Last Week’s Links

How to interpret historical analogies

For those of us who’ve lived long enough to see a thing or two:

Historical analogies – basically, the claim that two events or phenomena separated by time, and sometimes also by space, are similar in essential ways – are all around us. ‘History is repeating itself’ is a prominent idea, often phrased as ‘We’ve been here before’ or ‘This feels awfully familiar.’ Given that analogies are not a central feature of historical writing, or even something historians are normally trained to do, it’s worth asking: who makes historical analogies and why? How do historical analogies work? When do they catch on? Why are they so popular? What purpose do they serve? Do they help us better understand the world?

Scientists get closer to blood test for Alzheimer’s disease

An experimental blood test was highly accurate at distinguishing people with Alzheimer’s disease from those without it in several studies, boosting hopes that there soon may be a simple way to help diagnose this most common form of dementia.

We always have to understand that these medical reports are preliminary. Still, it’s comforting to learn that research is progressing.

An Elegy for the Landline in Literature

Many of us are old enough to remember when a phone ringing in the middle of the night indicated that something very bad had happened. Of course, that ringing phone was a landline, the only kind of phone we had back in those days.

“Since its invention, in the nineteenth century, the landline has often been portrayed as sinister—the object through which fate comes to call,” writes Sophie Haigney. She discusses how the landline was used in literature “as an open line of possibility, just waiting to ring,” that has been eliminated by the ubiquitous cell phone.

Seven Mysteries Featuring Standout Seniors as Secondary Characters

Mystery author S.C. Perkins discusses some of her favorite mysteries that feature older adults who are “long on great personalities” as secondary characters: “I’m here to give respect to the elder characters who not only offer the protagonist the benefits of their knowledge learned through a long life, but also possess a sense of humor about the world that comes from having seen it all.”

Senior Citizens Recreate Iconic Music Album Covers While in Quarantine

To lift your spirits, take a look at these recreations of classic music album covers by older adults from senior communities in England.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

How to be alone

“Solitude is a skill. You can get better at it with practice.”

Sigal Samuel urges us to lean into being alone.

Many factors have conspired to make us bad at solitude. They’re mostly not our fault. As Jenny Odell lays out in her book How to Do Nothing, we live in a culture where sociability and constant connectivity are rewarded, and where choosing to be by yourself marks you out as a loser, crazy, possibly immoral.

This article goes deeper than I expected. Samuel offers several ingredients for making the most of solitude:

  1. “First, there’s the idea that to succeed at solitude, you have to accept that you’re being “thrown upon yourself” — to confront your reality rather than opting for distraction.
  2. “Another key ingredient to successful solitude, psychologists have found, is having a clear sense of purpose.”
  3. Some people who have adapted to living in isolation “emphasize the importance of routines — the little daily rituals that anchor us in time and give shape to a day.”
  4. “Many artists insist that isolation is necessary for creative work.”
  5. “Most world religions, even if they’re ambivalent about solitude as a long-term path, acknowledge that it’s useful for fostering spiritual insight.”

But Samuel also acknowledges that sudden isolation, such as that forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic, can also have risks. There’s a link to a guide to developing “distress tolerance skills” developed by psychologists for the Centre for Clinical Interventions, supported by the Australian government’s department of health.

Loneliness Hasn’t Increased Despite Pandemic, Research Finds. What Helped?

NPR reports on several new studies that suggest the huge increase in loneliness social scientists expected to accompany the mandatory isolation necessary to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus hasn’t materialized.

Some researchers wonder if the many ways communities have found to band together while socially distanced—such as porch chats, Zoom dinners, neighborhood dancing—have contributed to the lower-than-expected rate of loneliness. Still, they add, conditions are ripe for anxiety and depression, which we should be on the lookout for in both ourselves and others.

As the pandemic surges, old people alarm their adult kids by playing bridge and getting haircuts

My husband and I are both over 70, and we’ve been terrified by how hard this virus is hitting older adults. We have minimized our trips out as much as possible, always wear masks when outside the house, and stay six feet away from others when we do go to the grocery store. So I was surprised to see this news story about older people shocking their children by not following recommended health guidelines.

Various factors are contributing to this generational divide. Older people in the United States are statistically more likely than younger generations to listen to conservative media and to politicians who have played down the dangers of the virus, and some may have followed their lead. Others may be well aware of the risks but have weighed them against the mental and physical benefits of maintaining exercise and social routines.

Whatever the reasons, the dynamic can leave middle-aged people, many of whom may already be worried about their adult children going to protests or beach gatherings, feeling that they must also parent their parents.

You’re Doomscrolling Again. Here’s How to Snap Out of It.

This experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news is so common that there’s now internet lingo for it: “doomscrolling.” Exacerbating this behavior, shelter-in-place orders leave us with little to do other than to look at our screens; by some measures, our screen time has jumped at least 50 percent.

Read explanations of how to use these approaches to lift yourself out of the doom and gloom:

  1. Create a plan to control your time
  2. Practice meditation
  3. Connect with others

Viewing Literature as a Lab for Community Ethics

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront many bioethical questions, such as, when resources are limited, which lives should be saved and which sacrificed? Maren Tova Linett, author of Literary Bioethics, argues that fiction, with its ability to present imagined worlds, offers the chance to explore such concerns: “Fiction has the virtue of presenting vividly imagined worlds in which certain values hold sway, casting new light onto those values. And the more plausible we find these imagined worlds, the more thoroughly we can evaluate the justice of those values.”

Literary Bioethics considers novels such as The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Lingering Legacy of America’s First Cookie-Cutter Suburb

I’ve been hearing a lot about systemic racism in the U.S., the fact that racism is built so basically into our culture that even the best-intentioned white folks don’t notice it. This article from Atlas Obscura startlingly illustrates that point.

“The idyllic ideal of modern suburbia in the United States was born in 1947 with the creation of Levittown, a large housing development in Long Island, New York.” Furthermore:

A clause in the standard lease for the first Levitt houses baldly stated that the homes could not “be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.” Government policies at the time, such as those of the Federal Housing Administration, supported such racist practices, blocking Black Americans and other people of color from the new suburbs and homeownership.

I’ll just leave that fact right there.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Look! A Library Book!

I’ve been jealously eyeing people’s Instagram and Facebook posts showing off their book hauls from their library’s curbside pickup service. A lot of libraries opened for pickup while I’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for  announcements from both my city and county libraries. 

Now my county library has finally figured out how to handle pickup service. They’re offering only walkup or bikeup pickups at my location rather than curbside service because there’s not enough space on the street for cars to line up while still keeping two-way traffic open. Therefore, they’ve had to set up two pickup lines on the side of the facility, in a space between two buildings.

I was thrilled yesterday to pick up The Only Child by Mi-ae Seo, which I’ve had on request for six or seven months.

On a related note, I hadn’t driven in so long that I almost forgot how.

There’s still no word on when pickup will be available at city libraries, but I’ve always had more luck getting books I want from the county library anyway. 

Long live public libraries!

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

15 Trailblazing Facts About Gloria Steinem

After more than half a century advocating for women’s rights and other civil liberties, Gloria Steinem has become one of the most famous feminists of all time. While you might know her best as the face of the women’s liberation movement or the founder of Ms. magazine, the Ohio-born activist has quite a few other accomplishments to her name.

Those of us who grew up along with Gloria Steinem probably know that, as a young woman, she served a stint as a Playboy Bunny. Here are some more tantalizing facts the feminist icon, including her discovery, through Little Women, that “women could be a whole human world.”

But writer Ellen Gutoskey saved the best for last:

“15. GLORIA STEINEM HAS NO PLANS TO RETIRE.”

The Crime Victim Who’s Obsessed with True Crime Shows

“After I was injured in a school shooting, I found unexpected comfort in binging grisly TV shows and podcasts. And I’m not the only one.”

Taylor Schumann reports that, after being wounded in a school shooting, she began obsessively watching true crime TV shows because “at their root was reality: real people and real pain, just like my own.”

Later, discussing true crime shows and podcasts, she was comforted by the realization that she wasn’t the only person fascinated by them. And those discussions often offered her the opportunity to share bits of her own experience, with the result that “I felt more known.” Finally, “I found an unexpected community of other victims of violent crime who also experienced a sort of mending of themselves through the true crime genre.”

50 Years Ago Neil Young Wrote a Song That Changed a Generation of Protest Music

Jon Friedman writes for Esquire about Neil Young’s song “Ohio,” written 50 years ago this summer “in the aftermath of the massacre of four students on the campus of Kent State University, on May 4, 1970.”

This moment in history has special poignancy for me because my graduation from Boston University, scheduled for late May, was canceled immediately after the killings. We were in the middle of the final exam period, and all exams not yet taken were called off. We were also made to leave the dormitories within the next few days.

And that experience made me sympathize with all the students who missed out on their high school, college, or graduate school graduations this year, the spring and summer of COVID-19.

And I wonder what kind of music will emerge from our current experience. Will there be anything as lastingly significant as Neil Young’s song “Ohio”? 

“Today, of course,” writes Friedman, “Young is defined by his lifelong activism, but in early 1970, before the release of ‘Ohio,’ there was no real indication of the protest singer he was about to become.” 

Lonnie Wheeler, 68, Dies; Helped Ballplayers Tell Their Stories

Darn, I miss baseball. Everything at all baseball related reminds me how much.

In Praise of Solitude

Academician Irina Dumitrescu riffs on the notion of solitude. The main bases for her musings are the new book The Art of Solitude by Stephen Batchelor and the curious isolation the COVID-19 virus has forced upon us:

Zoom and Skype and Instagram live beam faces and voices into our rooms, but we miss touch and scent of skin, the warmth of another’s body, the easy energy of a conversation in place. We are neither with one another nor alone with ourselves, neither imprisoned nor truly free.

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As the virus surges, I hope all of you are keeping yourselves healthy, both physically and mentally. Take time to engage in whatever activities bring you comfort and joy. And do not feel the need to apologize for self-care.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Falling in Love with The Rockford Files—All Over Again

Not too long ago my husband and I watched a series on either Netflix or Amazon Prime (I can’t remember which) that featured actor Stuart Margolin in some episodes. I immediately recognized the name but where I knew it from. My husband supplied the answer: Stuart Margolin played Rockford’s former cellmate and occasional colleague on the TV show The Rockford Files.

The very next day I came across this article in praise of that show, and I immediately remembered how much I loved it. The article emphasizes how the show marked a new direction in television fare, but of course I liked it for one particular reason: James Garner.

If you feel at all nostalgic about The Rockford Files, this article will take you on a pleasant journey down memory lane.

Edward Hopper and American Solitude

I have absolutely no background in art appreciation or art history. But, like a lot of other people, I find Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942) mesmerizing. In this article for The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes, “Once you’ve seen a Hopper, it stays seen.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic as background, Schjeldahl explains:

The visual bard of American solitude—not loneliness, a maudlin projection—speaks to our isolated states these days with fortuitous poignance. But he is always doing that, pandemic or no pandemic. Aloneness is his great theme, symbolizing America: insecure selfhoods in a country that is only abstractly a nation.

How Common Is the Belief that Life Is Meaningless?

Iddo Landau, Ph.D., addresses what he says is a common belief in what Victor Frankl called “The Existential Vacuum,” or the feeling that life is meaningless. Landau says that, despite the prevalence of this belief, there is no scientific evidence to support it.

Landau continues, “The empirical research on the topic suggests that the phenomenon may be less common than some take it to be.” He then examines some of the research, much of which suggests that more people believe that their life has purpose than those who believe it doesn’t. And, he adds, “the large percentage in these and other samples of the people who take their lives to be meaningful shouldn’t lead us to ignore those who feel that their lives are not meaningful; they should be taken very seriously.”

This short overview article does not look at how people of different ages feel about their meaning of life. For example, anyone who has raised children is familiar with the concept of “teenage angst,” something that adolescents often wrestle with as they approach adulthood and work to decide how to spend the rest of their lives. Also, the question of life’s meaning is something that many older adults ponder.

So while this article deals with a question that’s interesting to consider, I’d like to see a much deeper analysis of the issue.

New Government Website Tracks Coronavirus in Nursing Homes

AARP reports that the federal government unveiled on June 4th a new web site that tracks coronavirus cases and deaths in specific nursing homes. According to this article, “The information remains incomplete and does not include assisted living facilities, which are not regulated by the federal government.” 

I suggest you take a look at the article to find out what certain terms mean and what data the new web site includes and excludes.

Retrospect

I recently came across the Retrospect site, with the subtitle “think back, share forward.” It bills itself as “the place for baby boomers to tell their stories.”

Each week Retrospect sends out an email with that week’s prompts. Members can then go to the Retrospect web site and write their own stories around the prompt.

Apparently you can read stories on the site without signing in, but to write stories you’ll have to register. As far as I can tell (without actually registering), registration is free.

I haven’t completely vetted this site, but the set-up seems like a good idea to me. Much research over many years has concluded that life writing can benefit us emotionally and even physically. Even without those physical and emotional benefits, just reading other peoples’ stories is thought-provoking.

If you’re interested in this opportunity, please check out the site completely to see it meets your needs without any undue requirements. And if you do decide to participate here, please come back and give us your reactions in the comments.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Grace Edwards, Harlem Mystery Writer, Dies at 87

“A former director of the Harlem Writers Guild, she published her first novel when she was 55, and her first mystery, featuring a stylish female ex-cop turned sleuth, when she was 64.”

Finding Meaning and Happiness in Old Age

Jane E. Brody has been a major health writer for the New York Times for quite a while. In honor of her recent birthday, the Times reprinted some of her past, but still relevant, articles. 

In this piece from March 2018 Brody examines two books by authors who share their wisdom on aging learned from years of working and talking with older people: The End of Old Age by Dr. Marc E. Agronin and Happiness Is a Choice You Make by John Leland.

Why Creating the Post-COVID New Normal Is a Job for Individuals

I keep seeing articles about what the “new normal” will look like as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. T.A. Frank writes in Vanity Fair that “staying safe while getting back to ordinary life is a matter of people making good decisions based on science and common sense.”

Read some of his suggestions for modifying our post-pandemic behavior here.

‘Perry Mason’ New Trailer: Matthew Rhys Is Out to Solve a Murder in HBO’s Reboot

I remember watching the black-and-white TV show Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr, with my grandmother. I got goosebumps when I read here that HBO is releasing a updating the series, starting June 21, with Matthew Rhys from The Americans in the lead role. 

“. . . while Burr’s take on the character saw him as a defense attorney helping the wrongly accused, Rhys is set to play a younger take on the character before he entered a courtroom.”

‘What will the years coming look like?’: Coronavirus has thrown a wrench into Washingtonians’ retirement plans

This article from the Seattle Times has a local emphasis, but much of the discussion here, from Washingtonians over age 50, applies to many Americans in this age group.

“The first message: Don’t panic.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The Covid-19 ‘Infowhelm’

Heather Houser explains that infowhelm is “the term I use to describe the phenomenon of being overwhelmed by a constant flow of sometimes conflicting information.”

Further, “Infowhelm goes beyond simple overload—it’s characterized by the crucial complications that data are uncertain and evolving (testing has been flawed and even the six-foot rule is up for debate), they’re contested by those in power (President Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro), and the stakes of taking action are enormous.” 

Since infowhelm involves not just the information itself but our ability “to filter and assess it,” Houser offers some advice for improving our data literacy.

Why it’s so hard to read a book right now, explained by a neuroscientist

If you’re one of the people having trouble concentrating long enough to read effectively, take heart: You’re not alone. Here Constance Grady interviews Oliver J. Robinson, a neuroscientist and psychologist based at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London.

Dark feelings will haunt us until they are expressed in words

Tom Wooldridge—an associate professor and chair in the psychology department at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, a psychoanalyst, and a board-certified, licensed psychologist—discusses alexithymia, the inability to describe one’s inner life. “It refers to a cluster of features including difficulty identifying and describing subjective feelings, a limited fantasy life, and a style of thinking that focuses on external stimuli as opposed to internal states.”

While this condition might sound like what we’re all experiencing now during the coronavirus pandemic, Wooldridge explains that it is something we all experience in our everyday lives to some degree. “Developing this capacity – the psychic elaboration of emotion – is a life-long task with which we must all engage. It is a cornerstone of psychological self-knowledge.”

Learning to describe our emotions with “images and words, and subjecting them to ongoing reflection” is a key to continued mental growth, Wooldridge concludes.

Not everyone hates being stuck at home. Some people are thriving

Molly Creeden writes in the Los Angeles Times, “the unusual circumstances of being cloistered at home have proved a welcome change of pace, if not wholly enjoyable. And while no one is happy about the reasons we find ourselves in this abbreviated style of living, those well-suited to it are thriving.”

Read some of the explanations by people who appreciate the changes the current situation has brought to their lives and who hope to carry over some of those changes when the isolation restrictions ease.

No Country for Old People

Sweden did not set out to kill thousands of its older citizens. Nor did any country as COVID-19 swept across the globe. But Sweden’s unique and closely watched approach to the pandemic has spotlighted the tragic toll the coronavirus has taken on the elderly. It has cast a harsh light on the value that societies have placed on the freedoms of some to the expense of others.

Robert Bazell, adjunct professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale, argues that “The COVID-19 death rate in Sweden has exposed worldwide bias against the elderly.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

For the first time, scientists can see how the brain records our memories as we sleep

For some time now scientists have known that sleep helps solidify learning by providing our brains the opportunity to review the day’s events and transfer things into long-term memories. Finally, CNN reports, scientists have a start on understanding how this process works: “tiny microelectrodes planted inside the brains of two people show just how the brain’s neurons fire during sleep to ‘replay’ our short-term memories in order to move them into more permanent storage.”

Results of the study, carried out by BrainGate, an academic research consortium composed of Brown University, the Providence VA Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Stanford University, and Case Western Reserve University, were reported in the journal Cell Reports.

It’s important to note that the number of tests reported on is extremely small and that much more research is necessary.

The Economics of Coronavirus: A Reading List

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the world will look like once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but my speculations are mostly social and political. I know absolutely nothing about economics beyond balancing my checkbook, which is why I took particular notice of this article from Five Books.

As we deal with the economic fallout of coronavirus, what lessons can economic theory and economic history teach us as we navigate the months ahead? Ricardo Reis, professor of economics at the London School of Economics—and consultant to both the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve—recommends four books and one article to help us think through the economic challenges posed by Covid-19.

The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations

Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson writes:

In mid-March, in a prior age, I spent a week rafting down the Grand Canyon. When I left for the trip, the United States was still beginning to grapple with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. Italy was suffering; the N.B.A. had just suspended its season; Tom Hanks had been reported ill. When I hiked back up, on March 19th, it was into a different world. I’ve spent my life writing science-fiction novels that try to convey some of the strangeness of the future. But I was still shocked by how much had changed, and how quickly.

“The virus is rewriting our imaginations,” he writes, because it has awakened our realization of the significance of our place in history. “We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters.”

Judi Dench, 85, becomes British Vogue’s oldest cover star

“Oscar-winning actor Judi Dench has become the oldest person ever to feature on the cover of British Vogue at the age of 85.”

Be sure to click on the link to the article to see the glorious cover.

It’s the Perfect Time to Record Your Family’s History. Here’s How.

A good reason to help your older relatives learn to communicate online is to take advantage of the opportunity to share and record family-history stories. This article has some useful tips on how to record conversations, what prompts to assemble, how to prepare the people you plan to talk with, and how to develop open-ended questions that will stimulate conversation.

This advice applies to both digital and in-person conversations.

The pandemic has amplified ageism. ‘It’s open season for discrimination’ against older adults

Laura Newberry reports in the Los Angeles Times on “how little some people care about the well-being of older adults, who make up roughly 80% of those who die from COVID-19 complications.”

The information here is not limited to the Los Angeles area. Much of it pertains to those of us in the higher-risk demographic (people age 60 and over) no matter where we live.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Our great staff here at Franke Tobey Jones provided a Cinco de Mayo party at yesterday’s weekly tailgate happy hour. We are indeed lucky to live in such a caring retirement community.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Celebrating Earth Day

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. First celebrated in 1970, “The date of Earth Day was specifically selected to mobilize college students”:

To head up the Earth Day project, Senator [Gaylord] Nelson enlisted Denis Hayes, then a graduate student at Harvard University. As national coordinator, Hayes recruited a staff of 85 energetic young environmental crusaders and grassroots organizers, along with thousands of field volunteers, in order to promote the fledgling holiday across the nation. The team knew that in order to gain the most traction, college students would need to play a central role, as they did in the Vietnam protests of the era. The date that Hayes selected for the first Earth Day was a calculated choice: April 22 on most college campuses falls right between Spring Break and final exams.

Read this and other memorable morsels in 10 Fascinating Facts About Earth Day.

If you’ve finally decided that it’s time to read a book about climate change, The New York Times has some suggestions in the following categories:

  • I don’t even know where to start.
  • I just want to understand how we got here.
  • I’m ready for the hard truth. Don’t sugar-coat it.
  • Who saw this coming?
  • I’m fascinated by how people behave when things get bad.
  • Did we learn anything from Hurricane Katrina?
  • I live on the coast. How scared should I be?
  • New York is the center of my universe.
  • What’s happening to the Great Lakes?
  • I know it’s all politics. So who’s to blame?
  • Someone must be profiting from climate change. Where’s the money?
  • I’d like a novel that taps into my current, IRL dread.
  • What are some future scenarios?
  • I’m a dystopian. Prepare me for the worst.
  • I need help arguing with my denialist uncle.
  • I’m just an old-fashioned tree-hugger.
  • What about the animals?
  • I only have time for one canonical read.
  • What will inspire the climate activist of the future?
  • What will our grandchildren think of us?
  • What I can do right now?

And here are some more reading suggestions: 9 Nonfiction Books About Nature and Climate Change.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown