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The Best Health Advice? Just Move

category_bug_journal2.gif Sometimes it takes me all day to write a post for this blog. That is, six or eight or more hours sitting in a chair poring over books, magazines, printouts, a dozen or more open browser windows and a keyboard.

For many years, sometimes – nay, most times – I didn't get out of the chair but for lunch, to search the shelves for another book or magazine I needed, or to pee. (Ollie the cat conveniently jumps up on the desk when he needs stroking.)

All this sitting is not good. In fact, it is so bad in terms of health, it alone could kill me before my time. Which is the reason that a couple of months ago, I downloaded a free smartphone app that has only one function – it dings at whatever interval of time I set it for.

At first, that was once an hour to remind me to get out of the chair and move around for awhile. But now, after a rash of new information about the health dangers of inactivity, I've set the app to ding twice as often - every half hour.

There are hundreds of studies each corroborating the findings of all the others: nothing keeps us healthier than exercise and exercise is almost a miracle treatment for many conditions and diseases. Here is a new report about how exercise slows muscle wasting due to age and heart failure:

”In both age groups, four training sessions of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, five days a week plus one 60 minute group exercise session was associated with increased muscle force endurance and oxygen uptake.

“Heart failure patients 55 and under increased their peak oxygen uptake by 25 percent, while those 65 and over increased it by 27 percent.”

Did you notice the amount of time devoted to exercise in this study? Twenty minutes spread four times throughout the day is not much for such a big-deal return on investment.

More and more research is finding that although there is nothing wrong with running marathons, sweating through 90-minute gym workouts or ten-mile bicycle rides if that is your pleasure, it takes far less effort than previously believed to stave off the dire effects of inactivity.

”One of the biggest misconceptions is that exercise has to be hard...or doing something really strenuous,” [says science, health and fitness reporter, Gretchen Reynolds]. “That’s untrue and, I think, discourages a lot of people from exercising.

“If you walk, your body registers that as motion, and you get all sorts of physiological changes that result in better health. Gardening counts as exercise. What would be nice would be for people to identify with the whole idea of moving more as opposed to quote 'exercise.'”

Gretchen Reynolds writes the popular “Phys Ed” column in The New York Times and a couple of weeks ago, her new book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer (whew!), was published.

It is on my list for “next” (along with six others) but I haven't read the book yet. Even so, I am so impressed by an interview with Ms. Reynolds in the Times last week and encouraged at how important I believe her information is for elders who may not be able to do strenuous exercise anymore, that I wanted to share this with you now.

Some more excerpts from the interview which you will find here.

”There is a whole scientific discipline called inactivity physiology that looks at what happens if you just sit still for hours at a time. If the big muscles in your legs don’t contract for hours on end, then you get physiological changes in your body that exercise won’t necessarily undo.

“Exercise causes one set of changes in your body, and being completely sedentary causes another.”

“Humans,” writes Ms Reynolds, “are born to stroll” and she makes a clear distinction between the kind of movement needed to help maintain health and that meant to improve sports performance. For the former, “movement” is key and you already have everything you need to do that:

”There are always options for moving,” says Ms. Reynolds. “You don’t have to do anything that hurts. You don’t have to buy equipment. If you have a pair of shoes, they don’t even have to be sneakers.

“People have gotten the idea that exercise has to be complicated, and that they need a heart rate monitor, and a coach, and equipment and special instruction. They don’t.”
“If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do. There are some people who honestly can’t walk, so I would say to those people to try to go to the local Y.M.C.A. and swim.”

It turns out, according to Ms. Reynolds, that I have been doing exactly the right thing with my reminder app that dings to help counteract a life spent in front of a screen:

”I really do stand up at least every 20 minutes now,” she says, “because I was spending five or six hours unmoving in my chair. The science is really clear that that is very unhealthy, and that it promotes all sorts of disease. All you have to do to ameliorate that is to stand up. You don’t even have to move.”

I hope this post has moved you to get moving. Although Ms. Reynolds' prescription is aimed at people of all ages, it seems tailor-made for elders. And it is frequency more than length of time spent moving that matters.

You will find the archive of Gretchen Reynolds' Times columns here which is well worth a read.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Vitale: Butchie

ELDER POETRY INTERLUDE: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Well, not the entire poem of T.S. Eliot although it is surely worth the read and you will find it here.

This, today, is a short six lines taken from near the end of the work with that wonderful, well-worn question in line 3.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.


Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in the U.S., moved to the U.K. in his 20s and eventually became a naturalized British citizen. He was one of the most renowned poets of the 20th Century.

In addition to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, many of Eliot's works are among the best-known and loved - Gerontion, Ash Wednesday, The Waste Land and my favorite, Four Quartets.

He died in 1965 at age 76.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Dementia Patients

How Progressive Elders Can Help

category_bug_politics.gif It's interesting, as I have done for the past ten days or so, to take such a long time off from the daily news. I am lost right now on the day-to-day minutiae of political posturing but it's not hard to regain a sense of the overall trajectory.

Welcome to the 2012 presidential campaign, now officially underway – that is, if you falsely believed it hasn't been going on since 4 November 2008.

Without the input of the latest campaign ad attacks, faux outrage, lies and refutations, I have had time to think about what is at stake in the November election.

That ought to be the presidential election, right? Well, I don't think so. From his speeches, it has been easy to see that Mitt Romney has an enormously inflated idea of presidential power – an affliction suffered by all candidates until they attain the White House. Just ask President Obama.

So I'm much more concerned with the other two branches of government and foremost between them, the Judicial. The next president of the United States will be called upon to appoint at least one and possibly three Supreme Court justices.

Although our courts are supposed to be independent of political bias, that ideal is never met. But has there ever been such a democracy crushing Supreme Court as the current one? With each decision, they move our nation more terrifyingly toward the extreme right.

We all know about Citizens United and are seeing the disgusting results as rich people and corporations pour billions of dollars into this year's election campaigns. But did you take note of the Court's decision in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders on 2 April this year?

According to Adam Liptak writing in The New York Times (emphasis is mine),

”The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.

According to Liptak, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer referenced examples of arbitrary strip searches in his dissenting opinion:

”Citing examples from briefs submitted to the Supreme Court, Justice Breyer wrote that people have been subjected to 'the humiliation of a visual strip search' after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.

“A nun was strip-searched, he wrote, after an arrest for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration.”

If you do not think this can happen to you, go back and read those last two paragraphs again. Then imagine what a Supreme Court could do to Constitutional rights with just one more right wing zealot - especially if the Senate too were majority Republican. We are chillingly close to that situation.

A president can nominate a justice of any or no political stripe. Doesn't matter. What does matter is the Senate which confirms the appointment by a simple majority vote.

So it seems to me that to ensure a future for Constitutional law in the U.S., the most important elections this year are for Congress.

The media lumps all elders into the right wing of the political spectrum. And it's true that an embarrassing (for me) number of my contemporaries believe way too many of extreme right wing articles of faith.

But there are the rest of us and there are some ways we can, perhaps, make a bigger difference than just through our votes. One of them is to contribute to the campaigns of candidates in states not our own.

Nothing says we cannot and our money – even small contributions – are needed because most of the billions unleashed by Citizens United go to Republicans.

Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, a reliable populist who caucuses with the Democrats, is up for re-election. There probably isn't much chance he'll lose the election. As Wikipedia explains:

“Polling conducted in August 2011 by Public Policy Polling found that

Sander's approval rating was 67% and his disapproval rating was just 28%, making him the third most-popular Senator in the country.”

But why not help make sure with a small contribution. You can do that here if you are so inclined.

Another of the good guys, Democrat Alan Grayson, was defeated in 2010 by a Republican zealot after being heavily targeted by right wing radio, conservative pundits, organizations, money and even Sarah Palin.

He is back this election season running for Congress from the new district 9 in central Florida, created due to population growth. Here is one of Grayson's recent ads – I like its retro feel and the numbers are correct:

He's going for the House seat so would not vote for a Supreme Court justice but we sure do need his voice in Congress. You can find out more here where you can also contribute to his campaign.

Feel free in the comments below help create a list of good-guy candidates we should all be aware of.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Pereidolia

“Honoring” Elders During Older Americans Month

ITEM: The public transportation agency in Portland, Oregon, TriMet, avoids using the word “old” with a hokey euphemism Crabby Old Lady had not heard before moving here. As they explain on their website:

"'Honored Citizen' is how TriMet identifies seniors age 65 or older, people on Medicare and people with mental or physical disabilities. Honored Citizens receive reduced fares and priority seating on buses and trains.”

What a crock. Empty phrases like "honored citizen" are what give political correctness (and in this case, elders), a bad name.

ITEM: A local service organization that does excellent work for elders in many areas of need and interest is using the May designation of Older Americans Month as a fundraiser urging people to donate in the name of an old person who will then receive a “handmade card” recognizing the gift made in their honor.

Just what every elder needs; Crabby is sure they are thrilled.

ITEM: The U.S. government's Administration on Aging (AOA) website explains that Older Americans Month is meant to “honor and recognize older Americans for the contributions they make to our families, communities and society.”

But that's not what the AOA does. Instead, each year, the organization issues a theme for Older Americans Month:

”This year's theme 'Never Too Old to Play' encourages older Americans to stay engaged, active and involved in their own lives and in their communities.”

The AOA's big suggestion for communities to encourage older Americans' engagement is to host a “Day of Play” during May with such activities as a “team trivia night, inter-generational Wii bowling tournament or...a photo scavenger hunt.”

Oh yeah, Crabby is certain that a round of miniature golf will honor elders as never before.

To be fair, an activity guide brochure [pdf] has some other, more palatable, “play” suggestions but to Crabby, it still looks like the same two, disturbingly wrong depictions of elders repeated in every discussion about us:

  • Photos of grinning old people who don't look all that old

  • Concentration on activities that are usually more suitable for second-grade recess period

Crabby Old Lady is not saying crossword puzzles, quilting and Pokeno are not perfectly fine pastimes in their place. But she finds it demeaning that what are, undoubtedly, well-meaning efforts to include elders are always about light entertainment and provide nothing that can be defined as the AOA's own call for elders to be “engaged, active and involved in their own lives and in their communities.”

And just to be clear, Crabby's complaint about all this has nothing to do with the thousands of local social workers nationwide who do amazing work helping elders against sometimes astronomical odds no small part of which is constant cutbacks in federal and local funding.

What Crabby Old Lady objects to is this belittling of old people with empty "honoring." Crabby does not want to be honored, especially with such a pandering title as “honored citizen” that nobody believes in anyway.

Nor does she want a card - hand-made or store-bought – in “honor” of someone else's donation.

She does not want an afternoon of games one day a year and to be ignored for the other 11 months.

Crabby wants inclusion for elders in daily life every day of the year.

There is so much that needs doing for elders that would help them take part in the life of their communities - that would help everyone else too. Such as:

  • Improve public transportation

  • Enforce age discrimination in the workplace laws

  • Encourage better geriatric education for physicians

  • Invite elders onto the citizen advisory boards of cities and towns

  • Create opportunities to serve that make use of elders' decades of experience and knowledge

  • Teach elders how to effectively lobby government officials

Most of all, stop Congress from scaring the crap out of elders with constant threats to cut or kill Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Working on these issues would be real honoring of elders.

February is Black History Month and every year, there are hundreds of activities that involve poetry, music, science, politics, military, entertainment, lectures, book signings, famous firsts, civil rights movements, biographies, exhibits and that doesn't begin to cover it all.

Lots of this information is on the television broadcasts we regularly watch and on the websites we visit every day and in special sections of book stores, for example. Black History Month is hard to miss and each year, Crabby learns more and more about the African American experience.

What Crabby Old Lady would be thrilled to see something similar for Older Americans Month. Now, THAT would be honor. After all, elders come in all colors and there is a lot more to know about us than games, greeting cards and demeaning euphemisms.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia Hirtz: Abraham

Peter Tibbles and the AM in Oregon

category_bug_journal2.gif You probably noticed that I wasn't here last week – instead, playing host to Peter Tibbles who had arrived all the way from Melbourne with the Assistant Musicologist (AM).

Surely you know the two of them: Peter who holds forth on Sundays at this blog with so much knowledge and wit about all things “Elder Music” with lots of input from the AM.

After spending a week or more in California during what Peter described in email to me as “paradisical weather,” he and the AM did not see the sun for the five days they were here – just buckets of rain. Well – hey, it's Oregon.

Even so, it was the most and heaviest rainfall with no breaks worth speaking of crammed into five consecutive days that I've seen here since sometime last year. But we didn't let that stop us.

One day, after lunch at Jake's Crawfish restaurant, we spent an afternoon at (where else in Portland, Oregon, with three heavy readers needing to get out of the rain) the world-famous Powell's Books – an entire city block and an annex of new, used and rare books.

Peter found me a copy of a book about a Melbourne detective. For Americans, it has a handy glossary in the back so I'm able to translate such Aussie words and phrases as chook, dob, panelbeater, spaggy bol and Macca's - the last being a popular name for McDonald's.

Most of our visit revolved around food and wine – at home and out-and-about in northwest Oregon. We did the “waterfall tour” along the Columbia River Gorge stopping at most of them. This is Peter in the woods at Waukeena Falls.

Peter Waukeena Falls

And more of Peter in the woods while in the distance, you can catch a glimpse of the AM.

Peter and the AM Waukeena Falls

All along the “old highway” in the Gorge are beautiful small bridges built by the WPA during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Peter liked them as much as I do.

Peter on Bridge

The major destination of such a trip as we took is Multnomah Falls. It was a regular Sunday drive for my family when I was a kid and the AM took a lot of photos while we were there.

AM at Multnomah Falls

We stopped in at the lodge there for lunch – excellent rainbow trout and some nice Oregon wine.

Multnomah Falls Lodge

We were lucky that for the most part, the rain stopped for awhile at each of the falls we visited and on occasion the sun peeked out for a few minutes.

No driving trip up the Columbia River Gorge can be said to be complete without a stop for the spectacular view at Vista House. When we were there, the storm clouds in the distance were dark and threatening and beautiful.

Vista House Storm

Another day, we drove the opposite direction to the coast – specifically, Astoria at the very northwest tip of the state where the Columbia River rolls into the Pacific Ocean.

Up on a hill, there is a column dedicated to John Jacob Astor, merchant and business man who, among other things, helped open the west in the early 19th century. It was way too rainy at that moment to spend much time.

Astor Column

And definitely at our ages, we did not climb the interior circular staircase to the top but a few, much younger people did.

Instead, we had an excellent brunch at the Columbian Cafe, an Astoria destination for the past 30 years where chef and New Orleans native, Uriah Hulsey, holds forth.

Here is Peter at the door of the Cafe just after my brother, sister-in-law and the AM had entered the establishment.

Peter at Columbian Cafe

When we were not eating out, we were eating at home and here's a photo of Peter and the AM after dinner one evening.

Peter and the AM after Dinner

It seemed no time at all before Peter and the AM were off to Idaho to see family there. The AM then heads to the east coast of the U.S. while Peter stops back in Portland for a few more days with me before heading back to San Francisco and, in time, home to Melbourne.

I was teary when I dropped the two of them off for the next leg of their trip and I look forward to Peter's return this week to soak up some more time with him.

But I will never forgive scientists. After all these years, I think they have had enough time to create a real-life Star Trek transporter so I could say, “Beam me to Melbourne, Scotty” any time I want to visit Peter and the AM.

(Peter, who knows far more about scientific things than I do, says science has a lot further to go than I imagine to create a transporter.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenda B. Berretta: Mr. and Mrs. Dove

ELDER MUSIC: The 27 Club

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

Okay, this one’s pretty tasteless.

It’s a cliché that rock & rollers live fast and die young, usually at age 27. It may be a cliché but there’s some truth to it which is probably why it became a cliché in the first place.

So, today is about dead ‘uns, if I may be flippant (of course I may; it’s my natural state) who carked it at age 27.

It wasn’t just rock & rollers either. Generally considered the founder member of the 27 Club is ROBERT JOHNSON.

Robert Johnson

You could say that there’s not much known about Robert’s life. You could also say that a lot is known. The first is true, for the second there are a lot of myths, rumors, tall tales and true about him, almost certainly inventions.

He may be the most influential blues musician of all time in spite of having recorded only 29 songs (plus several different takes of some of those). He would have been 100 years old in 2011 if he hadn’t been poisoned (most likely), shot (possibly), stabbed (maybe) or met his death in some other fashion or all of the above.

You know Robert was a real bluesman because he “woke up this morning” or he did the day he recorded this song, Walking Blues.

♫ Robert Johnson - Walking Blues

I can go back even further than Robert and consider LOUIS CHAUVIN.

Louis Chauvin

Louis was a ragtime pianist and composer and was considered the best pianist in St Louis around the turn of the century (that’s the 19th into the 20th).It’s a bit hard to judge his abilities as he left only three published compositions.

His death certificate seems to suggest that he died of multiple sclerosis, probably syphilitic and starvation due to coma. Well, that’s different from the causes of death of the other folks here today.

His most famous composition is Heliotrope Bouquet published in 1907, for which he shares credit with Scott Joplin. This isn’t Louis playing the piano; I’m sorry, I don’t know who it is.

♫ Louis Chauvin - Heliotrope Bouquet

Okay, now to the ones you expected to appear. The first of these is BRIAN JONES.

Brian Jones

Brian was the one who formed the Rolling Stones and was the band’s leading light and driving force until the Glimmer Twins started writing songs together and pretty much eased him out of his dominant position in the group.

He was a multi-instumentalist, playing not only guitar but also saxophone, trumpet, harpischord, oboe, autoharp, accordian, sitar, organ and several other instruments on various records.

He lived the life of a rock star to the full and unfortunately, that meant an inordinate intake of booze and drugs. He was found drowned in his swimming pool a month after the others sacked him from the group.

Here are the Stones with Brian playing sitar, guitar and various other things. Paint it Black.

♫ Rolling Stones - Paint It Black

Here’s the one we were all really expecting, JIMI HENDRIX.

Jimi Hendrix

James Marshall Hendrix or Johnny Allen Hendrix, take your pick, was born in Seattle and is generally considered the finest player of the electric guitar who ever plugged in. He certainly came up with things that no one else had thought of before on his instrument.

Early on Jimi played in Little Richard’s band but Richard fired him for being too flamboyant. Too flamboyant for Little Richard? Lordy.

He was modest about his enormous talent, claiming he was just carrying on from T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy, B.B. King and others. Well, in the case of Buddy and B.B., they’re still out there doing it themselves.

He said he didn’t like his singing voice and tried to get out of singing whenever he could. Well, when you can play guitar like that, why not?

Jimi died of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. They were his girl friend’s and these were German and considerably more powerful than those he was used to.

This is May This Be Love.

♫ Jimi Hendrix - May This Be Love

JANIS JOPLIN was from Port Arthur, Texas, and wasn’t popular at school, to put it mildly. She pretty much said, “I’ll show you, lot” and she did.

Janis Joplin

She arrived in San Francisco in the mid-sixties with a love of the blues and teamed up with the rock group Big Brother and the Holding Company. They recorded an album for an obscure record label that sank pretty much without a trace.

After their searing performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and, more likely, their appearance in the excellent film of that event, they were signed to a major record label and recorded the iconic album “Cheap Thrills.”

Not too long after that, Janis went out on her own as a solo performer at the urging of her manager. She recorded two albums, the second of which was unfinished when she died.

Janis was known for a fondness for alcohol and more than just dabbled in drugs. She was found dead of a heroin overdose in a hotel room where she was staying during the recording of “Pearl.”

This isn’t from “Pearl,” but from her previous album. It’s Little Girl Blue.

♫ Janis Joplin - Little Girl Blue

JIM MORRISON was born in Melbourne. Yes, really. That’s Melbourne, Florida - not where I live. The Floridian version was named after the one in Australia by its first postmaster, Cornthwaite Hector, who spent much of his life in the one here in Oz.

Jim Morrison

Legend has it, and possibly truth as well, that Jim met Ray Manzarek on the beach in Venice (the Californian one, not the Italian one) and Ray was impressed by Jim’s poetry and Jim was impressed with Ray’s musicianship. ”Let’s form a band,” they said or something like that.

They grabbed a drummer and a guitarist and The Doors were born. The Doors were like a supernova - they blazed brighter than anyone else for a short while and then exploded leaving behind artifacts for us all to mull over.

The official cause of Jim’s death was heart failure but no autopsy was performed. He was known to enjoy a drink or two and he dabbled, if that’s the right word, in drugs of all kinds. Here’s Jim with The Doors, People Are Strange.

♫ The Doors - People Are Strange

RON ”PIGPEN” McKERNAN was from San Bruno, California, and grew up with a love of the blues. He taught himself piano and harmonica at a young age.


Pigpen met Jerry Garcia around the various coffee houses and other places where music was played and they formed a group called The Zodiacs.

This evolved into Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions and this in turn, after adding Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann, became The Warlocks. Then Phil Lesh joined them and the Grateful Dead was born.

Pig was the keboard player and occasional singer for the group and a pretty nifty blues singer he was. I managed to see them a few times when he was still with them.

He died as a result of a gastrointestinal haemorrhage, brought about by his alcoholism. Here are the Dead with Pig singing and playing harmonica on Easy Wind.

♫ Grateful Dead - Easy Wind

LINDA JONES was from New Jersey and she started her singing career in the family gospel group called the Jones Singers.

Linda Jones

After going out on her own, she had a few unsuccessful singles under various names. She signed to Warner Brothers and started using her real name. This led to some success and her career was in the ascendancy.

After returning home following a successful gig at the Apollo, she fell into a diabetic coma from which she didn’t recover. This is Linda with Doggin' Me Around.

♫ Linda Jones - Doggin' Me Around

AL WILSON died around the time Jimi Hendrix kicked the bucket so there wasn’t much said about it then, or since for that matter.

Al Wilson

Blind Owl, as he was called by the rest of the band, was the lead guitarist, occasional singer and main songwriter for Canned Heat. He was the elfin looking one with the thick Buddy Holly style glasses, thus the nickname.

He was the singer on most of their hits, Goin’ up the Country and On the Road Again especially. Al was also a noted conservationist.

He died of a drug overdose that might have been suicide. As the two songs mentioned are quite well known, I’ll play another where he sings and plays lead guitar, Time Was.

♫ Canned Heat - Time Was

JESSE BELVIN was from San Antonio but his family moved to Los Angeles when he was five.

Jesse Belvin

His musical career began when he joined Big Jay McNeely’s group as a backing singer in 1950. A couple of years later, he went out on his own and recorded several songs that weren’t very successful.

He was drafted and upon his return, he signed up to several different record labels using different names. I don’t know what would have happened if he’d been booked on a bill with himself, although I guess he could go backstage and change his suit or some such.

Anyway, he recorded smooth soulful songs in the manner of Nat King Cole and Billy Eckstine. He was a model for Sam Cooke and other such singers.

Jesse died with his wife in a car accident in 1960, just after performing in a concert he had organised in Little Rock. This was the first integrated concert in that city and there had been several death threats on him because of that. There was speculation that his car was tampered with. Nobody checked.

Instead of one of his more famous proto-soul songs, this is the old Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song Blues in the Night.

♫ Jesse Belvin - Blues In The Night

A little more recent was Kurt Cobain. I thought of playing Smells Like Teen Spirit but decided it was a bit much for a quiet Sunday morning.

Also, in somewhat unusual circumstances, was Michael Hutchence of INXS.

Coming right up to date, several rappers also met their demise at 27, all of them shot...

...and quite recently and not too unexpectedly, Amy Winehouse.

I wanted to include Otis Redding and Gram Parsons, but they didn’t even make 27, both dying a year too early.


EDITORIAL NOTE: It has been a busy past week with Elder Music contributor Peter Tibbles and the assistant musicologist visiting here (more about that on Monday). As a result, I haven't paid much attention to news, blogs, books, magainzes, the internet, etc. so today's Interesting Stuff is necessarily shorter than usual.

Reader Nancy Howart alerted me to the recently opened photo archive from the Department of Records of New York City. It is fabulous – 870,000 photos going back to the mid-1880s. Just three examples.

Delancy Street, Lower East Side, on 29 July 1908:


Painters hanging from suspended wires on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1914:


The street corner of 40th and Sixth Avenue on 18 May 1940. The newspaper headline in the man's hands reads, “Nazi Army Now 75 Miles from Paris.”


None of the nearly one million images has been seen before. When the archive opened online two or three weeks ago, traffic was so high it was nearly impossible to get into. That has slacked off a bit now and you can try it here.

Some of us have been looking forward to this movie at least since it was first mentioned in Interesting Stuff last November and what a wonderful cast of elders: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Patrick Pearson and Hugh Dickson.

The film opened throughout the U.S. this weekend. Here is one review. Check your local movie listings.

A week ago, the Tampa City Council pleaded with Governor Rick Scott to ban concealed handguns from the area outside what will be the Republican Party convention headquarters. Now, the governor has officially refused:

"'It is unclear how disarming law-abiding citizens would better protect them from the dangers and threats posed by those who would flout the law,' Scott said in a letter to [Tampa Mayor Bob] Buckhorn Tuesday, emphasizing the words 'law-abiding.'

“'It is at just such times that the constitutional right of self defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach.'"

However, the City Council did not need Governor Scott's approval to ban from the convention area sling shots, switchblades, containers of bodily fluids, pieces of string longer than six inches and the ever-dangerous squirt guns.

I didn't at first realize that Jenny Perry who emailed this video item is probably related to the performer, Deb Perry. What Deb does is play the tune, Lonely Boy - by Australian rock group, The Black Keys – on spoons out in a vast, rural field.

Beyond that, I have no idea how to characterize the video but you can't say it is not interesting. See what you think and there is more about Deb Perry here.

TGB Reader Tissi Smith who sent this video is offended. So am I. Before we go any further, take a look:

As you can see, it turns out this is a prank and like the old Alan Funt TV show, Candid Camera, it is supposed to be funny. There are dozens of these “pranks” with the same actor at a website called Epic Old Man.

That's it. Beyond what I have written, I am speechless.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend had a hard time finding a public telephone when he needed one. It has gotten so that we are all expected to own mobile phones and have them with us at all times.

Now, BT – British Telecom – is ridding itself of some of its iconic red phone booths.

BT Red Phone Booth

“The company is selling 60 traditional 'K6' boxes, which have been fully refurbished and resprayed in the original red and black livery, for £1,950 plus VAT and delivery.”

That's $3,148.12 U.S. dollars. You can read more here.

Personally, I think these divers are nuts. Even two of them would barely be an appetizer for a sperm whale. Even so, it's amazing and beautiful.

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

Small Miracles (from 2010)

EDITORIAL NOTE: Time Goes By Sunday Elder Music columnist, Peter Tibbles and his Assistant Musicologist are visiting from Melbourne for a few days.

While they are here, in place of new posts are some vintage TGB stories that I kind of like and hope you will enjoy them in rerun. I won't disappear entirely. I'll be checking in now and then to see how it's going and perhaps join in the comments.

And, IMPORTANT, all Elder Storytelling Place stories linked at the bottom of these repeats are NEW.

ANOTHER EDITORIAL NOTE: For two years, a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Saul Friedman, wrote two regular columns for this blog, Reflections and Gray Matters. He was my friend, my teacher, a man I admired and respected beyond words.

He died at age 81 on 24 December 2010. It was a privilege to know this fine man and I miss him every day still. For readers who may have found TGB after Saul's death, you can learn more about him here and here.

Even better, however, is to let him speak for himself. Today's repeat column is Saul's last published just six days before he died when, I realize in retrospect, he undoubtedly knew how short his time was. It is titled Small Miracles

In this, the season of miracles, let me confess I have never believed in the big ones: the virgin birth, death and resurrection of the carpenter from Galilee or the lamp with oil for one day that somehow burned for eight days. I might as well have believed in Santa Claus.

But this did not mean I had no faith in the mysterious or the unexplainable. That would have meant having no room in one’s intellect for, say, beauty, love or music so lovely, like a Chopin etude, that it makes one cry. Here’s Artur Rubenstein playing one Chopin’s miracles.

In short, if you’ll indulge me for leaving, for a moment, my usual senior subjects, I truly believe in the smaller, more life-touching miracles. I am walking proof of such miracles.

A few years ago, when I was recovering from a stroke that partially paralyzed my right side, I worried that it might have affected my ability to hear and be moved by good music. Someone brought me a Sony Walkman (remember those?) and I cried with joy in my wheelchair when I discovered I could hear and even sing melodies.

My sound of music was not impaired. And I wheeled myself crazily down the hospital halls, singing (badly) a favorite opera aria.

Later, as I worked with a physical therapist, I watched in wonder as she coaxed from my stiff right hand some movement in my little finger. It was a small miracle, happening somewhere inside my brain, that marked my journey of recovery. And I did recover.

One dictionary says a miracle is an amazing, wonder-filled occurrence that cannot be explained by the laws of nature. Maybe, but I do not believe that the same unmoved mover that paralyzed my hand also moved my little finger. My faith in that patient and caring therapist brought us that miracle.

The esophageal cancer, discovered by accident because of the stroke, was the next big crisis - from years of smoking, competitive journalism, maddening editors and chewing Tums.

And the miracle worker was a young Chinese surgeon who specialized in dealing with older patients because, in his culture, old age is to be venerated as a kind of miracle. He once operated on and cured a 90-year-old woman of lung cancer because, he told me, reaching that age with lung cancer was, by itself, miraculous.

Most people don’t survive cancer of the esophagus because it’s discovered too late. The anti-acid remedies sold to millions of unsuspecting indigestion and acid reflux sufferers, relieve the discomfort but mask the dangers of cancer.

I was a victim and survivor of such dangers. I know of too many who have not been as lucky as I was - like the wonderful essayist and professional atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who says he’s dying.

So are we all. Both of us owe our cancers and/or the cures not to divine intervention, but to the miracles of illness and health. They are life affirming.

Life, illness, happiness, good fortune and bad, even good and bad presidents (I have covered) are all part of what the 11th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam had in mind when he wrote, “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” And,

That inverted bowl they call the sky,
Where under crawling, cooped we live and die.
Lift not your hands to it for help,
For it impotently moves as you or I.”

Too much of modern popular music and words that we don’t understand; the noise and screaming get in the way. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee were my kind of singers.

But not long ago, I listened carefully, above the hype, to a modern, miraculous piece by the late John Lennon, which voiced as well as Omar what life is and ought to be about. Pay attention to the miracle of these simple words:

The esophageal cancer was cured and I celebrated those five cancer-free years. But alas, earlier this year – again by accident – a new cancer was discovered in the lining of my stomach.

It has a fancy name – linitus plastica – and it’s unique in that there is no mass, only a few cells that don’t show up on a CT scan. And it is very slow-growing, if it grows at all, and it is without pain or symptoms.

So I live with it, as I’ve mentioned, under the care of the Hospice of the Chesapeake. And when an interviewer for a local paper asked how I live with such uncertainty, I told him, that there is no life without uncertainty.

But as Camus told us, we live and struggle and work and play and love, even in the face the inevitability of our own end. I am still lucky. I have my work, which seems to touch and help some people.

Each morning and afternoon, when the weather is moderate, I sit on my deck on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where I sailed for many years and still have a (power) boat. And smoke one of my indulgences, a fine and expensive cigar.

The bay is ever changing and the prevailing winds from the south can be fierce, but she’s even more beautiful in a dark and clattering summer storm which I can watch as it passes over my house and heads east.

My daughters visit me often, although one is in California, and when the grandchildren are over to help me pick crabs, they understand about living with uncertainty without letting on. So we treasure those times, and we shrug off the future. And they believe me when tell them how lucky we are.

Now that the cold has closed in, my wife drives me to the nearby cigar lounge where Mike, the proprietor, picks me out a couple of good ones from his humidor. I can watch a game on the giant HDTV or simply chat with other patrons, who defer to me because of my age and experiences as a reporter.

Most of them have been in the military or they’re spooks, more conservative than I am.

One guy came in to smoke and clean his target weapons, a pistol and an elaborate 30.08 rifle with a scope. He is building a special hideaway in the woods outside Washington for the day “they” come to take away his freedoms. He was described by Mike as a RWNJ, a “right-wing nut job.”

Another smoker, between covert assignments for the Drug Enforcement Agency, is trying to develop a retirement community in Nicaragua.

The VA psychiatrist, watching a guest cigar roller at work, tells us about treating too many returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan for the shocks inevitable in war.

Mike’s wife, Connie, a nurse at Walter Reed recalls the hollow sadness in the eyes of loved ones when they come to visit their legless or armless kinfolk. Most of these testosterone-heavy cigar enthusiasts, isolationists in the best sense, don’t see why the hell we’re still in Afghanistan.

The point of all this, in a season made for reflection, is to tell the story of how it feels to become and stay old for one very lucky older American for most of us, despite and because of illness, embrace life more fully than ever.

I still order fresh cigars, as if trying to guarantee me the time to smoke them. If things go well, my wife and I will go on a cruise to the Mediterranean next month so Evelyn can see the Nile and the pyramids that I saw as a reporter. Too bad we can't visit Omar's country.

Before I leave, I came across another of these small miracles of beauty, combining great art with fine music, to rediscover words I have not understood – until now.

(View more presentations or Upload your own.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Michael Gorodezky: Pinball Wizard

Some Oddities of Being Old (from 2007)

EDITORIAL NOTE: Time Goes By Sunday Elder Music columnist, Peter Tibbles and his Assistant Musicologist are visiting from Melbourne for a few days.

While they are here, in place of new posts are some vintage TGB stories that I kind of like and hope you will enjoy them in rerun. I won't disappear entirely. I'll be checking in now and then to see how it's going and perhaps join in the comments.

And, IMPORTANT, all Elder Storytelling Place stories linked at the bottom of these repeats are NEW.

category_bug_journal2.gif It is the oddest thing, sometimes, being old.

I have often taken issue with such statements as, “I’m 65, but I don’t feel that old.” Huh? Since no one has been 65 before they get there, whatever they feel must be how it feels. What people really mean is, “This isn’t nearly as terrible as I believed 65 would be.”

But the feeling is more complex than that. It draws on unconscious ageism, misunderstandings of what old age is like, denial of one’s age, knowing but not “grokking” that you are nearing the end of life, and most of all that whatever number of years you have reached, you are still and can feel, when you close your eyes, all the ages that have come before.

Any number of occurrences can slam you back to age 10 or 25 or 50: an aroma, for example, a taste, a piece of music you haven’t heard in decades. When it happens, for a moment or a few minutes, it is more than a memory; you are there again.

It happened to me last fall at my first T’ai Chi class. The large, empty room, a full wall of mirrors, the polished wood floor and suddenly I was in ballet class again on the day I first accomplished a relatively competent series of pirouettes en pointe.

In that T’ai Chi room, I felt my calf muscle stretch up and down and the snap of my head during each turn, the thrill at controlling my balance through eight, ten, twelve turns along with the Wow! – how good I look doing it in the mirror. It was an important day 50-odd years ago, and I lived it again as both new and a memory in that T’ai Chi room. For those moments, I was 13 years old.

Even if you haven’t worked at it much, by 50 or 60 and more, you’ve gained a lot of knowledge. One of the most important things you’ve learned is how little you know and that continues to be more true as the years pass.

I always told myself that I’d wait until my old age to re-read all of Shakespeare. I’d save studying the philosophers for then too along with digging deeper into the history of the Middle Ages, and spending the time necessary to really understand Wagner’s music.

Yeah, right. In additional to all that, there’s always something new to learn and on the day I die, the list of what I wish I understood will be longer than it is now (and undoubtedly still include those items in the immediately preceding paragraph).

On the other hand, so much of life is easier in later years because of the knowledge, experience and judgment gained, sometimes without noticing it’s there until you need it. Practical stuff like what’s essential to ask when buying a house and how to give dinners and parties without panic. And when it’s a better idea to pay someone to do it than making yourself nuts doing it yourself.

By late life, you have answered a few of the big questions too: you know you can’t solve friends’ problems, but that listening, really listening, is almost as good. And you’ve learned how to mourn. It doesn’t take the pain of loss away, but you know how to feel your way through the darkness and that there will, eventually, again be light.

These are good things, but that other list of what I would like to know keeps growing even though I haven’t a chance of fulfilling it.

Then there is a paradox I have mentioned here before, one that becomes increasingly puzzling the more I ponder it.

In my youth and mid-years, I was always in a hurry. Rush, rush, rush so I could get on to the next thing to rush through – and woe unto anyone who slowed my progress. I still get irritated when my time is wasted unnecessarily (the only thing of value we own is our time), but the oddest thing has happened in recent years: it makes no sense to me that as my time on earth gets shorter, I am more willing to postpone almost anything (sometimes never to return) when another catches my fancy.

There’s no telling how many unfinished books there are around the house. And some of them even interest me.

Other elders I’ve spoken with have noticed the same phenomenon and are equally puzzled. Why, when there are so many things we still want to do and know, do we lollygag along telling ourselves we’ll do it tomorrow?

It makes no sense.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today – Jackie Harrison: Dandelions and Sunflowers

Advertising the Agony of Old Age (from 2008)

EDITORIAL NOTE: Time Goes By Sunday Elder Music columnist, Peter Tibbles and his Assistant Musicologist are visiting from Melbourne for a few days.

While they are here, in place of new posts are some vintage TGB stories that I kind of like and hope you will enjoy them in rerun. I won't disappear entirely. I'll be checking in now and then to see how it's going and perhaps join in the comments.

And, IMPORTANT, all Elder Storytelling Place stories linked at the bottom of these repeats are NEW.

This story has been rolling around in Crabby Old Lady’s head for several months. She kept meaning to record some hours of prime time television over a few days and then zap through the shows to the commercials with pen and paper in hand to have some hard numbers for you. But it would undoubtedly raise her blood pressure and she never got around to it. So you’ll have to trust her general impression:

According to television commercials, old age is so dangerous or painful or simply annoying, it may not be worth hanging around for. Some say old people are more visible on television these days, but not in any manner Crabby wants to be portrayed.

Mostly, elders appear in commercials for remedies to treat diseases and ailments that range from minor through deadly serious to disgusting. Even that icky, mucus, cartoon character is old and these ads outnumber all other types.

Take a look at this list, typed out off the top of Crabby Old Lady’s head. There are so many commercials and public service announcements broadcast so frequently that any young person watching can only assume old age is agony:

Back pain
Aching joints
Loose dentures
Gum disease
Bad breath
Heart disease
Hair loss
High blood pressure
Acid Reflux
Restless Leg Syndrome
Erectile Dysfunction

Just to check that her memory isn’t failing, Crabby pulled out a recent issue of AARP magazine to see what they advertise to their readers. Most of the items on the list are represented and the rest of the ads are for insurance.

Crabby wouldn’t be so ticked off if she had ever seen an old person in a car commercial. Not even detergent ads feature elders, as though we don’t wash clothes or dishes in our dotage. And no one old appears in glossy ads for clothing, expensive watches or fancy electronics – none of the glamour stuff.

It’s enough to make a Crabby Old Lady sicker than advertisers believe she already is.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Terry Hamburg: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Proven: Older IS Wiser – and Smarter (from 2006)

EDITORIAL NOTE: Time Goes By Sunday Elder Music columnist, Peter Tibbles and his Assistant Musicologist are visiting from Melbourne for a few days.

While they are here, in place of new posts are some vintage TGB stories that I kind of like and hope you will enjoy them in rerun. I won't disappear entirely. I'll be checking in now and then to see how it's going and perhaps join in the comments.

And, IMPORTANT, all Elder Storytelling Place stories linked at the bottom of these repeats are NEW.

(The Newsweek link below no longer works. Apparently the story as been removed.)


“In midlife,” says UCLA neurologist George Bartzokis, “you’re beginning to maximize the ability to use the entirety of the information in your brain on an every-day, ongoing, second-to-second basis. Biologically, that’s what wisdom is.” [T]

Both the major newsweeklies published science stories last week on age and human brain, and they are crammed with the latest facts and research on how older brains work. Bottom line? Old brains work better than young brains which would shock old Sigmund who said, “About the age of 50, the elasticity of the mental processes on which treatment depends is, as a rule, lacking. Old people are no longer educable.” Not so, Mr. Freud.

Although the Newsweek story relies more on anecdotal information, both its writer and the Time story do good jobs in synthesizing and explaining the research. There is little I can add, so I’m going to quote a lot of it because I want it here on TGB for our future reference to refute general ageist attitudes and age discriminatory employers who think we are past our prime. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Both stories are linked in the preceding paragraph, although they go behind a paid firewall at some point. I’ll use a bracketed [T] for Time and [N] for Newsweek so you know where the information originated and save me those tedious, interruptive citations.]

Let’s start with the physical stuff – the brain itself:

“The most important difference between older brains and younger brains is also the easiest to overlook: older brains have learned more than younger ones. Throughout life, our brains encode thoughts and memories by forming new connections among neurons. The neurons themselves may lose some processing speed with age, but they become ever more richly intertwined.” [N]

“Far from slowly powering down, the brain as it ages begins bringing new cognitive systems on line and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before….you manage information and parse meanings that were entirely beyond you when you were younger.” [T]

“It’s not just the wiring that charges up the brain as we age, it’s the way different regions start pulling together to make the whole organ work better than the sum of its parts…As we age, however, the walls between the [left and right] hemispheres seem to fall, with the two halves working increasingly in tandem. Neuroscientist Roberto Cabeza (great name for a man in his line of work - RB) of Duke University dubs that the HAROLD (hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults) model, and judging by his work, the phenomenon is a powerful one.” [T]

Now let’s move on to how these physical changes affect our minds and behavior. A researcher in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been regularly testing 123 women beginning when they were 21 in 1958:

”On the whole, they found, the women’s highest scores in inductive reasoning occurred from their 40s to their early 60s. Similarly, their…(ability to highlight the better aspects one’s personality and restrain the less attractive ones) and…[the ability to evaluate various contradictory ideas and remain objective) did not peak until their 50s or 60s. There was also an increased tolerance for ambiguity and improved ability to manage relationships.” [T]

“As our aging brains grow wiser and more flexible, they also tend toward greater equanimity…An editor I know at a New York publishing company…in his 60s, and contemplating retirement, when he realized that he had finally matured into his job. Despite a sharp intellect and a passion for excellence, this man had spent much of his career alienating people with brusque, critical comments and a lack of sensitivity. Now, he told me over lunch, he was finally beginning to master interpersonal communication…he morphed from a brilliant but brittle loner into a mentor and a mediator of conflicts.” [N]

Take that, you ageist employers who fire and refuse to hire anyone older that 50.

"It's that talent for reflective thinking that explains the role older adults have always played in the human culture. It's not for nothing that history's firebrands and ideologues are typically young, while it's judges and peacemakers and great theologians tend to be older." [T]

The Newsweek story focuses on refuting the myth of the midlife crisis and the writer, Gene Cohen, who is a physician and researcher, says that what some perceive as a crisis is, in reality, “the start of a thrilling new phase of my life.”

“…I realized that our view of human development in the second half of life was badly outmoded. We tend to think of aging in purely negative terms, and even experts define ‘successful’ aging as the effective management of decay and decline. Rubbish.” [N]

Just what I’ve been saying here for two years, and because that’s what impresses people, I like having my observations supported by folks with letters behind their names. All this throws a big, fat monkey-wrench into every age-discriminatory practice in the land.

But none of this means elders can sit back and rest on our brainy behinds. As with our bodies, it’s a “use it or lose it” proposition and Dr. Cohen repeats what we all know, but don’t always practice:

  • Exercise physically

  • Exercise mentally

  • Pick challenging leisure activities

  • Establish strong social networks

That all this research has made it out of lab and into mainstream media means attitudes will begin to change, but it must be regularly repeated over time to make a dent in the ageism and age discrimination that is so powerfully entrenched in American culture.

Nevetheless, this is a start, and young people who dread getting older can now rejoice in knowing that science has finally proved what elders have always known about ourselves: like fine, old wine - we get better with time. Just nobody else, even the great thinkers like Freud, ever believed it before.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon Ostrow: The Literary Genius