Sunday, February 22, 2009

Home, Sweet High-rise

My high-rise home, The Clare at Water Tower.

Today's Chicago Tribune featured an article, "What's new in high-rise buildings: A Skyscraper designed for seniors," by Tribune critic Blair Kamin. This photo accompanied the article.

For more exterior photos, go to

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Writing Challenge: Winter

As winter seems to keep its grip on northern climes, how about some writing about winter? I've issued a challenge on my other blog, "Write Your Life!" ( to write rictameters or other poems, but prose musings about winter are welcome too. Let's write our way into spring!

How about some descriptions of winter in those warmer havens where some of you live? Or write about why you love (or hate) winter. Memories of previous winters are welcome, too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Final Journey: A Book Review

A review of The Leisure Seeker, by Michael Zadoorian (William Morrow, 2009).

The final stages of life often involve hospitals and pain and invasive treatments as even the most productive, happy life comes to a close. What if a long-married couple decided to avoid all that to take a final cross-country honeymoon trip? That's the premise of Michael Zadoorian's novel "The Leisure Seeker."

Ella, with terminal cancer, and John, with Alzheimer's, leave their disapproving doctors and their adult children behind in the midwest to escape in their '78 Leisure Seeker RV along what's left of old Route 66 to Disneyland. With John at the wheel and Ella as navigator, the couple set out to grab just a bit more of life "in search of a past they're having a damned hard time remembering."

This bittersweet tale is about courage and daring, about crumbling roads and memories. There's humor in Ella's matter-of-fact ways of handling John's dementia, in her attitude toward taking her ever-more-necessary "discomfort pills," in her wry acceptance of what's to come.

This is a compelling book. Perhaps it will make some of today's active seniors consider such a final fling. The book's admirable, courageous characters encourage thoughts about daring new ways to approach the inevitable end and to have fun along the way.

Another Plug for Senior Writing

Steve Gurney, age 43, founder of the Guide to Retirement Living Sourcebook, recently lived for a week at the Paul Spring Retirement Community in Alexandria, Virginia (see my earlier post). His goal was to gain first-hand experience in order to "help families better understand this important transition."I expressed reservations about the usefulness of such a short, temporary stay, quite unlike the generally final move we elders make. Still, I admire Steve's purpose. You can read all about it at

One point that Steve Gurney made especially interested me: "The activities director of Paul Spring had prepared a “scrapbook” that includes a one page biography of most of the residents of the community. This was fascinating to read, and it gave me an easy way to engage some residents in conversation. Ask if there is something like this in communities you might be considering – I have seen very elaborate community biographies created by residents."

Of course I have been promoting senior life story writing for some time, but I especially like the idea of senior community biographies or autobiographies. They would make getting acquainted much easier. So far, no takers at The Clare, but perhaps I can get something started.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Self-Analysis Time!

Why haven't I been writing blog posts lately? Of course I was too ill to do anything last week, but that was only a temporary problem. Here I am living in the senior community of my dreams, yet I've been depressed. Perhaps I'll call what's wrong with me "inertia." I've suffered from clinical depression off and on for most of my life, so it's time to come up with a new label for what's wrong with me.

One dictionary definition of inertia is this: "Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change." That's my disease, all right. It's like I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I guess part of the problem has to do with money. To move here with my condo unsold, I had to sign a large promissory note for nearly half a million dollars, due March 9. I had visions of being kicked out of my new apartment, although things weren't really that bad. Plan B would have been financially disastrous, but at least there was a Plan B.

So what happened? The condo finally sold, although at a nonprofitable price. The closing is on February 27. With my savings and the condo payment, I'll be able to pay off the note. Good news, right? So why have I not been elated and energetic? For one thing, the business manager of The Clare made an error on a bill she sent; my debt had mysteriously grown. I just got that straightened out yesterday.

After the necessary week off, I went back to my three-times-a-week physical therapy on Monday. It's now more painful than ever. I'm glad I had knee replacement surgery, but it's cerrtainly taken a toll on my feeling of well-being. Will I ever be able to walk gracefully and easily again?

I suppose another thing bothering me has been the finality of moving into a senior residence, even though this is a very nice one. Yes, there are activities, but none that especially appeal to me. The building is not fully occupied yet, so things are just getting started. Have I done much to help? No. What have I done? Too many puzzles and computer games. Some reading, but not enough.

So there you have my "disease": inertia. This is my promise to begin doing something about it. For one thing, I'm expecting a visit from my brother and my niece next week. I look forward to that. Spring is on the way (you'd never know it from today's Chicago weather), and I'll start getting out more.

Finally, I plan to take my own advice: write. Writing helped me reinvent myself in 2006; perhaps it's time for a new reinvention in 2009. Remember my March, 2008, rictameter-a-day project on my other blog, "Write your Life!"? It's nearly March again, so I hope to come up with a new rictameter project. Stay tuned. And I hope to have more to say about senior living here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Steve Gurney's Interesting Experiment

Yesterday, Steve Gurney, age 43, took up temporary residence at Paul Spring Retirement Community in Alexandria, Virginia.

Gurney is the founder of the Guide to Retirement Living Sourcebook, "a comprehensive resource that provides details on all of the senior living options in the mid-Atlantic region." He realized that after spending his career helping families and elders make these choices, he had "never experienced the transition first-hand as a resident. I will be using this experience to help families better understand this important transition."

As a new resident of a retirement community in Chicago, I find Steve Gurney's idea interesting in the tradition of first-hand investigative journalism. It reminds me of various reporters' "Homeless for a Week" stories, etc. These are stories I always read with a few reservations: how can a reporter know the hopelessness and despair of the truly homeless when he/she has a warm, comfortable home to return to in seven days? Gurney is not really old (yet), and he will surely return to his home and his career. This move is a temporary disruption for him.

Still, those reservations aside, I welcome Gurney's seemingly sincere interest in discovering various truths about retirement living. Ideally, more of us genuine elders who make such transitions should write about the experience, but without any economic incentive, it's sometimes hard to work up the energy and enthusiasm necessary for such an effort. So far, I've found my fellow Clare residents reluctant to blog, and I haven't devoted much time to analyzing my own experience. Perhaps I can rectify that by commenting occasionally on Steve Gurney's experiment.

I hope that Mr. Gurney will meet all kinds of seniors, including those like me who aren't especially interested in typical organized activities for seniors, as well as those who are eager participants.

In a blog post, Gurney compares himself to journalist George Plimpton, who told his story of suiting up as a Detroit Lion football player in his book Paper Lion. "He [Plimpton] gave sports fans a perspective on what it feels like to be a professional athlete that couldn't be communicated through traditional reporting or locker room interviews." Gurney says that he is "doing my best to respect the position of elders, keep my eyes wide open, and experience feelings and emotions first hand."

I wonder if the Paul Spring residents will accept a 43-year-old as one of them, or if they'll treat him like the visiting journalist he is. Will he attract the complaints of "soreheads" with issues about the place or merely fawning expressions of appreciation? I hope he gets a cross-section of opinions, honestly expressed.

Perhaps Steve Gurney will inspire us elders to write about our own experiences, and will succeed in his efforts to find out what retirement living is really like. One thing he can't experience--yet--is that feeling of being in the last stage of life. Perhaps that is one thing that permeates the whole retirement living expeience for most of us. For now, I'll wish Steve well. Check out his blog at

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, February 09, 2009

An Unexpected Benefit of Senior Living: a Clean Carpet

I've always enjoyed relatively good health (arthritic knees excepted), so I never stopped to think about sudden illness and its consequences. Well, suddenly yesterday morning, my digestive system rebelled with some kind of intestinal virus (said to be going around), and I was sick, sick, sick. Of course I've had what we used to call the "stomach flu" before, but it was never this bad. My stomach rejected everything put into it the day before and anything I tried to eat or drink yesterday. Nothing stayed down, nothing. I was weak and miserable all day, and I couldn't move more than a few feet away from a bathroom. I never left my apartment.

After a fairly good night's sleep, I felt a bit better. I thought my stomach was completely empty. Then it happened: whaever was stored in my system decided to come out very quickly, and I didn't make it to the bathroom in time. The result was a badly stained beige carpet, brand new, of course.

Imagine my dismay! This had never happened to me before, and in my pristine highrise apartment, it seemed to be a disaster. That's when a major benefit of living at The Clare appeared: Thelma, the head housekeeper, promptly came in to survey the situation and brought Maurice, with his carpet cleaning machine, in. He said that no stain ever defeated him, and I now believe him. The carpet looks fine, and my embarrassment is fading.

Had something like this happened in my condo, I would have had to wait a long time for outside professional cleaning. It wouldn't have been cheap, either. I'm beginning to appreciate The Clare and the services it offers more and more! As for my health, I'm still weak, but I've managed to retain a glass of orange juice, half a piece of toast, and a scrambled egg. So far, so good. Now to try a bowl of soup for lunch!