Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Benefits of "Elder Blogging"

This badge is borrowed from Ronni Bennett's premier senior blog, Time Goes By - What it's really like to get older at http://www.timegoesby.net.

I've often been asked by my contemporaries (and even by those slightly younger) both "What is a blog?" and "Why should I start one?" Both questions are more complicated than I at first thought, but I've always tried to answer, with a little help from other bloggers. This is strictly for the uninitiated, those who may read blogs but not write them.

Basically, a blog is a web log or on-line journal. It is also, in a sense, a web site or web page on which the posts are usually displayed in reverse chronological order. Older posts usually remain available in the archives. A blog is a wonderful forum for self-expression; readers are usually invited to leave their comments, and some interesting conversations occur on blogs.

A blog is also a do-it-yourself web page. A traditional web site ordinarily requires expert development and maintenance for a price; if the author wants changes, he/she usually must contact the web master and wait. Definitely lacking the expertise of a web developer or web master, I have been able to use free tools to develop this blog and another. If I make a writing or spellling error, I can edit my post immediately; on the web site I write for, I have been begging for a small punctuation correction in one of my columns for weeks, and it's never happened. Blogging is wonderful for the impatient, like me.

Blogger (http://www.blogger.com/) offers free blogs, simple instructions, and a large group of templates (or designs). Using a template may not strike you as very creative or personal, but if you've noticed, few blogs look alike. The secret is customization: colors, type fonts and sizes, side bar contents, and just about everything else. This is blogger heaven for non-programmers like me.There are many other blog development sites as well.

So what are blogs for, and why should you begin one? For one thing, a blog provides a good way to keep in touch with family and friends. People all over the world can keep up with your activities and your thoughts if they care to read your blog. For some families, a blog is a family reunion and a round-robin letter combined. Communication is instant, and it doesn't even require postage. Your family photos, your achievements, the big events in your life can be shared on your blog.

Blogs are used by businesses and political candidates and social activitists and even (unfortunately) by hate groups and purveyors of pornography. But for our older crowd, they can be live-saving. To quote from Ronni Bennett's blog, mentioned above, "Carl Jung described one of the seven tasks of aging as the need to review, reflect upon and sum up one's life. Most elders have a need to tell their story before they die." Jung himself wrote, "I try to see the line which leads through my life into the world, and out of the world again."

Writer Anna Quindlen wrote in her Newsweek column, "As the letter fell out of favor and education became professionalized, with its goal less the expansion of the mind than the acquisition of a job, writing began to be seen largely as the purview of writers." Telephone conversation is fleeting. Valuable insights are being lost.

I have spent a lot of time urging my fellow seniors to write their life stories; they have valuable experiences and lessons to share, and their children and grandchildren need those lessons and those memories. Remember how many people used to write long, informative letters and keep the letters they received from their loved ones? Today, few of us bother. However, we can now write as frequently as we wish to anyone willing to pay attention via e-mail or blogs. We can save the e-mails we receive.

A blogger named Steph writes to Ronni, "Having just celebrated my 5th year of blogging, I gathered up all of my archives . . . and burned them to a disc. They will be included in my will, just the same as my other writings . . . ." Whether or not we have any other writings (and I hope that most of us do), a blog can provide an easy, free way to record and communicate.

Frankly, blogging gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I can write whatever I want to, and if anyone cares to read it, it's available immediately. What's more, while my blogs do not qualify as great literature, they are parts of me that I can share and leave behind.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, July 30, 2007

Senior Poet Discovered!

Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune columnist, wrote a fascinating story published on Sunday, July 29. It presents Donna Humphrey, heretofore known to the media and the public only as the mother of Chicago Judge Joan Lefkow and the victim of a horrendous murder in 2005, at the age of 89. The judge's husband, too, was killed.

Now we know that Mrs. Humphrey was also a poet. One of her later poems, entitled "Widows," begins as follows:

"We are everywhere
We with our little perms
Our little purses,
Our careful steps
Supported by our walkers
Or our canes.
Years ago we laid our men away
And though
We did not know it then
Our own significance
As well."

Even though I am a widow myself, I don't quite fit that mold, at least not yet. Still, I've known many, including my own late mother (1911-2007), who did or do. I find the poem enthralling, and I believe it applies to a broad spectrum of "elderly women."

How happy I am that Judge Lefkow and Suzanne Isaacs, of Ampersand Inc., plan to publish Humphrey's poems in September. I will be in line to buy a copy!

Read Mary Schmich's column in the Tribune or at chicagotribune.com. And fellow seniors, be sure to write about your lives, your memories, and your thoughts, whether in prose or in poetry. Preserve your writing! Donna Humphrey's children discovered her poems in boxes, folders, and desk drawers, and how lucky they--and we--are!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, July 29, 2007

BlogHer '07: the Second Day, 7/28/07

This is a typical scene from one of the sessions of BlogHer '07 in Chicago, a conference for women bloggers held at Navy Pier. My previous post reflects the first day; this one is about the second. How different this scene was from my memories of teachers' conference sessions I attended in the past! If I attend another bloggers' conference, I'll surely join the younger crowd by taking a laptop computer, a lightweight one, I hope.

Yesterday, I attended three sessions, plus the keynote address. My first session of the day was "Book to Blog and Back Again." The ideas of turning a blog into a book and using a blog to boost book sales were not new to me. In fact, I plan to include parts of my "Write your Life!" blog in my coming seniors' writing guide. As for boosting sales, with my limited audience and lack of entrepreneurial interest, I don't think that's very likely. Still, it was fascinating to hear what so many have done and are doing.

The "Professional Blogging: Ways and Means" session discussed ways bloggers get paid to do what they love. I'm glad it's being done, although not by me.

The session perhaps most applicable to me was, "It's your Passion, Not Size, that Matters." After hearing so much about money-making blogs in previous sessions (not that there's anything wrong with making money), I was relieved to hear others share their views about the other rewards of blogging. We're the ones who do not agonize over the small number of "hits" our blogs tend to get. Communication, self-expression, making friends: that's why I'm an Elderblogger, and why I encourage other seniors to join me.

The keynote speaker was Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential hopeful John Edwards. I am not political, neither a critic nor a supporter of any candidate or any party, but here are my general observations:

Mrs. Edwards looked very "ordinary," and I don't mean that in a negative way. She wore a neat pants suit and a carefree hair style. I was glad she looked more like a blogger than a celebrity. Some candidates and their wives seem tethered to their hairdressers, wardrobe assistants, and speech writers--not Elizabeth.

Her conversation with the event's chief organizer was not especially political, although Mrs. Edwards expressed her sound views on women's issues. Of more interest to me was her description of the Internet as today's town square. How true!

I'm glad I attended BlogHer '07. I wish there had been a session for Elderbloggers, but perhaps we're too small a minority. Perhaps my favorite moment occurred when a very young woman read my conference badge and commented that my blog title, "Never too Late!" was very inspiring!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo by the author.

Friday, July 27, 2007

BlogHer '07

BlogHer '07 Banner

Today and tomorrow I am attending the BlogHer '07 Conference at Navy Pier here in Chicago. My final report will come later, but here are my early impressions:

First, I was amazed at the number of attendees. We nearly filled Navy Pier's huge Grand Ballroom for breakfast, the opening session, and lunch. The average age appears to be somewhere in the 30's, and I have not identified anyone else over 70 there. Of course this does not disturb me at all; I am a great people watcher, and to see the variety of (mostly) women there and hear how varied their histories and their blogs are is fascinating.

So far, I have encountered young women who blog about art, music, education, travel, diet and health, children and family ("Mommy Blogs" seem popular), even NASCAR racing. Some are selling things and promoting various ventures of theirs, but many are simply expressing themselves, and I consider that very positive. Some are techies who can tell anyone how to start a web site or blog from scratch, while others, like me, just write, and love doing it with no thought of monetary reward.

Another thing that surprised me, although it shouldn't have, was that virtually everyone carried a laptop computer and took advantage of the wireless connection facilities to get on line at the tables, in the breakout rooms, and in the Internet Cafe provided. It's not that I don't have a laptop; I do, but it needs repair. Besides, it is too heavy for me to carry around much. Live, on-site blogging requires more physical strength than I had realized.

I attended a very interesting session this morning: Art of Life: "Finding and Following your Passion." I have long advised my fellow seniors to do exactly that, but not necessarily in connection with blogging. However, my passion turned out to be writing, and blogging became an important part of my reinvention. Speakers Christine Kane, Sheila Scarborough, and Carmen Staicer shared their blogging experiences and asked, "If you define blogging as writing with passion, how do you define passion?" Many attendees shared their stories.

I spoke out myself to tell about finding my passion for writing and turning it into a book and two blogs. I hope my much younger colleagues learned that there is no top age limit for writing with passion. Everyone was accepting and friendly, and many of us exchanged cards. I felt a bit less like an outside observer and more like a true participant.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow I plan to attend a session on turning a blog into a book. The session will also discuss how a blog can augment and enhance a book and help its sales. I haven't attended many conferences since the end of my teaching career, and this is my first bloggers' conference. It's fascinating, so I'll complete my report tomorrow or Sunday.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Gift of Old Age

Here is another of those wonderful pieces of writing that take on lives of their own on the Internet; they get passed around long after the author is forgotten. This one was forwarded to Ronni Bennet of Time Goes By not once, but several times. If you recognize it and can identify the author, let Ronni know and let me know. Otherwise, simply enjoy!

"The other day a young person asked me how I felt about being old. I was taken aback, for I do not think of myself as old. Upon seeing my reaction, she was immediately embarrassed, but I explained that it was an interesting question and I would ponder it and let her know.
Old Age, I decided, is a gift.

"I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. Oh, not my body. I sometime despair over my body: the wrinkles, the baggy eyes, and the sagging butt. And often I am taken aback by that old person that lives in my mirror (who looks like my mother or father), but I don't agonize over those things for long.

"I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I've aged, I've become more kind to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend. I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn't need but looks so avante garde on my patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant. I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.

"Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4AM and sleep until noon?

"I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 50's & 60's, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love - I will.

"I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set. They, too, will get old.

"I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the important things.

"Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when a beloved pet gets hit by a car? But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

"I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turn gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.

"As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don't question myself anymore. I've even earned the right to be wrong.

"So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day."

- Author Unknown

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Clare: More Signs of Progress, 7/21/07

The Clare continues to grow. From my amateur observations, I have concluded that the seventeenth floor concrete was being poured yesterday. The top view is from the east, just beyond the corner of Rush on Pearson Street

The lower view is from a bit further north on Rush Street. Soon I'll have to find a more distant viewing spot.

Photos by the Author.

Quote of the Day

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." . . . Carl Jung, Psychologist

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Writing Outlets for Seniors

As an advocate of writing for seniors, especially those who have never considered themselves writers, I am sometimes asked, "Where can I publish my work?" Of course we can submit our life stories, fiction, poetry, or anything else we write to the same web sites, contests, or publishers as anyone else, regardless of age.

Still, I like the idea of seniors writing for seniors. We don't always need younger people to give us information or advice! We need to examine our own lives and experiences and share them with our peers.

There are many web sites for those 50-plus. You can find them all with a search. But many of them emphasize on-line dating, expert advice, games, or any number of other things. There's nothing wrong with that, and many do offer individual journals, blogs, or web pages; each site has its strengths and weaknesses. However, I have two favorites for sharing my writing, not for money but for recognition and all the other rewards of writing.

The older of the two sites (but still relatively new) is eGenerations, "The Choice of the Experienced," at http://egenerations.com/ Of course I'm biased, since the site's co-founder and editor features and promotes my twice-monthly column about memoir writing there. This feature is quite new, but many members have already contributed various journal and memoir entries, and even fiction. Although this site welcomes anyone over 50, there are not a lot of us over-65 members yet. In a way, that's all right; we "oldsters" can help prepare the larger Baby Boomer generation for the future, and their ideas may help keep us young.

eGenerations is still undergoing development, and the editor listens to its members. We have a chance to help shape the web site with our comments, suggestions, even complaints. There are three other columnists, one on lifelong learning and two presenting "the lighter side." They do their jobs well. There are also videos and other features, with more coming. The site is easy to navigate, and if you have problems, there are videos to show you how.

If you're over 50 and want to try writing, join eGenerations and begin writing in either the memoirs or the journal section (which may ultimately be combined or renamed). You're likely to get comments and suggestions from me and from many other members.

The second site, very new, is The Elders Tribune, "Seniors Writing to Better Health," at http://elderstribune.com/. I assume that the "Better Health" being promoted includes both mental and physical well-being. This site is almost exclusively for the 65-and-over group, and its purpose is to welcome and present member-written articles and stories. The categories include Arts and Entertainment, Business, Fiction, Health and Spirituality, Lifestyle and Family, Non-fiction, Recreation, Technology, Writing, and Editorial, as well as an apparently all-inclusive "Other."

Right now, The Elders Tribune is offering its first contest, with a $100 prize for the best article or story. Readers will determine the winner with their votes. The winner must be 65 or older, although others may enter just for fun. The contest ends September 30, 2007, so there's still plenty of time to enter.

If you're at all interested, check out both of these sites; submit your writing. Writing and sharing your writing are, indeed, good for your health--and your happiness.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Seniors and Computers

I. For reasons obvious to anyone who has seen the real me or an unretouched photo lately, I am especially interested in media references to senior citizens, basically the over-65 crowd. I am a member of that "club."

According to an article by Mary Gale Hare in the Business section of the July 6 Chicago Tribune (originally from the Baltimore Sun), "Seniors [are] surging to [the] Internet."

"In recent years, seniors have been hooking up to the Internet at a rate that far outpaces the rest of the population." The number of American users over 65 jumped more than 160 percent since 2000, while no other age segment grew more than 70 percent during the same period.

Some seniors are seeking lower-priced goods, government help, and/or discounts. Others are seeking information or connections to their families or to other seniors.

"Advocates for older Americans believe the trend is crucial to maintaining a healthy life style. 'We would like to see those numbers go up and for seniors to be more engaged,' said Tiffany Lindquist, spokeswoman for the Maryland office of AARP. 'Computers are an important way to stay connected, and that's important to successful aging.'"

I spend a lot of time on the Internet, where I blog, do research, order things, and communicate with others, often vis the eGenerations web site ("The Choice of the Experienced - Boomers, Seniors, 50 Plus," http://egenerations.com/). However, I still read newspapers, magazines, and books. A few of my friends are still resisting computers (they are obviously not reading this), sometimes because they see the matter as an either-or choice versus print media or as a "new-fangled," hard-to-learn nuisance. 'Taint so. As one formerly reluctant 69-year-old computer buff who now helps teach senior computer classes in Maryland says, "Everybody gets a computer eventually." I hope so.

II. The July 5 Chicago Sun-Times featured an interview by Misha Davenport of Ruth Bender, a 90-plus suburban Chicago senior who received an honorary degree from Kendall College recently. Ruth lost her family in the Holocaust during the Nazi regime, but made a new life for herself in the United States.

Here, she got the education she had been denied in Germany. "I will never stop learning. Education is all around you. Every day you can learn something from young children or anybody. You just have to be willing to learn."

Ruth is obviously a fascinating senior. And this part of the story especially interested me: "I received my first computer at age 90. I am comfortable with technology and very happy with my computer. . . . My daughter keeps telling me about new sites and things. I want to experience everything for myself. I'm trying to stay young and keeping up with things on the computer is just one way of staying connected."

Bravo, Ruth. And if anyone reading this knows a senior who is still resisting computers, pass the word along!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, July 13, 2007

How Long do you Want to Live?

Scientist Aubrey de Grey, called a lunatic by some and a visionary by others, says that gerontologists want to understand aging but are not doing anything about it.

According to de Grey, old age is "engineering system failure," and with his seven-step strategy SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), we could eliminate cellular damage and live to 125 and longer in disease-free bodies that do not age. Even some of de Grey's many critics praise him for "getting research scientists to think outside the box."

De Grey believes that "Aging kills 100,000 people a day. There is a moral obligation to combat cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. Aging is just the same."

Aubrey de Grey and his critics alike urge more government backing for aging-related medicine, "a concerted effort to slow aging." Some scientists have extended the lives of lab mice by 40 percent by cutting their calorie intake drastically. This would translate into an average human life expectancy of 112, but de Grey believes "humans might live to 1,000."

Of course the consequences for society would be huge: for example, twice as many U.S. retirees as working people and a retirement age climbing in 85. There's no need to worry anytime soon. Such extended life spans seem unlikely.

That said, this issue is interesting to think about. Would you want to live to 112 or beyond? Most of us seniors want to remain healthy, but could we handle the other possible consequences of living so long? I suspect that the answer for most of use would be a qualified "No."

Check out the SENS web site at http://www.sens.org.
Source: Matousek, Mark. "Long-distance Living," AARP The Magazine, July/August 2007.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Support Net Neutrality!

People from across America are telling the FCC about the importance of protecting a free and open Internet. Check out this particular story:


You can go to http://www.savetheinternet.com/yourstory and urge the FCC to protect Net Neutrality by telling your own story.

Older Women Looking for Romance? One Man's Opinion

Thanks to Ronni Bennett of "Time Goes By" (http://www.timegoesby.net/), here is a posting by The Old Rogue entitled "Why do Older Guys Like Younger Women?" If you're an older woman, you may have some comments to make, as Ronni has! Here is a quote from Old
Rogue. The link below will take you to the entire article.

"I've read a few posts from whiny women on other blogs about how pissed off they are because all the single men their age are looking for a younger woman. They say things like: 'Are they intimidated by us?' 'Are they suffering a mid-life crisis?' 'Don't they realize that younger women are just interested in their wallets?'

’”Most of you have bags under your eyes, wrinkly skin, stretch marks, and no matter how much you work out at the gym, your body pales in comparison to someone in their 20s or 30s. Besides, you probably have attitude and men hate women with attitudes.

"So quit the whining ladies and accept the facts. If someone your age has money, he isn't going to be interested in you."


Monday, July 09, 2007

The Clare, July 6, 2007

The Clare at Water Tower, my future home, continues to grow at a rapid rate! Downtown Chicago construction is in full swing.

For a view from the top (the Loyola University Web Cam) go to http://www.luc.edu/webcam/clare/

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Older, Wiser, Happier: Good News for Seniors

"Brain scans now prove that as we age, we become increasingly optimistic." In a study from the University of Colorado Springs in which people were shown a series of unpleasant and cheerful images, "people over age 55 paid equal attention to both, while adults under age 25 focused more intently on gloomier shots."

According to the study's coauthor, Stacey Wood, PhD, "Being alert to negative information when we're young may help us survive. But as years go on and you make it through life's hardships, you gain the freedom to relax, expect good things, and fret less about bad ones."

Perhaps this explains why few seniors flock to horror movies as younger people do. I've met a few senior "worry warts," but for the most part, I agree: we've gained the freedom to relax, expect good things, and fret less. Despite its challenges, aging has its benefits as well.

Source: "Older, Wiser--and a Whole Lot Happier," by Amanda MacMillan in Prevention, August 2007.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Parade Memories and July 4th at Grandma's

My paternal grandmother lived in town, and that was exciting to me as a child. I grew up on a farm with visions of big-city skylines in my head; Whitewater, Wisconsin, did not qualify, but I considered it a step in the right direction.

The excitement there was the 4th of July parade. As I remember, it began on Main Street and turned down North Franklin street to the city park. Grandma lived on North Franklin Street.

I remember the joy of swinging back and forth on Grandma's front porch glider and admiring the passing bands and floats and marchers, feeling patriotic, and always munching on some snacks that my plump body surely didn't need.

As I look back, I realize that it wasn't much of a parade by today's standards. The "floats" began as farm wagons, trucks, cars, and even children's wagons, and the bands sometimes played out of tune. Still, the parade spirit was there. I loved the flags and the excitement.

As I recall, I've participated in only three or four parades during my lifetime. In those days on Grandma's porch, I dreamed of parading as an honored celebrity or Grand Marshal, but of course it never happened. In Whitewater, I wore an ill-fitting purple band uniform, played my clarinet, and marched with our fledgling high school marching band once or twice. Ours was the smaller of the town's two high schools, and as I remember, the larger one had a bigger, better band. I once rode on a farm wagon-based float that proclaimed "Education Reflects the Spirit of Liberty" on the side and featured an old-fashioned mirrored "crystal ball," dance hall style, in the center.

At Luther College, I remember riding on a homecoming parade float in a fancy new yellow gown. It rained that day, and what I remember best is that the dress was ruined by run-off from the blue crepe paper decorating the float. My parents were in the crowd to observe this spectacle. I can't remember either the theme of the float or the sponsoring organization, but it may have been either the drama group or the literary society.

Today, I enjoy parades vicariously on TV. I admire the flowers and the beauty of the Rose Bowl Parade floats, the hype and variety of the New York Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and the marching politicians, commercialism, and enthusiasm of Chicago's many big parades.

Still, no parade quite provides the excitement of being "downtown" on Grandma's small-town front porch, swinging back and forth and eating. That experience was a generator of big dreams.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

July 6 postscript:
I just found pictures of this year's parade in Whitewater, Wisconsin! It appears that things have not changed as much as I imagined. To take a look, go to http://www.whitewaterbanner.com/