Monday, May 4, 2015

Happy old you: in training for a fine old age

Window or reflection: don't make false assumptions
Old age: look at what's really there, not your assumptions
Lately I've been shocked by contemporaries who have made a false assumption about life after 70 and never questioned it, despite mounting research to the contrary. They seem to have resigned themselves to a miserable, feeble, passive old age. They show no signs of wanting to change a thing in their lives, apart from pressing their GP for yet another prescription.

They seem to have given up all hope of being happy and active, because they believe they are technically, irrevocably, statistically "old". Result: they are physiologically and mentally much, much older than other people who are exactly the same chronological age.

I think we need a new profession: old age trainers. Their job is to train people for a bright old age. This had best start young, in the forties or fifties — but it's never too late, thank heaven. Although there's a catch: you have to be motivated. You have to make decisions, take the initiative, grab the last quarter of your precious life and do stuff. You can't just take a pill.

OK, OK, I know what you're going to say. In advance let me state that I agree with your first three statements but can see not a shred of evidence, let alone any proof, of the fourth. In fact, the fourth statement is a load of old bollocks.

  1. We all grow old.
  2. Old age ends in death.
  3. Therefore let's accept our limitations.
  4. There's nothing we can do to improve our lives as old people, because our fate is all due to luck and genes.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

101-year-old survives the Nepal earthquake: what's his secret?

The tragic May 2015 Nepal earthquake is known to have killed 7000 people already. Rescues have been few, each a miracle.

Where did 101-year-old Funchu Tamang find the stamina to survive? He's an inspiration.

He is tough and he was lucky. And he doubtless has something extra special as well. What, I wonder?

Screenshot from AsiaOne, 4 May 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Anne Karpf on ageing: you're doing it now, and it's fine

I read "How to age" by Anne Karpf on my Kindle, and reviewed it for Amazon. I totally agree with Karpf's attitude towards ageing — embrace ageing, start young, it's continuous, it's interesting, it's growth, it's part of life. But alas, this is not easy in a culture that hates and fears old people and all they symbolise.

Some people may be disappointed in the book because of the title, which is misleading — and that's a shame. (And oh the agony of choosing a title...) Also, what a strange, depressing book cover! Title and cover don't do this important book justice.

My review

Anne Karpf reveals the extent of gerontophobia in the west — with all its cruelty, daftness and implicit self-sabotage — and the high price we pay for it.

Don’t be misled by the title: this is not a how-to book, but a long, eloquent essay reflecting on a big topic. It’s not easy to overhaul your attitude towards ageing from a dreaded disability to an essential, valuable, lifelong process. However, at the end, we see how “Gina” incorporates the author’s attitudes towards ageing into her own life. She started her personal how-to programme after her grandmother’s funeral by resolving:
“1. Never again to say of someone ‘she must have been beautiful’, as though age were some necrotizing organism that eats away at beauty.
“2. Whenever she felt anxious about her own encroaching wrinkles, to imagine herself fifteen older so that, in comparison, she looked positively peachy. She thought of this as a reverse facelift.
“3. To remember that Betty, until the very end, thought that life was an adventure: she was always seizing new opportunities, converting with strangers and reading new books.”
I recommend this book. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Poignant earthquake symbol at the Wellington Railway Station

Stripes around Wellington Railway Station columns
Red-and-white stripes around the Wellington Railway station send a message loud and clear: take care, because this heritage building is undergoing earthquake strengthening.

For visitors, the stripes might suggest the opening of a massive new barber shop. Or hint at free lollypops within.

But for many Kiwis those stripes have powerful connotations. They summon memories of the Christchurch earthquakes, when road cones burst into bloom all over the city.

Those poignant floral road cones symbolise disaster, resilience and hope.

Road cone photo by Christchurch City Libraries
Railway Station photo: me

Friday, November 28, 2014

Formatting Farewell Speech for KIndle from an OCR scan

Farewell Speech by Rachel McAlpine: cover art by Dale Copeland I've been reformatting my novel Farewell Speech for publication on Kindle. That's far more time- and braincell-consuming than you might imagine.

It forces you to visualise the book on a Kindle or a smartphone, and suddenly there's more to do.

Last week I decided the chapters needed more interesting titles than Chapter 1: Bim.

Why waste half a line on "Chapter", for a start? Now the chapter title is 1: Bim meets a pig of a woman.

I'm finding the process very interesting — but it takes time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to talk about travel (morning thought)

Going places! Marrakech train station.

After a trip to an exotic place, you are obliged to talk about it. Friends ask you about Your Trip (especially in New Zealand, where every country except Australia and home is considered exotic). Or you have an urge to talk about it anyway.

But how? Travel talk can be such a pleasure, but it can also go seriously wrong. Half your audience has already been to the same destination, and the other half has been there in spirit thanks to TripAdvisor and Facebook.

Is there a taxonomy of travel talk? I have been watching how others do it, and I hope to learn from their triumphs and mistakes.

A. Travel talk that I enjoy hearing
  1. Personal experiences combined with insights into broader topics.
  2. The person who respects your knowledge and adds to it.
  3. A story steeped in joy or excitement or delight or drama or fear: strong frank personal feelings.
  4. People who travel with a specific purpose: how did things pan out?
  5. A story about people.
  6. An amazing fact that I have never heard before.
  7. Stories that grow and grow in response to the listener's questions.

B. Travel talkers who drive me nuts 
I wish you all the best, but I do not want to be you.
  1. The bore who tells you 1,000 (dubious, random, context-less) "facts" about a place.
  2. The know-it-all who believes spending 5 minutes in a place gives their every opinion the ring of authority.
  3. The full-time cruise traveller who compares tours, not places. 
  4. The relentless super-generaliser.
  5. Mr and Mrs Cost-a-Lot, Mr and Mrs They-Can't-Make-Chips, and their friends.
I'd better get an executive summary ready so that I don't lapse into category B.

And by the way: jotting down morning thoughts is more demanding than I expected. On a train and planes, I did not jot. Now I'm home, there's a little problem of time. Well, that's just for the record: it's all good.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Morning thoughts: like traffic in Marrakech

Traffic in Marrakech

Had to happen! Yesterday I idly decided (more or less) to write down my morning thoughts every day.

Today I woke a bit too early, and started wondering whether I would think anything worthwhile or useful or interesting this morning. (Note the elitism emerging already.) And then, assuming the worst, I started wondering whether I might cheat, by recycling something I thought a day or two ago.

How daft. I planned to jot down everything without censorship or judgement.  Yet immediately this began to seem like a task—changing the essential nature of any poor little morning thoughts that might struggle past the sentries.

This last week I've been staying in Marrakech for a family event, which doubtless explains why I have had surplus thinking time. The traffic is at times wildly unpredictable. You're walking down a narrow lane, maybe almost empty, maybe packed with people and colourful things for sale, when whoosh! straight from nowhere, a car or motorbike or donkey-cart crashes around a corner and misses you by a whisker.

Anyway, bear with me, I'm laying the groundwork for an analogy.

I've discovered that I experience danger in a profoundly different way from three of my sisters. When death misses them by a millimetre, they are surprised. They get a shock. They are momentarily afraid, as anyone with half a brain should be. But apparently I'm not on the same wavelength. The situation is is genuinely dangerous, but I seem to find it amusing, as if the world is putting on a delightful pantomime for my personal entertainment.

It's just as well I'm leaving tomorrow. The death rate from traffic accidents here is high, we have been told.

So far, I have recounted an anecdote plus an observation. Here, by contrast, is a thought: my mind is a toy, and I want to play with it as long as I can. Morning thoughts are a pantomime for my amusement. They are not right or wrong, but sometimes strange and funny—to me. They're not brilliant or moral or enormous or inspiring or alarming. Just entertaining.

Like the traffic in Marrakech.

P.S. Self defence instincts are three, not two.

  1. Flight.
  2. Fight.
  3. Write.