Thursday, October 30, 2008

Edgar Bronfman, Sr. and Judaism

I've been in the transcription business for a long time and enjoy it [in general, not always in specific naturally -- nothing is always a joy] because of the great variety and because sometimes I feel I "meet" fascinating people. On the variety side, just this month, off the top of my head, I've encountered the US Army, ghost hunters, people dealing with Alzheimer's, autism, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the current economic crisis, legal suits about past discriminatory practices of a large insurance company and the Metropolitan Opera. And Edgar Bronfman, Sr., who is on my mind. He spoke at a public forum which I transcribed, talking about a book he's written. I had known of the Bronfman family, of course, for a long time, mainly the more flamboyant Edgar, Jr. And I knew that EB, Sr. was a great philanthrophist for Jewish causes. And I know about Seagrams, of course.

Well, at 79 (I think) EB, Sr. is taking on Judaism as it is known to most North Americans. He's written a book and he talks very articulately about his serious study of the Torah and Talmud texts. It seems to me, he has done what he can with his money to influence modern Judaism and now has, with a co-writer, and through public fora, decided to state his beliefs and reach a wider audience. Hurray for him. This is the wisdom of age, a man who has done well, now doing good so far as he can. Most people don't have his resources but all can have some of his ethics and, hopefully, some of his good sense.

Among the things he says in his book, and in speaking: He does not like and chooses not to believe in the god of the Old Testament who he called "a killing machine. mean, angry and vengeful." He believes in some creative god but not in that particular version of God. And he said, that the belief that the Torah was is the words of God is a bad joke that first got somehow perpetuated on the Jewish people and thence was taken up by the two other great monothesitic religions -- which has badly stymied any good sense that would have come about if people realized those books were written by men -- some of whom were inspired, but not taking direct dictation from God. He also tells the Jews to stop moaning about intermarriage. It's always happened and always will so instead teach our children what is beautiful in Judaism so they'll want to perpetuate it within whatever marriage they make.

These are highlights. I'll add the name of the book probably tomorrow as a quick search didn't produce it. It's a pleasure to listen to someone speak passionately about having arrived at a common sense belief after much questioning, much reading and study and discussion. A pleasure to listen to people with open minds, especially men who are not stuck in some life long repressive state of mind. His book seems worthwhile both for him to have written and for people, most especially Jews, of course, to read.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Women in politics

On the op-ed page of yesterday's NYTimes Judith Warner, a Times columnist, began an article with this: In 1977, Bella Abzug, the former congresswoman and outspoke feminst, said, "Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel
to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel." In other words women will have truly arrived when the most mediocre among us will be able to do just as well as the most mediocre men. By this standard the watershed event this year is ... Sarah Pallin's nomination as the Republican's No. 2"

She goes on to speak of how Hilary Clinton is one woman who believes she must be twice as smart and twice as good as a man to get ahead and that furthermore, Barak Obama is a man who believes that a person of color must be twice as smart and twice as presidential to get ahead. But the Republicans traffic in raising mediocrity to a national standard. This is a national standard that has us in a hateful war, in an economic crisis that hasn't reached bottom yet, and an ecological disaster the few have yet to comprehend. Not to mention the most extensive penal system on earth, the most arrogant nose thumbing at international agreements ... oh, I could go on. Was it Archie Bunker who said, "You take my meaning?"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday walk in the park

A very beautiful Sunday afternoon for a walk -- and LOTS of other people had the same idea. I love the Sunday afternoon crowds both in Central Park and along the Upper West Side streets [others streets too, but I'm not usually elsewhere]. Earlier this week I had a letter from someone who lives in a small city in Kansas. He and wife had visited NYC and stayed a week some ten blocks away from where I live. He rhapsodized about the mom and pop stores, the small individual boutiques and little restaurant some very plain, a few a bit fancy, all the non-corporate businesses He loved the crowds in the streets too.

Then he complained about the lack of people on streets in his town, even the teacher who lives within site of the school where she teaches actually drives from her garage to the school parking lot every day. He complained there is nothing downtown and that all the places at the edge of town are corporate from grocery stores belonging to big chains to the mall to the big box stores and the national fast food joints That's Kansas, Toto, and Indiana and South Dakota and Alabama and ... just about everywhere. Lots of scholarly articles and books have been written about what's happened to Main Street USA.

It's sad, it's part of the same syndrome of greed that our capitalistic system encourages -- the idea that quantity is more important than quality, that it's better to buy 24 rolls of toilet paper at a time, to eat the tallest hamburger concoction, have the largest number of choices of breakfast cereal and dog food, drive the biggest car/SUV, grow corn on the largest number of acres, crowd as many chickens as possible into multistoried buildings with the least amount of space and grow them as fast a possible [then you get the kind of meat I wrote about a few posts back-BLECH! Who asked, "Is this good?" Who's asking now?

Well, some people are asking. I just read about Prop. 2 in California pushing for more humane treatment of animals being raised for food. High time! We don't have to get Biblical to begin to understand that a day of reckoning is

Okay so how did I get here from a nice walk in the late October sun? It's the life we live, where in Manhattan, NY or Kansas. There is SO MUCH to think about, so much to pay attention to ... a walk in the park is not JUST a walk in the park. The ncessary mottos, I think, are "pay attention" and "give a damn."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lucia di Lammemour.

So more about opera. So why a bagpiper? For the one opera set in Scotland of course and because a piper was outside the theatre as I went to a dramatic concert version of Lucia di Lammermoor. Before the opera began the piper came into the auditorium, walked down one aisle, across the stage and up the other -- the whirring and whining and trilling in the medium sized space make my scalp all prickly. I imagined a horde of tartan clad redheads, swords flashing, as they loomed over a hill to a beach to chase away invading Vikings [no, Mel Gibson was not in my picture] A bagpipe makes an awesome, scary sound.

All the more to contrast with the lushness of Donizetti's very Italian opera. I've never been more aware how odd to have this Sir Walter Scott story set to such music. Wordsworth wasn't thinking of opera when he coined "suspension of disbelief" but opera demands supreme suspension of disbelief. But using the imagination is a joy when reading fiction and a necessity when thinking about grand opera. I was happy to believe the men in tuxedos were Scottish lairds and that the gorgeous diva in a very modern strapless red dress was young Scottish woman being forced into an unwanted marriage.

I have seen Lucia performed only once although I've heard it often -- that was at the Met and believe me, it was a serious test of my ability to suspend disbelief. In the very first scene I discovered that Lucia and her brother were both Asian singers -- perhaps Chinese, perhaps Korean. Beautiful voices, beautiful people but NOT Scottish! However I was far from the stage so I put away my opera glasses and enjoyed once I wrapped my head around the "nontraditional" casting.

Anyway, I'm not writing about the opera so much as the evening as experience since in the previous post I suggested one can read about Sonam's culture shock. For those with the impression NYC is all sophistication and la-de-dah, this was at my neighborhood culture center, Symphony Space, a renovated movie theatre. Not large and lavishly red and gold like the Met or City Opera. The performance was by Opera for Humanity, an entirely volunteer organization, including singers, with proceeds going to feed the hungry both in NYC and in other countries. Good! The Lucia was very fine, the men were good, if not outstanding, he orchestra was small but it was good to watch them for a change as they were on stage with singers. So for a change I really listened to the orchestra score along with the singers.

The music is magnificent and this was the first time I've really enjoyed the mad scene and didn't get bored part way through -- which is a tribute to the acting and stage direction as well as singing. Intermission was interesting. A couple sitting in the row in front of me slightly to my right did not seem to be particularly opera lovers. I was looking around at the crowd when I head the woman mention twice the word "Viagra". Not a frequent public topic at such events. I have no idea what the man said but his [I suppose] wife later said "Well, maybe we can arrange for you to be introduced to him." I thought, there are short stories I could make up about this couple but ... So I turned my attention to a young woman on the other side of me whose outfit was possibly very cool or in-style, or maybe very misguided. From feet up: high heeled platform mules, pinkish tights, a 13 or 14 inch wide piece of stretch fabric that was supposed to be a skirt, some sort of top in a somewhat different pink with a very low neckline and over it a black bolero-ish piece of clothing that fit tightly. I didn't get as far as her makeup and hair-do because some rather loud voiced people behind me were calling to someone coming up the aisle.

There was considerable sense of community in the auditorium. I felt most people had been coerced to purchase tickets and weren't really there for the music. A shame, the music was worth being there for. It's a wonderful town and I am prejudiced but I think the upper west side is a super part of the town.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another Viewpoint

Think of all the things New York City is: big, crowded, full of tall buildings, noisy, full of traffic, busy, loud, multi=cultural, stylish, aggressive, success obsessed, known everywhere. Now think of the opposite of ever one of those words. That opposite is what Bhutan is. As people who read my blogs often know I frequently attend events at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art. The current major exhibit is about Bhutan; the art works exhibited there have never been out of Bhuthan and are not only national treasures, they are high revered objects. To insure the objects are safe here the Bhutanese sent a couple of lamas to care for them by saying prayers for them morning and night. Being out of their proper place, being in New York is seen as something of a dangerous shock for these items.

You can might imagine what kind of shock being here is for the lamas. Yes, they've seen television -- a little =- and speak English but this is certainly a cultural shock. One of the lamas, Sonam, is writing a blog while he is here, Sonam in The Big Apple, and you can click here to go to his blog. I've been reading it backward and haven't yet got to the beginning. It is fascinating to see how he feels about our city and what his life is like while he is here.

I add this to an opposite of reading experience, the other lama, an
American Buddhist monk who is working in Mongolia helping the Mongolian Buddhists restore monasteries and practices. He's a fluent writer and adds a lot of photographs. Most recently he visited a 100 year old nun who practiced her rituals secretly the 40+ years of Soviet occupation. We should all look as wonderful at 80 as she looks at 100. For reading to get people out of their everyday thought patterns these two lamas' blogs are a great antidote. Highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Upcoming UN declaration: rights of older persons

In 1948 when the UN was being established a person born that year had a life expectancy of 41 years! A person born today has a life expectancy of 72 years. I believe this is worldwide data. 60 years ago no need was felt to declare special rights for older persons. They just weren't that prevalent and society was quite different in most of the world than it is today. A committee is now working on a statement, or declaration of the Human Rights of Older Persons because, as the speaker I was listening to, declared the world over abuse of older persons exists, they are isolated, ignored, and often considered burdens by younger people -- by their societies at large and their families specifically. Not at all everywhere all the time -- but enough that it is truly a problem. So a declaration will be proposed in the next year or so and, probably, enacted.

Although it sounds like a tired a cliche, the speaker said, "older persons are the mirrors of tomorrow and reflection of what younger persons will experience as they go through life." Yes, we know. Except the full meaning of these thoughts is not much considered, largely because the younger people to whom it's directed do not want to think about themselves as becoming "older tomorrow" -- although, of course, most feverently hope to have long lives and, in fact, in most cases in Western society take it for granted that they will reach that 72 and possible well beyond.

If older persons were given the respect and equality that the proposed declaration will claim is their right, younger persons should have less fear and trembling as they think of becoming older. How wonderful it is that now older persons are the majority in many countries, and how sad that those countries NEED to heed a declaration of human rights for what is now or soon to be a majority. True, these older persons will need a large share of the social and medical serives. But they also can contribute greatly, in their ranks is enormous expertise and wisdom as well as long, generosity and humor.

Friday, October 17, 2008

United Nations Declarations

I listened to a couple of speeches from the UN sessions that has been ongoing the last couple of weeks. I did not know that there had been, only in 2007, a Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The wise people of the UN had finally realized that even into the 21st century colonizing countries still do not treat indigenous peoples as if they are equals. Among the provisions are the right to their culture and their languages and that their children shall not be forcefully separated from families and sent to schools in the dominant culture.

I am not fully aware of all that's going on around the world but I think Canada was the first country to recognize their indigenous people and to make a state for them. Yes, the state is very far north and not in the economic mainstream and they did then dam the James River and flood hundreds of acres of forest to produce hydroelectric power to sell south of the border. Yes, the electicity I enjoy this very minute may be a product of that left handed gift made by Canada to their native peoples.

I know that Australia has formally apologized to their aborigines and have stopped the practice of forced "white" education of children. The US has stopped the practice too but never yet apologized nor ever been fair and generous to native Americans. I cannot resist noting that the Chinese are treating the Tibetans like a despised indigneous people quite forgetting the great cultural debts they own Tibet and that there was a time when the Mongol "Khan" was considered the "Buddha of power," the Chinese emperor, the "'Buddha of wisdom," and the Dalai Lama the "Buddha of Compassion." {I hope I have that right and if not that I might be corrected) For the last 60 years the Chinese have tired hard to eradicate the Tibetan culture, {they allow somewhat rebuilt monasteries more as tourist attractions than anything else and infiltrate the lama ranks with spies.}

I am certain there are other indigenous cultures in many other parts of the world, like the natives in Central and South America and certainly in many African state, where these human rights that so many of us take for granted are anything but granted. Perhaps it's a failure of imagination on my part but I cannot understand how one can look at another human being and not recognize the commonalities we all share. That many people don't look a thing like me is a wonderful, fascinating and beautiful thing; the fact that they don't think like me is equally fascinating and wonderful. Why should I want to rid the world of them or turn them into people like myself? I like myself well enough but I don't think I should be a model for all others. These seem to me rather simple minded, common sensical attitudes and I'm astonished others don't share them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bellini's Norma

Symphony Space is a movie theatre turned into concert venue and neighborhood cultural center. Connected to it is the Thalia theater, long an art house, then closed for a few years but now resurrected and showing art films, usually in series, again. The fall Hi-def videos of Italian operas are being shown twice, first on a Sunday evening in the larger Symphony Space auditorium and then on a Wednesday in the Thalia. It's a community friendly arrangement. Last night I went to a showing of Norma at that Thalia space.

Since I began listening to the Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcasts when I was about 14, I've heard all the repertory standards many, many times and listened to discussions about them. To me opera is more an auditory experience than a theatre experience. In fact the first few operas I saw overwhelmed me with spectacle and sound --one of the first was Turandot, -- no wonder I was overwhelmed.

Bel canto operas are almost by definition jewels and Norma certainly is. I feel a little low brow but I have to admit that I really am liking these hi-def productions that are suddenly springing up since the Met pioneered the idea a couple years ago. The sets are glorious, the camera work fine [a little self-conscious, I felt] and the sound is glorious in a small movie theatre, plus there's unobtrusive subtitles, and wonderful close-ups and the singers have become, more or less, actors. Silly as some stories are all the elements pull me in and I'm finding it a rich experience of music and story. My theatrically critical mind tries hard not to sabotage my enjoyment by disliking anachronisms -- like dreadlock wigs for Norma and Adelgisa.

But that is all prologue and just me explaining where I'm coming from and saying I had preconceived ideas when I went to the theatre last night. Little did I expect to discover what to me is the real story of the "Druids and Romans," as it's generally defined. This is actually a story about women's friendship, understanding and generosity to one another. No, there is no hint of lesbian love, they are rivals for Pollione and they fully understand how the other fell so hard for the skunk. [He deserves another "S" work.] I was amazed to realize that the emotional story is not about Pollione or about the Druids rebelling against the Roman occupation, but about a younger woman's great respect for the priestess and Norma's generosity toward Andelgisa. I've never heard this discussed, not even mentioned. Commentators tell the action but they all seem blind to that central part of the story as if taking it for granted that women would be so generous toward one another or as if it is simply not very significant. But the most powerful and beautiful duet in the opera, one of the most beautiful in all opera, is between the two women. Wake up guys! This goes way beyond being teammates in some ball game.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Poverty is the subject of thousands of blogs today. For so long I can't remember when I first saw her, a Hispanic woman has been beside the subway entrance I use every morning. She has a styrofoam picnic cooler which is full of hot tamales wrapped individually in foil and she has an insulated picnic urn full of cafe con leche. She sell breakfast to the other Hispanic people who arrive at that corner going to their jobs as janitorial assistants, deli clerks, stock "boys", cleaning ladies, and the guys who wait on the corner for pick-up jobs. She is there in every kind of weather - if it's raining hard she's under the overhang of the store across the sidewalk. She must get up a 3:00 or 4:00 to make the tamales. Many of the men who buy their breakfast from her probably live with several others in cramped rooms, possibly with only the most basic kitchen and perhaps have no idea how to cook. This is one face of urban poverty -- no one gets up in the wee hours to cook and then faces the weather all year 'round because it's a dream job. Perhaps she has a cleaning or baby sitting or some other job in the afternoon. I have no idea. Perhaps she sends a money order home to Guadamala or wherever every week.

A woman at my quilt group last weekend spoke to a friend about children coming to the day program at which she works. "We serve them lunch and it's the first food they've have that day," she said. My daughter Leslie who works with mentally and physically handicapped adults who live in group homes tells me many come to the day program she runs without the lunch the homes are supposed to supply so she must find lunch for them -- sometimes out of her own pocket, because the owners of the group homes haven't received money from the state for months and are many times mortgaging their own homes to run the group homes. Many of the handicapped people are alone, without family, most have nothing.

Many older people who have only social security checks truly have to choose between buying food and buying medicine. The same old coat will keep them warm enough another winter, although they may have to keep the thermostat very low, the same shoes will protect their feet although they'd be ashamed for many people to see the condition of the shoes, but they cannot afford the diabetes medications or they don't know enough about medicine to know which of the many drugs the doctors so cavalierly prescribe are keeping them alive and which are "recommended for someone your age." Neither they, nor often their MDs,know that the anti-cholesterol pills have only a 17% chance of saving them from a heart attack, while the anti-hypertnsion pills,if taken in doses that keep the blood pressure in a safe range, will probably save them from having strokes -- and usually the blood pressure pills are much less expensive. There is poverty of information and education as well as financial poverty and frequently the poor education has, of course, led to the financial poverty.

These are a few of the kinds of poverty that have come to my attention, not for the first time, but lumped together in the last few weeks. It's easy to walk through our days with blinders on. Put the headset on and listen to music, chat away on the cell phone and ignore everything around you. My advice: Don't! Don't stop looking at the world you live in. Don't think it has nothing to do with you. Don't think they're getting by and you have to worry about your own problems. At least SEE your neighbors. At least know the world you live in and let yourself feel. Care. You'll act in some way -- whatever way you can ... when you care.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eating chicken

Food is the topic of the entire NYTimes Magazine this week. I haven't had time to read most of the articles, partly because the puzzle is pretty hard this week although I've just cracked the "code" and expect to make headway later this evening. However, I have read the interview with Robert Kenner who is making a documentary called Food, Inc. about, obviously, the industrialization of how we get our food.
What he says about how chickens are raised -- crowded in the dark doing nothing but eating and growing lots of white meat -- is not news to me. In fact, for the last two or three years I have liked the taste of chicken less and less. So what idiot thing did I do this afternoon? You guessed it. After three hours of walking about in glorious warm weather to a street fair and thrift shop and flea market -- at which first an third places I resisted gyros, crepes, home made donuts and, falafel, not to mention the disgusting oncoction, deep fried Oreos.

I was, as I said, tired and hungry so I stopped in the supermarket where I need to get a couple other items and at their hot food center where the chickens are roasting, I saw that I could get a nice piece of chicken breast with sweet potatoes [love them, even plain as they were]. So I gave in to the hungery/lazy syndrome. Big Mistake!!

I added a salad - at least that was smart -- nuked the other food and discovered all over again how awful chicken has become. I remember farm chickens, now called "free range" then called June's chore to feed and gather the eggs from and to shut up at night. (Dad unlocked them early in the morning and checked for signs of foxes.) The white meat might as well be made from some amalgam of styrofoam and silly putty. It does awful things in the mouth -- like semi-cooked pie dough. It seems to grow and threatens to clog the esophagus like a wade of paper towel in a toilet.

I eat very little meat as it is and I MUST remember not to eat chicken again. Oh, tiny cubes or slivers as in soup or some casseroles that are greatly disguised, or enhanced can be tolerated or even enjoyed. I wonder if people really like those roasted chickens. Or is that why chicken as such seems to be mainly consumed breaded and fried so that people really aren't tasting chickent at all but all other coatings. UGH!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bill Ayers

This is not a political blog -- except for my passionate feelings about the plight of Tibet -- but I am greatly irritated by the stupidity of the media, and the Republican smear tactics over the Obama/Ayers tenuous connection - I'd probably like Obama more than I do if he had a very strong connection with Bill Ayers.

Bill Ayers is a distinguished professor, he is a humanitarian. One need only go to the many Google sites to see that. Why am I in a rant? I have never met Bill Ayers. But I have met his wife, Bernardine Dorn although only briefly. A very good friend of hers [now deceased] is someone I knew very well, and knew of Bernardine through her. Yes, both of them were radicals in the '60s. Anyone old enough to remember the '60s knows there was a lot to be radical about. I'm only sorry we haven't had a redux of the anti-Vietnam sentiment over the Iraq war and America's atrocities there. But that's beside the point. Both are far better citizens, more caring, more informed and better intentioned [I believe] than the Gov. of Alaska has shown herself to be.

The Republican tar and feather machine and many in the press would have us believe that one's youthful passions cannot ever be tempered and that those who are seomtimes too passionate cannot harness their moral outrage into a constructive and exemplary life. How many who are over, say 50 would wish to be defined by the person they were at 25? Don't we beleive in the value of life experience?

The big bad word today -- and for the past several years -- is "terrorist." That's the word that has deprived many innocent people of their civil rights, and even sent them to be tortured in hidden hell holes. That's the word that convinced Congress to spend enormous amounts of money for a war we went into fraudulently. It's an ugly word, and in it's ugliest form it indicts those we don't understand or who we want to harm -- by applying it to upstanding citizens the users are themselves terrorists.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A metaphor for a young life

The subject of Alzheimer's came up last week because I was transcribing interviews with caregivers. After a break, some legal stuff and then some autism stuff, I'm back to an Alzheimer's caregiver today -- in this case a young woman who left college to help her overwhelmed mother deal with her father's deterioration. Little did this woman know at age 20 that nine years later she would still be a caregiver. She spoke, as the interviewer noted, like a post-trauma stress sufferer, except she's still caregiving.

She was largely very inarticulate, searching for words and thoughts and was painful to listen to, let alone transcribe. When she left college she had been a typical very young woman, self-absorbed, glad to be free of family and still unformed as a full adult personality. But her instinct when she saw her parents in great distress was to help. Now, she has not lived a separate life, has not done the typical things that most 20-somethings do as they finish their education and being adult life in the workplace and get into the serious dating phase looking for a mate.

The young woman came up with a thoroughly poetic metaphor, the full truth of which I suspect she does not realize. Hearing her come up with it out of the morasse of her confused words almost gave me a chill. She said, I feel as though these years have been like a glacier. Glaciers move slowly but they change the entire geology of the earth. I feel I was a desert but the glacier that these years have been has changed my life to one of lakes and I have no idea what is in those lakes. I was stunned by the appropriateness of this metaphor from a woman who had for well over an hour been struggling just to speak a whole sentence. She will some day realize how apt and she will probably be glad that that glacier changed her from a superficial, thoughtless young woman to someone with deep experience of life who can feel that she rose to a difficult challenge and made life better for both her father and her mother.

While she and the interviewer feel this is a very unusual thing she has had to do, that is the first world view. In our blinkered provincialism, we forget that this is how people, mainly women, in less "developed" countries have had to live their lives, caring for aging, needy elders. To what extent are we "developed" and to what extent have we lost our generosity and kindness and love and respect for those who are older and needy? Does cultural "advancment" mean an emphasis on a greed for individuality, that makes people afraid of the natural deterioration and the care tho oldest people or those with Alzheimers, even when when the onset is "early" may need?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sweetie, Dear, Mommi

Today's NYTimes has a front page piece about the indignity foisted on persons in the over 60 demoograhic by calling them knee jerk endearments like "sweetie, dearie and hon." To which I personally but with very little rancor "mommi" which the Hispanic coffee vender calls me. Maybe because it's not my culture and I don't understand all it's nuances, he doesn't sound belittling when he says, "Good morning, Mommi, black no sugar." Names have never been exchanged and if he said "ma'am" I'd feel like some ersatz dowager.

However the "dearie/sweetie" thing is pervasive in senior care centers and many other places, it can be waiters or store clerks or, too often, doctors and nurses. Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale believes it's worse than insulting, it's insidious and leads to a "negative image of aging." Well, leave it to the researchers to be the last to know. The only time I say "sweetie" is to very small children or domestic animals that weigh less than fifteen pounds. The word is infantilizing, including when a husband calls his wife by the name.

Adding insult to injury, the Times article quotes Bill Bonner, and Idahoan with white hair and neat white beard [by no means the Santa sort- his pic is in the paper] who takez serious umbridge when asked "Who did you used to be?" And I don't blame him, as he says you should not be subtle when answering such stupidity. His answer is "I am a human being who cares about others." That is somewhat too subtle, I think, for the kind of boobs who would ask such a question. But outright belligerence would be dumb, too. One simply needs to say, "That is an unkind question." It might be a little wittier to answer the question with a question of the "Do you mean am I the guy who won the Nobel prize in physics in 1973?" or something along that line. Well, each person needs an answer that fits the situation and it's better to have one semi-prepared. Or at least be prepared to meet rudeness with a dignified counter of some sort.

But the point made by Dr. Levy is that there is plenty of agism in the world; we should recognize it's subtler forms but not let them define us. We're old enough to know who we are and I'm really not a "dearie" type, never have been and don't aspire to be, let along a "sweetie". I won't argue with Ma'am or Lady unless the tone is tells me I really ought to shock the pipsqueak with, "Who you calling lady in that &*&^&&* tone of voice you %^mf^$#$ runt.?" Well, no -- that's not my style either.

Let me tell you this article was a much better read than the much lager one about the magic shrinking act going on downtown on Wall Street. [And in case anyone is wondering, the orchids above are from a street fair yesterday.]

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Alzheimer's Disease

It's one of the monsters that hide under the beds of those with a heavy number of years on their shoulders; it comes out between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. to waft it's "what ifs" around a wakeful brain. It's on my mind not because it's one of my personal ghoulies but because I'm spent many hours at work this week listening to tapes of people who are caregivers. I do not have answers but from what I hear I have ideas -- one is that we need medical education and also some emotional education. It's now available online for those who are even minimally computer literate -- but so many people are afraid to look up medical info. They think it'll be over their heads. Some sites are just that but there are informational organizations for nearly every disease with easy to understand information. Plus there are support groups in most locations where a facilitator can pass on helpful suggestions; and other can share their frustrations and findgins.

We've been told for too long that knowledge of our physical and mental workings is something for professionals. Thank heavens there are professionals who learn more all the time, but it's OUR bodies and minds. We must be responsible toward ourselves and respect the physical beings we are. I am deeply pained by the ignorance I've been listening to -- pained because ignorance brings on fear and confusion and pain for both patient and caregiver. We have to stop thinking a mental problem is shameful -- one daughter of a patient could not say the word Alzheimer's, she said 'memory issues," although she knew the word well enough. It's not shameful, it's a real physical disease. Other physical diseases make people act strange also but in different ways, that's often accepted.

People are saying, I don't know why she [the patient] acts this way, she was never like this. It's only my theory and I don't think doctors agree with me, but I think that as other veneer goes we become the children we were -- maybe sweet and shy, maybe angry and spiteful and selfish, maybe a spectrum of all those things that we were and then learned to overcome to live among civilized, adults. It's hard to accept that the sweet gramma or grampa can become a selfish, angry child -- but remember that we all had to be taught how to act around others.

Most of us learned that very, very well. Most of us are genuinely likable people, but we probably all went through the "terrible twos" and had there was no reasoning with those brats that we once were. Happily our brains matured and we learned to "be nice." If the brain's deteriorate and the civilization wears away like week old fingernail polish, it doesn't mean the person has become someone else. We are born human and we never stop being human. We need to learn true respect for all sensate beings, all humans first, all animals too, fish, bugs, even trees and plants, all living things. If we have that respect we will do what we can to make the world we live in better for all of us. It takes heart and then it takes education in that virtue called loving kindness that comes from understand others are just as human as we are.

Well, those were my rambling thoughts in the quiet moments after I have come to know a few people dealing with their ill parents, sighing a lot, mumbling a lot, sounding like people in a small row boat on a large lake already caught in a rainstorm and wondering what they'll do if there's hail or lightening.