Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ladies, Start your Engines: One, Two, Three, Talk!

It seems to me that recently I have had a lot of glitchy spots in my speech, groping for words and ideas when I have a conversation.  I often think, “Gee, I am sounding kind of slow here, having some retrieval problems.”  This becomes more noticeable when visiting and talking a lot, as when my friend came to stay with me last month for our yearly talkathon. And at my age, I have been prone to just write this off to the famed and expected third stage memory loss.

I’m beginning to think, however, that this is more likely just lack of practice.  In my forties, I learned in graduate school that most academics have wonderful facility in remembering concepts, ideas, authors, citations - all kinds of tiny details they so easily store and access off the top of their heads.  I greatly admired this, but I could not do it. At least not when I started.  But by the time I graduated it was becoming second nature to me as well, and I believe if I had continued in school I would have become as proficient with details as those I admired.  It seemed to me then that it was the constant verbal exchange and intercourse, pushing always for more detail and cohesion of argument, that trained me to think better and consequently speak better. 

Now, I have a fulltime job where I might speak only to a few people all day - and that only for minutes - in addition to the fact that I really like and have expanded my alone time in the mornings before work.  I interact with others in the evenings and on weekends, but mostly with undemanding family and friends.  So, I think my verbal skills have atrophied, and when I cannot recall the word I need it is because my mind has not verbally exercised these last years.  Could it become as sharp as it was?  That is an unknown without actually trying (and where would I find the practice anyway?), but I am not ready to concede that it is the years that are tying my tongue.

Children are not the only ones who need to practice talking. If we spend all our time in less-than-challenging environments, if our main conversation revolves around what we are watching on the television, if we are mostly silent even if reading, we will find our memories and our tongues missing things. This is not to say that there won’t be some slowdown as we age, but I am just not sure that it is as necessary as others seem to think.  I can name several 80-year-olds who are still teaching and/or exhibit no slowdown of comprehension or lack of vocabulary.  There are always the exceptions to the rule of course, but memory and language practice certainly cannot hurt:  take classes, join  book clubs, take tours, socialize and participate.

So, Ladies, start your engines:  one, two, three,  talk!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fear and Loathing in Sun City

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

The longer I am out here blogging, the more I see that a very large issue among third stagers is fear. By far the most viewed post I have written was about taking risks and, in response to a recent post about cynicism, I received an email comment defending it as "risk insurance."

Choosing to be happy takes a degree of fearless risk-taking.  The Happy Person can be a blip on the emotional radar of many people who have chosen to be mean or spiteful at that moment; these people seeing their behaviors towards the Happy Person as not being mean or spiteful but being cautionary and supportive of "reality." 

Apparently if you are openly happy you are asking for trouble. It's one point of view.

And of course it is true that our culture instills fear in elders for profit, to get us to buy devices, live in security buildings, dose ourselves with medications, buy more insurance. Is it any wonder that we are afraid to answer the phone once we know that we are the most-targeted victims of scams in the universe? That younger people expect we won't be able to remember who called us anyway?

It is a maddeningly madder world all the time. Everything changes, and the older we get, the faster that happens. It is confusing to our, um, more deliberate brains, and learning curves are steep. Electronic devices send cultural trends spinning out like viruses and reality shows (whatever happened to entertainment?) create new celebrities so fast you can't learn to spell their names before they are gone. It is easy to give up trying to keep up. It is easy to feel ineffectual.

Add to this the general paranoia induced by terrorist alerts, school shooters, police riots, and the unbelievable amount of societal violence we live with today, and how do we NOT feel like a victim? How do we maintain our ability to take a reasonable risk - like taking the bus to a class, traveling abroad alone, or walking home from a movie after dark?

I would like to know what readers do to keep up their attitude. I would say that gathering information before I believe anything has been my best defense. As a close follower of the political, I learned long ago to disbelieve most everything I read or see, after a few years almost not hearing the lies at all, as if I were teflon and they wouldn't stick. This condition was brought about by a lot of research to find out for myself what to believe - almost never what I had heard. It is the same whether social security is about to tank or there is a terrorist in every basement, if you take the time to look things up and compare stories, to read some history, to think about what you are being told, it is likely to be personally less frightening and more enabling.

However you do it, don't be afraid to be your own advocate. You can choose to not feel like a victim. Do what makes you happy: go out and dance, shop, travel, sing in a choir. Don't hide your light under a barrel, and don't let the buggers get you down.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Grandmother Effect

A few years ago, I was invited to a retreat being held with a native Hawaiian shaman at the home of some friends.  I am interested in the manipulation of electrons and the use of focus and intention to forward our lives, and so I thought I could hardly pass on the opportunity for his perspective.  It was a very long drive to the far North Shore near Canada, and it being winter, the last couple of hours in and the first couple of hours out were spent in white-knuckled snowblindedness, so I felt the price was high; but I came away with lasting thoughts.

The shaman's story, which is about the power in his native culture, is about grandmothers.  One group member wanted to know if he did not mean to say, “grandmothers and grandfathers, or ancestors.”  “No,” he said; “I did not.  Women are more powerful than men because they create life, not just attend to it. And so they are more important.”

I had grandmothers, one on each side.  They were integral to my life until I left home, and they have been an overarching influence on my pathway ever since.  I have “asked” them for advice many times, much less help in awful situations, even with them gone now for thirty years. They taught me their different strengths, having kind of breathed them into me when I was little, me unaware of the teaching. Like my own grandchildren (I hope) I wanted to be with them both because of their unquestioning devotion, their complete dedication to my needs and wants, and their staunch defense of my growing consciousness. 

Grandmothers are big in evolutionary theory these days: computer modeling tells anthropologists that because of grandmothers, humans were more prolific, life became extended, and men changed their preferences to monogamy (Discovery, 9/8/2015). Of course we did. A love so strong we lived into feebleness in order to help.

"Older women of the tribe spent their days collecting foods for their grandchildren. Except for humans, all other primates and mammals collect their own food after weaning.
Hawkes, from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah, proposed that when grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren after weaning, their daughters could produce more children at shorter intervals.
They then used computer modelling to show that by allowing their daughters to have more children, those ancestral females who lived long enough to become grandmothers passed their longevity genes to more descendants, who had longer adult lifespans as a result.
The team’s computer simulations showed from a start point of just 1 per cent of women living to grandmother age within 24,000-60,000 years about 43 per cent of adult women are grandmothers — a figure consistent with today’s hunter-gatherer populations."
The theory posits that the reason for menopause is that we wanted to stop having babies ourselves so we could help our daughters have theirs - or gain an "evolutionary advantage" as the scientists say (Grandmother Hypothesis, Wikepedia). Of course we did. A love so strong it changed the way our bodies function. 

I wonder now if my own grandmothers consciously taught me what they knew, how much they thought about being examples, how much they trusted to intuition for their roles in my life. Or if they just acted out of their natural instinct to serve and protect me, and to give me everything they knew how to give.

Of course we did. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Physiology of Appreciation

"Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier."

This is a quote from an interesting article I ran across last night: Four Rituals that Will Make You Happy, that explains the neurochemistry of thought. Fabulous that such studies can now be made, a bit frightening to think of joy reduced to serotonin and dopamine, but it made me reflect on all the advice I hear about being grateful, counting your blessings; old advice for the New Age.  Personally, I wonder how it is that people are not grateful on an ongoing basis, because everything I see every day inspires in me a sense of wonder - I marvel at how the universe works, how it can operate on such a massive and yet intimate scale, how can it all WORK!

I spend most of my thoughts on how I fit into it all and how I can keep coping with the inexorable flow, the mad ride down the rapids that is my life. And now I read the physiology of appreciation, how we create our responses and mold our attitudes, and how we can do consciously what I have done unconsciously for all my years. It must be true, because while I have bad days and down times, I have never had what anyone would call depression. And here I thought I was just special when, as with all things in this marvelous universe, there is a plan, a recipe for joy.

Other people who obviously carry with them the same wonder and appreciation for such magnificence are scientists and artists and teachers and historians, people of any ilk who feel a passion for figuring out how we work. Scientists want to understand the mechanics: physicists and chemists and biologists and engineers. Artists want to capture emotional realities, to examine how we feel what we feel. Historians and archaeologists pick away at the scope of existence over time and the impossible layering of memory it brings. What is memory? What does it give us? Why do we have it? What are our own responsibilities toward it? Why are we here?

For me, it is hard to understand how a mind so occupied could become depressed at all, and therein lies my saving grace, and I appreciate it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Poem for Gabriel

Little RA burst into life,
demanding clearly “Fix me first
and we shall see if you can be
the kind of folks to handle me.
If you can do that, possibly,
I’ll let you take a shot at me.”

So much to see and learn and feel,
so hard to balance on the wheel
of life in time; impatience reigns
when wants must play through weeks and days.

So quick to shoot his blinding rays
to tender mountaintops and glee,
to sharper edges beckoning
as well to flow right over.

He will reach his arms to these
the edges, smiling, joyful haste
in light we’ll teach him not to waste
and then stand back and watch him – pulsing –

A father’s dream, a rooster fine
with mind enough to walk the line
his mother teaches – possibly,
probably in fact. If we
are just as quick and strong as he,
Little RA will grow to be the sun.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Poem for Emma

I have been reading a lot of senior blogs and, surprisingly, have found little about grandchildren. Perhaps we just don't want to wear people out with our joy!  Here is the first of two poems about my own.

(This is Emma’s Grammy’s poem about Emma)

Big Things in Small Packages

This child, like any child,
is full and round and fervently living
giving her gift of naïve luminescence
to light my dark path near the end of the road.
My progeny, dearest of all human things,
rings my heart with smiles.

I know that she is Special, has Needs,
but what I see is the full-force life
of one who chooses to take the best
out of living and leave the rest.
I am incredibly blessed
that her soul is here to remind me.

She peeks at me from tiny perfection
and grabs my hand for wide-eyed protection
but I am not sure whether hers or mine:
her eyes so shine with love and affection
I would walk with her 
to the edge of the world and back.

She trusts me to teach her but
trying to reach her becomes a big game;
she teases and shines me ahead or behind me,
child of my heart, her soul does remind me
to joyfully go on down that road
to where the water tastes like wine.