How do older bloggers cope with the technical and physical problems of blogging? Very well, thank you!

Cartoon of two older people; one speech bubble says "Being human?", other says "That's WhY I'm blogging!"
Do older bloggers have problems blogging?

The older bloggers in our survey answered two questions about technological and management challenges of blogging, and physical problems that might hinder the ability to blog. Besides answering multichoice questions many participants commented thoughtfully on these two questions. Every comment helps to create a comprehensive picture, and is of value in itself.

Technical issues and finding readers were commonly seen as challenges, and in their comments, older bloggers raised a number of significant technical issues. I have found that whenever one person states a problem, chances are that it’s also a problem for others—and that’s surely true of these survey results.

Q. 13. Blogging can be challenging for some people. Please rate each statement below from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree.

In the list of results below, “agree” includes those who strongly agree, “disagree” includes those who strongly disagree.

  1. Technical issues with a blog can be a challenge: agree 47%, disagree 28%
  2. Deciding what to write about can be a challenge: agree 31%, disagree 51%
  3. Attracting readers can be a challenge: 60%, disagree 16%
  4. Choosing categories and tags can be a challenge: agree 26%, disagree 50%
  5. Commenting can be a challenge: agree 18%,  disagree 62%,
  6. Handling images can be a challenge: agree 22%, disagree 56%,
  7. Following correct blogging etiquette can be a challenge: agree 9%, disagree 47%
  8. Blogging does not hold any particular challenges: agree 29%, disagree 43%

The two challenges that stand out in these results are technical issues (which covers a very wide range of problems) and attracting readers.

Participants were asked to mention any other challenges associated with blogging. One group was very specific about technical challenges:

  • Accessibility of blogging platforms. “I am visually impaired, getting progressively worse. I have had to stop reading some blogs because of the interface.” (2)
  • Dealing with trolls or nasty responses (2)
  • “Maintaining confidentiality of third parties.”
  • “I really dislike blogs (and platforms) that make the reader jump through hoops just to leave a comment. I often decide not to leave a comment on those.”
  • “Blogger not sending comments thru to email since GDPR.”
  • “Phone app sometimes crashes.”
  • “I do not often use images for my writing but find it very challenging to upload internet pictures for my posts.”

Another group commented on management issues:

  • Getting help with technical questions. (2)
  • “WP.org and WP.com are confusing to me. I wish there was one place to go that would explain the differences.”
  • “Blogging from a device such as laptop and smart phone can be problematic. WordPress pages format is confusing (do you blog on the front page? Or on a page? Front page is quicker and more intuitive, but it means using the introduction page for website. Using a page for the blog appears to me to make that page too content heavy.”

Two comments refer to time management or life-work balance as challenges of blogging:

  • Lack of time, keeping up with the community  you become part of, finding the time to be regular, or “time and a sense of purpose” (7)
  • “The challenges I see with blogging is the momentum can build and you get into this vortex. For some it is hard to pull back. Another challenge is the social dynamics can creep in – because humans have moods and opinions and sometimes snarky and crabby moods stream in — part of life — but it can drain. So finding balance is a challenge.”

A few wry observations about the blogger’s own technical expertise:

  • “In fairness, I work in technology and I manage our company’s social media and website.”
  • “We may have different meanings for the word challenge.”
  • “I’ve been blogging for nearly 20 years so the other things are no longer challenges.”

And 4 bloggers said that the challenges were part of the enjoyment.

  • “I believe there will always be a challenge but that is good at times..makes me think.”
  • “I found it a steep learning curve when I began my blog but that is part of the enjoyment. I don’t (for the most part) see the challenges as negative.”
  • “I don’t feel there are any daunting challenges. It’s a learning process like most things that are worthwhile.”
  • “It is OK if you do it when you have something to say. Doesn’t take long to learn wordpress especially if you have someone helping that is an IT person.”

Q. 14. Any physical problems that prevent older people from blogging?

Well, sure older bloggers have problems! But I asked the wrong question, because these bloggers don’t let physical problems prevent them from blogging: they carry on blogging regardless. I should have asked whether physical problems impede or limit their blogging: my bad. As one respondent put it, “You mean, beyond being human?” Touche!

q14-physical-older-bloggers-web.jpg

These are some of the physical conditions that older bloggers cope with.

  • impaired vision (8%)
  • impaired hearing (5%)
  • low energy (7%)
  • problems with mobility (6%)
  • chronic pain (7%)

For this question, 48 older bloggers commented to complete the picture. Most of them simply confirmed that none of those problems prevented them from blogging.

On vision problems, for example:

  • “Larger and bolder print choices would be soooo useful.”
  • “I am color blind, which makes it difficult to read some blogs. If there is low contrast between the background color and the font. Also, blogs that use GIFs that are in motion are very difficult to read.”
  • “I’ve always had trouble with eye strain, but it is manageable.”

On problems with hearing:

  • “Disabilities of all kinds are probably all the more reason to get your voice out! I have two active blogs, one about my hearing loss which I don’t post to actively (that’s my secondary blog). Not enough time to do both actively although I could probably schedule myself to adhere to a better use of my time.”

It’s often lack of energy that actually limits the blogging of older people:

  • “The conditions do not prevent me from blogging, but have slowed down the number of posts I write.”
  • “These factors do not prevent me blogging, but do present challenges as to how often I can!”
  • “I do find it frustrating when energy levels prevent me from blogging when I would like to but I’m learning not to set expectations on how often I post.”

Various bloggers wrote about their lack of mobility or illness, especially the fact that they were obliged to spend too much time sitting, for example:

  • “Major hand/arm disabilities that cause me grief, but I know where the back space key is 🙂 If I’m out of sorts, then I may only make a short post like ‘am out of action’.”
  • “Currently I am recovering from knee replacement surgery. Obviously this hampers me, but, since I write about my day, whatever it is like, it is not insurmountable.”

  • “I sit more than I should since I work at a desk and now with blogging I’m sitting while at home more.”
  • “If I’m not feeling well I might skip blogging.”

Many respondents said their health issues were manageable. And yet again there are comments about the benefits of blogging — it’s not uncommon for older bloggers to see health problems as an opportunity or a indeed a reason to blog:

  • “If anything, blogging is a past-time that can bring creativity into your life while dealing with these conditions.”
  • “Having some health issues has seen me less physically active and has led me to blogging.”

Summary: coping, adapting, and longing for better accessibility

Respondents to the Older Bloggers Survey are in the main, older people who blog—not those who have given up blogging. They meet technical obstacles while blogging and on the whole they wish for more followers—and which is not necessarily because of their age. A minority checked questions about physical conditions that prevented them from blogging, but even so, showed that they could work around the problems.

Help please: older bloggers need accessibility now!

Cartoon of a crowd of older bloggers calling for accessibility, clarity, privacy, and help
Some older bloggers say they want accessibility, clarity, help.

WordPress is built with compliance to the fore and recommends various themes as accessible. However, legibility and visibility are frequently mentioned to me, and not just in this survey. I long to be able to recommend a WordPress theme for use in retirement homes and by isolated older people, a theme that is:

  1. fully accessible in every way for people with any sort of disability
  2. extremely simple and easy to use
  3. very limited in the choices that the blogger must make, to prevent confusion
  4. safe to recommend to isolated older people and their caregivers
  5. of course, clean and modern and mobile friendly.

If you know such a theme or are building one, please contact me. And please share this article if that will help.


Cartoon and text Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0

My boot camp for the bonus years

Pink felt slippers like jester's boots
Boots for the elderly boot camp

I gave myself one task per month to prepare
for the terrifying job of being old until I die.
I was confused, but I was committed.

  1. Adapt my housing for old age
  2. Get my finances in order
  3. Establish an exercise regime
  4. Audit my eating habits
  5. Commit to hobbies
  6. Make two new friends this year and every year
  7. Banish ye oldie voice
  8. Learn a new skill this year and every year
  9. Cultivate meditation
  10. is a terrible phrase: Align happiness factors
  11. Be who you are
  12. Come to terms with old age and death

That was the plan, you can call it obsessive
call it silly or selfish neurotic excessive
misguided or negative
but hey it was systematic
and a plan gives you power, a sense of control.
You can’t control death and it’s coming regardless
but you can get to grips in advance with small things
so you know
you can still be yourself and the boss of yourself
you’re getting the gist, keeping up with the play
making decisions and having a go—
all precious and familiar things
that slither away as you grow old.

Want to listen to this poem? Play the MP3

Poem and recording by Rachel McAlpine, CC BY 2.0

Historic data about bloggers: their age and choice of blogging platforms

Time Magazine cover: person of the year 2006 is "You. You control the Information Age."
Time Magazine cover: person of the year 2006 is “You. Yes, you. You control the Information Age.”

I’m continuously searching for data about older bloggers, and yesterday I discovered a 2006 study from the Pew Internet & American Life project titled Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers. Now, 2006 is 12 years ago. To an older person, that’s like yesterday, but in internet terms it’s a lifetime. Their findings are fascinating. (By the way, the Pew sample was 233 people, roughly comparable with our 220. and biased in some ways, as was ours.) Let me share a few surprises from this report.

1. Personal blogs were by far the most common in 2006

The Pew Internet Project blogger survey finds that the American blogosphere is dominated by those who use their blogs as personal journals. Most bloggers do not think of what they do as journalism. (Pew/Internet 2006)

So in 2006, the personal blog ruled. The topics analysed were as follows — and hey, no mention of travel or makeup or ageing:

  1. “my life and experiences” (37%)
  2. politics and government (11%)
  3. entertainment-related topics (7%)
  4. sports (6%)
  5. general news and current events (5%)
  6. business (5%)
  7. technology (4%)
  8. religion, spirituality or faith (2%)
  9. a specific hobby or a health problem or illness (each 1%).
  10. other topics: opinions, volunteering, education, photography, causes and passions, and organizations.

(Pew/Internet 2006)

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know the distribution of blog topics in 2018? I can’t imagine how one would get this information, given that there are millions of blog posts every day, and a blog is not necessarily attached to any one platform such as wordpress.com or Facebook.

2. The blogging population in 2005–06 was young

The following demographic data comes from two surveys of internet users conducted in November-December 2005 and February-April 2006, and the sample (n=7,012) was much larger.

The most distinguishing characteristic of bloggers is their youth. More than half (54%) of bloggers are under the age of 30. (Pew/Internet 2006)

According to Sysomos, by 2010 the average age of bloggers may have been even younger; they found that 73.5% were under the age of 35. Does that mean that older bloggers are a small minority even now? If you can find any later statistics, please tell!

3. In 2006, 55% bloggers used a pseudonym

In our Older Bloggers Survey, roughly 12% included their full name or first name in the blog title. I’m not sure how many include their full name as part of the information they provide on their About Me page. So I can’t state how many of the older bloggers in our sample use a pseudonym without further research. I wonder what the facts are?

55% of bloggers blog under a pseudonym, and 46% blog under their own name. (Pew/Internet 2006)

4. In 2006, most bloggers spent less time blogging than they do today

This result from the Pew Internet study is confirmed by subsequent research into the general population of bloggers. As for the older bloggers in our 2018 sample,  only 28% spend 2 hours or less per week writing and publishing their blogs, 32% spend 3–4 hours per week — but exactly the same percentage (10%) spend ten hours or more on their blog.

59% of bloggers spend just one or two hours per week tending their blog. One in ten bloggers spend ten or more hours per week on their blog. (Pew/Internet 2006)

5. In 2006, bloggers cited very different blogging platforms

Pew/Internet asked bloggers what tools they used to build and display their blogs. Gaze on this snapshot of times past and wonder! Blogger: Blogspot are a bit like wordpress:org: wordpress.com (or vice versa—set me straight, somebody!). I guess “something else” included wordpress. So Squarespace existed in 2006? These platforms are still in use except for Microsoft FrontPage.

  1. LiveJournal (13%)
  2. MySpace (9%)
  3. Blogger (6%)
  4. Xanga (2%)
  5. FrontPage (2%)
  6. Typepad (2%)
  7. Blogspot (2%)
  8. Moveable Type (1%)
  9. Squarespace (1%)
  10. Something else (17%)
  11. Built own blogging software (2%)

Thanks to Pew/Internet for these insights into the world of early bloggers.

Image (c) Time Magazine copied under Fair Use provisions.

Older bloggers: choice of devices and channels

Mature person frowns while reading on a phone
Only a minority of older bloggers like to read blogs on a phone, let alone write them

What devices do older bloggers use for reading and writing blogs?

Laptop and desk computers are favourites for both consumption and production, but smaller devices also have their devotees.

Q. 10. Where do you usually read blogs?  Choose one answer, even if you sometimes use a different device. 

  • on a mobile phone: 12%
  • on an iPad or other tablet: 17%
  • on a laptop or desk computer: 72%
  • print blogs on paper: 0%

Of the 20 people who commented on this question, 13 indicated that they used more than one device to read blogs. Examples:

  • It’s close to 50/50 between a laptop and my phone. Some days, it’s almost exclusively my phone.
  • All the first three, don’t print.

Bloggers said they selected which device to use for reasons of comfort, convenience, and accessibility, for example:

  • I like to be comfortable, as I would when reading a book or newspaper.
  • I read some on my desk top computer. Depends on how accessible the blog is. It may be easier to read on an iPad.

While about 29% of older bloggers were happy to read blog posts on a small device like a smart phone or tablet, only 8% used small devices for writing and publishing. The vast majority produce their blog posts on a laptop or desktop computer.

Q. 11. Where do you usually write and publish your blog posts? Choose one answer, even if you sometimes use a different device. 

  • on a mobile phone: 3%
  • on an iPad or similar tablet: 5%
  • on a laptop or desk computer: 92%

Comments on this question make two things clear. Our sample of bloggers choose their devices for well-defined reasons, and they are willing to experiment.

  • “Even if I type a post on mobile, I rarely publish on mobile. I like the laptop function better.”
  • “I love my MacBook Air for its good-size screen and keyboard, and elegance and ease of use”
  • “Mostly because I have problems with my hands, typing on small places…actually I have a lot of problems with my hands, although I do know touch typing from early 1960s typing school”
  • “iPad is too small and slow”
  • “Easier to do on a bigger screen”
  • “It’s easier, I think, on a laptop. But I’m going to use an iPad when I travel overseas in August.”
  • “I am beginning to trial writing and publishing using a smart phone.”

Reflecting on these two questions purely from personal experience, I think these results make good sense. In fact I may be a typical older blogger in this respect. I personally find my iPhone fine for reading and commenting but impossible for posting (big thumbs, small keyboard, small type, small screen); I find the iPad Pro nice for reading, a little dangerous for commenting and impossible for posting; and my laptop is absolutely fine for any WordPress activity including publishing. No surprises.

What channels do older bloggers prefer for their blogging?

WordPress dominates as the preferred channel for our respondents, but here too, older bloggers are exploring, changing, and experimenting.

Q. 12. Which social media platform do you use for blogging? Choose one answer.

  • WordPress: 87%
  • Another blogging platform, e.g. Blogger, Typepad, Medium: 10%
  • Facebook: 3%
  • Instagram: 0%

I presume the dominance of WordPress in the answers to this question partly reflects the dominance of WordPress on the internet in general, and partly the fact that  many respondents learned about the survey right here on Write Into Life, a WordPress site. I assumed the results would favour WordPress blogs, and so I asked just one over-generalised question on this topic, which has left me hungry for more information.

Comments help to fill out the picture. Some older bloggers use multiple social networking platforms or have changed platforms. (Later questions in the survey make such behaviour appear to be fairly common.)

  • “My first blog was with blogger called Nutty Notes. I switched to WP for my second and subsequent blogs and love the platform.”
  • “Has worked okay for me, but have considered moving to another — definitely not FB or Instagram.”
  • “Am also now exploring Medium”
  • “I now use Micro.blog”
  • “I also post on Facebook and Linked In”
  • “I use Blogger but then IFTTT posts it to WordPress for me and then it goes to Facebook, both my private page and my business page.”

I would like to know much more about the social media activities of our group. This was a difficult question to frame and a difficult one to answer, for at least six technical or lexical reasons:

  1. Blogging takes place not only on dedicated platforms like WordPress.com, Blogger and Medium, but also on Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, LinkedIn, Reddit, and many others. Not many Facebook posts, for example, are blogs, but it happens, and 3% of our respondents use Facebook for their blogs.
  2. Blogs are often contrasted with social media. Yet for millions of people, their blog is primarily that, a social medium.
  3. The border between blogging and microblogging can be fuzzy, as people write extremely short blog posts (a photograph, a 3-word quote) and extremely long ones on Facebook.
  4. Other blogs (many thousands of them) are for in-house consumption, as part of what was once called an intranet.
  5. A blog can be defined by its technology, which enables anyone without technical skills to create a website and interact with others online. So what’s technically a blog is in some cases a filing cabinet or database, and it may not be on view to the general public.
  6. The WordPress content management system is widely used to make blog-free websites, or websites which happen to include a blog: an organisation’s blog may seem completely different from the personal sites of older bloggers.

So you see why I may have asked the wrong question. Regardless, we got some interesting results that could be explored further

My personal conclusions: older people feel comfortable with a blog  

  • Older bloggers tend to feel comfortable on WordPress or Blogger
  • Older bloggers have their reasons for choosing a blogging format instead of, or as well as, other social networking channels.

I think about this quite a lot. I am about to commit a coarse generalisation based not only on the data in the survey, but also on numerous comments from you, gentle readers, on this blog, and also in real life. In real life I talk a fair bit about the Older Bloggers Survey and consequently I get many unsolicited comments. I know that if I’ve got this completely wrong, you will tell me: please do!

I think plenty of older people feel a bit like I do. To me, blogging on WordPress feels like a comparatively calm, stable, steady, controllable environment. You have room to write long posts like this and freedom to write tiny ones. Blogging takes place in a community that is, on the whole, kind and encouraging. Although a baffling number of bloggers apologise for missing a regular posting date, it really doesn’t bother most readers how often or regularly you post or visit their blogs. You can keep track of other bloggers without religiously reading every word they write. You can write a blog for your own sweet reasons and never read a single one, you can commit wholeheartedly to the community aspects or remain aloof, you can use your blog like a megaphone or a hermit’s cave—in the blogosphere, there’s room for everyone.

What older bloggers say they don’t like about other social media channels

Many people have told me they find Facebook frenetic and manipulative, and they hate being bombarded by ads and political propaganda and news. Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram may seem fly-by-night and hectic to an older blogger. LinkedIn doesn’t seem to arouse negative feelings, but it’s a network for professional and career purposes; retired people may remain there out of inertia, I suspect.

When older bloggers consider any of the numerous other social media networks and potential blog platforms, they’ll either feel comfortable or not, for a similar range of reasons.  Intuitively we’re probably sensing whether or not it’s a safe place for us. Exploring social media is an adventure, but if a place feels unsafe or otherwise threatening, we won’t stay long. (Nobody has told me this: it’s just what I think.)

Speaking for myself, I use Facebook casually as a writer and to check up on certain family members. I’m still on LinkedIn but I wonder why (since I have sold my company, ceased contract work, and have no desire for a new job). I use Twitter randomly except in earthquakes. I can see the charm of Instagram but may never dig deep. Blogging suits me best, because I’m old.

Text and drawing Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2018

Self defence kicks in

T'ai chi kick in self defence
T’ai chi kick in self defence

I began a never-ending literature review
I read and I studied
and the news kept coming
and the books piled up
and the waters got muddied
you wouldn’t believe the research out there.
For decades now the ageing horde
has been a coming thing
looming and glooming and secretly booming
and while I’d been dreaming my life away
100,000 scientists
had worked it out, indeed they knew
what we had to do
(and trust me they were doing it too).

We can all of us, no most of us, no some of us
live longer yes, that happens anyway
but simultaneously collaterally
be healthyish and happyish and cheap to run
and maybe even useful
for nearly all those scary bonus years
or so they said.
We were doomed to live long
we could choose to live strong
it was all up to us no mostly no partly
our choice or so I thought they said.
Science had the answers to my fiddle-faddle fears
so I’d thought I’d do a boot camp for my bonus years
take a year to focus, point my laser mind
at certain smudgy areas
where Rachel could do better.
I was very much alive
I didn’t feel old but the facts were there
I was yes I was going to die sometime
but maybe not suddenly, maybe not soon
so I dedicated twelve months of my life
to being old, to knowing old
to feeling old, accepting old
I would have my year of being old
and then I would be sorted, then I would be fine.
I wasn’t anti-ageing
(which surely means pro-dying)
but my all-time self was out of whack
and needed a test and a tweak and a twiddle
I wasn’t at the end and I wasn’t in the middle
the years ahead were an obstacle course
and I needed to train and to strategise.

An onslaught of earnestness
swept away the vicar’s daughter
not as in save-the-worldism
but as in do-your-bestism
and so I planned my boot camp for the bonus years.

MP3 recording of this poem

Poem, recording and photo by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. Please share, with my name and a link.

It’s not mandatory to join the blogging conversation

Blogger wearing a t-shirt with logo "I blog", speech bubble says "no comment"

That’s right: it’s OK to blog without reading or commenting on other people’s blogs! There’s no law against it. It’s fine.

My last post was about the frequency and time spent by older bloggers on writing a blog vs. reading and commenting on blogs. As you saw, respondents had very different habits, and some never read other blogs or commented on them.

I hope this post will help if you struggle to read all the blogs you follow, if you feel anxious or overwhelmed or even guilty for not reading and sharing enough. You’re not alone: many people in our survey indicated that they feel this way.

I’m here to tell you that you can stop right now—stop feeling worried, I mean, not stop blogging. Do it your way.

If you are (like me) pretty committed to reading what others write in their blogs and comments —and it’s obvious that I find your comments fascinating—then it can be hard to understand why anybody would say firmly, “I don’t read blogs” or “I don’t comment.” After all, you understand the blessings of a dynamic online community, and the delight of discovering a kindred spirit or a “friend” out there in the blogosphere. For you, at least half the point of blogging is the social side. You feel puzzled and maybe even a bit indignant at the idea of just doing your own thing online.

Yet not commenting is extremely common. That is pure speculation on my part, but I state it boldly based on information from ManageWP.com:

Here’s an incredible fact: together, you published more than 660 million posts on WordPress.com in 2015, and made more than 655 million comments.

Surprise surprise: the ratio of posts to comments was virtually 50:50 in 2015, and I doubt this has changed very much. Now, it’s unusual for a blog post to have only one comment—it’s far more likely to have zero comments or several, don’t you think? This implies that the vast majority of blog posts have no comments at all; which in turn implies that the majority of bloggers don’t comment. I deduce that:

  • many people blog but don’t read other blogs
  • many people read but don’t blog
  • most bloggers don’t comment

Since I began researching this topic of older bloggers, I have become less and less and less judgemental. Sure, we have common guidelines such as don’t be mean, don’t tell lies, don’t promote your own blog on somebody else’s, and so forth. But apart from these basics, everyone finds their own niche, their own style, their own goals—and yours are rarely mine.

But why would any blogger deliberately avoid reading and commenting on blogs?

There are many reasons for deliberately deciding not to read or comment on other blogs. It’s not caused by a character flaw.  Let me gently suggest nine reasons, all of which are true of certain people I follow. They’re related to time available, other pressures, and the purpose of the blog. You can doubtless think of many others.

  1. A blog may consist of highly academic long articles by someone who has a full-time job and blogs in his own time.
  2. A blogger may be very ill or recovering from a serious illness.
  3. A blogger may have a disability that makes blogging extremely demanding.
  4. A blogger may spend 40 hours per week researching high quality information, gathered not from other blogs but from primary sources such as reputable medical or legal government reports. She is performing a public service already, without chatting online.
  5. A blogger may have thousands of followers and get hundreds of comments each week; if she began to answer those comments, the high quality of her blog would drop—and high quality content is exactly why she has thousands of followers.
  6. A blogger may be so chronically introverted that just to publish anything is a triumph; to engage with readers would be just too painful.
  7. A blogger may use her blog exclusively for creative self-expression: readers are genuinely irrelevant to the writer.
  8. Some bloggers have lives apart from blogging, so they tell me!
  9. Although you and I may relish online social interaction, no personal blogger needs to justify a choice like this.

Many thanks to the readers who raised this topic—you got me thinking!

WordPress posts and comments are in the millions: article by ManageWP

The day I woke up

wake up.jpgMy mother said that seventy years
is plenty of years and after that
you’re a nuisance a mistake
you’re a burden to the state.
So when I hit seventy I noticed the date
but mothers are allowed to be wrong about stuff
some of the time, that’s fair enough
and the seventies turned out to be
a sweet spot, at least so far, at least for me
until I looked around and all I could see
was other old people trotting along like me
and I thought Uh oh, you mean there’s more?
But how much more? To be precise
how many years am I meant to live?
Statistics say
the average woman of my age
will live to 84 but hey
I’m not average (nobody is)
so give me a number, do me the math.

So Google found me a questionnaire
that I trusted to offer a pretty good guess
and I answered 40 questions
and I waited for the verdict
with existential angst and strangled breath.

“Based on your answers you are likely to die
at the ripe old age of 99.”
And I said No, that isn’t me
I could almost imagine being 83
but 99 I’ll never be.
Let’s try another questionnaire
a better one a proper one
let’s do the Mayo Clinic one
I’ll fudge the truth and get the truth
and surely I’ll die in the flush of youth.

Now what does the Mayo Clinic say?
Oh shit I’m heading for 98?
I stormed away from my stand-up desk
and flung myself with all my soul
into the sulk of the century
the ultimate apoplectic huff
short of actual apoplexy
for which you need a dodgy heart
and while I raged, my heart chuffed on and on
like a good old puffer train.

Two days later I settled down and I said to myself,
Well bugger that, it’s just a guess
and I might die the week after next
but it does make a certain sort of sense—
life expectancy on the rise
me with my excellent Girl-Guide habits
my good nutrition and education
me with a home and superannuation
me with phenomenal life-long luck
of lucky time and place and genes
it’s not so freaky to believe
I could survive to 99
whether I like it or not.
If so… if so…
I’ve still got a quarter of my life to go
so I’d better get my ducks in a row.
I thought I’d die in a rocking chair
everything normal for a few more years
then a sudden sit down and a quick let down
and that’d be dying done and dusted.
But now I have to brace myself, face the facts
face my fears and the bonus years
the years and years I never chose
and make them as good as I can.
I knew all about old people
you see them everywhere
but in a million years I never dreamt
one day they would be me.

MP3 recording of this poem

Poem and recording CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine