Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blog News and Statistics

One bit of interesting news and a few statistics:

1. A second favorable review of my little poetry book, Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters just appeared on Pat's Place blog. To read it, go to http://atpatsplace.blogspot.com/2008/07/interesting-book.html.

2. Sometime yesterday, the total number of hits or page views for "Never too Late!" passed 25,000. Since that covers the period beginning September 26, 2006, it's certainly no record. However, that seems like a lot to me for a non-commercial blog. It's gratifying to think about so many people encountering my blog. It gladdens this senior's heart. I guess I find joy in simply things, surely a good trait at my age. As I've said before, blogging is fun!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Literary Impressions of Aging: A Book Review

To delve into The Art of Growing Older: Writers on Living and Aging, by Wayne Booth (U. of Chicago Press 1992) is to discover, or rediscover, that the world’s literary greats have had a lot to say through the centuries on the topic of aging. This book, which I recently discovered, is a journey through the literary world by respected University of Chicago literature scholar Wayne Booth (1921-2005), author of The Rhetoric of Fiction and many other books.

From Sophocles to Euripides to Milton to Wordsworth, Byron, Browning, T.S. Eliot, and far beyond, writers have dealt, as we all do, with the challenges of aging and/or the contemplation of it. Toward the end of his introduction, Wayne Booth quotes Cicero, who wrote this in his early sixties: “For me, writing this book has been so delightful that it has not only erased all the petty annoyances of old age but has also made old age soft and pleasant.” As he wrote this book, Wayne Booth added, “At seventy one, which doesn’t feel at all to me like old age, I can say the same to you: Join me, friends, in this distinctively modern adventure, the almost certain journey into old age.”

Beautifully tied together by Booth’s incisive commentary, the poems and prose excerpts in this book are divided into an introduction, “Feeling Older,” and three parts: “Facing the Facts: Losses, Fears, and Lamentations,” “Cures, Consolations, Celebrations,” and “A Further Harvest.” I find it interesting that the “Cures, Consolations, Celebrations” section is by far the longest, indicating Booth’s own positive view of aging. I hope that’s a universal trend.

W. B. Yeats, in “Sailing to Byzantium,” laments in the first stanza, “That is no country for old men. The young / In one another’s arms, birds in the trees / . . . Caught in that sensual music all neglect / Monuments of unageing intellect.” However, he finds solace in his hope to escape, in artistic, non-human form, to a golden bough from which to sing of “What is past, or passing, or to come.”

Lighter and more humorous views of aging are included as well. In “Life Begins at 80,” Frank C. Laubach wrote, “If you survive until you are 80, everybody is surprised that you are still alive. They treat you with respect just for having lived so long. Actually they seem surprised that you can walk and talk sensibly. So please, folks, try to make it to 80. If you ask me, life begins at 80.”

I like that fact that Booth democratically includes some less-than-famous writers: Minnie Hodapp, at the age of 92, wrote in “I Haven’t Lost My Marbles Yet!” “I sometimes feel a bit bereft / Of youthful eyes and ears-- / But when I think of all that’s left / My trouble disappears. / So life goes on without upset / ‘Cause I ain’t lost no marbles yet.” Great poetry? No, but I like Hodapp’s spirit.

With an index and pages of notes and sources, this is a scholarly book, but its appeal should extend beyond literature majors. As Booth says, “You can make a good start on a reading program that can well last for the rest of your life by consulting first the books I praise as I go along and then the booklists provided by the ten works I list following the endnotes. . . . Spend a year on those lists, and first thing you know you’ll have become an expert and people will begin calling you a gerontologist.” However, if you’re just looking for inspiration and interesting quotes about growing older, this book is the ultimate source.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reminders From a Distant Past

This is a cocktail napkin from the Old Town Pump, arguably the first "singles bar" in Chicago (it opened before the famous Butch McGuire's). It was located in Chicago's Old Town, not far from where I live now, from the late 1950's through most of the 1960's. It was sometimes known as a post-college "rah-rah" bar, where the boys often wore plaid bermuda shorts and the girls, beehive hairdos.

My late husband Jules was a co-owner, bartender, and guiding spirit behind this place; running it was a highlight of his life. It was a part of his life that he talked about until the end. He made many lasting friendships there, and so did I.

I met him there in 1964 (no, I wasn't much of a drinker or bar person, but the Pump was like a social club). We didn't marry until 1970, when the Pump was only a fond recent memory.

During the past two weeks, I have been reminded of the Old Town Pump by two things: a dinner with four old friends from those days (old as in both age and time, although I am a bit older than the others) and an encounter with the Old Town Pump slides, the pictures I took there of parties, Old Town Art Fair celebrations, and other days and nights of revelry. Taking pictures was my way of feeling useful, since a full evening of drinking beer was far beyond my capacity.

The dinner (the same group, with a few variations, has met occasionally in the last few years) was a nostalgic occasion. I believe that four of the five of us met our husbands at the Old Town Pump; one never married. Of the rest, only one has a living husband. Three of us are widowed. Two have grown children; those two also have grandchildren. All but one of us are retired from a variety of careers. All but one of us seems to walk with difficulty; we're all a bit overweight. We are all reminders of the passage of time.

The dinner conversation was punctuated by "Do you remember such-and-such an event or person? Do you remember when (so-and-so) did . . . ?" That brought up memories of the OTP slides, which were frequently shown during events at the Pump. While slides were the medium of choice then, I long ago switched to color snapshots, and finally, to digital photography. The old slides sat in my closet and gathered dust.

Fate intervened in the person of a lovely young woman, the daughter of another, somewhat younger Old Town Pump couple. She found me on line through my books and my blogs, and emailed me to ask about OTP memorabilia for her parents' wedding anniversary--the 40th, I think. Lisa came over to look at the slides, and I gave them to her. She had them copied onto a DVD, with music. Relieved by her help in clearing out my messy closet, I forgot all about the slides until that dinner with the "old guard."

I found Lisa's email address and asked for copies for myself and the others. She graciously agreed to bring over copies, and we watched the presentatioon together. There were the years 1966-68, when I was in my thirties and reasonably attractive--except for one picture of me with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth! I hardly ever smoked. I must have been a bit crazy then. There were pictures of people I haven't seen since the sixties, many of them now deceased.

There, of course, was my late husband, young, handsome, and smiling. In a way, the slides were reminders of the passing of time and of my aging. However, I was able to chuckle at the way we acted and dressed then. It was a different world, one I'm glad I experienced. I'm much different now, and I'm glad that I'm still around to see this DVD. I await my friends' reactions, and I've been told that this DVD may be posted on You Tube. If it is, I'll post a link here. We all need to explore where we've been. Doing so makes it easier to deal with an uncertain future.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, July 21, 2008

Confessions of a Reformed Slob

I've never been a fanatic about keeping a clean house, but once I could afford to hire cleaning help, the problem pretty much disappeared. At least I developed temporary storage places for the books, magazines, and papers that tended to be lying around, and I put them away on cleaning days. I always made the bed each day; I guess I did it to impress my husband and anyone else who happened to wander in. The dirty dishes were always put into the dishwasher.

Fast forward to the period from 2001 to the present: after my husband's death, I sold the house and moved into the condo where I now live. I still have a cleaning woman, but I live alone and have had few visitors over the years. During that time, I seemed to become a slob. I mentioned my messy closets earlier. I seldom made my bed; after all, only I sleep there, and no one else sees it. It's hidden off in the "master suite": out of sight, out of mind.

The few dishes I use tended to pile up around the sink. Putting them in the dishwasher would take only a few seconds, but why bother? No one else would enter my kitchen for weeks on end. Meanwhile, my closets and kitchen cabinets became overstuffed with things I didn't even remember. What a mess! Magazines and books were piled to precarious heights everywhere.

So what bought reform? The necessity of putting my condo on the market before my expected end-of-year move into The Clare at Watertower. No real estate agent would think of showing a place unless the closets and cabinets are worthy of viewing, and big stacks of anything are out. After becoming upset and feeling helpless, I hired an organizing company, and everything looks much better. These days, I usually make the bed, and the dishes go into the dishwasher at least once a day. When the agent requests a showing, the place is ready!

Today, beautiful professional photographs of all the rooms are featured on the real estate agent's web site, and a tiny picture of my living room appeared in their print ad yesterday. Everything looks so good that I'm happy to live here; I will be reluctant to leave.

So what's the message? If you happen to live alone, imagine strangers walking through your place frequently. For me, that has been the key to reform. Now, did I make my bed this morning? I'd better take a look! Old habits die hard.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo of my living room from Rubloff Real Estate site by VHT Image Works.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Ladies Quintet: A Theater Review

I have never aspired to be a drama critic, but when playwright Kathryn G. McCarty discovered my blog and sent me a press release for the California Galatean Players Ensemble Theater's appearance in Chicago at the Raven Theater, 6157 N. Clark Street, I was honored. It's always nice to be noticed. I posted the press release for The Ladies Quintet, and yesterday I saw the matinee performance.

I was especially impressed by two things: the skill of the five mature actresses and the five monologues' presentations of many truths about aging.

The presentation includes "The Garden Club," with Carolyn Kraetsch as Rose (pictured above); "Star Polisher," with Helen Means as Tessa, "Noel," featuring Sonja Christopher as Peggy, "American Sketch," featuring the playwright Kathryn G. McCarty as Lucina, and "Real Possible," with Sheilah Morrison as Pam.

Only McCarty fails to qualify as a senior citizen, but she credits her understanding of elders to listening to the stories of older friends, mostly when she lived in Chicago. In a 2006 article in Backstage West, she also credits her fellow actresses: "My relationship with these women has shown me that life takes us in many directions, but it's never too late to pursue your dreams." She seems to have realized at an earlier stage than I did that it is, indeed, never too late.

Perhaps the most impressive actress in the group is Sonja Christopher. Her biography shows that she is a cancer survivor and also the first participant ever voted off CBS's original Survivor show. I was impressed by her mature beauty, her acting skill, and her ukelele playing, used to help her character deal with the task of sorting through the belongings of a recently-deceased friend. She makes a shocking discovery among the friend's old letters, but snaps back with a modest scheme of revenge.

Rose presides over a garden club of which she is the last surviving member; she talks to the departed members. Tessa considers her star-struck past as she polishes the Hollywood star of Joanne Woodward. Lucina, a painter, talks to a granddaughter about racial and family relationships, as she attempts to sketch her portrait. Pam talks to her deceased husband as she prepares for a date. She is full of uncertainty about makeup, wardrobe, and the wisdom of dating at her age, but she ultimately decides to go for it. All the actresses perform admirably.

This is a show well worth seeing by senior women, especially, and also by senior men and people concerned about the elderly and/or close to joining their ranks. It will make you understand and sometimes laugh at the realities of the various losses we all face.

The Raven Theater is small and lacking in the big Loop theaters' amenities, but it is reasonably appropriate and comfortable for this small show. Performances continue next weekend. See my original post at http://seniorwriter.blogspot.com/2008/06/ladies-quintet-its-never-too-late-for.html for links to more information.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's a "Director of Life Enrichment"?

This week, I've had a couple of email communications from the Clare at Water Tower, my future residence. They came from a seemingly nice young woman (I haven't met her in person yet) who identified herself as the Clare's "Director of Life Enrichment."

I guess I still bristle at the ideas that my life needs enrichment, and/or that I need a younger person's help, but perhaps I do, or at least will in the future.

Anyway, being somewhat a student of new and unfamiliar job titles (at least new to me), I decided to do a Google search for "Life Enrichment." I was surprised by how many references I found; I did not read them all, but here are a few things I learned:

There's a Center for Life Enrichment in Maryland that offers "support services that will increase the vocational and personal potential of individuals with disabilities," including job coaching, work opportunities, socialization, flexible help schedules, and transportation. This made me wonder if we elders are considered "people with disabilities" (some elders obviously are, but is getting old itself a disability?)

Further reading revealed that the majority of references on this topic did seem to involve seniors. In North Carolina, the Life Enrichment Adult Day Care / Health Center for seniors offers safety, health care, therapies, personal care, and meaningful activies for those who attend.

Georgia has Life Enrichment Services, including life-long learning, independence, dignity, diversity, change, and fun.

Several services involve computer training for seniors: good! However, Life Enrichment Services of Wheaton, Illinois, also offers "Treatment for Recovery from Computer / Internet Addiction." I hope that's not what I need!

I am willing to give the new Director of Life Enrichment a chance, but I think that real life enrichment must involve making use of the varied talents of the several hundred future residents of the Clare. By sharing our interests and our passions, we can help each other examine what it means to be old. And for now, we can do it mainly through Internet communication. I want to try to help.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Another Press Release: "Elder Expectations"

To see the new press release for my poetry book, Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters, go to my other blog, "Write Your Life!"


Link to the release on PRweb:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Something Irritating You? See My Other Blog

See "Write Your Life!" for an interesting excercise in complaining. http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/2008/07/what-bothers-you-write-about-it.html

Over 50? Take This Short Retirement Survey

Ronni Bennett of "Time Goes By" is featuring a retirement survey. Clicking on the above badge does not work because the survey has three separate divisions for the "Currently Retired," "Not Retired," and "Retired, Then Returned to Work" categories.

The results of this unscientific survey may prove interesting, and it takes only a minute or two. Take it now, and return to "Time Goes By" the week of July 21 to see the results. I may summarize them here.

Here is the link: http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2008/07/announcement--1.html

Monday, July 07, 2008

Finding Elderblogs: An Update

Since the demise of the Elders Tribune and its News Aggregator, the best and most comprehensive list of elderblogs I have found appears on Ronni Bennett's "Time Goes By" (http://www.timegoesby.net). She has just updated her sidebar list to include a total of 302 blogs! She limits the list to one blog per blogger, too, so my own "Write Your Life!" is not included. This one is.

Ronni excludes hard-to-read blogs featuring white or light text on black or dark backgrounds, since those are hard to read, especially for older eyes. She also excludes those without fairly regular postings. However, the variety of topics and opinions is amazing.

Check out a few elderblogs from time to time, and bookmark your favorites or add them to your own blogroll. It's nice to know that so many of us seniors are here in the blogosphere.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

An Elder Discovers a Passion for Writing--And a Will to Live

I've written about Wayne before (see my other blog, "Write Your Life!," http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/2008/06/power-of-senior-writing-perhaps-ive.html ).

Yesterday, he sent me this poem, inspired by my rictameters. His poem is not technically a rictameter (it lacks the prescribed syllable count), but I think its nine lines provide a wonderful example of short, simple free-form poetry that conveys an elder's thoughts very effectively. What do you think?

ELDERVERSITY, by Wayne Winters (used by permission)


This poem illustrates a previous statement of Wayne's about his discovery, or rediscovery, of writing after age 80: "I think I have started writing out of frustration and confusion. I am frustrated because I cannot do what I always did and I'm confused because I don't remember why. Writing of any kind seems to help put facts and figures in place, in order, while otherwise they are just bouncing around in my mostly dried-out gourd of a head. In some of us, God forgot to include the zerk fitting, and so we were never properly maintained."

(I had no idea what a "zerk fitting" is, so I looked it up. It seems that it's a fitting providing a way for grease to be forced into mechanical joints that need grease to prevent wear and make movement easy. What an appropriate image for some of the problems of aging!)

Today, Wayne wrote me as part of his permission to reproduce his work, "I have started to think that I should stay longer and write more." That's great news from someone who had been depressed and ready to give up on living.

Thanks, Wayne, for helping me show that it's never too late to discover a passion, especially a passion for writing!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, July 04, 2008

July 4 in Whitewater, Wisconsin, Revisited

Since my Independence Day experiences from childhood seemed to be much the same from year to year, I'm taking the liberty of reprinting my blog post from one year ago. The photo, borrowed from the Whitewater Banner on line, is entitled "Clown Parade," and it's from the 2007 parade in Whitewater, Wisconsin, my old home town.

This year? As I did last year, I'll enjoy the festivals and fireworks of the weekend on TV, happy to avoid the crowds. Those days on Grandma's porch are long gone, but I hope such days still exist for small-town children today. I still remember the excitement!

Here's what I wrote a year ago:

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

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Check Out The New Press Release for "Seniorwriting"

A press release for Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write is just out. For a link to it, and my comments, see my other blog, "Write Your Life!"


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Positive Event at The Clare

I had eagerly awaited the launch of The Clare's new web site for residents, Clarity. Yesterday it happened. I attended the advanced training session, and I liked what I saw.

The site is easy to use, and I was especially happy to see so many future residents there eager to communicate on line. I hope to find more readers for my blogs, but it seems that I don't quite know how to handle the necessary feed to allow Clarity users to click on my blogs. I'll have to work on that.

The only fault I've found in Clarity so far is that all photos posted have to be verified by a site administrator. Residents are encouraged to post photos, and I don't think there's much chance that this group will attempt to post porn or other objectionable material. I guess I like instant gratification. I'd like to see my pictures posted immediately, as I do on my own blogs. That's a minor quibble; I guess I can wait.

It may take a while for the other future residents to get their profiles up, but I hope that many more will. I look forward to learning about my future neighbors. I hope not too many are reluctant to share; after all, it's a site for Clare residents, not for the entire cyber world.

Anyway, I think it's a positive thing that my future senior residence, and apparently others, are encouraging this means of communication. I believe that seniors are quickly joining the computer-using crowd. It's a great way to share out thoughts, our questions, and our experiences.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne