Monday, December 31, 2018

Not a Resolution but a Focus Word

Photo by Justin Vidamo via Creative Commons

As the New Year approaches in a matter of hours, I'm once again rejecting resolutions. However, instead of doing nothing to mark a new beginning, I decided to choose a focus word.

I've seen people do this over the last decade or so, but I haven't taken any time to select a word for myself.

Until today.

I've selected GROUNDED as my first one word challenge. Here are a few quotes to launch me on my journey:

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Jessie's Empty Nest in Toy Story 2

Photo by Jeff Christiansen.
Toy Story 2 was released in 1999, which was during a time between the births of my two children. 

As they moved through their childhood, we watched the film at home several times to their delight..

The first five times I watched Toy Story 2 with my young children, I focused on Emily.

That character demonstrated how my children were moving through stages of childhood and leaving childhood things behind.

Then when my children became tweens and teens, I didn't watch this film at all.

Now my children are launching into adulthood.

My son moved to Nevada a year and a half ago, and I haven't seen him at all during this time. My daughter is a senior in high school.

Intellectually, I understand that they need to establish their own lives. I've been teaching university classes and running academic support services since the 1980s. During these several decades, I've been self-righteously telling parents who visit campus to "let go."

Experiencing an emptying nest myself is more emotional than I anticipated. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

2018 Top Ten Posts

Photo by vallgall.
It's time to look back at the posts published in 2018 here at The Generation Above Me.

Most of the posts were book reviews or film reviews with a smattering of posts about health, fitness, and biomarkers of longevity.

I teach classes in gerontology at University of Southern Indiana and writing classes at University of Evansville. I also volunteer for the MAIA conference co-sponsored by USI; a lot of that showed up on the blog.

Without further ado, here are the 2018 Top 10 Most Viewed posts from The Generation Above Me.

In ascending order...

10.  Blood Urea Nitrogen: Biomarker of Health and Longevity

If BUN values are too high or too low, this may indicate problems such as under/over hydration, poor liver function, poor kidney function, heart problems, pancreas problems, nutrition problems (protein intake particularly), etc.

9. Preview for the 2018 MAIA and Wellness

Before the conference, I listed presenters' Twitter handles / Facebook pages for ease of reference while live tweeting. There are 30 plus fantastic professionals in the areas of wellness across the lifespan with particular attention to aging well. Follow them all on social media!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Cost of Living: Book Review

Published July 10, 2018. 
Oh, this book is deceptively powerful.

Deborah Levy is a playwright, poet, novelist and two-times finalist for the Booker Prize. Now she's working on a series of books that autobiographical.

The second installment is The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography.  In her book, she describes her life during the wake of her divorce and the decline of her mother.

During this time, Levy is trying to support herself by her writing. She must juggle being a single mother to teenage girls and living in modest circumstance.

Levy writes about doing her own plumbing repairs in her modest flat and learning to negotiate the city on her motorized bicycle. She also accepts an invitation to write in a garden shed that belongs to an acquaintance.

Amid all these pragmatics, Levy writes about what it means to be a woman in the 21st Century and how she responds to the roles pushed on women, who are often described as "my wife" or "his wife" and not even named.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Land of Steady Habits: Film Review

Released September 14, 2018.
I'm approaching sixty, and I've been watching a number of marriages among my friends disintegrate when their children reach young adulthood.

The Land of Steady Habits is a 2018 film based off a 2014 novel of the same name. Ted Thompson is the book's author, but it's Nicole Holofcenter who writes the screenplay, directs, and co-produces the film.

This film reminded me of Cheever's "The Swimmer," and--indeed--Thompson's novel has been noted to capture the same ennui of Cheever as well as Updike--but with a 21st Century style.

The film features sixty-something Anders Harris who has decided that his conventional life in the Connecticut suburbs lacks meaning. In order to inject his life with passion, authenticity, and purpose, he quits his job in the finance world of NYC, divorces his wife, and moves out of his suburban home and into a condo.

All this freedom doesn't produce the happiness he expected.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Race for the Mind: Book Review

Published December 1, 2017.
Daniel Gerard Welch draws on his decades' long experience working in the international pharmaceutical business to write this corporate thriller, Race for the Mind, published in December of 2017.

The book's "MacGuffin" is a drug being developed as a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Given the severity of the symptoms and the increasing prevalence of this disease, a lot of companies are hungry to be the one to manufacture and market this medicine.

The average person may not realize how complicated the process is for bringing a drug to market. It's not just the science and the patents; it's the personalities of the business people that can determine a lot about how a drug moves from a research lab to a pharmacy.

This novel has a number of characters, but Jack Callahan is the character with the most frequent and most sympathetic point of view. He's a business man who adopts various workplace assignments in an effort to get this drug--developed by scientist Dr. Win Lin to market.

Monday, October 15, 2018

45 Years: Film Review

28 August 2015 (UK release)
It's autumn a time for harvest and a time for ghost stories. The film 45 Years--about a couple taking stock of their lengthy marriage-- delivers both.

I first watched this film a month ago, but it still haunts me daily.

Charlotte Rampling and and Tom Courtenay play Kate and Geoff Mercer, who are preparing to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in a town hall filled with their friends.  About a week prior to this event, Geoff received notification that his girlfriend's body from fifty years prior has been found emerging from a melting glacier. 

And there you have the central metaphor: people, places and events frozen in the past that unexpectedly emerge into the present.

Rampling must come to terms with the person her husband was when he was intimate with this other woman, Katya, and how his relationship with her and his reveries about his youthful romance still affect who he is today. 

The pacing may seem slow to some viewers. However, anyone who has been in a long-term relationship will perceive the tensions, the deep feelings, the profound significance of a turn of phrase, an old photograph, a long abandoned book, a wistful glance away from the present moment. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Aging with Wisdom: Book Review

Published November 14, 2017. 
Since her forties, Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle has collected quotes, stories, and her own thoughts in a file labeled "Aging and Wisdom."

In her late seventies, this project came to fruition as a 2017 book, Aging with Wisdom: Reflections, Stories & Teachings.

The insights from this book, of course, are drawn from a broader source than a manila file folder.

Hoblitzelle has experience as a therapist, writer, and speaker. She draws from both Western and Eastern traditions, from quests of the mind and of the body.

The result is a book that conveys a tone of "Softness and Ease" (one of her chapter titles) that also offers quiet strength on how to negotiate the Second Half of life.

Summarizing the book proves challenging since the book serves as a catalyst for individual meditation.

I found myself reading some passages slowly. This allowed me to review events from my life in light of the chapter before me. Some of the sections address age-related challenges and opportunities I have yet to encounter. Consequently, I hope to reread this book as my life situation shifts over the coming decades.

Friday, August 17, 2018

2018 MAIA Concurrent Sessions

MAIA offered 36 concurrent sessions over two days. 
Concurrent sessions are a blessing and a curse.

Yes, it's wonderful to have an array of topics presented when attending a conference.

However, it's painful to choose among competing sessions.

See an earlier post for information about the 2018 MAIA plenary and keynote speakers

This was my experience during the 2018 Mid-American Institute on Aging and Wellness, which took place August 9th & 10th on the campus of University of Southern Indiana

As my name badge indicates, I was one of the people helping with the conference. Briefly stated, serving in the MAIA committee as a "Blue Shirt" further enriched my experience before, during, and after the conference.

But being a committee member didn't include the ability to time travel. Consequently, I can only report on a fraction of presentations.

Check out #maiarocks on Twitter for other attendees' photos and summaries of sessions. 

See an earlier post that lists Twitter and Facebook pages for many of the 2018 MAIA presenters and sponsors.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

2018 MAIA Keynote and Plenary Speakers

MAIA 11th anniversary swag bag, program, and tee.
What Is MAIA?

For the last eleven years, the University of Southern Indiana in partnership with Southwestern Indiana Council on Aging & MORE! (the local Area Agency on Aging) has organized an inter-professional gerontology conference. This year, the conference ran August 9th and 10th with a pre-conference workshop on the 8th.

Located in Evansville, Indiana, this two-day event offers keynote and plenary speakers with national--if not international recognition. In addition, dozens of other presenters also offer great information about promoting wellness across the entire life span. 

The participants are local health care workers, university students, and members of the broader Tristate (IN, IL, KY) community.

Many healthcare professionals attending earn CME credits (continuing medical education), but a good portion of those present are not healthcare professionals; they are community members who are pro-active about their physical, financial, social, and emotional health.

Last week was the third time that I attended the Mid-America Institute on Aging and Wellness (MAIA). However, it was my first time serving as one of the organizers as a member of the Blue Shirts team. 

This gave me the opportunity to see the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. I'm grateful for all that USI, SWIRCA, the sponsors, vendors, and all the presenters do in order to make this event informative and exhilarating. 

By looking at the program ahead of time, I had a chance to read more about all the presenters before they arrived. However, with six concurrent sessions happening three times a day for two days, it was impossible for me to attend all 36 sessions!

Let me first report some key details about the keynote and plenary speakers. (Details about the 2018 concurrent sessions are now available here.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Natural Causes: Book Review

Published April 10, 2018.
Barbara Ehrenreich loans her considerable talent to the question, "How much control do we have over our longevity?"

The result is her April 10, 2018 book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer.

As a gerontologist and a self-professed health nut, I was attentive to her claim that we have a lot less control over our health than we (middle class people from industrialized nations) like to admit.

Her first few chapters describe the escalating number of diagnostic tools and treatments.

Increased health is primarily available to those with health insurance and the means to pay for premiums, co-pays, and deductibles--as well as to those who can go the extra mile and pay for gym memberships, meditation programs and organic produce.

But does throwing money at the aging body really result in longevity? Ehrenreich argues that it does not.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Creating Unlimited Options for Aging: Book Review

Published October 12, 2017.
Joe Carella has been challenging institutional settings for over two decades.

Based on extensive personal and professional experience,  Carella eventually established the Scandinavian Living Center (SLC) in Newton, Massachusetts

He drew on his experience growing up in a tight-knit neighborhood in the Greater Boston area, his experience being admitted into a geriatric ward when he was a high school student, and his experience visiting several autonomous, community-based housing in Scandinavia.

Since opening its doors in 2001, the SLC has become a crossroads for inter-generational connectivity.

More than 2,000 people per month--not counting friends and family members of residents--come to the site to participate in an array of activities.

More than 25 nonprofit organizations and clubs use the spacious common areas for meetings, projects, performances, and presentations. Yes, there are 40 apartments at the SLC; however, about half of the building space is dedicated to common areas.

Carella expresses particular delight when the "walls" between residents and visitors dissolve during community events. As Carella told the Leading Age: "I love it when [visitors] come for an event and don't have any idea this is an assisted living community."

How has Carella served as a catalyst for this integration of ages, abilities, and interests?

Reading Creating Unlimited Options for Aging: The Path Forward (October 12, 2017) provides a lot of great detail.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

2018 Mid-America Institute on Aging and Wellness Preview

Visit the official 2018 MAIA page here
This August will be my third year attending this engaging conference. It's the Eleventh Annual Mid-American Institute (MAIA) on Aging and Wellness, held August 9th and 10th, 2018 at University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana.

Health care professionals can earn continuing education credit for attending. 

I usually only post about MAIA after I attend. 

[Updated to add reports about MAIA 2018 Keynotes/Plenaries and the Concurrent Sessions]

This year, I decided to give TGAM blog readers an opportunity to attend by posting key details a few weeks before.

Evansville is in the tristate area of SW Indiana. The USI campus is only two hours south of Bloomington, Indiana and two hours west of Louisville, Kentucky. It's also a comfortable drive from St. Louis (2.5 hours), Nashville (2.5 hours) and Indianapolis (3 hours).

The keynote address by Ashton Applewhite on Thursday, August 9th 3 pm is FREE and OPEN to the public.  However, registration is required to ensure that everyone has a seat.

If you are interested in maintaining wellness of mind, body, and spirit throughout the lifespan, consider attending all or part of the conference. Registration information is available on the official page.

Many healthcare professionals attending earn CME credits (continuing medical education), but a good portion of those present are not healthcare professionals; they are community members who are pro-active about their physical, financial, social, and emotional health.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Light on Aging and Dying: Book Review

2nd Edition Published January 15, 1998.
For the last six years, I've been gathering quotes about aging. However, I just discovered this treasury of quotes by Helen Nearing.

To whet your appetite, here is the quote that manages to convey a lot of insight in a few short words:
"Let life ripen and then let it fall." Lao Tzu
Nearing (b. 1904) and her husband, Scott Nearing (b. 1883), were New York intellectuals who left the city to live in rural Vermont.

He was a well-known political philosopher and radical. Together they ran a large property and wrote books for city-suburban dwellers about the value of returning to a rural life.

Scott was a little more than 20 years Helen's senior, so even though he lived until he was 100 years old, Helen lived another 12 years as a widow.

Already a voracious reader and contemplative by nature, these years without Scott gave Helen Nearing more opportunity to meditate on the interplay between aging, wisdom, spirituality, and death.

As a gerontologist, I feel very strongly that aging be depicted as a vibrant era of life: an age of growth and social engagement. Nevertheless, older adults (in industrialized nations) do encounter death of their partners and peers and do contemplate their own deaths with more depth than people of any other age group.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

When Their World Stops: Book Review

2nd Edition Published March 27, 2018.
Anne-Marie Lockmyer received a phone call that stopped her world. Her husband of 26 years (less four days) lost his life due to a brain aneurysm.

Lockmyer's life changed immediately.

Drawing on her own experience, her research, and the experience of many others grieving the loss of a loved one, Lockmyer wrote this 96-page guide for people who want to offer comfort and support.

When Their World Stops: The Essential Guide to TRULY Helping Anyone in Grief  is filled with very specific, concrete suggestions on how to offer help to the bereft. 

Many other books on grief focus on the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional dimensions of suffering loss. Yes, these realms do demand attention.  I tend to err on the side of the metaphysical.

However, Lockmyer focuses on more tangible responses to supporting a bereft person:

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Book Review

Published January 23, 2018.
John Leland spent a year interviewing elders 85 plus who lived in and around Manhattan. He presents his perspective on how this demographic--the oldest olds--forge happiness despite formidable challenges.

The result is a book that has a healthy mix of character sketches, direct quotes, applicable aging research, and interviewer reflection.

I enjoyed it so much that I returned the library copy and bought my own. And then I bought a copy for my 75-year-old mother-in-law.

She read it in one day.

In the pages of the book, we meet six older adults and glean from their life experience.

In a gross oversimplification, Leland distills there life lessons in the following passage:
"Each elder had different lessons to teach: from Fred, the power of gratitude; from Ping, the choice to be happy; from John, acceptance of death; from Helen, learning to love and be needed; from Jonas, living with purpose; and from Ruth, nourishing the people who matter" (104). 
Who are these elders?

Fred Jones portrays himself as a dapper dresser and a ladies man, but he has problems managing the stairs in his apartment, so his social interaction is limited. Nevertheless, he maintains a sense of humor and focuses on gratitude.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Blood Urea Nitrogen: Biomarker of Health and Longevity

Photo by Neeta Lind.
As a gerontologist, people sometimes ask me about life expectancy.

While large data sets yield clear averages, anticipating the life expectancy of ONE person is nearly impossible.

This post is part of a series on biomarkers

Nevertheless, there are some biomarkers of health and longevity that people should monitor.

Blood Urea Nitrogen is one of them.

[Note: This post does not convey medical advice. It only raises awareness. Please see a licensed medical professional if you have any questions or concerns about your health.]

Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) measures one area of the body's waste elimination. Ingested proteins are processed by the liver into ammonia and then converted into a less toxic form, urea. The kidneys eliminate the urea through urine.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Still Dreaming: Film Review

Released on DVD April 19, 2015.
PBS will air this documentary starting April 14, 2018. Check your local listings for show times. 

Shakespeare's plays are rich with meaning, which allows people from every historical era to emphasize different aspects in each play.

Hamlet performed in 1800 looks very different from Hamlet performed in 2000.

But Shakespeare's plays not only change when performed in various eras of time. They change when performed by actors of various ages.

Viewers have the opportunity to witness this phenomenon, thanks to Filmmakers Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson who facilitate a unique production of A Midsummer's Night Dream with the making of their documentary Still Dreaming (2014).

The documentary is set in The Lillian Booth Actors Home, just outside of Manhattan. The residents are older adults who worked as Broadway performers--actors, singers, dancers, musicians, etc.

Ben Steinfield and Noah Brody are thirtysomething co-directors who work with residents of the assisted living campus of the home. Over the course of the documentary, we see them cast about a dozen residents. They spend six weeks rehearsing before perform this romantic comedy for staff, fellow residents, and family members.

Even though the leads are usually played by twentysomethings, the play's themes of identity, illusion vs. reality, desire, and autonomy resonate with the mature actors.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ageless Soul: Book Review

Published October 10, 2017.
Many books about aging focus on the physical and financial dimensions of aging. Not many book-length works focus on the spiritual dimension of aging--or how the self transcends the vicissitudes of time.

Fortunately, Thomas Moore (b. 1940) wrote Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy (St. Martin's Press, 2017).  

He has written 19 books, his most famous being The Care of the Soul (1992).

In Ageless Soul, Moore focuses on how older adults can transform the challenges of late life into opportunities to develop and express the most enduring element of our nature--our soul.  

"Aging is a challenge, not an automatic activity. You go through passages, from one state to another. You become somebody. Faced with a challenge, you choose to live through the obstacle rather than avoid it. You make the decision to be in process and to participate actively" (p. 285). 

Yes, Moore spent many years as a monk, but his book isn't squarely a work of devotional literature; it reads most often like a self-help book. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Art of Death: Book Review

Published July 11, 2017
Award-winning novelist Edwidge Danticat writes about her mother's cancer symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, and subsequent death in her 2017 book The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story.

Losing one's mother is jarring. 

Danticat does share personal details about her mother and tries to convey the dynamics of their relationship. However, more than half of the book takes a literary approach to the topic of death.

A writer herself, it makes sense that Danticat immersed herself in the works of forty plus famous authors who have written about death.

For example, she explores the writings of DeLillo, Didion, Garcia Marquez, Lewis, Lorde, Morrison, Sexton, Tolstoy, and Wilder. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Sense of an Ending: Film Review

Released March 10, 2017.
Because I have read and admired The Sense of an Ending (2011) by Julian Barnes, I sought to watch the 2017 film based on this novel.

Yes, the book is more complex and thoughtful than the film, but the director and actors did a credible job exploring themes of memory, regret, consequences, and perspectivity.

The film stars Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, a divorced man who avoids conflict with others and has very few intimate relationships. He has one child, a daughter, but he keeps her at arm's length.

During the course of the film, he receives a letter from an attorney regarding a journal written by Adrian, a college friend who died decades earlier. Both he and Adrian dated the same young woman, Veronica.

The journal was willed to him by Veronica's mother. Receiving this letter sets Tony to recall various events from his university days involving Veronica, Tony, and a host of others on the periphery of these relationships.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Our Souls at Night: Film Review

Released September 1, 2017.
Having read Kent Haruf's novel, I was eager to see how Our Souls at Night was adapted to the screen.

The film maintains the same slow pace and understated story, but the film alters the ending to make it more open and upbeat.  By doing so, it erases the powerful message that adult children shouldn't interfere in their parents' relationships. Harrumph.

Nevertheless, it's great to see a film that portrays mature love.  Addie (played by Jane Fonda) and Louis (played by Robert Redford) are neighbors in a small town in western Colorado, but they never really talked to each other.

This changes when Addie asks Louis if he would like to spend the night sleeping beside her.  She's not asking for sex; she's asking for companionship.  He thinks about it and then agrees.

This begins the journey of these two opening their hearts--or their souls--to each other.  They share key stories of their lives, express their desire to be closer to their children, confess regret for actions from decades past.

I would have preferred that the film stay true to the novel, but it's still a triumph to have a film that depicts older adults and their point of view, their challenges, their concerns.  The leads (b. 1936 and 1937) deliver powerful performances in every word, action, and look.


Our Souls at Night: Book Review

Friday, January 12, 2018

Knocking on Heaven's Door: Book Review

Published September 10, 2013.
Journalist Katy Butler supported her aging parents through two very different trajectories in their final years.

She describes their final years in her 2013 book Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death.

Her father, Jeffrey, experienced a stroke and then a series of medical problems that deteriorated his quality of life. Most notably, he had cognitive problems due to vascular dementia.

However, the bulk of Butler's book addresses the decision to give her father a pacemaker so that he could withstand an operation to repair a hernia.

In the years that followed, Butler and her mother, Valerie, regretted that decision. When his memory failed, his personality changed, and his mobility faltered, they tried to have Jeffrey's pacemaker switched off. However, the ethics of that decision was questioned repeatedly.

After watching Jeffrey's life prolonged well past a quality of life acceptable to him and his loved ones, Valerie chose to reject medical interventions when she started experiencing serious heart problems just a couple of years after the death of her husband.

Instead, Valerie chose palliative care and died without having to spend her last months or years in and out of hospitals and under the care of family or paid caregivers.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy 6th Blogoversary

Photo by Kiran Foster.
It's that time of year again!

January 1, 2018 marks the 6th blogoversary for The Generation Above Me.  Thanks for tagging along--whether this is the first time you have visited the blog or if you've been here from the start.

Below are the Top 20 posts by views over the life of the blog. These views have accrued after six years.  The blog contains well over 300 posts. The Top 10 are relatively unchanged from 2007. 

Presented in ascending order: