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

Last Week’s Links

A Washington author renovates a Port Townsend house, and her life

This is “an edited excerpt from the new book, “House Lessons: Renovating a Life,” © 2020 by Erica Bauermeister.” 

“Because here’s the thing — we aren’t looking for a house; we’re looking for a home. A house can supply you with a place to sleep, to cook, to store your car. A home fits your soul.”

This is a local-interest for me, as Port Townsend is a vibrant arts community within an easy day trip from where I live. And the book is a memoir about the search for community, or home, as much as the story of the remodeling of a historic old house.

12 Reasons Why The World Wouldn’t Be The Same Without Washington

And OK, this one is pretty frivolous, but I’m still in love with my new home state.

ON THE JOY OF MAKING A SCRAPBOOK

About 20 years ago I went through a prolonged period of scrapbooking. It was relaxing and fulfilled my need for a creative outlet. It also put important photos into an accessible format. It’s so easy, and often comforting, to pull a scrapbook off the shelf and dust off old memories.

And I was reminded recently of the advantage of scrapbooks when my external hard drive labeled “Mary’s Photos” went off line. The device is apparently dead, and unless I can find some techie service to try to rescue its contents, some of my photos will be lost forever.

Sebastian Barry: ‘Family stories mean a whole different thing in your 60s’

When art imitates life:

The story behind all his novels – beginning with The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty in 1998 and including Annie Dunne, the Booker-shortlisted A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture – is one of the deliberate and careful construction of a family that would at some level stand “in place of the kind of disaster of the family I was accidentally part of originally. I mean utter disaster.”

How to reduce ‘attention residue’ in your life

“Mundane chores take up our time and headspace. Bundling life admin into specific time slots – known as GYLIO – might be the ultimate act of self-care.”

A discussion of GYLIO (get your life in order) practices being developed in some Australian universities: “Essentially, GYLIO is about bundling tasks into a single morning, day or week in order to clear your mind; learning to prioritise and find focus so that you can enjoy guilt-free downtime.”

Madeleine Dore explains her experiment with this approach to life’s inevitable chaos.

Stop Telling Older Women to Step Aside

Leslie Bennetts reviews and discusses the book In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead by Susan J. Douglas. Bennetts calls the book:

a clarion call for older women to “rip off the invisibility cloak” and reinvent the world they live in so it stops cheating them. Aside from the title, it’s hard to find anything here that a fair-minded reader could dispute — and also impossible to deny the political, economic and cultural potential of what Douglas describes as an incipient demographic revolution, albeit one that is “underappreciated” and “undercovered” to date.

Bennetts writes that Douglas’s book performs a valuable service in describing how and why change must occur in a society that continues to ignore the needs and underestimate the value of older women.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

On this, the last week’s links before the new year, please indulge my first two choices. When we retired from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest, I undertook the project of acquainting myself with literature specific to this region. The first two entries here provide suggestions for doing just that.

The 2010s in books: 10 titles from Washington-state authors that defined the decade 

I’ve read three books on this list, have heard of a couple of other writers, and found out there are a lot more Pacific Northwest authors I need to acquaint myself with.

25 Books to Read Before You Die: Pacific Northwest Edition

I landed on this article through a link in the previous one. This list, prepared by the famous bookstore Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, has a wider focus than the first one and features “what we consider a consummate selection of books written by Pacific Northwest authors.” Boy, do I have a lot of catching up to do! 

The Hidden Upsides of Growing Older

Well, some good news!

We often take for granted the advantages that coincide with years of experience when handling complex information or rebounding from setbacks. We’d like to focus here on the aspects of mental function that stay strong or even become better with age. We refer to these enhanced mental functions as “hidden upsides,” because we often don’t notice the many ways that our years of life have led to improved mental abilities.

This article apparently is a general introduction to an upcoming series from Psychology Today that promises to look at specific upsides and to explore “the types of situations in which the older adult mind surpasses its younger adult counterpart.” I’ll be looking for those future columns.

Baba Ram Dass, spiritual guru and LSD proponent, dies at 88

Many of us of a certain age remember Ram Dass—born Richard Alpert—who in the 1960s experimented with LSD and traveled to India in search of spiritual enlightenment. He “was best known for the 1971 book “Be Here Now,” written after his trip to India.” Later he wrote, “the baby boomers are getting old — and I’m learning how to get old for them. That’s my role.”

What you’re unwrapping when you get a DNA test for Christmas

“To what extent is giving a DNA test also a present for law enforcement?”

Many DNA databases were started to help people interested in genealogy connect with their extended family. DNA kits to help people find relatives are often touted as great gifts. “But is using one of these kits also opening the door to letting the police use your DNA to arrest your cousin?”

This article discusses several DNA testing companies and databases and explains how the results may be used.


© 2019 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

Last Week’s Links

Keeping Your Blood Sugar In Check Could Lower Your Alzheimer’s Risk

Here’s a report on recent research suggesting that controlling blood sugar levels “might help lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Can Personality Affect Dementia Risk?

And here’s another report on research. The results of personality tests given to 82,232 teenagers in 1960 were compared with Medicare diagnoses of dementia from 2011 to 2013. Researchers “found that high extroversion, an energetic disposition, calmness and maturity were associated with a lower risk of dementia an average of 54 years later, though the association did not hold for students with low socioeconomic status.”

But the lead researcher emphasizes, “‘our findings are suggestive, and we don’t want to draw strong conclusions about causation.’”

Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One: A Robot and a Team of Irish Scientists Walk Into a Senior Living Home

Meet Stevie, a robot from the Robotics and Innovation Lab at Trinity College, Dublin, who lives with the residents of a retirement home for military officers and their spouses just outside of Washington, DC. The purpose of the collaboration is to see if AI (artificial intelligence) can help support human care workers in caring for people 65 and older, “the fastest-growing age demographic in the US.”

VICTIM OF AGEISM? TIME TO CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE

Here’s something to think about:

One can be outraged by the seemingly unfair treatment older workers receive. But are we each without ageist bias? The fact is we can be our own worst enemy when we adopt these assumptions as our truth. While we can’t change how others think, we can certainly tackle our own deeply held beliefs about aging that sabotage our financial future and well-being.

Happy Birthday to the Internet!

Born on October 29, 1969, the Internet is now 50 years old. Here are two articles about that milestone.

50 years ago today, the internet was born in Room 3420

The Internet came into existence in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957. Chagrined that the USSR had beaten the U.S. in the space race, President Eisenhower formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the Department of Defense to promote study of science, technology, engineering, and math in U.S. universities and research labs. The need for separate terminals in each place of study led researchers to conceptualize ARPANET, a system that would allow each research lab to communicate with any or all others. 

Welcome to Year 50 of the Information Age

Adam Rogers, reporting for Wired, a publication that came into existence to cover the digital world, remembers (and links to) the article he wrote 25 years ago marking the Internet’s 25th birthday. 

And he laments that the Internet’s 50th birthday “marks not only the internet’s decrepitude but also my own.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown