Issue #36, June 2014

Welcome to theJune 2014 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.


First, thank you to Elle Tyler for the picture above. It is just one of the many beautiful trees she has photographed in Central Park, NYC.  There are flowers everywhere here at the moment, too. Our Devon wildflowers are at their best and walking along the lanes, as I do most days, is a sheer delight to the senses.

Life has been so full and interesting that I seem to take longer and longer to get around to doing these newsletters. Back in the beginning, when I first started them, I was doing four a year. Then it dropped to three and now it is six months since I did one so I suppose I must admit that they have dropped to just two a year. That seems to be the best I can manage nowadays.

But perhaps it is just as well. I don't know about you, but there is so much information pouring on to my computer screen on a daily basis that sometimes I feel as though I am drowning in it! We don't have TV or radio in our house (well we do own a radio but it doesn't work unless we carry it to an upstairs windowsill and point it north and even then it's crackly and intrmittent, so it is at least twelve years since either of us bothered to try it) but even with our quiet,TV-free, radio-free lives we still suffer from information overload! If you are the same, then you're probably thankful I don't churn out newsletters any more often.

Anyway, here's this one, with my love and blessings 



I Post, Therefore I Am

There has been a lot of debate, lately, about whether or not the extraordinarily high level of connectivity we now have—with cell phones, SMS, email, the Internet etc.—is a blessing or a curse. 

Some people are saying that human beings are so busy telephoning and texting and electronically chatting that they are losing their ability to form ‘real’ friendships or have face-to-face conversations in the real, physical world. Relationships and interactions, they say, are becoming more and more shallow.

 Yet others are saying exactly the opposite. For them, being able to Skype and text and send instant photos and videos makes them feel closer than ever to all the people they care about who live too far away to visit. For them, relationships and interactions feel deeper because they can stay in closer contact. 

I think the truth is that every time humans have invented a new technology that changes life for everybody, there is a long phase of reorganization as each individual and each group comes to terms with the change and re-shapes the pattern of daily life to fit the new parameters. This is probably what happened, way back, when our ancient ancestors learned to use fire and all of a sudden dinner went from raw to cooked. You could imagine cave man and cave woman trying to figure out how to co-ordinate mealtimes, now that they had to factor in the time it took to roast a leg of auroch, and arguing about whether it was more satisfying to have blood dripping down your chin or to savour the new taste of gravy.

 It happened in Palaeolithic times when we switched from being hunter-gatherers to settlers, growing our food instead of foraging far and wide in search of it. What a huge change that was! Some people probably agonized for ages about how they missed the exercise and the constant travelling whereas others were delighted about no longer having to walk five miles to find a piece of ripe fruit. The same sort of process happened with the invention of the alphabet and then with the printing press, the harnessing of electricity, the telephone, the internal combustion engine, television, computers…and it is still happening. The only difference is that nowadays the pace of change is becoming ever faster. 

There will always be casualties. When alcohol came into use, it added an extra, delightful dimension to the lives of all those who learned to drink it in moderation, to enjoy a fine wine with their dinner, to cool off on a hot day with a chilled lager or to savour a single malt on a cold winter evening. But for some it also provided a new opportunity for addiction and the ruination of health and lives. Cars can bring us an amazing level of convenience but they can also kill us. They get us to places faster but they can make us lazy and unfit and they contribute hugely to pollution and climate change. TV can bring us instant news from around the world but it is also being used to manipulate us, sell us stuff we don’t need and encourage us to use more resources than our planet can offer…and on and on and on. 

Eventually, after this period of reorganization that follows each big technological leap, we learn all the lessons we need to learn. We learn the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages, the opportunities and the dangers. As individuals, we figure out what works for us and what doesn’t. We learn to discriminate, to make choices, to fine-tune. As groups, and as a society, we figure out—sometimes painfully, as we are at the moment with regard to climate change, peak oil and the damage consumerism has wrought—how to adapt and survive and maybe even how to thrive. 

Sometimes, as is happening now with anthropogenic climate change and the environmental crisis, we need to come right to the edge of disaster before we wise up. So if today’s unprecedented level of connectivity is going to cause social problems on a large scale, perhaps we have to find that out the hard way, just as we found out that smoking was bad for our health, that DDT was destroying wildlife and fast food was causing record levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

We also need to remember that a lot of today’s amazing technology is based, to some extent or another, on the availability of oil and other non-renewable resources such as the rare earths that are used in electronics. And when those things finally run out—which they eventually will—some of the gadgets we have come to take for granted may start to disappear from our lives again. So it behoves us to keep old skills alive and to pass them on, just in case. (It will be funny, won’t it, when we elders find ourselves teaching our great-grandchildren to use a slide rule because electronic calculators have become scarce or to read a map because nobody has GPS any more!) 

Meanwhile, I am busy finding my own ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to how much time I spend interacting with the rest of the world electronically and how much time I spend doing all the other things I like doing. Each one of us has to work out the balance for herself. 

So where do you fit on the spectrum? Are you a determined hater of Facebook? Do you harrumph at the sight of all those young folk walking and texting at the same time and taking endless ‘selfies’ with their phones for no particular reason except that they can? Or are you a lover of all things electronic, with a full surround-sound entertainment centre in your basement and a car that talks you through every journey you need to make? Or, like me, are you somewhere in the middle, finding your way towards your own sweet spot?

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BOOK REVIEW: What Makes Olga Run?

“When you’re breaking records, rather than hips, at an age most people will never live to see…what gives?”

This rhetorical question, posed by Bruce Grierson , could well serve as the perfect logline for his recently published book What Makes Olga Run?  And I am sure that many people who have seen or read about Canadian nonagenarian Olga Kotelko winning yet another gold medal to add to her vast collection will have wondered the same thing. 

For in her mid-seventies, the stage at which so many of us seventy-somethings are starting to slow down and feel creaky, Olga took up athletics. She started running, jumping, throwing the javelin, the hammer, the shot-put. She started competing. She started winning. And now, at just a few years short of her century, she holds the record for her age group in just about every track event.There have been many, many newspaper reports, magazine articles and videos about Olga. We all love a story about extraordinary people—or rather, about seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But what Grierson has done with this book goes way beyond the ‘Wow, isn’t she amazing?!’ and even beyond the ‘What drives her?’ in order to drill more deeply than anyone ever has into questions about longevity, about physical fitness, and the growing phenomenon of ‘super seniors’—men and women who are staying fitter and more active way longer than statistics might predict.

For Grierson, who at midlife is starting to worry about his own lack of fitness and stamina, Olga soon becomes a quest. And like the archetypal questing hero, he enlists the help of many others as he sets out on his journey of discovery. He and Olga travel around, talking, investigating, taking battery after battery of tests, being probed and prodded, questioned and analysed until she is almost certainly one of the most thoroughly checked out women in North America. Is it just her lucky genes that make her able to keep winning races at 95? Is it her psyche? Is it the structure of her muscles, her brain, the way she was brought up? Is it Nature or nurture, practice, determination, personality, motivation or just sheer, dumb luck?

It is a fascinating tale—and also a meandering one, for along the way we meet various other people who, like Olga, are atypical for their age group. We also find ourselves acquiring, almost by some sort of osmosis, a lot of new information about the ageing process. So in a way this book is like a mixture of gerontology 101, a fascinating biography and a detective story.

Which means, of course, that at the end we want to know the answer. What does make Olga run? For if that question can be answered, then—provided it isn’t just her genetic inheritance or dumb luck—maybe there is a formula and if we know the formula and follow it, then we, too, can remain fit and active and in possession of all our marbles, right up to 100. That was part of this author’s motivation for starting the book in the first place and it is almost certainly what will persuade a lot of people to buy it.

The answer, when we get to it, is not quite that simple. Few things are, when it comes to studying living organisms, for life on Earth has a level of complexity and a depth of mystery that remains forever beyond the reach of our scientific probing. But along the way we find ourselves gaining a better and better understanding of the many factors that play a part in keeping us fit, healthy, active and fully alive right through our eighties and nineties. 

We cannot all be Olgas and we probably would not want to be, for not everyone is interested in running and jumping and winning medals, but by being the focus of this intensive study, a role model of sorts, a guinea pig, a peg, if you like, on which to hang our preoccupation with our own trajectory into old age, Olga has given us a lot to think about. And I, for one, am grateful to her and to Bruce for this lovely gift.

I'm In Love With Mr Yippee - an amusing piece about a new electrical device. By Roz Warren


'From Birth to 100 in 150 Seconds'

In October 2011, filmmaker Jeroen Wolf started documenting people from age zero to 100 in the city of Amsterdam, approaching them in the street and asking them to say their age in front of the camera. This fascinating little video is the result

Thanks to 'Senior Planet' for these last two items and for
a number of other news items of interest to our readership.
I recommend signing up for their newsletter. (It's free.)


This is another place on the Internet that may well be of interest to readers of this newsletter. It is a multi-author blog, written by a group of Third Age women, all of whom have something interesting to say. Here is the link to the Silver Century Foundation blog.
Elderwoman of the Deep 
Usually, all the items about elders that you find in this newsletter are about human elderwomen. But this article is about a venerable elderwoman of an entirely different species. She is 'Granny Orca,' now 103 years old. And she is making liars out of the folks at SeaWorld.  Click here to read all about her.

Spotted on Facebook - Some Inspirational Posters

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A message from Carol Orsborn...

River Diary: My Summer of Grace, Solitude and 35 Geese

 I want to let you know about the release of the follow-up to my critically-acclaimed book Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn.

Having left New York to take up the challenge of living a life of joy on a riverbank in Tennessee, River Diary, My Summer of Grace, Solitude and 35 Geese, continues to chronicle my spiritual adventures on the wild side of midlife. After authoring 21 books with publishers like Random House, Avon and New World Library, I am sharing this 60-page morsel free for a limited time.

About the River Diary

 The summer I turned 65, I made a sacred vow.  I would sit by the river that runs behind my house in search of joy every day until God answered my call.  I had just published my 21st book and I had no right to any complaints, but still I wanted more.

Accompanying me on my pilgrimage were the readings of mystics, saints and wise elders from a variety of spiritual and religious traditions, including Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, May Sarton, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and many more.  But it was the river, itself, that proved to be my greatest teacher.

What follows is is a 60-page PDF of the diary I kept as I sat day by day, chronicling the dynamic tension between the pull of the past, concerns about the future and my deepest desire for merger with the divine.  Did I succeed?  And ultimately, Did it extract a bigger price than I had anticipated having to pay?

I invite you to join me on this pilgrimage and begin by asking you the questions that initiated it all for me : If what you really want in the end is to sit here with me enjoying the river, why don’t you just do it now?

 Click HERE to download the River Diary

Any assistance in helping to get the word out would be most welcome.


I’m pleased that there are those
That question why a certain house
Gets flooded while the house next door stays dry.
Unpredictability.   Factors, causes, reasons why;
Component circumstance, dynamic;
Here we see the butterfly, effect 
Is there accident and fortune’s hand at all -
Foreseeable, predictable
In some vague laws unseen?
Shapes between,
Shaping patterns and connections
In coincidence?
What is this dance of risk and chance?
Why is there chance at all?
Uncertainty could disappear
If everything was measurable (but it ain’t).
Adorable and quaint,
But doubts and things that aren’t clear -
Always here.

The ordinary me has limits.
Ordinary me can never see
The butterfly effect, the tiny
Waves that make up happenings;
The subatomic world that keeps on changing hungrily,
Lazily, chaotically, eternally.
Probable and possible – which is which -
Questions in a witch’s brew, their secret prank.
For the ordinary you and me.
I think it’s safe to say today there is no certainty.
And if there is, it’s in God’s databank.

Arlene Corwin, 2014

Arlene, who lives in Sweden, is a prolific poet with a wonderfully quirky and witty 'take' on life. She's one of the many interesting women on our Elderwomanspace  online network, where she often posts her writing.

Arlene’s new book!


"Circling Round Nature has as wide a scope as has nature, the opportunities for observations and reaction diverse endless...the flattened frog on the road, the mushroom, the plasticized face...the result has become a mix of 269 minutely observed, moving, thought provoking, colloquial and often downright funny poems."

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Contributions for this newsletter are eagerly sought. Please send in your writings, your thoughts, your poetry, a book or website you have found, an announcement or news item that you think would be interesting to others, a comment on one of these articles, a subject you'd like to see, an anecdote, something that moved you - whatever snippet you want to share.  Don't be shy. You do NOT have to be a professional writer, artist or photographer to send pictures or pieces of your writing to this newsletter. I look forward to hearing from you.


The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, June, 2014
The Elderwoman website:
Marian's e-mail: marian(at) 
NB: replace 'at' with the @ sign, and please remember to insert OKEM in the
 subject line to make sure you get through my three layers of spam filtering!

Unfortunately, the filters are a necessity to stop my in-box flooding with spam.
 - oh and when you write to me, please remember that my name is spelt MARIAN with an 'A' (the same as Robin Hood's girlfriend) 

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