Last Week’s Links

It’s nearly impossible to avoid COVID-19 new entirely, and I apologize for that.

I hope you are all staying inside as much as possible, remaining safe and healthy, and WASHING YOUR HANDS.

My husband got all dolled up this morning for a run to the grocery store:

My husband masked up for a trip to the grocery store

Why Life During a Pandemic Feels So Surreal

“You’ve heard your friends and family say it: just surreal. We in the media call it surreal all the time. Because it is surreal, “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” so says Merriam-Webster.

It’s good to have our feelings validated in these unusual—well, yes, surreal—times. Even though “study of the surreal isn’t exactly an official field in psychology,” here are some psychological explorations into what we’re all feeling right now and why. 

Here’s a good take-away from the article: “Psychologists say that to combat our aimlessness, we need continuity, and luckily that’s one of the few things you can easily create for yourself right now.”

20 Surprising Facts About King Tutankhamun

Unless you’re an Egyptologist, you can probably, like me, learn something new about a subject other than COVID-19 from this article.

How Epidemics of the Past Changed the Way Americans Lived

“Past public health crises inspired innovations in infrastructure, education, fundraising and civic debate.”

I’m finding it hard right now to find the silver lining in the current pandemic cloud, but here’s some encouraging discussion from Smithsonian Magazine:

the effects of epidemics extend beyond the moments in which they occur. Disease can permanently alter society, and often for the best by creating better practices and habits. Crisis sparks action and response. Many infrastructure improvements and healthy behaviors we consider normal today are the result of past health campaigns that responded to devastating outbreaks.

The Best Books for Distancing Yourself From Reality Right Now

“If you’re looking for an escape from your Coronavirus quarantine pick up one of these and transport yourself to rural Maine or to Mars.”

Esquire offers some reading suggestions to help pass the time in isolation: “From speculative and historical fiction to soulful works of nonfiction, these transporting books are the best medicine for strange times.”

How to Digitize Your Most Important Documents

“If you have some spare time at home and want a productive project, consider creating a digital archive of your personal papers.”

Or, if you’d prefer a more hands-on activity than reading, New York Times tech writer  J. D. Biersdorfer tells you how to scan personal papers to create a digital archive: “ even if you don’t have a document scanner, you can create your personal archive with a smartphone, a few apps and a bit of time.”

Stop Trying to Be Productive

Now that we’re all living even more online than before, our world is saturated with articles (like the ones included here) about how to spend fruitfully all this enormous amount of time now on our hands. “This urge to overachieve, even in times of global crisis, is reflective of America’s always-on work culture,” writes Taylor Lorenz.

But it’s important to remember that the current situation is not normal. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed and perhaps even a little disconnected. If some of the recommended activities can help you stay occupied and get through this, fine. But if the seemingly endless urge to be productive just makes you feel even worse, that’s OK, too. 

For the first couple of weeks of self-isolation, I, an introvert who likes nothing more than curling up with a good book, couldn’t read a novel or write anything more than the occasional Facebook post. For the past two weeks I have been able to read novels, but I’m still having trouble concentrating long enough to write anything of substance, such as book reviews. 

Everyone will react to this surreal (there’s that word again) time differently. What’s important is to find something that works to soothe you. During times of stress such as these, different people find solace in very different activities: cleaning, cooking, baking, rearranging the furniture, reading, writing, gardening, meditating.

You don’t have to be productive in terms of making finished projects you can check off on a list. All you have to do is get through this. Whatever works for you is what you should do.

As long as you remember to also wash your hands.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and, if you’re so inclined, let us know in the comments how you’re coping.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The Real History Behind The Sound of Music

My husband’s and my first date was a trip to the movie theater to see The Sound of Music, released in 1965. (Yes, we were high school sweethearts.) Here’s the story behind that movie, which, according to the article, “became one of America’s highest-grossing films of all time” and is “probably the main reason that generations of non-musicians can effortlessly spout off the notes of the tonal scale.” 

Anyone even half as nostalgic as I am about this movie will enjoy this article.

Locked down elderly in rural French village find some parallels with World War II

Jim Bittermann reports for CNN on how isolation and social distancing are affecting the normally social and affable French. 

“Out here in rural France, the 15-day confinement period is generally scoffed at. The lockdown could go on far longer than most everyone believes. Just like during World War II, there is no real idea about what the world will look like afterward.”

As Life Moves Online, an Older Generation Faces a Digital Divide

I’m assuming that anyone reading this blog (anyone?) does not fall into this group. However, you might be able to help some of your less tech-savvy friends and neighbors: “Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, urged people this month to help the elderly set up technology to talk to medical providers.”

There’s information here on some of the tools helping people stay connected during this time of isolation.

Book sales surge as self-isolating readers stock up on ‘bucket list’ novels

If you’re searching for some “silver lining” news to this pandemic cloud, this might qualify: According to the U.K.’s Guardian, “Book sales have leapt across the country as readers find they have extra time on their hands, with bookshops reporting a significant increase in sales of longer novels and classic fiction.”

Ageist “Triage” Is a Crime Against Humanity

The question of whether older people are expendable apparently became an internet meme after some politician or other commented that we needed to stop isolation and social distancing so that we can get people back to work to rev up the economy, even if doing so meant that some older people (the most at-risk demographic for this virus) might get sick and die. 

Here Margaret Morganroth Gullette takes a philosophical approach to the large ethical question of how older people might fare if medical triage becomes necessary.

My cohort of over-65 people are supposed to be enjoying the new Age of Longevity. But do some younger people still associate us older folks with dying — however unconsciously — so that our premature demise may come to seem — sadly — normal? These questions arise with more gravity because the pandemic Covid-19 may become an atrocity-producing situation for older persons. Will anxiety, which already runs high, come to be focused on the figure of an old person who is seen as expendable? This depends on how panicked different nation-states become, and how discourse about victims is structured by governments and the media.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Does Retirement Hurt, Rather Than Help, the Aging Process?

This excerpt from Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World by Camilla Cavendish examines the Silver Centre movement in Japan. “By providing part-time work, the Silver Centre movement restores purpose and connection to older citizens.”

Life expectancy over 65: big differences based on geography, urban vs. rural

Seniors in urban areas and on the coasts are surviving longer than their counterparts in rural areas and the nation’s interior, according to an analysis from Samuel Preston of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s leading demographers.

The study found that these “differences emerged around 1999-2000 and widened from 2000 to 2016.” 

The real Charles Lindbergh behind ‘The Plot Against America’

HBO is currently airing a new series, The Plot Against America, based on a 2004 novel by Philip Roth. In this fictional version of history, Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election.

In addition to being a famous aviator, the first airplane pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Lindbergh “also had an interest in politics, campaigning for the United States to stay out of the war and supporting the anti-Semitic, pro-fascist America First Committee.” 

This article takes a look at what might have happened if Charles Lindbergh had become President in 1941.

ON THE MURDER OF WESLEY EVEREST AND THE BLOODY HISTORY OF THE LOGGING INDUSTRY

This article hits two of my personal sweet spots: crime fiction and Washington State focus.

Melissa Anne Peterson explains how she used her family’s history in the logging industry to write her debut novel, Vera Violet. The book tells the story of “a crime America couldn’t admit to, a crime based in economics.”

Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously

I was quite surprised to come across this article in which Michael Schulman describes the difficult time he had convincing his mother and father (ages 68 and 74, respectively) to take the coronavirus seriously and follow guidelines for self-isolation and social distancing. Schulman adds that, as he spoke to his peers, “I realized that I wasn’t alone. A lot of us have spent the past week pleading with our baby-boomer parents to cook at home, rip up the cruise tickets, and step away from the grandchildren.”

I live in an independent-living unit in a retirement community in Tacoma, WA, about 30 miles south of Seattle. It was right around here that the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. appeared. No one I know took much convincing about the need to follow recommended guidelines. My husband and I are 70 and 71, and most people who live in our community are older than we are, many in their 90s.

Also, the stories I had been hearing about people not following the emergency guidelines involved young people flocking to southern beaches for spring break. I believed these stories because young people are notorious for thinking that they are invincible and invulnerable.

While we baby boomers weren’t around during the flu epidemics of 1918, we did live through the polio epidemic of the 1950s. Most of us remember being lined up in the corridor at school while the school nurse went down the line giving each of us a polio shot. We also remember not being allowed to go swimming because that’s how (we were told) the virus spread. And we remember seeing pictures of large rooms filled with giant metal tubes known as iron lungs, the ventilators that kept polio-paralyzed patients alive.

So yes, I’m surprised by this report. Perhaps Schulman’s experience and mine are so different because he’s been hanging with his demographic (children of baby boomers) and I’ve been hanging around, albeit at a socially safe distance, with mine (baby boomers themselves). 

How about you?

What has been your experience with handling this new reality?


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Some of the Less Obvious Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic

We’re all a bit frazzled about the current health pandemic and the mammoth amount of information out there for us to process. Like you, I’m concerned about the health of my friends and neighbors here in the retirement community where I live, as we’re all over 60.

But once we get past all the health information and necessary decisions, there are some less obvious effects of everything that’s happening that I hadn’t originally considered. 

Chief among those effects is ALL THIS TIME of hunkering down at home in self-isolation. As an introvert who likes nothing better than curling up with a good book, I feel I’ve been preparing for this situation my whole life. But some others are already exhibiting signs of cabin fever after only one week of a three-week-or-longer period of “social distancing.”

Right now my biggest annoyance is bandwidth strain caused by all the students and employees working remotely. But if you need something to distract you, here, to ease that discomfiture, are 10 interesting articles I’ve collected over the past week. 

‘An Eviction Notice’: Chaos After Colleges Tell Students to Stay Away

Colleges and universities were some of the first educational institutions to cancel classes to minimize individuals’ potential exposure to the virus. But, at least initially, those plans caused problems for students unsure of whether they’d return to campus later to finish the semester. Especially hard hit were students with financial aid who didn’t have extra funds to cover out-of-dorm living or storage expenses or travel expenses for an extra trip home. Also hard hit were foreign students, especially those whose visas require in-person rather than online classes. This article from The New York Times reports how some of these problems worked out.

A Week at the Epicenter of America’s Coronavirus Crisis

Seattle-based writer James Ross Gardner provided this look at the first week of response to the influx of the virus in my local area, around Seattle, WA. 

As coronavirus spreads in 2020, here’s how Seattle handled the 1918 flu that killed 1,513 people

his story from The Seattle Times provides informative context for the current situation. It’s likely that other papers, at least those in large metropolitan areas, produced similar local-interest pieces, but I’m linking to this one because it’s in my local area.

The 25 Best HBO Series of All Time, Ranked

If you subscribe to HBO and are stuck at home wondering what to do, Esquire magazine offers this ranking of the best HBO series you might want to catch up on.

Some streaming television services (such as Hulu and, I think, Netflix) offer free one-week trial subscriptions. Now might be a good time to sign up, but don’t forget to cancel after the trial time is up if you don’t want to continue.

Your coronavirus reading list: reader suggestions to bring joy in difficult times

The U.K.’s Guardian has some reading suggestions to help fill the time. Even though many libraries are now closed, check your local library’s website to see what ebooks or audiobooks are available for download.

kid with stack of books

On Pandemic and Literature

Ed Simon in The Millions provides this historical look at literary representations of the 14th century’s Black Death and other pandemics, both real and imaginary.

The Infectious Pestilence Did Reign

In a similar vein, Ben Cohen explains in Slate “How the plague ravaged William Shakespeare’s world and inspired his work, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth.”

The Best Books to Elevate Your Reading List in 2020

Though not created specifically for the purpose, these recommendations for the year’s best books so far from Esquire offer some suggestions to supplement the Guardian list.

Coronavirus cleaning tips for your iPhone, Android

Originally from the Chicago Tribune, this article provides instruction on how to clean something we all probably touch more often than our faces, our phones.

In a Pandemic, Musicians Play in Empty Halls for Audiences Online

Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic for The New York Times, describes an eerie experience:

I was watching on my computer at home on Thursday afternoon as the Berlin Philharmonic finished a streamed performance of Luciano Berio’s “Sinfonia.” The cameras panned over rows of seats. No one was there. The musicians, dressed in their black-tie best, seemed not to know quite what to do. Finally, they began greeting each other cheerily, then stood and faced the empty hall.

It was one of the most disorienting yet profound views of a performance I’ve ever had.

Tommasini writes that his local (New York City) public radio station provided a listing of available streaming classical music resources, so you could check to see if your local station is doing the same. He also includes a few direct links in the article.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

“Coronavirus is mysteriously sparing kids and killing the elderly”

I usually try to avoid current news stories, but this article from the Washington Post caught my eye:

Obviously, this one article does not tell the whole story about this medical emergency, and you should read about COVID-19 as widely as you need to. But the emphasis here seems relevant to those of us on the upper end of the age spectrum.

I feel particularly fortunate that retirement allows my husband and me to stay safely ensconced at home most days. We live in the independent-living section of a retirement community, and all meetings and social activities here have been canceled until further notice. I’ll be sorry to miss book group in a couple of weeks (for discussion of The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh), but that’s a small price to pay. Grocery shopping is the only reason for which we venture out, and we are doing that as infrequently as possible.

Please, everyone, take care of yourselves and each other.

(Feature image by Mircea Iancu from Pixabay )

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Retiring Retirement

“Society may still view able, competent, sound-of-mind seniors as happy curiosities. But the fact is we are quickly becoming a sizeable demographic.” 

Linda Marsa, a contributing editor at Discover magazine, argues that a growing number of people are living into their 60s, 70s, and 80s without debilitating conditions. These older people have both the physical stamina and the desire to continue working. “The question is whether society will adapt to make the most of this new labor pool.”

Marsa reports here on “some innovative companies [that] have already started to cater to their elderly personnel.” She concludes, “I’m hopeful that in the coming decades, the American workplace will shed its legacy of ageism to embrace a more diverse and equitable culture—one that blends the energy and inventiveness of youth with the wisdom and experience of maturity.” 

‘Tiny Habits’ Are The Key To Behavioral Change

We know we should quit smoking, eat better, exercise more, but adopting better habits like these can seem overwhelming.

Here’s some help, an interview with B.J. Fogg, a behavioral scientist at Stanford University and author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. Fogg suggests starting small, with “tiny behaviors that can become habits.”

A New Monument Will Celebrate Nellie Bly’s Undercover Reporting, Right Where It Happened

IN THE LATE 1880S, THE reporter Nellie Bly faked her way into an asylum on Blackwell’s Island, in New York’s East River. . . . On assignment for the New York World newspaper, Bly, who was was born Elizabeth Cochran Seaman and became one of America’s earliest and most intrepid female investigative journalists, reported on the people who were housed there by playing a patient herself.

Sculptor Amanda Matthews is designing a monument to Bly on the site where Bly endured the research that went into her piece “Ten Days in a Mad-House.” The momument is scheduled to be installed in summer 2020. This piece from Atlas Obscura features photos and drawings of the monument.

With An Election On The Horizon, Older Adults Get Help Spotting Fake News

Recent research “found that Facebook users 65 and over posted seven times as many articles from fake news websites, compared with adults under 29.” Here NPR reports on a recent class held at a senior enter in suburban Maryland that helps seniors recognize fake news.

“Researchers say classes like this one should be more widely offered, especially with the 2020 election approaching.”

Meet the mystery woman who co-founded Krusteaz in Seattle … and whose story has been lost to history

Jackie Varriano, Seattle Times food writer, takes a deep dive into local history to try to find the name and story of the woman who invented Krusteaz pie crust, which first hit grocery-store shelves in the early 1930s.

“It’s not easy to find histories of ‘regular’ women from the 1930s,” Varriano writes. Thanks to this dogged reporter for her effort in recovering one woman’s story.

How Old Is Too Old to Work?

And we’re back where we started with this article about understanding the lives of older Americans. Isaac Chotiner interviews Louise Aronson, a geriatrician, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life.

“During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why so many Americans over sixty-five are entering the workforce, whether the Presidency is the wrong job for someone over seventy, and why we tend to view older Americans as a single, distinct group.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Why the most successful students have no passion for school

Jihyun Lee, associate professor in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Australia, reports on her research into students’ attitudes toward school:

My research has found that there is in fact no relationship between how well students do academically and what their attitude toward schooling actually is. A student doesn’t need to be passionate about school to be academically successful.

Lee continues: “research shows that students’ self-belief in their own problem-solving abilities is far more important than their perception of school itself.” She sees this as a problem because, she says, “Formal institutions [such as schools] shape the lives of a citizenry. They need to be upheld, bettered and strengthened.”

Her solution to this problem? “Adults responsible for making decisions about schooling need to be more cognisant about the long-term influences that the school experience can exert on students’ attitudes and beliefs. . . . Whether students are able to see the link between their present and future may have critical consequences for society.”

‘After His Death, I Didn’t Cook Anymore’: Widows on the Pain of Dining Alone

“Readers share poignant stories of the pain and comfort that food can bring after a loved one dies.”

After The Times published a Food article about how mealtimes can be difficult for widows (a gender-neutral term that bereavement counselors now use), hundreds of readers described the heartbreak and joy that food and cooking can bring after losing a partner.

Childhood trauma may do lifelong harm to physical, mental health

Here’s news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC):

Traumatic experiences in childhood can do lifelong harm to physical and mental health, education and work, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Preventing traumatic childhood experiences — such as abuse, seeing violence or substance abuse in the home, or having a parent in jail — could reduce many problems later on, according to the CDC.

These later problems include suicide; chronic illnesses such as heart and respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes; and risky health behaviors such as substance abuse. “The CDC has several efforts to prevent childhood trauma and reduce the harmful effects of such experiences.”

Women of a Certain Age, Gail Collins Has Your Back

Lesley Stahl praises Gail Collins’s new book No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History:

So imagine a book about “non-young” women, written by Collins with her signature droll sensibility. “No Stopping Us Now” is a chronicle of the herky-jerky nature of older women’s journey to progress in the United States over the years. It’s eye-opening, brimming with new information and, as you’d expect from Collins, a lot of fun.

Grandparents Are Heroes, and Also Totally Normal People

Maria Russo reports on “the excellent new grandparent-centric picture books surging into bookstores and libraries [that] come from creators who grew up in other cultures.” The reason for this “may be because Americans are still catching up to Europeans — and to children — when it comes to realizing that older bodies can still be vital and attractive. And we can only hope the reverence and tenderness toward elderly people found in Asian cultures takes root here, too.”

Russo offers specific examples of the books she’s talking about here, in case you want some suggestions for upcoming holiday gifts.

Confirmation that the art of proofreading is dead

I include this one because we sometimes need a bit of levity.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown