An old dragon in the year of the dog

Japanese New Year card by Isshu Fujiwara: Year of the Dog 2018
Japanese New Year card by Isshu Fujiwara: Year of the Dog 2018

So, the Year of the Dog is underway now, and so is my next year of life. Last Saturday I had a bunch of super-special friends here for a party, knowing that at my age, every birthday is a gift, a stroke of luck, and should be celebrated to the hilt.

I checked my prospects for 2018 in a desultory way. I’ve thinking about messages for those born in a Year of the Dragon — in my case, 1940.  Let me quote a couple of sources at random. I have no idea whether they have any authority and that doesn’t matter: they are starters for fruitful contemplation.

It is advisable that anyone born in the year of the dragon wears either a red  string around his waist or wears red underwear or red socks all year for protections from any challenges the dog may want to throw his way.

Low profile is the name of the game for the Dragon this year. Undoubtedly the Dragon is a well-­respected character and one to always be ahead of the field but everyone deserves some time off and 2018 is an ideal time to do so.

It will be a wise Dragon who rests on his laurels and even takes a sabbatical this year. (Daily Mail)

Dragons are advised to exercise extreme caution this year. And also restraint. Do not retaliate, not yet. Tolerance is key. Even endurance. What you endure this year can be a harvest. (Kiss925)

Does this astrological advice make sense for me in 2018?

Well, yes, sort of. I’ve had a tough couple of years with stuff comin’ at me, and now would be a great time to step back and take it easy. Thank you, Dog.

A sabbatical? Sure! In the good old days when academics had sabbaticals as of right, the word meant taking time off from their job every seventh year to refresh and renew and research and write.

As I’ve just completed my 77th year, the timing is perfect.

Not sure about the red string.

The New Year card is by my friend Isshu Fujiwara, and features the aptly named terrier, Joy. This is her year and she is extra joyful.

Those dreaded new year resolutions

Victory in Ivory: Ancient Greek female costume
Victory in Ivory: Ancient Greek female costume

When it comes to resolutions, I run a mile from heavy commands with an or-else clause built in. Even so, I can’t help noticing that here we are again at the start of a brand new year. Every commentator and blogger and TV channel (etc etc) is summarising the past year and making forecasts. You can’t escape the sense that this, like every new year, is a moment for serious reflection.

So (like you, maybe) I’m thinking, what will next year be like for me? How will it compare with last year? What do I want to do, yearn to do, intend to do? Not to be, but to do? Instinctively I keep the objectives specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound — something between save-the-world and a tiny (30-second) habit.

Be yourself: good choice

Happily I have now shucked off a job that ate my brain in 2017: maybe it improved my character, but I’m reverting to my old (ha!) self again. I’m looking forward to doing more of the things that bring me joy.

  • I think idly, I’ll have another adventure… probably going to the Mature Moves conference in Tasmania in September…
  • I know I’ll be writing a book: no decision required, it’ll happen. I’m ready!
  • Some home maintenance jobs loom up and as usual, I’ll do them sooner or later.
  • Everyone’s life needs a bit of a tweak now and then. When the time comes, I suppose I’ll just do it: I wouldn’t say that requires a resolution.

If my resolutions seem sloppy to you, at least they are not intimidating—I hope. There’s nothing more depressing than the list of a super-achiever.

So basically, I’ll just enjoy the life I’ve got. It’s a funny little life, but I love it.

Image: Victory in ivory, an image from Ancient Greek female costume, public domain.

Discipline, dance and dangerously high expectations: what a way to treat old people!

At TEDx 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand, the remarkable Billie Jordan explained how and why she formed the Hip Operation Crew, the oldest dance troupe in the world, average age 80.

Her dramatic story highlights the unwitting cruelty of agism: society has extremely low expectations of old people. You’re expected (required?) to slow down and pull out of the flow of life. Your useful working life is over, and your reward (or punishment) is to retire from living, out of sight, out of the way … without actually dying. This may be meant kindly, but it is totally demoralizing and a kind of abuse. “We should increase the pace, turn it up full throttle,” says Jordan.

Why Jordan cares about how older people are treated

Traumatised by the Christchurch killer earthquake, she moved to Waiheke Island where she felt isolated and depressed, and worse: she had an intense fear of dying. Nobody expected anything from her. She felt worthless. She saw no future for herself. It was like being … very old.

She empathised with the old people she saw, rounded them up for flash mob duty. Then she decided to set an impossibly high goal. She announced boldly that she would form the local old people into a dance group and send them to the world championships of hip hop in Las Vegas. And by gum that’s exactly what she did. “We made this pact. If anyone died during a dance, we would step over them and carry on dancing.”

Self-fulfilling prophecies in action

Her demanding style and high expectations horrified the locals at first, and transformed the dancers. They stopped talking about the past and all their talk is now about the future.

Of her 22 dancers, four use mobility aids, five have had open heart surgery, all have arthritis, six are deaf, one is blind and five have dementia. “It’s manageable,”says Billie drily.

Do watch Billie Jordan, once, twice, three times. She may transform your view of old age. This is compassion in action: relentless. And funny.

The Hip Operation is not a casual class, it’s not passive entertainment, and not everyone can stand the pace. It’s a sort of boot camp for the elderly. As for the dancers who commit and carry on, their doctors say they’re happier and healthier than they’ve ever been.

How about you? Do you think society expects too little or too much of older people?

Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2015: we know how to lower the risk, so why don’t we?

Vintage drawing of a young woman smoking
A change of lifestyle would protect this young lady against dementia: more dancing, less tobacco

bootcamp2015-small 2

In which five tips for minimizing the risk of Alzheimer’s are shared and ignored by the people most in need, although it’s never too late to benefit.

For years now, research into Alzheimer’s disease has had a clear theme: Change your lifestyle to protect your brain.

In July 2015, the Alzheimer’s Association held its international conference in Washington DC. Afterwards, they summarised some of the findings in a press release so perfect that it was re-published word-for-word by numerous newspapers—a comms officer’s dream.

No surprises, just big data confirming now familiar, common-sense advice.

We already knew what we can do to lessen the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s, and now we know it more surely than ever. No surprises, just more proof.

Making these lifestyle changes “looks more promising than the drug studies so far,” said Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, whose lab researches what makes up healthy aging. The findings on stress prompted Lipton to take up yoga.

The facts keep rolling in: lifestyle changes have significant impact

  1. Sleep better: 6,000+ people studied. Poor sleep is linked to mild cognitive impairment and later, Alzheimer’s. So go to bed earlier or get help. It’s worth it.
  2. Learn something new and complex: 7,000 older adults studied. Dementia risk is lower by good school grades and work demanding expertise. So work your brain: it’s worth it.
  3. Exercise, doh! 3,200 young adults studied for 25 years. The least active had the worst cognition when they were middle-aged. We knew that. So why wouldn’t you up your exercise regime? It’s worth it.
  4. Keep in touch and destress. 8,000 seniors studied for over a decade. Isolated people and those who brood over stressful events are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. That’s why my personal Boot Camp for Old Age includes “Make two new friends this year and every year” and “Raise the level of meditation practice.” Why wouldn’t you? It’s worth it.
  5. Eat healthy: no numbers supplied, but Lipton’s lab found a healthy diet lowered seniors’ risk of impaired executive function as they got older. Why wouldn’t you? It’s worth it.

Reining in my web presence

One person's 20-year web profile.
Part of my 20-year web profile: websites & social media channels. Time to declutter!

When your things (any things) are in a shambles, the shambles will get worse before it gets better. At present the things in question are my websites and social media channels.

You may notice this website become a bit of a shambles while I rationalise some of those messed-up things.

Flaws will become more obvious as I start fixing them:

  • categories are random
  • boot camp posts are incomplete
  • menu is muddled and amateurish
  • some pages need to multiply, others need to shrink
  • some information is on two websites
  • and so on and so on.

Nobody can manage 19 web sites and social media channels

That’s obvious, right? And I don’t want to. Some of those websites I’ve already shucked off. (And believe me, there were more!) The others need to be either abandoned or consolidated.

Life lesson for me:

Prune your multifarious activities and you’ll enjoy them more.


The woman who wants to fail: me

Image from Life in Ancient Athens 1907

You know how you muse on a mishmash of thoughts when you go walking? And how sometimes all becomes clear?

On Friday morning, on a short walk from Mt Vic to Mt Cook, I caught my own mind in the act. Its hidden motive for self-sabotage was no sooner revealed than accepted, no sooner accepted than acted on. Or in this case, not acted on.

You see, I’d just released my second Udemy course after weeks of dithering and delay:
Write Haiku Love Poems and Thrill Someone you Love. It’s a quaint little course, in fact I love it, but I published it reluctantly.  Why? Because I was dreading the next stage, which involves managing a vast array of mechanisms from mailing lists to YouTube, from coupons to blogging to webcasts and, oh all that fuss. You see, if you create an online course you have to market it.

Or do you?

(By the way this is exactly the same quandary every book author confronts.)

The epiphany: this time around, it would be fun to fail

Yes, my new business strategy is shocking, but is it tragic? Image from Life in Ancient Athens, 1907

Rachel said unto me: Listen to yourself!  You love making these courses — it’s a buzz. You deliberately choose crazy obscure topics because you hope nobody will ever do them. You actually said that, out loud, several times; I have witnesses.

Then I said unto her-me: But I am counting on the income. I left my business last year as you well know.

Rachel: What income? Your two courses have so far earned the princely sum of $8.00 but look at you — hello, not starving! This imaginary income stream is never going to happen.

Me: OK, fair enough, you’re right, dammit. I will start making a really sensible course on how to edit a novel.

Rachel: No, darling. You are missing the point. Create another unique ridiculous course that nobody will want to do… say, A Boot Camp For The Bonus Years. And don’t publicise that one either.

Me: Eureka! That’s integrity. I’ll be the best non-self-publicist on Udemy.

Rachel: Never mind that. You’re seventy-seven: stick to the fun stuff.

Feeling old? a counter-intuitive prescription

I was old again for a couple of months this year, and then I stopped.

Old age started abruptly, out of the blue. I began feeling tired every day and worrying in a boring way about a work overload. Something was wrong.

One day I had been reading after lunch in the sun. Then it was time to get back to work.

But no. I felt tired—again. Tired? How daft was that? I’d already been resting like a dear old Methuselah for the last half hour or more.

I drew the logical conclusion, or so I thought: maybe it’s time I began to work less, relax more. So I stayed in the chair and read another chapter.(A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a fascinating book with an onion of a story, hard to stop reading. It’s Anthony Marra’s first novel, set in Chechnya, 2004.) By the time I finished, my hands were shaking: I was more tired, not less.

Off to the GP to be diagnosed with a harmless little condition that is, I’m told, almost universal after a certain age: postural hypotension.

Life tips for myself

  • Don’t stay too long in the same position, whether lying, sitting or standing.
  • Drink enough water and not too many coffees.
  • And when you feel tired, don’t just sit there — move!  Get that blood pumping again.

Knowledge is power. Now I know what to do, I don’t get so tired. I’m back to normal, which is full of beans. Work overload? Bring it on. That’s normal too, and no reason to worry.