Old Folks Set in Their Ways
What Elders Really Want, and The Alex and Ronni Show


By Ann Burack-Weiss

You’d think they’d let up by the time you reach your 80s. That all you need do to keep yourself going is to keep yourself going. But no; everything you hear or read pushes you toward new horizons.

That thrill of completion that I feel when finishing the Sunday crossword puzzle (well, all but three small words) is meaningless. It does not spark those neurons or create new pathways in the brain; all it does is deepen familiar ruts.

Worse, it is a solitary pursuit. Surely dementia and social isolation are brewing in the toxic waters of my comfort zone.

Old folks are repeatedly told to heed the siren call of the untried that, from the beginning of time, has lured humans from their caves into the sun of enhanced existence.

Learning Chinese in the company of elderly peers would be just the thing.

Or I could put aside the knitting of one color, one pattern scarves that I’ve enjoyed since the age of 18 – an activity that is especially pleasant on long winter evenings cuddled on the couch listening to the classical music I’ve enjoyed just as long.

Better to join a class in needlepoint. It takes lots of different colored threads to construct a tapestry – you must keep your wits about you in order to keep them sorted, threaded and hitting just the right spot all the while chatting with others engaged in the same task.

They mean well, the young dears. It is just that they are afraid of their own senescence. Neuroscience offers hope. And yes, I’ve seen the graphs, read the papers. I know enough about research to agree that the findings are statistically significant.

But it’s a long way from statistical significance to my apartment, to my life, where I have to say that the findings are not significant at all.

* * *

You see, we are often afraid. The unknown is only filled with wonder if you feel power within you to grab out to it and turn it to your uses.

We are afraid as young children are afraid – so much in life they don’t understand, can’t control. The things that hide out in the shadows and can pounce at any time are particularly scary when they are alone in the dark. So they ask for glass after glass of water, ask to hear the same story the same way over and over. Skip a page in the book, change a few words and they get upset.

Ours is not a second childhood – for we know full well the names and workings of what is hiding in the shadows. We do not imagine animals escaped from the zoo to hide out under our beds (as I remember doing at the age of four) but the bed itself springing steel sides pulled up high over which tubes ferry fluids in and out of our bodies.

We do not imagine that our screams won’t be loud enough to reach powerful adults who can come to our aid. We know the limits of the powerful adults no matter how caring they might be.

So like children, we cannot see change as a learning opportunity, a chance to face our fears and triumph over them. Instead, change strips us of all sense of certainty, of control, leaving us quaking in its wake; strips us of our memories and the sense of self that they reinforce within us.

The Sunday crossword puzzle I am working on today holds vestiges of every puzzle of my life, everyone who was around me on those long ago Sundays – the places I carried it with me during the week to fill in a clue or two; the people – so many no longer here – with whom I exchanged passing references to its difficulty or ease or cleverness of theme.

The long scarf on which I rip and redo as often as I move ahead, and the music that accompanies it, go all the way back – first, my room at home, then a college dormitory room filled with smokers and bridge players where, doing neither, I found my place and many happy hours with the knitters.

Those last months of pregnancy with each of my now middle-aged children when I surprised myself by branching out to blanket, sweater, and bootie sets – enough even to gift to others.

So I’ll stay right here. Comforted by the familiar, buoyed by memories. Relaxing? Lolling? No, wallowing – that’s the word I’m looking for, wallowing, in my comfort zone.

* * *

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For me, your words are both beautiful and frighteningly accurate. Thank you for another engrossing Tuesday story.

I'm finding it harder to get out of my comfort zone, though that's where I like to hang out. Fortunately, I'm still painting...........nothing like a good dollop of cadmium yellow to start some hours in a different zone.

Your opening paragraph just nails it for me. I'm copying it (and will cite you) and putting it on my list of "the best sentences". And because I have the privilege of knowing you, I hear your voice as you read this, your distinctive cadence resonates especially in the part about the Sunday crossword puzzle.
I just loved this piece. Brava !
with love and appreciation,

So beautiful, Ann!!!!

Lovely. I recently lost a loved one under tragic circumstances; and "wallowing in my comfort zone" describes precisely how I prefer spend my time as I now learn to carry this heavy burden of sorrow. Reading mysteries, watching British police shows, slow meandering walks, all feel painfully familiar and yet also brand new.

Wallowing in my comfort zone.

How perfect.

Thank you.


"Wallowing in my comfort zone." Yep, that's exactly what I'm doing. I worked long and hard to get to this point and I'm enjoying it immensely. Wallowing. Like a hippo in a mudbath. That's me. Guilty as charged.

Really love this. May we all wallow joyfully as long as we can. It really does hold the door to my "anxiety closet" shut.

You really hit the nail on the head with this one. Thank you.

Well done!

I especially appreciate the "word pictures" you painted, so very descriptive, exactly right!

You are a gifted writer.


Agree with Margo and others!!

Long may we appreciate the comfort of doing what we enjoy! After a lifetime of serving others' needs, it's high time we were able to explore our own interests.

Indeed a beautifully written piece.
Thank you,

Ok here I go again being the rock in the steam. Wallow away if that is what you prefer but as the days dwindle down, I find myself returning to my childhood fear of not being able to do it all! Of course I realize I won't be able to accomplish all I want to do, but at 76, I am finally embarking on my lifelong dream of living in a new country, achieving some degree of mastery of a new language and looking forward to living in a new culture. As my grandfather said when he was told he had terminal cancer, I've gotten to do many of the things I wanted to do in my life and I've still got some left over. Seems like a good place to leave it.

What a great essay, thank you!

I've often wondered about the American need for busy-ness and more, more, more. I think it is a negative part of our weird culture. I love being slow, idle, and reflective.

"Wallow" has such a porcine ring to it. "Ensconced" is much more flattering =). Even now, in my 50s, I occasionally venture out of my mental cave to try new things, but scurry back to the comforts of the familiar.


Loved this story. I only want to emerge from my comfort zone when I'm sure that the benefits outweigh the risks - in my case, that has happened recently when I found myself getting better at conquering my fear of rejecton by other people, and reaching out to them. I'm finding that few people reject me, and it's wonderful to meet and make new friends. I'm never going to take up smoking or bridge, and love sewing and crosswords, but have always loved having friends, but not been brave enough to take the initiave in acquiring them.

Just yesterday, while getting a pedicure, the woman in the chair next to me asked, “What do you do with yourself?” I was taken aback and scrambled to think of an answer that sounded better than the truth, which is pretty much “nothing.” Of course, that’s not the whole story, but I was suddenly aware that much of what I “do” is of little, if any, value or interest to anyone else. So, dear Ann, thank you for this lovely piece, and for validating the pleasure of wallowing in my comfort zone. I am acutely aware that the world is full of people who don’t have this option and I am grateful for this privilege.

So many of my cohorts are traveling, and wonder why I don't go more places, do more things. I don't want to. I don't like to be a tourist. I want to know my way around. To understand and speak the language. I love to talk to strangers, meet new people, but I can do that in my own neighborhood, my own town. I like my home, my community, and see no need to wander very far.

They mean well, the young dears. It is just that they are afraid of their own senescence.


That's why so many seniors are depicted running marathons, jumping out of planes, dancing, etc., in advertisements. The young are pushing back against their entirely understandable dread.

While these activities are great, nothing beats a good wallow. You just don't get that until you get ... here. Then it's thrilling, but in a good way.

You plug into what has been your real life for decades, even if some of the activities are slower and many of the people are gone. Our little secret is: It's actually great to wallow right smack in that comfort zone.

Thank you Ann.

Your writing captured the essence of most days in my life as presently lived.

It seems like within an instant, I found reasons and preferences to stay home, in the community, doing nothing particularly noteworthy and mostly loving it. Sort of weird but who cares. It works.

You described this in a very relatable way. Thank you, Ann.

Ann, This lovely piece resonated with so many of us. I , also , have felt resentment at being urged to be busy, go travel, have a social network...LEAVE ME ALONE! Now, I have a new phrase. , "just let me wallow in my comfort zone." Thankyou for a thoughtful, beautifully written essay.

Not do fast, please! Ann's article resonated with me ...to a point.

I am 74 and although I physically can't or are not interested in "doing" a lot , I have found that I have acquired an attitude of service that is both rewarding and appreciated. It is absolutely amazing what I find I can do and how appreciative others are on a simple trip to the grocery store or a walk around the neighborhood if I leave the house with the question " Where is the opportunity to serve in this moment right now?" We all can serve in our own way.

And I still have plenty of time to "wallow" too!

Dear Ann,
Your beautiful essay describes my feelings and thoughts exactly.
Approaching 80 in a couple of month's, I revel in a day when I can stay home. It is my comfort to know my kids are near, my 86 year "crabby old hubby"is near. My interests are many I can do and see right here.
I'm going to therapy right now and confessed to my therapist how I loved just being home and she reacted with concern that I would be "socially isolated" (as you told) and not good for me. She is young and and very nice, but in her 30's! Thanks for writing on this matter and Ronni for bringing it to us,you are a treasure.

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