Friday, August 28, 2015

Olive Kitteridge: Book Review

Published 25 March 2008.
Olive Kitteridge is greater than the sum of its parts.

For this reason, I struggle to fully explain my response to this intriguing novel, presented as a collection of 13 interconnected short stories.

I can gesture to some of the novel's strengths: the structure is ornate yet easy to read, the setting of Crosby, Maine well supports many of the themes, the characters are at once odd and recognizable, and the treatment of aging is complex.

Notably, Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Also, HBO aired its award-winning mini-series, Olive Kitteridge, based on the novel and starring Frances McDormand as the title character.

It took me seven years to finally pick up a copy of the book so that I could answer the question "Why all the fuss?" for myself. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Waist-Hip Ratio: Biomarker of Health

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.
Some biomarkers of longevity and general health require a doctor, some lab work, and some technical analysis.

Waiste-Hip Ratio (WHR) is one of the most straightforward biomarkers.

Basically, if you are shaped like a pear, you're OK. But if you are shaped like an apple, you're in trouble. 

[This post is part of a series on biomarkers of health and longevity.

Watching your waistline alone does have some value.

According to a Harvard Medical School post summarizing the research on WHR, women have an increased risk of serious health problems if their waist is 40 inches or more.  

Men have an increased risk if their waist is 35 inches or more.

Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico cites research that lowers the threshold or risk by several inches:
"A waist circumference >35 inches (88 cm) in women and >40 inches (102 cm) in men is associated with higher cardiometabolic risk (Ness-Abramof and Apovian, 2008)."

Arguing over a few inches is probably not worth the time spent away from the gym.

BMI or waist circumference alone is not as accurate a marker as the ratio between the waist circumference and the hips. Belly fat is far more accurate predictor of health problems than having substantial hips and/or thighs.

Note: This post is to raise awareness only. It does not offer medical advice. If you have concerns about your weight, please see a licensed medical professional. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

O'Horten: Film Review

Released 27 December 2007
in Norway
I have seen O'Horten (2007) on several "films about aging" lists, but just didn't get around to viewing it until now.  It's a film from Norway available with English subtitles.

Directed by Bent Hamer, this film offers viewers of all ages some great insights into the tensions between following a routine and deviating from routine.  

O'Horten is pensive and alternates between being sad, touching and amusing. 

The story starts with the title character, Odd Horten, wrapping up 40 years of employment as a railway engineer.  Horten is a 67-year-old man of habit.  

Quite literally, Horten has stayed on the same path for decades. Conducting a train makes symbolizes his pronounced character trait. 

We observe Horten being understated, reserved, and methodical in the days leading to his retirement.  Once he is done working, things take a dramatic turn.  One could say that his life falls off the rails. 

The bulk of the film is filled with vignettes of what happens to Horten when he doesn't have a work routine to organize his life.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Films about Aging G-N

Photo of Jim Broadbent
by Beacon via CC.
This is Part II of a three-part series. 

Films about Aging A-F
Films about Aging O-Z

Gerhard Richter (2011). This documentary shows German painter Richard Richter in action. Born in 1923, Richter is still prolific in late life.

(#75) Get Low (2010). Robert Duvall plays a hermit who arranges to have his own funeral prior to his death.  In the process, he reconnects with friends from decades ago and seeks to uncover long-buried truths.

The Gin Game (2003). Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke star in this play-turned-television-movie about two people who meet in a nursing home.  As they sit down to play several games of gin, you learn more about their histories, their dreams, and their losses. It's got moments of comedy, but it's primarily dark.

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014).  This documentary was filmed from the time Campbell received his diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease through his farewell tour.  His family and entourage show him a great deal of support, and he shows great skill as a musician despite his memory troubles.  Full Review

Gotta Dance (2008).  The Brooklyn Nets basketball team decided to develop a team of senior dancers or half-time entertainment, and the NETsentional Seniors team was born. This documentary shows 13 seniors from try outs through their entire first season.

Gran Torino (2008). Clint Eastwood stars as an older man, recently widowed, who finds his neighborhood being ruled by members of minority gangs.  He catches a young man trying to steal his classic car. Through a strange turn of events, he ends up mentoring the young man and challenging the local gang members.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Prayers for Sale: Book Review

14 April 2009.
Living in a mining town in the Rocky Mountains above Denver isn't easy for the men combing through dirt and mud in an effort to get rich.

Life isn't much better for the women who join them.

By mixing historical facts with her imagination, Sandra Dallas builds something that is simultaneously hearty and beautiful in her 2009 novel Prayers for Sale.

I very much enjoyed getting to learn more about the people who lived in the area of Breckenridge, Colorado between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

This novel, however, is much more than a history lesson about Colorado mining towns. It's a celebration of resilience by learning how to live off the land, develop personal character, maintain female friendship and tap into the power of storytelling. 

Dallas shows us decades of rough living through the eyes of 86-year-old Hennie Comfort.  The value of Hennie's know how is immediately apparent when 17-year-old Nit Spindle arrives from the South with her husband in Middle Swan.  Nit knows very little about running a household at a high elevation and without the resources available in a conventional town. Hennie quickly takes Nit under her wing, teacher her how to prepare for the harsh winters.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Alexandra: Film Review

Released 25 May 2007.
Alexandra (2007) is a Russian film (with English subtitles) about a Russian grandmother traveling to see her grandson Denis while he is working as a senior lieutenant on a military base.  The setting is the Second Chechen War.

Usually, war movies have an abundance of male energy: action scenes, violence, chest beating, domination of women and so forth.

This film departs dramatically from these common tropes.

In Alexandra, the camera's viewpoint is that of a mature woman. She walks through the camp and evaluates the men, their weapons, the camp and their cause.

From her generational perspective and her gendered perspective, the men are suffering horrible conditions and fighting for unclear reasons. She worries that her grandson and his fellow soldiers will end up more damaged by the war than rewarded for their efforts.

But the men are loathe to accept her critique.  Their reaction to her varies from finding her irritating, humorous or endearing.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Need Help with Your Bag?

Photo by Canadian Pacific.
"Ma'am, can I help you with your bag?"

I'm hearing this more and more lately from ever-so-helpful twentysomethings.

And each time I'm incredulous.

Really, do I look frail?

I often deny that Father Time has been messing with me.

However, this time, I really believe that young adults addressing me this way have a perception problem.  A short, small-framed woman can be physically strong in midlife.

I am not the little old lady who needs help from do gooders, and I've decided to re-educate the masses one misinformed person at a time by performing feats of strength (such as they are) as evidence.

I always use humor to put people at ease. I always start by politely expressing, "Thanks, but no thanks." 

I do fancy myself as a performance artist of sorts. I embrace the idea that I should overtly dramatize my approach to aging for others to witness. If I make a spectacle of myself, I can spark conversations about active aging.

Here's a highlight reel of some of the performance acts, which are designed to complicate people's perception of "little old ladies":

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Theft of Memory: Book Review

Published 2 June 2015.
Jonathan Kozol, teacher, writer and activist for education reform, writes a compelling memoir about the years he and his father, Dr. Harry Kozol, spent together from 1994 to 2008.

The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time (2015) starts with the onset of Dr. Kozol's symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and continue until his death at 102.

This dementia memoir distinguishes itself by being very academic in its approach.  

Both father and son are nationally recognized in their fields. Because this memoir reflects their professions, I suspect that readers will either love it or find it a bit too cerebral.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Memory of Old Jack: Book Review

Published 1 January 1974.
The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry is one work of fiction of many set in the same town with recurring characters.
Even though Berry was only 39 years old at the time that he published The Memory of Old Jack in 1974,  the author does a remarkable job depicting the challenges and opportunities of advanced age.

(Note: It's Wendell Berry's 81st birthday today!) 

The novel features the life and perspective of Jack Beecham as it unfolds in a single day in 1952.

Born in 1860, Jack has a lot of memories at 92 of Port William, Kentucky, a place he's lived his entire life.  At his age, he's experiencing a little dementia, but I believe this is more a literary device for Berry than a valid medial diagnosis.

Jack's advanced age and his tendency to be easily confused means that almost every person, place or thing sends him into a reverie.  This is how one dawn-to-dusk day can trigger a life time of memories to fill an entire novel.

Berry's work is grounded in a love and appreciation of nature and family farming, so it's no wonder than much of the book is a love letter to the land.  Old Jack spends the bulk of his outdoors, so his memories are filled with images of working the land and observing nature in great detail.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Love & Mercy: Film Review

Released broadly in the US
June 2015.
Even though I listened to the Beach Boys obsessively during my teens, I have not read anything (until this week) about their lives--which I find incredulous.

But watching Love & Mercy (2015) last Friday was a crash course on the life of Brian Wilson, the primary composer for the group.

Based on Wilson's life Love & Mercy focuses on two time periods: the years surrounding his studio work on Pet Sounds and the years he received treatment under the direction of Dr. Eugene Landy. 

Paul Dano plays the younger Brian Wilson, who at a very young age is caught trying to manage a lot of unmanageable forces.

Wilson composes critically acclaimed music while facing a controlling father, crushing fame, pressure from fellow band members, escalating symptoms of undiagnosed mental illness, starting a family when both he and his first wife were very young, and excessive use of drugs and alcohol.

Any one of these pressures would push me to a breaking point. It's no wonder Wilson had trouble coping.

The film doesn't fast forward to the 1980s; it alternates between the early years and later years.