Conscious Aging: June 20 #1

Here’s where we are so far. I had a biopsy, which we think revealed a tumor. It will take a week or so for the pathology to come back, tumor board to convene, decide on next steps, and meet with us to move forward. Right now there are six or seven teams involved: Neurology, Neuro Oncology, Infectious Disease [Panama TB exposure 50 years ago], Pulmonology [uncles’ farms in Iowa 50 years ago with bare feet in hay that might have funguses], Hematology [IgA] —  you get the idea. Each team comes with an Attending [50-ish], a fellow [close to 40?],  then in descending order a resident, intern, and medical student. The UW is a good teaching hospital and the docs are whip smart, many of them young women. The nurses are uneven — probably all baseline competent, but some stars and some merely well intentioned. Because of the very remote chance of latent TB I was in an isolation room with negative air pressure and everyone on staff who came in had to wear protective gear. Due to HIPPA rules the people who had access to my charts had extra work gearing up but were unworried. The food people and cleaning staff and people who drew blood were terrified. I could have had a 50 year old positive TYNE test or current Ebola or Aids. When I went down for CAT scan everyone looked at me, masked, as if I was Typhoid Mary.

In a week or so, one of these teams will be primary and we will have a plan.

My focus writing about this will be my experience of being in a very new and unknown place. Some will be medical details, but most what I think and feel. Starting this weekend we will password-protect posts related to this journey. We’ll be sending an email with the password information to friends and family. We will include a post here on how to request the password for any blog followers who we might accidentally miss.  The protected password for kids is the same. I still will write occasional political and random posts as I can, but I’m sort of done with Trump. I agree with Nancy Pelosi. He’s not worth it.

The Dems races interests me, though. I have three male friends whose political instincts I trust, and we’re back and forth on Biden. I think he will fade. They think he will win the nomination and defeat Trump and Mitch McConnell will walk from the dark side into the light.

When pigs fly, I say.

So, three possible posts on any given day: #1 kid pics, restricted to those who already have that password.  #2 General, open posts like this. And, #3, my health — password coming.

Book Review: Gilead

Gilead, a 2004 novel by Marilynne Robinson, is a quiet meditation on leading a moral life. The narrator is a 77 year old pastor, still preaching to a waning congregation in his dilapidated church in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, speaking to the 7 year old son he will never see grow up, hoping to share a reflective life. My sister in law Jeannie recommended the book to me; she said she’d found it profoundly moving and thought I might too. If you know Kent Haruf’s work, the quietness of Marilynne Robinson’s novel will remind you of that.

By happenstance I was reading Gilead just as the college admissions cheating scandal broke out, just as young Miss Olivia Jade Giannulli, a beneficiary of the scam, was on YouTube pronouncing herself uninterested in her USC education, just in the tailgating and parties and lucrative social media opportunities that are now hers as an “influencer”. College students haven’t lived long enough to have complex moral lives, but the particular vacuousness of this young woman is breathtaking.

Gilead made me think of Ana, Minga’s daughter. Ana is in her mid-60’s. She’s raised five children to adulthood. She and Raul have had their fifteen year old granddaughter Miley since infancy, raising her too. And for the last year of Minga’s life, Ana devoted herself to her mother’s care, getting up at 3am three days a week to launch her household into the day before getting Minga to dialysis on the bus well in advance of the sun coming up. Last November I asked Ana how long she could do this exhausting and emotionally draining schedule, and she said without a shred of self-pity or complaint “As long as my mother needs me.”

Ana and the narrator of Gilead share much in common: they lead richly moral lives in quiet, out of the way places with recognition from no one and little by way of financial reward.

One of the reviews of Gilead suggested that you need the underpinning of an observant Christian life to really understand the book. I don’t think so. I found the book a little slow to start, but then I got into the rhythm of it. This is the rhythm of my Iowa grandparents and aunts and uncles who gathered on the farm for Sunday dinner after church. Nothing much happened, after the hard physical labor of the week. Sunday was the day to rest, to be present, to share a meal, to honor each other’s good and decent lives.

I wish Olivia Jade could get off the USC trustee’s yacht in the Bahamas and into a book like Gilead, which they might even teach in an English Lit class at the university, were she to bother attending.

Gilead isn’t a new book, but it’s available on Kindle. Highly recommend.

Reading Michelle Obama

For Christmas a friend gave me Michelle Obama’s new book Becoming. I didn’t take it to Panama, as it’s the hard cover print edition and weighs a lot more than my Kindle. I’m deep into in now, and relishing the read.

Atlantic reviewer Hannah Giorgis has a phrase about Michelle Obama that encapsulates our former First Lady’s entire life: conspicuous excellence.

Barack Obama chose politics and the minute scrutiny and public judgment that follows. Michelle Obama didn’t. But she took the conspicuous excellence of her life up to that point and created an iconic model of what a First Lady might be. Hard not to contrast the rich family life and warm public welcome to the White House that the First Lady created with what we have now: a pinched, angry president roaming the White House alone and Melanie barely to be seen. No cultural events. No welcoming school children, or speaking up for the education of girls around the globe. No anything, really.

I am continually amazed that the Republican family values crowd loves the morally vacuous Trumps, and was withering — and often overtly racist — in its criticism of the Obamas. Remember the West Virginia woman who called Michelle Obama an “ape in heels”? Or the Wisconsin Congressman who said Mrs. Obama had a “big butt”?

The Obamas were and are surrounded by a strong network of family and black professional friends. I always thought that part of what enraged the people who became Trump’s base was the Obamas’ ease with who they are. They don’t try to act white or pass or get along in white culture. One of my Iowa relatives included me on an email chain that derided Michelle Obama as “uppity” — until I asked firmly to be taken off my cousin’s distribution list. The Make America White Again crowd tolerates, barely, blacks who signal subservience and a desire to fit in. People like my cousin, a woman you’d find gracious and lovely if you met her, are infuriated by the slightest whiff of whatever constitutes “uppity” for them.

I hope we haven’t seen the end of Michelle Obama’s public life, although I’m sure it won’t include a run for public office. I hope she keeps on being uppity, out there, speaking up and speaking out. I’ll be fascinated to see how she and former President Obama, who are still quite young for a post-presidency, yet again create new lives.

And I hope she writes another book.

Reading V.S. Naipaul

The much-recognized Trinidadian-British author with Indian heritage, V.S Naipaul, died in August of 2018 at the age of 85. During Naipaul’s lifetime he won the Nobel Prize and the Booker Prize for his writing, among many other awards and recognitions. I’d never read any of his work, and decided that I should tackle something to round out my reading life. Naipaul’s focus was place and identity, which are of interest to me. I chose A House for Mr Biswas, published in 1961 and the first of Naipaul’s novels to achieve wide acclaim.

The book is based loosely on Naipaul’s father’s life, and runs to 578 pages. I have to say that by page 200, and probably a lot sooner, the reader knows that Mr Biswas is never going to get a house that doesn’t get blown away, that doesn’t fall apart, that he doesn’t get turned out of by his wife’s overbearing relatives. Mr Biswas dies at age 46, and he never gets that house — or a solid and stable identity, if that’s what the house stands in for.

This is a sweeping opus of post-colonial Trinidad, not without interest but for me a bit of a slog. I usually try hard to finish a book once I start, and I did finish here. Perhaps part of my frustration was reading about Mr Biswas while I was in Panama, where so much of what Naipaul wrote about was unspooling in front of my eyes in real time — and more powerful than any version of that reality in print. There’s not much solid and stable about the stark poverty in rural Panama either.

I’m glad I read the book, although I probably won’t read any more of Naipaul’s extensive list of highly acclaimed novels. Would I recommend it to you? Only if you enjoy a complex and detailed novel in which the end is evident from the moment you begin to read.

Writing My Blog Posts: A Little Off-Schedule

When in Seattle I usually write my blog posts for the next day in the evening, and then post before I go to bed for early east coast readers.  At this time of year, if I post after 10pm I get the next day’s date — which means the WordPress server is on central time. In Panama, I posted in the early morning because I would have had to stay up until midnight to get the next day’s date.

I got yesterday’s posts in during the trip and after my arrival home, but here are today’s posts. Hope to be back on regular schedule by tomorrow, with early posting of new material.

Word of the Day: Opsimathy

You know that I love coming across words I’ve never seen before. Here’s one: opsimathy. I came across the word in Susan Gubar’s 2018 memoir, Late-Life Love. Gubar isn’t being pretentious in her writing. She’s a longtime English professor, with a vocabulary and stable of literary references to match.

Opsimathy is learning that begins or continues late in life.

My friend Ada, who is older than I and teaches courses in World War I to other older adult learners, engages in opsimathy. 🙂

Ada herself can be referred to as an opsimath.

Wouldn’t that look great on a business card?

Writing Life: My Year in the Blog

At the end of each year I take a look at my blog stats, to get a year-long overview of who came, from where, in what numbers, and for what posts. I worked all of my adult life to metrics. Seems as if taking note of the metrics is just something I can’t give up. I don’t earn money from my blog, or even attempt to, so I’m not trying to demonstrate anything to anyone, much less to an advertiser. I just like taking a look. Here, in case you’re interested, is your window into a blog author’s view.

I’ve been writing daily since 2009. I started on my first long trip to Panama, having found Minga again in 2008 while in Panama City with daughter Sara on a consulting trip. Writing the blog, especially in retirement, is a key organizing principle of my day. The way I find something to write about hasn’t changed since I started. During our working years, interesting things come to us unbidden. In retirement, we have to pay attention. If I don’t see three or four things every day interesting enough to write about, I’m not attending to my life and the preciousness of being here. Put in a more positive way, finding the beauty and mystery and humor of life is my personal spiritual discipline.

I’ve written 10,828 posts since I started, and had 625,030 page views. That means my 75,547 viewers read multiple posts. Some readers come every day, some occasionally, some binge now and again, and some come only once for a particular topic they found through a search engine. My biggest single day of readership was March 11, 2011, when there was a tsunami warning off the Pacific Coast and people were frantically trying to get news online to see if their Panama relatives and friends were safe. They found my blog, and I posted numerous times during the day, answering what questions I could.

I have 623 followers, who are people who’ve signed up to be pinged when a new post appears.

My top five commenters are Phyllis, Katie, Ada, J., Joyce.

I had 82,277 page views, slightly up from last year.

My top five countries from which readers came are the U.S., Panama, Germany, U.K., and India. Those countries are followed by Canada, France, Mexico, Australia, Switzerland, Hong Kong SAR China, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, Romania, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Philippines, China, Austria, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Turkey, Thailand, Chile, Hungary, Malaysia, South Korea, Sweden, Cayman Islands,  Singapore, Greece, Bahamas, Finland, New Zealand, Portugal, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ireland, EU, Croatia, UAE, Israel, Bangladesh, Norway, Pakistan, Argentina, Denmark, Colombia, Nepal, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Dominican Republican, Venezuela, Kenya, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Slovakia, Puerto Rico, Lithuania, Qatar, Honduras, Congo, Libya, Peru, Armenia, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Slovenia, Paraguay, Georgia, Iceland, Taiwan, Belarus, Jordan, Cameroon, Costa Rica, MacauSAR China, Jersey, Lebanon, El Salvador, Jamaica, Morocco, American Samoa, Luxembourg, Bolivia, Albania, Trinidad & Tobago, Cambodia, Macedonia, Palestinian Territories, U.S. Virgin Islands, Ecuador, Estonia, Cypress, St. Lucia, Faroe Islands, Iraq, St. Kitts and Nevis, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Oman, Brunei, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Sint Maarten, Rwanda, Guatemala, Tanzania, Belize, Myanmar, Sudan, Gabon, Antigua & Barbuda, Uruguay, Aruba, Cote d’Ivoire, Bahrain, Senegal, Uganda, Mozambique, Laos, Malta, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Barbados, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Moldova, Curacao, Mongolia, Zimbabwe.

I think that list is very exciting. It still amazes me that someone in Zimbabwe can not only find my blog, but find something interesting there to read.

These are probably the most interesting stats. There are others, like what search engines people use, and what are the most popular posts: the Panama stuff, grand-parenting, and aging.

I love writing, and I love that you continue to read. Thank you for being part of this writing adventure, for sharing your thoughts with me either in the Comments or privately, and for being part of my reading/writing community. Looking forward to our reading/writing life in the new year.


Read This Just Because It’s Funny

We read things for all kinds of reasons: to be informed, or inspired, to enlarge our understanding of the world, to be comforted, to find wisdom in the words of a kindred spirit or even from an ideological opposite, to martial arguments with facts from sources broader than our own. We read fiction from writers whose sentences are beautiful. We read non-fiction to fill in the caverns of our historical ignorance.

Sometimes we read things just because they are funny. This story, about ordering a box of crickets online to be fed to a pet bearded dragon lizard, is simply hilarious. Enjoy.

Who Do You Read?

I subscribe to several news sources — NY Times, Washington Post, the Atlantic, New Yorker, the London Guardian — and I read extensively every day. I was moved to wonder how I choose what I read, because even with the considerable amount of time I put in, I can’t read everything. I find that I read as much by journalist as I do by topic. In other words, I always click on a story by Linda Greenhouse or Tom Friedman in the New York Times. I read Robin Wright in the New Yorker, Jill Abramson in the London Guardian, David Farenthold in the Washington Post, Brian Stelter and Chris Cilizza on CNN. Peter Beinart in the Atlantic. I read other things too, but I never pass by a story written by one of these journalists.

How about you? Are you a reader, a follower of current events? Do you read by topic, or by journalist? What’s a topic, or a journalist, that you never pass by unopened or unread?

Blogging: Beginning to Take Stock of My Year

For many people, shorter forms of communication like Twitter have supplanted blogs as a means of staying in touch. I find Twitter too short for the kind of reflection I like to do on a daily basis. The blog form, 250-500 words, suits me. Fortunately, I have a core group of regular readers for whom that length and my choice of topic are interesting enough to keep coming. At year end, I like to take a look at where, and what, people have chosen to read. I’ll do the major assessment a little closer to the end of the year, but I couldn’t resist taking a preliminary look now.

I expect to come in with roughly the same # of page views as last year, about 80,000. I’m not growing the blog much any more, although I continue to get new followers: 621 at current count. But I still have enough of a readership to keep going. Blog readers from countries around the world continue to find individual posts that they click on and read. My biggest three countries in terms of readership for Dec. 20 were the United States, Bangladesh, and Hungary. I know that people in those countries clicked on something, but not exactly what they read. My biggest three countries thus far for all of 2018 are the United States, Panama, and Germany.

My biggest single day of readership happened in 2014, when there was a tsunami warning for the Pacific coast in Panama. The villa I rent is only a few hundred feet from water’s edge, so we were on high alert. People with family and friends in Panama found my blog, and wrote frantically to see what was happening. I updated the blog every hour, and answered as many individual queries as I could: for example, was someone on the Caribbean coast of Panama in danger if the tsunami warning was for the Pacific coast? The answer is no.

The reason I write hasn’t changed since the blog began in 2009. I take it as a personal spiritual discipline to be present to the world around me, and present with the people I encounter. I assume there should be 3-4 things every day that are interesting enough to write about. If not, I’m not paying attention to the precious journey that is life. The impetus for starting the blog in 2009 was my first extended trip back to Panama, after finding Minga in 2008 during a consulting trip to the country. As stories were pouring out of me, a friend said, “You know, you really ought to write this stuff down.” The Panama thread has remained one of the core topics I write about, along with grandparenting, aging, politics, getting to know Seattle, and a lot of random stuff.

More to come by year end on stats for the blog this year. Glad to answer any questions you might have as a reader, and always glad to hear your comments.