost his television show in 2001 for saying the 9/11 hijackers were not cowards. And the Dixie Chicks were made pariahs when they said, during a London concert on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that they were ashamed the president is from Texas. True believers burned piles of their CDs.

This is not the America our and all previous generations lived in and I wonder how many young people, without the benefit of hindsight elders have, believe this is the way democracy is supposed to work.

Much has been written about the complicity of the mainstream press with the Bush administration regarding the war in Iraq, but what about their complicity in these crucial issues of our freedom? Little has been made of the continuing undermining of our Constitutional rights by the executive branch of government with the aid of the Congress whichever party has been in power.

As I watch the various debates among the Republican and Democratic candidates for president, always moderated by mainstream media stars, I am furious each time at the lack of depth of the questioning. As far as I know, there has not been a single question about what the candidates would do to roll back the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, surveillance of citizen communications, the thousand-plus signing statements, and the torture authorizations. They are the law now, you know, and devolve to future presidents.

Do reporters and anchors and debate moderators not feel the fear so many friends, fellow bloggers and I feel at the accumulated loss of our liberties? Is this not the biggest story of the Bush administration? And of future administrations if these laws are left in place?

Why is this not a headline every day, pounded home to every listener, reader and viewer with the same relentlessness as Paris Hilton’s sordid life? Or does the press, who are paid to know better, think it sounds too crazy to believe.

…to be continued

[Today at The Elder Storytelling Place, Part 13 of the 80-year-old fairy tale, Chandra and Her Georg.]

It is Olive Riley's Birthday - Number 108

UPDATE: Olive's birthday or not, this is too good to miss. For anyone who's ever wanted to kill customer service:

"Shaw storms in the company's office. BAM! She whacks the keyboard of the customer service rep. BAM! Down goes the monitor. BAM! She totals the telephone. People scatter, scream, cops show up and what does she do? POW! A parting shot to the phone!

"'They cuffed me right then,' she says.

"Her take on Comcast: "'What a bunch of sub-moronic imbeciles.'"

And she's an elder too. Don't miss this story at the Washington Post. It will make your day.

[Hat tip to George Jenkins, Jr. of I've Been Mugged.]


[It's not every day a blogger turns 108. If you, dear reader, haven't prepared a celebration on your blog or you don't keep a blog, you can still join in leaving a greeting in the comments section of Olive's blog, Life of Riley.]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Paul Henry aka writes a musical ode to My Son, The Rock Singer.]

Oldest Baby Boomer Signs Up For Social Security

[REMINDER: Friday, 19 October, is the designated blogosphere birthday bash for Olive Riley's 108th birthday, so get your greetings ready to post tomorrow. The nursing home where Olive lives in Australia held a party for her on Tuesday and there are a lot of photos and a video of Olive singing Bye, Bye Blackbird at her blog, Life of Riley where you will see too that the celebration is already global.]

category_bug_politics.gif Last Monday, 15 October, the oldest baby boomer in the nation, signed up for early Social Security benefits which she will begin receiving in January. Born a tick-tock after midnight on 1 January 1946, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling clicked her way through the online registration while television cameras recorded it all at the National Press Club.

House Minority Whip, Roy Blunt [R-Mo.], used the event to sound a partisan alarm, stating in a press release:

"Today marks the first drip in what promises to be a deluge of new Social Security spending - obligations the current program, on its present course, will not be able to meet. And as bleak as the issue looks right now, it's a problem that will grow more acute by the day as Democrats continue to finance their reckless spending agenda by raiding the Social Security trust fund."

The usual media suspects went into a tizzy, as in this story by Dana Milbank:

“That made [Ms. Casey-Kirschling] the first member of the 80 million-strong baby-boom generation, which, starting next year, will begin to bankrupt the nation by crashing the Medicare and Social Security systems.”
Washington Post, 16 October 2007

Oy, the hand-wringing. And, to put it kindly, the misinformation. Mr. Milbank's first error is that baby boomers are not eligible for Medicare for another three years. Also, it is disingenuous to lump the problems of Social Security with Medicare. Unlike Social Security, Medicare is in real trouble. But that can be solved by legislating universal healthcare and fixing the broken healthcare system – a subject for another day.

Fortunately, we have Lita Epstein of BloggingStocks to give us the straight story (and yes, she's going to throw some numbers at you – live with it; this is important to think about]:

“…it's true a fix is needed for Social Security, but if you look closely at the numbers used even in the USA Today you'll see that the fix is not that drastic. As long as we take it seriously and do something.

"In the story USA Today states the fix would need to be a 16% increase in the existing payroll tax or a 13% cut in benefits. First let's look at that 16% in actual tax rates.

“The current tax rate for Social Security is 15.3%, which is 7.65% paid by the employee and 7.65% paid by the employer. Were the Congress to decide to fix the system solely by using tax increases then the increase would be 2.448% or 1.224% for the employer and the employee. That added would move the total tax collected to 17.748% (or 8.874% from one's paycheck)."

Not so bad as the hysterics insist. In my working life, the Social Security deduction went from something like two percent to 7.65 percent. It was necessary and another hike may be too.

Ms. Epstein also discusses the possibility of small cuts in benefits to future retirees, but does not mention that this would not be needed if that salary cap on Social Security deductions, currently at $97,500 and rising to $102,00 for 2008, were eliminated. It is preposterous that people who earn less than the ceiling are taxed on their entire annual salary and those who earn more are not.

According to some studies, these two measures – raising deductions by about one percent to the employee and to the employer and eliminating the salary cap – would return Social Security to solvency by the time it begins to be depleted in 2034. Of course, it would be necessary to write new legislation to forbid the president and Congress from using the new taxes for anything except Social Security; they've already stolen about $2 trillion from the trust fund.

Another issue the Social Security doomsayers don’t take into account is surveys reporting that about 75 percent of baby boomers say they will continue to work past traditional retirement age. If they do (which I don’t believe), they will continue to pay into Social Security and that will go a long way toward filling Social Security coffers too.

There is, however, an immediate problem with Social Security, brought about by Bush administration failings, that could snarl the agency and make recipients live's miserable. Some points from an AARP Bulletin story on Social Security:

  • "'This is a train wreck unfolding right in front of us,' says Sylvester Schieber, chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board..."
  • “Today, an average of 51 percent of all calls to local offices get a busy signal, according to the SSA's own study…”
  • “Among the agency's new responsibilities is determining the eligibility of applicants for Extra Help under Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit. Since SSA started taking applications in July 2005, 6.7 million people have applied.
  • “In the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Congress assigned the SSA a whole raft of new homeland security regulations to enforce after 9/11, tightening or changing the rules for issuing or replacing Social Security cards.
  • “Immigration-related legislation that Congress is considering would require employers to verify the employment eligibility of all new hires. That could significantly increase workloads at SSA, which already verifies huge numbers of Social Security numbers for employers—84 million in 2006.

And then, the Bush administration coup de grace just as millions of baby boomers will need to contact Social Security:

  • “As the workload has been increasing, the number of SSA employees has been shrinking. The agency has lost 4,000 workers in the last two years alone, and staffing is at its lowest level in 33 years.”

That oldest baby boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, was nothing more than a prop for a Republican congressman’s partisan attacks when she signed up for early Social Security online on Monday. But if you are eligible and planning to sign up soon, you would be well advised to follow her lead, make your application early and do it over the internet.

This just in: The Social Security Administration announced on Wednesday that monthly benefits will rise by 2.3 percent for 2008, the smallest increase since 2001.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, comedian Georgie Bright Kunkel has a few choice words about elder sex and care centers in Senior Standup.]

Oh, Those Backward, Bemused Elders

[IMPORTANT NOTICE: Friday 19 October in the northern hemisphere is the day to post your greetings for Olive Riley's 108th birthday and I hope everyone will join in to help make it a joyous blogosphere bash for Olive. There is more information about the celebration and how to take part here.]

Following Monday’s snit, Crabby Old Lady was content to sit back in her rocker for awhile. That is, until Madame Levy of La Vache Qui Lit alerted her to an offensive blog post.

Ageism in general and age discrimination, particularly in the technology industry, are so commonplace and such an old story that Crabby Old Lady doesn’t bother to comment on them much anymore. But when it comes from an uber-geek who some consider a person of influence in the tech world, one who boasts he has reached the limit (5,000) of the allowed number of "friends" on Facebook, Crabby must speak up.

Robert Scoble, who at 42 cannot be considered in the bloom of youth, blogs at the eponymous Scobleizer. On Sunday, he recounted his visit to a block party where he met some of his neighbors for the first time.

"Most of the people in my neighborhood are older. In their 60s and 70s,” writes Scoble. “…it was interesting trying to explain what I do. 'I have an Internet video show.' No, not a porn show. Heh!

"Some of my neighbors couldn’t quite rap (sic) their heads around the fact that I could send video of them around the world from my cell phone. They had heard of Facebook or MySpace but I had to explain over and over how Kyte worked. They acted like they had met someone from the future."

Before she goes on, Crabby Old Lady wants you to know that it is likely Mr. Scoble would be just another blogger among millions except for three years he spent at Microsoft as a “technology evangelist” which gave him enough Silicon Valley street cred to be considered a member of the technorati with a blog The Economist reports is read “religiously” by geeks.

Geeks are almost by definition 20-somethings, and this is the condescending claptrap Scoble gives them to read about elders:

“...I shouldn’t make all my neighbors sound like Luddites. They are very educated and well traveled people who’ve done interesting things with their lives but it’s interesting to see just how far ahead those of us who live in the tech echo chamber are. One common thing? They all have heard about Facebook and are wondering what they’d do on it. It really pisses me off I can’t add them to Facebook. So, I told them to sign up for Twitter instead and I’d answer their questions there.”

Right - answer their questions in 140 characters or fewer. The entire post reeks of such superciliousness. Scoble was at Gnomedex this year, but Crabby thinks he must have blown off her presentation about elders and technology which was received by others, some much younger than Scoble, with enthusiasm and who, Crabby doubts, would be capable of writing anything as patronizing.

According to Wikipedia, Scoble learned computers literally from the inside out at his mother’s knee. It’s no big deal to be “far ahead” of unanointed elders when you were practically born with a mouse in your hand. Teaching oneself computing from scratch with no one to help and succeeding, as so many elders Crabby Old Lady knows have done – now that’s an achievement.

Crabby wonders what Scoble’s are, and if it has occurred to him that Facebook, MySpace and Kyte are only this year's web buzzwords to be left behind by something new or better next year. They are hardly requirements for being technology literate and certainly not a reason to assign a sense of superiority such as his to oneself.

Not that Crabby Old Lady is going soft in her old age, but for a moment she considered that youth - and Mr. Scoble - should be forgiven their lapses in light of the ageist culture they grow up in. Then she remembered that Scoble is 42, old enough to have gotten over himself.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temis continues the story of the saga related to buying a home in Turkey in Part 2 of A Dönüm Will Do.]

Annual Medicare Part D Sign Up

[WHERE ELDERS BLOG UPDATE: If you haven't visited this feature in a few days, there a some new photos, including one from a blog reader who does not blog. That's a good idea I hadn't thought of and there are many we come to know through their comments. So you non-blogging elders too are welcome to send in your photos.]

category_bug_journal2.gif It’s that time of year again. In just a month, on 15 November, the six-week enrollment period for 2008 Medicare Part D – the prescription drug coverage – opens. Our annual slog through choosing among dozens of plans is upon us.

As last year, there are too many plans with too many conflicting details, but the good news is the Medicare website has dramatically improved the process and comparison charts.

I was furious to find that my current insurer has raised the monthly premium by 24 percent for next year and although the cost of my drug is being raised only a few pennies, I determined to find a plan to match my 2007 costs.

It was almost easy at the new Medicare Part D website to pull up the 60 plans available in my state that carry in their formulary the single drug I take. With various filters, they can be sorted by annual cost, approved pharmacies, size of deductible if any, etc. My one complaint is that comparison of only three plans at a time is possible. I would have liked at least ten.

Comparison will be easier this year even for people who take multiple drugs because one of the first steps in the improved website is to enter the name and dosage of each drug and the software filters the plans that cover them all. However, the unforgivable flaw in Part D is that no one can predict what new drug(s) their physician may prescribe in the coming year and if your plan doesn't cover the new drug(s), you're stuck with the full cost until the following year when you can choose another plan.

As improved as the Medicare website is, I still made a chart of all ten plans that met my personal requirements so I could compare in a single column each of the monthly premiums, the deductibles when there is one, the cost to me annually and per month. The last item can differ throughout the year depending on a deductible, so for anyone on a tight budget, that could be an important consideration.

The annual cost of the ten plans, including premiums and my co-pays, range from $530.40 to an astounding $1206. That most expensive plan costs $277.32 more a year than full price of the drug to my insurer and two other plans, while slightly cheaper, also cost more. What are they thinking? I crossed them off my chart first.

After visiting the websites of each of the remaining seven plans and my current provider for additional details and to search for limitations, I couldn’t find any differences except price. Even my pharmacy was included in each one, so I settled on the least expensive.

Assuming my drug requirements remain the same in 2008, I will save $104 over my 2007 costs, and if I buy the drug by mail, I can save an additional $50. I’m torn about giving up my pharmacy which is not one of the big chains. I’m thinking $50 a year may not unreasonable to support a locally owned business.

My drug doesn't cost enough that I reach the doughnut hole where full cost of the drug is borne by the insured until total out-of-pocket of $4050 is reached. If your drugs do push you into the doughnut hole, you must work that into your choice of provider.

This is still far too complicated and universal healthcare would save millions of hours of work and could require, like the Veterans Administration, price negotiation with pharmaceutical companies by the federal government.

Until then, the Medicare Part D website has done an admirable job of simplifying the selection process. And, you can register, list your drugs, get a list of providers in your state, mark your favorites and save all the information until enrollment time.

Enrollment for 2008 Part D does not open until 15 November but if you start now, it will be less painful than if you put it off until December. It works quite well, and you might, like me, save some money next year.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz begins the two-part saga of buying a home in Turkey in A Dönüm Will Do.]

The Courage of Our Blogging Convictions

It's been awhile since Crabby Old Lady was this riled up, so much so it has taken her a week to get her thoughts in order.

Last week, a post titled What Have You Stopped Doing in Your Old Age? caused a lot of response from readers with their own lists of gratefully-relinquished tasks and behavior that no longer seem necessary or were, perhaps, misguided in our youth.

Most women agree that high-heeled shoes are too painful now. (Crabby Old Lady continues to wonder, for herself, if they always hurt that much and she was more capable of ignoring it when she was younger.) Men seem glad to give up wearing ties and at least one has embraced a beard instead of shaving every day.

The lists were varied – from the minor (giving up ironing) to the profound (giving up guilt) with a whole lot in between. And Suzz of Suzzwords had Crabby laughing out loud:

“I gave up wearing shoes unless I’m leaving the house. Recently I pretty much gave up mopping the kitchen, causing me to rethink wearing shoes.”

Overall, everyone took to the topic with much good humor, and it made Crabby Old Lady's day reading all the responses…

…and then, AND THEN - Crabby received a private email from a reader attacking Time Goes By and commenters (some by specific reference to their lists making clear to Crabby who they are) for being negative about elders’ capabilities, comparing us to a relative who, says the writer, gave up caring in late life and accusing readers of using age as an excuse to “drop out” – whatever that means.

Crabby was dismayed on two counts: that this light-hearted post and the responses could be perceived as negative commentary on aging, and that the writer made these accusations in an email rather than publicly owning the words in the comments section.

One of the best and most important aspects of blogging, especially for elders, is the building of communities. We do this through commenting on one another’s blogs, finding commonalities and simpatico among ourselves and fodder for new thoughts and ideas in one another's blogs.

As if to prove that last point, Mage of Day Tripper was so inspired by this discussion that she expanded on it at her blog, as did Claude of Blogging in Paris who listed several that Crabby doesn't do anymore but had forgotten when she made her list. And Suzz took the idea in a whole new direction at her blog.

The best result of all this community building is that not infrequently, we make new friends, sometimes with ties that become as strong and unbreakable as with our in-person friends. This is possible through honesty and authenticity in our blogs and comments. In all this, disagreement is common, but in four years, Crabby has only one previous incidence of it being expressed privately instead of out in the open.

And that is what is so disturbing about this email. (Because writers retain legal copyright of their email and, in this case, the writer ignored Crabby's requests for permission to quote, she will need to paraphrase.)

In response to Crabby Old Lady's emailed dismay, the writer followed up by saying that remarking negatively on individual comments in public would be "too aggressive” for her. Ah, but attacking the individual commenters in a private email is not? It strikes Crabby as cowardly.

There followed a long and detailed dissertation on how Europeans (she is an ex-pat American living in Europe) wouldn’t be caught dead in public wearing Crocs or sweats or polyester pants suits as she has seen in the U.S., and how beautifully turned out Europeans are.

She singled out a couple of towns here in Maine for her scorn of their sartorial lapses. Having lived here more than a year now, Crabby can assure you she would feel the fool showing up at the supermarket in one of her beloved fur hats, now packed away on a high shelf awaiting a winter trip to Manhattan. Knits caps and earmuffs are the norm in this Rome.

The writer heaped further disdain on commenters who say they have forsaken books and movies, wondering what they do at night, but not having read the blog well enough to know that what they said was, they have given up buying books and use the library now.

There followed a litany of admiring references to European elders who hike and learn languages and have young friends, and to Americans who move to Europe for new experiences (implying that stay-at-home Americans are dullards in comparison) apparently on the assumption that wearing Crocs, and pants instead of skirts, and giving up makeup damage brain cells and stunt social initiative.

As appalled as Crabby is at the writer’s provincialism and tone of superiority, what bothers her more are the back-channel attacks on people who are part of the elderblogging community along with the apparent belief that Crabby would be a willing participant.

That is not tolerable. We speak our minds in public on our blogs and comments. Sometimes we disagree. We can make our points, defend them or not and in the end, everyone gains from differing perspectives even if, in the end, our minds are not changed. It is one of the things that builds communities around our blogs and makes blogging so immensely satisfying.

Here at Crabby Old Lady's place, back channel attacks on public commenters are not accepted. Have the courage of your convictions and say it out loud.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek notes one of the changes that comes with the passage of time in The Sad Sight of Empty Tennis Courts.]

Not Government As Usual

category_bug_politics.gif Many friends and I have, over the past year or two, frequently mentioned our sense, arrived at separately, that something has gone disturbingly wrong with our country.

It’s not just that bland poll question that turns up in national surveys about whether the country is headed in the right direction – which can mean any innocuous thing depending on who is answering.

It’s not the administration double-talk on torture. Nor habeas corpus that has gone missing now from the Constitution. Nor government access without warrant to almost any personal information. Nor the pre-war lies about WMD that got us into the tragedy in Iraq. Nor the drumbeat for another war, this time in Iran.

Nor is it the sketchy voting procedures in certain states including those electronic voting machines (without paper trail) that any teenager can hack. Nor is it the fear and humiliation I feel at the hands of the Gestapo-like TSA at airports.

It is all those things, along with many others accumulating during the reign of Bush 2, that give my friends and me the darkening feeling that the groundwork is being (has been?) laid to snatch America’s historically remarkable liberty out from under us.

I am reading Naomi Wolf’s The End of America – Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot for which she has done the research and homework that support the unfocused foreboding of my friends and me. I do not believe Ms. Wolf is an alarmist or is (as it were) crying wolf. She is more a canary in the mine.

As it turns out, of course, my friends and I are not alone. All across America, people are frightened, as Ms. Wolf reports in a piece at Firedoglake [hat tip to Frank Paynter of listics]:

“Jim Spencer, a former columnist for the Denver Post who has been critical of the Bush administration, told me today that I could use his name: he is on the watch list. An attorney contacts me to say that she told her colleagues at the Justice Department not to torture a detainee; she says she then faced a criminal investigation, a professional referral, saw her emails deleted - and now she is on the watch list.

“I was told last night that a leader of Code Pink, the anti-war women’s action group, was refused entry to Canada. I hear from a tech guy who works for the airlines - again, probably a Republican - that once you are on the list you never get off. Someone else says that his friend opened his luggage to find a letter from the TSA saying that they did not appreciate his reading material.”

Is there a “watch list” of citizens? Ms. Wolf does not explain if it is the airline terrorist list she is referring to or another, different kind of list. But the accumulation of assaults on the founding principles of the United States cannot be denied. Nothing going on from Washington these days is business as usual. It is more sinister than that and not a single elected official at any level of government has acknowledged it.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Part XI of the 80-year-old fairy tale, Chandra and Her Georg.]

It’s Not Everyday a Blogger Turns 108

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The Where Elders Blog section just keeps growing with new photos every day. The more there are, the more interesting for all of us. Have you sent yours?]

Olive Riley is the oldest blogger around. Some quibble that she isn’t really a blogger because her friend, Mike Rubbo, transcribes and posts their conversations at Life of Riley, and she doesn’t generally surf the web without his help.

To that I say, rubbish. Disabled people use all kinds of devices to help them on the internet, so why not elders who need it? Olive’s device just happens to be human. And besides, it’s a great help to me for this week's project.

For the past three years, in August, we have held a Blogosphere Birthday Bash for Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog. It started in 2005, when she celebrated one of those big, round, even birthdays – the big eight-oh – and has continued each year since.

To do that, sometimes enlisting the help of other bloggers, I’ve emailed everyone I could think of who would want to create a birthday post for Millie, gave them the date and then we emailed again to remind everyone a day or two before the big day. All this emailing was done (rather than posting a public announcement) so it would be a surprise for Millie. This time, it can be a surprise for Olive without all that emailing.

Olive’s 108th birthday is coming up on 20 October. Imagine! Telephones weren’t even common when Olive was a kid and now she has a blog.

So, taking a page from the Millie birthday book, let’s give Olive a big blogosphere birthday bash from all over the world. Bloggers don’t turn 108 every day, you know. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Create a birthday greeting for Olive. It can be as simple as “Happy Birthday, Olive” in great big letters or as complex as you want to make it – photographs, drawings, cartoons, pictures of balloons or a cake, audio, video, whatever.
  2. Post it on your blog. In this case, we should do it the day before her birthday, on 19 October, because although it taxes my brain to keep it straight, Australian time is almost a day ahead of the U.S. and Europe time, and Mike tells me they will be getting together on the 20th for a celebration. Olive will be able to see the posts then or the next day.
  3. After you’ve posted the greeting, go to Olive’s blog and leave a comment on her latest post with a link to your greeting.

It’s that easy. I’ll post a reminder here on the day before the greetings are due so you won’t forget. Let’s make this the biggest elderblogger birthday bash there has ever been for one of our own.

If you would like to tell your own blog readers about this project, feel free to copy any part of this post.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains how there really is no place like home in Taking Dad Home to Pennsylvania.]

Ronni’s Little Red Car



When I reached driving age, at 16, I lived in a suburb of San Francisco – Sausalito, California. Public transportation there, as in most suburbs to this day, was almost nonexistent. A car was a necessity and I was as excited as any 16-year-old new driver when, in 1957, I got my 1947 Chevy coupe.

It was in terrific shape having previously been owned, literally, by that proverbial little old lady who drove it to church on Sunday. Now I’m that little old lady. The only difference is that instead of church, I drive to the market and Home Depot with an occasional 100-mile-trip here or there.

When I married, we bought a new, 1965 Mustang unaware, then, that it would become a classic.

Over the years, I came to dislike owning a car, even that little beauty. Cars always want something: gas, oil, tires, window washer juice, anti-freeze, insurance, inspections, etc. and something that is costly to fix breaks with regularity. There is an old saying that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money. I felt that way about cars.

So when my then-husband and I moved to Manhattan (where a car is a liability and public transportation choices are many) and sold our car, a great burden was lifted. I remained happily car-less for the next 40 years, renting when there was the occasional need.

From time to time, particularly when I was in Los Angeles where people are defined and judged by the kind of car they drive, friends showed off their Mercedes, BMWs and other even more exotic cars to me. I’m sure I disappointed them by exhibiting little interest. That the car would get me from here to there without incident is all I cared about.

In all those 40 years without a car, the only one I could identify was a Volkswagen bug. All the rest looked alike to me – and still do. Then, I few years ago, a new car began turning up on the streets during my walks around Greenwich Village – a unique, classic, gloriously retro shape that turned out, when I tracked it down, to be a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Wow! I told a friend. If I ever have a reason to need a car again, that’s what I want, never thinking it would come to pass.

Still, it was disheartening, as I planned my move to Portland, Maine, in 2006, to realize I would need to own a car. All those irritations of ownership – gas, oil, tires, etc. – would again become part of my life so as long as I would need to endure that, I determined to get the car I wanted – and I wanted that PT Cruiser in red.

With the help of a friend, Neil Thompson, who knows everything there is to know about cars, it happened – and even in the color I wanted which I hadn’t dared hope for.

And guess what? Those ownership irritations are not as bad as I remembered. Cars have come a long way in 40 years; they are easier to care for and although I miss the 24-cent-a-gallon gas of my youth, not so expensive that it breaks the budget.

I'll never have the kind of love affair with a car that I've seen in friends and the next car I buy will undoubtedly be a hybrid or whatever energy-green invention has come along by then. It is unlikely to be as cute as a PT Cruiser, but that is several years off and for now, I have to admit that I love tooling around town in my little, red retro car. It's just my size, just the right color and it's fun to drive.

If anyone had told me I’d ever feel that way about a car, I’d have sneered. But you never know - in life and even in old age - how your attitudes will change.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior has a short, little tale of teenage transgression titled The Skeleton.]

On the Advent of Our Deaths

category_bug_journal2.gif Ageism. However wrong it is, however much individual pain and debilitating consequences result from it and how many people are harmed is, to a degree, about fear of death. The young do not want to believe they too will get old one day and will not escape this world alive. So those whose appearance would remind them of their unavoidable end are shunned.

But a funny thing happens to some people, thoughtful people, those with a philosophical bent as that day draws nearer; they come to not only accept their death, but in many cases to welcome it – and not just those who are sick or disabled or those who believe in afterlife.

“Death is the true and best friend of humanity…the key which unlocks the door to our true state of happiness.
- Mozart
”Death seems to me so often a relief, a rendering up of responsibility, a quitting of many vexatious trifles.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We are put on this earth to celebrate. You give it everything you have. Everything. That includes your death. The greatest thing you can do is possess your own death so that when it comes it is given, not taken. Honor your own death. It is a sacrament…Death renders life magnificent…Death walks beside one, and so does whatever one’s sense of God is, or the sublime.”
- Scott Symons

These quotes are from a marvelous collection, Light on Aging and Dying, selected by Helen Nearing. I have not stopped reading and pondering these quotations since the book was published more than a decade ago. It sits always beside my bed.

Ms. Nearing divides this little book into three sections on old age, dying and death. Thinkers as far back as ancient Egypt and China, through the intervening years and up to today are represented. It is a good thing, as we get older, to know what conclusions others have come to regarding the final passage of life.

Many of these people have remarked on the need for the living to make room for those coming up behind us:

“There is a usefulness of time when a man should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance.”
- Thomas Jefferson
“I am old; I am going to die…I often think about it. I am getting ready…It is time for me to disencumber the world.”
- Victor Hugo
“Every human death is ultimately for the good of the group.”
- Robert S. Morison
“Coming at its due time, when the organism has given all it can give, death is the great minister of orderly evolution.
- Gustav Geley
“Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another. The oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind a rich virgin mold, which will impart a vigorous life to an infant forest.”
- Henry David Thoreau
“Death is only Nature’s remedy for over-crowding.”
- George Bernard Shaw

Present-day culture is so adept at hiding death from us, of making the subject taboo in conversation that it is a revelation - and a relief - to know that that some people have a different view.

“For myself, I do not need to look in terms of survival after death. I feel myself to be part of the known properties of earth’s family, and that is enough. One day, the breath I have been privileged to use will become again a part of the earth’s family being…If there is another place to catch up with the ‘breath,’ I hope it will be as challenging as it has been here; but if it does not exist, it is enough that I have lived.”
- Eileen D. Garrett
“All that nature has prescribed must be good; and as Death is natural to us, it is absurdity to fear it.”
- Sir Richard Steele
“As to you, Death, and your bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me.”
- Walt Whitman
“Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when you were not; that gives us no concern. Why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? To die is only to be as we were before we were born.”
- William Hazlitt
“Proceed, then, clear-eyed and laughing. Go to greet Death as a friend.”
- Rupert Brooke

In hiding death from our everyday lives, we deny ourselves the chance to remember and contemplate that it is the greatest mystery of all. I don’t want to go to my grave without thoughtful preparation for it.

“Like a projectile flying to it goal, life ends in death. Even its ascent and its zenith are only steps and means to this goal. We grant goal and purpose to the ascent of life, why not death? For 20 years and more the growing man is being prepared for the complete unfolding of his individual nature, why should not the older man prepare himself 20 years and more for his death?
- Carl Jung
“Death is, by all odds, the most important and overshadowing thing that confronts man. Of all the phenomena of nature confronting him, there is nothing else of greater importance.”
- Clarence Darrow
“What a simple thing death is, just as simple as the falling of an autumn leaf.”
- Vincent van Gogh
“I have always believed that the moment of death is the norm and the goal of life.”
- Simone Weil
“For my part, I would like to die fully conscious that I am dying…slow enough to allow death to insinuate itself into my body and fully unfold, so as not to miss the ultimate experience, the passage.”
- Marguerite Yourcenar
“To die should be the most interesting journey of all the journeys a man can make.”
- Jan Willem van de Wetering
“It is too bad that dying is the last thing we do, because it could teach us so much about living.”
- Robert M. Herhold

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells how she learned more in catechism class than the teacher probably intended in The Shawn of My Childhood.]

Falls Are a Serious Risk to Elders

category_bug_journal2.gif A couple of weeks ago, on my way into the bedroom while carrying a glass of water, Ollie the cat suddenly appeared from nowhere racing by at a hundred miles an hour. He cut directly in front of me, about an inch from my foot, and as I tried to sidestep him without spilling the water, I went down with a crash.

The next thing I knew, I "woke" on my knees with my head pitched over on the carpet. I don't think I was out more than a few seconds, but there was a big-time rug burn bleeding from my forehead and cheek that took about ten days to heal. A cashier at the local drug store asked who punched me.

Did you know that more than 4,700 Americans age 65 and older die from falls each year? According to the Home Safety Council, there are another 1.5 million non-fatal injuries from falling in the home every year.

That's the bad news. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to prevent falls.

Throw rugs are notorious skid hazards. Find a way to affix them permanently to the floor or, better, don't use them at all.

The Bathroom may be the most dangerous place in the house with water splashed on the floor and daily opportunities to fall when getting in and out of the tub or shower. Here are some precautions you can take:

  • Use only bathmats with non-skid backing
  • Install grab bars at levels to be used for both showers and tub baths. Towel bars are not appropriate for this use; they can easily break.
  • Use a non-slip mat or attach non-slip strips to the floor of the tub.
  • Wipe up water on the floor as soon as it appears
  • Use nightlights in bathroom, halls and bedroom.

Stairs are another hazard that can be mitigated with good safety practices:

  • Keep stairs clear of all clutter.
  • Install bright lights at the top and bottom of stairs and at all landings.
  • Install handrails on both sides of stairs and steps. Be sure they extend clear to the top and bottom of staircases
  • Use rugs on stairs with care. They should be permanently affixed to the stairs.

Follow the same safety precautions for outdoor stairs and steps and have broken or chipped steps and walkways repaired as soon as possible.

Balance can become an issue with elders. Some medications or combinations of medications can contribute to dizziness and falls, so check with your physician if this is a problem for you. Regular exercise helps maintain balance and Tai Chi is a particularly good form of exercise to improve strength and balance. It also helps reduce stress.

Here are some facts from the Centers For Disease Control about elders and falling that should convince you to check your home for falling hazards:

  • Men are more likely to die from a fall than women. After adjusting for age, the fall fatality rate in 2004 was 49 percent higher for men than for women
  • Rates of fall-related fractures among older adults are more than twice as high for women as for men
  • The risk of being seriously injured in a fall increases with age. In 2001, the rates of fall injuries for adults 85 and older were four to five times that of adults 65 to 74
  • People 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely to be admitted into long-term care for a year or more

The Home Safety Council website has additional information about preventing falls at home including some excellent checklists [PDFs] you can print as guides to fall-proofing your home. Click on "Fall Prevention Resources" in the left sidebar.

Now if they could just figure out how to prevent a cat running lickety split through the house that doesn't involve locking him in a cage.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, kenju declares, I Need More Music in My Life.]

Messy Work Spaces

Several people have written to say they like the new “Where Elders Blog” feature, but wouldn’t dare show their own because it’s so messy.

Well, my friends, let me tell you a story…

Many years ago, in the mid-1970s to be exact, I shared an office with another producer on a morning television talk show in New York City. When we returned to our office each day at 10AM, after the live program ended, the stack of new mail on our chairs (the mail guy always put it on our chairs) often reached two feet high: new books, magazines, newspapers, various products PR people wanted us to feature on the show, promotional tchotchkes, invitations, and dozens of press releases to wade through.

Most of mine went in the round file, but when a booking was made as a result of one of these mailings, I saved the press release in a neatly-labeled folder on my desk so that when the time came to write the segment, I would have the facts at my fingertips.

My officemate, Tom, on the other hand, never threw out anything. Months of detritus was thrown helter-skelter onto the bookshelves on his side of our office, in piles on the floor around his feet with more in a jumbled mountain of paper on his desk that only grew taller over time; it never got smaller.

There was so much stuff on Tom’s side of the room, so disordered and chaotic that to look at it messed with my mind. It was so hard to think I had Tom help me move my desk so that when I was at my typewriter (yes! a typewriter in those days) I wasn’t facing his massive clutter.

Inevitably - because everyone loses things at some time or another - the day arrived when I, on deadline, trying to write an introduction to a guest for the next day's show, couldn’t find the folder with my notes, the press release and other information. I tore my desk apart, searched through my files, shelves and drawers. No folder. No information anywhere. No way to write the intro.

As a last resort and not really imagining Tom could possibly help, I asked if he had the press release about – well, whatever it was.

Tom plowed through the tangle of paper on his desk and in under 15 seconds said, “Here it is,” as he handed it to me.

I was stunned. It couldn’t be anything but a fluke, right? So I tested him. Did he have a certain book? He pulled it out of the middle of stack next to him. What about that hockey puck some PR person sent to promote god knows what. “Sure, right here,” said Tom as he snagged it off a shelf.

His side of our office always looked like a hurricane had blown through, but Tom knew where every piece of paper was and could always retrieve whatever he needed when the time came.

Since then, I’ve known other people like Tom. However disorganized their space, they have a different kind of file system in their heads than I do and they know exactly where everything is.

Of course, there are plenty of others who are messy and can’t find anything. In the end, we each do these things differently and one way isn’t necessarily better or more efficient than another.

I am reminded of one of my favorite posts from Frank Paynter of listics which he wrote a couple of years ago when his blog was still called Sandhill Trek:

“It seems to me like the chaotic distribution of my footwear across the house when I return after a day's absence may have certain algorithmic properties that only an Australian Shepherd is capable of getting its teeth into…

“Oddly, I am sure the dog doesn't think the distribution of shoes is messy, but rather that it has order and beauty best appreciated by creatures closer to the floor than the housemonkeys that provide the food and water.”

So go ahead and send in that photo of your messy blogging place - think of it as a better filing system with an order and beauty all its own.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz tells of a month-long, annual ritual in Turkey that could give you a real headache in Ramazan Drummer.]