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Elders and Youth: More Alike Than You Think

Let me explain that I had some other things to do on Wednesday and needed to knock off a quick and dirty blog post – something that takes no time and doesn't stretch brain cells.

In this circumstance, I've discovered I can always rely on Buzzfeed – that internet purveyor of listicles on every possible, stupid, pop culture meme that amuse young folks and leave old folks scratching their heads.

Continuing in this direction requires that I admit to actually reading those listicles on every possible, stupid, pop culture meme that show up in the daily Buzzfeed email I subscribed to a while back without any coercion whatsoever. Eeek. Now you know.

Over the decade I've been doing this blog, I've read dozens of posts by 20-somethings freaking out at the imminent arrival of their 30th birthday. “I'll be old,” they cry, which tells you something about how our culture brainwashes young people about aging but also, from where I sit at age 72, seems silly to be bothered with.

Yesterday, Buzzfeed ran with the 30th birthday panic idea in a listicle titled, 30 Signs You're Almost 30. A few examples:

• You get carded, and your first instinct is, “AWESOME.”

• Instead of drunken party photos, your Facebook friends are all about the baby pics.

• You have been to a party where at least two of your friends brought their babies.

• You realize your parents were your age (or younger!) when they had you, and you start cutting them some major slack.

Which all seem to be normal rites of passage at about age 30. What surprised me, however, is how almost all the rest work as much for 69- and 79-year-olds as for 29-year-olds. Here are some of them:

• You get super excited when you go to a concert and there are SEATS.

• You’ve gone to a bar and left because it was too loud.

• Everything cool is being marketed to people younger than you now.

• You’ve definitely lost the enzyme that lets you digest Taco Bell.

• There’s an increasing number of musical artists you haven’t even heard of.

• Running hurts your knees. The elliptical hurts your knees. Everything hurts.

• Teen slang makes you viscerally angry.

• You voluntarily buy the “fiber” cereal.

• You start buying shoes based on “comfort.”

• An 11-year-old has to show you how to do something on your smartphone.

See what I mean? Young adults and elders have a whole lot in common we didn't even realize. Buzzfeed has the entire listicle with the photos and moving gifs.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Riverwatch: Summer Afternoon in Ohio



Sex in Old Age Makes You Look Younger (?)

There was something entirely different on my agenda for today's post but then that headline (minus the question mark) popped into the ol' inbox first thing yesterday and I couldn't resist tracking down who was claiming such a ridiculous thing. Following the link, I read,

”An active sex life during old age could be the key to maintaining and preserving a youthful look.

“The finding, carried out by the British psychologist "Dr David Weeks", was presented to the British Psychological Society.”

That report is from a medical news website but, in complete irresponsibility, without an iota of research referenced.

Some poking around the web resulted in a short notice (with no additional information) about a paper Dr. Weeks (who is the former head of old age psychology at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland) presented a few days ago at the annual conference of the Faculty of the Psychology of Older People in Colchester, England. Again, no research is mentioned.

It took a Daily Mail story about Weeks's paper to get specific about exactly how much younger Weeks says you will look if you're – um, doing it regularly.

”Dr David Weeks’s research shows that older men and women with an active love life look between five and seven years younger than their actual age.”

Research? What research? The closest thing I can find is a book Weeks co-authored, Secrets of the Superyoung, published way back in 1998 which contained interviews with a bunch of celebrities like Angela Lansbury, Ben Bradlee and Jack LaLanne. As Publishers Weekly noted at the time,

”The second half [of the book] provides advice on how readers might join the ranks of the superyoung. But little fresh material is presented there: exercise your body and mind, the authors advise; eat well, reduce stress, enjoy sex, be happy. Despite a valiant attempt at scientific evaluation, there is no fountain of wisdom about youthfulness to be found here.”

The Telegraph, at least, made the doctor sound slightly more serious although, again, no research was noted:

”[Weeks] said sex has a number of health benefits which can make men and women look between five and seven years younger which includes; it causes the release of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemical which acts as a natural painkiller and reduces anxiety aiding sleep; exercise boosts circulation which is good for the heart; and it also causes the human growth hormone to be released which makes the skin look more elastic.”

The whole thing – all the similar-sounding, so-called “news” reports (there are plenty more I have spared you) – smells of titilation and wishful thinking based on nothing but an elusive paper at an obscure conference that may or may not be based on research that is 12 or 14 years old.

But if you subtract the silly notion that sex makes you look exactly five to seven years younger, Weeks's prescription for more sex among elders is worth stating and it's too bad the psychologist delegitimizes his point by sensationalizing it with a nonsensical, unprovable assertion.

Here's what I think: Neither Dr Weeks nor many others know much about sex and old people, and I suspect few physicians ask their patients about sexual activity. So aside from Viagra prescriptions (a large number of which are for mid-age and younger men), there is not much basis to know anything about elders and sex.

I also think old people who have a spouse, a partner, a friend with benefits or whatever other arrangement are, if physically capable, probably getting it on a whole lot more than younger people believe. Why wouldn't we – it's about the best-feeling and friendliest thing two people can do.

However, I think, too, that we old folks just don't talk about sex as much as younger people – maybe because we know they believe (as we once did) that they are the first generation since the world was new to discover sex and anyway, the idea of old people shagging is icky to them. So we keep our mouths shut.

And here is one more thing: Undoubtedly, sex has physical and psychological benefits. I've always found it to be a feel-good drug and fun too. But making an old person look seven years younger? Oh, please.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey: The Cookbook Lady



Enforcing Family Elder Care

On 1 July, a new law titled, Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People, went into effect. In China, that is. It states in part, according to an article in the English-language, China Daily,

“Family members should care about the psychological needs of their older relatives, and should visit them or send greetings on a regular basis, according to the law on protecting the rights and interests of the elderly, which came into effect on Monday.

“The law was passed to protect the lawful rights and interests of parents aged 60 and older, and to carry on the Chinese virtue of filial piety, according to the law.”

Among what little we Americans know of Chinese culture is the importance of family, particularly of parental devotion. From The New York Times,

“'Family is the nucleus of society,' intoned Cui Shuhui, the director of the All-China Women’s Federation, which, along with the China National Committee on Aging, published the new guidelines after two years of interviews with older Chinese. 'We need family in order to advance Chinese society and improve our economic situation.'”

Unlike centuries past, however, adult children in China increasingly migrate to big cities for work nowadays leaving parents behind in their villages. In 2012 alone, according to The Times, 11 million moved from rural to urban areas.

According to that Times story, Zhang Yang, a fruit vendor in Beijing,

”...scoffed at the suggestion that he should take his parents on vacation, noting that he rarely stops working or has time to visit them in their hometown in Henan Province, roughly 400 miles south of the capital.

“'One time I didn’t get to go home for four years,' he said sheepishly. 'Business here is good, but I feel guilty for not being with my parents.'”

The new law, unsurprisingly, has caused a lot of controversy in China and it is difficult to understand how it is supposed to work since it contains no penalties. As a China Daily opinion piece notes,

”...some [are] saying it is inappropriate to use the law to force people to exercise filial piety, which they believe is a moral imperative. Some have also criticized the law because it has no specifics on how often people should visit their parents, nor the punishments that are to be meted out to violators.

“Others have said it is necessary to prepare the country for the ageing society that looms ahead.”

At the end of 2011, there were 185 million people in China age 60 and older. That number will have grown to more than 200 million by the end of this year.

It was easy, when I first read about this new law, to laugh at the senselessness of trying to legislate morality. But like most countries of the world, including our own, China is living in a time of extreme economic and cultural upheaval.

Old ways everywhere are being questioned and it is not easy to resolve them or fit them into new imperatives. It takes a long time.

One of China's most acclaimed writers, Yu Hua, wrote a guest column about the new law for The New York Times. It is translated by Allan H. Barr:

”In recent years,” writes Yu, “reports of children abandoning or mistreating their parents have filled our TV screens, newspapers and Web sites.

“Many people lament bitterly the collapse of moral standards in China, seeing this new preoccupation with material advantage as the downside of our rapid economic growth during the last 30-odd years...

”It may be absurd to have a statute on the books that makes a crime out of infrequent visits to one’s elderly parents, but there are, nonetheless, some ordinary citizens who will realize that they are 'breaking the law.'”

Keeping in mind that most of us at this blog have not an inkling of Chinese society and so cannot apply our cultural sensibilities, I'm wondering what all of you think of all this.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: Humor is the Best Medicine



The View from 80

Many years ago, walking on a gorgeous spring morning in Paris with his friend Samuel Beckett, a man said, “Doesn't a day like this make you glad to be alive?” to which Beckett responded, “I wouldn't go as far as that.”

Ha. Love it. I know what he means.

That vignette was related in an essay in the Sunday edition of The New York Times by a man who, via his string of books on odd neurological disorders, has given me many thought-provoking hours over several decades about the astonishing behavior of the human mind.

Oliver Sacks was writing in anticipation of his 80th birthday tomorrow, Tuesday, and titled his piece, The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)

”I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of,” he says, “but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”

Much more eloquently than I, Sacks is stating what I consider to be the underpinning of the philosophy of this blog. At the same time, he doesn't whitewash elderhood either:

"At 80, the specter of dementia or stroke looms. A third of one’s contemporaries are dead, and many more, with profound mental or physical damage, are trapped in a tragic and minimal existence.

"At 80 the marks of decay are all too visible. One’s reactions are a little slower, names more frequently elude one, and one’s energies must be husbanded, but even so, one may often feel full of energy and life and not at all 'old.'"

Just recently (the past two or three months, I'd say), when asked how I am, I've been spontaneously responding enthusiastically with something like, “Fine, really fine," kind of surprising myself each time at how amazingly good I've been feeling day in and day out.

And if I feel this good now at 72, I can't wait for my 80s as Sacks describes his father in those years and himself on the brink of them:

"My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.

"One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too.

"One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty.

"At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60."

All true or, rather, becoming so for me even if there are days when Beckett's response makes more sense that any other I might have.

Given the number of you who sent me a link to Sacks' essay, I'm guessing you feel pretty good about your old age too. (No kidding.)


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: What is July the Fourth to You and Me



Songs About Cities: Paris

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.


Paris

I bet you were expecting a pic with La Tour in the background, or maybe the Avenue des Champs-Élysées or some such, but I like to keep you on your toes.

The second best thing to being in Paris is watching the film Midnight in Paris which is a paean to that great city. I don't think there's ever been another film that captured the beauty of Paris as this one did. It made me want to return.

Here are some songs about Paris, probably not the ones you were expecting.

I'll start with a song that sets the mood for the column. You're going to hear quite a bit of accordion music in the selections today. There's no better way to kick this off than with ÉDITH PIAF.

Edith Piaf

When you think of Parisian music, hers is the first name that springs to mind. Well, my mind anyway. Here is the Little Sparrow with L'Accordéoniste.

♫ Edith Piaf - L'Accordéoniste

JIMMY BUFFETT's song is only peripherally about Paris but it deserves a place.

Jimmy Buffett

The song does have Paris in the title and the first line so that's enough for inclusion. Besides, it's a really nice song. Jimmy could always turn out quality interesting songs along with his amusing throw-away ones.

Here is He Went to Paris.

♫ Jimmy Buffett - He Went to Paris

There are a number of versions of April in Paris that I could have selected. Indeed, I could have filled a whole column with them. Some who just missed out, who were seriously considered for inclusion are Sarah Vaughan, Bill Evans, Mel Tormé and Thelonious Monk.

The one who made the grade is BILLIE HOLIDAY, and what a surprise that is. Yeah, right.

Billie Holiday

Here's Billie's version.

♫ Billie Holiday - April in Paris

It's not surprising that there are a couple of Australian songs here today as we are among the most traveled lot on the planet. We think nothing of flying for 16 or 18 hours on a plane to get somewhere because pretty much everywhere else is that far away.

People from elsewhere seem to be upset if they have to spend more than two hours on the big silver bird (shakes his head).

The first one today is one of the most successful of the Oz groups, the LITTLE RIVER BAND.

The Little River Band

This song was included at the insistence of Norma, the Assistant Musicologist. I probably would have included it if I'd thought of it, but it's good to get a reminder of these things. The song is Seine City.

♫ Little River Band - Seine City

Because Johnny Cash was such an icon of the music industry, I imagine that ROSANNE CASH will forever be known as his daughter.

Rosanne Cash

However, she's a fine rock and country singer and a songwriter of considerable facility. Here she has a folk-like take on her own song, Sleeping in Paris.

♫ Rosanne Cash - Sleeping in Paris

I originally had Dean Martin in this spot but the A.M. said she had a version by EARTHA KITT that she thought was better than Dino's.

Eartha Kitt

When I listened to it I agreed with her so poor old Dino got the flick. Eartha, of course, spent many years in France so she's a natural inclusion. The song is Under the Bridges of Paris.

♫ Eartha Kitt - Under the Bridges of Paris

The second of the Oz contributions is by WARD & JOHNSON.

Ward & Johnson

I think when their album was released it sold about three copies, one to me and the others to their mums. That was in 1976. In spite of that it's quite an interesting album.

In case you're interested, these gentlemen are Al Ward and Dan Johnson. They are still out playing music. Their contribution is an amusing little ditty called Évitez Paris.

♫ Ward & Johnson - Evitez Paris

MILES DAVIS spent quite some time in Paris, and who can blame him?

Miles Davis3

During one of his visits, he composed the score for the film Ascenseur Pour l'Échafaud, directed by Louis Malle. This is take 2 of one of the tracks, Nuit Sur Les Champs-Élysées. I don't know if this particular track was used in the film but it's pretty good.

♫ Miles Davis - Nuit Sur Les Champs-Élysées (take 2)

I don't think I've had JONI MITCHELL in a column before, so here's a chance to rectify that.

Joni Mitchell

Joni's song is Free Man in Paris from the “Court and Spark” album.

♫ Joni Mitchell - Free Man in Paris

I will end with TONY JOE WHITE who was initially taught to play the guitar by his older brother Charles.

Tony Joe White

I don't know if Charlie taught him song-writing; I imagine Tony Joe did that for himself. However it came about, Tony Joe is really good at it and his songs have been covered by many performers - so much so that he could put his feet up and relax if he wanted to, but he's still out there, picking and singing.

One of his songs is Paris Mood Tonight.

♫ Tony Joe White - Paris Mood Tonight



INTERESTING STUFF – 6 July 2013


GRANDMA MISAO AND HER CAT, FUKUMARU

For 13 years Japanese photographer Miyoko Ihara has been photographing her grandmother and her grandmother's odd-eyed cat.

Grandmother-and-cat-miyoko-ihara-fukumaru-17

Because my cat Ollie and I spend a lot of time looking directly in one another's eyes, I was particularly interested in this comment from the photographer:

”Partly because they are both hard of hearing, my grandmother and Fukumaru are always looking into each other’s eyes. They’re really close.”

Grandmother-and-cat-miyoko-ihara-fukumaru-11

There are a lot more beautiful photographs of Misao and Fukumaru here. And there is also a book of their photos. (Hat tip to Tamar Orvel of Only Connect)


AGE OF CHAMPIONS

Every two years, the Senior Olympics brings together 300,000 elder athletes ranging in age from 50 to 100 and older. This year's event, being held in Cleveland, will begin 19 July.

Before then, however, a new documentary titled Age of Champions about five participants in the previous Senior Olympics is being released. Here is a taste:

Age of Champions will begin broadcasting on PBS this coming Tuesday 9 July (check your local listings) and via more than 1,000 screenings at senior, health and fitness organizations throughout the United States. Check here to see if there is one in your area and get the details.

You can find out more about the documentary here where there is also a longer video about the five featured participants.


FIRST CD AT AGE 79

TGB reader Cathy Johnson sent along this news story about Marge Weber who began taking guitar lessons nine years ago and has just released her first CD at age 79:

"Whenever I think about starting something new that I know will take a very long time to accomplish,” she told a Chicago Tribune reporter, “my first thought is, 'I'm going to be so old by the time that's finished...' Then I come back with, 'I'm going to be so old anyway, I might as well just do it!'"

Margeweber_med150 Good advice. Weber's CD titled, The Circle Game, is a collection of songs written by, among others, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and (for you, Peter Tibbles) Iris DeMent. Here is a sampler – a bit of each of the nine tunes:

♫ Marge Weber - Circle Game Preview

You can find out more here.


GERMANY'S NEW ENGLISH WORD

Languages have been borrowing words and phrases from one other probably since the world's first two languages came into being. Where would English be without ancient Greek and Latin words and so many others we have borrowed from French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, even Basque? (anchovy).

It has always amused me that the French, a people so fussy about their language that there is an institute to preserve it, use “drugstore” as well as pharmacie.

Now, Duden, the German equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary, has added “shitstorm” to its pages:

”The word, which is used in German to denote a public outcry, seems to have caught on during the eurozone crisis. German language experts voted it 'Anglicism of the year' in 2012."

As used, apparently, by Chancellor Angela Merkel herself. You can read more here and here.


HOW NEWTON'S BEADS WORK

According to the description at YouTube, these beads seem to

”...levitate, defy gravity and jump out of the beaker. But how and why do they act like this? We met up with Steve Mould, the science guy from [the tv program] Britain's Brightest, to explore the science behind the self siphoning beads - also known as Newton's Beads.

It's amazing to watch what the beads do. Take a look:


BROKEN HEART SYNDROME

When a person dies soon after his or her spouse died - particularly an old person who has been married for a long time – it is often said that he or she died of a broken heart.

Here is a video from the World Life Expectancy website about what is called Broken Heart Syndrome:

If you Google “broken heart syndrome,” you will find a whole lot more about it from around the web.


THE MEVROUW WHO SAVED MANHATTAN

Mevrouw is Dutch for “madam” or indicating a married woman. This book, subtitled, “A Novel of New Amsterdam,” by Bill Greer gave me a rousing good time for a couple of days last week.

Mevrouw It begins in 1625 with arrival of Dutch ship of settlers and then follows their adventures at the southern tip of Manhattan Island as they build New Amsterdam. Much of it is based on real events involving Peter Minuit and Peter (Petrus) Stuyvesant, and many of the other characters are named for actual people of the period including the heroine of the story, Mevrouw Jackie Lambert, a fictional brewer who owns the fictional Spotted Cow tavern offering the best beer in town.

At his website, author Greer has posted short, real-life biographies of the book's main characters along with current-day maps showing the locations of 17th century landmarks.

This was a load of fun to read and I learned some history in the bargain. I thought some of you might be interested.

WHAT DEFINES A NEW YORKER CARTOON

Every issue of The New Yorker is packed with cartoons that are among the best of the best. In fact, the magazine gathers each week's collection in one place on the website undoubtedly reflecting the reality that many readers skim through just for the cartoons before they bother to read anything else.

Bob Mankoff was one of those prestigious cartoonists for 20 years before he was appointed cartoon editor of the magazine in 1997. In this TEDTalk, he explains some of the criteria behind the selection of each week's cartoons and what it is that makes a cartoon a “New Yorker cartoon.”

It's funny and informative and definitely worth the 21 minutes.


THE PROGRESS OF THE 9/11 MUSEUM

The 9/11 memorial and museum has been 12 years in the making but seems to be nearing completion at last, scheduled to open in 2014. Here is a peek at the progress.


AMAZING OCTOPUS ESCAPE

This video was shot by Chance Miller near the Chiswell Islands in Alaska. It involves a teeny, tiny hole on a boat and a full-grown octopus. You wouldn't believe this without the video:


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.



Wisdom and Old Age

Some days ago, a friend said to me that I am wise. Of course I was flattered. And pleased. And while driving home from our lunch, I wished and wished that it were so.

My friend, I think (who is kindlier than I), may have mistaken in me that day a fleeting moment of astuteness for something greater.

It's an elusive thing, wisdom, hard to define. I know it when I see or hear it, and I know it can show up sometimes in the most unlikely of people - which cases just go to show that one cannot aspire to be wise for as Albert Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

In my time I have known a few, very few, young wise ones - old souls, if you will. I suspect that wisdom arrives not with old age necessarily but like old age - without someone noticing until it has happened. But I'm not wise enough to know if that is so.

I wondered how some other people have understood the idea of wisdom and pulled out some quotations to show you.

I tend to agree with one of the most curmudgeonly men of letters, H.L. Mencken:

“The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”

Oscar Wilde seems to have agreed but with his inimitable twist on the thought:

“I am not young enough to know everything.”

More recently, author Doris Lessing also dismissed the notion of elder wisdom:

“As you get older, you don't get wiser. You get irritable.”
C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, is on to something close to wisdom:
“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

The recently-late journalist Christopher Hitchens was at least as skeptical about pairing age and wisdom as I am:

“Hardest of all, as one becomes older, is to accept that sapient remarks can be drawn from the most unwelcome or seemingly improbable sources, and that the apparently more trustworthy sources can lead one astray.”

Speaking of improbable sources, this from late night talk show host Craig Ferguson is not directly related wisdom but his attitude makes him a likely candidate for wise old man when his time comes:

“I'm gonna enjoy being old. I think I'll be awesome at it.”

I suspect with this statement from War and Peace Leo Tolstoy was paraphrasing some Greek or Roman philosopher that I'm too uneducated to identify. But that doesn't make it less convincing:

“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: A Song for South Africa



Appointment in Samarra [redux]

EDITORIAL NOTE: My brain always rebels more strongly than my body against hot weather and again, I'm feeling rather stupid while this heat wave goes on one more day.

This, like yesterday's rerun, is from 2005. Due to the fable contained within, you may think I'm sitting around sweating and obsessed with death these past couple of days. Not so.

I was just looking for something that stirred my lazy brain cells a little and maybe yours too. I hadn't read these since they were first published and they are like finding a favorite old book only much shorter - which is good since it's hard to concentrate on anything longer in the heat.

The link at the bottom is not a rerun; it goes to a new entry at The Elder Storytelling Place.


If blog readers are a microcosm of the population (they are not), there was quite a large vote for the Older and Single by choice point of view here last week. Among women who commented, it’s those never-ending household chores, multiplied in a marriage, they most mentioned. Two men, bless them, stood up for their domestic capabilities proving once again that generalities, as contained in my story, are a bad idea.

But there was one comment that took me down another path of thinking:

“[My husband and I] share a common past that we can look back on with satisfaction. As well as that we share jokes, companionship, hopes, fears and the pleasure of watching our children and grand-children grow and spread their wings. We have ongoing in-depth discussions on topics such as history, science, economics and politics…”
- Jude, long-toothed hinterland dweller

I am generally satisfied with the mostly single life I’ve led, but one thing I will never have, even if I married tomorrow, is the knowledge of what it is like to share decades of life with one person, to grow from young adulthood and, having weathered all the difficulties, arrive at old age with the kind of intimate understanding and companionship of which Jude speaks.

I’m intensely curious to know that experience but alas, it is one of the roads not taken.

Even as a contented single, I find myself longing occasionally for another heartbeat in the house (though not enough to alter my status) and sometimes I wonder how my life might have been different if I had made other choices at some of those big turning points we all have faced. What if I had

  • Never left my home town
  • Not married my former husband
  • Had a child or two
  • Stayed in San Francisco or Chicago or some other town I lived in instead of settling in Manhattan for 40 years
  • Taken a couple of interesting jobs I turned down

On some days when I am entertaining these ideas, it is easy to imagine alternative lives for myself. But today, as sometimes happens, I am leaning to the other side of the equation where everything in my past seems to have been inevitable, as though written immutably somewhere in the cosmos on a stone tablet.

Right now, today, free will feels like a joke and the choices, however much I usually believe otherwise, were made without my knowledge or consent.

Which reminds me of the ancient Islamic fable retold by W. Somerset Maugham in 1933, The Appointment in Samarra, that is a decades-long favorite of mine. (This story was also referenced in John O'Hara's first novel, Appointment in Samarra.) The narrator is Death:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, "Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death who jostled me.

She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.

The merchant lent him his horse. The servant mounted it, dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop, he went.

Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and saw me standing in the crowd. He came to me and said, "Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?"

"That was not a threatening gesture," I said, "it was a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.’”

There's a lot packed into that short little story. It's not nearly as simple as it at first appears.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: Not Just a Man's World



And When I Die [redux]

EDITORIAL NOTE: Whatever it was I so blithely said yesterday about the heat not bothering me, it IS sapping my mental strength and I can't think well enough (or, maybe, just don't want to) to write anything cogent.

Also, it's both a holiday week and I have several other commitments so maybe I need some time off.

This post, then, is from March 2005, slightly updated to account for the intervening eight years. I chose it because the song turned up on the radio this morning (Monday) and brought the post to mind.

The Elder Storytelling Place link at the bottom is not a re-run; it goes to a new story.


My former mother-in-law died this week. She turned 100 a few months ago, demented and confined to bed or a wheelchair these past two years. Last May, my oldest friend in New York City died at 58 of brain cancer unaware, in her final months, of who visitors were and perhaps – hard to know – where she was.

My mother, on the other hand, who died in 1992, knew the approximate time of her death. The cancer was inoperable, the doctor said and she had, give or take, about three months.

Although her body failed, her mind was intact. If she feared the end, she didn’t indicate that to me and in fact, she said one day, “Don’t be sad, Ronni. I’ve had a good life and it’s time to go now.”

Recent deaths always set me to thinking about my own and how it will come about.

Often, through life, we hear people say they want die in their sleep or be hit my Mack truck. Others put it another way – it’s not the dying, the ending itself, they say, so much as the decline in getting there: the loss of function, the curtailment of activity, the dependency on others.

A week or two ago [ed: in 2005], Tamar at In and Out of Confidence said she believes she will have trouble dying:

“I just cannot imagine people living without me. They will never be able to think of things to do or do them as I well as I. And how will they manage when I am not around?”

Individual concerns about how life on Earth will continue without us (how can it possibly do so?) differ. I’ve learned over the years, to my great chagrin, that everyone else does just fine without me when I’m not around and they will do so, too, when I die.

What I have trouble believing is that my physical world – particularly the buildings and landmarks in my neighborhood I so love to look at in detail – will still be there for people to see, people who may not appreciate them as I do every day on my rounds.

But a solace and one of the perks I’ve discovered about getting old is that my youthful, bottomless, mind-twisting fear of dying - of not existing - has diminished almost to nearly zero.

Many things – people, books, movies, contemplation – have helped me along in that regard. One is a Blood, Sweat and Tears tune – And When I Die. I’ve been listening to it carefully for about 40 years. It’s great music but the lyrics that are among my acceptance tools:

I'm not scared of dying,
And I don't really care.
If it's peace you find in dying,
Well then let the time be near.

If it's peace you find in dying,
And if dying time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin
'Cause it's cold way down there.
I hear that its cold way down there.
Yeah, crazy cold way down there.

And when I die, and when I'm gone,
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on,
To carry on.

Now troubles are many,
They're as deep as a well.
I can swear there ain't no heaven
But I pray there ain't no hell.

Swear there ain't no heaven
And I pray there ain't no hell,
But I'll never know by living,
Only my dying will tell.
Yes only my dying will tell.
Yeah, only my dying will tell.

Give me my freedom
For as long as I be.
All I ask of living is
To have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is
To have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying
Is to go naturally.
Oh I want to go naturally.

Here I go,
Hey Hey!
Here comes the devil,
Right behind.
Look out children,
Here he comes!
Here he comes!

Don't want to go by the devil.
Don't want to go by demon.
Don't want to go by Satan,
Don't want to die uneasy.
Just let me go naturally.

And when I die,
When I'm dead,
Dead and gone,
There'll be one child born
In our world to carry on,
To carry on.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Morning Memory



Summer Farmer's Market

Whew! Is it as sizzling where you live as it is where I am? Actually, even during a heat wave, northwest Oregon is one of the cooler places in the United States – around 90° Fahrenheit instead of 100° and higher in many places.

Plus, it always cools off here at night to the mid-60s so I open the windows while I sleep and shut them in the mid- or late morning before it gets unpleasantly hot. This keeps the house cool and comfortable.

Now in my fourth summer here, I still don't know if the air conditioning works; I've never needed it.

In general, I find all shopping to be annoying, boring and time consuming. Except for one thing: fresh produce. The colors, the textures, the varieties thrill me. Like this giant burst of orange:

MktCarrots2013

From late May until the middle of October, there is a weekly farmer's market on Saturdays in Lake Oswego and I am there every week before the starting cowbell sounds at 8:30AM.

At that hour, the air temperature is still pleasant – usually in the 60s Fahrenheit and it's not too crowded yet so I can shop without being pushed and jostled, and there is time to chat with the vendors.

This week, the first peaches of the season arrived:

MktPeaches2013

It's sad the strawberries are mostly finished but there are plenty of other berries to carry me through the rest of the year: blueberries and raspberries along with marionberries, loganberries, gooseberries and elderberries each in their time.

MktBerries2013

Every year, I look forward to the Rainier cherries that some people call Queen Anne. Actually, they are two different kinds but hardly anyone, including me, can tell the difference. They are both luscious and I gorge on them for the three weeks or so that they last.

MktRanier2013

I don't have photos of them today but because they look so beautifully irresistable each week, I've learned to like kale and chard which I'd never eaten before a couple of years ago. I also like that some stalls sell unusual kinds of squash, cucumbers and other vegetable that are never in the supermarkets.

MktSquash2013

Cauliflower at the market comes in three colors – white, orange and purple – and for someone like me who lives alone, I appreciate the small versions of those along with miniature romanesko and broccoli too. There are more types of artichoke than I knew existed.

MktArtichokes2013

In the time I have lived here, this market has expanded from fruits and vegetables to include locally made bakery breads, pepper jam, eggs including duck eggs, sausages, pastries and my never-miss favorite, baklava. Yum.

You can buy lots of different prepared foods to eat while you're at the market including this open-fired pizza.

MktPizza2013

A new stand this year sells home-made dog treats:

MktDogTreats2013

Another is selling woven baskets from Rwanda:

BasketRwanda2013

Apparently, I am mostly alone in having always actively disliked the aroma of lavender but because my nose doesn't work well anymore, I probably wouldn't notice the stand that sells just about anything you can think of infused with it except that it one of the largest. This is only a small part of the lavender tent:

Mkt2013Lavender

There are several flower sellers and on Saturday – this one is for you, Millie Garfield – the first sunflowers arrived:

MktSunflowers2013

The last place I stop before I leave for home each Saturday is the fresh fish market.

There are usually half a dozen kinds – salmon, halibut, rockfish, sole, among them along with razor clams, Dungeness crab, oysters and shrimp – all local and all just caught the day before.

Fish2

If there is a farmers' market where you live and you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it.

Besides being fun and beautiful and friendly, a big advantage over supermarkets is that the produce is picked the day before you purchase it. Not only does that make it healthier but it lasts much longer in the refrigerator than what's been sitting inside a truck for several weeks while being transported from Mexico or Central America.

All that color, abundance and variety each week make me so happy.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: The Case (actually, the six pack) of the Missing Beer