Monday, January 25, 2016


  Let me admit the truth of it up front, dear reader. I am here today to ask for your help. Actually, before I am through I’ll be daring you to step up and lend a hand. I promise that I’m not selling anything and it won’t cost your a cent. The fifteen-second favor I am asking can be accomplished without ever leaving this page. I hope you will bear with me as I explain why I am asking.
  To begin with, it had been a long time since someone looked me straight in the eye and said, “I dare you.” If anything, it had the sound of kids’ stuff---a grade-school play ground bluff. That was certainly my first reaction. What else could I do but laugh it off---at least until my friend repeated his challenge? By then I could tell that he was as serious as could be.
  A few minutes earlier our conversation had veered off course to settle on my October Years blog, specifically my quiet declaration that I was probably nearing the end of that involvement. As I have mentioned before on these pages, it felt like I had said about all I had to say on the matter. Absent some new insight, or until I finish a new story that lent itself to a blog conversation, what reason was there to keep going?
  I wasn’t particularly disappointed when he accepted the possibility of my blogging retirement without objection. Though I knew he was not a regular follower, he had admitted to reading a few of my posts. Dwelling on what he considered the unfortunate reality of October was not his cup of tea. 
  “So you’re putting your blog to bed,” he nodded. “Will anyone even know it’s gone? Will anyone care?”
  “Will anyone care?” I repeated to myself. What the hell gave him the right to ask a question like that? What did he know about anything?
  “Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure there will be folks who know it’s gone,” I replied. “And probably a few who will even care.” 
  “Not many, I’m guessing,” he answered. “Young folks don’t read stuff like that. Hell, they can’t imagine being that old. And most of us old ones don’t like to be reminded. So who does that leave to read your October Years stuff?”
  By then I was not ready to meekly submit to his blunt critique, though of course he might have been right. I had invested too much in my blog to go quietly--especially when I had hard facts that refuted his dubious doubts. By the time I returned to our conversation I was ready for a little tasteful bragging.
  “I can’t tell you if those readers are young or old,” I explained. “But I do know that they show up four or five hundred times each month. That may not be much as blogs go, but the number keeps growing---so there are some folks out there who stop by to check it out.”
  “But do they like what they find there?” he asked. “The parts I’ve read don’t strike me as all that entertaining.”
  “Entertaining?” I protested. “What’s that got to do with anything.” 
  By then I was reminding myself that a fellow has to be careful about his bragging. True, I had a couple numbers to throw at him, details the blog-master keeps track of. They were enough to impress me, but even with those facts on my side there were some seriously awkward holes in my blog logic.
  “Truth is,” I continued. “I don’t know what those folks think about the stuff I post. I know how many “hits” we get---how many times the site is visited. Do all those folks read it from beginning to end? I doubt it. And if they did, I have no way of knowing if they like it or not.”
 “They don’t leave comments or anything?" he asked.
  “Nah. Seems like my readers are not the “commenting” kind.”
  “But you were saying earlier that they check in from all over the world. How many of those foreigners are apt to read the whole thing?”
   Again, he was testing my logic. “I don’t know,” I confessed. “Every week I hear from places all over the world---Russia, China, the UK, South Korea, and a bunch of other countries. The blog software keeps track of that. Chances are some of those folks arrive by mistake, and move on without reading anything. I hope most of them stick around long enough to read it. But I’ll never know for sure.”
   He was warming to his task, ready to dig a little deeper. “You say you’re about to close up your October Years tent---and become an ex-blogger. Right?”
   “I think so.”
 “You think you’ve pretty well said everything you have to say. True?”
   “Yeah. That’s right.”
  “But you don’t know how many of the folks who find your blog even bother to read it. I’m guessing you’d like to know that, wouldn’t you? Whether I liked or not my friend was on to something, and not ready to let go. 
  “So here’s the deal,” he continued. “Before you close the door behind you, why don’t you try to answer those two questions---do people read your blog, and where are they checking in from?”
    Where the heck was he going with this, I wondered. I didn’t know, so I asked. “What do you mean? How would I do that? There's nobody out there who even has those answers.”
  “How about them---your readers? Or maybe I should say, the ones you hope are your readers, though you don’t really know that for sure.”
    His grin had turned a bit snarky, even sinister, or so it looked to me. “They have those answers, don’t they. If you want to know---and I think you do---sounds like they are the ones you’ll have to ask.”
   And that, dear reader, is where things stood when we parted company that afternoon. Though our conversation had ended, the seeds he had planted were already taking root. True, I was preparing to wind down my active involvement as an October Years blogger. And true, I would be leaving with a couple questions that have the feel of unfinished business.
   Of the 16,000+ times someone has landed on the October Years blog site, how many times was it a purposeful visit? What did the visitors who actually took the time to read a given post think of what they found there? And just as intriguing, where were those folks logging in from?
  Most hits, of course, come from the US. But beyond that, are there really October seniors in Slovakia and South Korea and the UK who are following what I post? Dozens of hits from those places and many others continue to show up each week. Why is that? It took a few days for me to settle on what came next. In the end I suppose it was his parting shot that nudged me over the edge.
  “Maybe you don’t want to know the truth,” he had suggested. “Chances are you’ll be disappointed if you know how few really pay attention to what you're saying. But if you really do want to know, the only way to find out for sure is to ask those readers---the ones who actually read your stuff. I think you should do that.”
   He paused at that point, with a smirky little grin, ready to play his trump card. “Actually, I dare you---hell, I double dare you---to give those so-called readers of yours a chance answer, or not answer, those questions.”
    And that brings me to the favor, and the dare, I mentioned earlier. Just below these lines, at the end of this post, is a prompt that reads---”Post a Comment.” When you click on that you will be asked whether you want to comment under your own online name or anonymously. If you want to keep it simple just scroll down and click on the “Anonymous” line. With that your reply will be absolutely faceless.
    By simply offering your comment you are confirming that you have actually read the post. That is one of the things I want to know. Beyond that, the only information I am asking for is---where are you located? Just fill in a city and state, a country, or anything else that tells me where you are. That’s it. I hope you will take me up one that. In fact, I’m daring you to do that.
    Once you’ve entered your location click on the “I am not a robot” box, and then “Publish.” Without divulging any personal information you have provided the details I want to know. If you feel called on to add anything else to your comment that is up to you.
  Finally, for those of you who are interested in such things, clicking on the “Comment” tag will take you to all the responses we have received. Hopefully, there will be a least a few.
    I will thank you in advance for your reply. FYI---in the old days there would have been a six-pack riding on my friend’s dare. This time around we’ve settled on a glass of modestly cheap wine.

    Thanks for your help,

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Elder Orphans - an October Epiphany

  It doesn’t happen all that often, but I do enjoy finding a new way to make an important point, especially when it comes straight out of the blue. 
 For ten years I have ranted and raved that late-life, our October Years, works best as a shared effort, two of us facing October together. I have written whole books that make that case---following my very senior Tanner Chronicles friends as they stumble toward the relationship they hope will help support them in October and beyond. 
 Having spent so much ink stressing the importance of their search, and its possible impact on their often intimidating future, you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I came across an effective and incredibly descriptive way of defining my friends’ dilemma---in just two words.
 Elder Orphan. Take a moment to repeat those words out loud. To me they have the ring of an epiphany---a striking, suddenly revealed truth. In two short, well-defined words is captured the essence of a  growing, wide-spread October Years crisis. 
 Lest you think my not-so-nimble mind has created that simple, yet startling insight, I am happy to credit a Huffington Post blog by Carol Marak (, part of an extended blog series on Aging Alone that addresses Elder Orphan problems and possibilities from a personal perspective.
 As a label “Elder Orphan” is both catchy, and amazingly accurate. It is the term  Marak uses to frame her own unsettling questions. 
 “Who will care for us?” she asks. “Who will look out for us? Dealing with late-life complexities is hard enough in the best of circumstances, But who will help us---the aging, childless, single---when we are alone?”
 Those “lonely ones” are the Elder Orphans. Like their infant counterparts, they are literally on their own at a distressingly vulnerable time of life, and just as much in need of the relational support of a caring “someone.”
 Chances are they are socially and physically isolated, living without a family member or surrogate. They are lonely, often depressed, and dealing deteriorating decision-making capacity. To make matters worse they are not even acknowledged as a group that needs help.
 And what about the help many of those orphans are bound to need over time? According to Ms. Marak a recent AARP report offers little solace, confirming that the demand for elder caregivers continues to grown faster than the supply. In the face of funding shortfalls and rapidly increasing costs, Caregiver per Orphan ratios are steadily declining across the county. Being an Elder Orphan is not about to get easier.
 Though I was operating without that label, I have been telling stories about Elder Orphans for all that time. Perhaps the best example I can offer from my writing is Johnny Blanton, from Best Friends and Promises. He lives in a senior complex, surrounded by neighbors who scarcely acknowledge his presence. Though he would be unwilling to admit as much, in many important ways Johnny has become an orphan.

For all his gregarious instincts Johnny Blanton led a spartan, decidedly isolated existence, the unfortunate result of circumstances over which he had little control. In the course of his four year residency in the County operated Senior Housing Complex he had concluded that his neighbors, as a group, suffered from a multitude of shared failings. To a person they were old, financially strapped, grouchy, and judgmental. Most depressing of all, not one of them subscribed to his long cultivated interest in having a good time.
Wary, unsmiling widows were everywhere. He passed them in the hallways. They crowded the dingy activity room. Without exception he found them to be unnaturally distrusting of his well-intentioned attention. At one time or another he had approached nearly all of them, hoping to spark some degree of interest. He had struck out at every turn. 
Except for Mrs. Perkins, who lived across the hall from his apartment and provided him with a steady supply of day-old newspapers, Johnny had not made one female acquaintance in the entire thirty-unit complex. He took that sad reality, and the slight it represented, very personally.
To make matters worse Johnny’s success at winning friends among the male residents, he called them “inmates,” had been only slightly better. Many were deaf, blind, or immobile---which tended to limit their “good time” potential. The few who still found drinking beer a viable social pursuit were no more affluent than Johnny. After years of having Aaron Peck and others pick up the tab, he was reluctant to cultivate drinking buddies who expected him to play that role. 
As a result, his social life had become seriously constrained. For three years Willie Thomas, who did not drink at all, but played a mean game of cribbage, had been his most reliable ally among the residents. With Willie’s passing the previous December that welcome friendship had been lost.
In his heart of hearts Johnny Blanton was a very social creature. It appeared, however, that in the sterile confines of the Senior Complex his declining years were destined to be lived out in a state of stagnant depression. To his way of thinking it would take a miracle to change that unfortunate situation.

Everyone of us knows an orphan, probably more than one.They sit in the midst of our congregations. We pass them in the supermarket aisles, and rub elbows with them at the senior center. 
It’s been just five days since my friend Dr. Thelma Reese ( sent the Huffington Post article my way. I don’t pretend to have any “Elder Orphan” wisdom to dispense. Yet I realized the first time I read Ms Marak’s post that I wanted that label and what it stands for to be part of my personal October Years dialogue, with you and myself, now and in the future
In the meantime---when you have a chance, hug an orphan..

Friday, January 1, 2016

Is it time to tell your story?


  Let me begin with the fact of it. At my advanced November age I am taking on a new cause ---a deeply held belief I’ve written about before, but would like touch on again. 
   I suppose I can seeing your eyes rolling already. The guy is a missionary, with a message to spread. 
   But before you start for the door please know that in this era of incredibly divisive messages, I am not interested in limiting your right to carry an AK-47, or bazooka, or whatever other “personal protection” device you deem necessary. Nor am I advocating the need to take away the arsenal you have already accumulated. And I am certainly not here to ask if your Parenthood was Planned or not. Those are important issues, but they are not the gospel I am preaching.
  With those disclaimers in mind, I hope you will hear me out before you change channels.
   I will begin with the obvious. If you are the kind who likes to poke around the internet, you have probably noticed how many October and November folks are out there---speaking their piece, asking their questions, and telling their stories. Without the noisy fanfare that so often accompanies Gen-X trends, our Gen-Oct/Nov peers are quietly exercising their new-found ability to speak up and let their voices be heard.
   Spend a few minutes on the web and you realize there is almost no limit to the ways you can have your say. Our October peers are having their say in the form of Facebook posts, blogs, videos, and chat rooms. 
   They are writing and even self-publishing family histories, family travel tales, self-help manuals, non-fictional offerings of every kind, and a multitude of highly imaginative fictional offerings. (Have you checked out the Geriatric/Late-Life Vampire literature?) 
  If you are one of those who feels the urge to be heard, if only by your family and friends, today's blog sites, e-books, and Print-on-Demand paperbacks are well within reach. They can be produced and shared more easily than ever before. 
   An Author’s Page on Amazon, listing a writer’s books and e-books, allowing prospective readers to browse, and perhaps buy, is free. On a personal level, you can bet I enjoy seeing my sixteen paperbacks lined up on my bookshelf. 
   And with this modest blog you are reading now I can connect with October and November friends and potential readers all over the world. I can’t explain why these pages attract a steady, if modest, Russian and South Korean readership. But they do.
   But let’s return for a moment to my stated purpose, the reason for today’s post---the message I’ve come to spread. As a veteran of those story-telling efforts I am hoping to convince my late-life friends that they too ought to be having their say. Be it in the form of opinion, complaint, instruction, or stories---fiction or nonfiction, today’s technology provides a gold-plated, easy-to-use opportunity to say what you want to say in whatever form you choose to say it. It is so easy and inexpensive. So why not speak up?
   At your stage of life you probably have the time to do that. And given your history (whatever it may be), you certainly have stories to tell---if only for a limited audience of immediate family and friends. 
   That is exactly what I have done recently with a couple of my books. They are family stories, for and about my family. For both of them I had five very high quality paperback copies printed, one for each of our children and one for Roma and me. If I never sold another copy I would have accomplished everything I wanted with those books. And I guarantee you, you can do that too.
   Let’s begin with the economics of it. In our younger days, if we had a manuscript that publishers were not willing to underwrite, Plan B was what they called “vanity publishing.” You paid an often second-rate publisher to turn your story into a book and print a given number of copies. The publisher would  require a minimum run, say one hundred books, enough to create some economies of scale. The cost would undoubtedly be several hundred 1970 or 1980 dollars, perhaps more. It was a hefty price. Truth is, you had to be quite vain and a bit flush to afford that.
   Today, as the author of a Print-on-Demand book you can buy your own high-quality paperbacks directly from the POD publisher for $4.00 to $6.00 each. It might be your family history, your personal life story, a collection of poems, the family’s favorite recipes, or the great American novel. You can order exactly the number of copies you want---from one to a hundred---for that same low cost. True, you have to write and edit the material, enter it on a computer, then upload that computer file to the publisher’s template. Your investment is one of time, not dollars. Most of us can afford that.
   But wait a moment, you may be saying. How could you be expected to write a book or tell a story? And what about dealing with agents and publishers---all those experts who work with professional writers? 
   Well, the fact is, you don’t need those folks, unless you have a best seller and big-time marketing campaign in mind. You see, telling a self-published story or creating a collection of articles is a very personal activity. In spite of what the so-called “experts” may say, there is no right way, no wrong way to do that. 
   If you are writing for yourself you are the only one you have to please. You are the one to judge the results. Does it work for you? That is the question. More than that, one of the beauties of Print-on-Demand publishing is the ease of revising and editing any or all of your book at any time in the future.
   What can I say? I enjoy seeing my stories in print. Of course it’s a vanity thing. There’s no denying that. It’s an accomplishment I am proud of. More than that, it has proved to be a most liberating way to spend my retirement hours. As one who writes to please myself, (without worrying about what will sell), I can tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. I am the only one I have to satisfy. Within those parameters, anyone who wants to tell their story---about anything, in any way they choose---can do it.
   Please bear with me for a moment as I offer a specific example. It was mid-May two years ago when Roma first dropped her idea on me. I was finishing a story and would soon be ready to start another. 
   “Why not write about our time in England?” she asked. “With all the crazy things that happened to us, it would be fun and funny. And I know the kids would like to have it.”
   Truth to tell, it took a few weeks for me to warm to the possibilities. But when I did, that fun she talked about was just beginning. For the next couple weeks the two of us would sit in the living room, taking notes as we relived those 1972 months living on Ashley Close in Winchester, England. 
   One recollection would lead to another. Before long the notes were piling up---about how we had ended up in Winchester, the life we lived there, the mistakes we made, the wonderful friends we met, and the life-changing experiences we and our children gained. Before we were done we had the stuff of a story---our story.
    By September we had a first draft, a 54,000 word computer file. As I had done so many times before, I uploaded the file to the Create Space template. Daughter Amy, who would not see the finished story until much later, designed the cover using a collage of family photos from our time in England. A week later, after proofing our online file, we made the first monetary investment in our project---$6.50, for a single copy of the paperback, including shipping and handling.
   Long story short. That first copy was used to proofread and edit the entire story. (Additional editing would come later.) A month later, we ordered six copies of the revised story we called A Year of Remember, by Gil and Roma Stewart---for a total cost of $30.05. That Christmas our children received their copies as gifts.
   We had invested thirty-seven dollars, a few printer supplies, and a good many hours doing what we both found totally enjoyable. For that modest price we had produced a fine-looking 254 page book that recorded a special time in the life of our family. Additionally the story, in e-book and paperback versions, was now available to the public on my Amazon Author’s Page. On a modest scale it has become one of our best sellers. In every way I consider that a good return on our investment.
    As for the story itself. Does this back-cover tease sound interesting to you?

Gil was at it again. At the tender age of 35 he was on track for his third mid-life crisis in five years. For some inexplicable reason he had concluded that he was meant to be a writer. Now he was preparing to move his thoroughly confused family to England in pursuit of his career as a novelist.”

   As I said in the beginning my mission today is to stress again that every one of us has stories to tell, memories to preserve, and personal passions we might like to translate into a permanent, paperback form. For next to nothing we can turn that legacy, which is unique to each of us, into something special for us and our family. 
   If you are like me you will enjoy revisiting the elements you are putting on paper, whether they originate in your imagination or your own life journey. Personally I use to publish my books. I like their process and love their customer support. There are, however, several other Print-on-Demand publishers out there. You’ll find them online.
   Okay. with that I’m through preaching. I hope you will consider the possibilities. No one else in the whole world can tell your story. Why not do that yourself?