Sunday, May 25, 2008

Good Summer Reading for Anglophiles: A Book Review

Virginia Ironside's No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club (Plume, 2008) is not about book clubs. This humorous and ironic novel is about Marie Sharp's dealing with turning 60. Marie is a product of the "freewheeling 60's." She's seen and done it all: drugs, sex, career, marriage, a son, divorce.

In diary form, Marie reveals her thoughts on aging. She looks forward to growing her roses and relaxing, to giving up on men and sex, and to resisting all the activities generally recommended for seniors, including book clubs. She is determined to face aging in her own way.

Marie is feisty, determined, and British, at least as we Americans think of older British women. She has her memories good and bad, her friends, her married son, her cat, her garden, and a great ironic sense of humor. Remembering failed relationships, Marie vows to give up sex and even buys a single bed. Still, she sometimes thinks of her first love, Archie, and wonders, "What if?"

Marie has mixed feelings about becoming a grandmother, but takes to it with gusto once she begins to help tend to her grandson. She learns to deal with the lingering death of a gay male friend. She encounters Archie again, now a widower.

This is a humorous, fascinating story of an aging woman who takes pride in being unconventional, yet eventually comes to terms with the realities of aging. She moves from a stiff-upper-lip kind of pessimism and a sense of irony toward hope and the realization that she can cope very well. She even looks forward to a date with Archie--but she gives no indication that she'll ever join a book club.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Elder Expectations is Now Available!

My new book, Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters (Lulu, 2008), is now available at It has not reached yet, but it will. Here is a brief description: "T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons. I've measured mine, or at least part of it, with rictameters. These brief poems tell a bit about what it's like to be old, widowed, and retired in Chicago."

Why a little poetry book? I had fun with this, and it helped to brighten the past winter. You can see a preview and/or order the book from the link on this blog's sidebar (to the right).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Generation Gap Gone Wild?

Thanks again to Ronni Bennett of, I just read a blog post written by a young college student. The author, Ann Austria, is a journalism major at California State University Long Beach. Here it is her post from the Orange County Register's web site:

Hey… Grandma??
May 17th, 2008, 9:45 pm

"I’ve noticed an increase in the number of elderly individuals in some of my general education classes. Not that I mind, but sometimes it gets excruciatingly annoying - no offense.

Take my math class, for example. I’m taking a math class called Math Ideas - it’s basically applying math to real-world situations, nothing that would require too much thinking. There are four elderly persons in that class, but there are two who sometimes don’t completely understand what’s going on - like the review of the Pythagorean Theorem.

There was also one time where the professor spent like a good twenty minutes trying to get one of them to understand the distributive property. This is the part of the class where I start banging my head on the table.

But this makes me wonder why a group of people, who look to be between fifty and sixty years old, are taking an undergraduate general education course. Did they get bored of retirement and just wanted something to do? Sounds like a plausible reason, but really, what are their motives for taking a class like this?"

As you can imagine, this article has stirred up a lot of vitriol and dismay in the elderblogging community. You can read some of the comments on Time Goes By. But here is my personal reaction, based on two experiences:

1. My late mother, Violet Marshall Funston, expected age discrimination when she returned for her last two years of college in her fifties, long after both my brother and I had finished not only college but graduate school. Here is what she wrote in her autobiography, "My First Eighty-Six Years: a Midwestern Life." (She graduated at 56 and went on to live to age 95).

"At first the younger students resented me. . . . When [they] found out that I was taking a full course load, they accepted me. I made many friends among the younger students."
This happened in the 1960's, when the idea of lifelong learning probably hadn't occurred to many people yet. My mother's attitude shows an understanding of the situation, but she also was able to cope. She always could. She may have helped bring about a bit of inter-generatonal understanding in her own modest way.

2. Last year, I attended the BlogHer conference here in Chicago. I was one of the oldest attendees, and I felt slightly out of place among the "Mommy Bloggers," budding entrepreneurs, etc. However, I eventually worked up the courage to speak up at one of the sessions about my enthusiasm for blogging, and several young women approached me warmly. One even said something like, "I admire you so much; I love your blog's title (Never too Late!)."

What does all of this prove? It's easy to make fun of Ms. Austria and her disdain for students "who look to be between fifty and sixty years old," but I suspect that I might have held a similar attitude when I was in college. I know that neither my brother nor I thought much of our mother's educational quest. We came to admire her very much for finishing college and going on to a teaching career.

Perhaps this antagonism between young and old is and always has been a natural phenomenon, but I see gradual signs of improvement. We elders are becoming fans of lifelong learning, and an enlightened few younger people are devoted to helping us. Ms. Austria's attitude will undoubtedly change as she gets older and more experienced.

Perhaps the best result of this controversy is that all of us elders will develop the courage to follow our passions, in college or out. We can speak up and show the young that we are not all "over the hill." Racism, Sexism and Ageism belong in the same discard bin.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Awards and Senior Passions

If you've visited this blog before, you probably know that I am a great believer in the idea that seniors should follow their interests and passions. You also know that my personal passion is writing. I never expected to become a famous, best-selling author, and I have not. But each year, the Illinois Woman's Press Association's annual awards luncheon provides a boost to my morale and my ego.

Yesterday, the awards for 2007 writing were presented at a fabulous luncheon at Chicago's Union League Club. The club's main dining room, with its old-fashioned, traditionally rich decor and its portraits, including one of Abraham Lincoln, is enough to elevate anyone's mood. This year I again received two first-place awards, as well as one second and one honorable mention. I was elated.

My first-place awards were for my second book, Seniorwriting: A Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write (Infinity, 2007) and for one of my eGenerations writing columns, "Sharing Your Experiences, Memories, and Stories." My second place and honorable mention awards were both for earlier posts on this blog: my book review, "Retirement Planning: Looking Beyond the Money," and my post, "On Laundry and 'Going Green." The judges had encouraging things to say about all my entries.

For more about these awards and comments and for links to my writing, go to my writing blog, "Write Your Life!" at (or follow the link at the right).

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, May 16, 2008

My Last Travel Hurrah?

My recent trip to South Africa was very tiring. It has taken me more than a week to recover from roughly 24 hours (Cape Town to Johannesburg to Dakar to New York to Chicago) on airplanes. I'm gradually catching up with all the things I need to do, but it's been a slow process.

I am a great advocate of travel, but my basic advice is to travel to those really far-off places at ages younger than 75. Even if you're rich enough to afford a business-class ticket (I'm not, but I did), those long journeys are taxing.

Ronni Bennett, premier Elderblogger, younger than I, wrote recently about elder adaptability in a response to Dr. Bill Thomas' "Geriatrician Column" on her blog, Time Goes By Dr. Thomas wrote, “An older person wakes up to a new body with new requirements and limitations not once but many times. This reality batters our relationship to the status quo.”

After overtaxing herself entertaining a younger, very welcome visitor, Ronni ended up "feeling old and tired," as she says, and unable to keep up with her blog posting. She writes, "I have been wondering, as I've rested a lot, if pushing myself beyond my limit is an artifact of the constant cultural pressure to pretend that we are not old and that we should not reveal to others that we – or, in this case, I – cannot do everything that was once possible. Maybe yes, maybe no, but I suspect it was . . . part of my reason."

I guess there always comes a time when we must begin to admit to ourselves that we're no longer young. Even without major health problems (or perhaps my arthritis is becoming a major one), we tend to slow down. Giving up travel to distant and exotic places may be hard for me to do, but after all, I've visited all seven continents and seen most of the places on my "must see" list. My body is telling me to slow down.

The secret seems to be to do as much as we can do fairly comfortably, but not overtax ourselves. Give up? No, I don't advocate that, but for me, no longer will I pay attention to the "constant cultural pressure to pretend that [I] am not old." I am, and I'll have to deal with that.

I'm not sorry I visited South Africa. The trip was great. Meanwhile, there's always that faint dream that I'll feel great next spring and head off to somewhere else.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Highlights of South Africa I

My recent trip to South Africa, a Grand Circle Travel tour called "Highlights of South Africa," began in Johannesburg, to Kruger Park, then south and eastward to Swaziland, then south through Zululand, then mainly along the east and south coasts to Port Elizabeth and along the Garden Route to Cape Town. The following posts present a few of the highlights:

The history of African exploration is long, but the Union of South Africa was created in 1910, eight years after the end of the Second Boer War. In 1948, the National Party was elected and began implementing its harsh segregation laws that would become known as apartheid. While the white minority enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, the Black majority remained seriously disadvantaged.

Amid sanctions and disinvestment and growing unrest and opression, the country struggled until the rise of the African National Congress and the eventual release of Nelson Mandela from prison eventually brought the first multi-racial elections in 1994. Today, apartheid is gone, and most South Africans seem to have hope for the future. Of course, as in all countries, there are rich and poor, shanty towns (called informal housing developments) and luxury highrise buildings. The mountains and the sea coasts provide beautiful scenery. It's a country worth visiting.

Highlights of South Africa II: Scenery

Top: Cable Cars to Table Mountain, Cape Town

Next: View of Lion's Head from my Cape Town hotel room.

Next: Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope)

Bottom: "Informal Housing Development" near Cape Town

Highlights of South Africa III: Art and Food

Top: Modern stone sculpture, Capetown Botanic Garden
Center: Ostrich Steak for lunch
Bottom: Giant Salad at the Pizzeria

Highlights of South Africa IV: An Ostrich Up Close and Personal

All South Africa photos by the author.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Mother's Day Card

I received a lovely mother's day card yesterday, a beautiful and expensive one. My contemporaries may ask, "What's so special about that?" Most women my age have children, grandchildren, even a few great-grandchildren, and probably receive cards and gifts galore. I am, on the other hand, childless.

This card came from a fifty-something man who is technically my stepson, but whom I've never really known. He is the son of my late husband from a previous marriage, and he was grown before I married his father. His own mother is still alive, and still blames me for the breakup of her marriage many years ago. (No, I wasn't actually a home wrecker).

Anyway, David has always been something of an embarrassment to me. He is a long-time schizophrenic, does not always make sense, and appears homeless and unkempt, although he lives in a group home now. His writing is the ungrammatical scrawl of a child, and I admit having ignored his attempts at friendship and avoided his occasional telephone calls. Today, I began to rethink the whole situation.

There's nothing I can do for David; his own mother, who is in her eighties, is in charge. However, I need to be more compassionate. Thank you for the lovely card, David. I plan to write you a letter soon, and I may even buy you a cup of coffee when and if I see you. You may be helping to melt the hard heart of a lonely old woman who has always hated or ignored mother's day.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Animals of South Africa

Zebras, impressive indeed!

These lions seemed happy to pose for pictures--at a distance. No close-ups allowed!

While I admit that I'm neither an animal expert nor a true animal enthusiast (except for cats, the domestic variety), I was thrilled to see the many animals of South Africa in their natural habitat, as preserved in Kruger National Park.

So why was this better than seeing the animals in a zoo? It just seemed more natural and appropriate that the animals were in charge. They had the right of way everywhere, and we human beings could look, photograph, but not get too close. After all, it's their world.

My photos are not the best, but they show things as they were. The photo above shows fruit bats relaxing on the ceiling of a picnic shelter. We were told that they only stir at night, and that was a comforting thought.

Next, an elephant emerges from the bush. I saw many elephants, and more pictures will follow.

The baboon is an ugly-looking animal, but playful, I guess. We even saw a pair copulating beside the road. Not a pretty sight, but it's their home, after all.

The giraffes are more impressive than this photo indicates, expecially when they eat leaves from the tops of tall trees. They are graceful animals that seem to glide along through the bush.

A typical roadside scene in Kruger Park is a large herd of impala, with zebras and other animals nearby.

These photos were taken with a simple instant digital camera from either an open vehicle or a tour bus. The Internet contains many better pictures, but I hope mine give you a flavor of the realities of animal viewing in South Africa. I'll have much more to say about the trip later--and I'll post a few of my better pictures once I get them all sorted out.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Out of South Africa (and Swaziland)

I returned yesterday from my arduous trip to South Africa. It was a wonderful trip. I had a chance to see all of Africa's "Big Five" animals (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos) in their natural habitat, where they have all the rights and the right of way. I did this on an open vehicle safari and a tour bus safari in Kruger National Park.

I'll post some pictures later (although I can't promise great ones; I use a small, automatic digital camera), and write about the trip. I urge all of you to travel if at all possible, but I have to admit that this will probably be my last such extensive trip. At 75, my body does not adjust well to all the walking, stair climbing, and climbing up into vehicles that such a trip entails, not to mention two consecutive eight-hour flights each way, preceded and followed by shorter flights. South Africa is a long distance away, and the long flights were from New York to Dakar and Dakar to Johannesburg, reversed on the way back. Eating too much of occasionally unfamiliar food didn't help, either. I need a recovery period.