Irene was eighty years old, but she didn’t feel eighty. Not just because she was, sprained ankle notwithstanding, a spritely, trim woman, but because it was impossible to feel eighty. Nobody felt eighty. When Irene considered it, she thought that she probably felt somewhere around thirty-five. Forty, maybe. That was a good age to feel, wasn’t it? You knew who you were then. You weren’t still flighty or unsure, but you had not yet had time to harden, to become unyielding.
The truth was that you felt a certain way inside, and while the people who had known you your whole life would probably see you that way, the number of new people who could appreciate you as that person, that inside person, rather than just a collection of the frailties of age, was limited.A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
Kate Kirkpatrick, tutorial fellow in philosophy and Christian ethics at Regent’s Park College of the University of Oxford, and Sonia Kruks, Danforth Professor of Politics Emerita at Oberlin College in Ohio, write “In Western societies, the shocked realisation that we are growing old often fills us with alarm and even terror.”
The two scholars examine Simone de Beauvoir’s “magisterial study of the topic [old age], La vieillesse (1970) – translated in the UK as Old Age, and in the US as The Coming of Age (1972)” for answers to the question:
What, then, should a society be like, so that all may flourish in their last years of life?
We hear a lot about “aging in place,” a movement to help older adults remain in their homes as long as possible. Here AARP offers offers some advice on how to prepare your home “for your senior years.”
“Esther Cohen considers the importance of preserving the experiences we recall, by writing them down and sharing them.”
Scholar and activist ANGELA DAVIS has spent more than 50 years working for social justice. This summer, society started to catch up
This moment is a conjuncture between the COVID-19 crisis and the increasing awareness of the structural nature of racism. Moments like this do arise. They’re totally unpredictable, and we cannot base our organizing on the idea that we can usher in such a moment. What we can do is take advantage of the moment.Angela Davis
A pictorial review of the musical career of Sir Paul McCartney in celebration of his 80th birthday.
“Starting in the 1960s, she sought to re-center her discipline on the experiences of women, people of color and other marginalized groups.”
I had not heard of Dorothy E. Smith, “a feminist scholar and sociologist whose extensive criticism of her own field led her to establish groundbreaking theories and sub-disciplines that pushed sociology away from its foundations as a male-dominated, male-centered endeavor.”
I haven’t read any of these novels, but I appreciate the fact that someone—anyone—is interested in focusing on the topic of Older Adults in Literature.
© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown
Matt Fuchs takes a look at “recent research [that] points to interventions in diet, exercise and mental outlook that could slow down aging and age-related diseases – without risky biohacks such as unproven gene therapies.”
The story of Hugh Brown of Australia, who “made a hole-in-one on the 161-yard par-3 hole, just two months shy of his 100th birthday.”
In my search for literature that presents older adult characters, particularly older women, who often feel themselves becoming invisible in a culture that fetishizes and focuses on youth, I came upon this list. Amy Lee Lillard presents “seven books [that] celebrate the older woman that defies logic and bias. They won’t go quietly into oblivion. They won’t disappear, and in fact, insist on being seen. Even if that involves letting their anger out. Even if it involves violence.”
Some—or perhaps all—of these books may not be your reading cup of tea, but I feel validated just knowing that some authors are still treating older women like functioning adults.
Parents were fine with sweeping school vaccination mandates five decades ago – but COVID-19 may be a different story
I live in a retirement community, and one topic of conversation that has come up quite a few times is “Nobody complained about their kids getting polio shots at school back in the 1950s.”
Here James Colgrove, professor of sociomedical sciences at Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, discusses how times are now different: “As a public health historian who studies the evolution of vaccination policies, I see stark differences between the current debates over COVID-19 vaccination and the public response to previous mandates.”
If, like me, you’re a long-time baseball fan, you’ll probably appreciate this story involving the Atlanta Braves as much as I did. It’s about a lot more than just baseball.
“How one of the Beatles’ greatest songs came to be.”
An informative reminiscence by Paul McCartney.
“The assumption that all older people are frail and helpless is a common, incorrect stereotype.”
Judith Graham of Kaiser Health News reports on “ageism in health care settings, a long-standing problem that’s getting new attention during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than half a million Americans age 65 and older.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
A recent article published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Review suggests that living a good life needn’t focus on purpose or happiness. According to the two authors of the article, a good life can be one that’s “psychologically rich,” a phrase that they define as one characterized by “interesting experiences in which novelty and/or complexity are accompanied by profound changes in perspective.” Further, “an experience doesn’t have to be fun in order to qualify as psychologically enriching. It might even be a hardship.”
Here’s a fascinating article on how we interpret or feel music—and why popular musicians tend to avoid the key of D minor.
German composer Christian Schubart “was a forefather of musical category creation: In his 1784 essay “A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries,” he balanced a study of the harpsichord with insights from literature and psychology to match all 24 major and minor musical keys to different auditory personalities.”
BookBub has some recommendations of books in the category it calls “seasoned romance.” I admit I haven’t read any of these books, but if you’re looking for a book featuring older adults finding love, there may be something here for you.
We usually think of aging as a time of declining memory, producing those “senior moments” that seem to befall all of us, at least occasionally. This article reports on new research published in Nature Human Behavior suggesting “that many things improve with age, including some cognitive aspects that had previously been thought to get worse.”
“We are barely worthy of such incredible content.”
Nicole Gallucci writes that Jane Fonda began blogging in 2009 and continues today, at age 83.
Since celebrities often avoid publicly wading into politics and sharing opinions on real societal issues, it’s refreshing to see Fonda use her blog to inform readers about pressing social and environmental justice problems. And while she nails serious, impactful content, she also strikes a remarkable balance by peppering in light and playful posts.
Apparently Jane Fonda isn’t the only older social media star. Lianne Italie’s article in the Los Angeles Times reports on the “growing number of “grandfluencers,” folks 70 and older who have amassed substantial followings on social media with the help of decades-younger fans.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
The New York Public Library has compiled a list of books about the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The list includes several children’s books.
“Here are seven heartwarming and insightful adored stories about beloved grandparents to remind us of their lasting impressions.”
When I was a kid, ballpoint pens—which we didn’t get to use in school until 4th grade—came only in blue, black, or red. By the time I started college, green ballpoints were available, which the rebel in me promptly adopted as my main writing implement.
In this article Yashvi Peeti delves into the history of ink and the psychology of color to help us choose among all the writing implements and colors now available.
“Making more friends in adulthood is going to take some deliberate effort on your part.”
My husband and I made a huge move—from St. Louis, Missouri, to Tacoma, Washington—when we retired. We moved to be near our daughter, but that move also meant leaving behind the friends we’d made over the course of living in the same general area for more than 40 years. One of the reasons we chose to move into a retirement community instead of buying a house in the city was to be near people of similar age with whom to share planned activities. We’ve been very happy with the new friends we’ve made here.
Nonetheless, making new friends as an adult can be difficult. Here psychologist Marisa G. Franco offers some background on the benefits of friendship and hints about making new adult friendships.
Although I’m a pretty big sports fan, here’s one aspect of the COVID-19 health crisis I hadn’t thought about until I read this article
“While young athletes are considered less vulnerable to Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, aging coaches are at higher risk of infection and having a severe response.” As a result, many older coaches are choosing to leave their sports rather than risk getting sick.
“Through the coronavirus and a loved one’s cancer scare, I’ve found immeasurable relief through writing in a gratitude journal.”
Dom Nero explains the benefits from keeping a gratitude journal, which, he writes, “doesn’t have to be all about the big picture stuff. In fact, I often find it’s more satisfying when I focus on the random joys from my day.”
The act of recording even short and simple snippets of things to be grateful for can help relieve the anxiety and uncertainty most of us have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, he says.
Here’s an alarming trend to be aware of:
Across the United States, nursing homes are looking to get rid of unprofitable patients — primarily those who are poor and require extra care — and pouncing on minor outbursts to justify evicting them to emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals. After the hospitals discharge the patients, often in a matter of hours, the nursing homes refuse them re-entry, according to court filings, government-funded watchdogs in 16 states, and more than 60 lawyers, nursing home employees and doctors.
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown
As people live longer, adults frequently face “elder-care responsibility.”
“An important facet of these relationships, which often appears in fiction and nonfiction works, is the shifting power dynamic between older adults and their adult children, particularly in the United States and other predominately white Western countries,” writes Ellyn A. Lem. In this article Lem looks at how these relationships play out in literature by Shakespeare, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, Let Me Be Frank with You by Richard Ford, Days of Awe by Lauren Fox, several works of nonfiction, and several films.
Not only are we dealing with our usual sources of uncertainty, but then there’s the whole global pandemic, where we’re trying to stop the spread of a virus we have never seen in humans before. We’re not just in uncharted waters—we’re scrambling to stay afloat. As it turns out, there are ways to more effectively deal with feelings of uncertainty, and embrace what’s next with some level of confidence (even if it’s very low).
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist and adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University, offers “two strategies for handling uncertainty in a healthier way.”
“Germany has found ways to display problematic monuments without elevating them.” Daniela Blei reports on the job of the Citadel Museum in the Berlin suburb of Spandau, which “aims to contextualize the past, putting uncomfortable realities on display in productive, educational, and sometimes challenging ways.”
I am definitely a night owl. When I was in college, I discovered that I worked better if I stayed up studying until about 2:00 AM, then slept until about 10:00. Because I went to a huge university with lots of class offerings, I was able to take almost all my classes between 1:00 and 6:00 PM. Unfortunately, after graduating from college, I realized that the rest of the world doesn’t work that way. Very few workplaces accommodate a night owl’s preferred schedule, and once I had a child who had to be gotten up and out for school, any possibility of catering to my own schedule went out the front door.
Because of my own experience, I’ve been interested in relatively recent research into the differences between early birds and night owls. This article reports on various chronotypes, the “master clocks” in our brains that determine how our bodies respond to the time of day. Recent research out of Finland found that “among both men and women, the morning types and many of the day types moved significantly more than the evening types, even when the researchers controlled for people’s health, professions, socioeconomic status and other factors.”
The conclusion: “Overall, the study’s findings suggest that late risers may want to monitor how frequently they move.”
Sam Dresser suggests “several philosophically inspired reasons not to be fearful of your own death.”
In addition to the philosophical insights offered her, the article includes some links and references to use if you want to dig more deeply into this topic.
The former English teacher and copy editor in me could not resist this article. Overall, not just in particular news sources, I’ve been appalled by all the examples I constantly find in publications (both print and digital) that make me groan, “If only you’d had a copy editor take a look at this . . . .”
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown
For those of us who’ve lived long enough to see a thing or two:
Historical analogies – basically, the claim that two events or phenomena separated by time, and sometimes also by space, are similar in essential ways – are all around us. ‘History is repeating itself’ is a prominent idea, often phrased as ‘We’ve been here before’ or ‘This feels awfully familiar.’ Given that analogies are not a central feature of historical writing, or even something historians are normally trained to do, it’s worth asking: who makes historical analogies and why? How do historical analogies work? When do they catch on? Why are they so popular? What purpose do they serve? Do they help us better understand the world?
An experimental blood test was highly accurate at distinguishing people with Alzheimer’s disease from those without it in several studies, boosting hopes that there soon may be a simple way to help diagnose this most common form of dementia.
We always have to understand that these medical reports are preliminary. Still, it’s comforting to learn that research is progressing.
Many of us are old enough to remember when a phone ringing in the middle of the night indicated that something very bad had happened. Of course, that ringing phone was a landline, the only kind of phone we had back in those days.
“Since its invention, in the nineteenth century, the landline has often been portrayed as sinister—the object through which fate comes to call,” writes Sophie Haigney. She discusses how the landline was used in literature “as an open line of possibility, just waiting to ring,” that has been eliminated by the ubiquitous cell phone.
Mystery author S.C. Perkins discusses some of her favorite mysteries that feature older adults who are “long on great personalities” as secondary characters: “I’m here to give respect to the elder characters who not only offer the protagonist the benefits of their knowledge learned through a long life, but also possess a sense of humor about the world that comes from having seen it all.”
To lift your spirits, take a look at these recreations of classic music album covers by older adults from senior communities in England.
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown
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.
And OK, this one is pretty frivolous, but I’m still in love with my new home state.
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.
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.”
“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.
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
I always wear my noise-cancelling headphones on planes, even though I don’t always switch them on. I unabashedly admit that I do this to discourage the person—any person—crushed into the seat next to me from trying to strike up a conversation with me. Many of us also fool around with our phones to avoid actual interaction with people around us in any public place.
But this article might change our behavior, with its discussion of research suggesting that even “seemingly trivial encounters with the minor characters in our lives — the random guy at the dog park or the barista at our local coffee shop — can affect feelings of happiness and human connection on a typical day.”
When we visited Malta in 2018, we toured the site of an ancient temple that had been discovered and excavated in the late 20th century. Now the site is protected by a canvas awning as excavation continues, but our tour guide told us that her grandmother remembered playing as a child on what was then thought to be just a pile of rocks.
This article therefore caught my eye. The temple on Malta, among the earliest known free-standing buildings, preceded Stonehenge by about 1,000 years but apparently lasted only about 1,500 years before disappearing. Scientists believe that studying the rise and fall of the early culture on this island nation can help with “understanding change in the wider world.”
If you happen to have an extra $800 burning a hole in your pocket, “On the fiftieth anniversary of the festival, a thirty-six-hour boxed set reveals some truths behind baby-boomer myths.”
Woodstock almost immediately became a myth. Shortly after the festival, Abbie Hoffman speed-wrote and then published “Woodstock Nation,” giving texture to the idea that those who had been at the event constituted a new generation: “I took a trip to our future. That’s how I saw it. Functional anarchy, primitive tribalism, gathering of the tribes. Right on! What did it all mean? Sheet, what can I say, brother, it blew my mind out.”
Bonus: If you’re looking for information that’s a bit more accessible, Publishers Weekly has you covered with a long list of books celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.
In my other life I blog about books. And as I have gotten older myself, I’ve become interested in how older adults, particularly older women, are portrayed in literature.In my other life I blog about books.
Heather Bottoms had a similar experience when she turned 50 last year and now as she approaches 51. Here she offers a substantial list of novels featuring older women as characters. “The women in these stories range in age from age 50 to 110 and represent a wide variety of experiences, personalities, and genres. All these novels feature older women as crucial characters.”
Although she lists many books that I haven’t read, I heartily second her recommendation of the following books:
- The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
- Still Alice by Lisa Genova
- Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
- Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
Bonus: Her opening paragraph contains a link to the list she compiled last year around her 50th birthday.
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown
A sampling of some of the most interesting items that caught my eye over the last week.
Here’s an interesting article on how Kodak, author of all those famous “Kodak moments,” missed the boat by refusing to accept and adapt to the advent of digital photography.
Two books on this list are aimed specifically at us older folks:
- Computers for Seniors: Email, Internet, Photos, and More in 14 Easy Lessons by Chris Ewin, Carrie Ewin, and Cheryl Ewin
- Computers for Seniors For Dummies by Nancy C. Muir
Don’t let the title of that second one get your goat. The For Dummies series is well known and even somewhat loved. When you need information on a subject you know absolutely nothing about, the For Dummies guide is often a good place to start.
Sarah Skidmore Sell reports for The Associated Press on a new study revealing that many older Americans aren’t maximizing their retirement income from Social Security, which “accounts for about one-third of all income annually received by U.S. retirees.” The study concludes that “optimizing Social Security would improve the lives of millions of retirees,” but there is very little information here about how individuals can figure this out for themselves.
Mention “dementia research” and most people will probably think of scientists looking for biomedical ways to diagnose, treat and eventually cure degenerative brain diseases. But there is also a burgeoning research program that aims to improve care for the increasing numbers of people living with dementia — estimated at 850,000 in the United Kingdom and 50 million worldwide.
A recent survey by Gransnet, the UK’s biggest social media site for older people, and publisher HQ (HarperCollins) found that 51% of women over 40 “feel older women in fiction books tend to fall into clichéd roles.” Here are some of the most interest findings from the survey:
- 47% of women over 40 say there are not enough books about middle-aged or older women.
- “when older characters do appear in fiction, half of women (50%) say they’ve seen them being portrayed as baffled by smartphones, computers or the internet – and think it’s insulting.”
- 75% buy their books online.
As a result of the survey findings, Gransnet and HQ are launching a fiction writing competition for women writers over age 40. The article contains more information on both the survey and the writing competition.
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown