A TGB READER STORY: Finding Your Tribe (OR Notes On Losing A Local Poetry Contest)

By officerripley

We keep hearing these days that if we're lonely, we just need to "find our tribe," i.e., individuals with whom we can feel we have at least one thing in common.

And although there's sometimes truth to the old saying, "If you're unhappy, don't bother moving to a different place; you take your problems with you no matter where you go," I think it sometimes does make a difference where you live and you might have more luck finding your tribe in another area.

As my previous story here pointed out, I'm an old lefty/liberal, childless-by-choice woman living in a very conservative area and unable to move since Husband refuses. So I've made an effort by volunteering, trying meet-up.com and other groups (no churches since I'm an atheist).

But seem to keep running up against the fact that in this area, the women in my age group who come the closest to what I think might be my tribe all seem to be highly educated and professional, and my earlier submission described my lack of success with joining, to name just one example, a local feminist group who only takes those with degrees or who are getting degrees.

So since they say that art can help with emotional stress, I submitted three entries to a local poetry contest run by the local progressive newspaper.

In addition to loving these poems I wrote and how good it felt to speak from my heart, I admit that I was also hoping that one might get published as an honorable mention.

And, too, that some of the local, elderly, liberal, professional women I used to know mostly through working at the local university might notice, remember that I exist, contact me, and invite me to one of their private book clubs (or something). Then I might've found my tribe, yay!

None of mine were accepted, however; and looking at the winners and the list of honorable mentions, they all appear to be degreed, professional people.

The newspaper said all names were removed before the judges read the poems and I believe them; I don't think any favoritism was involved. What I am starting to think is that maybe those who all along have told me that it's always better to be as highly educated as possible are right. In this case anyway, the poetry by the highly educated was deemed the best.

So finally I arrive at: what if you do manage to find your tribe but you're not allowed in? Or rather, the fact is that there is no tribe at all for some people?

I think that might explain at least some of the sadness of some of the elderly: they never found a tribe and it's too late now (especially if you no longer drive).

So I think I need to finally stop wearing myself out trying to find my tribe anywhere other than online; I'm too old to keep getting my hopes dashed. As Donovan put it, "I may as well try and catch the wind."

Dreaded Diseases and Attitude

You may think you were talking about ice cream last week on the post titled, An Unexpected Anniversary, but you also reinforced a thread that's been common here since I first wrote about my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer two years ago.

Readers use such words as “honesty,” “insight,” “inspiration,” “courage" to describe my attitude. They reference “Superwoman” sometimes. They admire my efforts to “beat” cancer (which I try not to do). And they have all kinds of other ways to praise how I deal with this serious predicament. You can imagine, I am sure, how I preen when I read them, even sitting alone at my desk.

Maybe my lack of anything more than a passing response - a "thank you" here and there - has been brought on by my inability to find an adequate group of words to express my pleasure and gratitude but that's not a good enough reason or even excuse.

Such kind thoughts and words as yours, especially uttered in obvious sincerity, should not go unacknowledged and certainly not for two whole years. Yet, here we are in that situation of which I hope to remedy at least a little bit today.

Let me start in my childhood, my parents. Both were orphans with no siblings who came of age in the middle of the Great Depression. There were times they went hungry. They had few material goods and not much love from the adults in their lives.

Sometimes they related stories about their childhoods but never, ever complained. To them, it was what it was and you were expected to observe, accept and carry on. My parents believed it is up to each of us personally to do the best with what life throws our way – you cannot expect others to help.

This came to them, I think, naturally from their early circumstances and both probably would have been surprised to know that their “observe, accept and carry on” attitude was closing in on being Buddhist-like.

I didn't realize that until I spent a year or two in my twenties studying Buddhism – not particularly to become an adherent but to understand something so different from what (little) I knew then of western philosophies.

No one much loved either one of my parents when they were children. They were not hugged or kissed often if at all, and I realized as an adult that neither were my brother and I because our parents didn't know how.

They found it mildly embarrassing to express loving emotion, as I still do to a degree these many years later, although I've tried to shed it.

In my parents' early lives, I'm pretty sure that when you are scrabbling for adequate food every day, emotional issues don't matter much. And I doubt you ever forget going to bed hungry.

All that baggage my mom and dad brought to parenthood teaches you, as their child, a great deal of independence at a young age; you realize that you must rely on yourself for whatever emotional sustenance and well-being you need.

I've tried to change this mindset in a variety of ways over many years but mostly I've done "it" – that is, living - my way all these 78 years much, I guess, as my parents did. (The apple falling not far from the tree, etc.)

How far have I gotten with this exercise? Well, I'm pretty good, finally, at accepting gifts but not so much gifts of personal time as I received so much of from friends and neighbors during my months' long recovery from the Whipple surgery.

One thing that gets in the way is that I always, always worry that I will not be able to repay the help and kindness, so I had better to do without than deal with the shame if I cannot reciprocate.

But blessings on those wonderful people who force their help on me when they see the need. They are saints to get past my resistance.

To those of you who would tell me I'm being foolish, I don't disagree. I just haven't been able to change these things in my 78 years.

Although I tried to sort out some of my issues in a couple of short bursts of therapy long ago, I don't much believe in psychology, at least not to get past such emotional problems as I inherited. I've tried to be self-aware day-to-day and monitor what's bothering and not bothering me. Sometimes it has helped and just as often not.

Life is what it is. Nobody ever promised you a rose garden. Or, as my mother often said, “Into every life some rain must fall.” Just as frequently, especially when I was whining over something that had gone wrong, she would recite, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

Maybe more than anything else in this post, that paragraph sums up the philosophy of life that was instilled in me way back when: Buck up, life isn't easy.Deal with it.

So. I am good at absorbing the slings and arrows life flings our way from time to time but quite practically, what else is there to do? I keep going without much thought about why. It is who I am and, as far as I can remember, always have been. I was born this way.

When tough things happen, I go off somewhere alone and wallow in it. I don't want to talk. I don't want advice or hand-holding. I want to be alone with whatever the current problem is. To wail and weep can be part of the process and you would be amazed at how well that works in brightening one's days.

By the time I crawl out from under the quilt – hours or days later – I've reached acceptance. I don't claim any Buddhist influence but my pattern seems to follow their “observe, accept, carry on” belief and it has worked that way for me.

What flowed from that routine this time is a deep curiosity about what the end-of-life is like when you know it is coming relatively soon. It has become a kind of purpose for me, to chronicle these weeks, months, years(?) and I would be doing it for myself alone if I did not keep this blog.

Now, apparently, I have been granted extra time beyond what statistics suggest which I see as a gift to learn even more about life and about death. I have come to believe in these two years and since my psylocybin session last December that life and death are one but that's another story.

If some of you who read and write all these lovely words like bravery and amazing or inspirational along with other kind words, I am so pleased if I can help you on your personal journeys. Thanking you for your messages seems too little for what you have come to mean to me so perhaps this explanation is a bit more I can offer to keep with my genuine gratitude.

On that ice cream post last week, reader Carol Leskin had this to say:

”What continues to amaze and inspire me is your ability to find some ray of sunshine even when it is almost dark. In this case, ice cream. Some say a positive attitude and hope are critical to successful outcomes and prolonging life. Others think that is malarkey. You have made a strong case for the former.”

Until recently, I had spent a lifetime living the “malarkey” end of that dyad. Without feeling any need or desire to give up my atheism, I'm admitting to myself these days that maybe, just maybe, there is a little piece of the ageless universe somewhere that I belong to and am part of.

Perhaps the extra time the good medical treatment I have been receiving is that universe's way of telling me I have a bit more to do before I go. (I cannot believe those sappy words came out of me just now but there you are – strange things can happen when they tell you you're dying.)

Or, as reader Cathy J quoted author, Thornton Wilder:

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate."

Thank you all for the good words and kind wishes with which you enrich my life (and death).

ELDER MUSIC: These Arms of Mine

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

A column about arms – the things attached to our bodies, not the things that armies use.

OTIS REDDING started as a driver for the blues performer Johnny Jenkins.

Otis Redding

One day, after Johnny had recorded a couple of songs backed by Booker T and the MGs, there was some time left over. Otis asked if he could try one of his songs.

They let him do that and backed by Booker and crew, he recorded These Arms of Mine. It became a smash hit, the first of many for Otis (but alas, not nearly enough).

♫ Otis Redding - These Arms Of Mine

Like Ray Charles, SOLOMON BURKE liked to mix his musical genres.

Solomon Burke

Also like Ray, he delved into the country repertoire for songs that he could give a soul treatment to. One of those, and one his most successful songs, is Just out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms).

♫ Solomon Burke - Just out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)

MARK SEYMOUR was the singer, songwriter, guitarist and general chief of the Australian rock group Hunters & Collectors.

Mark Seymour

One of the songs the group performed back in the eighties was Throw Your Arms Around Me. It wasn’t very successful at the time but since then the song has gained enormous stature, such that’s it’s now considered a classic song.

Quite a few performers have covered it over the years, most notably Paul McDermott from The Doug Anthony Allstars. However, here is Mark with a more recent group of his, The Undertow, with his song.

♫ Mark Seymour - Throw Your Arms Around Me

NICK CAVE recorded Into My Arms during his brief relationship with P.J. Harvey.

Nick Cave

It’s one of his rare romantic songs - he’s not noted as a performer of such material - but when he sets his mind to it, as he does here, the results are terrific.

♫ Nick Cave - Into My Arms

Everyone from Elvis to Dobie Gray to Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge has had a hit with the song Loving Arms. The man who wrote it is often forgotten, but not by me. That man is TOM JANS.

Tom Jans

Tom made a bit of a name for himself in the seventies as a songwriter of note, and also a performer, both as a solo artist and as a duo with Mimi Fariña, Joan Baez's sister. Unfortunately, he died due to complications after a motor cycle accident. Here’s his version of the song.

♫ Tom Jans - Loving Arms

Iain Sutherland wrote the song Arms of Mary in the Sutherland family farmhouse in England. Iain performed with his brother Gavin as The Sutherland Brothers. The pair got together with the rock group Quiver and they all became known as THE SUTHERLAND BROTHERS & QUIVER.

Sutherland Brothers & Quiver

It was this combination that recorded the song which was a worldwide hit, except in America. Later the Everly Brothers recorded the song and their version is even better, but today we have the original.

♫ Sutherland Brothers & Quiver - Arms Of Mary

I’ve used this song by WILLIE NELSON somewhat recently in a column on Sleep.

Willie Nelson

However, it’s such a good song, and it fits well here as well, that I’m going to use it again. After all, too much Willie is barely enough. Can I Sleep in Your Arms?

♫ Willie Nelson - Can I Sleep in Your Arms

Music of the last sixties years would be quite different if it weren’t for LES PAUL & MARY FORD.

Les Paul Mary Ford

For a start, Les was the person who developed the Gibson Les Paul guitar, probably the finest electric guitar in the world. He also invented double (and triple and whatever) tracking on recordings. Les was also one of the finest guitarists around and Mary was a fantastic singer. They were decades ahead of their time.

Their song today is Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me.

♫ Les Paul & Mary Ford - Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me

Crazy Arms was written by Ralph Mooney and Charles Seals (and maybe Paul Gilley). Ray Price was the first to have a hit with the song. Many others have also recorded it with some success. One version that didn’t make the charts, but I quite like, is by LEON REDBONE.

Leon Redbone

Of course, very little, if anything, that Leon records makes the charts, but what a terrific performer he is. See what you think of his interpretation. Leon died last week on 30 May - no one reporting it in the press seemed to know his real age for certain.

♫ Leon Redbone - Crazy Arms

You may not be very familiar with the duo DILLARD & CLARK.

Dillard & Clark

They might become a little more familiar to you when I say that they are Doug Dillard, from The Dillards – probably the first country rock group, who were also featured often on The Andy Griffith Show – and Gene Clark, a founder member of The Byrds.

The pair made one great record and a second pretty good one, and that’s all she wrote. From the second we have Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms.

♫ Dillard & Clark - Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms

O.V. WRIGHT is one of the best unsung soul singers, so I’m going to sing him today (as it were).

OV Wright

He’s best known for his song That’s How Strong My Love Is, covered by both Otis Redding and the Rolling Stones. Today, however, his song is Since You Left (These Arms of Mine).

♫ O.V. Wright - Since You Left (These Arms Of Mine)



The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is the owner of 36 reels of film from Biograph film company from the earliest years of that medium.

Among the holdings is an extremely rare bit of moving footage of England's Queen Victoria shot in 1900 (she died in 1901) She is riding in a carriage and using a parasol against the sun.

The shot of the queen is very short, a few seconds. The video below is about 11 minutes. The Victoria footage shows up about three or four times and in between is an interesting overview of the early development of film.

There is more information at Mental Floss.


A couple of weeks ago, four baby raven chicks were born at the Tower of London. The first baby ravens in 30 years.

The ravens' presence traditionally believed to protect The Crown and the tower; a superstition holds that "if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”

With that in mind in these perilous political times, thank goodness for these baby raven chicks.


Earlier this month, Washington state became the first in the United States to explicitly allow human remains to become compost.

”Washington’s new law, which takes effect in May 2020, will allow bodies to be placed in a receptacle, along with organic material like wood chips and straw, to help speed up the natural transition of human remains into soil. Farmers use a similar process to compost the bodies of livestock.”

Read more at The New York Times and elsewhere around the web.


Remember when it was announced a few weeks ago that bees were kept on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral and they survived the fire. There are more rooftop bees in Paris.

”Audric de Campeau is an urban beekeeper,” says the YouTube page, “who keeps hives on the rooftops of some of Paris’s most famous landmarks: the Musee d’Orsay, the Ecole Militaire, Cordon Bleu, and other iconic sites.

“Accompanied by his dog Filouche, de Campeau works tirelessly to keep his bees happy—and in return, reaps delicious local honey.”


With an alert from TGB reader Mary Symmes and according to The Guardian, a new study says women are happier without a husband and children:

”Speaking at the Hay festival on Saturday, Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said the latest evidence showed that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness – particularly marriage and raising children.

“'Married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: fucking miserable,' he said.

There is more detail at The Guardian.


This short, short video is really funny. I'm betting you'll watch it more than once. The cat's trying to scratch but his foot is separated by the computer screen.


As Atlas Obscura explains:

Vanity of the rich. ”In 1463, London outlawed the shoes of its fanciest men. These dapper lords had grown ridiculous in their dapperness, and had taken to ambling streets shod in long, carrot-shaped shoes that tapered to impish tips, some as long as five inches beyond the toe.

“These shoes were called 'crakows' or 'poulaines' (a term also used to refer to the tips alone), and the court of King Edward IV eventually found them offensive enough to pass a sumptuary law prohibiting shoe tips that extended over two inches beyond the toe.”

Long pointy shoes

There are more pictures and information of the pointy-shoe fad at Atlas Obscura.


From the YouTube page:

”Almost 50 years ago, fried chicken tycoon David Bamberger used his fortune to purchase 5,500 acres of overgrazed land in the Texas Hill Country. Planting grasses to soak in rains and fill hillside aquifers, Bamberger devoted the rest of his life to restoring the degraded landscape.

“Today, the land has been restored to its original habitat and boasts enormous biodiversity. Bamberger's model of land stewardship is now being replicated across the region and he is considered to be a visionary in land management and water conservation.”

Take a look. It's beautiful.


Video doorbells, the TV commercials say, help keep us safe from home predators. Apparently, they also attract the local animal population. (Dear god - I had no idea a bear could open a car door as easily as you or me.)

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Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

An Unexpected Anniversary

This is a big-deal, important day for me. A time to celebrate: It is two years ago today that I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Let me explain how amazing that is. Only about 10 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are even eligible for the Whipple procedure, an extensive surgery that is the only treatment for this cancer. Of the patients who undergo the Whipple many, like me, follow up with chemotherapy and/or radiation.

According to several medical websites, the five-year survival rate after a Whipple procedure is about 20 to 25 percent. My surgery took place two years ago minus three weeks from today.

The downside is that for the past five or six weeks, I have had a terrible breathing problem. Sometimes I can't get to the mailbox or even from the back bedroom to the kitchen without needing to stop a couple of times to catch my breath.

I saw the oncologist earlier this week. It has been difficult for them to book a pulmonologist in a reasonable length of time (NOT September) so they are doubling down to find an earlier appointment for me to deal with this breathing difficulty.

Meanwhile, I'm on an inhaler which helps a little but I still can't walk more than a few feet without need to stop to catch my breath. Really irritating.

The oncologist has halted my chemotherapy for two months (four infusions) because it is affecting other organs including my heart. The pulmonologist will address these breathing issues.

So I'm on hold until a pulmonologist is found to see me soon but the oncologist, referring to my life-span, appears to think I'm not going anywhere anytime soon either.

One difficulty with cancer and chemo is that both of them eat up calories faster than a healthy body but it is important not to lose weight. This is not easy since the disease and chemo also steal the patient's appetite. I have a new pill now which improves my appetite – no more forcing food when I feel full.

But here's the best news. The particular kind of chemotherapy I've been taking precludes eating or drinking cold foods and drink because the chemo, in those instances, closes up the esophagus. But now, the next couple of months without chemo means I can – wait for it - EAT ICE CREAM AGAIN.

Ice cream's high calorie and high fat count will go a long way toward helping keep up my weight and even better, it's one of my two favorite foods.

So hurray for me. And hurray for all of you who have been supportive in so many ways since this disease interrupted my otherwise long and healthy life two years ago.

Thank you all for being there for me through these two years. Maybe you'll share some ice cream with me.

Happy 94 Years, Darlene Costner

Way back in the oughts, sometime not long after I began this blog 15 years ago, two readers became my friends. I'm pretty sure they were my first online friends.

They both were (and still are) my elders. Back then, I thought it would be nice to celebrate birthdays of TGB readers online, and I started with these two “first friends”. Then I realized I couldn't possibly do that without making TimeGoesBy a birthday-only blog, and I surely did not want that.

So I didn't add new birthday celebrations but I kept these two, Millie Garfield and Darlene Costner, celebrating their birthdays each year.

Today is Darlene's 94th birthday. Think of it – 94 years. Earlier this week, I mentioned that I'm getting to be fairly old-ish, 78. Yeah, right. Both Darlene and Millie have always enjoyed pointing out that compared to them (they are the same age), I am just a kid.

Poking around the bookshelves here looking for something to quote that is better than I could write for the birthday of someone who has made it this long, I ran across my collection of books by essayist and former U.S. Poet Laureate, Donald Hall. I know many of you are familiar with his work.

This is a vignette from Hall's 2018 collection, A Carnival of Losses: Notes on Nearing 90 - that Darlene might have written herself. Not the biographical details, of course, but the tone, the attitude and understanding of achieving great age that, according to this excerpt, began in Hall's life before he had reached that point himself.

This is from an essay titled, “Five of Them” - referring to his grandchildren - and recounting his grandmother Lucy's 90th birthday:

”Jane [his wife] and I...arrived as scheduled on April 22, 1993. We had arranged in secret for her grandchildren to bring her great-grandchildren for a visit the next day, a surprise on her birthday.

“Andrew and his wife, Natalie arrived first with two daughters and a son, closely followed by Philippa with two daughters. I preserve the gathering in a huge photograph stuck to my refrigerator.

“Jane posed us squeezed onto a sofa around my mother and her perpetual caftan, babies and children and grown-ups, everyone smiling, my mouth wide open. “We had brought a birthday cake. After a joyous hour, I noticed that Lucy was exhausted, sagging into her seldom-used sofa.

“At my urging the visitors packed up and departed while I steered the ninety-year-old to take a nap on the reclining mechanical chair – where she lived out the late track of her life, where she wrote many letters, where she listened to the radio Red Sox, where she read the same Agatha Christies over and over.”

You can learn a lot from a writer as talented as Donald Hall.

Happy Birthday, Darlene – and let's all the rest of us here today join together in singing the traditional Happy Birthday song:

Darlene Costner 87 years oldMuch love and many hugs, Darlene.

Holiday Edition: Whatever Happened to Wrinkled Spinach?

Here we are again at one of those three-day, holiday weekends – Memorial Day in this case – also known as the unofficial beginning of summer. Personally, I don't want to rush spring out the door three weeks before its time but no one asked me and the world continues to turn on its axis taking no account of my preferences.

This is the first time in several years I've remembered today's holiday. Retirement does that to you: without an external force such as an employer to organize your days or having others at home who depend on you, it feels like just another Monday.

That may change if Trump pardons some convicted war criminals as he has suggested he will do today. If he does, I doubt I'll forget Memorial Day again in my lifetime. Rather than the stately remembrance of U.S. fallen soldiers that the holiday has been all my life, it will become something less, something shameful.

Speaking of my lifetime, it's getting to be long-ish, 78 years at last birthday count. Any of you following my cancer updates know that the chemo I've been infused with every two weeks since January is doing its job, reducing the size of the cancer nodules and slowing their growth. No one can tell me how long this will work. Friday will be two years since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer so I've already lived a year longer than statistics predict.

Being told you have a disease that will kill you in the not too distant future certainly is a wake-up call. For me, the largest question was how to spend the time that remains. With – happily – no bucket list, a large disinclination to get on an airplane ever again and plenty to hold my attention at home, I decided to keep doing what I do. Which sounds boring to a lot of people.

It is not. I produce this blog which involves some amount of work every day. Hang out with friends (as long as it doesn't involve an airplane to do so.) Read books. Listen to music. Watch movies. And the one that nags without let-up or any help from me: what does it all mean?

In recent days, that last one has been insistent and I will undoubtedly die before I figure it out.

One of my stock texts for this endeavor is Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by neuroscientist David Eagleman. I have mentioned the book before in these pages and dipped into its pleasures many times since it was published in 2010

Today, I had to give up trying to find at least one of the two copies I own which tells you something about my late-life filing capabilities. Here is blurb for the book that does a better job than I can of explaining its contents:

”In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that God is a married couple, or that the universe is running backward, or that you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.”

My personal favorite sets the premise that we can choose whatever we want to be in our next life. Sounds good, right? Except – important disclaimer: Eagleman uses the example of a horse: when you have made your choice and as your body is transitioning into a horse, there is a point at which the brain becomes enough less human and more horse that it can no longer understand or reverse the change-over. You're stuck being a horse indefinitely.

That one makes me laugh every time – it is much like some life events that don't work out the way we planned – usually without such dire consequences as the horse story, but not always.

I have an afterlife idea of my own.

Almost every day now, I sense that I am no longer of this world. I have no idea who the top music stars are and there is, I suspect, not a single current song I could identify.

Most nights, I have no idea who the guests are on late night talk shows nor on Saturday Night Live.

Why do about three-quarters of all movies (and many TV shows, too) involve half-humanoid killing machines who use a lot fire and high-powered explosives to cause uncounted, horrific death, but no dialogue?

Why does most clothing for women have no sleeves? Or pockets?

Why do online publications supply weekly lists of the the top 75 best books to read “this month”? Lazy movie reviewers do the same, 100 best movies. Don't they know too many choices is no choice? I wouldn't read a list of anything that long – it has no meaning. And why does Netflix give me a list of new releases for this month at the end of the month?

There is more but it's all in the same vein. I am not comfortable in our world anymore. I don't feel like I belong here. Maybe it's something in the water. Just the other day, TGB reader Lynn Lawrence, referring her enjoyment of antique china tea cups and embroidered table cloths, had the spirit to say it out loud in the comments:

”I know, I know, it sounds like I'm pining for the good old days. Well, I am.”

So I think I've got an afterlife for people like Lynn and me: we return to this world at a point in our previous life when we were most comfortable with the culture. No embarrassment. No shame. No feeling we don't belong. Just a place where we are welcome as we are.

The sense of belonging that I miss is just one small corner of the discomforts that seem to be piling up. Some have zero importance to life in general even if I feel the loss. Don't laugh, spinach is one: It used to be wrinkled, had a much stronger spinach-y taste than the new flat kind and you had to be sure to rinse off all the sand it had grown in before using.

God help me, it is with such as this that I squander my time.

ELDER MUSIC: 1955 Yet Again

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

Well, it’s 1955 and I’m in grade 5. It was one of the better years (musically) before I hit high school.

In the middle of their successful period THE CHARMS split into two.


One group, who thought they could do without their lead singer, kept the name The Charms. The other, led by that singer, called themselves Otis Williams and The Charms. Otis is not the singer with the same name who later performed with The Temptations.

The song, That's Your Mistake, is performed by the Otis version of the group.

The Charms - That's Your Mistake

BILL HALEY was the first of the white singers to bring rock & roll to a wider audience.

Bill Haley

He deserves a place in the musical hall of fame for his best known song, but he had many more hits. One of those is Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie.

♫ Bill Haley - Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie

Bill Haley may have performed rock and roll before him, but ELVIS brought sex appeal to the music. Boy, did he ever.

Elvis Presley

Elvis was just on the verge of hitting it big in 1955. He was still recording at Sun Studios (some say that’s where he made his best music; I refuse to comment on that).

One of the songs from the time is I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone, with Scotty Moore and Bill Black backing him.

♫ Elvis - I'm Left You're Right She's Gone

I'm rather surprised I didn't use this song on the previous two occasions I featured 1955. It's good in a way as I can include it now. I'm talking about FRANKIE LYMON AND THE TEENAGERS' biggest hit, Why Do Fools Fall in Love.

Frankie Lymon

It seems that a neighbour gave the group some love letters sent to him by his girlfriend (you have to wonder why he’d do that). The Teenagers read those missives and turned them into the song. The title was apparently common in the letters.

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers - Why Do Fools Fall In Love

The songs that ETTA JAMES recorded around this time were covered by quite a few people, most notably Georgia Gibbs.

Etta James

Etta’s song today was originally called The Wallflower. It’s probably better known as Roll With Me Henry. Georgia’s cleaned-up version was known as Dance With Me Henry. Let’s listen to the original, as it’s much better.

Etta James - The Wallflower (a-k-a Roll With Me Henry)

GENE & EUNICE were Gene Forrest and Eunice Levy.

Gene & Eunice

They were touted as Los Angeles’s answer to Shirley and Lee (from New Orleans). Some catty commentators suggested that the difference was that Eunice could actually sing in tune (ouch).

They were more lyrical and lighter than S&L, and that probably appealed more to younger teens at the time. One of their hits is This is My Story.

♫ Gene & Eunice - This Is My Story

RUTH BROWN had a bunch of hits in the fifties.

Ruth Brown

Most of them are worthy of inclusion in any of these columns. As this is 1955 we have to go with one of those from this year. The one I’ve chosen is As Long As I'm Moving.

♫ Ruth Brown - As Long As I'm Moving

BOYD BENNETT was a rockabilly singer who performed with his band The Rockets (or His Rockets, as they were usually known).

Boyd Bennett

He had a huge hit this year called Seventeen, a song he wrote himself. Because it was so successful, others covered it and several versions made the charts.

I’m sure many other countries had people recording the song at the time – I know here in Australia the song was covered as well. However, here’s Boyd’s original.

♫ Boyd Bennett and his Rockets - Seventeen

THE JACKS were really another group called The Cadets.


It seems that the group recorded the song Why Don't You Write Me? and they wanted to release it immediately. Unfortunately (well, really fortunately, I’d imagine), they already had a song on the charts at the time and the record company didn’t want another one by the same group to interfere with the sales of the first one, so they released it under the name The Jacks. It was also a success.

♫ Jacks - Why Don't You Write Me

BIG JOE TURNER was a blues performer, but he had a huge influence on the development of rock & roll.

Big Joe Turner

Everyone was listening to Joe by this stage, and both Bill Haley and Elvis recorded this song, Flip Flop and Fly (as well as other songs of his). An appropriate way to end the year.

♫ Big Joe Turner - Flip Flop and Fly



Three days ago or so, this email arrived in my inbox:

”I’m visiting Darlene in Tucson. You’re the one who brought us together!”

That would be Nana Royer writing the email and Darlene Costner whose names you will recognize from their many cogent comments. And here they are in the flesh – well, I guess it's electronic flesh. Great smiles.



It's not just the cute and cuddly animals who find odd friendships. This time is it a lamb watching over two much larger baby rhinos.


A charming story about a man and his cat's adventures in the wild.

Adventurer and filmmaker, JJ Yosh, resides in Boulder, Colorado with his black cat Simon. He adopted the feline two or three years ago, and they have been traveling together across land and water ever since - with Simon normally nestled in his backpack.


In a new project, the city of Chicago is adding libraries to some new public housing projects:

”...each project includes a new branch library ('co-location' is the term of art). The libraries are devised as outward-facing hubs for the surrounding neighborhoods, already attracting a mix of toddlers, retirees, after-school teens, job-seekers, not to mention the traditional readers, nappers and borrowers of DVDs.”

Here are snapshots of two of them:



Read more here.


How many butterflies does it take to make a noise in the woods? A few million. Watch (and listen!) as these monarchs put on a show at their overwintering site in Mexico.

This was filmed while leading a trip to visit the monarch migration with Atlas Obscura. The butterfly sounds begin at about 3:25. You might need to punch up your audio.


Wendy Vitter was confirmed to a lifetime appointment as a federal judge on Thursday. Her views are so extreme that even Senator Susan Collins of Maine didn't vote for her – but every other Republican did.

According to Business Insider,

”Vitter once accused Planned Parenthood of 'killing over 150,000 females a year,' and at a 2013 conference referred to a brochure that touted false claims about abortion being linked to breast cancer, and birth control causing women to pursue violent relationships.”

Did I mention that her judgeship is a lifetime appointment?


A new Swiss treat has is making its way the United States. It is called ruby chocolate. Here is a short explanation video:

It's for sale at Amazon (and maybe other places; I didn't check) and you can read more about it at the Washington Post.


Brad had been at the Oahu SPCA shelter since he was a pup – so many years, they made a video for him:

At last, after seven years, a Michiganer family vacationing in Hawaii fell in love with him:

"'They instantly fell in love," shelter manager Ashley Weber tells [Mother Nature Network]. 'They expressed interest in adopting Brad and we have been in contact with them ever since working out the details and going through extensive interviewing to ensure they would be a great fit...

“Brad will also spend his weekends at a cabin in norther Michigan where he will go hiking in the forest and spend time chasing squirrels.

“Because it will be expensive getting Brad from Hawaii to Michigan, the shelter set up a fundraiser to help pay his expenses. Brad is expected to arrive in Michigan the evening of May 16 and his new family will be there to pick him up when he arrives.”

Read more a MNN.


Just you watch:

Okay, maybe I'm over-anthropomorphising but why not. I especially like the sloth's slow blink.

MNN gave us some additional information:

* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Growing Old Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

What a terrific discussion you made of Wednesday's post from Crabby Old Lady. I mostly keep our distance on this blog from the constant turmoil from Trump – there is more than enough writing about him and his misplaced belief in his own genius.

As Susan began her comment:

”Dear Crabby Lady: Thanks so much for making me feel not so alone in the spikes of “omg, what is it going to take for someone to do something here?????!!!)”

“Making me feel not so alone”. There is nothing quite like talking with and listening to others to help us understand our predicament whether it is a dangerous president or growing old.

Talking with others applies to both our politics and our ageing. As I wrote in these pages a week or so ago,

”...it helps – a lot sometimes - to learn that other people are struggling through the same things you are. It doesn't mean we don't also laugh, read books, go to the movies and whatever else engages us that is still possible. But letting off steam together kind of clears the air.”

On The Alex and Ronni Show that my former husband and I recorded yesterday, we took opposite sides in our discussion of growing old. Alex sees the darker side; I take a lighter view of.

It's mid-afternoon and I'm tired so I will cut this short today.

What Matters to Crabby Old Lady Today

Crabby Old Lady here. Remember that mini-vacation my alter ego, Ronni, took on Monday? It sure wasn't much of a vacation.

Not that Crabby had big plans. Mostly she wanted to be free for a day from “shoulds” which in her case this week means ignoring the mess of books, magazines and various papers in need of filing on the dining table; ditto the desk; the pile of chemotherapy hats in the bedroom that need a tidier storage place, answering a big backlog of email, and so on.

In that part, Crabby succeeded: it is all still there today (Tuesday), untouched.

She had wanted to walk over to the neighboring park but it rained again as it has seemed to do every day since Christmas. Okay, Crabby exaggerates, but it feels that long.

Instead, she took note of her breathing as a prelude to a short trip to take out the trash and check her nearby mailbox. In the past few weeks, breathing has become difficult when doing anything much more strenuous than such a short, slow walk as this.

An inhaler has helped a bit but Crabby is looking forward to seeing the doctor soon to find out what else he can do for Crabby's breathing difficulty. Meanwhile, Crabby decided the trash and the mail could wait another day.

By mid-morning and for no good reason (Crabby had slept well the night before), she felt tired. Avoiding the bedroom, which means sleep, she snuggled down on the sofa with a cozy quilt, pillows and a light-hearted detective novel.

But her mind kept wandering from the book.

Is Trump really going to pardon criminals convicted of treason on Memorial Day? What kind of mind thinks that's a good idea? Is there no one who can stop him?

Why hasn't Attorney General William Barr been jailed? He refused a subpoena from the House but the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have done nothing since Barr's absence on 2 May - no contempt of Congress citation, nothing.

On Tuesday this week, former White House Council Donald F. McGahn, at the order of Trump, defied a similar subpoena. He too just didn't show up as scheduled and like Barr, there has been no penalty.

”Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York,” the panel’s chairman, reports The New York Times, opened the brief session with a stern warning both to Mr. McGahn and Mr. Trump. The House, he said, would move quickly to bring Mr. McGahn to court, citing him for contempt of Congress if he does not relent.

“'This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it,' Mr. Nadler said, staring down at an empty chair for Mr. McGahn.”

And blah, blah, blah. It's what they've been saying since Trump was elected - “contempt of Congress” and “if we have to go to court” or similar threats and nothing happens.

You can bet your booties that if Crabby Old Lady or any of you defied a Congressional subpoena, we would immediately be frogmarched off to jail.

And then there is Special Council Robert Mueller. If there ever were real discussions to arrange for him to testify before the Judiciary Committee, they have disappeared – at least publicly.

The Washington Post reports Representative Nadler told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week that Congress should open an impeachment inquiry into Trump but Pelosi is still holding out on that option. More blah, blah, blah.

Not to mention the potential new war in Iran. A friend told me that Trump says doesn't want a war; it's National Security Advisor John Bolton who does. Oh really? And when was the last time you could be certain that Trump would stick to what says?

And Crabby hasn't even started on the bunch of old, white men intent on taking control of women's bodies by killing Roe v. Wade.

Are any of you as bone-deep exhausted from living in Trumpworld for more than two years that you, like Crabby, can't even stay awake on a “vacation” day?

There is so much wrong with our government, with our president, with legislators too timid to do anything but let the president and all the crooks he has appointed to high positions steal as much from the treasury and the American people as they can, it is beyond measurement now.

There is plenty more to be concerned about but even with only the above, no wonder Crabby is tired enough to nap even with a good night's sleep under her belt.

After thinking over all the above, Crabby Old Lady was tired again. Sleep overcame her for another hour or so.

The rest of Crabby's Monday “vacation” was more of the same although she did get about halfway through the novel before turning out the bedside lamp for the night.


By Janet

Today I’ve been thinking about a lady I used to know. It makes sense that I use the word lady, because it implies a gentle manner and is a word that seems to embody who and how she was.

I think we must have met long before my first recollection of her. Nevertheless, the first time she appears in my memory is on a summer afternoon. Her white-grey hair is carefully combed, as always, and she’s wearing one of her floral cotton summer dresses. The pink and white one, I think it was.

She’s standing in the doorway of her tidy little house, holding the door open for us, smiling and chattering cheerfully. We would come to repeat this ritual many times over several summers, but that first time and how she looked on that day has stayed with me for all these years.

She always seemed genuinely happy to see my mom (Patsy) and us. “Oh, Patsy, how are you? Come on in. Look at all these nice kids. Oh, and here’s my little Jeanne!”

My mom and I and some of my siblings had made the two or three mile walk to her house - an easy trek because it was all downhill (and because I didn’t have a toddler to pick up and carry every so often like my mom did).

After taking our shoes off at the door, we respectfully made our way into her house. It was a curious place to me, neat as a pin and simply decorated with old fashioned furniture and knickknacks.

I remember a figurine that sat on a small table by her green and gold lamp. It was of a woman with a fancy hat and gloves and a very glamorous smile painted across her porcelain face.

In the dining room was a corner shelf that held several elegant flowered teacups with matching saucers. I can still picture the bright colors and delicate handles of the teacups, and how strikingly they stood out against the dark ornate wood of the shelf.

I didn’t think about it then, but today I can imagine her placing each teacup in just the right spot, and how she must have dusted them one by one, carefully returning them to their proper place on the shelf.

Her windows were filled with plants. She was a prolific and gifted gardener; one of the many sweet things about her I didn’t truly appreciate until it no longer was. I’m lucky after all these years to have vivid memories of her flower garden, and of her walking gracefully in and out of the rows of beautiful flowers like a butterfly who didn’t want to miss out on a single one.

She was at home in the middle of all those flowers, chatting happily about which ones were doing well, which would bloom next and what colors they would be, stopping here and there to select just the right blossoms for a pretty and colorful bouquet to send home with my mom.

After a visit to her flower garden she would send us to the neighborhood store for vanilla ice cream. She would open the ice cream carton from the side and slice it like a loaf of bread. It was a special treat when raspberries were in season. She’d put them on our ice cream fresh from her garden. I’d be hard pressed to remember having a better treat before or since.

As I write this, I realize I have an overflow of memories about this sweet lady - too many and too fond to write about in one sitting. So just for now, I will remember her the way she was on those sunny summer afternoons, greeting us with a smile, making sure our visit was pleasant and special the way a gracious hostess does, and sending us off with more smiles, happy chatter, some homemade raspberry jam, and of course, a bouquet of beautiful flowers.

Here’s to you, Aunt Vickie.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

A Mini-Vacation

As I mentioned two Fridays ago, at the oncologist's suggestion I am skipping one chemotherapy treatment just to give myself a little break, a vacation if you will, from the effects of the chemo drugs.

That means four weeks between treatments instead of two and today (Tuesday), I am part way through the third week giving me about 10 more days before the next chemo session.

It feels like such a luxury to have this time. What the chemo is doing for me so far – reducing the size and number of visible cancer nodules – is more than I expected and I'm a little worried that interrupting the infusion schedule might change that. But not so worried that I'm not enjoying every minute of this time.

So this is just filler and there's no need to respond in the comments – unless you've got something you want to say. About anything.

ELDER MUSIC: Beatles Favorites

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

I like to walk along the beachfront on days when I’m not otherwise occupied. This is easy to do as I live not far away. Whenever I’m alone on the walk, I usually have my Sony Walkman along for entertainment, and before people make cracks about living in the seventies, cassettes and whatnot, the current model plays digital files.

As I’ve been doing this for 10 years (I’ve upgraded the Walkman a couple of times) I’ve listened to a range of things – serious talks, audio books, music, podcasts and whatever has caught my fancy.

A recent discovery, although it’s been around for a couple of years, is a podcast called “Compleatly Beatles” (that’s the way they spell it) where a couple of Canadians discuss all the Beatles’ albums, one per podcast.

Each song is discussed and occasionally they say something like “That one wouldn’t make my top five Beatles songs, or top 10 or top 50”. That got me thinking along the lines of which are my top ten Beatles songs?

So, here they are in no particular order. Now, before we have the usual, “What about...?”, remember these are my selections. No doubt yours are different.


Many people put the song, Things We Said Today down near the bottom of their lists. Even Paul, who wrote it, is believed to be embarrassed by it. Quite obviously, I disagree as it’s in the list. It’s from “A Hard Day’s Night”.

♫ Things We Said Today


Eleanor Rigby sounds so integrated that you’d expect that it was written by a single person, but all four of them had a hand in writing it. Maybe that’s the reason.

Paul started it and brought it into the studio where they all finished it off. It’s from the album “Revolver”. Paul said that Eleanor was named after Eleanor Bron who was in the film Help! with them. Rigby is from a wine store he noticed one day and Father McKenzie came from the phone book (well, the McKenzie part).

None of The Beatles played an instrument on the recording.

♫ Eleanor Rigby


We Can Work It Out was released as a double-A side single. That’s because Paul wrote (most of) it and he, George and Ringo thought it should be the A-side. John had written, and they had recorded, Day Tripper and he thought that should be the A. So, they compromised.

Paul wrote about his long term, but now deteriorating, relationship with Jane Asher. I think Jane should get some royalties, not just for this one, but she inspired several of Paul’s finest songs.

♫ We Can Work It Out


For No One is another song Paul wrote about Jane. It’s a great song, but a heartbreaking one. They often make the best songs.

Paul played all of the instruments except for the French horn that George Martin thought would add to it. He was right. The song is from “Revolver”.

♫ For No One


It’s best not to listen too closely to the words of Baby’s in Black because if you do, you can go down a couple of different rabbit holes of interpretation. Just listen on the surface is my advice, but even that’s a bit problematic as I’ve found the song to be a real earworm.

It’s from the album “Beatles for Sale”.

♫ Baby's In Black


When Bob Dylan recorded the song Fourth Time Around for his “Blonde on Blonde” album, Al Kooper, who played on the song, suggested that John (Lennon) might sue Bob as it’s an obvious pinch of Norwegian Wood.

Bob said that he wouldn’t as he had played the song for John before Norwegian Wood was even thought of. So, it’s a matter of Bob pinching from John or vice versa. The upshot is that John didn’t sue, or even threaten to. The song appeared on “Rubber Soul”.

♫ Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)


Many people think that The Ballad of John and Yoko is a John Lennon solo effort. It’s not, it was attributed to The Beatles and sold really well (okay, everything they did sold really well).

It wasn’t on any of their albums though, it came out as a single. It was The Beatles’ final number one single. Only John and Paul played on the record.

I was surprised that Paul played bass as it’s a rather perfunctory effort from probably the best bass player in rock and roll. He also played piano and drums.

♫ The Ballad of John and Yoko


The song And I Love Her is another of Paul’s about Jane. This is from early in their relationship so things are going well at this stage. Because of this, Paul is under represented on the album “A Hard Day’s Night”; John wrote most of the songs for that album.

♫ And I Love Her


After recording the album “Let It Be”, no one particularly liked the way it sounded. Several people had a go at remastering it without any success. Finally, John took it along to Phil Spector to see what he could do.

Spector added heavenly choirs, orchestral overdubs and all sorts of bells and whistles. No one was satisfied with that but it was released that way as everyone was sick and tired of the whole thing.

About 15 years ago, Paul got the original tapes and remastered the songs stripped back to the way the album was originally intended to be heard. It was released as “Let It Be (Naked)”, and I think it’s much more interesting than the original.

From that version of the album here is Let It Be, as it should be.

♫ Let It Be


Paul wrote the song I’ve Just Seen a Face, and it really moves along at a decent clip. The Dillards recorded the song as well on their album “Wheatstraw Suite”, and it’s a rare instance of a cover being better than the original.

However, today is Beatles day. Paul also wrote the next song on the album (“Help!”), but we don’t have that one today (or yesterday either).

♫ I've Just Seen A Face


If I were ranking the songs, the next one would have to be put at the very top of the heap. It’s amazing that the song In My Life was written by men in their twenties. It was mostly John’s song, with a little help from Paul.

It certainly gave the album “Rubber Soul” added gravitas.

♫ In My Life


On the subject of life, the next (and last) song probably had to be present. If I left it out it’d be like omitting Like a Rolling Stone from a Bob Dylan selection.

From “Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”, here is A Day in the Life, an appropriate note on which to finish as it concluded that album in fine style.

♫ A Day In The Life

Okay, the “top ten” blew out a bit, but I imagine that’d be the same for everyone.



In Britain, the Institute of Advanced Motorists' test examines a higher level of skills than the standard practical driving exam. Mrs Bradshaw first passed in 1977 but she decided to take it again to prove she still could.

This time, she was just one mark short of a perfect score.

More at the BBC.


Nothing else to see except this one still shot – but it makes me smile and maybe you too.


There are 49 more funny animal photos at Bored Panda.


Alex Trebek said Monday that the opening of the Centre for Geography and Exploration in Ottawa was the culmination of a "fantastic" two weeks, including what he hopes was his last chemotherapy session.

Take a listen.


Who takes care of zoo animals when was breaks out? There are people who do that. As the Youtube page explains:

”Imagine being trapped in a cage as active combat rages around you. That’s the terrifying reality for zoo animals living in war zones. Veterinarian Amir Khalil is saving as many as he can. He runs the rapid response unit of the animal rescue organization Four Paws and risks his life rushing into trouble spots around the globe, treating and evacuating shell-shocked, starving and injured animals.”


Reports TechCrunch, among most other news sources,

”The human race has broken another record on its race to ecological collapse. Congratulations humanity!

“For the first time in human history — not recorded history, but since humans have existed on Earth — carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 415 parts per million, reaching 415.26 parts per million...”


Or, perhaps we could look at this way:


”The properties of CO2 also mean that it adds to the greenhouse effect in a way that other emissions do not, thanks to its ability to absorb wavelengths of thermal energy that things like water vapor can’t. That’s why increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance causing Earth’s temperature to rise, according to the NOAA.

More at TechCrunch.


It's important because as of 1 October 2020, you will not be allowed to fly within the United States without a “Real ID” and most people so far do not have the proper kind of ID.

The TSA has answers for a list of commonly asked questions here.


A walk through parts of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

There is more information and more photographs at ABC News.


TGB reader John Gear sent this story about Washington state enacting the first insurance program for long term care.

”All residents will pay 58 cents on every $100 of income into the state’s trust. After state residents have paid into the fund for ten years—three if they experience a catastrophic disabling event—they’ll be able to tap $100 a day up to a lifetime cap of $36,500 when they need help with daily activities such as eating, bathing, or dressing.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill into law last Monday. You can read more at The Nation and The Olympian.


Well, the obvious answer is the correct one but you probably figured that out yourself. This is just an excuse to show you some really cute otters.

* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Making a Misery of Old Age?

In response to Wednesday's post about MIT's AGNES suit, I was startled to find this email in my inbox:

”I think people make too much misery out of old age. My eyes are dimming and so are my ears, my steps are slow. My breath is short and my nights long. My husband of 62 years died in Jan.

“Nevertheless I see friends daily, go to weekly workshops, write a newspaper column, just went to NYC with friends and visited family in NJ. I see lots of movies and read the NYTimes and a cascade of books. At 86 I don't expect miracles, but for now I'm having a fine time.”

How lucky that you apparently do not have any major impediments to being as active as you want. That is not true for all old people nor do they bring it on themselves, as you appear to imply. According to the U.S. National Council on Aging,

”...about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68 percent have at least two. In our survey, nearly one in two seniors reported living with two or more chronic conditions...

”From making it difficult to perform daily tasks such as walking up steps or bathing, to causing significant physical, emotional, and financial strain, these diseases can take an extensive toll, particularly among seniors. What’s more, without proper care, chronic illness can reduce quality of life, and keep seniors from maintaining the level of independence they desire.”

God knows I've said it often enough here over 15 years but one more time seems necessary: we age at entirely different rates. Sometimes a 50-year-old needs full-time care and other times, a 90-year-old is functioning as well as we expect a healthy 50-year-old to do.

My surprise at reading this email wasn't done. Checking the comments on the blog, I saw that about half a dozen dismissed the AGNES suit out of hand:

”I have a strong negative reaction to these types of suits,” wrote James Cotter. “They suggest that ALL older persons experience all of these decrements at one time. They do not reflect the experience of growing older, especially for those who have maintained decent health and mobility.”

Let's stop right there with “...those who have maintained decent health and mobility.” What about the people who haven't? Does anyone here think it is the patient's fault she was diagnosed with MS at age 31? And no, AGNES does not suggest that all old people suffer exactly the same experiences.

”I think these toys have some utility,” wrote Harold, “but they will not provide insight into what it's like to wake up with these limitations permanently installed and likely to become more pronounced and an awareness that this is the best it's ever going to be.”

First, AGNES is not a toy. For well more than a decade, MIT has used the suit to help people design products and services that help elders engage with the world more easily.

As to understanding that limitations are often permanent, we can't ask people to wear the suit for a week or a month or more. But a day will do it quite well in increasing understanding of elders.

Jeanette wrote, ”...what is missing is their learning that there is an interior life - where we can explore as many different worlds as they do - where we can laugh, make love, watch Mick Jagger on a rope bridge - we can read, listen to music and through the magic of technology.”
”...for real understanding of coping with some of the simulated conditions,” wrote Emma J., “I suspect the value may be minimal. The emotional and psychological aspects of coping with chronic pain, limited mobility, vision and hearing deficiencies, dental problems, poverty without realistic hope of eventual relief can be insidious.”

Oh, I'm not so sure about that, Jeanette and Emma J. No one needs any kind of suit to imagine other worlds, to laugh, make love, etc. Young people do those things every day. And I would bet good money that after even an hour or so in the suit, participants begin to see the difficulties you mention, Emma J. We all come to realize that growing old won't always be easy.

No suit can exactly emulate a human being physically, emotionally or any other way. But for many years, AGNES has been educating people who need or want to know what daily life is like for old people. Let's not throw out that baby with the bath water – the AGNES suit is a good tool that has proved its importance and usefulness in hundreds of ways.

As it happens, just a week ago, The New Yorker published a long, online profile of the director of the MIT AgeLab, Joseph Coughlin, written by the estimable Adam Gopnik who tried out the AGNES suit. I will quote his experience with it:

Slowly pulling on the aging suit and then standing up—it looks a bit like one of the spacesuits that the Russian cosmonauts wore—you’re at first conscious merely of a little extra weight, a little loss of feeling, a small encumbrance or two at the extremities.

“Soon, though, it’s actively infuriating. The suit bends you. It slows you. You come to realize what makes it a powerful instrument of emotional empathy: every small task becomes effortful. 'Reach up to the top shelf and pick up that mug,' Coughlin orders, and doing so requires more attention than you expected.

“You reach for the mug instead of just getting it. Your emotional cast, as focused task piles on focused task, becomes one of annoyance; you acquire the same set-mouthed, unhappy, watchful look you see on certain elderly people on the subway.

“The concentration that each act disrupts the flow of life, which you suddenly become aware is the happiness of life, the ceaseless flow of simple action and responses, choices all made simultaneously and mostly without effort. Happiness is absorption, and absorption is the opposite of willful attention.

“The annoyance, after a half hour or so in the suit, tips over into anger: Damn, what’s wrong with the world? (Never: What’s wrong with me?)

“The suit makes us aware not so much of the physical difficulties of old age, which can be manageable, but of the mental state disconcertingly associated with it—the price of age being perpetual aggravation.

“The theme and action and motive of King Lear suddenly become perfectly clear. You become enraged at your youngest daughter’s reticence because you have had to struggle to unroll the map of your kingdom.”

MIT AgeLab has worked with thousands of volunteers of all ages – including old adults even past age 85 - to participate in research and interactive workshops. And the AGNES suit has helped other thousands create new technologies that help people design products, delivery services and policies that improve the lives of elders.

And here's something else that is useful – recounting the “misery of old age.”

When I began this blog 15 years ago, I was appalled by all the negative writing about old people. Whether academic research, news and magazine stories, movies, TV, novels and more, the prevailing attitude was that getting old is the worst thing that can happen to anyone.

I didn't believe that and then made the rookie mistake of ignoring too much of the downsides of ageing. Looking back at those years, I found a lot of overstatement on my part about how good life is after 60 or 70 or 80 and more.

Geez. Of COURSE, our bodies slow down. Some body parts stop working properly. Others give out. Mysterious aches and pains show up. It's what bodies do. The key in old age is to adapt but that's for another day.

What I've changed here at TGB now since I realized my early mistake in being a bit too rosy about the effects of growing old, is make room on a fairly regular basis to complain and moan and groan and bitch about the irritations of life in the old person lane.

I believe this kind of time is valuable particularly now when we in the oldest generation have lived most of our adult lives in an atmosphere where old age could barely be acknowledged let alone discussed.

But it helps - a lot sometimes - to learn that other people are struggling through the same things you are. It doesn't mean we don't also laugh, read books, go to the movies and whatever else engages us that is still possible. But letting off steam together kind of clears the air.

But no one here is “making a misery of old age.”

What It's Like to Be Old

That headline is not about me nor is it about most of you who are reading this. We're already old and we know quite well what being old is like.

Instead, I'm talking about much younger people, the ones who invent, design and/or market products and services for and to old people. You know, the ones who haven't a clue about what old age is like but who don't let that get in the way of telling old people what's good for them.

Like I once was and was Ceridwen Dovey, a 30-ish novelist and short story writer who tried to create a late-80s-year-old-man (among other elders) from her imagination. As she said later in the New Yorker about her attempt:

”I modeled my characters on the two dominant cultural constructions of old age: the doddering, depressed pensioner and the ageless-in-spirit, quirky oddball.

“After reading the first draft, an editor I respect said to me, 'But what else are they, other than old?'”

This next quotation, longer than the first, is from psychologist Tamara McClintock Greenberg writing in Psychology Today about learning what many elders live with every day.

After being outfitted with earplugs, popcorn kernels for her shoes, gloves to simulate neuropathy and eyeglasses to limit peripheral vision, she tried the “simple” activity of walking no more than a few feet down a hall.

”I thought to myself,” said Dr. Greenberg, “'I can do this.'”

“Then, given a cane, I was asked to walk down the hall. It was maybe 100 feet. I was pretending to be an elder with impaired hearing and vision, bad mobility and numbness in my hands and pain in my feet. I realized that I was not sure that I could actually complete the walk down the hall.

“Suddenly, my class exercise did not feel like a game. I started to panic. From the loss of peripheral vision, I could not see who was standing next to me, and I started to feel suspicious. As I walked, I had a lovely young woman at my side (I was lucky, she is a physical therapist in real life), who could help me if I needed it.

“I did not want help however; I wanted out of my body, which felt trapped, alone, and isolated. Weirdly, even though we were pretending, I felt mad at my companion, who had a body that worked so much better than mine.

“It was at this moment I understood something in a way that I never have before. I thought, I might kill myself if I had to live this way.”

She's not alone in that thought and some elders carry it through to its logical conclusion. Most, however, do not.

As it turns out, those changes that were made to limit Dr. Greenberg's mobility already exist in what the Age Lab at MIT calls its AGNES suit (invented at the Age Lab) that simulates the physical difficulties that come with old age. Here is a short video about what AGNES does:

There is a further explanation on the YouTube page:

”Put on this suit and you feel increased fatigue, reduced flexibility in joints and muscles, spinal compression, and difficulty with vision and balance.

“Altogether, AGNES is more than just a suit. It is a calibrated method developed and constructed by exercise physiologists, engineers, and designers. As demographics shift, we need to fully understand the needs of an aging population to design a future that is accessible and engaging for people of every age.”

The Try Guys are a group of four comedians, actors and filmmakers who, since 2014, have been making videos about – well, anything they are curious about – what it's like to be a mother, changing diapers, making cupcakes, pottery and in today's case, testing the AGNES suit.

Last month, the Age Lab posted several videos about ageing – two of them about the AGNES suit. Here is the first one with the four members of The Try Guys along with the director of the Age Lab, Joseph Coughlin. (Pay attention to him. He knows a lot about what it's like to be old.)

These are long-ish videos. If you are up for more, here is the video of The Try Guys wearing the suits for a full day. The video makes an important point about being old that is rarely mentioned – how hard it is to get through a day of what we called normal activity when we were younger, but no more. It's not easy when you're old.

MIT AgeLab and the AGNES suit have helped many companies design products and services that better and more realistically serve old people's needs.

As I've said many times and Joseph Coughlin says at least once in these videos, anything that improves life for old people does so, too, for people of every age. As just one example, curb cuts work as well for mothers with kids in strollers as they do for adults in wheel chairs and scooters.

We need a lot more of such seemingly “ordinary” innovations; the U.S. Census Bureau tells us that “by 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18.”

Feel free to add anything in the comments that would help not-yet-old people understand what being old is like.

(Even though they've been around online since 2014, I had never heard of The Try Guys before researching this story. They're funny while trying all sorts of things they've never done before and in addition to laughs they leave you, by the end of each episode, with some interesting thoughts, ideas, facts and information you probably didn't know before.)

Here is their YouTube channel.


By Sylvia Li

Dad never saw himself as a storyteller. He was a nuclear physicist, overlaid on a practical hands-on prairie farm boy who knew how to stook wheat and machine his own steel screws.

He didn't much believe in fiction, except when it was literature, which he respected. He wanted truth if he could get it. New truth about the deep nature of the universe thrilled him. Failing that, he didn't mind not knowing the answer to a question.

All the same, when his two adored preschool kids demanded, "Tell us a story, Daddy!" What could he do but try?

He spun us fantastic tales of adventure, making them up on the fly, desperately grasping fragments out of the air from anything he could remember. We were the most enthusiastically receptive audience anyone could hope for. The tiniest of hints painted whole shared worlds.

Widgie? He was a little boy who lived in Carleton Place, right on the edge of town with fields and woods just past his back gate where he could go to play every day. (When I was older I was disappointed to learn that Carleton Place is a real town just outside of Ottawa. What? It isn't a magical realm like the North Pole?)

Widgie stories were the best. Oh, the exciting adventures he had! He picked hazelnuts and wild strawberries. He ran a race across the fields with an old woman on a flying bicycle. And won.

In the woods he found a little house made of salt. There was a huge old tree he loved to climb. High in its branches he met friendly bears, and an elephant with an umbrella, and bees.

One afternoon in late October, Widgie fell asleep leaning against his tree. When he woke it was night. Stumbling around in the dark, he tumbled down a deep hole between two gnarly roots. Luckily he wasn't hurt.

After he dusted himself off, he discovered he was on a staircase leading down to a cave lit by a kerosene lamp. He was surprised to see chairs and tables and cupboards. In one cupboard was a wooden box and in the box there was a fine fur cape, the kind a very rich man would wear. He tried it on, just to see.

Right away, it wrapped around and became his skin. He turned into a wolf!

All night long he ran through the forest meeting ghosts and witches and skeletons. He was not even a little bit scared. After all, he was a wolf with very sharp teeth.

He wasn't scared, but we were. How was Widgie going to get back to being a boy? Dad didn't say. Years later he confessed that he himself didn't know. Maybe that's why I remember it best!

Mum put her foot down, though. Even if it was Halloween, she said, no more scary stories at bedtime.

* * *

["Stook" is a real verb, though almost nobody does it anymore. It means stacking bound sheafs of cut grain by threes to dry in the hot sun before threshing.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Skin Hunger and Elders

”Touch is the most primitive of all the senses,” explains a physician writing in Psychology Today two years ago. ”It is the first sense to develop, and is already present from just eight weeks of gestation...

“Compared to children, adults are less dependent on touch, but older adults, who tend to be more alone, more vulnerable, and more self-aware, are likely to need considerably more skin contact than their younger counterparts.

“Therapy animals have become common in care homes, and, despite a lifetime of reservations, residents can be encouraged to hold hands or rub each other’s shoulders.”

Even with all the joy and solace pets can provide, I have my personal doubts about therapy animals - not to be confused with robot animals – but both seem to work for some people.

And a good thing that is because the older we get, the fewer friends we have. Last time I wrote about skin hunger here six years ago, one quotation made that poignantly clear (the source website no longer exists):

“One elderly woman put it this way, 'Sometimes I hunger to be held. But he is the one who would have held me. He is the one who would have stroked my head. Now there is no one. No comfort.'”

I know something about that feeling and I have no doubt some of you do too. You can't get as old as some of us are without our social circles shrinking.

Studies have shown, according to Newsday, that people who are significantly devoid of human contact or who resist or avoid touch, could be at a higher risk for experiencing depression and stress. They are likely to be less happy, more lonely, and in general have worse health...”

Further, according to Newsday,

”Satisfying your skin hunger requires you to have meaningful physical contact with another person. Although many people satisfy their skin hunger through sex, or in fact, confuse the need for touch with the need for sex, skin hunger isn't really a sexual need...

“Neuro-chemically, human touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which is shown to be integral to human bonding and in intimacy. Showing affection physically to those closest to us, from something as simple as a pat on the shoulder or back rub, or a hug establishes trust and communicates a commitment to them, and their well being, as well as to bonding with them.”

There are studies, too, showing that as little as 15 minutes a day of touching usually bring benefits. Further, according to The Atlantic,

Studies that involved as little as 15 daily minutes found that touch alone, even devoid of the other supportive qualities it usually signifies, seems to have myriad benefits...

And from The New Yorker:

“In her New York Times Modern Love essay, writer Michelle Fiordaliso makes the case for unexpected moments of intimacy between strangers. 'Touch solidifies something – an introduction, a salutation, a feeling, empathy,' she writes.”

Evidence has been piling up for years that from cradle to grave, the human touch is a necessity to our wellbeing. Newborns who are not held and cuddled do not thrive. And neither do old people. In one series of studies,

”...one group of elderly participants received regular, conversation-filled social visits while another received social visits that also included massage; the second group saw emotional and cognitive benefits over and above those of the first.”

We are living, in these current times, in a touch-free environment, where touching one another is seen as dangerous.

Maria Konnokova reported in her New Yorker story:

”Recently, the Toronto District School Board warned its employees that 'there is no safe touch when you work with children.' Many of our kids spend most of the day in a touch-free zone.

“We don’t mind getting a massage, but we fear embracing touch wholeheartedly, either because we think it’s dangerous, in the case of young children, or 'touchy-feely,' in the case of adults. We await what Tiffany Field, in 1998, called 'a shift in the social-political attitude toward touch.'”

Why wait? The evidence is strong that touching appears to help keep us healthy. Why not start changing this now?