Previous month:
July 2020

Do Not Go Gentle...

Given what you know about my diseases (cancer and COPD) and my being in hospice now, it probably doesn't surprise you that I think about dying a bit more frequently these days - certainly more frequently than when I was younger.

Triggers for those thoughts arrive from many sources or, sometimes, just appear in my mind from no reason I can figure out. In the past few days, it has been lines from Dylan Thomas's poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

Until now, I had no idea I had memorized it. Maybe repeated readings over decades managed that without my noticing. In case you haven't memorized it, here it is. It's short:

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

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This is, of course, one of the most famous poems in the English language and it is quoted widely in the literature of death and dying so over the years of running this blog, I have frequently come across it.

Let it be said right away that I do not deny the poem's brilliance. I also like its cadence and how the repetitions work so well. What I reject is the message that we must challenge death: “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” particularly when we are old.

That is because I do not want to “burn and rave at close of day.” I want to “go gentle into that good night.”

Going gentle into my personal good night is one reason I have embraced medical aid in dying. Those drugs will send me on my way quietly without a prolonged period of decline or pain.

The fly in this otherwise well-planned ointment is how strongly I am still attached to our world: pandemic, economy, Trump, election, Black Lives Matter, climate change. It may not be pleasant right now but it is certainly the most interesting time during which I have lived.

I so much want to see some of the outcome - the election being number one – while also taking my leave NOT “raging against the dying of the light.”

You can tell this has become a mild obsession because I've written about it here before – recently even: what I worry about is that my diseases will become difficult enough that the only good choice is to depart but my connection to the world will not have dwindled or dropped away. I surely do not want to die clutching for more.

But I have no earthly idea of how to be certain of that.

While making notes for this blog post, I listened to recordings by a variety of people reading this poem. You would be surprised how many there are online. The actor Anthony Hopkins does a lovely job of it:

For a work as powerful as Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, it seems only right to also include the poet himself:


A TGB READER STORY: Too Close for Comfort

By Fritzy Dean

I don’t know why he scared me so much. He was not disheveled or dirty. He seemed friendly, giving me big smile as he approached, asking, “ Are you okay, sweetheart?”

I knew I did not know him so I objected to being called “sweetheart.” I was about to step off the sidewalk to walk to my car, when I realized my car was not there.

My face must have shown confusion because he then said, “Is your car lost?”

Spotting it in the other direction I said, “No, not lost. Just temporarily misplaced.”

At that point, he walked right up to me and placed his hand on my elbow! I felt a cold fist squeeze around my heart. Who is this guy? What is he doing? Is he a “Good Samaritan?” Or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

I kept my body stiff and rigid in the few steps it took to get to my car door. I stopped and stood still, waiting for him to step away before I opened the car door. Finally he did, with another twinkly smile, which somehow did not reach his eyes.

I stepped inside and immediately locked all the doors. As he walked into the store I had just exited, I noticed my breath was shaky and my heart was pounding. Clearly my body was reacting to something I could not identify. My body KNEW I had survived a perilous encounter.

A good number of years ago I read a book called, The Gift of Fear by a man named Gavin de Becker. Mr. de Becker (born October 26, 1954) is an American author and security specialist, primarily for governments, large corporations and public figures. He is the founder and chairman of Gavin de Becker and Associates. In the book, he describes many first hand accounts of folks who discounted their fear and came to regret it.

One story I remember very well was about a young woman who dropped her bag of groceries while trying to open the security door to her apartment house. A “nice guy” came along just then, picked up the onions and oranges and cans of food. He insisted he would escort her up to her apartment, since her hands were full.

He chatted in a friendly way as they climbed the stair. But when she tried to turn away at the door to her unit, he took her keys and pushed her inside. For many hours he tortured and assaulted her.

When he went to the kitchen to get a knife, she was able to slip out, naked and trembling. She tiptoed to her neighbor's door where her prayers were answered. Her elderly neighbors were home and admitted her seconds before her door opened and her assailant stormed out looking for her.

They watched through the peep hole as he pounded on all the doors on that floor. Finally he left. She was traumatized, but alive. She admitted to the police to having a “bad feeling” about the man, but didn’t want to seem unfriendly since he was being so helpful.

I cannot truly say I remembered any of this that day on the sidewalk where the “nice guy” wanted to help me. I just knew he did not have my best interests at heart.

That night on the local news I saw a video of a guy chasing down an 81-year-old lady, knocking her to the sidewalk and taking of with her purse. The woman could have been me.

I realize we live in a violent world but my default position has always been to trust. Trust, until I have reason to believed the person is untrustworthy. That day on the sidewalk, my instinct, my self preservation instinct was alert and paying attention.

When the stranger stepped up and invaded my personal space, something inside me knew. That primitive reptilian part of my brain, the part always on watch for predators - it knew.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


Are You Aging Successfully?

Tap any given expert on old age and you'll get a definition of successful aging that goes something like this one:

“The term successful aging was made popular in 1987, when the scientists John Wallis Rowe and Robert Kahn published an influential book entitled Successful Aging,” writes Alan D. Castel, in Forbes.

“Rowe and Kahn stated that successful aging involved three main factors: (1) being free of disability or disease, (2) having high cognitive and physical abilities, and (3) interacting with others in meaningful ways.”

Since 1987, others have quibbled with that definition but whatever else they include – e.g. meaningfulness, work you enjoy, personal happiness – they all fall back on that big three: freedom from disease, high cognition and physical capabilities, and social engagement.

If Rowe's and Kahn's is the definitive definition, I have failed aging by two-thirds. On the minus side, I have two debilitating diseases that limit my physical activity. On the plus side, I think my mind is doing fine but who knows, and I have more than enough social life even within the limits of my diseases and the pandemic.

Successful aging has always seemed to be a phony construct to me. My first reaction, whenever the phrase turns up, is “As opposed to what – failed aging? That seems to be the point of the people to trade in this idea – to force a pass/fail grade on aging.

None of the “experts” that I've read have anything to say about failing aging.

It doesn't come up directly even though it is obliquely implied. But I suspect they are thinking of me if anyone brings up the question.

The medical people who discuss successful aging stress that it begins at an early age. Here are some of the predictors taken from a variety of sources:

Happy marriage
Higher levels of education
Purpose in life
Physical health
Don't drink alcohol to excess
Don't smoke cigarettes

Me? Divorced. High school graduate, no college. No discernible purpose in life. Smoked cigarettes for years. So I lose on every point except physical health (when younger) and alcohol consumption.

As to those three original indicators for a successful old age, one or the other of those two diseases I have will kill me before too long, and my physical capabilities are severely limited now. I can still care for myself but it's hard even to take the trash out to the bins.

That sounds like a good definition of failed aging. And yet...

And yet, I'm fine with my old age. I refuse to say I am aging successfully because I don't believe in the idea. (Do people have successful childhoods? Or are there people to fail childhood? Do some fail teen years or adulthood? I haven't ever seen those other stages of life generally defined as failure.)

A lot of what is written about successful aging comes from people who haven't yet reached old age and although I doubt they would see it this way, they tend to believe that old people should behave like younger adults – 30, 40, 50 or so.

At other times, they deal in stereotypes of old people. Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and psychologist whose most recent book, Successful Aging, was published early this year, told a PBS interviewer that it is difficult for old people to change their views or to look at something differently:

”...you have to fight that,” he said. “I think we have to avoid complacency as we get older because we do tend to get set in our ways.

“We tend to want to look at things the same way. We want to go to the same restaurant that we know is going to give us a good meal. We want to hang out with the same friends who we know we're not going to make us feel bad about ourselves.

“But we have to fight that because the influx of new ideas and challenging our conventional modes of thinking is important brain food, not just our individual health but the health of the larger community.”

Well, where to start? Set in our ways? Let's take Levitin's example: until the pandemic changed all our lives, a friend and I had lunch together every week at the same restaurant. How is that possibly an indication of unsuccessful aging?

Good friends sharing a meal at a restaurant with food we liked, and some quiet time together? That sounds like a plus in life to me.

Further, I wonder how strange a person needs to be to assume meeting someone new would result in him or her saying something bad about me? If there are those who don't like to meet new people, I doubt that is the reason.

And complacency? Ask any old person about the constant adaptations to daily life we must make due to age-related changes such as balance issues, dropping things, reduced energy and stamina, pain from a disease such as arthritis or cancer, etc. etc.

Oh wait, I forgot – having a disease or two means you have not aged successfully.

I don't buy it. “It” being the entire idea of successful aging. I think we age, period. Some people try their damndest to look younger than they are and usually wind up looking foolish. There are others who complain endlessly about how much they dislike getting old and just become bores.

One way or another, we all grow old. We do it sometimes at wildly different rates of change - some with greater physical burdens than others and I think as often as not, that is the luck of the draw, a bit of genetics and, as in my case, too many cigarettes.

That's water under the bridge. I can't change it now. And my two diseases, whatever the so-called experts say, do not make me an unsuccessful old person.

Life is precious and at this end of it, too short to waste time chasing a make-believe success. If you have limitations, let them be your guide. Enjoy the things you can. Honor these late years by living as fully as you desire and are capable of.

And do not believe anyone who tries to label your old age a success or failure.


ELDER MUSIC: The Forgotten Angel

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

* * *

Clyde McPhatter

“The Forgotten Angel” is a name that has been applied to CLYDE MCPHATTER these days. I think it sums him up - somewhat forgotten and singing like an angel - his singing style set the stage for many who followed him.

If you’re looking for a really good musical trivia question, he is the answer to: “Who was the first person inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice?”

Since then, others who have done the same refer to themselves as belonging to the “Clyde McPhatter Club”. He was a member of two seminal groups before he became a solo artist, so he could have made it three times.

Clyde began singing in his father’s gospel choir, the starting point for many of the finest singers of the era. His brothers and sisters were there as well and there were enough of them such that they could have been a choir on their own.

After moving to New Jersey, Clyde entered talent nights at the famous Apollo Theatre in New York and won. He was snapped up by a band led by Billy Ward to sing in his group, Billy Ward and the Dominoes.

Billy Ward & Dominoes

The first three songs are by that group, all of them with Clyde singing the lead vocal (as he did on most of their songs). The first of these is Have Mercy Baby.

♫ Billy Ward - Have Mercy Baby


Billy Ward & Dominoes

The song Harbor Lights was written back in the thirties by Hugh Williams (a pseudonym for Will Grosz) and Jimmy Kennedy. It was recorded by many artists, most especially The Platters. They had a hit with the song with the great Tony Williams singing lead, as he did on all their best songs. As good as Tony was, I think that Clyde was more soulful in his interpretation.

♫ Billy Ward - Harbor Lights


Billy Ward & Dominoes

I’ll end the Billy Ward section with possibly the most overwrought song in recorded history. Johnnie Ray had the reputation of crying on his records. He has nothing on Clyde. This is The Bells.

♫ Billy Ward - The Bells


Billy was a real tightwad and didn’t pay much and he also deducted from his musicians’ pay packet for food, taxes, hotel bills and anything else that he could get away with. After Clyde decided to leave, Billy said he had to come up with a replacement singer. Clyde found the young Jackie Wilson.

Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, then signed Clyde to his record company on condition he create a group to lead. He rounded up some singers and called them The Drifters.

After recording a couple of songs, Ahmet was dissatisfied and suggested a different lot of singers. Clyde did that and called the new group The Drifters (well, if you’re on a good thing…)

They worked out better than the previous lot, such that they became one of the best loved groups in singing history.

Drifters (Clyde)

One of the first songs they recorded was Such a Night. This was a reasonable hit for them even though it was the B-side of the record. It was covered by Johnnie Ray and later still by Elvis who took it to the top of the charts.

♫ Drifters - Such A Night


Drifters (Clyde)

Their next song was a huge hit. The song is Money Honey, and it’s been covered by many over the years. The song was written by Jesse Stone.

♫ Drifters - Money Honey


During his time with The Drifters, Clyde was inducted into the army. Fortunately, he wasn’t sent overseas and could continue recording during his time off. After his discharge, he decided to go out as a solo singer.

The Drifters’ manager then disbanded the group and started a new group (and called them The Drifters) built around Ben E King. Goodness, this column contains some of the finest singers from that time (or any time).

Clyde sold his share in the group to the manager. He regretted that decision for the rest of his life.

One of the first things he did as a solo singer was perform a duet with RUTH BROWN, with whom he toured. They were close. Very, very close. Their son now performs as one of the current Drifters.

One of the songs Clyde and Ruth performed together is Love Has Joined Us Together.

Clyde & Ruth

That’s Jerry Wexler, who produced their song; Ruth; Clyde; LaVern Baker and Ahmet Ertegun.

♫ Clyde McPhatter - Love Has Joined Us Together


Clyde McPhatter

Without Love (There Is Nothing) was written by Danny Small. Clyde was the first to record it. Over the years everyone from Elvis to Ray Charles to Tom Jones (to a whole bunch of lesser singers) have recorded it. Of course, as I’ve often said, the first is the best (okay, not always).

♫ Clyde McPhatter - Without Love (There Is Nothing)


Clyde McPhatter

No Love Like Her Love was the B-side of the single that had That’s Enough For Me on the A-side. Neither song made the charts, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t any good. Lots of fine songs don’t manage to do that.

♫ Clyde McPhatter - No Love Like Her Love


Clyde McPhatter

Now we get to the songs that most of us remember. A Lover’s Question is my favorite of his.

♫ Clyde McPhatter - A Lovers Question


Clyde McPhatter

Norma, the Assistant Musicologist prefers Lover Please.

♫ Clyde McPhatter - Lover Please


Towards the end of his life, and it was brief, he died at 39, Clyde thought that his fans had deserted him. That wasn’t true but he turned to alcohol such that many of his concerts were canceled or he didn’t turn up for them. He died of various complications due to his serious drinking.

I’ll end with a video of Clyde back when he was young and singing like an angel. A lovely smile at the end because he knew that he had nailed it.


INTERESTING STUFF – 1 August 2020

THE CHASE

This is a short parody of some over-dramatized wildlife films and documentaries that often don't live up to their hype.

Yes, that's Sir David Attenborough's voice, clipped from several of his animal TV programs. Enjoy.

INSIDE A HOSTESS TWINKIES FACTORY

And Cup Cakes. And Donettes.

It has probably been half a century since I last ate a Twinkie and longer for the other two. In fact, I may never have eaten a Donette. Here is what the YouTube page says:

“Created in 1930, Twinkies are America's guiltiest pleasure. Using an elaborate and incredibly efficient system of Auto Bake robots, Hostess produces roughly 500,000,000 Twinkies a year, or roughly 1,000 a minute.”

This video from Popular Mechanics shows how they are made. It didn't need to be this lengthy but I think I know how that happened: after awhile it beccomes almost mesmerizing. If you stick around long enough, you'll see there are actual humans involved at least at the end of production.

ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?

About a week ago, Washington Post columnist, Dana Milbank, published a column about how to make sure you are registered to vote, how to do that if you are not, how to get an absentee ballot and what to do about voting if you are overseas or a member of the military.

The astonishingly well done and easy-to-use website is from vote.org. Here are some direct links:

If you want just a yes or no answer to whether you are registered to vote in your state, go here.

If you want more information when you check to see if you are registered, go here. If you are properly registered, you will find links to your elected officials and to the location ballot dropboxes (well, the latter will be added soon).

You can register to vote here. If you want to go directly to your state's voter registration, scroll down the page for a link to each state.

If you are registered to vote and want an absentee ballot, go here.

If you are an American citizen overseas or a uniformed service member, go here.

There is more information in Dana Milbank's column.

OBAMA'S EULOGY FOR REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS

If you did not or could not watch it live, here is former President Barack Obama's eulogy Thursday for John Robert Lewis. It is stunning call to all of us to continue the Georgia representative's lifelong work.

Yes, it is long – about 40 minutes – but you won't notice and I suspect it will become, if it hasn't already, one of those speeches we must never forget.

ACCIDENTAL SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS

If you wonder what an old woman with cancer and COPD who is in hospice does with some her time...

Ahem - here are three accidental science experiments no one asked for:

Marble

SanLighning

FrogFireflies

There are 37 more photos of unexpected results at Bored Panda.

IMPOSSIBLE VIDEOS TO DELIGHT US

TGB reader Joan McMullin sent this video of some impossible scenarios created by Kevin Lustgarten who says he shoots these with his phone and then edits.

MARCH TO MAY 2020 QUIETEST PERIOD IN RECORDED HISTORY

Seismologists usually deal with earthquakes, atmospheric pressure and the movements of oceans. But during the pandemic lockdown, they got to listen to those noises without much human interference:

”Humans are the third-biggest source of seismic noise,” reports MIT Technology Review of a study done during the lockdown. “Everyday urban activities like commutes, or stadiums full of fans simultaneously going wild in 'football quakes,' are strong enough to register on seismometers.

“'It’s transport, like cars, trains, traffic, buses,' says coauthor Paula Koelemeijer of the Royal Holloway University of London. 'It’s retail and recreation—not just people going shopping, but also going to parks. It’s workplaces and residences.'”

This isn't just idle curiosity. The quiet period is resulting in new scientific knowledge and help in understanding future earth changes.

”The fall-off in human noise also gave scientists a chance to listen to the earth’s inner workings more closely than ever before—without humans drowning them out. This might add to our knowledge of earthquakes, particularly small ones in urban centers that are often masked by human seismic noise.”

Read more at MIT Technology Review.

THE DOG

There have been several charming and heart-warming commercials from the Kiatnakin Bank in Thailand. This one was released in 2015. Never mind that it is not in English. You will have no difficulty understanding and, of course, that is part of the point.

* * *

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” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I 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.