I had been having mixed feelings about the Tokyo Olympics, but this story has changed my mind and reminded me why I watch sports. There’s a heart-warming follow-up story here.
“From Billy Joel’s inability to resist a good Beethoven melody to Lady Gaga’s sampling of rhapsodic violin solos, here are the greatest examples of classical samples in pop.”
Be sure to turn on your computer’s sound! And keep it on for the next piece as well.
“Alec Baldwin chooses Tchaikovsky. Darryl Pinckney picks Mahler. And more sweeping, powerful music.”
The New York Times here aims to help people “to love symphonies, the sweeping musical statements at the foundation of the orchestral repertory.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s; 1 in 3 seniors die having been diagnosed with some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s. But these conditions are not exactly the same. Here’s why.
Dementia is a broad term referring to “a decline in mental ability as a result of damaged brain cells.” Dementia can be caused by many conditions, one of which is Alzheimer’s disease. “It may not seem like an important distinction, but treatments for one type of dementia and Alzheimer’s can vary.”
Sandee LaMotte interviews psychologist Deirdre Barrett for CNN. Barrett has been collecting stories of “our dreams and nightmares since the virus shut down our lives. Many of our night visions revolved around the fear of death, as our subconscious ruminated on the very real threat of Covid-19. Other dreams cast the virus as an invasive predator, often an insect.”
Read Barrett’s analysis of how dreams provide insight into our pandemic lives and how dreams have changed since mid-December 2019, “when it was announced the vaccines were highly effective and were being given emergency use approval.”
Naomi Ishisaka, a columnist for the Seattle Times, asks, “If the pandemic is a portal, what will the new world on the other side look like?”
She asked readers what changes made over the last 16 months they would like to keep “to make a more equitable, just and sustainable world.” Here are some of the answers in the areas of education, availability of virtual activities, work, and cultural and social changes.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
It’s hard to believe that a news story like this exists. But here we are.
The White House is asking the public for help over the next 30 days on how to best restore scientific integrity to the federal government, as a part of its effort to bring science back to the forefront of policymaking and restoring faith in government — no small task.
“About 6 million older adults in the U.S. live with chronic lower back pain,” reports AARP. Here’s an explanation of “five surprising culprits that may play a role in the pain in your back.”
“Speaking out loud is not only a medium of communication, but a technology of thinking: it encourages the formation and processing of thoughts,” writes Nana Ariel, a writer, literary scholar, and lecturer in humanities at Tel Aviv University.
Children commonly talk outloud to themselves while learning new activities such as tying their shoes. But as they get older, such rehearsal of learning switches to unvocalized thought—“inner speech” as opposed to talking out loud. But, Ariel writes, talking aloud to oneself can help people of any age: “Not only does speech retrieve pre-existing ideas, it also creates new information in the retrieval process, just as in the process of writing. Speaking out loud is inventive and creative – each uttered word and sentence doesn’t just bring forth an existing thought, but also triggers new mental and linguistic connections.”
“To break the tape loop in your head, talk to yourself as another person.”
There’s a type of inner speech different from the one discussed in the previous article: that nagging voice in our heads, sometimes called “monkey chatter.” Here Liz Greene takes a good long look at the voice in our heads that often becomes “a vicious nag, just looping uselessly over the same things, again and again and again.”
Greene emphasizes that she’s not writing about the voices of mental illness, but rather about “just the little voice we all have, cheerily (or naggingly) narrating our lives as we go about our days.”
Her discussion is based on the book Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It and an interview with the book’s author, Ethan Koss, an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Michigan.
It’s not uncommon to hear people lament that college students are not learning to think critically because they don’t read and write enough. Here K.C. Culver, Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California, reports on her recent research into whether lots of reading and writing are necessary for students to develop critical thinking skills.
The study found that a curriculum that challenges students to use higher-order thinking skills like analysis and evaluation is more effective in building critical thinking than is a heavy workload measured by number of pages read and written.
I’m old enough to have retired a few years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This article in the Los Angeles Times reports on older workers who “have reassessed their finances and other factors and have concluded that they are about as well off retiring now as they would be going back to work and soldiering on for a few more years.”
“If you are tense or anxious about reentering today’s so-called “normal,” experts say that’s understandable.”
“I think for many people this ‘return to normal’ feels awfully abrupt and jarring,” said [psychologist Kristen Carpenter, director of Women’s Behavioral Health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center], adding that the pandemic has been an incredibly difficult period, “with lots of opportunity for confusion, for disagreement, and for discord.”
The article discusses anxiety, panic attacks, and depression and offers advice on how to seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
A bittersweet story about a man with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and his wife.
“After years in which Americans worked later in life, the latest economic disruption has driven many out of the work force prematurely.”
The New York Times looks at “the millions of Americans who have decided to retire since the pandemic began, part of a surge in early exits from the work force. The trend has broad implications for the labor market and is a sign of how the pandemic has transformed the economic landscape.”
For those of us with this problem, here’s some good news.
Increasingly though, experts are waking up to the idea that chronic pain can occur without any obvious physical injury, or in a completely separate area of the body from the original site of tissue damage. There’s also mounting evidence that seemingly very different pain conditions – chronic headaches, low back pain and jaw pain, say – may share common underlying mechanisms, and that once a person develops one chronic pain condition, they’re predisposed to develop others.
Kareem Clark, Postdoctoral Associate in Neuroscience at Virginia Tech, looks at a big question for many as we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic:
if the idea of making small talk at a crowded happy hour sounds terrifying to you, you’re not alone. Nearly half of Americans reported feeling uneasy about returning to in-person interaction regardless of vaccination status.
He explains that our brains need to reset our sense of “social homeostasis – the right balance of social connections.”
CNN finds that we are “heading into a best of times, worst of times summer as the longed-for promise of deliverance from Covid-19 is tempered by spasms of violent crime, economic false starts and unexpected obstacles on the road to freedom.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
Ann Powers reports for NPR on Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, which came out in 1971, with an emphasis on its storytelling:
the creative process is as mundane as it is miraculous. It’s dribs and drabs and then a rush and then back to staring at the ceiling, wondering if the rush will come back. Blue is an album about working through something — a heartache, people say. But it’s just as much a document of the process of sharing that heartache, an inquiry into personal storytelling itself. Until Blue, Mitchell was getting there, but she hadn’t wholly figured out what she alone could say. That’s because what each person alone can say is, in its pure state, incommunicable. Stories are what get left behind as their tellers keep living and evolving. They’re always inconclusive.
From Jane E. Brody, for The New York Times:
Fewer than 1 percent of Americans reach the age of 100, and new data from the Netherlands indicate that those who achieve that milestone with their mental faculties still intact are likely to remain so for their remaining years, even if their brains are riddled with the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Brody reports on research about how people who are “physically able to reach 100 may also be able to remain mentally healthy.”
Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Daniel Amen explains that after experiencing trauma, some people develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) while others exhibit PTG (post-traumatic growth). Since COVID-19 has certainly been a time of trauma, he predicts that “the lucky ones who will experience post-pandemic growth.”
He offers advice on changes you can make to nurture PTG.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., considers what post-pandemic life will be like for introverts, most of whom have become comfortable with enforced social isolation. She first looks at personality-based research (most of it conducted on a college campus before the pandemic hit) that found that people tend to choose geographic locations on the basis of their personalities: “Participants higher in extraversion were the ones that researchers encountered in central, less secluded spots on campus. Those high in introversion, by contrast, set themselves up in quieter spaces away from the campus hub.”
On the basis of this research, she encourages introverted people to search for quiet personal spaces where they can seek occasional respite once they begin moving back into society.
CNN reports on recent research that found older adults “who have significant difficulty falling asleep and who experience frequent night awakenings” are at increased risk of dementia or earlier-than-normal death. The article ends with some suggestions of how you can reduce your risk by taking steps to avoid sleep deprivation.
The loss of people we know tends to get more frequent as we get older. Understanding grief, and how it works, can help us get through those hard times. Writer Brandy L. Schillace explains: “Death is not a thing, but things: a process of emotions, states of being, suddenly shifting relationships.” She encourages thinking of grief as “a path, a journey, a process.”
Our need to face death and its associated grieving is more pronounced now, in the time of COVID-19, than usual. This is the first in a series of articles Schillace plans “to try and better understand death not as the end of life, but as part of it — even in these changing and uncertain times.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
June is the annual celebration of Pride Month. Over the years I’ve sometimes been confused about how to use correctly the applicable terminology. I’m grateful to NPR for putting together this glossary of terms relating to gender identity.
Proper use of gender identity terms, including pronouns, is a crucial way to signal courtesy and acceptance. Alex Schmider, associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD, compares using someone’s correct pronouns to pronouncing their name correctly – “a way of respecting them and referring to them in a way that’s consistent and true to who they are.”
“People tend to think of they, Mx., and hir as relatively recent inventions. But English speakers have been looking for better ways to talk about gender for a very long time.”
Michael Waters offers a history of the long search for language that steps outside the traditional, normative binary of man/woman, his/her.
“Experts say anytime you’re facing a new challenge or you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re more susceptible to impostor syndrome. Here’s how to deal.”
Imposter syndrome is a real psychological thing, the fear that you’re not really qualified to do something, that you’re just pretending to have knowledge and ability that you think you really don’t possess. When I was going through a particularly challenging time several years ago, I dreamed that I was trying to pass myself off as a flautist in a symphony orchestra. The trouble was, though, that the flute I was pretending to play was carved out of wood and have no moving parts at all. And, for the record, I have never had a single flute lesson in my life.
This article offers some advice if the pandemic has forced you to take on new roles or situations that you feel unqualified to handle.
As we’re beginning to face the necessity of confronting systemic racism, I found this article particular enlightening on just how easily we normalize particular assumptions.
When we retired and moved from St. Louis, MO, to Tacoma, WA, making new friends was one of the things I worried most about. This concern was one of the biggest reasons why we chose to rent in a retirement community instead of buying a house.
How are you doing in the “getting back out into the world?” arena?
“After over a year of staying at home and following strict safety guidelines, many people are understandably reluctant to step out their front door and re-enter society.”
If this quotation describes you (as it does, at least a little bit, me), here’s some advice.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
Attorney Susan Cole recognized the toll that trauma can take on children:
She began a decades-long examination of the links between education and childhood trauma, using her accumulating experience to identify “broader systemic failures that could not be addressed on a case-by-case basis,” as her husband, David Eisen, put it.
Constant stress and fear were more than just a distraction for students; their effect, she learned, was neurological, activating the fight-or-flight survival instinct permanently.
“The year 1966 found America at a crossroads, as the nation faced war abroad and turmoil at home.”
To refresh your memory about this pivotal year in American history, here’s a “look at the music, movies, TV shows, headline-grabbing news stories and pop culture events of 1966.”
This is probably not the news most of us want to hear after 15 months of sitting on the couch watching TV: “new research shows that middle-aged to older adults reporting high levels of television-viewing experience greater cognitive decline.”
Here are suggestions for changing TV-viewing habits into something that will stimulate the brain:
When looking for something to scratch the TV itch, opt for documentaries on subjects you’re interested in, YouTube videos that teach you something new or game shows that test your knowledge. These provide more stimulation than, say, a reality show or action movie.
Most of us learned a long time ago that the Iliad and the Odyssey were originally oral epic poems composed by a blind poet named Homer. Here Adam Kirsch tells the fascinating story of how, in the early 1930s, “a young Harvard professor named Milman Parry published two papers, in the journal Harvard Studies in Classical Philology” that proved that the Homeric epics “were products of an oral tradition, performed by generations of anonymous Greek bards who gradually shaped them into the epics we know today.”
Part of Parry’s research included traveling to remote areas in Yugoslavia to record “local singers, whose improvised songs offered clues about how the Homeric epics might have been performed millennia earlier.”
“An Oral History of the Pentagon Papers”
“This article is part of a special report on the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers.”
My husband says that he doesn’t have a mind’s eye, that he cannot picture things in his head.
Here’s a story of scientists studying both ends of the spectrum of the ability to conjure up pictures of objects or people in their imagination. The lack of this ability is called aphantasia, and the condition of experiencing extraordinarily strong mental imagery is called hyperphantasia.
“This is not a disorder as far as I can see,” said Dr. Zeman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Exeter in Britain. “It’s an intriguing variation in human experience.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
I see the term critical race theory in the news a lot, but I didn’t know what it meant. I was therefore grateful to find this article from the Washington Post.
“Critical race theory is an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic, and not just demonstrated by individual people with prejudices,” the article says. But it further points out that, although the term refers to an academic area of study, “its common usage has diverged from its exact meaning.”
This article from the AARP’s Ethel newsletter focuses on sleep problems after menopause because: “According to The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), sleep disturbances range from 16 to 42 percent in premenopausal women and then climb to 35 to 60 percent when we’re postmenopausal.”
If this situation applies to you, read “some recommendations from the sleep experts.”
“For elderly Americans, social isolation is especially perilous. Will machine companions fill the void?”
The New Yorker reports on a study that uses robotic pets as companions for isolated older adults.
Yes, this is a real thing. According to the article, “In 2017, the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, declared loneliness an ‘epidemic’ among Americans of all ages. . . . Older people are more susceptible to loneliness; forty-three per cent of Americans over sixty identify as lonely.”
Before you scoff and try to laugh this off, read the article to find out how some study participants feel about their mechanical companions.
“What if we’re scared to go back to normal life?”
I’ve been seeing a lot of articles lately about people’s reactions to re-entering society now that vaccines have made possible the reductions in mask-wearing and social-distancing policies. This article reports:
For many, the transitional period has been a little bumpy. A report by the American Psychological Association, published in March, 2021, found that almost half of Americans surveyed felt “uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction” after the pandemic.
Bethany Teachman, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, offers some suggestions from clinical psychological science for those who wish to “choose what to rebuild, what to leave behind and what new paths to try for the first time” as they ease their way into post-pandemic life.
A lot of articles deal with what concepts of the “new normal” will emerge as society reopens. Many analyses I’ve read indicate that remote medical consultations may well be one of the features of the pandemic that may stick around.
Here Julie Appleby of Kaiser Health News offers advice on how to determine if or when telehealth visits meet your needs.
Interest in genealogy boomed during the pandemic. Here are some suggestions for using online resources to trace your family roots.
“The advent of wearable devices that monitor our heart rhythms both excites and worries doctors.”
Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., looks at both the potential benefits and the potential drawbacks of new, wearable health-monitoring devices such as smartwatches.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
As Lou Gehrig Day nears, here’s what he meant to the fight vs. ALS, and what baseball means to those with it
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disease that killed baseball player Lou Gehrig (and is therefore alternatively called Lou Gehrig disease), is a “progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and is 100% fatal.” Next Wednesday Major League Baseball will celebrate the first of what will become an annual event, Lou Gehrig Day.
ALS advocates hope that this event will increase awareness of the disease, for which there have been very few treatment breakthroughs since Gehrig’s 1939 diagnosis:
As Phil Green, a former University of Washington football player who has lived with ALS since 2018, said in an interview this week, “If Lou Gehrig were diagnosed today, he would have pretty much the identical prognosis that he did 80 years ago. Just think about that. We put men on the moon and rovers on Mars, yet this disease still seems to baffle some of the smartest scientists in the world.”
“If you remember the 60s, the saying goes, you weren’t there. And for many of us who lived those turbulent, exciting and wildly different times it’s true,” writes Mike Bond, who graduated from college in 1965. “I was one of the founders of the Resistance [to the Vietnam war], and risked ten years in jail for it, was on the run for several years ducking the dutiful FBI guys who would clump up the stairs to whatever apartment I was crashing in, while its rightful tenant would answer the door and say I wasn’t there.”
Here Bond lists 11 books that had a great influence on his thinking in the ’60s.
When I was in my early 20s, I was in an abusive relationship with another woman. Soon after it ended, I did what I always did when I was heartbroken: I looked for art that spoke to my experience. I was surprised to find shockingly few memoirs of domestic violence or verbal, psychological and emotional abuse in queer relationships. So I wrote into that silence: a memoir, “In the Dream House,” which describes that relationship and my struggle to leave it.
Carmen Maria Machado reacts to the recent attempt by a parent in Leander, Texas, to remove her book and several others from a list of recommended reading in the local high school.
“To celebrate the Book Review’s 125th anniversary, we’re dipping into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.”
Current writers for The New York Times look back on some of the “robust literary coverage” of the newspaper’s Book Review, including articles by authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Tennessee Williams, Patricia Highsmith, Eudora Welty, and Langston Hughes.
Writer Leslie Jamison interviews Suzanne Koven, author of Letter to a Young Female Physician: Notes from a Medical Life, a collection of essays. Jamison begins the interview with this question:
I love the ways these essays hold so many aspects of your identity: doctor, daughter, mother, wife, patient, and colleague. We see you as a little girl going to the office of your doctor-father, wanting “to witness at close range the freedom of men,” and we see you as a panicked mother, riding in an ambulance with your young son after seizures. How did you approach writing about times when various parts of your identity converged or collided?
And Koven replies that writing the book helped her discover that the “various parts of me turned out to be more aligned than I understood.”
Hadley Freeman describes recently interviewing William Shatner over Zoom: “He certainly sounds like Shatner. But Shatner turned 90 in March, and the man in front of me doesn’t look more than 60, as he bounces about in his seat, twisting to show me the view around him, with the agility of a man two decades younger.”
He’ll always be Captain James T. Kirk to me.
“Prolific, resilient and endlessly creative … as Dylan celebrates his 80th birthday, Edward Docx assesses his artistic contribution to the human story”
And look who’s 10 years younger than Shatner and also still going strong.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
CNN reports on recent research results:
Talking on video-conference services like Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic has helped older people stave off the effects of dementia, a new study has suggested.
Researchers found that regular communication helps maintain long-term memory, and elderly people who often use online tools showed less decline in memory than those who don’t.
“Trashed in the U.S., hop shoots are treasure in parts of Europe.”
Washington State produces lots of hops, the crop that lends much of the bitter taste to beer. In fact, according to this article, “75 percent of the U.S. hops supply is grown in Yakima Valley,” in eastern Washington.
This article presents some entrepreneurs who are exploring ways to use more of the hop plant than the part used in beer brewing.
“For Beard, change has always been a part of the classics. We need to expose the field’s flaws to learn how we’ve inherited them.”
Since I did my B.A. and M.A. in Latin, I’ve been following the recently publicized issue of universities dissolving their classics departments. Here Katy Waldman profiles British classicist Mary Beard for The New Yorker.
Introducing her subject, Waldman writes about how to describe Beard: “‘Classicist’ doesn’t quite capture it. ‘Celebrity historian’ inches closer.”
The movement to downplay the study of classics centers on the claim that the field embodies an “imperialist mind-set” and “sustains a mythology of whiteness.” But, Waldman writes, “As the field’s most famous practitioner, and a dedicated anti-racist and feminist, Beard takes a middle position: she believes neither that classics deserves a pedestal nor that it must be destroyed.”
Vishavjit Singh writes:
My turban and beard have always made me a target of anxiety, stereotyping, or outright racism. Post-9/11, the hate has been taken to a whole new level. Sikhs have been killed, attacked, and verbally abused in a never-ending American saga.
Singh takes a look at some of our inherent biases: “This is not a Black and White problem only. It is an American ailment. It is a human disease.”
“Face coverings have been a political flash point for more than a year. But now, the backlash is directed at people who don’t plan to take them off.”
My husband and I have been fully vaccinated since late February. Yet, despite the most recent CDC guidelines, when we went to the farmers’ market yesterday, I put my mask on.
I’ve decided to continue to wear a mask when I’m in a crowd for quite a while. After being required to do so for more than a year, it’s something I’ve gotten used to doing. I figure that wearing a mask doesn’t hurt me or anyone else, but it does provide an extra bit of protection against any virus particles that might be floating around. My decision has nothing to do with politics. I’m just being as cautious as possible about my own health.
This article in the New York Times looks at reasons why some people are continuing to mask up.
How About You?
Do you continue to mask up?
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown