Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blogging: the Magic, the Mystery, the Power

Yesterday I was honored to participate in a four-woman panel at the Illinois Woman's Press Association's Fall Kickoff Breakfast. The topic was "Blogging: the Magic and the Mystery."

About a month ago, when I was asked to speak, my first reaction was, "Who, me?" My last public speech was my Wright College commencement address in 1996, and my life since retirement has been rather solitary. However, this chance to speak about my blogs and Elderblogging and writing in general gave me a much-needed lift to help me forget my coming knee replacement surgery.

One of the best parts of this well-attended event was listening to my fellow panelists and the lively discussion that followed our presentations. The able moderator was Barbara Iverson, of the journalism faculty at Chicago's Columbia College. She is the Vice President of Technology for the Association of Women Journalists and a very knowoledgeable blogger at

Kurman Barrie is CEO of Kurman Communications, a public relations agency. She was named to the today's Chicago Woman Hall of Fame in 2003. Her blog is mainly about her firm's clients. A sidebar contains links to Kurman Clients in the News.

Mary T. Wagner is Assistant District Attorney for Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, but her first love is journalism. Her blog,, is a collection of essays about family and many other things. She descrubes the bliog as an archive of her essays, her legacy for her family. She has published many of her essays in her book Running With Stillettos: Living a Balanced Life in Dangerous Shoes.

I welcomed this occasion not only to speak, but to discover the wide variety of and interest in blogs in the writing community. Whether commercial or personal, blogs offer a wonderful way to record our thoughts. As Anna Quindlen wrote, "Bloggers old and young know that we are on the bleeding edge of a renaissance in personal writing. Our blogs will become as important to our current and future loved ones as handwritten letters were to people of another era."

Here is the conclusion of my speech: "If and when the time comes when you are bored, isolated, or physically unable to pursue many actiities, blogging can provide a connection to the world. That's what it is for me. If you are too young and busy to worry about such things now, at least you already understand the power of writing. Share that idea with your older relatives and friends. Blogging is satisfying fun for everyone. Happy blogging!"

Thanks, IWPA, for helping me improve my connection to the world.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Big Red Ball Again!

On June 12, I wrote about Ken Perschke's RedBall public art project. The occasion was my seeing this giant 15-foot ball installed in the Washington Street lobby of the Chicago Cultural Center just in front of the information desk where I volunteer every Thursday morning. My attitude turned from indifference to admiration as I noted public reaction to this strange and unexpected sight.

The ball reappeared in Chicago this month, moving from public place to public place, where it drew double takes, laughter, and interest everywhere from Millenium Park to the chess pavilion on the lake in Lincoln Park to Federal Plaza near the Calder sculpture. With my limited walking ability, I didn't see it in any of those places, but it occasionally got newspaper and TV notice.

Today marked the ball's final Chicago appearance, back at the Cultural Center. I was there. This time, it was just being inflated, so I first saw it hanging from the second floor walkway above the lobby. Eventually it reached full size, suspended above the huge Washington Street entrance to the building. By now, it was eagerly awaited. Groups of school children gathered, hoping for chances to jump and play on the ball. Unfortunately, the late appearance and location of the ball precluded such play, but I was able to see some unsuspecting visitors' amazement when they were directed to look up. Cameras were flashing; I wish I'd had mine with me.

I've never known much about modern art or public (usually outdoor) art, yet this was fun. It's art that brings and has brought smiles worldwide. Next stop: Toronto.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne.
Photo: The ball at the Cultural Center, September 25.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cubs Win! But the News is Not All Good

Yesterday, I explained the annoying uncertainties of my life. One bright spot is the Chicago Cubs' chance at the playoffs and the World Series. Well, the Cubs won, and they are now NL Central champs!

Yesterday would have been a good day, except that my main computer crashed and was hauled away for analysis. I now have to use my quirky laptop, and that's not easy. I guess I'm overdue for a new desktop computer, but I hate to buy one right now. We'll see.

If I can persuade my laptop to keep connecting to my wireless network (it sometimes refuses to do so), I'll keep blogging, but don't be surprised if I skip more days than usual. And the Cubs do play again today, as do the Chicago Bears. Now if my TV set just keeps working!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More Uncertainty About The Clare

I've been writing off and on for several years now about my future move to The Clare at Water Tower, the highrise senior continuous care building now a feature of Chicago's Gold Coast skyline. As I've explained, I love city living, and now that I no longer want to live alone and without help if I need it, I have no desire to move to less expensive facitities in the suburbs. "Go for the best" has been my motto. Now, I'm beginning to wonder whether or not I can afford the best.

I signed up for The Clare in 2004, when the projected completion date was mid- to late 2006. The usual unavoidable delays and snags developed, of course, and the move-in date kept being postponed. I followed the whole process with interest. I still want to move there. For further information, you'll find a link to the Clare web site among the links on the right side of this blog.

In 2004, I was relatively healthy, the owner of a luxury condo that would have sold very quickly at a nice profit. With my good pension income, I thought that I'd have enough to manage the huge entrance fee and monthly expenses, even though I'm apparently not as affluent as the average future Clare resident. Today, my arthritis has progressed to the point that double knee replacement surgery is an urgent necessity; I'm in some pain, and I can barely walk short distances. My surgery is scheduled for October 6. Since I live alone, I'll have to go to a rehab center for some time. My life will surely be disrupted for quite a while. My condo has been on the market for months, and has not sold, despite a price reduction.

As for The Clare, it's nearly complete, and my projected move-in date is mid to late December. Will I be ready either physically or financially to move in? Will I be able to come up with the steep entrance fee? The recent financial news distresses me, even though my only exposure to stocks is my modest investment in mutual funds. AIG holds a large share of my retirement money, but I've been assured it's safe. I certainly hope so. I have no plans to stash cash under my mattress.

All this uncertainty has brought me close to depression, but I'm trying to look at the bright side: many elders are far worse off than I, with lower fixed incomes and limited assets. I still have a roof over my head and food to eat and a few good friends when I can overcome my loner status and contact them.

Waiting for and dreading October 6 (not to mention my 76th birthday on October 12) are hard, but I keep telling myself that all will turn out well. And at least the Chicago Cubs still have a chance to go to the playoffs and the World Series. Hope springs eternal!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Realities of Alzheimer's: A Book Review

A review of Measure of the Heart: a Father's Alzheimer's, a Daughter's Return, by Mary Ellen Geist (Springboard 2008).

As lifespans lengthen, it's an unfortunate reality that more and more of us are likely to encounter the tragedy of Alzheimer's Disease. In Measure of the Heart, ambitious, successful California and New York radio news anchor and reporter Mary Ellen Geist tells of leaving her career to help her mother care for her father as he declines in the clutches of this terrible affliction.

Both an exlanation of Alzheimers and a personal caregiver's memoir, this book explores the tragic effects of the disease on the vctim and his family. As the disease progresses, the author learns to let herself be guided by her heart rather than by the pressures of her demanding career.

This very personal story helps to explain the devotion of Woody Geist's wife, daughters, and other family members to this nice, kind, cheerful former CEO who loves to play tennis and to sing, activities he is able to continue long after the disease strikes. The family's selfless devotion and refusal to put Woody into a care facility seem puzzling as the disease progresses, and yet their extraordinary love is admirable.

In addition to telling the victim's and caregivers' stories, this book explores and lists various resources: helpful organizations, publications, and web sites devoted to Alzheimer's and those dealing with it. The book makes fascinating reading for anyone who has ever wondered about the disease or marveled at the dedication of those dealing with its victims. For anyone faced with an Alzheimer's diagnosis in the famiy, it should be required reading.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, September 12, 2008

Facing Knee Replacement Surgery

Well, it's finally going to happen. I've had "bad knees," or at least one, since the 1980's. I had arthroscopic surgery in 1984, and after a temporary respite, things just keep getting worse. My left knee eventually became just as sore and disfunctional as the right. The problems, of course, are arthritis and advancing age. My late mother had the same problems. I've had all the exercises and therapy, but I've finally reached the stage where walking is nearly impossible, even with the stiff-legged gait I've developed over time (no wonder I tend to fall down occasionally).

Anyway, I finally got up the courage to talk to my primary care physician about this (she had been aware of my condition for years, and had urged me to see a knee surgeon), and this time I listened. This week, I actually followed her advice. The x-rays looked awful, and surgery was strongly recommended. It's that or a wheelchair.

So finally I'm scheduled for double knee replacements on October 6. There are a lot of problems, one being that since I live alone far from family and without available close friends, I don't have the usual caregivers. I'll need to move to a rehab center for longer than usual. My doctor has promised to arrange such things. Also, my move to The Clare is tentatively scheduled for mid- to late December, and my condo hasn't been sold yet. That's too much uncertainty for me. Not to mention that I'll be grounded for my 76th birthday on October 12.

As usual, I need to look at the brighter side: I have a few good (although busy) friends who will help if and when they can. They are concerned, as are my far-away relatives. I'm not as isolated as I thought. Also, I hope to have computer access fairly soon after the operation, so I should have a lot to write about. I've heard a lot of stories from people who have had such operations, and most have been positive. I'll get through this; now it's the waiting that bothers me. Time to get a lot of things done! I'll blog my way through this, trying to follow my own advice about "Writing to heal."

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Thoughts on Grandparents' Day

This day had no special meaning for me. Unlike most people my age, I have no children or grandchilden, and I've reached the age when I no longer have living grandparents to honor. Still, a photo from my mother's album reminded me of my maternal grandparents, Edward S. Uhl and Minnie Louise Blanchard Uhl.

This picture shows them early in the 1900's, probably before my mother was born. I never knew Grandpa Uhl. He died the week before my mother's high school graduation, so I know him only though her memories.

I did know Grandma Minnie, as we called her. My first memory of her was as a spirited widow who drove an old Chevy coupe with a rumble seat. As a child, I loved to ride in that rumble seat, wearing a scarf and sunglasses and pretending to be a famous movie star in disguise.

Later, our whole famiy visited her and her third husband on a small farm near tiny Scales Mound, Illinois. The things I remember best about those trips are the kerosene lamps and the outhouse (we'd always had electriciy and indoor plumbing at home in Wisconsin), a shed that suddenly collapsed with a bang one night while we slept, and a mysterious, boarded-up one-room school nearby. My brother and I loved to peer through the cracks to see this fascinating artifact from the past.

For her time, Grandma Minnie was a remarkable woman, a survivor. Despite her lack of economic advantages and education, she always worked hard, and coped with the loss of three husbands and eventually, of her only son, my Uncle Eddie. She did farm work, cooked, baked, cleaned, sold various products door-to-door, read, worked crossword puzzles very successfully in ink, and lived without many of the advantages I've always taken for granted until very late in her life. For her, the walk down the garden path to the outhouse was part of life, even in a time when it was a curiosity to the rest of us.

My father's family looked down on Grandma Minnie and her various husbands as virtually "trailer trash," but my mother and I always admired her spirit. Nothing seemed to get her down; there was no pretense about her. She lived to age 89, finally crocheting colorful flowers for charity at the small town nursing home where she spent her final days. I still have a few of those flowers.

Most of Grandma's grandchildren and great-grandchildren have attended college and achieved success beyond anything Grandma Minnie ever dreamed of. Perhaps those of us who have adopted veneers of sophistication and become accustomed to today's luxuries need grandparents' day to remember those who came before us. Grandma Minnie still lives in my memory to teach me that it's not the material things that count most.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Importance of Elder Storytelling

I've written a great deal both here and in "Write your Life!" about the importance of life stories, both the stories we write about our own lives and those we write about our loved ones. In an article in the September 4 Chicago Sun-Times, Maureen O'Donnell wrote a story entitled "My father's stories inspired me to write" that reinforced my belief that we need to listen to our parents and grandparents' stories before it's too late, and either help them to record and/or write down those stories or write them down ourselves. Such stories are too valuable to lose!

The article begins, "My father, whose storytelling made me want to be a writer, listens to stories these days because he can do longer tell them. He is very sick." Her father was born in Ireland in 1921, and his stories of life in "the old country" were a form of time travel for reporter O'Donnell. She mentions a few of his fascinating experiences: Irish country life involving bringing in the cows, making hay, and selling turf; World War II in London; school life; seeing American cowboy movies.

I hope that Ms. O'Donnell has written or will write more about her father. "With his sharp, probing mind, given the same access to education that I had, Dad could have become a professor of history. Instead, he gave his love of knowledge to his four children, and, by extension, his eight grandchildren."

Read Ms. O'Donnell's article, and think about your own relatives. Don't let their fascinating life stories be lost.,CST-EDT-maureen04.article#

Monday, September 01, 2008

High Life in Florida: A Book Review

A Review of Leisure Daze, by Mike Mihalek (Heartland 2008)

Mke Mihalek's short, humorous novel Leisure Daze is set in an upscale retirement community in Florida, with a strong cast of characters including a conservative retired general who is president of the home owners' association and a liberal retired lawyer trying to unite the residents in a lawsuit to clean up a polluted south Florida river.

The story begins with two residents' innocent discovery of a large quantity of marijuana and the hilarious ways it affects the community. The pot finds its way into brownies and other baked goods and leads to a lot of happily bizarre behavior. Then the real problem arises: a Columbian cocaine ring that has been operating on the premises for some time senses competition and goes after the unsuspecting seniors.

In a series of strange confrontations, the suddenly more active and newly-armed residents finally win the struggle in their own way.

This book, by a 57-year-old former healthcare worker, should appeal to the author's contemporaries as well as others older and younger, especialy those who fondly remember their rebellious, pot-smoking earlier years. I'm glad that Mihalek dared to portray active seniors, with their peculiarities and foibles. Most of the characters in Leisure Daze somehow manage to be humorous and admirable at the same time. Their different views and personalities illustrate again that older people are not all alike.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne