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 BrainPickings.org

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.”

QuoteInvestigator.com 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 NextAvenue.org. 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.

~~~~~

QuoteInvestigator.com

Next Avenue

Love Story x 3

love story

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll share a trio of love stories. But they may not be what you’re expecting.

Barbara Elaine Smith, a beautiful and outgoing African American woman, had two successful careers. As a model in 1976, she was the second black woman to appear on the magazine cover of Mademoiselle.

Her modeling work spawned her second career. As a model, she lived in Italy and France for a while. While there she developed a passion for what the Washington Post called, “food, drink, and beautiful things.” She was bent on success as she slipped into the role of famous restaurateur and lifestyle guru. Known simply as B., she opened her first restaurant in 1986 in New York.

Smith was once a customer of mine when the company where I managed the credit serviced her Washington, DC restaurant named (appropriately) B. Smith’s. That restaurant closed after twenty years shortly after B. was diagnosed in 2013 with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Her husband Dan Gasby (a second marriage in 1992 for both of them) has been a solid rock for B. as her disease has progressed. They have the desire, financial means, and family support for B. to remain in her own home. Dan’s adult daughter Dana moved in with them and helps care for her step-mother. This is love story #1.

The most widely known facts about Alzheimer’s are these:

1) It’s the most common form of dementia.

2) The disease is progressive.

3) There is no cure; Alzheimer’s is irreversible.

Some caregivers of Alzheimer’s-inflicted loved ones have noted that eventually it’s like caring for a toddler in an adult’s body. Patients may end up talking gibberish, wandering off, and stalling at bath time. Despite the deep and abiding love one feels, caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can be an exhaustive life of frustration, depression, and guilt.

Professing a continuation of great love for B., Dan Gasby has fallen in love with another woman. He’s 65 and Alexandra Lerner is 53.

In 2017, having been in the midst of a struggle with her own father’s dementia, Alex overheard Dan talking to someone at a restaurant about his loneliness as a caregiver. The two struck up a friendship that soon blossomed into love.

An article in the fall 2019 People Health magazine stated Alex has her own room in the couple’s house. She commutes from Manhattan to spend weekends with Dan and B. Dan’s daughter supports the relationship. Not having outside help, the three of them care for B. who recognizes none of them.

Dan has been open about sharing this unusual relationship. As you can imagine, there are legions of judgmental people who have taken their hate to social media over this. Some tie their rants to racial hatred since Dan is black and Alex is white. When several of B.’s former (and famous) friends used their celebrity status to voice their negative opinions, Dana remarked that none of those “fraudulent friends” had been to visit B.

B.’s own neurologist Sam Gandy recently noted that “a third of family caregivers die before the Alzheimer’s patients they tend because of crushing stress.” Dan feels better able to cope with the caregiving with Alex in his life. He said, “I could have put my wife in an institution, but I love her. It’s just a different type of love now.”

(Be sure to watch the video linked at the end of this article.)

Their regular waiter at a favorite restaurant enjoys serving the trio. “It’s beautiful,” he says.

So Dan and Alex, in love with each other and both loving and caring for B., is love story #2.

I will tell you the truth: When I first read about this, my immediate response was that it was plain wrong. Then I slipped on Dan’s moccasins and asked myself, “What if it was Norma who no longer lived in the real world, who had no concept of who people were. Wouldn’t I want my caretaker husband to find new love and joy?”

And I would. Just as he would want the same for me.

And that’s love story #3.

~~~~~~

 

Sendoffs to Remember

sendoff to remember

Many people have a favorite phrase they offer when a visitor is leaving to drive home. Some examples include: Drive safely. Take care. Take it easy. Text me when you get home.

These are all indicative of caring about the departing person.

Three of the men in my life have unique and slightly distorted send-offs to visitors:

Drive like you’ve got some brains. (a brother-in-law)

Drive fast and recklessly. (best friend’s husband)

Text me when you get home so I’ll know it’s safe to be out on the roads. (another brother-in-law)

I don’t usually care for sarcasm as a means of communication, but deep down I know these guys are indicating they care about the person. Especially when they’re saying this stuff to me. I think.

My mother, who died 24 years ago this month, had her own catchphrase when she was seeing me off. She never learned how to drive so I’m not sure how she came up with it. Two words: Drive defensively.

And really, that piece of driving advice is the most specific and meaningful of any that might be offered because it sums up so much: Pay attention. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t assume anyone else on the road is sober or is a good driver. Drive in a way to maintain control of the car.

I recall an acronym from the Virginia driver’s manual: IPDE

From the site DriversEd.com comes this explanation:

  • I—Identify—Locate potential hazards within the driving scene.
  • P—Predict—Judge where the possible points of conflict may occur.
  • D—Decide—Determine what action to take, when, and where to take it.
  • E—Execute—Act by maneuvering the car to avoid conflicts.

TopDriver.com says that IPDE is the “step-by-step process behind the principles of defensive driving.”

Following IPDE keeps you thinking about what you encounter as you drive. Here’s an example:

Identify a potential danger. As you reach a four-way stop, you see a car coming from a distance on your right. You can tell the car is going too fast.

Predict that the car either won’t stop or won’t be able to stop.

Decide on the side of caution to wait an extra few seconds instead of moving forward through the intersection even though you have the right of way.

Execute the action of waiting and watch the other car blow through its stop sign without the driver ever tapping the brake.

You know, it’s highly probable that I didn’t appreciate how spot-on my mom’s driving advice was when I was eighteen. And yet here I am, fifty years later, sharing it.

Maybe drive defensively should be the new sendoff to remember.

~~~~~~

From Australia, a 1989 wrenching video about drunk driving. It’s difficult to watch, but as the comments state, THIS is what should be airing as a Superbowl commercial.

One Hundred Words

one hundred words

What if you were limited to speak just one hundred words each day? A non-removable metal counter on your wrist tracks the number of words you utter, resetting to zero each midnight. If you dare speak word #101 within each monitored 24-hour period, you are delivered an electric shock. Word #102 earns you a stronger zap, and well, you’d better shut up before the thing gets serious.

This is the opening of VOX, a novel by Christina Dalcher. Oh, and only females are required to wear the “bracelets” which is what the marketers in the book term the shockingly restrictive counters.

The story takes place in the near future; the US President (basically a puppet run by a maniacal religious zealot) has created an “earlier times” culture in America. Women are expected to obey men; women are not permitted to work, they have no access to any reading or writing materials or electronics, and they have no money of their own.

This audiobook fell under the category of thriller which is how I found myself listening to its first five minutes as a sample. Otherwise, I would never have found it as this type of story isn’t something I’d normally listen to for entertainment. It did, however, qualify as a thriller.

VOX (all caps) is a telecommunications term for “voice operated switch.” In Latin, vox popoli translates as “the voice of the people.” In music journalism, it means vocals or simply voice.

I ended up enjoying the audiobook in part because the main character, Dr. Jean McClellan, works (or worked) in the field of neurolinguistics as a cognitive linguist in the DC area. Her specialty had been working for a cure for stroke-induced aphasia. I’ve always found the topic of neurolinguistics (and words themselves) fascinating.

The author Dalcher herself earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University, so the book had the feel of “she knows her stuff.” And also, narrator Julia Whelan gives a true voice to each of the characters.

But the story also poked at me to consider this question: If I had just one hundred words allotted to speak each day, how would I choose to use them?

Well, I assume I’d stop talking to the dog. And surely I’d have to relinquish talking to myself. And say goodbye to singing in the shower since the first three lines of I Could Have Danced All Night take up eighteen words. There goes (thankfully) complaining about trivial circumstances.

Perhaps I would begin to hoard my words, being frugal earlier in the day in order to say them all at once in some (albeit short) conversation.

The average number of words Americans speak in a day depends on which study you agree with. Linked In refers to a 2003 study that says the average person uses around 7000 words each day. A University of Arizona professor’s study found that both men and women speak around 16,000 words each day. While that’s a huge differential, either one is still a long way from one hundred.

So now YOU can ponder what you would say in a day’s time if you were limited to just one hundred words. I know this much is true; I would save three words each day to say I love you.

~~~

An overview of the novel by the publisher with an opportunity to listen to the first five minutes of the audiobook

University of Arizona study on word usage

An interesting behind-the-scenes peek at Lauren Ambrose and orchestra at Lincoln Center theater recording I Could Have Danced All Night

 

Great (or Maybe Not) Expectations

expectations

A friend shared the story of attending her niece’s college commencement. In the car on the way home from the event, Auntie remarked to the family in general that she had certainly enjoyed the valedictorian’s speech which had the theme of expectations.

To Auntie’s surprise, her generally sweet and sunny niece harrumphed and then barely audibly snarled the word expectations.

The subject was quickly dropped.

Apparently, that word holds a strong negative connotation for the young woman. I wondered to myself what had been the cause of expectations producing such a negative response from her.

Had she felt undue pressure from professors’ expectations of her? Perhaps she’d majored in a field she wasn’t thrilled about due to family expectations of what she should do. Or maybe she was angry at herself over too many self-imposed expectations. I, of course, am making up these answers. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

The word expectations is common in job performance evaluations. The above-and-beyond winners EXCEED them, most employees MEET them, the “needs help” group PARTIALLY MEET them, and the guy on his way out the door DOES NOT MEET them.

It seems that psychologists generally dislike the word, but mostly for two reasons. One is in connection to having expectations of others without letting them know what they are. In other words, if a wife has the expectation of her husband that he “should” take his clean and folded T-shirts upstairs and put them away but she never clearly states this reasonable request, that’s setting up a possible resentment when he doesn’t take action. (I’m not saying that this happens in our family and I’m not saying it doesn’t.)

The second reason psychologists appear to frown on expectations is when they are unrealistic. If someone who’s in the dating world expects every new date to be a Hallmark movie character, they are setting themselves up for disappointment. Or if someone expects to lose a few pounds but changes nothing in the diet or exercise segment of their lives, then it’s just magical thinking that the pounds will come off.

I actually like the word expectations and I use a phrase to describe what I believe most audiences bring with them to a performance: hopeful expectations.

Consider this: When you’re going to any event (such as a show, a football game, a concert, a lecture, a party, or the circus), you walk through the door with hopeful expectations. Maybe you expect to be entertained, to feel deeply, to learn something, to laugh, to gain information on how to improve, or to be bedazzled.

We attend events expecting to enjoy ourselves. Otherwise, why would we show up?

So instead of New Year/new decade resolutions, I’m going to set hopeful expectations for myself. Here goes. In 2020 I’m hopefully expecting:

  • the people I encounter to be kind
  • to find happiness in each day
  • the blessings in my life to outweigh the struggles
  • that the people I love will love me back every bit as much

~~~~~

Forbes article on unrealistic expectations

Example of performance evaluation ranking

Experience With a Capital E

changed by an experience

Note-taking is in my DNA. I just can’t help it. Whether I’m listening to a TED talk, attending a live presentation, or watching a YouTube or Udemy training, I retain the message stronger and longer if I physically take notes.

Sometimes I even take notes in church. Although our church’s sermons can be found online, if I hear something on Sunday that speaks to my soul, I’ll jot it down at the top of the bulletin. Such was the case with one of Father Ben’s recent sermons. He posed this challenging question: What if we are left unchanged by an experience?

Go back and read that again. Say it out loud. Because it is profound.

Our time is one of our most highly prized resources. We don’t want to waste it or use it on something we will regret. So when we invest our time in an experience, subconsciously we are looking to be changed somehow by that experience.

It would be impossible, of course, to have every one of our experiences be an earthshaking one. But consider that when we hear beautiful music, we may embrace a sense of calm. If we listen to an uplifting podcast, we may experience motivation to make a change. Spending quality time with family or friends can fill our hearts with joy and peace. An hour’s worth of playing with children reminds us that it is indeed freeing to act silly and that it feels great to laugh out loud with others.

A major experience such as a vacation to the Grand Canyon can change us by shifting our perspective to WOW! And those terrible experiences where we wonder if we can ever get past them? Well, those change us as well.

Most of us tend to live life at such a hectic pace that we don’t consider how we are changed by the experiences in our daily activities. Can we slow down just a bit to consider them, to look for them, to ponder them?

Now that the winter weather is here (at least in Virginia), I begrudgingly take the dog out for the cold, right-before-bed pee time. Instead of muttering please-hurry-up-and-go-NOW comments to the dog, what if I would lift my face to the night sky and look at the moon and the stars? That experience of resentment could be transformed into one of gratitude for living where I can truly see the night sky.

I’m convinced if the world would apply this standard of looking to be changed by each experience, the genre of reality TV would cease to exist. And maybe we’d stop watching political rhetoric and the daily sensationalism of what used to be actual news.

Obviously, I was not left unchanged by the experience of Father Ben’s sermon. And if this post has resonated with you, well then neither are you.

Did Sister Hugs Nail It?

sister hugs

We see many worthy quotes on Facebook. Some inspire us to be kind not only to others but also to ourselves. There are those that remind us that we’re never too old to dream big. Some make us smile, some provide encouragement, and a few make us think.

One of my favorite Facebook sources for inspirational quotes is a site called Sister Hugs. They don’t write all their own material; sometimes they repost from other sites. For instance, on October 23 they shared from “Hippie Peace Freaks” a photo of brilliantly red autumn leaves with this statement: The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.

I do believe their October 27 post is my favorite. It packed a wallop of a message in eight one-syllable words: “One Day or Day One…it’s your choice.”

I know. Ouch, right? We all have these goals, dreams, projects, plans, and ideas floating in our heads. And one day, we will get to them. We hope.

Throughout my life, there have been countless times I’ve said, “One day I’m going to…” And yes, some of those plans and dreams have become realities. But because I said one day instead of day one, I missed out on the full range of enjoyment of the accomplishments. There is no making up for lost time. And the older we are, the truer that last statement seems.

Since I strive for honesty and transparency with my readers, I need to confess that there are plans and dreams still on my one day list. As in, one day I would like to create podcasts of my blog posts so my readers can listen to them in addition to reading them. And one day, I want to publish the two children’s books I wrote years ago.

What exactly changes our path from one day to day one? Is it commitment? Getting rid of excuses? Goal planning? Learning what you need to know to start? Having the time/energy/health/money to take action? Following Nike’s advice and just do it?

I never have all the answers and tonight is no exception. The 7 Steps link below has some good ideas, and I would love to have you comment on what has worked for you.

And then go hug your sister.

~~~~~~

Interesting Podcast Statistics

7 Steps to move forward with your dream