Last Week’s Links

What new research says about adding healthy years to your life

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.”

Australian golfer makes hole-in-one just shy of 100th birthday

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.”

7 Books About Older Women Behaving Badly

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.”

The Friendship That Shapes Atlanta Baseball

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.

Writing “Eleanor Rigby”

“How one of the Beatles’ greatest songs came to be.”

An informative reminiscence by Paul McCartney.

Seniors decry age bias, say they feel devalued when interacting with health care providers

“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

Last Week’s Links

After a Hard Youth, Mom Found Beauty in Making Art

“Here’s proof that it’s never too late for dreams to be realized.”

Candy Schulman recalls how her mother, a self-educated traditional 1950s housewife, “discovered her true talent in her 60s, leaving behind a permanent vision for the next two generations.”

At an extraordinary Olympics, acts of kindness abound

The only Olympic sport I truly enjoy watching is swimming. Other than that, more than the medal counts I care about the kindness counts:

A surfer jumping in to translate for the rival who’d just beaten him. High-jumping friends agreeing to share a gold medal rather than move to a tiebreaker. Two runners falling in a tangle of legs, then helping each other to the finish line.

The Surprising Benefits of Talking to Strangers

In the past decade and a half, professors have begun to wonder if interacting with strangers could be good for us too: not as a replacement for close relationships, but as a complement to them. The results of that research have been striking. Again and again, studies have shown that talking with strangers can make us happier, more connected to our communities, me

My Phone Doesn’t Realize My Mother Is Dead

Karolina Waclawiak expresses an understandable ambivalence over the painful memories and emotions that her phone’s algorithms churn up when they bring up her past photos. Waclawiak’s thoughts move beyond the case of her mother’s death to incorporate all the jumbled emotions we all felt over the past 18 months or so.

Who Invented the Pencil?

Here’s the answer to a question I didn’t know I needed answered until I saw this article: “According to NPR, a Swiss naturalist named Conrad Gessner created the first depiction of a pencil in 1565.”

‘Grandmother, Where’d You Get So Smart?’ ‘Living, Baby. Living.’

“A woman with little formal education taught her granddaughter an important lesson.”

Mandy Shunnarah marvels over how quickly and confidently her grandmother from rural Alabama, without a college education, continued throughout her life to conquer the daily newspaper’s crossword puzzles.

Nervous about getting back out there and making new friends? Here are some tips

The pandemic not only kept us from interacting with family and friends; it downright made us afraid to do so. Now that our world is beginning to open up once again, “how do you overcome these anxieties, get back out there and make new friends?”

Madalyn Amato, an intern at the Los Angeles Times, consulted some experts and offers their advice.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

A Guide To Gender Identity Terms

June is the annual celebration of Pride Month. Over the years I’ve sometimes been confused about how to use correctly the applicable terminology. I’m grateful to NPR for putting together this glossary of terms relating to gender identity.

Proper use of gender identity terms, including pronouns, is a crucial way to signal courtesy and acceptance. Alex Schmider, associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD, compares using someone’s correct pronouns to pronouncing their name correctly – “a way of respecting them and referring to them in a way that’s consistent and true to who they are.”

Where Gender-Neutral Pronouns Come From

“People tend to think of they, Mx., and hir as relatively recent inventions. But English speakers have been looking for better ways to talk about gender for a very long time.”

Michael Waters offers a history of the long search for language that steps outside the traditional, normative binary of man/woman, his/her.

Do you ever feel like an impostor — and did the pandemic make it worse?

“Experts say anytime you’re facing a new challenge or you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re more susceptible to impostor syndrome. Here’s how to deal.”

Imposter syndrome is a real psychological thing, the fear that you’re not really qualified to do something, that you’re just pretending to have knowledge and ability that you think you really don’t possess. When I was going through a particularly challenging time several years ago, I dreamed that I was trying to pass myself off as a flautist in a symphony orchestra. The trouble was, though, that the flute I was pretending to play was carved out of wood and have no moving parts at all. And, for the record, I have never had a single flute lesson in my life.

This article offers some advice if the pandemic has forced you to take on new roles or situations that you feel unqualified to handle.

Some medical devices don’t mean to be racist, but they are

As we’re beginning to face the necessity of confronting systemic racism, I found this article particular enlightening on just how easily we normalize particular assumptions.

How to Make and Keep New Friends as an Adult

When we retired and moved from St. Louis, MO, to Tacoma, WA, making new friends was one of the things I worried most about. This concern was one of the biggest reasons why we chose to rent in a retirement community instead of buying a house. 

If ‘cave syndrome’ is keeping you from going in public, here’s how to combat it

How are you doing in the “getting back out into the world?” arena?

“After over a year of staying at home and following strict safety guidelines, many people are understandably reluctant to step out their front door and re-enter society.”

If this quotation describes you (as it does, at least a little bit, me), here’s some advice.

© 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

Friendship Day

Today is Friendship Day:

The United States Congress, in 1935, proclaimed first Sunday of August as the National Friendship Day. Since then, celebration of National Friendship Day became an annual event. The noble idea of honoring the beautiful relationship of friendship caught on with the people and soon Friendship Day became a hugely popular festival.

In the years since 1935 several other countries have followed the U.S. in celebrating Friendship Day. However, some groups celebrate friendship at different times of the year:

  • National Friendship Day is on the first Sunday in August.
  • Women’s Friendship Day is on the third Sunday in August
  • International Friendship Month is February
  • Old Friends, New Friends Week is the third week of May

On this web page you’ll find all kinds of information about friendship, including quotations and customs.

My own experience has taught me these truths about friends and friendship:

True friends are rare.

I should cherish each one.

Friendship cannot be forced. It has to come about naturally.

Choose Friends Wisely

In the article Making Friends in New Places, physician Nicholas A. Christakis looks at the beginning of freshman year in college as a time when a group of people who don’t know each other are thrown together and must negotiate the process of making friends:

At the start of freshman year, there’s a window of opportunity, when customary rules about social interactions are suspended, and when it seems perfectly normal for someone to sit down next to you at lunch or in class and strike up a conversation.

Similar groups, he writes, are teenagers arriving at summer camp and adults arriving on a cruise ship. At times like these, associations are not yet fixed, and people’s social inhibitions are suspended as they move about freely among the group in search of people to befriend.

In his observations of freshmen at both Yale and Harvard, Christakis has found that the window for making new friends closes after about three weeks:

Attitudes begin to solidify. Friendships become fixed. And behaviors that initially seemed open and generous might come to feel forced, or even a little creepy.

Christakis believes that we are hard-wired to make friends in new, stressful situations. He has studied both college freshman and the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania and found that both groups form similar social networks: one or two best friends, in a group of five to six close friends, within a still broader group of 150 people. His work with college students has lead him to this conclusion: “Whether students feel happy or sad, or catch the flu, or learn new things can all depend, in significant measure, on their ties to one another.”

In addition:

Humans are hard-wired for friendship in one final way: We like the company of people we resemble, a property known as homophily. We evolved as a species by preferring those with shared objectives — all the better to coordinate a hunt for a mammoth. But natural selection has equipped us with a taste for similarity at a cost: the loss of new insights and information that lead to innovation.

Christakis’s advice to freshman students about to go off to college is that they purposely seek out people who are in some way different from themselves:

befriending different kinds of people — people with a different religion or major, say — is indeed a good thing. Students learn as much about themselves and about the world from the informal curriculum provided by their friends as they do from the formal curriculum provided by the faculty.

You Never Know Where You Might Find a Friend

In the article The Day I Told the Ugly Truth About My Marriage, neuroscientist and novelist Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice and several other novels featuring neurological conditions, describes telling a stranger about the difficult time she was facing. The focus of this article as published on Oprah’s web site is “why it’s okay to admit when our lives fall apart.”

But I was more taken by the way Genova found a new friend by telling a stranger her story:

Jenny shared specific stories of the times in her life when she was most vulnerable, unable to imagine the details of a secure, positive future. I nodded, my heart recognizing itself. I told her more about my situation, looking into her eyes, not editing a thing. She told me more, this time about freedom and her unwavering belief in happiness and love, and I began to get a glimpse of a bigger perspective, this moment as a single dot in the unfinished dot-to-dot picture of my life.

Since that time, the two women have become close friends. Genova concludes with the observation that sharing a bit of ourselves with someone may result in judgment, pity, or shame. “Or, you could realize you’re sitting on a bench next to someone you love. For me, that’s worth the risk.”

Sometimes synchronicity kicks in and offers you the opportunity of a lifetime. You can’t plan or orchestrate this type of meeting, but you can be receptive to its appearance in your life.

My Circle of Five Contains Six

The good folks at WordPress provide a daily prompt to give bloggers something to write about.

This recent one particularly spoke to me:

A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with?

To me, this means the same as “you are the company that you keep.” This prompt spoke to me because several years ago I decided that it was important for me to surround myself with only good people. More recently, the 2,100-mile relocation from St. Louis, MO, to Tacoma, WA, has allowed me to make friends deliberately and wisely.

But this topic especially appeals to me because it offers the possibility of a hypothetical circle that isn’t restricted to people who all existed in the same time and place or whom I actually knew. So I thought of the people I’d include in the three main areas of my life: love, friendship, and writing.

Love

  1. My Grandma, whose unconditional love of me taught me how powerful love can be. When I was a young child, she provided the love and stability that I desperately needed to maintain a sense of identity and worth. Even though she died nearly 40 years ago, I still think of her daily. What I remember most is her beautiful smile and the way she beamed whenever she saw me.
  2. My wonderful husband of almost 44 years, whose love and devotion remain steady. And yes, I do realize how extremely lucky I am to love and be loved by him. Sometimes I feel that he’s more than I deserve, but I plan to keep him anyway (I’m selfish like that).

Friendship

  1. My friend Anne, who died much too young (age 60) almost 14 years ago. She was a librarian who ran the book club at my local library, and that’s where I met her. She was intelligent and witty, and, like my Grandma, she had a beautiful smile. I thought I loved books, but she loved them even more, as became evident from all the work she put into selecting books for book club and preparing for meetings. I still think of her often.
  2. My friend Frayne, who also died much too young (age 54) 13 years ago. I also met her at a book club, at the local Borders store. She was kind and considerate, and she taught me how to hug and really mean it. I also think of her nearly every day.

These two women are still the touchstone that defines friendship for me.

Writing

Here’s where the hypothetical part of my circle comes in.

  1. Emily Dickinson. I’m not a poet (not really, despite my recent participation in the Writing 201: Poetry class), but I love the way Emily Dickinson so succinctly and seemingly easily uses imagery to convey some of life’s most profound secrets. I wish I could think so concretely and so universally at the same time. Sometimes when I read one of her poems and catch the depth of meaning, my breath sticks in my chest. I’d love to have a mind that can write like that.
  2. Anne Tyler. I like lots of authors’ works, but I particularly like Anne Tyler for her ability to capture and celebrate the quirkiness of human existence in well-drawn characters. I love how she can make the ordinary seem so extraordinary.

I tried hard, but I can’t decide which one of these six people to banish in order to comply with the prompt. So the prompt will just have to comply with me. Six people it is, and fine specimens they all are.

What about you? Whom would you include in your circle of five (or six)?