Thursday, February 28, 2019

Still learning after all these years

So what is this……one of my occasional good ideas, or another sign of continuing brain leakage?
You see, in my world it’s October, or more likely November. It feels like things have cooled off a bit. The world is not as hectic as it used to be. I know for sure that I have slowed down a step or two. An occasional rest break is more welcome these days…….a time to let my thoughts catch up with the craziness that surrounds us. In those quiet moments it is tempting to concentrate on the past, of which I have so much, rather than the future, which is where my hoped-for Becoming must take place.
For many of us late life is a time when something new on the horizon may not excite us the way it once did. That is probably natural. After all, in the course of our lifetime we have reveled in the affirmation of right choices made, and dealt with our share of wrong-roads taken. Still, though we have seen a lot of life along the way, that doesn’t mean we have outgrown the need to keep growing.
You and I have had our share of learning experiences. I recall hearing about the School of Hard Knocks. Some folks say that is the best teacher, though the knocks I remember were pretty soft……which may explain why I didn’t learn more. Beyond that, most of us associate learning with school. That’s what schools are supposed to be for, isn’t it? I learned a thing or two in high school. I’ll bet you did too. Thankfully I outgrew most of that.
And then came life after high school. For me that meant college. For you it might have been something different. But no matter what path we chose the lessons were harder, though by then we were probably more motivated. I know that I had  reasons to keep learning. I had met Roma by then. Turned out her grading curve was steeper than I was used to. Falling behind was no longer an option. 

But that was then……and this is now. Today, at 82, I am still telling myself that I want to be more tomorrow than I am today. Whatever that means, it implies that we are never to old to stop learning. I want to believe that. Yet how does one keep learning at my age? Well, how about this
     Higher education…college and/or  university ……was an answer in earlier times. And now, to my surprise, it has returned to play a part in my dotage. Who would have expected that?
Perhaps that has you asking, “Why, at his age, is he babbling about college? Has he really gone round the bend this time?”
     But it is not like I started out half-cocked, which has happened a time or two in my 82 years. This time I began by creating some very definite expectations for my return to the ivy-covered halls of higher education. Sure, I hope to keep learning. But why can’t I be fussy about what and how I learn?
Years ago things were different. The wide-eyed adolescent I was in those “off to college” days had lots of things on his mind, not all of which were academic in nature. My first-time venture into the world of higher education was charted by the ‘Teaching Establishment.’ They made the rules. I experienced college on their terms……jumping through their hoops, intent on earning their validation.
Of course it had to be that way. Though we might have argued the point at the time, we were absolute neophytes, unaware of how little we knew and how much we did not know. Given what the ‘Establishment’ had to work with, perhaps the task at hand sometimes called for Kamikazi teaching methods. But no longer! This time the not-so-wide-eyed Geriatric Adolescent I have become is returning to college on his own terms.

How about you? No matter what your age, if today’s college experience met these criteria would you be willing to deal with college, whether again or for the first time?

1) Taking one course at a time, selected from                                     hundreds of candidates.

2) Enrollment is a five-minute process, and absolutely free.

3) No bulky and expensive textbooks are required.

4) Your course will be a quality online experience you can access from your computer and absorb in bite-sized bits any time.

5) There will be no tests or exams required.

6) Your course will be offered by highly qualified faculty from one of dozens of prestigious colleges and universities. 

7) Are you a name dropper, the kind who would like a Harvard, MIT, or Paris’ Sorbonne on your resume? Easy peasy. Just log in and go.

Disclaimer - Because I am enrolled in just one of the thousands of course offerings I cannot claim that every one of them is conducted in the same way, with the same degree of professionalism as my Shakespeare Matters course. I can, however, confirm the following about the particular class I am taking.

1)   I suppose I was expecting a taping of a lecture -hall class.

2)  Not so. Instead I am viewing a thoroughly professional offering of interviews, self-contained video lectures, and graphic arts presentations……. each of them  in two to ten minute segments that make it easy to watch 20 or 30 minutes at a time, then come back for more the next day. 

3)  I simply sign in as I would with any website, click on ‘Next,’ and pick up where I left off.

4)  Since I did not sign up for a ‘Verified Certificate,” at a cost of $50, I can skip the periodic tests and quizzes.

Okay, enough explanation. It’s time to see for yourselves what today’s online college looks like. The ‘Open Sesame’ that makes that happen is awaiting your arrival. I won’t claim that it is the only site that can do that. Fact is, however, once I saw what they offer I decided my search had ended. 
Once there I hope you will take a moment to scroll through the list of the universities which take part in this online college program. They are first-rate, quality institutions, which are not likely to be associated with shoddy products. 
Next, under the heading ‘Popular Subjects,’ select the sort of courses you would like to explore. Since I was not in a math, science, or business mood I chose “Humanities.” What follows next needs no explanation from me. Simply scroll through the dozens of offerings. When you see one that tweaks your interest click on it and check it out. 

That was how I came to a course titled Shakespeare Matters. For as long as I can remember I’ve heard people fuss about Shakespeare. But truth to tell I had little idea what the Bard was all about. Perhaps it was time to find out. With that I enrolled in Adelaide University’s Bard101x and was on my way.
Long story short, in a series of short, professional-grade videos a team of highly qualified Shakespeare scholars from Adelaide University in Australia makes the case for why Shakespeare Matters. By the time I finish the course I will have invested ten or twelve hours exploring six of the Bard’s plays……as the instructors explain what each play, and the main characters, has to say, and why centuries later those lessons are still considered important.

Finally, no matter what courses you select, it is hard to imagine a more professional, more diverse, more accommodating, and less expensive late-life learning venue. The possibilities are literally endless. With that in mind I hope you are convinced that it is time to take the plunge……if only to check it out. Simply follow this link to the home page and you are on your way. 
Once there scroll through the list of universities. Be impressed by the quality of institutions represented. Then move down the page to the ‘Popular Subjects’ heading. A single click on the type of courses that suit your tastes will produce an illustrated roster of class offerings, hundred of them. Odds are that somewhere among them you will find one that interests you. Once you find it, registering to ‘audit the course’ is a quick and simple matter, requiring only an email address and password.

Who knows, in a matter of minutes you may be on your way back to college. Also, this may be one of those posts you want to forward to a ‘still-learning’ friend.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Around the world in 80 blogs

   Hey, you’re in luck. Today’s post will be shorter than usual. That’s because I’ll be leaving the leg work for you to do, if you decide you want to. Hopefully you will enjoy the homework suggestions I offer. With that in mind, let’s see if I can put all this into context.
I have made the point numerous times over the years……I am a wanderlust junkie. From the time I ran away from home at fourteen I have had a thing about seeing the world ……at least the parts that appeal to me.
In a similar manner I have used these pages to spread what I consider the logic of using the internet to broaden our horizons, especially in our October and November years. As you might have guessed, I am here today to sell (or give away) what I consider a worthy combination of wanderlust and the internet. Turns out the two go together very well. If, however, you are one of those unfortunate souls for whom travel and the possibilities it offers is not appealing, even from the comfort of your armchair……please don’t sign off just yet.
The internet, of course, offers its information in many forms. As a longtime blogger I appreciate the many ways my blogging peers are able to spread their messages. If you have followed these pages for long you will perhaps recall that I’ve made the case before……there are blogs and bloggers for just about every subject under the sun. And when it comes to travel blogs the bloggers have so many individual ways to tell their story……so much more than the normal guidebook litany of sights, hotels, and restaurants.
Take for instances, travel destinations…….my topic du jour. I’d like to begin with London. Is there anyone out there blogging about London? I’m pretty sure we can find out. Just call up Google, enter “London bloggers,” and there you are. Take your pick from literally hundreds of London blogs.
Once there I called up a response labeled “Secret London - 75 London Bloggers.” I spent a few minutes leafing through some of those options, most of which claimed they could show me the London most tourists never see. Midway through that list I settled on one called “Deserter,” which seemed to approach the city from a slightly jaundiced perspective……claiming to be “A compendium of techniques to get more out of doing less.” That sounded like something that might fit me.
Then, emboldened by my London search I decided to try Paris. We’ve been there a few times, but I doubt that we’ve done more than scratch the surface. At a listing titled “I Prefer Paris” several bloggers offered their insights on Paris experiences that you and I would probably never find on our own. One blog, titled ‘Excuses vs Lies,” offered perhaps the most practical Parisian wisdom I found. “When Paris tries to kick my ass……I drink wine.”
Moving on I called up Amsterdam, another of our favorite cities, and again found dozens of bloggers claiming to tell us about the best their city has to offer. It was there I came across,' which probably caught my eye because we are serious ‘flea market’ junkies. What the blogger claims is the largest flea market in Europe is located in Amsterdam. It is called ‘Ij Hallen’ and is spread over two Huge warehouses. It might take a day or two to see it all, with age-appropriate rest breaks, but I’d love to do that.
I moved on to Galway because it’s my favorite city or town in Ireland. As it turned out the Galway blogger I was drawn to,  ‘, actually covers the entire country. It was their listing of ‘The Most Beautiful Towns in Ireland’ that immediately reeled me in. If scrolling through that list doesn’t have you itching to get up and go you had better check you pulse.
There were, of course, hundreds of other travel destinations I could have checked out for blogs and bloggers. It seems that just about any place you can think of is the subject of someone’s blog……offering local information you may not find in travel guides. Did I say “any place”? Perhaps it was time to test that theory.
Many of us grew up assuming that the most remote place in the world actually had a name. What better way to describe the middle of nowhere than “Timbuktu”? That was about as far as a person could go. Well, guess what? The ‘middle of nowhere’ has its own travel blogger.
The website ‘' is a great site that visits and photographs some of the most remote corners of the world. Its post - Timbuktu the mysterious, deep in the Malian dessert - calls the city “the meeting place of all who travel by camel or canoe.” Sounds idyllic, eh? In fact, the story’s many photos depict a stark beauty that most of us can scarcely imagine. It looks like an interesting place to explore.
I’ll admit I was taken by Timbuktu until I read the blogger’s disclaimer, which I found a bit off-putting. Would this be enough to give you second thoughts? “Since the 2012 Islamic rebel uprising kidnappings and foreign abductions have become routine.” About then my thoughts were turning toward more familiar ground.
In A Year to Remember, the first book Roma and I published together, we told the story of our young family’s home abroad in Winchester, England. By any measure that was a special time……those months spent among special friends in a special place. So, is Winchester home to bloggers? I had a hint to begin with. After all, my beloved Dull Men’s Club blog is posted from there. A simple “Winchester Bloggers” Google search produced several more candidates, including a particularly interesting possibility.
How about “10 Reasons for a Boudoir Photoshoot”? To be honest I had never considered that. Does that even fit your notion of a travel blog? Truth to tell it had me wondering what was going on in what I remembered as the sedate environs of Winchester?
Then I read the article’s ‘Reason #1’…… ”Create Your Own Definition of Sexy.” Wow, that raised some interesting possibilities. Calling Roma to the computer I was ready to offer a possibility of my own. Ouch! It took about two seconds for her to veto (rather loudly) my photoshoot suggestion. Then, once she caught her breath, she countered with an idea of her own. Perhaps I ought to consider a photoshoot of my own……ala the Burt Reynolds centerfold model. 
It took me only one second to imagine the adjectives people might use to ‘define’ that sort of Sexy. Needless to say I soon moved on to other Winchester offerings, the ones dealing with the city’s ancient history, medieval High Street, the Jane Austin Home, and the spectacular cathedral.
All of which brings me back to an obvious question. Are we returning to London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Galway? Probably not. Is Timbuktu in our future. Not likely. But in the course of my mini-blogfest I had spent several enjoyable hours enjoying sights I will never see and learning about places I will never visit. For a creaky old armchair traveler like me that feels like a win.
Finally, setting definitions of ‘sexy’ aside, I must point out that the internet is chock full of bloggers and blogs addressing just about any subject you choose to pursue. I am a travel addict, so those are the ones I selected today. But whatever tweaks your interest……be it ‘sexy photoshoots, exotic recipes, or any other topic you can think of……there are bound to be blogs and bloggers following in its wake. Why not choose your own favorite topic and go looking?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Late Life in the Lonely Lane

Again it is the first Wednesday of the month, time for a tip of the hat to the Insecure Writers Support Group. With that comes the opportunity to address this month's IWSG question......With that comes the opportunity to address this month's IWSG question......"Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?"
     Truth is, at my age, in the November of life, I have few other creative outlets and am not actively looking for more. Writing, be it books or blogs, seems the perfect venue for me……allowing me the freedom to go where I want, say what I want, explore what I want, even create the future I want……all of it limited only by my imagination. 
As an October/November writer I am provided endless possibilities to explore the bits of real life, especially late-life reality, that mean the most to me. Writing provides a structured process for consolidating my sometimes disparate thoughts, while demanding the discipline that comes with putting those thoughts into words. 
     Best of all, I can do all that from the comfort of my recliner or computer. What is not to like? Case in's post. I call it LATE-LIFE IN THE LONELY LANE. I hope it rings true to you.


Lots of us know all about October, and perhaps November too. We spent decades working toward what they call the Golden Years......when we could live out the dreams we had set aside for so long. Fortunately  many of our generation, with the help of Social Security, generous pensions, Medicare, and IRAs, have found at least some of the gold in those Golden Years.
What could possibly be wrong with that rosy picture? We like to think that we have earned the right to a comfortable retirement. After all, we have played the game according to the rules and deserve the fruits of our labors. Just look at the world around you. Everywhere you turn you see seniors taking advantage of their hard work and good fortune.
And you would be right about that……at least partially. But at the same time you might be overlooking the growing number of our late-life peers for whom the ‘Golden Years’ will mean something very different.
For instance, I refer you to a recent issue of This Week magazine, and an article titled “An Epidemic of Loneliness,” which paints a decidedly distressing picture of the reality facing a sizable segment of American society, especially what it calls the 'Senior Boomers.' It claims that according to social-science researchers Loneliness ……defined as “having fewer social contacts and meaningful relationships than we want,” is a significant cultural condition, especially among the elderly.
According to the research they cite nearly half of Americans feel alone or left out. One in eight of our citizens report that they know zero people well. Some experts go so far as to claim that the nation’s most common pathology is 'loneliness.'
A closer look at the situation facing our October/November peers reveals even more daunting detail. In the course of their adult life Baby Boomers have had fewer children and more divorces than their parents, leaving more of them without companionship in old age. Even when there are children involved, they are apt to be spread far and wide across the country. As a result of those and other factors one in six Senior Boomers live alone.
But those sad facts are simply a matter of numbers, of statistics. And you know what they say about statistics……”You can make them say anything you want.” Yet in the end what really matters is not gaudy charts and sterile numbers, but the soul-deep impact on individual lives.
For years I have made the point that late-life, our October and November Years, works best as a shared effort, when two or more persons…… be they friends, lovers, family, or caregivers……face that sometimes harsh time together. I have written whole books making that case, following my Tanner friends as they stumble toward the relationships they hope will support them in those trying times.

In previous posts I have referred to those lonely seniors as Elder Orphans. The first time I heard that description it had the ring of an epiphany……a striking, suddenly-revealed truth. In two short words it seemed to capture the essence of a wide-spread late-life crisis, one we see all around us.
Elder Orphans, like their infant counterparts, are literally on their own at a very vulnerable time of life……and just as much in need of caring support. Chances are they are socially and physically isolated, living without a family member or surrogate. They are often depressed, and sometimes dealing with the loss of decision-making capabilities. To make matters worse they are seldom acknowledged as a group or class that needs help.
So what does the future hold for that elder orphan population? By all accounts their numbers are increasing, and the demand for the help they need grows accordingly. According to current trends, over time more of them will need more help for a longer period of time. 
A recent AARP report offers little solace, confirming that demand for elder caregivers continues to grow faster than the supply. In the face of funding shortfalls and rapidly increasing costs Caregiver per Orphan ratios are steadily declining across the country. Being an Elder Orphan is not about to get any easier.
I realize that my Tanner Chronicles stories ……fictional accounts of fictional situations……are one thing. Actually being an Elder Orphan, living that life, is something very different. Still, that reality is something that you and I can play a part in addressing.
You see, most of us can identify one or more elder orphans. They sit in the midst of our congregations. We pass them shuffling behind their walker in the supermarket aisle, or rub elbows with them at the senior center. You are apt to find them in hospital emergency rooms, often their only source of the health care most of us take for granted. They are, in fact, everywhere……out of sight right before our eyes.
As for myself, I hope I can be observant enough and bold enough to spot the elder orphans who cross my path. I need to acknowledge their place in my world, and perhaps take the time to hear a bit of their story. That’s an important thing, showing them that for at least a few minutes someone cares enough to listen. There are so many folks out there who need that casual gift ……the simple act of acknowledging and affirming their presence. Isn’t that what every orphan wants, no matter what his or her’s age? 

I could end this post right there. But the writer in me has me returning to an earlier post, where I used the following scene from Best Friends and Promises to depict the November life of Johnny Blanton, one of my favorite Tanner friends. Johnny lives in a low-cost, county-owned apartment, surrounded by neighbors who scarcely acknowledge his presence. Though he would be unwilling to admit as much, (Truth is he would scream like hell.), in many important ways he has become an orphan. You tell me, is this a viable depiction of an Elder 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 appeared to subscribe 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 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, and 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 making friends among the male residents, he called them “inmates,” had been only slightly better. Some were deaf, blind, or immobile---which tended to limit their “good time” potential. 
Sadly, 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.

As a writer, of course, it is my job to create ‘miracles’ that change ‘unfortunate situations.’ In real life, however, it is up to you and me to  identify the Elder Orphans in our universe and, when possible, help create our own late-life miracles.