The Negative We Actually Need Today

negative capability

F. Scott Fitzgerald borrowed the poet’s phrase “Tender is the night” to become the title of his 1934 novel. The term “Bright Star” was taken from one of his poems and used as the title of a 2009 biographical film on the poet’s life. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” (on the adverse effects on our environment caused by pesticides) was supposedly so named because Carson had been inspired by a line of his poetry that says, “And no birds sing.”

Well, since others have used English poet John Keats’ words for their own purposes, so will I.

Keats, who died in 1821 at the age of 25, used the phrase Negative Capability just once in an 1817 letter to his brothers. Keats was describing a conversation with friends from a few days earlier. Wikipedia notes that Keats meant the term to “characterize the capacity of the greatest writers (particularly Shakespeare) to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty.”

Although the primary reference was in regard to a writer’s ability, Negative Capability has come to have philosophical meanings. After some research, I believe this is my favorite meaning of a person possessing negative capability:

One who has a willingness to embrace uncertainty and can make peace with not knowing everything right now

If ever there was a time for Negative Capability to be present in our lives, it is this day, this week, this month.

Many of us are like four-year-olds on a car trip whining, “How much longer?!” We demand to know when this COVID-19 crisis will be over. Come on; give us a date to circle on our calendars so we can X-out the days as we get through them!

Acting as if it’s our right as Americans to demand certainty in uncertain times only causes us more stress. What we know is that we don’t know for sure when life will resume its normal patterns. And in the meantime, we’ll follow the rules of social distancing and washing hands.

Embracing uncertainty can assist us in accepting our changed lives. For instance, you may have seen one of the Facebook postings that reads like a lesson from the Bible. This one is by Kitty O’Meara:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Or this one from the Center for Spiritual Living: “Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn’t working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better.”

Wishing you joy, peace, and some negative capability on this day.


Article from

Mind Over Body OR Body Over Mind?

Mind over bodyFor many years I have found the subject of the mind/body connection fascinating. One of the original books on the topic that hooked me goes back to 1987. Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Dr. Joan Borysenko is still applicable all these years later. In fact, I include the book as suggested reading to my public speaking students.

So I was thrilled to find in a new book I’m currently reading (Successful Aging by Dr. Daniel Levitin) that the author has a strong focus on the mind/body connection as it relates to aging well. Dr. Levitin (62) is a neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist. I appreciate that instead of relying simply on his own work and own opinions for the book, he reviewed around four thousand peer-reviewed scientific papers.

One phrase that popped out at me in the section on exercise is embodied cognition. Basically our brains thrive on our body’s physical movement. Our memory, problem-solving skills, planning abilities, creativity, and thinking are enhanced by physical activity.

Note that “physical activity” doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a gym rat or taking up running. (Unless those activities bring you joy. Or unless you’re Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins who took up competitive athletics at age 75 and then at age 100 moved on to running. At 101 she won the hundred-yard dash in the National Senior Games.)

Physical activity can be as simple as moving around, interacting with the environment.

Dr. Levitin says the true meaning of embodied cognition came as an epiphany to him when he went for a walk in the Quebec countryside with two 70-ish friends. The path was a dirt trail through the woods. They meandered over tree roots, rocks, and fallen branches. They had to negotiate around young children running along the path as well as duck those pesky low-hanging branches.

It struck him that he had to carefully watch where he walked, making sure that foot placement was just so. Compared to walking on a treadmill or strolling on a nicely paved sidewalk (both beneficial movement), walking outdoors, he believes, is the best physical activity to keep the brain active and flexible.

It turns out I had intuitively already made this part of my routine. While walking my dog Grace along a creek at a local park, we negotiate our way among humongous tree roots. Then we go off the path to mount the small hillside so Grace can sniff out the fence line adjacent to a cow pasture. We make our way through an uneven terrain of pine needles, pinecones, dead leaves, twigs, fallen tree limbs, and rocks on the park’s opposite side. For once I am ahead of the curve for health recommendations!

I think everyone over 60 and their adult children will benefit from reading Successful Aging. While the book (at 400 pages not counting the 74 pages of NOTES) can at times read a bit too much like a textbook, it’s thoughtfully written. It’s not a list of DO THIS / DON’T DO THIS bullet points, nor does Levitin try to shock readers with DO THIS OR ELSE! predictions.

Instead, the pages are filled with interesting science-based material and gentle nudges for readers to incorporate the key concepts into their daily lives in order to live a longer, healthier, and enriched life.

The book also provides the information our adult children need to understand this new stage of life we parents are living through, such as why we grow accustomed to things the way they are. For instance, the challenge of a new cell phone doesn’t arise because someone has turned 72 and suddenly grown stupid. It’s because of changes in the brain that make learning something new more difficult as well as make our fingers less dexterous.

This is a book that will bring a better understanding among our family members, and so it is well worth the 400-page read.


Interview clip of Dr. Levitin

Making Ourselves Sick (with fear)

making ourselves sick with fear

I rarely write about topical issues mostly because it’s the “stuff” that everyone else is already talking about. If your email inbox is anything like mine, this week you’ve had new mail from your bank, the credit union, your church, the grocery stores, your insurance agent, your children’s school, and any place where you might physically show up. I even had one from Budget Rent A Car (from whom I haven’t rented since 2009). The companies all want to assure us that OUR health and safety is of utmost priority for them during this time of COVID-19 crisis.

I just Googled COVID-19 and was rewarded with  2,650,000,000 results. That’s two BILLION, six hundred fifty million. Clearly, every adult on earth knows about this topic.

While naturally I have some concern about the virus that is especially threatening for older adults with underlying health conditions, I refuse to sit around and wring my hands. And actually, I am more concerned about the deep stress and overwhelming anxiety so many people are going through worrying about COVID-19.

I rarely watch any live news but was too lazy to get up from the sofa when it came on last night. Story after story was shared by anxious newscasters about schools temporarily closing in the DC metropolitan area. After nine minutes I announced that I couldn’t take any more. The media was making this proactive step sound like confirmation that we are all going to die.

If we focus on fear and the worst predictions, we’ll make ourselves miserable. I hear and see people tuning out the positive aspects with a “yes but” response. As most psychologists will tell you, “yes but” actually means “no.”

Four days ago the Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus offered remarks on the COVID-19 virus. He said that among those who are infected, most will recover.

Yes, most will recover, just as most people recover from regular influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that during the flu season of 2019/2020 there have been at least 22,000 deaths and 370,000 hospitalizations among the 36 million people unlucky enough to have experienced the “regular” flu.

Follow the CDC precautions for avoiding this current virus. Absolutely wash your hands on a regular basis and use hand sanitizer when you can’t. Stay home if you’re sick. Cover your coughs and sneezes. I would add stop reading every alarming article and watching every scary video about it. Check out true sources such as the CDC instead.

And keep in mind Dr. Ghebreyesus closing words in his remarks:

“Let hope be the antidote to fear. Let solidarity be the antidote to blame. Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat.”


Remarks by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Please read!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice page


Who Knows What’s Next?

what's next

My mother-in-law Rosalie often quipped an adage up to the week before she died at the age of 100: “Old age isn’t for sissies.” says that the phrase first appeared in the Reader’s Digest April 1968 magazine, having been submitted to their “Life in the United States” section by a Ruth Hain from California. Ruth’s story was that her group of elderly friends had been sitting around complaining of various aches and pains and the maladies associated with aging. Until finally one friend said, “Well, it just proves one thing; old age sure ain’t for sissies.”

As we age we hear more about decline, both physical and mental. Maybe we clicked on one social media article about aging and the algorithms kicked in, gleefully filling our news feeds and inboxes with notices about the hazards of getting on in years.

Many of them scare us because we don’t want to be THAT person who ends up with Alzheimer’s, or THAT person confined to a bed or a wheelchair, or THAT person who has been forgotten and is living in isolation.

The older we get, the more frightening the concept of not being the same version of ourselves becomes.

Next month I will cross the calendar date when I will officially be closer to 70 than 69.

May I just say that feels impossible?

For the past ten years I haven’t minded sharing that I’m in my 60s. I had a blast at my 50th high school reunion in 2018, reminiscing with all the other 68-year-olds. Keeping active in all the ways that it counts (spiritually, mentally, physically, socially), I haven’t felt my age. I don’t feel old.

So I’m not certain why the idea of becoming 70 in the fall feels like a dramatic turning point.

The “aging” site that most frequently pops up in my email feed is called Their tagline is “where grown-ups keep growing,” and their menu tabs are: Health / Money and Policy / Work and Purpose / Living / Caregiving / Technology.

Unlike many of the “you’re-getting-old-and-you-need-to-be-afraid-of-what’s-coming-next” sites, articles, and stories, Next Avenue offers encouragement, insight, inspirational stories, and advice to those in their midlife season.

I like it because it’s not one of those preachy sites that makes it seem as though there is just one right way to live your older life. And actually, it parallels my teaching and writing methods: offering up new information in a positive way for readers to consider and then ponder how they might find ways of incorporating the ideas to improve their own lives.

I’ve included a link below so you can check out their site.

So for now, this is your 69 years, four months, and 22 days old blogger signing off.


Next Avenue

Stinking Cute Really Is The Best Description

Stinking Cute

If you’re a regular reader you’ll recall that my dog Riley was diagnosed with an oral mast cell tumor the day after Christmas last year. I was devastated not just because of the highly probable outcome of death but also because we had subjected him to two unnecessary surgeries based on a misdiagnosis from multiple veterinarians.

When Riley died in January, I gave everything dog-related to the local animal shelter; my car was packed full. I swore I would never own another dog because the loss was just too overwhelming.

Seven months later a dog with the royal-sounding name Tatiana showed up at the SPCA shelter where I had begun volunteering. She had just been surrendered a few days before the hot August day my daughter Laura and I stopped by to walk and socialize some of the shelter dogs.

A little beagle mix of three, she acted more like a puppy. I could feel the little tugs on my heart as this full-of-life dog ran to fetch the ball as often as Laura would throw it. But I tried to stand firm since I didn’t want to take another chance of loving a dog.

Had it not been for Laura’s insistence to go back a second day to play with Tatiana, as well as her urging me to take a set of adoption papers with me, I do believe our home would still be dogless.

I’ve heard stories through the years of people whose dogs have died who then go out and replace their pet with as close to the original as can be found. And others have told stories that their new dog was as different as possible from the dog they had lost.

We renamed her Grace, and she is quite different from Riley. While he was quiet and aloof, she is rambunctious.  A friend kept her today while my husband and I took a day trip. The friend texted me shortly after we dropped her off. “She is so stinking cute!” That made me smile since it’s my own catchphrase for Grace.

This dog has an inexhaustible exuberance for life. I believe that’s the quality I admire most in Grace. Like most other humans, I can slip into a physical and mental laziness without even realizing it’s happening.

But when I see Grace make her own fun by tossing a stuffed animal from the bed and then pouncing on it, or throwing her head back to release a ball from her jaws so she can chase it, that reminds me that it’s good to move and play and have fun.

Loving is a risk. People can disappoint us, betray us. Our children are supposed to outlive us and pets are not. Sometimes the ones we love (human and animals) get too sick or injured to recover and leave us before we’re ready to let them go.

But love outlasts death. Love helps us find our way back to discover joy in a changed life.

Love is definitely worth the risk.


Article on why owning a dog is beneficial to your health

Article on loving your dog more than you love other humans


Hook, Line, and Stinker


If you go online at all, I’m sure you’ve seen the hooks to get you to click on a story. You know…hooks like these:

See for yourself why What’s-his-face’s last video is cringeworthy!

Remember What’s-her-name? You won’t believe what she looks like now!

When this photograph went viral, it sparked major reactions!

Experts insist that you need to STOP doing THIS right now!

In my head the hooks, said aloud, would be in the over-the-top perky voices of female early morning newscasters. May I just say those voices get on my last good nerve? I usually leave the room when my husband insists on watching early morning television. The news people want us to believe that anything else that’s happening in the world is much more exciting than our plain vanilla lives.

One titled something like “20 Health Myths You Need to Stop Believing!” tricked me into reading it the other day. I stopped at #3 because the myths were so ridiculous that no one in his/her right mind would ever have believed any of them.

My friend Stephanie announced this week that she deleted the Facebook app from her phone. Since she is a social media consultant, this was a brave step for her. Facebook is important to her business and to her clients’ businesses. So she hasn’t given up Facebook; she simply went from being tied to it as close as her phone might be to checking it just once a day on her laptop. Stephanie says it’s a great relief and that she feels a sense of freedom. And PS – she hasn’t missed anything of earth-shaking importance.

If you want to have more time in your day for what’s really important, just stop clicking on these trickster headlines. Although when I was searching for headline examples on MSN, I did come across the nutritional value of eating a banana every day and it’s included here. Just because!

If You Don’t Eat a Banana Every Day, This Might Convince You to Start

One More Star In The Sky

One more star in the sky

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Until I saw the tiny blurb in a magazine at the doctor’s office, I had never heard of Avicii. If you’re over 35 and have never been in a dance club, chances are the name is unfamiliar to you as well.

But I’ll bet most of my readers would recognize the 2013 hit So Wake Me Up When It’s All Over. At 124 beats per minute, it’s one of those catchy tunes that gets you bopping along to the beat. Released as a single from Avicii’s debut album True, the song charted at #1 in 22 countries and sold over four million copies.

Avicii was the stage name of a young Swedish man named Tim Bergling. His career strikes me as unusual. He wasn’t a singer, but a musician, record producer, and a DJ in the genre of electronic dance music. So his albums—all credited to Avicii—were a collection of his songs sung by other people. For instance, Wake Me Up is sung by Aloe Blacc, who along with Avicii and Mike Einziger, wrote the lyrics.

His career skyrocketed early and bright and burned out. His first record release was in 2009, but he had already retired from touring in 2016, having suffered for several years from health problems related to excessive drinking. Acute pancreatitis in 2014 led to the removal of both his gallbladder and appendix. Prescribed pain killers became a problem for him as well. He continued to endure poor mental health, anxiety, and stress. He took his own life on April 20, 2018.

According to an article on, Beyond his exhaustion, it seems Avicii suffered from a kind of social anxiety, which was greatly exacerbated by the demands of fame. “I don’t think he knew what it takes to be as successful as he became,” the director says. “He was never comfortable as the center of attention. He felt stardom is something that human beings have made up. It’s nothing real.”

Avicii wanted to retire from the stress of touring well before he actually did. I watched one video where his manager was going through the list of touring events, and you could see Avicii/Tim just looking at him and saying things like, “I can’t do it. It’s causing me anxiety.” When Tim did actually cancel the tour, the manager is heard saying, “He doesn’t understand the value of money.”

After his death, his parents issued this statement:

 “Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions. An over-achieving perfectionist who traveled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress. When he stopped touring, he wanted to find a balance in life to be happy and be able to do what he loved most – music. He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace.”

I remember a moment in a long-ago high school health class when the discussion centered on mental health. The teacher said, “Everyone has a breaking point and sometimes the dividing line isn’t very clear.” That has stayed with me all these years.

I’m going to repeat this reminder: PLEASE…if you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). This is free, confidential support that’s available 24/7/365.

Life is precious. Please seek help if you feel you are in a hopeless situation.


So Wake Me Up When It’s All Over

Documentary on Avicii


You Don’t Lose Weight By Eating Donuts

Eating Donuts

Image courtesy of Barbara A. Lane on

If we’re personal friends on Facebook, you probably saw this post of mine from June 7:

This is not an event I had on my calendar. Indeed, the only reason we ended up at Duck Donuts in Bristow, VA that morning was simply by chance. Honest.

I haven’t always been a huge fan of donuts; really, for most of my life, I could take them or leave them.

The saying goes the older we get, the wiser we become. So if you are on the younger side, dear reader, let me impart some knowledge to you.

Wisdom Point #1: Losing weight becomes more difficult the older you are and (on the same thinking trajectory) gaining weight becomes much easier. Sadly, I decided I actually like donuts around the time the “harder to lose/easier to gain” stage kicked in.

Wisdom Point #2: We are what we eat. And that’s why eating donuts makes us round and fluffy. The hole in the donut’s middle represents the hole in our heads if we refuse to believe that donut eating poses a major threat to staying at a healthy weight.

I don’t believe there is one single positive aspect of a donut. At least with pumpkin pie or apple crisp we’re getting the benefit of some fruit. And we have to cross our fingers that the blueberry muffin on its way to our table is absolutely loaded with nutritious little balls of purple plumpness so that we don’t feel as guilty.

But donuts? Nope, sorry. The site lists these ingredients for a Dunkin Donuts glazed specimen: DONUT: Enriched Unbleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron as Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Enzyme, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Palm Oil, Water, Dextrose, Soybean Oil, Whey (a milk derivative), Skim Milk, Yeast. And then less than 2% of fifteen other items.   Whoops…almost forgot the glaze ingredients: Sugar, Water, Maltodextrin, Contains 2% or less of: Mono and Diglycerides, Agar, Cellulose Gum, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Artificial Flavor.

ALL of this is why I think the next book written on healthy eating to control weight should be titled, “You Don’t Lose Weight by Eating Donuts.”

So imagine my surprise when I found two sites that mention both donuts and weight loss.

There is actually a diet called “the donut diet.”  The founders are not specifically pushing donuts. The idea behind this “diet” is that for two weeks you pick one food item you love and that would never be on a normal diet’s “allowable” list. Along with whatever else they want you to eat, you’re allowed one serving of this item per day and you have to agree not to feel guilty about eating it. This is supposed to “reset” your relationship with food.

Umm…no comment.

Then there’s a guy who swears he ate 500 Krispy Kreme donuts in two months and lost 20 pounds. It seems his wife worked at Krispy Kreme for a short period and employees got to take home a dozen donuts at the end of each day. The man ate all twelve each day.

He says he lost weight because when you eat a dozen donuts, you’re not hungry for another 24 hours. This concept sounds seriously dangerous so please do NOT try this!

As long as I’ve made you smile or laugh, I have no regrets about writing a blog post on donuts. Although I am sorry if you have a sudden longing for one.

In the profound words of Homer Simpson, “Mmm…donuts!”


The Donut Diet

Story of the man who ate 500 Krispy Kreme donuts and lost 20 pounds in two months


Transformation Gameplan


Photo by Foundry on

Someone had posted this quotation without attribution on Facebook last week.

Inspiration and information without personal application will never amount to transformation.

The quotation resonated with me in a powerful way so I researched it.

Embarrassingly enough, it was from a book I had already read. I say embarrassingly because not only had I read the book within the past two years but also I had written about it in this post from June 24, 2017.

Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst contains many gems of wisdom. In my mind, the Inspiration / Information / Application / Transformation quote has to be one of the most universally applicable pieces of advice ever.

Consider these three scenarios:

You’ve been stuck in a horrible work environment for several years. A friend gives you some great advice about a new job-hunting website. He also gives you a pep talk about your many outstanding characteristics. So you have the information and you’ve been inspired. BUT unless you apply yourself and actually go to the site and do the work of finding new employment, you’ll still be in that life-sucking job this time next year.

You read an article about getting back into shape after the age of ___ (fill in the blank). The article is saturated with easy-to-understand information about the many benefits of exercise at any age. Not only that, but there are links to free online videos to help you perform the movements correctly. “I can do this!” you shout. But neither your body nor your health will be transformed unless you do the work.

You’re interested in deepening your faith and/or spirituality so you sign up for a study group at church. The group is amazingly supportive and the book being used is rich in fascinating information. But life happens. You skip a homework assignment, then you don’t find the time to read the next chapter, and decide to drop out. No application = no transformation.

We watch TED talks, read books, research online, and attend classes and seminars that inspire us and provide the information needed to take whatever step we’re considering taking. But when we just let that information seep out of our brains and allow the inspiration to languish, it’s as if it never even happened.

Lest you think I’m pointing fingers and holding up myself as a sterling example of accomplishment, uh, no. Sorry to disappoint you.

In the past, I’ve stayed too long in a joyless job. I’ve worked my way into shape and lazily watched it slip away several times. I purchased the book Crafting a Rule of Life two years ago and haven’t gotten farther than Chapter 3.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” (Attributed to various people including Buddha.)

And Richard Bach said, “We teach best what we most need to learn.”

In my case, often I WRITE best what I most need to learn.

So thanks, Lysa TerKeurst, for the words of wisdom. I promise this time I’ll remember them.


About the book Uninvited

Let’s Give The Hands A Hand


Photo by Di Lewis on

A friend was recently lamenting that her hands look older than her face does. She’s in her late 50s. “How did THIS (holding up the backs of her hands to me) happen?!”

We may not consciously think much about our hands. But our hands are out there, taking the brunt of sun exposure, wind, cold weather, hot weather, cleaning solutions, dish liquid, and water. Women especially may have excellent routines for taking care of our faces, but our hands are most often forgotten.

Even if we take preventive methods to care for our hands, aging by itself wreaks havoc with them. To quote Amos Lavian (found of Dermelect Cosmeceuticals), “As you age, the elasticity of the skin on your hands as well as the abundance of collagen begins to dissipate, making the skin on your hands look and feel more fragile.”

It turns out that the skin on the backs of our hands is thinner so it is more prone to wrinkle anyhow. And our hands have fewer sebum-producing sebaceous glands than our faces do. Sebum is the oily stuff that helps keep the skin moisturized. How ironic, right? There are those of us who complain about our faces being too oily, when in fact we could use that extra oil on our hands.

Here’s the advice from experts on keeping our hands looking their best:

  • Use sunscreen on the backs of your hands and wrists year-round. Remember to reapply throughout the day. Although I do this now, I wish I had known that advice when I was 20. Currently, I use Aveeno Protect+Hydrate Face, SPF 50 on my hands.

  • Choose a hand cream that contains ceramides. These are molecules that help to retain moisture by creating a protective barrier. CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream (about $11) is a good choice.

  • Use a mild exfoliant once or twice a week. I am crazy about the product Aveeno Positively Radiant 60 Second in-shower Facial. So twice a week after I apply it to my face, I use it on the backs of my hands and my elbows. A minute later I massage it off as I rinse.

  • Use a hand cream just as you’re getting into bed when you know it won’t be washed off. Because my nails currently need some attention, I just started using Vaseline Healthy Hands Stronger Nails with Keratin. Too soon to tell any effect, but it feels luxurious going on and I really like the calming fragrance.

You’ll notice I don’t spend hundreds of dollars on any of these products. They can be bought at most drug stores or places like Target or Walmart.

My husband says that should I ever be noted for offering advice on a subject, it would be this: There isn’t much that a good cream can’t cure. Since I do sound rather zealous on today’s topic, maybe he’s right. Please don’t tell him I said that.


A Real Simple magazine article on the topic