Help! My face has fallen and can’t get up!


I’ve long suspected that death visits us while we sleep and strokes our faces, pinching and pulling as he whispers Gollum-like, “Oh, my precious.” How else explain this stretched out skin that has lost its elasticity.


The only other explanation is wanderlust. My cheeks once interested only in the world that was in front of my face have grown curious and want to see what’s below my jaw. I believe the common term for this is jowls (which rhymes with howls, which happens when I accidently look in the mirror).

Courtesy of Flickr user SuperFantastic

Courtesy of Flickr user SuperFantastic

My eyes have the same desire to travel. A large bag sits ready below each eye, awaiting the call to leave. When I was younger, my eyes would sometimes pack these bags; however, after a good night’s sleep they would empty their bags and settle down, prepared to face the world.  Now they are determined to bring as much as possible on the journey.


My ears, tired of being ignored and relegated to being a mere sideshow to my face, add cartilage every chance they get, racing to reach my shoulders before my jowls do. They’ve also started peeking out behind the curtain of hair that hangs over them. That curtain used to be thicker, but the bathroom floor is now a popular destination. It is widely believed by my hairs that the ones that reach the floor will get swept up in a kind of whirlwind once they get there. The rumors are true.


The result of my facial migration south is a face that only a bloodhound or possibly a Shar Pei could love. Thus, my eschewal* of selfies.

Courtesy of User:Ropompin on Wikimedia Creative Commons

Courtesy of User:Ropompin on Wikimedia Creative Commons

Each emotion I have felt has used my face for origami, folding and unfolding the skin to show joy, anger, disgust, delight, and a thousand other feelings. The creases are all permanent now and, outside of surgery, my former smoothery is possible only inside a wind tunnel.


Courtesy Pinterest user: Michele Gambone

Courtesy Pinterest user: Michele Gambone


*Use of the verb “eschew” calls for a piece ofchocolate. Use of the noun form “eschewal,”   calls for two pieces. You're welcome.





Frequently Not Asked Questions: Eight


Question: Are you what is called “a woman of a certain age”?


I used to be.


All that has changed recently. Not only have I been told that 50 is the new 30, which would make me under 40, but the Max Planck Institute says I’m still in my twenties because 72 is the new 30. So, my age is no longer certain.


The research institute that declared me young bears the name of Max Planck. If you’ve watched enough Jeopardy shows, you’ll remember him from the question “Who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918?” Max Planck received the award for his discovery of little bundles of energy, called quanta, sometimes known as grandchildren.


Thanks to Planck, we know, or should, that light is both a wave and a particle (a lump of energy) at the same time. This is easily understood by considering Superman. Depending on how or when you look at him, he is either Clark Kent, the equivalent of a mild-mannered wave wearing dark-rimmed glasses, or Superman, a bundle of super-human energy flying through space in tights.


But what does that have to do with time slowing down, so that it now takes over two of the old years to make one of the new ones?


Thank you for asking. It has something to do with Einstein, the mathematical short story writer. His most famous story, E=mc2, consists of just three letters, a symbol, and a number. A close reading of the text yields the following. A hapless thirty-year-old astronaut sent on a mission just after his first child, Herminia, is born spends thirty years traveling at very high speeds here and there in the galaxy, eating irradiated beef and freeze-dried ice cream. He returns to earth on what he believes is his daughter’s 30th birthday. When he bursts through the door of the family home, expecting to surprise Herminia, he discovers “Happy 72nd Birthday!” written on the cake. He is confused because he is only 60 and his birthday is next month. Overcome by the sight of real ice cream, he consumes a bowl before learning that the old woman at the head of the table is Herminia. Yet no matter what the calendar says, in the mind of the hapless astronaut, she is his 30-year-old daughter. Hence, the idea that 72 is the new 30.


Long ago, people my age were considered long in the tooth; now we are long in the youth because the fast pace of life is slowing time down. If I live long enough, it may take three of the old years to equal a new one. By the time I reach 90, it may be the new 30, and I’ll never be able to retire.


Caveat anagnóstis (Reader beware): My understanding of physics is limited to interpretative dances about the elusive quark. However, I have heard that as an object accelerates, its mass increases. This explains why as I move faster and faster through time, growing younger and younger, my fluffiness is also increasing –  a matter that weighs heavy on me at times.

Quarks courtesy of Arpad Horvath.

Quarks courtesy of Arpad Horvath.

(NOTE TO READER: This is a non-science blog and is not a substitute for a college class in theoretical physics. My expertise lies primarily in theatrical physics with a focus on musicals. Any information with a resemblance to actual science is purely coincidental and rather lucky.)




My non-imaginary friend


I never had an imaginary friend as a child because I had a non-imaginary friend that I could talk to anytime and anywhere, my very own self.


As I’ve grown older, my inner dialog has morphed into an outer dialog. I feel the need to tell myself out loud what I’m going to do next, just in case I have forgotten. “Okay, first I’ll make coffee and eat breakfast, read the news online, and then take a walk.”


I also enjoy asking myself questions, especially while driving. “Can you believe that idiot cut in front of me?” I’ll ask myself. After I respond with a few choice words, I commiserate with myself and respond, “You poor thing. It’s a curse to have the unsought-for gift of turning into an idiot magnet once you get behind the wheel of a car.” I talk to myself a lot in the car because idiots from around the state are compelled to get in their cars to drive the same roads I am on just to get a glimpse, a very close glimpse, of me.


Home is where I talk to myself the most. While cleaning the base of the toilet, I ask myself out loud, “Who in their right mind uses toilet anchor bolt covers that pop off and require superglue to attach? Why don’t they use screw-on caps?” I ask myself that question every time I wipe the base of the toilet, knock off those little plastic covers and watch them roll behind the toilet. Only someone who never cleans a toilet could design something like that.


On occasion I use the mirror to role-play another person who needs to be told off. I rehearse a brilliant conversation in which I use my incisive reasoning skills and devastating humor to reveal their stupidity, callousness, or delusion, leaving the person duly chastised and at a loss for words in the face of my wisdom and oratorical skills. Sometimes I wear sunglasses when I do this because my brilliance can be blinding.


Once I have given the person a piece of mind, I can walk away knowing that I saved another piece of my mind, which would otherwise have been lost. At my age, you need to hang onto every single piece you have. I’ve lost quite a bit of my mind over the years, so I know what I’m talking about. Or at least I think I do.


I even talk in public when I think I am alone. If I have already begun talking out loud and notice someone within earshot, I hum and mumble made-up words to a real or imaginary song, so the person who got shot in the ear with my self-talk will think I’m merely singing to myself. Most people feel cordial to those who sing to themselves in public, judging them to have pent-up musical talent that can’t be contained. People who talk to themselves in public, on the other hand, are more likely to have just one talent: being crazy. And they themselves need to be contained.


Frequently when I’m in conversation with myself in my head or out loud, I remind myself of funny things that have happened, so I start laughing. If people carry their ears within hearing range, I pretend that laughter is part of the song that I was singing, which is harder than you think.


My repertoire of songs that include laughter is limited to four from my youth. All appeared in the 1960s. The first one, Wipe Out by The Surfaris, is instrumental with just one word, the title. Humming, laughing, and shouting out “Wipe Out!” alarms most people, however, so I avoid that one. Another one I’m reluctant to use is They’re Coming to Take Me Away by Napoleon XIV because I think they really would. The Beatles recorded the last two that I remember: I Am the Walrus and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. Both have that LSD-authored quality of the decade. No matter how smoothly I segue into any of these songs though, the people around me get that look of panic that movie characters get when they hear a door open in the abandoned house they’ve gone to investigate alone, with no weapon or phone, because they suspect a serial killer might be hiding there, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, in spite of an entire theater full of people yelling at them to turn back.


I understand. I’ve been there myself. Not in an abandoned house looking for a serial killer, but walking near a person who is chatting away in a robust voice, but with phone-free hands. I’ve been convinced and alarmed that the person was deep in a self-argument until I carefully circled around and noticed the person wearing one of those Bluetooth earpieces.


I’m not much of a phone-talker and have never wanted an earpiece, but I think I might need one. When you’re long in the tooth and have the habit of talking to yourself in an audible voice, it’s best to have at least one tooth that’s blue. Of course, I won’t connect the earpiece to my phone; I wouldn’t want anyone to call and interrupt my conversations with myself.


Painting from Sally Ann  
Anchor bolt cover from Lowes
Bluetooth earpiece from Wikimedia



Letter to my 90-year-old self



Dear Future Yearstricken,



Do you remember me? I didn’t think so. You lived my life several decades ago. I thought I’d better write you a letter to remind you what your plans for old age were.



  • You can only whine and complain on Tuesdays from 3 – 5 p.m., so make good use of that time. When you were younger, you used to say, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” Now, of course, you’ll have to put on your big girl Depends and deal with life’s inconveniences: your aches and pains, the decreasing level of intelligent life around you, and the annoying habit of people who never learned to speak clearly and loudly.



  • Open that Excel file called Stories I Like to Tell that I left on your computer, iPad, and phone. I tried to sort them chronologically, so the stories of your childhood start the list. You’ll have to fill in names of new people across those top cells. If you can’t fill them in, ask someone for help. Then every time you tell that person one of your stories, put an “x” under the person’s name. If that’s too hard, ask the person listening to the stories to mark the ones he or she has heard before. Once the person has heard all of your stories, feel free to just make stuff up. They weren’t there, so they’ll never know the difference.


Type of text commonly used in books in the year 2014.

Type of text commonly used in books in the year 2014.


  • Read every day. I hope by the time you receive this, the alarming trend of making letters smaller and fuzzier will reverse itself so that you can read books and magazines. When you were a child, all print was normal-sized, crisp, sharp, and easy to read. Somewhere around your 30s or 40s, printers of all kinds became sloppy and started using smaller, blurrier fonts. The you that is me right now has been forced to use glasses for printed material and the magnifier function on the computer. You may have to rely on audio versions of books, although computers should be able to read aloud better by mid-century.


  • Keep learning about the world around you. It may do for the people around you to talk and care about only local affairs, but it won’t do for you. You cannot turn away from the pain and suffering of other lands anymore than you can ignore the beauty and wonder of other cultures. Your community extends across all of the continents. You share the same story with every other human being.



  • Practice mercy and forgiveness every day, or at least every day except Tuesdays from 3 – 5 p.m. when you are busy whining and complaining. You never learned much from punishment other than fear, but you have been transformed by the mercy and forgiveness you have received. Avoid carrying grudges; they’re incredibly heavy and tend to throw your back out and make you spiteful.



  •  Laugh as much as possible, and often at yourself. Cry, too. Keep feeling and savoring life. It’s okay to lick the bowl at the end of the meal; you don’t have that many more meals left.



  • Don’t worry about what other people think about you. Most people find thinking troublesome, and those that bother to think won’t spend much time thinking about you.



  • Enjoy your coffee, wine, and dark chocolate. If you’re alive at 90, you’ve proved they are good for you.



  • Pay attention every day. Look, really look, at what is around you: the number of petals on an orchid, the different shades of green in your spring garden, the mechanism of a zipper, the way your knuckles bend (hopefully), and the variety of bird songs in summer. If you don’t understand something, look it up. Find out. You need this as much as coffee, wine, and dark chocolate.



  • Tell the people around you that you love them. Hug them every chance you get. Don’t worry about embarrassing them or yourself. Tell the child that your heart nearly bursts every time she comes through the door. Tell your daughters that they are two of life’s greatest gifts. Tell your husband that a day has never  by that you haven’t marveled at his love and patience. It’s okay to repeat yourself this time. Your family and friends may tire of your stories, but they’ll never tire of being loved.


Your once and former self,




I hear the bells a-ringing



My mind refuses to reveal the details of the day that I first read Poe’s poem “The Bells.” I do remember, however, the pleasure of hearing it read out loud and listening to the music of the bells in every line. Most likely it was in my sophomore year of high school. The teacher’s name remains buried beneath the rubble of my memories, but I remember that she was a great lover of words. Although I had some interest in biology, French, and algebra, I loved English class because we were required to read. No one had to require me to read, but English class assignments gave me the perfect excuse to avoid chores or obligations – Sorry, but I have to read this for English class.


Poe’s use of language, first ringing and singing then wrangling and jangling across the page, thrilled me. I loved the words, even the ones I didn’t know yet like tintinnabulation, euphony, and monody. I never forgot the delight of listening to those tinkling silver sleigh bells and the bright golden wedding bells, followed by the clanging bronze alarm bells that led finally and irrevocably to the heavy iron bells tolling death. Poe, of course, could never stop with love and beauty; he had to follow them to their final end. But it was the magic of the words even more than the meaning of the poem that held me and rang in my mind ever after.


A half of a century later, I often think of Poe and his poem. When the world and the whirlwind in my mind are still, especially at night, which is when all of Poe’s bells ring, I hear the tintinnabulation of the bells, ringing and singing in my ear without end. I had hoped six weeks ago, when the ringing first began that it was a temporary aberration of the ear, but it has continued. The official name for this most poetic of conditions is tinnitus, so called since 1684 when it was listed in a medical dictionary as “a certain buzzing or tingling in the ear.”


Like so many conditions and health issues, the only cure is death. Until then, I must learn to manage the sound, ignoring it when I can. When I am busy, I don’t notice it at all. Thankfully, I have discovered dozens of possible illnesses that cause tinnitus. I’m sure I have all of them, so I should stay quite busy, first by diagnosing myself to confirm that I have them, next by keeping vigil by my deathbed, and finally by spontaneously recovering from all of them.


My ear rings! Day and night.

My ear rings! Day and night.

For your reading pleasure, go here to read “The Bells.” Enjoy. May it ring in your mind, but not your ears, forever.


Photos: Large church bell by Cherubino    Small bells by David Blaikie     Three bells by Badseed


The body remembers



The body remembers.


The sun-scorched skin can number the days beneath the sky’s great torch, planting grain, lying on the beach, and walking to the train. The knees recall each road they travelled and the weariness of sidewalks and pavement. They can count the ups and downs of stairs you’ve long forgotten. The back has followed every step you’ve taken, holding you upright through the hard days, willing to bend at your command and lift small children, boxes, and bags and bags of groceries. The bones empty themselves to make space for all the memories of stillness. They languished those hours, longing to carry you, to feel the heft of life and movement. In the unseen places, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage journal every blow, fall, jolt, jump, stroll, dance, and spin; most of which you cannot remember.


The body grows weary of silence.


Year after year the body waited, remembering. The few times it spoke, you listened, tended to its needs, and heard no more. Stories must be told and now the body speaks. The skin brings up memories of the sun, like old photographs printed on your face. The knees insist you listen to the recitation of burdens borne; the back wakes you at night to tell its tales. Day after day the memories excavate within the bones, hollowing them out  for a place to rest, nestling within the fragile spaces of the clavicle, radius, and femur. Tendons, ligaments, and cartilage lose themselves in remembrances that stretch across the years.


The body must tell, and should you turn away, it speaks more loudly. Listen it says, this is where I’ve been, this is the road I trod. And you must listen. Where else can you go?



Elderly woman:  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.



Old married couples: Sitting quietly without speaking




You’ve heard the stories about old married couples. How they grow to look alike. And how they can sit quietly without speaking, enjoying the silence together.


Well, the first one is true. Old married couples look the same because all old people look alike. You may be taller, shorter, rounder, or skinnier than your spouse; and you may dye your hair, exercise, eat right, and use expensive creams, but sooner or later both of you will have to put on a wrinkled coat of skin, large ears, and a droopy nose, so you are properly dressed for the party called old age.


Of course, you can attend the party wearing a mask created by a plastic surgeon. But you can only wear it for a while before you need a new one. Keep doing that and eventually your mouth will be stretched so close to your ears that you can hear yourself drool. Did I mention drool? Well, lots of people at the party do. Not the mentioning, the drooling.


About that second idea: I believe half of it. Old couples often sit quietly without speaking, but not because they are enjoying the silence together. Something else is going on, something called “mamihlapinatapai.” (Note to reader: Impress your friends by casually using this word in a conversation. I’ve developed an easy pronunciation guide to help you in your impressiveness. Repeat after me: mommy – la piñata – pie.)


In the Yaphan language of Tierra del Fuego, it means “two people looking at each other without speaking, each hoping that the other will offer to do something which both parties desire but neither is willing to do.”


When old couples sit together in silence, both are hoping the other person will do what needs to be done, like washing the dishes, taking out the trash, buying more Depends, or remembering the names of the children. They may look as if they are resting in their love, but both of them are secretly willing the other to action: one silently repeats in his mind, “Make some dinner, make some dinner,” while the other one says over and over in her mind, “Fix us something to eat, fix us something to eat.” If they been together long enough, they’ll sense what the other person is trying to communicate, especially if they have their glasses on and can see what time it is. Then after one asks, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” the other one will nod, wipe the drool from the corner of her mouth, and order Chinese.




(Photo:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326])