“A Long Reach”

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I finished a lengthy book, Successful Aging by Daniel Leviton recently. Nothing particularly groundbreaking came through for me. He mentioned, as do most people, the need for good nutrition, exercise and social engagement. His discussion of the aging brain intrigued me since he pointed out that many blips in memory are normal and not predictive of dementia. When they occur in younger people, he points out, we think of them as scatter brained, not senile.

He did supply  one bit of information that addressed a problem that I hadn’t even realized was a problem. Occasionally I get an aggravating itch in the middle of my back that I can’t reach. Even when I manage to back up against a doorway to scratch it, the itch continues. I have looked to see if the skin on my back was dryer than usual, but that didn’t seem to be true. But Levitin, as an aside, mentioned that this particular itch not only commonly exists as we age, but that it also has a name. He pointed out that the itch is coming from aging nerves, not the surface of the skin.

I cruised the internet for more about this phenomenon and was amazed to see that it is quite common across the world. Most amusing is the speculation that back scratchers were invented to address the itch. Apparently the itch can drive some people to distraction. I will say that just writing about this has encouraged my back to itch!

So if you are older and have a spot that you just can’t reach to scratch, feel relieved. It is just another sign that you are “successfully aging.”

 

“Sewing Circles and Book Clubs”

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Women love to sit around and talk and seem to need an excuse to do so. Sewing circles managed to combine the occasion to talk with a “productive” activity. Just getting together once a week to chat seemed frivolous. My mother belonged to such a group, but it was honestly named “stitch and bitch!” Sewing in a group has gone out of fashion for most contemporary women.

Fortunately we have come up with an equally satisfactory substitute: the book group. Book groups seem to fall into two categories and people complain when they drop into the wrong type by mistake. My church book group fits the type of book club where the discussion is all about the books. People seem uninterested in knowing each other and would feel annoyed by any personal sharing unless it was very clearly “about the book.” I attended it hoping to make new friends and quickly found that was not the place to do so.

The other kind of book club uses the book as an opportunity to get together. In these meetings some people haven’t even finished the book. Rather than being shunned, they are welcomed in for the real purpose of the get-together: schmoozing. A reader coming for a deep literary discussion leaves with the complaint “they never even discussed the book!”

We used to live around the corner from a working man’s (yes only men were ever there) tavern called appropriately “Home Tavern.” Every early evening men sat around drinking cheap beer, smoking cigarettes and talking. I have no idea what they were talking about, though I am sure it wasn’t books. Sadly as the neighborhood gradually gentrified it became a “pub” with expensive beers and women. A welcoming place for men disappeared.

We all need reasons to get together. I wonder if all those people sitting alone in coffee shops looking at their own phones know that.

 

“Sound Choices”

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The first time I realized that sounds would begin to overtake my life happened when the timer on my IPad suddenly played something resembling a John Phillip Sousa march. Not only could I not figure out why that had happened, I also couldn’t figure out(save dunking it in water!) to make it stop. Fortunately the responsible party(culprit to be honest) started laughing. Yes, my then 8 year old grandchild had gone to settings on my IPad and changed the simple one time, one ding sound to a repeating melody to signal the time was up.

Apparently I am supposed to choose all sorts of sounds. My phone offers endless noises, and for a mere 99 cents more I can download new ones. I could note an incoming call by the sound of a howling wolf if I wanted to. Then there is a setting for a message arriving, an email coming, and an email sending. If I am not scrupulous I end up getting “notifications” from all sorts of apps. While I don’t use the GPS feature on my phone, when I traveled with one of my children the voice had been tuned to what sounded like a British rap star. My husband can listen to a purring French woman tell him where to turn. Of course with a family which must have at least 20 devices, none of us know what is beeping, buzzing, singing or dinging.

Most strange are the singing appliances. My “fuzzy logic” rice cooker plays two tunes. I will share Zojirushi’s thoughts on this “And now we’re known for our whimsical, musical and oh-so-familiar “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” tune which plays at the beginning of a setting. And when a course is finished, the lyrical tune of “Amaryllis” plays!” The second tune sounds like the countdown for a quiz show contestant. My LG washing machine, not to be outdone by Zojirushi, adds a ditty at theend of the cycle. Fortunately the dryer, older than the washer, merely buzzes when it is done. I hesitate to buy a new one, fearing another “whimsical, musical and oh-so-familiar” song will haunt me.

I would practice silence, but I would certainly have to leave home!

“Going Dingy!”

Time was that the sounds I heard were pretty predictable. All telephones sounded the same, no matter where they were. The ring was so recognizable that I knew immediately it was the telephone and had the chance to yell “answer the phone.” My alarm clock clanged with an annoying noise that guaranteed I would get up, if only to stop the noise. The door bells I encountered either went “ding dong” or in fancier houses played a set chime melody. The timer we used simply went “ding” when the baking was over. In elementary school there were no bells, only a very intrusive fire alarm sounding once in a while for drills. Car horns all had a similar “honk,” varied only by how long one “lay on the horn.”

But now I am surrounded by a cacophony of noises from my own and other people’s devices. Tomorrow I will introduce you to some of them.

“Louisa, Jo and Me”

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Louisa May Alcott                                       “Little Women” 2019

(If you have never read the novel Little Women or if you have read the novel but have not seen the latest film version of it and you plan to do so, skip this post.)

As a grade school girl, I devoured the novel Little Women, written in 1868 by Louisa May Alcott, a Massachusetts author. I loved many books with four children as the central characters, connecting them with the four children in my own family. In high school I visited Concord, Massachusetts and saw her home, Orchard House, where she wrote the novel. I watched both the 1949 film adaptation of the novel and the 1994 version. As an adult scholar of women’s literature, I learned a great deal about Louisa May Alcott herself. As I did so, I became aware of her need to make money by writing the novel and her preference for her other writing over this book.

Then last week I finally made it to the theater to watch the 2019 film directed by Greta Gerwig. My granddaughter, who had seen the trailer, had no interest in the remake. She told me that she disliked the way the movie seemed to go back and forth in time which she found confusing. It turns out that she was on to something.

The film somehow conflates the story line of the novel with the real life experience of Alcott as a writer. As it goes back and forth from the time the novel is ready for publication to ten years earlier in the fictional home of the girls, it makes no clear distinction between the life of Alcott and the character of Jo. Sometimes it is Alcott who is urged to make the novel have a happy ending. Sometimes it is Jo who is given a happy ending. The blurring between the novel as fiction and as autobiography confused me, even though I am clear which is which in reality.

I truly enjoyed the depiction of the novel, appreciating the distinct character of each girl. The actresses illuminated the real differences among the girls, and they demonstrated equivalent strengths and weaknesses. However, the switching back and forth clearly confused the two women sitting next to us. When a very ill Beth dies they were at sea. I heard them whispering “Did someone die?” “One of the girls I think.”

I have yet to read any reviews of the film, nor have I read any conversations with the director. I wanted to be able to form my own opinions, although my granddaughter had already commented to me. Now I am eager to read about the film. Clearly the director and producer felt the time was ripe to present the book again. I probably would have let the novel, the two earlier movie versions, and the biography of Alcott herself suffice.

 

“HUAC And the Speech Police?

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In 1964 the Senate Committee on Subversive Activities came to Portland and I, along with many others, picketed them. The photo above shows a similar protest in San Francisco. Men with cameras I assume were F.B.I. agents were snapping lots of photos, so I suppose my picture is in some government archive somewhere. What was the committee and why my objection?

This group was the offshoot of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, most famously associated with the relentless hunt for Communists or Communist “sympathizers” which operated in the 1950’s. People were under surveillance for activity considered “unAmerican,” and many times lost their jobs without due process. Reed College, in Portland, let some faculty go during that time for suspected “Red” leanings.

Just as I now strenuously object to the speech police who seem to want to suppress views not “liberal” enough to suit them, I objected then to people whose views were not “American” enough. Then a group of lawmakers determined who was or was not “American” enough. Now a movement, mainly of young adults, has decided what is “enlightened” enough. I have lived long enough to see very little difference between the two extremes.

I grew up understanding that one of the key parts of the Bill of Rights added to the United States Constitution was freedom of speech. It seems that there will always be people eager to contest the idea. And I will continue to disagree with them.

“Say What?”

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I wrote about listening the other day, and then I read in a book about aging how our brain fills in when we only catch part of a word. I found the concept intriguing, and I was then given a chance to see it in action. We went to a lovely restaurant for dinner Saturday night but were next to a very noisy bunch of young adults. The waiter was telling me about the cod special. Since I love cod, I was listening as attentively as possible as he described the dish. Then he said ” it is on a bed of corrabi.” I asked him what he had just said and he repeated “corrabi.” My brain froze. Did I really not know the name of some food after all these years? I stared at my table mates. My husband said “kohlrabi,” with a “k.” Aha. My poor mind was going off in the direction of “correlate,” “correspond,” and “corpulent.” It wasn’t going to get to “kohlrabi” if I had sat there all night!

In a similar vein, my husband yelled at me from the other room. I apparently only heard East Hartford is having a”ar,” “ing” and “an.”  I filled in the phrase making it “East Hartford is getting a marching band.” This made no sense, so I asked him why in a snow storm we were getting a marching band. No. It was “East Hartford is having a parking ban.” Now that made sense.

Kids do the same, trying to learn new words by comparing them to ones they already know. Years ago as I was talking about my forebears, our youngest piped up. “I know about the three bears, but who are the four bears?” When I discussed my Great-Uncle Jimmy, another asked, “is the other our bad Uncle Jimmy?”

As easy as it is to miss meanings, it is amazing that we communicate at all!