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.

scroll divider

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

Last Week’s Links

Here’s a mental health tip to get you through coronavirus quarantine: Find tranquility in nature

Corinne Whiting reports in The Seattle Times how nature can help soothe us through these uncertain times. Although her emphasis is local, much of what she has to say can probably be extrapolated for people in other areas.

“We as Americans have a tendency to think outside of our cities when it comes to nature and health,” Wolf said. The research, however, points to nearby, everyday nature — from our backyards to neighborhood streetscapes — being equally important, if not more so. [Kathleen Wolf is a research social scientist at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment.]

For those who can’t get outside or who don’t have access to appropriate natural areas:

Wolf suggests taking advantage of “vicarious or virtual nature,” whether via wildlife documentaries or daily livestreams offered by zoos, aquariums and nature reserves around the globe.

What Do the Humanities Do in a Crisis?

Even in good times, the humanistic academy is mocked as a wheel turning nothing; in an emergency, when doctors, delivery personnel, and other essential workers are scrambling to keep society intact, no one has patience with the wheel’s demand to keep turning. What is the role of Aristotle, or the person who studies him, in a crisis?

For those of us whose daily existence centers around mental rather than physical activity, Agnes Callard laments that the current crisis has made it impossible to capitalize on the time now available for mental processes that  we value so highly. 

“Perhaps the special danger of a crisis that leaves a lot of time for thinking is that one will try to learn too many lessons while inside it. Crises are, at least while they are happening, not educational opportunities. They are events that befall us, that harm us. They target everything about us, including our faculty for learning.”

What Day Is It? You’re Not the Only One Asking

When I first visited my doctor for a routine annual physical after turning 65, the nurse said, “Since you’re now on Medicare, I have to ask some questions to assess your cognitive acuity. What day is it?”

And I just laughed. “Retirement means never having to know what day it is,” I told her as my mind scrambled for the answer. And it’s true. When you don’t have to get out and about for work or other daily obligations, one day becomes pretty much like the next. I think I was finally able to tell her that today was Tuesday, but only because I knew that Tuesday was the only day on my weekly calendar with an appointment on it.

The situation is similar now that most of us are all shuttered inside. Even people who are working from home and/or home-schooling their kids are apparently, like Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, becoming unstuck in time. 

Among the stranger consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is how, by unmooring the daily lives of tens of millions of people, it has made time itself feel distorted. Psychologists say the sensation is a result of losing social anchors, chronic stress and anxiety, and drastic changes to normal routines.

Friendship Is a Lifesaver

“People over 60 are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than anyone else. They are also vulnerable to loneliness, especially when they live alone. By forcing us all into social isolation, one public health crisis—the coronavirus—is shining a bright light on another, loneliness. It will be some time before we have a vaccine for the coronavirus. But the antidote to loneliness is accessible to all of us: friendship.”

3 older adults on bench

Lydia Denworth, a contributing editor for Scientific American, discusses how social isolation can be especially hard on older adults, the very people most vulnerable to the physical effects of COVID-19.

Our dreams have many purposes, changing across the lifespan

Patrick McNamara, associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, discusses how dreams tend to change focus across the human life span and, further, across historical epochs.

“Older adults tend to dream more about creative works, legacies and enduring concerns, while the dreams of dying people are filled with numbers of supernatural agents, other-worldly settings and images of reunions with a loved one who has died.”

Art for Earth Day: Seattle Times artists past and present share their views of our world

Pacific NW Magazine, a weekend feature of The Seattle Times, takes “a fresh look at Earth Day through the eyes of current and former Seattle Times artists” on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Irritable? Can’t sleep? We react to pandemic’s stress in many ways, experts say

Over on my literature blog I wrote about how the current health emergency has made it difficult for me to read and write: Reading & Blogging in the Time of COVID-19.

Many people are writing similar pieces about how the situation is affecting them. Here, from my local newspaper, is an article about what a couple of experts have to say about how different people handle stress differently, along with some advice on how to care for ourselves as well as others.

The Tonic of Gardening in Quarantine

Just as people experience stress differently, they also find comfort differently. One activity often recommended is gardening. Here, in The New Yorker, Charlotte Mendelson explains how gardening is helping her cope in these unsettled times:

What all gardeners know, and the rest of you may discover, is that if you have even the smallest space, a pot on a window ledge, a front step, a wee yard, there is no balm to the soul greater than planting seeds. Watching them begin to sprout, checking far too often as the firm yet fragile stems break free of the soil, the dry seed-case caps, is a joy so strong you can feel it in your knuckles.

purple iris
purple iris

6 Indoor Gardening Projects for *Any* Size of Home

And for those who live in small spaces, here are some indoor gardening suggestions. The one I found most intriguing was a link to an article about how to create a vertical garden (not that I’m actually going to do it, mind you, but the thought piques my imagination).

Need to Cure of Case of Cabin Fever? Try Backyard Birding

Maybe you prefer birdwatching to gardening. (I know I do.) According to this article, “A 2017 study from the University of Exeter found that being able to see birds around your home may reduce levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.”

birds: northern flickers
northern flickers

The article itself is short, but it contains links to several related resources.

Dispatches from a Pandemic

This is a portal to several articles by writers for The New Yorker. There’s a wide variety of topics here, so you’re bound to find something to interest or inform you.

A Force Outside Myself: Citizens Over 60 Speak

I learned about this site from Ron Charles’s weekly Book Club newsletter for the Washington Post. Here’s what Charles has to say about this site:

I’ve been alarmed by some of the “reassuring” rhetoric around the Covid-19 crisis. The worst example came last month from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who sounded like he might push grandparents into a pit if it meant the rest of us could start shopping sooner. . . . In response, McSweeney’s has started publishing a series of short statements called “A Force Outside Myself: Citizens Over 60 Speak” . . . Their pieces are haunting, sobering, sometimes witty, always achingly sincere.

Fran Lebowitz Is Never Leaving New York

“The writer on growing old, life in quarantine, and the sadness of seeing her city shut down.”

Here’s an interview with Fran Lebowitz, “one of New York’s most distinctive personalities.”

At age 69, she’s in the high-risk category of people over 60. When asked how she feels about being in this category, she replied:

One thing I’ve absolutely noticed about myself, and which should be true as you get older: it’s not that you want to die, but you are less attached to life. You’re less panicked. I’m not very panicked by this, and I have friends who are. They’re 


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown