Forgetting It All

umI keep hearing ads for these brain training programs that are designed to ‘increase mental acuity by calculating baseline scores’ as they put it, but in my world a baseline score is what your doctor uses to measure the relative swiftness of your decline.

And yet, and yet:  If I don’t do these mental calisthenics, will I start losing it? Forget how to flush, or make change? Inadvertently turn into the funniest person standing in line… at the wake? 

I look at what’s out there and then I look at my life. I don’t do Lumosity. Or Sudoku. Or Words With Friends, which is basically just Scrabble over the Internet.  But the way I look at it, people old enough to worry about getting sharper are already less sharp. Just look up the statistics on how fast your synapses are firing now compared to how they fired when you were 12. You’re slower than you were and that’s a fact, so now you want to start measuring how much slower? You might as well make little marks on your kitchen wall the way people do with their growing children – only you’d be doing it so you could watch yourself shrink.

But back to mental acuity: When I was young, I could memorize anything, historical dates from the 1500s, the license plate numbers on my friends’ parents’ cars, the poems our teachers used to make us stand beside our desks to stammer out. Now all I have stored here in this head is a single credit card number, and even then I have to get a running start with, the way you do with the 23rd Psalm, say.

As for poetry, every time I try to recite those bits of verse from my schooldays sonnets, they all mysteriously become, three lines, in, “Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know,” but seriously: What are you gonna do?  Mark Twain famously wrote that when he was younger, he could remember anything, whether it happened or not.’ But as his faculties began decaying, as he put its, he got so he could only remember the latter. 

He could only remember what didn’t happen in other words.  If I get like this, I won’t be any kind of authority on the facts but hey, stick around anyway: It’s a good bet my stories will become a lot more entertaining. 

And now, this great clip from Men in Black, where the memory-erasing Neuralyzer is put to use… which leads me wonder: Have Agents J and K been around HERE lately?

“What’s That Again?” 

"Your eyes are fine.  I'ts just that on some eye charts they type is too small."  The nearly blind leading the nearly blind.I just read that when people are approaching 60 they can literally see only half of what they could see at 30. 

Now while I mind this, I’ll also admit that there are lots of things I’d just as soon NOT see – like the little white bunny-tail of toothpaste you sometimes find on your cheek or,  God forbid, in your hair, even hours after you brushed the old chompers.

This second thing has been known to happen to me. Before I bring out the bristling arsenal of smoothing tools every morning, my hair is so wild with waves and tendrils that all kinds of things get stuck in it. “The net,” my guy David calls it. 

Of course HIS eyesight isn’t that great anymore either you should see the two of us squinting at the remote in our effort to watch TV of an evening – but this is why God gives us children, so that, when they get older, they can come by the house and clean us up a little.

Just recently I met up with one of my grown children after not having seen her for some weeks. She leaned in toward me for the hug, or so I thought – until she spoke:  

“Hi Mum, you look great – and you only have this ONE little whisker!” she cried cheerily and began applying a sharp pincer-like movement to the underside of my jaw.


But a thing equally bad is the inability to see with the old acuity is the inability to hear the way you could once hear: When you get older, you hear so much less. It’s a shock really. I mean here you’ve been, going on for years easily following two or even three conversations besides the one you are in. 

This ability to hear all around you is what’s behind that thing you see when people stick one foot out to the side and then sort of surreptitiously s-l-i-i-i-de from one conversational group to another.  What has happened is that they have detected greener conversational pastures beside or behind them and are basically voting with their feet.

Once your hearing starts to go there’s no more pulling off this strategic side-step into better conversations. By then you’re glad if you can hear what the one person directly opposite you is saying.

Of course actual deaf and hard of hearing people do just fine. On its website, renowned Gallaudet University describes itself as “a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English.”

American Sign Language: a language that allows the deaf and hard of hearing to function every bit as well as, and perhaps possibly better than, the rest of us. American Sign Language: yet another language most of us Americans do not study and do not know.

I certainly don’t know American Sign Language so what I find myself doing is telling people to take their hands away from their mouths so I can read their lips, or asking them to  SAY THAT AGAIN PLEASE.


I hate having to do this. I’m afraid I come off sounding grouchy and that’s the last thing I want to be doing as I get older.

Still, I know it’s just pride that makes me feel this way and what do I need with pride at this stage of my life? “Just go with it T,” I tell myself. “Just accept it”

But anyway, tell ya what: it turns out toothpaste in the hair makes a pretty good styling gel.


Silliest Come on Yet

IMG_2687The surgical department here named is one of the best. They dug a basal cell carcinoma out of my own little shin two autumns ago and within the year, the wound was almost invisible.  What looked like an elliptical scoop- mark, made as if by an oversized grapefruit spoon, is now a faint and slender line, scarce visible even to me, never mind casual observers.

They’re the ones who sent me this promotion  last week.

The lady is pretty and I guess I get the sentiment but when you say that aging simply won’t do you might as well say you’re ready to reach for the hemlock.

We age. Period. You can suck out and pin up all you want but look around the whole perimeter: Are your two feet the smooth little darlings they once were? Are the backs of your hands freckle-free? Don’t look now, but something is sure happening to the skin at the base of your glutes and I’m not talking about cellulite.

It’s gravity, baby. Gravity and wear-and-tear. When Aging Simply Won’t Do: Hah! What really won’t do is acting like you can beat the House when everyone who’s honest knows it: the House always wins in the end.


Bring on the Workweek

Marilyn takes stock

Took the weekend off. Did no work at all. Acted like a 12-year-old in that I pretty much just listened to my i-Pod, wrote in my diary and gave my feet the critical eye.

I also broke precedent and looked in the mirror for a full seven minutes, which made me stand appalled by what has become of me. I have wrinkles galore, a furrow deep enough to plant carrots in and this new weird thing where my spine snakes over to the left, then doubles back on itself and snakes over to the right. Most people don’t notice it until I mention it but then they see it all right. When I pointed it out to my friend Ahmad he said in his mild way, “Oh yeah! Your pants are here and your shirt is over here!”

Also I’m getting these dark things on my face, like Morgan Freeman has. They’re like pigmented freckles only I’ve never had freckles.

Plus my eyes, which were always too close together, seem now to be heading for opposite corners of the room.

My teeth look like kernels on the corncob you split open and then toss back in the bin. (WHY WASN’T I MADE TO WEAR BRACES EVER?) 

Also my bangs are too short – they make me look like Imogene Coca if anyone remembers her.

And my eyebrows are disappearing.

I was examining the Nike Swoosh of my spine when my man sauntered into the bathroom. I had this flannel shirt on that I found in our son’s high school bedroom.

“It’s a men’s small but it’s not quite makin’ it in the buttoning shut department.

“Get a breast reduction,” he quipped.

He was kidding of course. The real problem was about a foot further down, but maybe I should anyway. I mean, it’s too late for braces, right?

Maybe I can enter these years like a sort of sprightly un-busty Mary Lou Retton. Hey, it would take my mind off the rest of me. What does a thing like that cost anyway? And why go around looking like this sadsack..

the mirror doesn't lie

… When I could go around looking like this:

mary lou retton

Well. Such are the thoughts of a person with WAY too much time on her hands. Bring on the workweek!


Antidote to Loneliness

During my week alone I cleaned and sorted and filed all kinds of things and came upon this poem that our Uncle Ed had saved among his papers.

He lived alone for 20 years – more  even.

Ever since 1991, when his beloved wife Fran had to go into a nursing home with her Alzheimer’s, and then for the 12 years after she died and before he followed her into death this past April.

I remember sending him it.

My daughter had sent it to me.

Between me and other family members, we saw him four days a week but I suspect the other days were long indeed.

I hope that it comforted him and that he believed its message. Anyway here it is.

It’s called ‘Everything is Waiting for You’ and it’s by David Whyte.

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice. You must note

the way the soap dish enables you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mentor of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone

is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last. All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Buried Alive

Grey Gardens boy: I bet I’ve watched both the HBO dramatization and the original documentary about that sad old story a dozen times. There’s something so haunting about the relationship between Edie the elder and her daughter. Poor Edie Jr., 40 years after this picture was taken, walking around with one skirt functioning as a head scarf to hide her baldness and a second upside-down skirt pinned around her torso. Poor both of them, hiding in that bewitched Sleeping Beauty castle of a house, holed up in a single room on bare filthy mattresses surrounded with cat waste. It’s like some nightmare about the future that could fill you with stark terror as you slept.

At one point in the documentary the two are talking of marriage and Edie Jr.’s unmarried state, she who said she could have married any number of men if she hadn’t been prevented by her various dark forces including her abandoning father; could even have married Joe Kennedy and been First Lady like her beautiful cousin Jacqueline. That abandoning father and husband, that Phelan Beale:  listen to what gets said about him by the two and about marriage in general. This is what I copied down from the 1974 documentary and not HBO’s re-creation. It’s Edie Jr. speaking first, in that hoity-toity accent she assumes when she dwells on lost glories.

“My father believed in ruining his children’s lives,” she says. Then, in an odd non-sequitur, “He wanted me to get a Masters Degree.”

“You were scared of your father,” says Edie Senior who with her wispy hair and her ruined partly nude  body seems much more down-to earth. Back to Edie Jr now: 

“He said the only thing to BE was a professional woman. He did say that, didn’t he, mother? He didn’t want me to get married.”

And the mother says, “I don’t think it’s important for people to get married. I don’t believe that at all. Don’t you want some of this butter pecan?[eating ice cream straight from the carton] “Mmmmm!”

“If you can’t get a man to propose to you you might as well be dead,” says Edie Jr. “These women who don’t marry, what are they proving? I think it’s disgusting! They have to go around with dogs or other women… It’s disgusting!”

But dogs are lovely!” says her mother. “I’ll take a dog any day!” She could have been saying all that in this shot here:

Only the whole time neither is looking at the other, or at the camera. The surviving Maysles brothers says in the commentary on the Grey gardens DVD that they often didn’t seem to be even thinking about what they were saying much less listening to each other. It harrows me. When people get marooned and sealed away as the old and the forgotten often do: the thought just harrows me.

 the real Maysles with their real subjects

and below here, the real Edie I think, and not Drew Barrymore playing her

Losing Battle Department

The picture of Robert Redford here is from the online version of the  Q & ATime Magazine recently  did, tying it to his latest directorial work  The Conspirator which comes out today. I look at his face and suppose that even the Pope would recognize it. I guess by most standards he looks great – for the fact that he’s still wearing his hair like it’s 1969 and oh those giant white teeth.

It’s mostly the teeth I find jarring because teeth actually get less white the longer you trot them around in the world, not more white. Sure, lots of celebrities try to fight that fact what with veneers and all but to me they just end up looking silly.

In this Time interview, the person posing the questions asks Redford if it was limiting during his early years in Hollywood to be perceived as so good-looking. He said yes.  “because when I started [in TV], that’s not the way I was seen. I played all kinds of parts – killers, psychos. They were fun, real character roles. Then, when I went into film, it suddenly shifted. You’re not given freedom to move out of that.”

Well if he REALLY wants to ‘move out of that’ he could be more like Clint Eastwood and just let nature take its course? As it is, with that mop of Sundance Kid hair and those teeth like bathroom tiles you look at him and think only along Young vs. Old lines which is never the best way to think about  people. The way I like to think about them is “Are they still in the world  where I can write them a letter or are they gone beyond to where zip codes just can’t reach?”

“Are they dead or are they alive?”  is all I ask myself. And the paradox is that even with his slight stoop and his no-longer super-white teeth, Clint strikes me as a more ‘alive’ than Bob.

and now because it’s so nice to see a great director act, a clip of Clint as Walt Kowalski  in Gran Torino