Stories I'm hearing

Stories I'm hearing on the street, in the news, etc.

excellent feedback from geriatric practitioners yesterday

Yesterday I spoke for the first time to an audience of medical practitioners at Weill Cornell Medical College/NY-Presbyterian Hospital Dept. of Geriatrics. It was in a beautiful conference room in the Gothic hulk of a building next to the East River where my daughter was born 28 years ago next week. I opened with an anecdote from a friend who brought his 83-year-old mother in to the family doctor for a check-up—she was in a wheelchair after a stroke—and when they came into his office the doctor said, “Are you still around?”

 

"islands of land in the abyss"

 "Keeping the Conversation Going: A Daughter Speaks to her Mother Across the Memory Loss Divide" is the title of this moving short memoir by Margaret Morgenroth Gullette, author of the brilliant Agewise. The abyss, of course, is memory loss, and Gullette describes learning to focus on the very real pleasures in what remains. "My mother, too, was a self — living, often contentedly, on islands of land in the abyss," she writes. "I made a decision to live with her on those islands."

Use it or lose it.

I knew that applied to neurons and gift certificates, but I had no idea it was true of female genitalia. That tissues grew thinner and dryer after menopause, yes, but not that visitor-free vaginas can actually atrophy: grow shorter and narrower. I didn’t know it because no one ever talked about it, any more than they talked about how people can enjoy satisfying, passionate sex into their 90s—if they make it a priority and embrace the ways sex changes over time. 

“They see gray hair and they just write you off.”

So says Arynita Armstrong, 60, of Willis, Texas, who’s been looking for work for five years after losing her job at a mortgage company. “They’re afraid to hire you, because they think you’re a health risk. You know, you might make their premiums go up. They think it’ll cost more money to invest in training you than it’s worth it because you might retire in five years.” Armstrong is quoted in a front-page article in the Sunday New York Times about the recession’s toll on workers in their 50s and early 60s.

 

mellowness awaits, Stephanie

I’m putting a flyer together for my upcoming talk at the KGB Bar, and ran it past a colleague who’s a designer. She got halfway through the headline—“a monologue about why Americans are so ambivalent about growing old”—and blurted, “I’m not ambivalent about it!”

 “How do you feel about getting old?” I asked.

 “I’m terrified!”

 “Do you want to die young?” Stephanie shook her head. 

 “Then you’re ambivalent.” D’oh. 

a definition of wisdom I can live with

I’ve long been leery of the way wisdom is bandied about as an auto-accessory of old age, like spryness and shrinking. It doesn’t come with the territory, and its association with passivity has political repercussions. (See “against wisdom.”) But I just came across a wonderful definition from a San Francisco-based psychologist named Todd Finnemore, whom I interviewed in May, 2010, when I was investigating why medical practitioners choose to work with older populations.

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