Issue #40, November 2016

Welcome to the November 2016 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.


This year, instead of heading for the Mediterranean in September as Sky and I usually do, we decided to go to the mountains. And the mountains we chose were the Dolomites in the far north of Italy, where it borders on Austria. In fact, this area was once a part of Austria, so although the official language there is
Italian, a lot of people speak German and all the signage is bilingual.
The picture above was the view from our apartment window. If you would like to see more pictures of this beautiful corner of the world, have a look at my recent blog post entitled 'Down from the Mountains.'
Since then, I have also been to Boston to visit the family, which is something I do every year, except on those special years when they cross the Atlantic to see us. It is hard, having loved ones so far away, especially if, like us, your loved ones are spread around all over the globe! Thank heavens for the Internet. When I first left my family home at eighteen and went to live in London--and later, Australia--all we had was snail mail and the very occasional (usually only at Christmas) phone call. What a different world it was then. Which is something I reflect on in the feature article: 'On Turning Eighty.'

Love and blessings to all,



On Turning Eighty

I really didn't expect turning eighty to be such a big deal. After all, eighty is just another number, right? Like seventy-nine. Or eighty-one. Just because a number has a zero in it doesn't make it special—at least that's what my logical mind tells me.

After all, setting our mathematics to use base ten for calculations was someone's arbitrary choice, way back in the mists of time. Any other base works just as effectively. That ancient ancestor probably chose ten simply because s/he had ten fingers to count on.  If s/he had lost a finger or two in some altercation with a sabre-toothed tiger, we would all be using base eight or nine. 

So there really is nothing whatsoever that is intrinsically special about becoming eighty years old.

Except that there is. It may simply be my conditioning, but regardless of what my logical mind says, my eightieth birthday, which happened four months ago, did feel like a big deal. And I couldn't shake the feeling. I still can't. Even though I did absolutely nothing special (because I wanted to spend the day simply experiencing it), turning from seventy-nine to eighty felt so much more significant, somehow, than any of the previous birthdays since my fiftieth. And—weirdly—so much harder to believe.

 I remember my Mother, at her eightieth birthday dinner in 1991, turning to me and saying, with a look of amazement in her eyes, "I am eighty!" As though she was having trouble believing the truth of what she was saying. And now I know exactly how she felt. 

It is not that my body still feels like the body of a fifty-year-old—it doesn't. It is creaking. My left hip hurts sometimes when I climb stairs, especially if I carry something heavy, and I suspect that osteo-arthritis may be setting in (though right now I am telling myself it is merely bursitis and it will clear up again). My skin is as thin and fragile as tissue paper and takes longer to heal when it gets injured. And my strength and stamina are both noticeably waning, even though I can still walk a few miles and jog a little and even sprint a hundred metres in under thirty seconds on one of my good days. I am more forgetful than I used to be, I'm losing the ability to multitask and I have less tolerance for stress. I'm definitely feeling old.

 And when I look back over my lifetime and I look at how much has changed since I was a child, that lifetime feels like a ginormous span of time and so I feel old chronologically too. Even though they now need glasses, these same two eyes of mine have been watching the world around me since they first opened in 1936 and that seems like a helluva long time ago. And it seems sort of amazing that I have been alive for eight entire decades. The idea is—as it was for my Mother—hard to get used to.

 So how does one live, at eighty? Well even if I achieve my aim of living to a hundred, there is only a mere fifth of my life left to live. And a creaking body to live it in.

But time, the physicists tell us, is really a human artefact. It only exists because our brains are wired to experience life in this linear fashion. A human life is like a reel of cine film lying flat in its can on the table. Just as the film only has a time dimension when you run it through a projector, time only exists for us while we are living through our lifetimes. Outside of that, nothing exists but the eternal present, the eternal 'now' moment.

 And as we all know, our human experience of time is elastic. Our wedding day passes by in a flash. A root canal seems to take forever. So the answer, surely, is mindfulness. I know I lived a lot of my life on fast forward, always leaning eagerly into the next moment, the next experience, the next exciting thing. But now, at eighty, my vow is to live whatever years I have left as slowly and mindfully as I can and to savour every second of them.

 That—and the fact that I hate parties—is  why I spent my birthday mindfully instead of celebrating with a party. But we did (mindfully of course) open a very nice bottle of red. And we toasted me, and us, and my being eighty years old, and the future, whatever there is left of it and whatever it may bring. 

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Karma Bites Back.
An article from the LA Times about how people who have  negative stereotypes about ageing are more likely to get Alzheimer's.

...and a feisty Aussie bites back: Here is a delightful article by the Austraian novelist Helen Garner about how she learned to respond differently when she encountered ageism.

The Insults of Age: A one-woman assault on condescension


The Positive Aging Newsletter has a smart new website. And lots of wonderful articles to browse about positive ageing.

(BTW, you may have noticed that I often spell 'ageing' with an e in it. I guess that is a result of my Englishness. But according to the dictionary on my shelf, both spellings are correct.)

! recently discovered this blog, called Still the Lucky Few, which is the creation of Canadian blogger Diane Dahli. Diane is my generation, a 'pre-boomer ,i.e. someone who was born prior to 1945. Like her, I have often felt that we are a bit of a lost generation. The 'Boomers' who came along after the Second World War have been a very influential lot and as a group, much  more vocal that my lot ever were. It is probably down to them that the invisibility of elderwomen in Western societies, particularly in America, is now being challenged and that ageism is now becoming a recognized 'ism'. 
We can all be grateful to them. However, it means that those pioneers of my generation who were vocal about these things, and often while the Boomers were still at high school, can sometimes feel a little bit unacknowledged. So Diane says: "I write about what made our generation unique and why our place in history is so important. And how, even though our children dwarfed our numbers, and rolled right over us, we were influential, and some of us still are."  Thank you, Diane! 
Now some sage advice from Huffington Post columnist Michelle Poston Combs  on the subject of  What Not to Wear After Age 50: The Final Say. Some excellent advice, I thought. Read it and see if you agree.
DIY Support networks for elders.

Together with a group of friends, Sky and I are currently involved in creating our own cohousing community so that we can 'age in place' with a mutually supportive group of like-minded people. This sort of initiative is becoming increasingly common in these days of spread-out families. Here is an interesting article about all the DIY initiatives that elders are taking, in order to create support networks for themselves in their old age.


And finally, here is a video interview with Meg Newhouse, author of the book
Legacies of the Heart: Living a life that matters


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A Day Of Thinking or

This Is The Way My Brain May Work On Any Given Day


Breakfast In Bed

No one in this world

Makes thinner toast,

Better toast, winner toast.

You do not boast.

How have you learned to slice

This near-transparent, indisputably crunchy piece of bliss!

What skill! And modest too!

No one can make such toast as you.


Going In To Thank

Going into different segments of the brain

I thank for life in any of the synapses.

Is there a gratitude partition

Or a separate, section - special one?

An all-inclusive?

I don’t always feel it – just today.

It probably will go away.

I hope it leaves a record.


Late Afternoon

Deep, deep inside

I’m feeling tired of society.

It’s like, what I imagine to be

What they call depression.

It’s connected to reality; civilization.

There’s the problem -

It’s not me, it’s them!

I ought to put away the TV (I’ve no phone)

Things electronic, dailies, monthlies,

All things histrionic;

The destructive, scandalous and shocking;

All things not-to-be: illusory.

Noel Coward wrote “World Weary” –

A light, song for something serious.

Perhaps that’s it!

There still exist fall hues phantasmagorical:

Food tastes, sweet music, friends amusing, loyal,

Beauty, animals…and still I feel

Despite the goodness,

Deep, deep sadness at the mess.

~Arlene Corwin

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.

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The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, December, 2015

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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