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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Grow Old Here

These days, you can’t surf the web for long without bumping into some article, study, or set of statistics about aging.  The latest one, below, opens with the staggering number of old people currently lumbering around the planet, nearly 900 million of us over 60. 

And just wait until 2050, although many of us will be serious compost by then. 

For now, though, the article offers a ranking of the best and worst countries to grow old in.  This is not the usual collection of best countries to retire in—Ecuador, Belize, Panama, etc.—but to just be old in.

The four factors used in the rankings—each deemed important to a good old age—are:

1.  supporting income security;
2.  fostering good health;
3.  employment and education;
4.  and overall environment for older residents (whatever "overall" might mean).

The article ranks 10 each—the best and worst.  Not surprisingly, the US is in the 10 best, but more toward the bottom, at #8.  Though our life expectancy at 60 is nice and high—we can hope to wring 23 more years out of life—the poverty rate is higher than in some other developed countries.  No surprise there.

Our nearest neighbor on the list, Canada, comes in at #4.  The good news to the north, per the article, is that “[r]esidents over 50 were also just as likely as younger adults to feel their life was meaningful…”  Likely a result of Canada’s not having an equivalent to our extreme celebrity culture, where young women begin to have their faces and boobs re-sculpted once they pass thirty.

The remaining eight countries on the best list shouldn’t surprise anyone, or any of the 10 on the worst.  Which is to say that each and every day those of us in the First World, old and young, should get down—way down—on our knees in gratitude. 

But especially us oldsters.  And especially if once down we can still get up.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Role Models Down the Road

It wasn’t until I was nearing 60 that I sought out role models for what 60 years old might look like, especially in a woman, one comfortable with herself at that age, who’d let her hair grey or go white, who didn’t try to appear decades younger than she was, who was still attractive as she aged, and wanted to remain so.

And maybe more important: a 60 year-old woman who was still vital, still creative, still mixing it up with the world.

That didn’t happen for me at 50, I think because I was grateful to just be alive.  I’d read somewhere—maybe in Hope Edelman’s Motherless Daughters—that women whose mothers had died on the early side—mine was 50—didn’t expect to live beyond that particular age.  And while I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, I began to dread my late 40’s, and for that very reason.

Then, in my later 50’s, in search of a role model for the next decade, I went to a literary event, a reading at a local bookstore by the writer Maxine Hong Kingston (see image below).  I’d never seen her, so didn’t know what to expect, except that I’d be looking at a 60 year-old woman.

What I saw—and heard from this writer—put me immediately at ease about my own fast approaching birthday.

And while 80 is still a long ways away, I was immediately taken with this New York Times magazine article, and with how the "old masters" featured in it serve as excellent role models for aging down the road, a road I hope to still be walking—and biking—and chronicling.

Monday, October 20, 2014

More on Geezer Ghettos

The following article by Marvin Hoffman, former associate director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Ed Program, appeared first in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune.  It reminded me of several of my own posts on why we want to avoid Geezer Ghettos, both for ourselves as advancing geezers, and especially for those coming up behind us, no matter how far behind us.

Here’s an excerpt from Mr. Hoffman’s piece:

I don't believe age automatically imparts wisdom, but I do believe that being around a while longer than others gives you access to a larger bag of tricks. I also think that because of the dynamics of their own family situations, children need a variety of options for building adult relationships. Having geezers around may actually be useful to some kids, who are confronted with a sea of 20- and 30-somethings.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Living Lean, Pt. 2

Full Disclosure:  My friend Diana’s mother once said, “I think Carol was born without the shopping gene.”  This followed an afternoon trip to a local mall where the three of us browsed the goods.  I lasted about 30 minutes before leaving Diana and her mom to carry on, instead returning to the car to wait for them, to sit and read my book.

Which is all to say that most of the time living lean is not such a hardship for me.  I’m more of an experience junkie than a dedicated consumer of stuff.  Whatever money has come my way I’ve more often used to do things rather than buy things.

Not that experiences don’t cost money, of course, especially the ones that involve traveling.  There was the year I went to a writing conference in New Mexico where the poet W.S. Merwin presided. And the one I went to in Missoula, Montana where several of my writing heroes were in residence, including Barry Lopez and Rick Bass.

Last year I took myself to London for the very first time to pay homage to Samuel Johnson, to sit in the garret where he assembled the first official Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.

In the day-to-day living, though, I seem to require little in the way of stuff, though much in the way of friends, animals, books, Mexican and Thai food, writing, teaching, walking and biking the streets of a big city, and schmoozing with strangers along the way.

All of which probably saved me when the recession hit in late 2008.  To revisit that grim experience—and to remember that sometimes living really lean does have its benefits—I am re-posting (a slightly edited) “Recession Lessons,” which appeared on one of my earlier blogs in 2009.

It’s a reminder to me how important the important things really are:

Recession Lessons

1.  Most of the best things in life really are free—including those described by author Willard Spiegelman in Seven Pleasures:  reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming, and writing;

2.  When friends pick up the tab during lean times, pick up theirs when you’re flush;

3.  Be grateful for friends who pick up the tab during lean times;

4.  Be glad you’re self-employed; no one can fire you;

5.  Be glad you’re self-employed; you’ve been through this before and have learned to sleep through the night;

6.  When you can’t afford a grande and cranberry scone every couple days, they taste doubly delicious when you can;

7.  Be grateful for cranberry scones;

8.  Handing over cash instead of swiping plastic is a different neural experience (Oh, so this is what a jumbo bag of taco chips costs.);

9.  Fruit, particularly blue, is a necessity; dark chocolate muffins a luxury;

10.  Leafy green vegetables are a necessity; honey-fried chicken wings a luxury;

11.  Be grateful for dark chocolate muffins and honey-fried chicken wings;

12.  Cheap coffee goes down easier than cheap wine;

13.  Cheap chardonnay goes down easier than cheap cabernet;

14.  Be grateful for sample sizes of anything;

15.  Be grateful for New Yorker cartoons; they make you laugh out loud;

16.  Be grateful for public transportation and for your battered old bike;

17.  Be grateful for public libraries, and especially for the free DVDs and museum passes the Chicago Public Library provides;

18.  Take especially good care of yourself during these challenging money times: meditate, pet a lot of dogs, enjoy the sight and sounds of kids at play, talk back to that ratty old squirrel in the tree outside your window, moisturize your feet, especially the bottoms;

19.  Be grateful for dogs, kids, squirrels, and feet;

20.  Offer to mentor a young(er) person;

21.  Don’t take your money angst, anger, or anxiety out on anyone: not the “customer service” rep at the bank, not the cashier at the grocery store, not the slow pedestrian ahead of you or the pushy bus passenger behind you.  Not anyone.

22.  Take good notes.  Next time you hit a rough patch in your life you’ll want to know how you made it through this one.

[Note:  for more on the value of experiences vs. stuff, click here:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Work Stories: What's Next?

Unretirement, Reinvention, The Second Stage or Third Act—no matter which label we attach to living our post-50’s, it’s all about re-imagining a new or different life, one we now feel freer to dream up, whether in work, travel, hobbies, or relationships.

Time’s a-wastin’ and so we best get on with creating our next (and not necessarily last) self.

The following article by Chris Farrell, “Second Career? They're on Their Third and Fourth,” suggests—at least in the area of work—that we think not about changing jobs, but careers, at least a couple more times before we call it quits and hit the golf course or join the garden club, i.e., before we stop with the endless reinvention already.

Reading this piece put me in mind of my lifetime of reinvention, in both work and careers, a habit of easy leave-taking of one sort of work for another.  I even wrote about in my book, Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories, in Chapter 5, in the exercise “Work Stories.” 

Here’s how I introduce that exercise:

I was raised by a man who graduated from high school in 1929, the year of the infamous and devastating Crash. When I learned this about my father, suddenly everything fell into place, explaining his near hysteria every time I casually quit one job and sailed easily into another.

He’d taken a job right out of high school with a company he stayed with for 40 years. I, on the other hand, raced like some prairie wildfire through an endless succession of jobs and careers: mailroom clerk, secretary, waitress, social worker, college instructor, office temp, and academic counselor.

I worked for a shower curtain company, three universities, a political campaign, a beauty supply company, two hospitals, a half-way house for the mentally ill, a camera store, and an upscale restaurant before finally settling down as a writer and a teacher.
Not surprisingly I’ve acquired some pretty good work stories along the way, not only about the getting and quitting of jobs, but also of bully bosses, psychotic colleagues, and office romances gone (real) bad.

I feel after all this professional uproar and mayhem that I am finally entitled to stop reinventing, at least this part of my life.  BUT, I very much encourage those who have lived a much more settled work life than myself to give it a try.

And to report back to me with the results.  Please.