Last Week’s Links

The Girl in the Kent State Photo

If you’re old enough to remember the photo above, this article might interest you. I don’t think I ever knew that the girl in the center was only 14 at the time.

My college graduation (Boston University) was canceled because of the killings at Kent State. We were in the middle of final-exam week. Exams already taken would be included in final grades, but the rest of exams were called off. Those of us living in the residence halls were told to move out within the next couple of days.

COVID-19 Vaccines Could Unlock Treatments for 5 Other Deadly Diseases

Research often leads to serendipitous, seemingly unrelated discoveries. This article explains how the COVID-19 vaccines work and why scientists hope their development can yield new treatments for other diseases, including HIV, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.

Some young women embraced their gray hair during the pandemic. They might not go back.

And here’s a story of a different kind of serendipitous discovery. Maura Judkis, age 34 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, carefully watched “the silver stripe that expanded every week where I parted my hair.”

Then she discovered the Silver Sisters, an online group of women who were letting their dyed hair grow out and their natural silver (the term they prefer over gray) hair grow in. “The Silver Sisters don’t just accept the inevitable, they embrace it,” Judkis writes.

The process not only allowed her to save about $1,000 annually at the salon but also prompted some self-evaluation: “Confidence with gray hair and comfort with aging are not necessarily the same thing . . . The pandemic was an opportunity to reflect on what we’re really afraid of underneath the hair dye and anti-aging cream, which is mortality.”

Seattle launches second firefighter-social worker team to cover U District, Ballard

Discussion has been going on for a while now about how society can change its emergency response to mental health crises. Here’s how Seattle is changing its response to “non-emergency calls about substance abuse, mental health, medical problems and other issues that don’t require an ambulance ride.”

Looking Forward to Your 170th Birthday

Annie Murphy Paul reviews the book Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old by Andrew Steele. Paul writes that Steele “relies heavily on examples from the animal kingdom, such as the Galápagos tortoise, which dwells for the many decades of its life in an enviable state known as ‘negligible senescence.’”

But, Paul argues, Ageless contains a major flaw: “Steele does not begin to grapple with the deeper implications of the project he champions so enthusiastically.” Because of this flaw, she calls the book “technically impressive but morally and emotionally shallow.”

Zoom bombings that target marginalized people spark demands for legal protections

With the COVID-19 pandemic, our retirement community has jumped aboard the Zoom bandwagon for social meetings, classes, and other enrichment activities. But my husband and I have declined to participate because we had heard so many stories about how insecure and subject to hacking Zoom is. This article gives some examples.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

These people thrived in pandemic isolation — and aren’t ready to return to ‘normal’ socializing

“Living life mostly apart from society — with few if any direct contact-based social, work or school obligations — has been a blessed reprieve for socially anxious people.”

CNN describes people with social anxiety and asks us to “[i]magine you are like them, for a moment.” The article has suggestions on re-entry into society for both people who experience social anxiety and people who will be interacting with them.

Column: I abandoned all my big pandemic projects. Here are 13 lessons I learned instead

Mary McNamara, culture columnist and critic for the Los Angeles Times, writes that she had big plans at the beginning of the pandemic. With refreshing humor she reports that, while those big plans didn’t pan out, she did learn a number of lessons, including “dogs fart all the time” and “I do not love to cook.”

5 Ways to Tap Into Your Smartphone’s Audio Powers

Younger generations seem to have developed great proficiency at typing fast with their thumbs. If you’re more like me and still tap out your text messages and emails on your phone very slowly with one index finger, you might find these directions on how to do more on your phone by voice a big time saver. Learn, among other things, how to dictate a voice memo and send an audio message.

Psychiatric and neurological problems are common in COVID-19’s wake, study finds

Some disturbing news from the Los Angeles Times:

New research highlights COVID-19’s lingering effects on the brain, finding that in the six months after becoming ill, roughly a third of surviving patients were diagnosed with at least one neurological or psychiatric disorder.

The neuropsychiatric ailments that followed COVID-19 ranged widely, from stroke and dementia to anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Virtually all were more common among patients who became sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and the risk was even higher for those admitted to an intensive care unit.

These research findings about the neuropsychiatric aftereffects of a coronavirus infection were published recently in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Solutions from Around the World: Tackling Loneliness and Social Isolation During COVID-19

The Commonwealth Fund’s mission is “to promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, and people of color.”

This report tackles the issue of loneliness, which has been exacerbated by the global pandemic:

As Americans heed the advice of public health and government officials to remain physically distanced from neighbors, friends, and relatives to fight the coronavirus, another epidemic is exacerbated — social isolation. This can result in loneliness, and the negative consequences can be severe: an increased risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death.

There’s news here about programs enacted by several industrialized countries “to address the problem, especially for elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.”

10 Organizations Connecting Generations During the Pandemic

Encore.org is an organization “founded on the belief that the aging of America isn’t so much a problem to be solved as it is an opportunity to be seized.” Here the organization reports on efforts being made to help with the problems of isolation and loneliness that are affecting young people as well as older adults.

This article offers some specific suggestions for “ways to connect the generations.”

Loneliness won’t end when the pandemic ends

The “loneliness epidemic,” as some experts call it, was a problem well before Covid-19. And while physical reunion is now in sight, it’ll take more than dinner parties to reach the marrow of a complicated and deeply cultural problem.

CNN reports on the need to address the problems of isolation and loneliness even after pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links . . . And Some Questions for You

Losing a long-term spouse can be deadly, studies show

The recent death of Prince Phillip has raised concern about Queen Elizabeth:

Known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, “broken heart” syndrome is a documented medical condition.

Another possible complication for people facing bereavement is the widowhood effect: 

The risk of an elderly man or woman dying from any cause increases between 30% and 90% in the first three months after a spouse’s death, then drops to about 15% in the months that follow. The widowhood effect has been documented in all ages and races around the world.

This article from CNN provides advice for people facing bereavement.

He’s a cop. He’s 91. And he has no plans to retire

Here’s another article from CNN. This one profiles L.C. “Buckshot” Smith of Camden, Arkansas. Now 91, Smith has worked in law enforcement for more than 56 years. 

He tried retiring once but “quickly realized he missed the work.”

What happens to our cognition in the darkest depths of winter?

You’ve probably heard of season affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression caused by the reduction of sunlight during the short days of winter. Here Tim Brennan, professor of psychology at the University of Oslo in Norway, discusses both his own and other scientists’ research into the question of what he calls human seasonality, or “the psychological effects of extreme swings in the physical environment.”

“A particular challenge when studying human seasonality is that the widespread belief about mental sluggishness in winter tends unjustifiably to seep into the science,” Brennan writes. However, his research lead him to the conclusion that “there really isn’t evidence of much difference between summer and winter in our thinking, memory and attention.”

Our book critic pays homage to Beverly Cleary, whose characters played a key role in so many of our childhoods

Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, celebrates the life of children’s author Beverly Cleary, who died recently at the age of 104. “For so many of us, Ramona and Beezus and Henry Huggins and Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford were friends, keeping us company during the strange journey of growing up.”

For some Seattle-area residents with COVID vaccines, ‘re-entry anxiety’ is real

Since my husband and I have been “fully vaccinated” for some weeks now, I’ve been watching with interest how people like us are approaching the return to social interaction. In fact, I find the term “fully vaccinated” in itself interesting, since the reality used to be that you were either vaccinated or you weren’t.

Although this article focuses on people in the Seattle area, my guess is that the individuals described here are pretty representative of people of the same demographic everywhere. And I especially resonate with the experience of one woman in the article, who discovered “Reentry anxiety is a real thing.”

How About You?

If you’ve been vaccinated and are returning to society, I’d be interested in hearing what your experience has been. 

  • Are you starting to get back into activities that were suspended during the pandemic? 
  • Do you have concerns about how safe such a return to society is right now?

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The Power of Flexible Thinking

“Flexible thinking is often referred to as cognitive flexibility. This means an individual is able to adapt to new thinking patterns. These individuals often see more than one solution to any presented problem.”

Flexible thinking can help us adapt to challenges we face as we get older. The article offers some specific approaches to becoming a more flexible thinker, including change your routine: “Introduce new changes as you feel comfortable. Keep challenging yourself.”

Atwood, Grisham among contributors to pandemic novel

e knew it was only a matter of time until we started to see literature arising from the pandemic of the last year. 

“One of the first novels about the pandemic will be a collaborative effort, with Margaret Atwood, John Grisham and Celeste Ng among the writers.” Titled Fourteen Days: An Unauthorized Gathering, the novel will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media and will raise funds for the Authors Guild Foundation.

“The story is set on a Manhattan rooftop in 2020 as the virus spreads worldwide and the rich are fleeing the city.”

A year of pandemic life, as told by the things we Googled

In “a story sketched out by a year’s worth of Google searches,” Popular Science examines “some of the prevailing themes that emerged in our collective queries.”

Nearly 50% of people are anxious about getting back to normal, pre-pandemic life — here’s how to cope

“A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends.” 

Here’s some advice on how to cope with continuing anxiety and uncertainty as we all continue to emerge from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fully Vaccinated and Time to Party, If You Are 70

“Older people, who represent the vast majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, are emerging this spring with the daffodils, tilting their faces to the sunlight outdoors. They are filling restaurants, hugging grandchildren and booking flights.”

Jennifer Steinhauer reports on how older adults, one of the earliest groups to be vaccinated against COVID-19, are leading the trend back into activities that used to be considered part of “normal life.” Steinhauer points out the the demographics of this trend will change as more people become eligible for vaccination.

Study: ‘Persistent’ loneliness in middle age increases dementia risk

Social scientists have long known that loneliness is one of the biggest problems older adults face as their circle of acquaintances and their own mobility decrease. But a new study has found that “People who were ‘persistently lonely’ between ages 45 and 64 had a 91% higher risk for dementia and a 76% higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease compared to people who don’t feel lonely.”

“Although loneliness does not itself have the status of a clinical disease, it is associated with a range of negative health outcomes, including sleep disturbances, depressive symptoms, cognitive impairment and stroke.”

At age 80, Sylvia Byrne Pollack of Seattle will publish her first book of poetry

Don’t you love stories like this? I certainly do!

“Part of the magic of poetry is that, when you write the words, you’re a writer,” Pollack continues. “And once you put them down, they’re not really yours anymore. The reader has to do the other half of the work.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

5 Medical Appointments You Should Stop Putting Off

I know I have wanted to avoid medical facilities and offices while COVID-19 has been on the rise. But there are some aspects of routine care that shouldn’t be avoided. NPR (National Public Radio) has this advice: “There are some medical appointments you just shouldn’t put off any longer, even if you’re nervous about venturing into a clinic or emergency room.”

Running the Show: Where the writers behind your favorite TV shows explain how they made them

Most of us have been watching a LOT of television over the last year to fill in the empty spaces created by lockdown. 

“Here are the conversations with the creative minds behind some of the TV shows you can’t stop watching. The discussions cover a range of topics, including their journey, their craft, their frustrations and, well, their shows.”

Time, like memory, is fickle: days wrap back on themselves

Writer and art historian Grace Linden muses on the nature of time as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our perception of it:

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrung meaning from time. Each day is so like the former. April disappeared entirely; Thanksgiving feels as close, or faraway, as last June. I no longer can keep track of the dates; time has become a pool of standing water.

Washington flu deaths dropped from 114 last season to 0. There are a few reasons why

“Washington’s flu deaths dropped from 114 to zero in a year’s time, thanks to coronavirus protocols and an abundance of caution, health officials say.”

According to the article, similar trends have been noted nationally and globally. Let us take our silver linings where we can find them.

The False Dilemma of Post-Vaccination Risk

woman receiving vaccination in left arm

“We’ll never know for sure how contagious people are after they’re vaccinated, but we do know how they should act.”

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations “is creating a legion of people who no longer need to fear getting sick, and are desperate to return to “normal” life. Yet the messaging on whether they might still carry and spread the disease—and thus whether it’s really safe for them to resume their unmasked, un-distanced lives—has been oblique.”

Here’s some advice from James Hamblin, a medical doctor who is a staff writer at The Atlantic and a lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health.

Libraries Offering Services to Seniors During COVID-19 Pandemic

Because most older adults face increasing social isolation as they age, the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on them. This article examines a few libraries that have developed outreach programs to help senior citizens deal with this problem.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship

It’s easy to focus on the people we’ve most missed seeing during our extended period of lockdown: our families and closest friend. But here Amanda Mull thinks of all the more amorphous groups of people she’s been isolated from: fellow patrons of the local sports bar where she used to watch the big games, co-workers with whom she chatted in the communal kitchen, workers at the local coffee or sandwich shop.

Lately she has realized “I missed all of those people I only sort of know.”

Brain scans, surveys help scientists paint neural portrait of loneliness

Loneliness has always been a potential problem for people whose friends begin to die as they age, but the social isolation of the pandemic has increased its effects. This article reports on research results that researchers hope may increase their understanding of how loneliness affects the brain. “Understanding the ways loneliness influences brain structure and neural patterns could help researchers develop remedies for these problems.”

They met in high school. Fifty years later, the pandemic helped them realize they belonged together.

I always love finding stories like this one. My husband and I met in high school and will celebrate our 50th anniversary in June. Betty and Peter’s story, told here, is a bit different from ours but still heartwarming. And it’s good to hear of positive results brought about by COVID-19.

6 Groundbreaking Facts About Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s First Woman Physician

In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. A few years later her younger sister, Emily, also became a physician. Together, the Blackwell sisters forged the path for women to become doctors.

Elizabeth Blackwell’s autobiography is one of the works I wrote about in my dissertation on life stories. Last month saw the publication of a new book about Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell: The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women—and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura.

‘Tapestry’ at 50: How Carole King ‘bet on herself’ to record a singer-songwriter classic

album cover: Tapestry by Carole King

I haven’t had a turntable for about a thousand years, but I still have my original record of Carole King’s album Tapestry, which turns 50 this year. Here’s the story of its making and historical significance.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

I’m signing off as TV critic, but here are six shows I’d happily watch again

Hank Stuever wrote this piece when stepping down as TV critic for the Washington Post. I like it for its description of how television changed during his tenure as critic:

TV, which once seemed a manageable part of the cultural diet, became all-consuming. Netflix released its first big streaming hit, “House of Cards,” in 2013, and the steady supply of TV programs that I once jokingly thought of as an open fire hydrant instead began to resemble a tsunami. The customs of TV were upended: where to watch it, how to watch it, how much of it to binge-watch at a time. Also, new manners: how to talk about it, how not to spoil it for others.

Stuever ends with his list of “shows I reviewed that I would totally watch again.” I thoroughly disagree with the first on his list, “’Twin Peaks: The Return’ (Showtime, 2017).” My husband and I loved the original show but thought that this reboot was a thorough waste of time. However, three of the others he lists were total winners with us: The Americans, Lost, and Mad Men.

Turning the Page on the Year

“If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.”

Dr. Perri Klass admits that she loves notebooks even if she’s not as diligent in writing in them as she’d like to be. I used to write in a journal just about every day, but for about two years, when we were traveling extensively in early retirement (and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again some time), I let myself fall out of the habit. (Yes, it’s much easier to let a habit lapse than to build a habit in the first place.)

But I’ve been building up the old habit over the last couple of months and intend to do much better this year.

You’re Not Listening. Here’s Why.

“There’s an unconscious tendency to tune out people you feel close to because you think you already know what they are going to say.”

Kate Murphy, author of You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, says that while researching her book, she “earned something incredibly ironic about interpersonal communication: The closer we feel toward someone, the less likely we are to listen carefully to them. It’s called the closeness-communication bias and, over time, it can strain, and even end, relationships.”

There’s some good stuff here, including a possible explanation for “why people in close relationships sometimes withhold information or keep secrets from one another.”

No, it’s not weird to talk to yourself. Mental health experts point to pandemic, unrest as possible reasons

“Experts say [self-talk is] common and that, with the added stressors of a pandemic alongside protests over police brutality and race relations in America, self-talk can be a way to feel control in a world that offers individuals very little.”

Why Do Dwarves Sound Scottish and Elves Sound Like Royalty?

My husband and I had just finished three evenings of watching the extended versions of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy of Lord of the Rings when the photo of Gimli the Dwarf popped up in my email. I had thought about the language of dwarves and elves during the films (the extended versions are LONG movies) and was therefore interested in reading how these fantasy dialects had originated. 

We have J.R.R. Tolkien to thank for the way these characters of fantasy speak. Tolkien, who has a philologist, “would create languages first, then write cultures and histories to speak them, often taking inspiration from the sound of an existing language.” 

Undecided On Getting A Covid-19 Vaccine? Beware Of These Two Cognitive Biases

Dr. Joshua Liao explains how availability bias and confirmation bias may influence our decisions about getting a coronavirus vaccine.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Feeling Socially Awkward? Even Extroverts Are a Little Rusty

“Months of limited mingling have made even extremely outgoing people uncomfortable socializing, ‘like awkward eighth graders attending a school dance for the first time.’”

Secular ‘values voters’ are becoming an electoral force in the US – just look closely at 2020’s results

This article takes a look at “one of the largest growing demographics among the U.S. electorate, one that has increased from around 5% of Americans to over 23% in the last 50 years: ‘Nones’ – that is, the nonreligious.”

Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?

Aimee Nezhukumatathil reviews Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book METAZOA: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia where several octopuses live, hunt, fight and make more octopuses.

It’s an experience that demands we consider the very real possibility that an octopus, an animal already regarded as one of the most complex in the animal kingdom, is a being with multiple selves.

Talking out loud to yourself is a technology for thinking

If, like me, you occasionally realize that you’re talking out loud to yourself, this article will comfort you with its explanation. “Speech is not merely a conduit for the transmission of ideas, a replaceable medium for direct communication, but a generative activity that enhances thinking.”

Lesley Ann Warren Reflects On 35 Years Of ‘Clue’ And A Life-Long Journey In Hollywood

Although this article focuses on Lesley Ann Warren’s more recent career, I remember her best for her role in the old TV show Mission: Impossible.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Granny’s on Instagram! In the COVID-19 era, older adults see time differently and are doing better than younger people

Marcia G. Ory, founding director of the Texas A&M Center of Population Health and Aging, has been studying the effects of COVID-19 on the older adult population. Her overall finding: “older adults – despite their awareness of increased risk – are generally not reporting more feelings of anxiety, anger or stress than younger age groups.”

Nikki Giovanni, Finding the Song in the Darkest Days

Now in her late 70s, poet Nikki Giovanni has never stopped writing over “her 52-year career.”

“Her staying power over half a century comes from a stream of acclaimed work, her proclivity for a punishing schedule of tours and readings, and a fearlessness born of not caring what foolish people think.”

2020 wasn’t all bad: Here are 8 small but great things that happened in Seattle

I urge you to look for an article similar to this one in your own local newspaper.

From the Seattle Times: “But at the end of a very overwhelming year, we asked our writers to look back and identify some good things we discovered or experienced within ourselves and our communities in 2020. Here’s what they came up with.”

When Your Dad Falls Apart

Kevin Grant tells the story of his father’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s  disease at the age of 58.

Outwitting the Grim Reaper

Kevin Berger reports on an interview with Daniel Levitin, age 62. An emeritus professor of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University, Levitin’s book Successful Aging offers insight into how aging affects our bodies.

Asked why we age, Levitin replies, “We age because there’s been no evolutionary pressure to keep our bodies alive for a long time. I don’t know why that is and I don’t think anybody does.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

How to heal through life writing

“Learning to write about trauma helps you to process the painful experience, and gives you the life skills to overcome it”

When I went back to school for my Ph.D. in psychology, I studied life stories. One aspect of that topic is how writing about negative life experiences can help us overcome the pain, grief, or anger we associate with them. This article offers some advice on how to do that.

A Brief History of the TV Dinner

“Thanksgiving’s most unexpected legacy is heating up again”

If, like me, you grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, you probably remember Swanson’s TV Dinners. Here’s a brief history of how and why they came into being.

COVID-19 patients are developing ‘brain fog.’ But what does that mean?

I have fibromyalgia. One symptom of this and other autoimmune conditions can be periods of “brain fog,” a fuzzy feeling of being not quite fully present in the world, of being not quite fully in touch with reality. Researchers are now finding that patients who have long-term COVID-19 symptoms sometimes experience this same feeling, a symptom often dismissed by doctors.

for millions of other people with chronic illnesses, some of which seemed to have began with infections, constant brain fog is already their reality. Now, they’re hoping that this global pandemic will draw attention to a condition that has so drastically affected their lives.

 Night Terrors

“The creator of ‘The Twilight Zone’ dramatized isolation and fear but still believed in the best of humanity.”

You remember The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling, right? “The show ran from 1959 to 1964, and by the time it went off the air the phrase ‘twilight zone’ had entered the language as a kind of shorthand for whatever feels eerie or strange.”

Andrew Delbanco discusses The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television by Koren Shadmi.

Death rates have fallen by 18% for hospitalized COVID–19 patients as treatments improve

It’s hard to find good news amidst rising virus spikes and perilous pandemic predictions, but here’s a little bit. 

He was an American paratrooper. She withstood bombing in England. 75 years later they remember love born in wartime

And here we are back to life stories. I’m always on the lookout for good stories like this one, which appear most often in local publications. The best such stories, like this one, are full of scrapbook memories.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown