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.


Writing Life: Maureen Dowd on our Recent Presidents

Every so often I come across a sentence from a fine writer that hits the nail on the head far better than thousands of words might do. Here it is, from the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd in her eulogy for Bush 41:

If the Clintons are the careless Tom and Daisy Buchanan and Barack Obama is a Camus-like figure of existential estrangement and Donald Trump is a flimflam man out of “Huckleberry Finn,’’ H.W. was Bertie Wooster, an airy WASP propelled to the top by the old boys’ network.”


The whole piece is worth reading, but just this sentence alone will roll around in my mind all day. Why can’t I come up with sentences like that? 🙂

Book Review: Godsend by John Wray

Godsend is an intense book, loosely based on the story of John Walker Lindh — who joined the Taliban out of what feels like a deeply misplaced longing for religious purity. The main character in Godsend is a young woman, eighteen year old Aden Sawyer, whose father is a scholar of Islam although not religiously observant, and whose mother is an alcoholic. Disillusioned by her California life, Sawyer runs away with a  high school friend Decker Yousafzai who presumably has cousins in Pakistan. She cuts her hair short, binds her breasts, and disguises herself as a young man in order to join a madrassa with Decker to study and eventually to cross over into Afghanistan to fight. Sawyer succeeds in deceiving the mullah whose madrassa she joins — sort of — and finds her way to a group being trained to do battle.

The story is graphic in conveying the terrifying danger for this young woman. She survives Decker’s death — he mishandles a bomb during their training and blows himself up. She survives the death of her protector, who knows she is a young woman and seduces her, survives an American drone strike that kills many of her fellow fighters, evades being married off as the second wife of an elderly mullah. We don’t know at the end if she finds her way back, or if she even wants to, but she is still alive.

Young idealistic people often put themselves in danger, and you don’t have to go all the way to join the Taliban in order to do that. In my Peace Corps experience, one of our volunteers had to be permanently evacuated because he challenged a big landowner, who sent people to kill him. Young aid workers in Africa and Asia, who used to be somewhat protected by the sense that they were doing good for the local people, have become targets of forces competing for power and are often in mortal danger. These days Peace Corps volunteers are at much higher risk of dying from readily treatable conditions like dysentery. In the late 1960’s we had a dedicated, U.S. trained Peace Corps physician in Panama City — although you had to get there in order to get help in those pre-cell phone days. The one time I did get really sick, I was too ill to get on a chiva and make the 2 hour ride. Now, volunteers are often treated by local physicians on contract. One young volunteer in China died because fluids were not available fast enough to replace what he was losing through vomiting and diarrhea.

Aden Sawyer is not an especially sympathetic character. She kills an old man during her training to show that she will follow orders without question. She is seeking a kind of purity that no one ever finds — although at eighteen you don’t necessarily know that. But I was deeply drawn into her story, and feared on every page that she would die: through being discovered and unmasked as a deceiver, from a drone strike, from malnutrition and cold, from a knife wound or bullet in battle.

How would Aden find home after what she has seen and done, even if she wanted to?

Writing Life: Booming Stats

WordPress notifies me when my stats are booming, and I can usually figure out what’s happening. Yesterday when I woke up I had 76 page views — a little light. Within 2 hours I had 196 page views. By day’s end the page views topped out at 331 — a good bit over my normal 200, give or take. Yes, that qualifies as “booming stats”. What caused the spike? Someone found my Fremont Solstice Parade naked biker pictures, and took time to look at them all.

I haven’t actually gone to the Solstice Parade in a couple of years. To get a spot good enough to take pictures you have to go by about 10am, and the parade doesn’t start until early afternoon. There are lots of great things to do here in Seattle in June, and standing around for a couple of hours in clouds of pot smoke awaiting the parade has fallen in my list of top choices. But the old pics are still up there, and apparently as interesting as they ever were. 🙂

Switching to a New Phone

I’ve just gotten the new Google Pixel 3 phone, and am trying to switch my two factor authentication to the new phone. Most of the WordPress platform is pretty intuitive, but not this. It’s entirely possible that I will get locked out of my account and being able to post. If that happens, I’ll have to corral Matt to help me or work with tech support at WordPress. If I miss my regular schedule of posting, don’t fear that something is amiss. It’s just me, lost in technology la-la land. 🙂

Book Review Addendum: More on The Witch Elm

I’ve finished Tana French’s The Witch Elm, all 500+ pages of it, and it’s a really good book. Highly recommend. When I last wrote about it, having finished about a quarter of the story, I called it a novel of identity and place.

Beyond that, French gives us the theme very early in the narrative. The young protagonist, Toby,  thinks of himself as a lucky person. Then he tells us, “It’s taken me this long to start thinking about what luck can be, how smoothly and deliciously deceptive, how relentlessly twisted and knotted in on its own hidden places, and how lethal.

You can imagine then, as a reader, that a murder is in the offing — perhaps more than one.

I find the self-identification as “a lucky person” really interesting.

I’m thinking about self-identification because I’m about to conduct a pro bono board retreat, and I have to introduce myself to the participants — briefly. I hate these long winded recitations of everything a consultant has done since the dawn of time. Really, if anyone cares, all of that is available via a quick Google search. Rather, I have to give them a quick sense of who I am as a person, and suggest in a very few words why they should trust that in the time we’ll spend together, they’ll be in good hands.

I’m thinking of saying that I’m Irish in heritage and thus a good storyteller, so they won’t be bored. Then I’d say that I’ve led board retreats a lot, so no matter what happens, I’ll keep the experience on an even keel and bring us to someplace productive at the end. Then I’ll say that I’m an intensely curious person, so I’m really interested in where they are and where they go from here. Interesting … competent… curious. 

Would I also say that I’m lucky? I think not. The context isn’t right — for purposes of our retreat day, they don’t really care if I’m lucky or not.

But do I think I’m lucky? Maybe, if lucky means that a lot of things have worked out for me — albeit with a great deal of hard work and some severe and damaging losses along the way. I wouldn’t say that I’m lighthearted, far from it, if being lucky suggests a certain lightness of heart. Not my persona. But lucky? Maybe.

And you? If you picked three words to describe yourself, would “lucky” be one of them?