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September 11, 2017

Irma Comes Calling

Monday: Tropical Storm Irma is moving up to Georgia from Florida. Rain, rain but light wind so far. I just hope the power stays on. So far, morning-after reports from Florida friends show everyone as safe but wet and tired after long nights of heavy wind and torrential rain. 

The pictures of Jacksonville are sad. Downtown and the San Marco neighborhood always flood--remember, the St. Johns River flows north out of Lake George near DeLand in Volusia County so much of the heavy rain in central Florida will drain into the St. Johns basin. More status "OK" reports from Jax Peeps but a few still need to check in.

And, in south Florida, Ft. Lauderdale in particular, looters are out in bright sunlight. Did they not evacuate so they would be in position to loot unprotected businesses? So, the necessary things for these looters are??? food, water, gasoline, blankets, baby diapers, medicine or pet food? No. The rewards are hugely expensive athletic shoes and trendy sports wear. 

Tragedies can bring out the best in people: "our better angels" as Abraham Lincoln named it. Tragedies also invite people to show the rest of the world who they really are--thieves, looters, robbers and "outside" as novelist Toni Morrison termed the lowest kind of human behavior. 

Now that many Georgians without power join Floridians in the dark, the Internet is not only slow but subject to transmission breaks. Stay "inside" and safe, Babies. 

September 10, 2017

Irma vs. Trolls

Friday, I ventured back on Facebook because so many of my friends are in FL and I want to know about them. After living in FL 30 years and surviving storm after storm, I understand about tropical storms and hurricanes. Not nice. I'm grateful that so many FB Peeps are doing well as they head into this time of uncertainty. After only two days back on FB, someone posted a warning and denial of messages of hate and mayhem attributed to them. This is the kind of "stuff' that drove me away in the first place. Do trolls really rule?

Harvey washed away a large part of Texas and now Irma is marching up the western coast of Florida. How much destruction to life, nature and property will occur remains unknown this Sunday afternoon. Much of the country watches football and the Southeast watches The Weather Channel. In Texas they hope for a less harsh recovery ahead. 

What is wrong with people who don't respond to threats against others with compassion? Are they pathological? Totally narcissistic? The threats of a Cat 4-5 Irma should be enough to enlarge the small viewpoint of online trolls or at least to shut them up. Irma is a game changer for everyone in FL and in the Southeast in some way but trolls aren't deterred. Have my Peeps on FB forgotten how to delete virtual trolls and from their real lives, too? 

August 27, 2017

Unfinished Work

Like many summer Sundays, my house smells like fresh green beans cooking with bacon and Idaho potatoes. It's a trick of memory that certain smells zip us back to other times. Sometimes, events can do that and I've been thinking about a dark chapter in our nation's history, 1968. 

I've also been thinking about "Knowing" or "Unnumbered Days" or "Bob's Walk" -- all good names for the unfinished novel which began life as "The Existential Fish" a while back. Why am I stuck? Looking for reasons to write, or, not to write? (With all appreciation to Willie's little play, my favorite). Changes in my little world offer plenty of reasons and I save them all like a pail of shells from a beach walk. The point/theme of the novel was to analyze the generation, my generation, who would find meaningful lives under the shadow of 1968's world shattering events. 
I have a great villain who paints life in deliberate strokes like any good narcissist would. I created a reluctant hero who never fails to take up the cause for good--whatever that means--and has commitment issues, sometimes. I wrote a cast of unique supporting characters, an intriguing backstory,  a clever who-done-it plot line and a striking female character with mysterious links to -- well, just everyone. So, why isn't it done and in your hand? 

A watershed year appeared, 2016 and now another, 2017. I could feel the drama building in 2016 and said often that it felt like 1968. And now, 1969 currents are back too. The events of 1968 aren't being repeated, exactly. Naming the good and bad guys was easier then and right and wrong shifted less. But, the values our country stood for, where are they? The fifty-eight thousand, one-hundred and ninety-five names on the Vietnam Memorial who died for this country's values mean something, don't they? 

When the men and women who lived through 1968 showed up in this era, I hardly know who you are. How can I write your story while uttering those seven little words no writer wants to hear, much less think, "I just don't care about these people?" We've known each other our whole lives but I hardly know you now. Some of you have regressed back to the fifties; some are just trying to get through the day; some of you have retreated into isolation and, Babies, some of you are stuck in the early sixties with no responsibility or hope for the future. 

I'm thinking, "Did the Universe hit the rewind button?" Are we permanently stuck in the sixties loop? Maybe that's the book I should be writing. 

Truth and Dare

 So, you came back and I'm still thinking:
  • After years of living in Florida and dodging tropical storms and hurricanes, I have a special sympathy for the people of Texas. Godspeed to them as they endure the deluge of tropical rain from Harvey. The cleanup looms horrific, long and emotionally draining while the flood waters keep rising. 
  • It is sad when a good bit of the state of Texas is underwater that our media can't let up even one day in their political deluge of mistrust and divisiveness. On most TV channels and online news sites, hurricane Harvey coverage flows in a corner while political carnage chokes the rest of the screen. 
  • At lunch today, a neighbor asked if a former neighbor-friend had died? A minimal obituary appeared in the local paper today for someone with the same name. We don't know enough facts to understand what is true. Wasn't that also what the last paragraph was about?
  • I'm losing too many friends, family and neighbors to their own local tragedies. Oh, I know. It's the same for everyone and losing even one is too many. This time, I'm expanding the idea of loss to dear friends who still tread life's brackish, murky waters in our last decades of life. They slosh around in denial, avoid "the deep water" as long as possible and get mired in shore weeds. Rinse and repeat. Then one day, time runs by, over and out. The clean clear channel was open all the time but they still didn't dare to tell themselves their truth.  
  • Yes, Babies, I know this isn't light and fluffy reading. Our world is a damn serious place with no do-overs. We have to live life like we mean it. No "as if." 

August 26, 2017

Sleeping in a Prickly Pear Bush

 It's been awhile since I've posted, Babies. In this tumultuous time of "online, I can out-crazy you all day," I cancelled my social media participation--no Facebook, no Quora, no Twitter and no mobile phone. With having more time to read, to teach, to write and to think, I can't say I've missed the social, yet virtual, vortex. Frankly, I got tired of living my life "as if" any of the things I did counted in the quality of life department. I actually wrote a very negative post about all that, but, since the world is upside-down and Golden Times attracts visitors from many countries, I saved it for another day. Doing anything on social media is like sleeping in a prickly pear bush: no matter which way you move, something attacks you. 

What I'm reading these days are biographies of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom who has lived a fascinating ninety-one years (so far) in the very public stream of history. I'm teaching a two-month course on her life and place in history to twenty-some other seniors. This week, I made 48 English cucumber, butter and bread tea sandwiches for them as a taste of English food. When I teach outside the lines of our own small ToM, I like to include food of the different place. Each class is part video, part lecture. They keep coming back, so far. We'll go on a field trip (as usual) to an English-style restaurant in September, view a new documentary and have a Private British Lunch at the end of the course. 

But, the seven students in my Creative Writing Class are the best surprise. They already attempted Creative Nonfiction and began Poetry this past week with the ever surprising short forms of verse in limericks and Haiku. They are to bring back Haiku attempts this next week with the subject matter of the solar eclipse.  

As for the thinking part of what I'm doing? Come back tomorrow. 

June 29, 2017

Dignity and No Wrinkles

One of the things that older people hate is wrinkles -- and not just the ones on faces. No matter how much we age, we ladies still like to have freshly pressed clothes. Oh, yes, we hate ironing and avoid it whenever we can. Perhaps after today, I won't be quite so picky about any kind of wrinkles.

Normally, after I get up in the morning, I have coffee and cereal with blueberries, put in a load of laundry, press clothes for the day, then enjoy a hot shower, but not today. I made it to the ironing part: pressed a pair of navy slacks and placed a soft blue shirt on the ironing board. I had a sleeve in one hand and the hot iron in the other.

"Whapp!" The ironing board collapsed to the floor and I fell on top of the green-striped cover with the shirt in one hand and the steaming iron in the other. My head hit the wall on the way down, things got a little wonky and I realized that I was sitting on the floor. It was instantaneous and a bit like slow motion at the same time. My modesty won't repeat here what I said there. The ironing board catch-lock had broken. Seriously?


Of course, my alarm was on my bedside table -- two rooms away and I was in my nightgown. I scooted over to my desk, got the phone and called for assistance. Very quickly, our wonderful facility director arrived, got my robe (cover the body!) and two men arrived. Since I have that! leg (the gift that keeps on giving), I can't bend my knee when I am vertical. I scooted into my living room near a chair. But, my "I've fallen and I can't get up" ordeal continued. At least I didn't moan like the lady in the commercial. I had lost all dignity, again. For women, that loss begins with the birth of the first child and continues on to the depths of indignity: I've fallen and I can't get up.

Two handsome young firefighters arrived, made a sling from my bed coverlet and whisked me up into the chair. Thank you (again) to all the firefighters who come when we need them. My head didn't break, or bleed and only my small amount of dignity that's left is bruised. 

Lessons learned: Wear your alarm all the time.
                             I'm not infallible.
                             Older age brings more vulnerability. 
                             I still hate ironing. 
                           

June 13, 2017

Life For Seniors Revisited


This series about senior living examines some myths and realities of being an older American. Huge assumptions exist about older adults and the marketplace spoon-feeds these misconceptions to the public in a round robin of marketing. 
Many don't want to be identified as grandparents and prefer a more hip and catchy title.The reality of being older is that most seniors aren't your "grandpa/grandma stereotype any more" and if that's your perception, then you need to get out among real people. 

Today, my house at the FoM smells like blueberry crumb muffins. Tart and sweet and -- is "warm" ever a smell? If you were here, Babies, we would share muffins and peach tea and talk about life and forms of it that we seniors must pass by/through/around until we don't anymore. 

During my year in a senior community, I respected my neighbors' privacy and didn't include daily life in the blog, but they knew I was a writer. During that year, besides my usual creative writing and poetry classes, I designed and taught a large class in the Ethics of Aging at OLLI. My neighbors, my students and my community included people from all over the world. Human proclivities being what they are across the age spectrum, I learned volumes about getting/being older in America. The scope of this blog series has been extended to "universal experience." Welcome to 2014 Senior Living. 

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Seniors and the Marketplace

Americans, the media and the world in general worship youth and in the most materialistic way: "Look twenty years younger with this ____. Call or go online now and see how our ________ (cream, gadget, device, oil, injection, procedure, food derivative, plumbing product, supplement, CD, DVD, appliance) revitalizes your ______ (face, lips, neck, rear, golf swing, wardrobe, hair, skin, sex life, kitchen skills, cars.)" Oh, the list is long, insidiously deceptive and limited time offers. 

Are seniors a viable market for all these "recapture youth" products? They have the funds to be a force in the marketplace and their ranks grow every day when Boomers retire. Many buy into the notion of fashion as their identity. All ages may have a difficult time accepting that bodies age while our perceptions and awareness may not keep up. This rests at the bottom of many conflicts between generations. Meanwhile, the marketplace continues to market to both. 

There is a certain segment of the senior population who are forever 15 or 20 in their perception and self-awareness. They got stuck at that "certain age." [This notion may explain much behavior as we explore different areas.] They may shop on home shopping channels and continuously for "sales." Not all seniors who shop this way are 'stuck' but some are. Many seniors prefer to shop only when necessary for things they need. People can use only so much "stuff." Most seniors are downsizing and simplifying their lives. However, seniors with few constructive or creative outlets may shop for entertainment as a hedge against boredom. Did that sixty-something man just whiz by in a new Sapphire Blue Lexus sports convertible?

Some who buy into the Marketplace of Forever Young give a different reason than staying young: they are trying to relate to their great-grandchildren by dressing, behaving and following celebrities as though they share the same age and interests. That senior knows the lyrics to the latest pop music, the latest pop-culture reality star and takes that smart phone even to the bathroom. This phenomenon occurs in both older men and women. In this upside down relationship, both generations lose. 

A certain segment of the population have health issues that interfere with their decisions and interactions with the marketplace. They fall victim to the bottom feeders who prey on them at every opportunity. Oh, those people didn't go away but became more sophisticated with their schemes. Telemarketers, sweepstakes, pigeon drop, home improvement and Internet "make easy money at home" scams are alive and well. They may contact seniors at any time and neither fear nor respect No Call lists or rules. Sharks swarm when they smell fresh bait. 

Another group of unlikely shoppers are ladies of a certain age (over 50 and up to 94--seriously) who copy trends: miniskirts are unbecoming on these ladies, for example, with deep red lipstick, straw-colored, big-hair and long deep-red, gelled nails and toes. Fishnet tights disappearing into strappy gold sandals neither flatter those ancient legs nor make the miniskirt okay. "The Big Barbie Look" may have 'killed' in her youth but now? Not so much. 

Many senior women wear all their jewelry all the time like an older version of "Freda Got Rocks." They're afraid of losing it, having their children take it or that a thief will steal it. Some wear their jewelry all the time because they decide if not now, when? When they were younger, their jewelry may have reflected their cultural status that was part of their identity. 

And, identity is at the root of the marketing, shopping and seemingly aberrant behaviors seniors may display. To a person, no matter how old one becomes, a tiny part of our personality remains young. It laughs, cries and wants closeness with other humans; it wants to belong. This part of be-ing appeared early as impulse and in most of us, it is the last part to recede. That tiny spark that gives voice to impulse is sometimes the only connection to earlier times that a senior may have left. 

Seniors are complicated beings and their be-ing is complex. There is a tendency to whitewash, to discount, to homogenize senior life and to group them under one umbrella as "the elderly." Whenever society does this to any group of people, the result is demoralizing and pejorative. The marketplace sees "the elderly" as a demographic with triple dollar signs instead of faces. Yes, seniors can make wrong decisions about purchases in an attempt to recapture some vestige of youth. When they look in the mirror at a face that doesn't match the one in their spirit, the seduction of youth is hard to evade. 

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Celebs Demand a Cure for Aging!

Aging in itself is not a disease. Many young (and older) professionals and people with high media profiles declare that aging needs "a cure" like Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases. Diabetes, neurological impairments, cancers, viruses and bacterial diseases don't exclude the young. Shouldn't the world's finite research funds and efforts go to real diseases with a definite clinical pathology? Headline: Research closes in on cure for aging. Really? How will that go down, exactly? 

As we get older, joints are not as nimble, vital organs have wear or trauma and we may not move with as much speed as our younger selves, but these circumstances are not specifically "disease." Many younger researchers insist that a cure for aging can be found with enough public, government, foundation funded grants (hmm) and public awareness. The newest version of a cure: Botox. Men and women (I could name names) subject themselves to the danger of medical-grade venom in an effort to erase lines temporarily in their faces and other body parts (!?). The injections paralyze nerves and healthy cells become perfect -- 
never changing -- before they die off and the process must be repeated. Are we back to the Marketplace again? What's for sale here?

So far this year, friends and their families (my Peeps) have encountered the trauma of losing family members, lymphoma, kidney disease, multiple myeloma, head trauma, cataract surgery, viruses, strep, staph, shattered bones, lung infections, melanoma, Legionnaire's Disease, COPD, heart valve concerns, aneurysms, angioplasty, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and bone cancer. Whew -- and I'm certain I left some out. When I throw in my knee reconstruction and ongoing battle with Crohn's Disease, this list seems overwhelming -- but not one of these diseases or impairments is a direct result of aging. My friends are people of all ages and illness is not confined to seniors. 

Society has a tendency to replace a senior's identity with whatever illness is active in their body -- so, "Melinda" becomes "that lady with an aneurysm" or "George is that man with prostate cancer" (and we certainly can't talk about that!).  Seniors often have a harder time than younger people with similar illnesses because their family and medicos may only focus on the disease and the senior has little voice in the matter. When this happens, the real identity, the real person recedes. I have heard many women declare, "I am not my cancer." This response is healthy on so many levels.  

If the upcoming good minds stay obsessed with aging as a disease, how will they understand the value of life experience? Some seniors never accept the natural cycle of life and the dynamic duo of dread and denial shields them. A ninety-year old with a broken bone who refuses pain medication because she must be tough hugely reduces her chance of recovery when she can't get out of bed for physical therapy -- Denial at its most damaging. Most of us who have survived to senior status have learned to meet life's challenges with a grain of integrity and the faintest suggestion of dignity. While this is not impossible, it's not an easy task. 

Although only other seniors seem to understand the dynamics of being older, seniors can mature like fine wine or even a rich vinegar, or not. Collectors invest in wine, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, vintage cars and books, antiques of all types, old paintings, but how much value, how much respect do seniors rate in the community, among their families and society in general? 

Not as much as you think. 

~~~~

Wobbling Gyroscopes

Years ago, Flip Wilson, gifted, hilarious and ahead of his time, portrayed an irreverent reverend who said, (I'm paraphrasing here) that Change in the service makes him nervous. Change comes in many forms: monetary, location, family status, personal status, health status--just to name a few. Change can be planned or not; it unsettles everything either way. Across the board, change makes seniors nervous. Change wobbles our internal gyroscopes and most of us work at keeping our lives balanced. Some do this more constructively than others do. 

Here at FoM, my 23rd residence as an adult, month two sneaked in. A manuscript, a basket for its edited/printed pages, large appointment and address books, computer, printer with required wiring and maps -- lots of maps -- cover my desk. I still don't have my internal map in place. One-way streets, unanticipated street-name changes at angular intersections, road construction, and winding roads that suddenly open onto a broad valley community or quickly wind through deep woods all challenge my navigation skills. I've been lost and frustrated but haven't quit yet. I always have plan or two. I finally got a county map -- not as easy as you might think -- from a vendor in another state and a GPS that doesn't acknowledge road construction. I am now armed with the county map, a metro map, the GPS, Google Earth photos, Google directions and maps. Babies, I'm only lacking one of those pith helmets, khaki tropical gear and binoculars around my neck to be a total cliché. Hilarious in any location. 

It’s never funny when we hear of a senior who has fallen. "Emma" fell and broke her hip but the truth may be that Emma's hip broke and she fell. Falls are difficult for older people to endure and recovery may be slow. Seniors are not always mindful or careful with their physical movements. Some climb ladders, up on chairs and stubbornly refuse to admit any vulnerability. 

"I am fine and I'm not too old to do_____. Get out of my way." 

Some seniors move too quickly, get up from a chair or out of bed with undue haste or insist that they "will take a bath when I please." Many times Rescue must get them out of the tub, transport them when they've slipped in the tub, fallen off the ladder or simply stepped off the curb and fallen face-first. Mindfulness is not a natural factor in seniors; it must be learned and integrated into all that we do. Many older people think on some level that pride is their last refuge and refuse to slow down or to accept any change in their habits. The frequency of senior distress has become a joke: "I've fallen and I can't get up." and an industry has popped up to offer communication monitoring for emergencies. Another change for older people to overcome is being alone and immobile. 

A less well-known way seniors cope with change is with immoderate drinking. Life brings surprises and disappointments and hey, a little wine before dinner, with dinner, after dinner, or any time sounds like a good idea to many. How about a hard lemonade with lunch, too? This may sound far-fetched to many of you who have different visions of Gramps or Gran. For those of us immersed in that population group, it's common. Many restaurants in an area with a large population of retirees begin Happy Hour at 11 a.m. Mix in a few prescriptions and voila, a retiree with intensified vulnerability to falls and to poor judgment. When people drink excessively, different behaviors emerge and it's not always pretty. Bones, friendships and decorum may be damaged. 

When I started this series, I cautioned that we would get into some sensitive areas and dealing with change is one of those. The day to day life of seniors is not always rosy and pink. The myth is that older folks are wise, without a care in the world and happy to be out of the rat race or whatever occupied their lives over time. Nothing could be farther from reality in many instances. Life for seniors in 2014 is not the 1950s. 

Mostly, seniors find little hilarity in their struggles with change. A real danger with change is being unbalanced -- physically or psychologically. Many seniors respond to change with depression, anger or big personality swings. Being hospitalized for depression is increasingly common among older people. Isolation, illness and loss are common changes seniors may face. The emotional world of seniors is a different post, and if you are a senior with a wonderful life, enjoy! Many seniors have lives with joy and meaning and your section in this series will come later. 

I hear the 10:40 train whistle and the Fed Ex cargo plane climbs into the night sky right on schedule. Life around the Mountain never sleeps. 

~~~~

Here’s to all the Mean Girls

Newcomers who move into a population of seniors or become involved in organized senior activities may be surprised by who else shows up. I was. Oh, I'm not an innocent: I've worked in, volunteered in, lived in, served in and left behind many settings where politics flourished, thrived and ran wild. Few men I've met over my lifetime, although a few bullies come close, approach the petty behavior of Mean Girls. Rewind to cliques and Mean Girls who grew taller, better dressed and older, but Babies, they didn't grow up. And, they take us seniors back to the seventh grade. I wasn't a casualty but always a camera-like observer: click, click. 

A few weeks ago, I read a forty-something's account of seventh-grade terrors with real anguish, still. Twenty years after my own gauntlet-run through junior high, my seventh grade students modeled the same vicious, hormone-driven, girl-zilla behaviors. Cliques ruled and for an insecure girl to be "included" into that exclusivity: "We're cool, we're in and you're not," becoming a Mean Girl was a small price to pay. The taunts, insults and exclusion they served up made the seventh grade more traumatic than any school-related changes. 

As we grew older, most of us forgot the small and spiteful behaviors that tarnished seventh grade. But for people who find themselves in a population of older folks, seventh grade may quickly return where and when we least expect it. Perhaps, "Mindy" or "Angela" may be pleasant and friendly at first meeting. She's full of compliments, shares details of her life and exhibits impeccable manners. However, the next time your path crosses Mindy or Angela's, her clique of women who insulate each other from you, the world and reality may materialize. The outsider has hit the impenetrable wall of the Mean Girls. 

Mean Girls appraise other women's attire, jewelry, appearance, marital status, behavior, attitudes, food choices, hair color -- everything and anything they see -- and make no pretense that their assessment is binding. They close ranks, protect each other and make it plain that they rule the turf, the meeting, the protocol, the event, the organization, the house, the room, the roof and every one's opinion. Men are exempt from their pettiness. Other women who may be useful to the Mean Girls are also tolerated in the short run.

One of the most difficult parts of getting older is the many losses seniors rack up as facets of our lives change; we must reboot, regroup and rebuild. We may be adrift or storm-tossed and just when we see friendly faces and hope for a life preserver? One may come our way but it's not attached to anything. 

Mean Girls will:
  • Occupy a table or a row in a crowded area with empty seats and turn others away without hesitation.  
  • Run her electric wheelchair into anyone without regard.  
  • Back her scooter over nearby feet while she juggles a cigarette in one hand and her oxygen cord entangles the other one. 
  • Sneer and laugh when anyone else is having a bad day. 
  • Will take the last of anything with no hesitation or apology. 
  • Gossip, snicker and point at anyone they choose.
  • Will insult anyone to their face without compunction. 
  • Will tell anyone that they don't belong around them.
  • Will treat anyone whose job brings any level of comfort to the Mean Girls -- drivers, wait staff, hair stylists, managers, social workers, receptionists, any medical personnel, caregivers, organizational employees of any rank, et al -- as menial sub humans if they don't provide Mean Girls preferential treatment. 
  • Will never miss an opportunity to perceive a slight or to register the smallest grievance.  
  • Must be the center of attention. 
  • And, one of my favorites: Are masterful at the art of freezing out anyone they may dislike for any reason. See slights above. 
When I began this series, I intended to tell the little known side of senior life. Those who still have a spouse or reside with other relatives may only encounter this type of behavior in the community, if at all. But when seniors live in close proximity, family connections aren't there to buffer personalities and differences. This installment in particular has given me pause and I thought long and hard about not posting it. Many seniors may find that senior communities, senior activities and senior organizations are not warm and fuzzy places. 

So here I am in another new area, with another new beginning and with another new life to build. Volunteering waits on my horizon, organizations I may join remain undiscovered and new ventures I may create will pop up. 

Will I encounter Mean Girls again? Of course. The antidote for Mean Girls hasn't changed since the seventh grade: Keep be-ing, keep a healthy distance, keep smiling, keep moving into the sunlight and most importantly, let your life speak for you. 

Click, click. 
   ~~~~

      Sex and the Senior

Once upon a time in the seventh grade (yes, we're back there), boys and girls were curious about each other and raging hormones were in play. Fast forward through marriages, children, careers, divorces, illnesses, losses and aging, et al. The hormones no longer rage, but some women and many more men entertain illusions, harbor delusions and jump to conclusions in the area of interpersonal relations just like junior high kids. Pharmacology has stepped up to replace those adolescent hormones and seniors are the main target market. When all those elements meld, Babies, it's not a pretty thing. The toxic mix becomes about the senior holding on to delusions of youth and/or promoting a personal agenda. The cliché of being neither a nurse nor a purse has validity and older folks of either gender can be targeted. Life as a senior in 2014 isn't the one Boomers' grandparents lived. 

Younger people like to believe that folks over sixty, or horrors! seventy and older, are beyond sex and its complexities. They operate on the myth of re-virgin-ing: their older relatives just couldn't be sexual beings -- and oh, good grief, not now! It's the Goldilocks phenomenon: sexuality is limited to people their own age, whatever that may be, and that's "not too young, not too old, but just right." People under fifty have this view of relatives and older people in general: Gram has returned to maidenhood and Gramps sits in contented contemplation of the good life he enjoyed. Really? Well, not so much. 

Truth be told about seniors and sex? If a couple has enjoyed a long or a short marriage, they retain or entertain an intimacy, a closeness that holds precise meaning for their generation. One spouse may be clingy and dependent on the other in later life. Illness and the realization of time's fleet feet may contribute to that duo. When a spouse is not emotionally mature, jealousy may lurk in the corner and flare up like those seventh grade insecurities, again. Domestic violence is uncommon but not an uncharted course. Declining cognitive abilities and jealousy make poor companions. 

New friendships between a couple and a single are strictly off limits. The clear message here? If you're an older single man or woman, stick to your own kind. Ridicule, harassment and blatant dismissal may be in store for singles who try to break this taboo. An insecure eighty-five-year-old woman jealously defending territory that isn't in jeopardy suffers despair that cannot be quelled. Occasionally, couples dress in matching clothes just like junior high "going-steadys." Because the ratio of women to men is high, segregation by marital status is the norm. "The widow's table" is common at senior gatherings. Single men are more welcome around couples than single women. New widows often turn to those single men for comfort and attention and because some women like to take care of a man. They make no apologies for it.

Haven't seen an older lifelong-womanizer in action? They're obnoxious (like seventh graders) and deluded. This is The Alpha Honey Bee who wishes to pollinate as many flowers as he can. In general, these men maintain that women yearn for their attention and welcome it. The AHB has been a cheater all his life and why stop now? The AHB flies into the middle of wherever seniors gather, doesn't take no for an answer without vehement rejection and hovers as long as he has an audience. The AHB often mistakes a friendly hello and a pleasant smile for an invitation. Online dating sites for seniors are numerous and popular, especially with married men! Is it a coincidence that the highest rate of divorce by age group is now among people over sixty?  

On the other side, older women who stalk men (like seventh grade girls with a cell phone) are not rare anymore. Women are comfortable initiating assignations and men are receptive. These women channel Mae West and have no issues with inviting a man to their place, taking him home for the evening and breakfast. Everyone knows the score up front. Senior women often present themselves as the age they can re-create and aim to date younger men. Many women can't keep their hands off a man -- they fix his collar, stroke his face, touch his arm and compliment him incessantly. Other women aren't so subtle. The resistant male recipient of those attentions can only seek refuge within a group where he feels safe. 

Many senior women enjoy inveterate flirting whether they're married or single. Some men like that too and as long as everyone understands the playbill, no one gets hurt. 
Like their junior high school counterparts, seniors can participate in public displays of affection and embarrass themselves. Seriously. Add a bit of vino and kapow! Love, or something that passes for it, is in the air. Their children protest and usually prevail but not always. Sometimes it really is love.  

Besides the myth that older people are asexual, too many older folks think that he/she is the only exception to the myth. This is not a myth but a sobering and dangerous fact of life: STDs are prevalent among seniors, especially men. CDC statistics for 2012 show that almost 700 per 100,000 people over 65 were infected with STDs. Those don't proliferate through the Internet. 

I think that the hardest part of aging for seniors is knowing which behavioral bridges to burn and which ones to keep. Those who haven't made peace with their mortality no longer build new bridges but seem stuck in a behavioral cloverleaf pattern. They struggle with declining health while their inner person still feels young. They become willing to risk ridicule to have someone to love and to love them, just like seventh graders. What can be more human than that?

~~~~

                                               Circle Closings

The sky today at FoM brings thick spiraling clouds and oppressive humidity that demands its due. Storms rattled the night but are quiet now. Poplar and sweet gum leaves twitter without real movement and yield no breeze. Young and old line up around the pool deck like herring drying dockside and hope to refresh their fading summer tan with filtered sun. To paraphrase Willie's little phrase: Vanity thy name is a great tan. 

Older people are not immune to this fallacy and many sun worshipers who make it to senior status find out way more than they wish to know about the varied types of skin cancer. A tan should rightly be called A Toast. 
And how much toast did you get today? Oh, your toast is so becoming; it makes you look younger. Unfortunately, vanity often triumphs. Florida's bright sunlight contributes to an alarming amount of skin cancer. Natives and long time residents do not want a tan -- you know them by their pale apparitions and long sleeves. 


Here at FoM and in the River City by the Sea, 'toasting' in the sun hasn't lost its appeal to women or to men seniors. In February, a neighbor toasted herself everyday as she always had. In April, melanoma appeared in spite of her big floppy hat and by June, she was gone. This phenomenon happens over and over again with seniors. I happened to hear the neighbors talk of this once vibrant and endearing lady while they sunned themselves. Ironic. Sixty-, even ninety-somethings seeking that bronze veneer of their youth: a healthy glow?


When I moved to the retirement community in 2013, an infant chameleon somehow backpacked on my move. I wrote about him in the blog but never found him again. When I moved to FoM, the movers carried out my office bookcases and revealed the little chameleon, a crispy critter. These little creatures often hide and meet their end that way. So many times we think our choices are wise but the laws of the universe win out. Seniors can be like the very young and think their choices don't mean much on any given day. Like with the young, seniors' choices can become patterns and habits that acquire a life of their own. 


I must rely on Willie again to end this post: 

"All the world's a stage, /And all the men and women merely players/  

They have their exits and their entrances...." 

Writers and readers often question whether life imitates art or is it the other way around? Some seniors act out their life like a play while others let life open before them in a free fall of freedom.  

 ~~~~

Uptown Seniors

Sunday at FoM began cloudy, turned tropical with hard, blowing rain from the NE then the SW and now, clear sunny skies. As I write this, thunder curls around the mountain. 

Today, I'll examine a more common myth about seniors -- that we are finished, boring, washed up, old, decrepit, kaput, ridiculous, have nothing left, and expect younger generations to care for us in our dotage. Many even see us a drain on resources of all kinds. I don't know about you Babies, but I don't count myself in that group and neither do older people who are special to  me.   


Exceptions among my senior friends on any given day include:
  • Writing students aged sixty through early nineties whose projects include literary fiction, nonfiction, self-help books, poetry, historical fiction, children's books, short stories, general fiction and humor. Many have published since we worked together in late 2013. Others have expanded into blogging. 
  • Volunteers at local hospitals or international programs who do that quietly after a long career in medicine or accounting or teaching and may serve well into their eighties at their own expense. 
  • Guardian ad litems who volunteer tirelessly in thankless and difficult circumstances without any assured success.
  • Speakers who are successful and active Toastmasters. 
  • One special volunteer uses Toastmaster skills to speak about Hospice to organizations and groups.
  • Volunteers who teach English as a Second Language. 
  • Volunteers who teach other seniors yoga, or Tai Chi, or a hundred other classes.
  • Stephen Ministers who walk with others in spiritual crisis.
  • Several who remain employed as counselors. 
  • Volunteers in Senior Centers or at OLLIs around the country. 
  • Volunteers in Scouting as administrators or with their grandchildren.
  • Volunteers in animal shelters or animal rescue programs.
  • Volunteers on crisis management teams.
  • Volunteers with Meals on Wheels.
  • Volunteers in the arts as performers or administrative support.
  • Grandparents who strive to give structure, time and caring to grandchildren and other relatives. 
  • Neighbors who help other neighbors and friends with transportation, fresh garden veggies, homemade meals, emotional support and serve others in so many quiet ways. 
  • A talented lady who discovered that she can paint and one of her paintings hangs over my desk. She called it "Being." 
  • Many who take classes at OLLIs around the country year round. 
  • Teaching scuba diving.
  • Leading special interest groups for other seniors.         
  • Volunteers who do the thousand little jobs that must be done to make bigger projects work. 
  • Mentoring new high school sports referees.
  • Hiking the Appalachians and the Colorado Rockies. 
These remarkable people aren't out of a book or a movie or fabricated. I don't name them to protect their privacy but they are irreplaceable people in my life. Given this broad spectrum of interests and activities (I'm sure I've forgotten some), what could they have in common? 

Each one of them has integrity, purpose, curiosity and serious intention to make their little corner of the world better in quiet, unique ways. None of them think the world is about them but I do. I think the people I've written about here leave their footprints everywhere they go. 

When we were little kids, didn't we all want to grow up and be someone special? When people buy into the myths about being older, they don't know of people like these who are rare and not likely to be equaled by the next generation.  
~~~~

For the past five years, instead of college students of all ages, seniors of all descriptions surrounded me in different settings and situations and I learned and learned. In my own life, married and single people of both genders are long time friends, my "Peeps." Most seniors function as complicated, private be-ings who integrate mature life adjustments and that's not a myth. 

Seniors are just like any other ages -- they like to laugh, to dance, to celebrate and to be valued. If they become stereotypes, they don't know it. I haven't given away any secrets that were shared with me although there were many. My immersion in senior life was educational and poignant and I came away with a new perspective. 

I know that the subject matter of this series may seem harsh, too realistic and not for the faint of heart. I get that. My intention is to dispel some of the inaccurate assumptions and attitudes about seniors. Real life is messy. In spite of what their children and society in general may think, seniors have multi-dimensional personalities, make good and bad choices and many have a "I'll do (say or think) as I damn well please now--I am old." attitude. A resounding "I don't have to be nice now," said with resolve, may become their go-to comment. I did and do hear that over and over. The good, bad and the ugly showed up here, and sometimes, was disturbing or unpleasant. Eventually, I hope a more complex view of senior living emerged. You'd think I'd sold out if I didn't tell the whole truth, wouldn't you, Babies? 

May 9, 2017

Heavy traffic ahead -- right turn at detour?

It's late and here I am on the blog which I've neglected for several months. Someone told me yesterday that my blog posts are like little visits and I feel that way too, even though I only know a handful of you personally. 

Oh, I can say by way of explanation: "Life happens, you know?" Is that an explanation or an excuse? For me, the past few months have been like witnessing a serious chain-reaction accident on the freeway: the consequences of people's choices and the shock of it all freeze you in place. You sit in your car, numb and bewildered. How did this happen? Did these folks not see the heavy traffic ahead? Did they try to take a detour? 

Here are the last few months on Speed-Dial: 
  • People got sick; a few got well; 
  • I taught a class on Native Americans; 
  • folks took exotic trips and local trips; 
  • old friends showed up; people I needed? not so much; 
  • a nasty virus quarantined my building; 
  • people lost their way; 
  • birthdays came and went; 
  • old neighbors moved away to assisted living or someplace less nice;
  • new neighbors with unknown stories moved in;
  • doctors ordered more tests;
  • people died; 
  • too. many. people. died. 
  • And, old people still find the hope to get married. 
So, what's my point in early morning when I've not had a thing to say for months? What is the common thread that makes people not take the detour? To navigate through life's heavy traffic? To keep going even though we are in the slower lane? 

Today, a group of ladies were having lunch and the conversation turned to upcoming activities. One lady had a reason not to do anything, ever. She wanted just to be entertained and pampered. Detour!

Over and over, I find that those who navigate the heavy traffic that accompanies aging have a purpose. It is purpose that gives meaning and not the detours. 



                    








January 11, 2017

"The Witness"

The recent snow and ice have kept us inside much of the past few weeks. Winter is like that -- it insulates and isolates us in our homes, our cars and even our minds. Many people get 'a kind of modern cabin-fever' in the winter. Mostly, they call that SADD and intense bright lights try to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Since I moved to the rolling landscape of this area, Florida sunshine is the thing I miss most. The light here is different -- check out the photo on my blog front page -- with a coolness to it that never quite warms you up, even in summer. 

Over the past few months, I have been posting poems from "The Windwalker: Poems" with little narratives included that I would offer at a reading. The longest poem in the book is "The Witness." 

Like interior and exterior climate changes make a seasonal backdrop for our lives, the social climate of school, family and community create the setting of children's lives as Charles Schulz did in Charlie Brown cartoons. Real children hear what grownups say, watch what they do and feel their influence but through a kind of upside down funnel with children on the big end -- all that conversation, activity and intention come at children in an overwhelming sensory flood like the muted "wonk, wonk" of adults in Charles Schulz' cartoons. It's only later that we understand what was really happening in that adult world; what we witnessed. 

My childhood was during the forties, fifties and the earliest sixties. Yes, I went off to college in the early sixties but that young woman with so much ambition and determination on the outside carried that child who heard too much, saw too much and experienced too much of the adult world with her. 

Technically, "The Witness" is free verse and influenced by the Spenserian stanza style of "The Faerie Queen" although it doesn't follow that form -- no rhymes. Babies, I hope that our little "poetry workshops" add a bit to your encounter with each poem. Although I enjoy working with the "sense of place" in much of my work, in "The Witness" I explore the dichotomy in an era's sense of culture and community. 


                    
                      The Witness

At press time humans still gave birth to other
Humans. Please They were not “human-ed”
As in calved or fold-ed. Borne. Birthed. Born
Inside the pain of some other human being.
Being born gave pain to the “birthee” as well.
no. Birthing pain. Living pain. Dying Pain.
The exit form said to list all secrets known
About the human condition. Are secrets
Important, I asked? no more never again

In late August trees begged to be climbed. never
again Girls were not allowed to be the trail boss
When playing cowboys. Instead they owned the
The hotel in town. hold still After dark and on
Saturdays the roller rink opened its clapboard
Awning panels, music glided out, people
Spun round and round in twos and threes back
talk! The people at the Pentecostal Apostolic
Holiness Tabernacle cranked open their
  
Blue-white mottled casement windows and propped
Doors wide for new air. Everyone who passed
By or sat on front porches after skate-outs
Saw them rolling around and heard their swoons
And tongues speaking. no one will come scream all
you want They prayed to cure giant Lukey Browne
Who was retarded and clumsy from eating
Green grapes they said. His sister drowned in July. 
When late September afternoons rolled around,

The sun skated west; honey-hued rye seeds
Waited for that light and winter wheat warmed
To sprout. Across the river bottomland
Harsh winds blew golden-ripe shafts of rye, hay
Or wheat; they swayed and beckoned joy that came.
Never tell me no again Fisher’s hardware
Store plunked Halloween pumpkins in assorted sizes,
Tin pails with straps in its front window ledge with leaf
Rakes and ten-pound bags of fertilizer.

Winds howled from the north. The high school football
Team won sometimes and the band bus pulsated
To and from away games. On Mondays the whole
School buzzed about the band bus even if
The team won. Shy players smiled sideways grins,
Eyes shining. suffer the little children McKinley’s
Garden Center held a November holiday kick-off 
And icy winds blew snow flakes into eyelashes.
 i’ll hit you until you do cry After Thanksgiving,

Housedogs wore sweaters for night walks. Outside
Dogs got new hay for their houses; backyard 
Rhubarb and asparagus stumps nestled
Beneath dry straw. Paperboys donned last year’s
Christmas gloves, hats and wooly scarves, collected
Bills on Friday nights; warm air escaped and
Their eyeglasses frosted at opened kitchen doors.
some men stabbed him by the backwater Saturday’s
Enchanted radio brought Big John and Sparky
  
From Cincinnati; then, “Texaco Presents:
The Metropolitan Opera from New York.”
Houses smelled like vegetable soup and mittens
Steaming on a furnace grate. you’re no better than
what you came from Christmas vacation came just
About the time volunteer firefighters set up
Their tree lot outside the grade school. Big
Spruce trees invaded rooms like grandmas on
Buses with shopping bags. One bubble green

Light always flowed behind mashed tensile, silver.
Copper’s never closed their beer joint early even on 
Christmas Eve Heavy snow on New Year’s Day
Was a sure thing. jukebox honky tonk music came
out the doors when drunks came and went If
Ice spears hung off the roof to the window sash,
Old Mrs. James canceled school. Ice grew
Up thin wavy glass and February
Made puddles wet the lace curtains yellow.
  
Mrs. Ball’s third grade class transformed oat and
Corn meal boxes with cutout red hearts
On paper lace ones under smudged glue layers.
don’t think too much missy Old folks talked of
Mr. Clark’s pigs loose on Route 60 in ‘35’s flood
And when the river froze. After chemical
Plants brought work to the valley the river
Never froze again and the corps of federal
Engineers built a lock on the river. toxic

dumping is harmful to children and other
living things Mrs. Tatske’s fifth-graders
Churned milk into butter in a glazed urn.
Benny Shepherd and Donnie Dark had the
Strongest arms and churned most. The Korean
Conflict, adults said, wasn’t a real war
So teachers didn’t discuss it in school.
he’s drunk and ‘ll kill you all Teachers said
Those communist reds had to stay at the thirty-
  
Eighth parallel on the exact opposite side
Of earth from their school. A few men returned
But most stayed away. Vietnam split in ‘54
Into North and South like America had once.
the mps pounded on the door with their rifle
butts and dragged him across the front porch
Brown vs. the United States of America kept
The country separated. don’t walk in front
of the mayor’s house men get moonshine

bet on dice and cards he’s in the clan they watch
people. Donnie Dark’s strong arms helped men break
Into a warehouse that spring and no one
At his school ever saw him again. Mrs. Johanson
Sent sixth-graders to regard the body
Of Johnny Bing’s father who died in a
Mine cave-in. god won’t help you The sixth-grade
Recruits filed past Mr. Bing whose death man-
Dated a home viewing. Johnny’s family
  
Moved away the next week to Tennessee.
call on someone you know On school snow days
Levin’s furniture store’s cardboard mattress
Cartons morphed into toboggans. High school
Kids trudged up the slope above the creek at
Burning Springs hill for one more outrageous
Ride until the cartons shredded about two-thirty.
A snow day tastes like hot chocolate made
From cocoa powder, sugar, canned milk, water,

And, a little vanilla, if you have it.
Melting March delivered grass in a shade even
Gargantuan crayon selections never match
Exactly. The wind blew strong every day.
Benny got a loaded turquoise Crown Vic
For his sixteenth birthday and died on Dead-
Man’s Curve the same year. when you get to be
sixteen he’ll come back for you Sixteen-year-old
Girls listened to Cincinnati jazz radio all night,
  
Read Steinbeck, Updike, Eliot, Fitzgerald.
They went to sleep when the birds got up. James
Dean died. Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable
Made their last movie The Misfits.Who knew
That wild mustangs were symptoms? One fine day
President Kennedy promised Vietnamese
People communism wouldn’t find life
In their country. don’t you look at me like that
Billy Boyd, the language conqueror, went

First. April Fool’s Day dumped snow before
The wind howled. he’ll put you to work for him After
Billy, many boys signed up for a new life
As soldiers. Maybe some were born again.
Many never came home and those who did
Were different men. don’t make me use this knife
The Greyhound bus station sits right between
Levin’s and Rice’s Drug Store where buses
Stopped twice a day. Lilac bushes bloomed full 
  
Near the river in Mrs. Carrico’s
Garden; dewy fragrance kissed the ground
Before Decoration Day. if you ever come back
I’ll kill you She bought a ticket for any place else,
Placed her white windbreaker on the empty
Seat beside her and watched night whiz by out
The dark window. She placed her heart inside
The perpetual witness protection
Program of quiet anonymity.

                         Dixie G. Golden
                        From “Wingwalking: Poems” © 2011