Wednesday, August 29, 2007

South Africa and the Importance of "Thinking Big"

When I returned from my last extensive trip (Ireland this past spring), I thought that my travel days were over. After nine trips with Grand Circle Travel and more with other travel companies, plus many earlier trips by motorcycle with my late husband, I was content to let my passport expire and retreat (at least figuratively) to my recliner. Why? My arthritic knees were a big problem on that trip, and I was considering the indignities of relying on wheelchairs at airports and planning knee replacement surgery.

Since then, my attitude has changed considerably. I have remembered the importance of having goals and future plans, in my case usually involving travel. That's been my pattern for years: always thinking about or preparing for my next trip. Should I allow age and arthritis to slow me down right now, or can I keep going?

I'd completed my quest to visit all seven continents by 2005, and I've visited most of the countries and cities and natural and man-made wonders I've always wanted to see. I eventually realized that there was one country left on my list: South Africa. Yes, I've visited the African continent, including Morocco and Egypt. Still, there's something fascinating about the political and social struggles, the animals and the scenery, of South Africa that has intrigued me.

Fortunately, my knees improved enough so that I could begin walking, and on Sunday, during a long lakefront walk, I began to think about travel again. Could I do it? That's when I really began "thinking big." Such a trip to the other side of the world would take nearly twenty-four hours (including a plane transfer). It would be very expensive. And I realized that I would have to travel business class, since many of my knee problems seem to stem from hours of inactivity in a cramped economy class seat. Have you priced business class travel lately? Wow!

Yesterday, I made a reservation for a tenth Grand Circle trip: "Highlights of South Africa," beginning next April. Am I wealthy? No. Insane? Possibly, but as I keep telling my fellow senior citizens, don't give up too easily. I know the trip will be difficult, and a lot of problems can intervene between now and April. Still, making happy plans for the future is very important. Stay tuned, and wish me well! If I make it, I'll have a lot to write about next year.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the Grand Circle Travel web site,

Monday, August 27, 2007

Must Reading for Baby Boomers

MatchDotBomb (Wheatmark, 2007) is not just for baby boomers; seniors and anyone curious about Internet dating should enjoy it as well. I have also reviewed this book on "Write your Life!" and on

When fellow Chicagoan and IWPA member Francine Pappadis Friedman found herself widowed in her fifties, she was devastated. "When I got married years ago it was 'til death do us part.' I just never counted on that death part." Spurred on by two good friends, Francine, an attractive, hard-working professional woman and fifty-something mother of two grown children, tried the world of Internet dating.

Her encounters with a rogues's gallery of lonely men are hilarious; her dates range from the always-angry, cynical lawyer who sees a potential personal injury suit everywhere and the aging hippie with long white hair, earrings, tattoos, and a motorcycle to the extreme health nut, obviously much older than stated in his on-line profile, who talks only about his diet and exercise regimen. They are all there: the extremely needy, the seemingly deranged, the not-so-funny joker.

Along the way through her journey, Friedman also describes a trip to Greece when she was twelve. It was a family trip to the country and the tiny village where her father was born and raised. Understanding her heritage was important to her life journey, as was reflecting about her happy marriage and family life.

Francine Friendman seems to understand the men she meets very well, but this book is not really about Internet dating. She does not find her soul mate, but along the way, she finds herself. Discovering who we really are and what we really want and acting on that knowledge are what really matter. The author learns this lesson. Her book is about an awakening and about following one's own dreams.

Francine Friedman's web site is at

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's a Beautiful Day in Chicago!

What a wonderful day for a walk! Here is a lakefront view I photographed about seven blocks east of my home today. The weather couldn't be better: low humidity, temperatures in the upper seventies, bright sunshine. Only a tiny sliver of Lake Michigan is visible here, but I assure you it is there on the left. This view looks south toward Oak Street Beach and the Loop. Busy Lake Shore Drive is out of view on the right.

I wish I could say that I was one of the cyclists, joggers, or runners on the lakefront path, but in reality, I just walked my usual stiff-kneed, arthritic old lady's walk and kept to the right, always alert for speeding bikers or runners. I walked much further than usual today, however. I crossed under the Outer Drive at the North Avenue underpass to enter, and I left the path through the Oak Stree underpass, then walked south on the "Magnificent Mile" of North MIchigan Avenue and turned right one block on Pearson to look at The Clare building site, inspiring as usual.

Following my usual routine, I had my "senior coffee" at MacDonald's at Chicago Avenue and State Street and enjoyed the passing scene. I expected to take a bus part-way home, but I was so inspired by the weather that I walked all the way! I must have walked at least four or five miles today; that was nothing when I was younger, but quite unusual today. Maybe my traveling days aren't really over yet!

It's wonderful how inspiring good weather can be, especially after all the rain and wind of the last few days. And I assure you that Chicago is, indeed, a beautiful city.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo by the author, 8/26/07

Friday, August 24, 2007

Are Books and Reading Worth Saving?

According to recent newspaper articles about an Associated Press poll, one in four adults said they'd read no books at all in the last year. Of course that's a bit shocking to me, but not really surprising. Even I, an avid lifetime reader, have read fewer books than usual during the last year, although I'd probably come out quite well in the statistics. I'm not sure how many I've read, but I definitely have not met my goal of reading a book every week or so. What's going on?

For me, it's writing and the Internet. I seem to be busy all the time, and I don't even have a "real" job. Only one young non-reader was quoted in the article I read, and he said that he just gets sleepy when he reads, and would rather spend time in his back-yard pool. On the other hand, the one older reader quoted said that she can't do without books. She "goes into another world" when she reads, and said that she read seventy books in the past year. I agree with her, and applaud her reading, no matter what she read (the article does not spedify what she read, but does report that the Bible, religious works, popular fiction, histories, biographies, and mysteries lead the pack, followed by romance novels and then everything else).

A few other reading statistics are interesting:

People from the West and Midwest are more likely to have read at least one book in the past year.

Southerners who read tend to read more books than people from other regions

Those who never attend religious services read nearly twice as many books as those who attend frequently.

Democrats and liberals typically read slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.

The non-readers tend to be "older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious."

Among the readers, those with college degrees read the most, and people age 50 and up read more than those who are younger (I belong to those groups, so I'm happy to see these statistics).

What conclusions can we draw from all of this? I don't really know. You'll note that we older folk are included in both the non-readers and the readers (see the two points just above). As with most groups of statistics, it's hard to make any generalizations about the results of this Associated Press poll.

What does seem clear, at least to me, is that the popularity of reading is declining, and that many independent bookstores and small traditional publishers are closing up shop. Still, I see a self-expression trend as self-publishing and POD (print-on-demand) publishing gain popularity.

Read the classics and the best sellers, of course, but also give a chance to unknown authors. Check out the link on this blog to Infinity Authors--Infinite Talent to meet some enthusiastic authors of both non-fiction and fiction. I've found many of their books worth reading.

If you haven't read a book in a while, give it a try. Too poor or frugal to buy books? Go to your local library. You'll miss most of the Infinity author's books, but you'll learn the joys of reading. A portable, non-electronic book is still one of the world's pleasures--at least for me!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Source, Alan Fram, Associated Press: "Poll: Many Americans close the book on reading." Chicago Tribune, Aug. 22, 2007.

Illustration: Detail from a painting by Robert Gaudreau,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hostility and Health

In the past few days, I have noticed a deluge of angry posts on an over-50 website I won't name here (I belong to more than one). The same screen names keep appearing, connected to repeated rants about government conspiracies, inept public officials and unjust laws, personal slights, and even attacks on people who don't share the writer's religious or non-religious beliefs. I can't find any positive, problem-solving suggestions in those posts.

Let me make clear that I believe in free speech, realize that everything is not rosy in the world, and believe that expressing anger can be therapeutic. But how much is too much? The net effect of these rants has been to turn me away from that website, or at least from certain forums (and it's strange how the same rants by the same people appear repeatedly regardless of a forum's stated topic). I'm not condemning over-50 websites; in fact, I'm a great supporter of and contributor to them , but that negativity helps explain the unattractive image of miserable, complaining "old folks" that seems to be fairly common. I'm old myself, but I'd certainly try to avoid those "angry old men and women."

Today, I read a New York Times News Service article by Nichola Bakalar in the Chicago Tribune entitled, "Hostility may raise the risk of illnesses." The article begins, "Researchers studying 313 healthy Vietnam veterans have found that anger and hostility may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure." This increased my concern for the over-50 writers of all those bitter diatribes. Life is too short to concentrate on the bad and ignore the good.

The researchers measured levels of C3 protein in the blood of the study's subjects. C3 is a marker for "the inflammation that is a risk factor for cardiovascular illnesses." They discovered that those with the most hostility, anger, and depression showed a steady, significant increase in C3 levels, and this may put them at greaater risk for hypertension, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.

Although they can't explain the cause of this phenomenon, the researchers suggest efforts to control hostility. At the very least, being less angry and hostile would seem to enhance the lives of those constant on-line ranters. I wish them well.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, August 17, 2007

My Future Senior Residence: The Clare, Growing Tall

The Clare at Water Tower is getting to be a big building. So far, it's about twenty stories tall, of an eventual fifty-three. Since it's among many other tall buildings, it's becoming impossible to photograph from ground level: too high, with too many shadows from surrounding buildings.

Photographic difficulties aside, it's wonderful to watch the builders' rapid progress on a tall structure. It's an almost magical process: swarms of workers and trucks in the midst of traffic and a bustling city, everyone seeming to know what to do. I'll probably need to take photos of just the lower floors next time, but I'll do my best!

I realize that moving into a downtown lifetime care facility, an expensive one at that, may be a controversial choice, but I think I've made the right decision. I'll be moving only a short distance and remaining in an area I love.

I suspect that the real reason for my joy is the fact that we all need something new and beautiful to look forward to!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On Becoming Jane Addams

Soon after I became awaare of the new movie Becoming Jane [Austen], starring the lovely Anne Hathaway, I was asked to become Jane--not Jane Austen, but Jane Addams, of Hull House fame. Since my acting and modeling skills are in the zero range, and I don't even walk gracefully these days, I was taken aback.

It seems that the Illininois Woman's Press Association, of which I am a member, is staging a short historical skit at the National Federation of Press Women's 2007 conference in Richmond, VA, in September, and the scheduled Jane Addams portrayer cannot attend. Jane was an early member of IWPA (established in 1885).

Since Jane Addams was not known for physical beauty, but for her monumental achievements in social work and for being the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and since the assignment involves only a brief walk across the stage, I agreed.

I'll wear a long green skirt, a high-necked white blouse trimmed in green, and perhaps even a wig! Stay tuned for a report on this event in late September, perhaps including a photograph of me in costume. As Jane Addams proved, there's nothing like exploring new horizons!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Old Media and New: Traditional vs. Trendy in Journalism

"If a paper doesn’t sell, it dies" says John Lavine, the dean of Northwestern University’s respected Medill School of Journalism since last year. On the other hand, a Medill professor says, "Marketing can get dangerously close to pandering."

Dirk Johnson, in a very informative article in the September 2007 issue of Chicago magazine entitled "Campus Revolutionary," examines a sort of generation gap struggle going on at the prestigious school between those who revere the old traditions ("turning out journalism students the old-fashioned way, preparing them for disappearing jobs in print publications and giving them little knowledge of the changing demands of consumers," according to Lavine) and those who fully and enthusiastically embrace an emphasis on new technology and marketing.

In the "old media" sector, newspaper circulation and advertising have been falling at big-city newspapers, "owing to the Internet and changing tastes, particularly among the young." When a Medill student complained about paying over $40,000 in annual tuition to hone his writing skills in order to land a job at a publication like The New York Times, only to be forced to "do all this video stuff," Lavine answered, "It would be unethical for us to educate you only to be able to write. . . . It would be like sending you out with your left arm and your right leg tied behind your back." According to Lavine, "The increasing challenge for journalists is how to get their work read, watched, or listened to. . . . We teach students how to gain insights into the people they are trying to reach–what their lives are like, what kinds of news and information are relevant to them, what they need to know."

Another student pointed out, "The training in technology has eaten up time that could have been spent in developing skills in reporting and writing. . . . I’m a little worried about this idea that we’re supposed to be focusing on the ‘consumer,’ like news is just another product to be sold." Even some supportive faculty members note that a great deal of material has been crammed into classes. "It’s as if you were teaching basic math and then shoved in some calculus and statistics."

I am not a journalist (I wanted to become one, but realized many years ago that my lack of aggressiveness and self-confidence would interfere with my getting "the real story"), so I can only take an interested outsider’s view. Personally, I love the written word, and am indifferent toward most videos. Perhaps that’s a generation gap in action. I embrace the Internet, but mainly as a place for self-expression and sharing ideas and experiences (in writing) by ordinary people. I embrace technology, and I have no desire to go back to the era of writing in spiral notebooks or on manual typewriters or of setting type by hand. For an older person, I consider myself quite open to change. I embrace computers, but I still insist on subscribing to and reading a daily newspaper, sometimes two.

I wonder: can Medill or any other journalism school do it all and still retain its stellar reputation? I hope so. Can the school fully embrace the new media and marketing arenas without shortchanging the writing component? Of course I don’t know the answer. I guess only time and the marketplace will determine the future of the "old media," the "new media," and Medill itself.

Incidentally, I still wonder why the "new journalists" have occasionally given more time to Paris Hilton’s antics than to the Iraq War?

Johnson, Dirk. "Campus Revolutionary." Chicago September 2007: 109 +.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, August 11, 2007

An Amazing Video!

My on-line friend Mollie has alerted me to this video. Please check it out, and leave your comments.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Health Care Issues: Those Tough Decisions

Perhaps it's because I'm a Libra, but I have a hard time taking sides or making decisions about key political and social issues and political candidates. I like to think that I'm basically for good and against evil, but on controversial issues, I usualy see at least two sides, and sometimes several more. There's always a "But ..."

I guess that makes me seem "wishy-washy" or indecisive, but to me, it means that there are some issues so complicated that I despair at finding the "right" path. That's why I'll never get into politics. Here is an example:

In the August 8, 2007, Chicago Tribune, buried in a tiny "Across the Nation" article on page 10, I found this:

Washington, DC. "Court: FDA, not doctor, must OK new drugs for dying patients."

"People who are dying do not have the right to obtain unapproved drugs that are potentially life-saving, even if their doctors say the treatment offers their best hope for survival, a U.S. appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled Tuesday. In an 8-2 decision, the court said federal drug regulators are entrusted by law with deciding when new drugs are safe for wide use. The families of terminally ill patients, several of whom died after they were denied promising drugs that were still in tests, filed the lawsuit."

In this case, I have at least two "Buts": "But the patients were dying anyway," and "But that would not exactly be 'wide use.'"

I guess it's a matter of which we trust the most: individual doctors or the U.S. government. That, too, is a diffucult question. If I were definitely on my death bed, and a doctor said a new, experimental drug was my only hope, I'd want it! After all, if the drug failed, I'd die, and if I didn't get it, I'd die. In the first case, at least the researchers would learn something that might help others. And if it did work, I might have a new chance at life. If I couldn't get the drug, I'd just die. No "up side" there!

I realize that a religious person might take a different view, and that there's no easy solution to the problem. But do you see my point? Yes, we need health care reform, but how much power do we want to give to the government? There are some good and some bad plans out there, but . . . .

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Favorite Literary Character

DesLily, of "Here, There, and Everywhere, 2nd edition" is presenting a "favorite character" contest, with a deadline of Sunday, August 5. Write about your favorite character, post it on you own blog, and let DesLily know about it. If you have no blog, post your entry on The Elders Tribune and notify DesLily that it's there. This is fun; try it!

Here are the links, as well as my story:

Mildred Montag

I have many favorite characters, among them most of the usual "classics," as well as some quirky choices: Garfield the Cat, Jim Smiley of Mark Twain's "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country," and Sol Roth, the character played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie version of Soylent Green. I obviously have a taste for the satirical and the fantastic.

One character whom few people are likely to remember is Mildred Montag, a sort of anti-heroine in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. That's the story of a society where books are forbidden, where "We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal . . . but everyone made equal. . . . Who knows who might be the target of a well-read man?" The title refers to "the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns."

As the story opens, Mildred's husband, Guy, a new-age fireman charged with burning books, comes home to find Mildred lying in bed, unconscious, with an empty sleeping pill bottle beside her. After she's revived by stomach pumping and blood replacement technicians, she remembers nothing. She has a sore stomach, but she asks only, "Did we have a wild party or something?

Mildred's main passtime is watching her "family" on the "parlor walls," an ultimate form of wide-screen TV. She's still begging her husband for a fourth TV wall, even though it would cost one-third of his yearly pay. Mildred's hobbies include "driving a hundred miles an hour around town."

When her friends come over, their conversation goes like this:

"Doesn't everyone look nice!"
"You look fine, Millie!"
"Everyone looks swell."

When Guy Montag turns off the TV and tries to force the women into conversation, asking them some serious questions, the results are ridiculous. On the coming war:

"It's always someone else's husband dies, they say."

"I've heard that too. I've never known any dead man killed in a war. Killed jumping off buildings, yes . . . but from wars? No."

Mildred goes back to what she knows:
"That reminds me. Did you see that Clara Dove five-minute romance last night in your (TV) wall? Well, it was all about this woman who . . ."

Mildred Montag is the ultimate airhead, a satirical portrait of the "average housewife" in a society where books and thinking as not only rare, but forbidden. Mildred represents all I don't want to be. Exaggerated and humorous, yes, but she serves as a good reminder of the possible results of extreme anti-intellectualism, censorship, and the growth of mindless entertainment.

As a former English teacher, I can appreciate Bradbury's message and his portrait of Mildred Montag. And by the way, in the film version, Mildred's first name was modernized, to "Linda," I believe. In my opinion, the book is better than the movie.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
This book is available at

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Senior Blogs: An Easy Way to Find Them

Paul, of The Elders Tribune, has just introduced a new "Planet Elders" feature that makes it easy to discover blogs by and for seniors. He welcomes suggestions for new blogs to include, so recommend your favorites--or you own.

See the The Elders Tribune at Click on "Planet" at the top of the page to find the list.

Happy reading!


Unfortunately, The Elders Tribune and its News Aggregator are gone. The founder got a new job and moved overseas; he left the site up for while, but now it seems to be gone. I was sorry to see it go.

For now, the best listing of Senior Blogs I'm aware of can be found in the Elderblogger Blogroll on the left side of Ronni Bennett's "Time Goes By" at