Time and Place (, another of my blogs, has just documented my recent trip around Southeast Asia and India. Here’s an aside.

There is some good news, women of the world. At some point in time—even when you’re much younger than I am now—you can travel the world without being regarded as a sex object, propositioned, touched inappropriately…or followed around the Egyptian Museum by a black-robed Arab gentleman whispering ‘I love you’ each time we crossed paths (a rather fond memory actually).

It is a time of invisibility. All of us experience it if we live into advanced middle age.

Now however I’m visible again…noticed and approached and questioned. Usually by men in fact. Especially when traveling. Sometimes it’s just an offer of assistance…’Can I put that in overhead for you?’, or ‘Please, sit here.’ Occasionally it’s a ‘Where are you from?’ (which in the bad old past might be a pick-up line—but now simply means ‘Most of the old women around here don’t wear jeans’)  Most often though the question of the day is… ‘How old are you?’

I should have kept a tally of how many times that question was asked on this trip. It was frequent and, oddly enough, always flattering. How could that possibly be flattering you ask? Because it was almost always said in a tone of wonderment and/or admiration. Remember I was traveling in Southeast Asia and India where life has traditionally been hard on everyone, not least on the elderly, and maybe especially on old women. So the wonder stems from the fact that few people my age are physically or economically well enough off to travel at all, much less to travel far.

The best part of course was a usual follow-up comment. ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m 78.’ ‘Oh my, you are strong.’ Every now and then someone has expressed admiration for something for which I’ve received credit—a good grade in school, a good dance program, a good Hummingbird cake. But I’m not sure any compliment has ever made me feel quite as good as the phrase ‘You are strong.’

Trust me when I tell you that there will be a time in your life when ‘You are strong’ will resonate in a way ‘You are smart, handsome, pretty, funny, wise…’; never has nor could because you don’t need it as much. But at a time when power in every life arena is on the verge of slipping away, you can still maintain some semblance of value by being strong—Ruth Ginsburg-strong.

The age question might be accompanied by ‘How come you are traveling alone?’ When I responded that it was the only way I could go exactly where I wanted, sometimes the questioner was admiring, sometimes maybe a little pitying. The fact that I still work was cause for further astonishment…or sympathy. There was a mini-conversation in India with one of the hotel staff who found it quite astonishing that I lived alone and wondered, since I had sons, why I didn’t live with them and cook for them. It was too hard to explain that they’re better cooks than I am—and what manly Indian male would have believed it anyway.

So never mind that eat/pray/love nonsense. Go to the gym…then go forth and be strong.


In  a land far far away…we decided it was our right to obliterate cities and countryside and people…

This blog, 78, is about age and ageing. About me being 78 years old. And sometimes about what of consequence has occurred during these 78 years. The Vietnam War for example…. Ken Burns documentary, The Vietnam War, has reminded me both of who I was in that time and place and how, all these decades later, I’m still really the same person and, sadly enough, my country is still the same country.

 The Vietnam War is, in my humble opinion, the most thoughtful, intelligent, informative and moving documentary ever made. I have been reliving the 30 years of my life backgrounded by that country and that war—and being reminded that while my life was personally rich and rewarding, what was happening in, to, and by my country was ugly beyond what most of us imagined.

In 1955 when Eisenhower sent the first military advisors to Vietnam I was a sophomore in Northome High School, Northome, Minnesota. In 1975 when Ford oversaw the very last of the American military to lift off from the broken land of Vietnam, I was the politicized, college-educated, divorcing, liberated mother of two sons.

While it seemed like a lot had taken place in my life, that was nothing compared to the fact that, during that same time, the US had inflicted irreparable wounds on itself and on  a country called Vietnam, deeper and bloodier than anything I was capable of truly understanding.

Now it is 42 years since those last Americans climbed aboard that helicopter, and I am 42-years older and presumably some measure wiser than back in that dark day. I am nevertheless shocked to my core regarding the serious history I had forgotten, never knew, or, if I knew, couldn’t comprehend the evil therein.

Here’s what eighteen hours with a diverse cast of participants reflecting every degree and depth of participation, every stance and understanding of the impact of the Vietnam War on the US and Vietnam, gave ‘citizen’ me—clearer history and deeper despair. For ‘personal’ me however there was also much that was good to remember—which I did with both guilt and nostalgia.

During those twenty years there was the ongoing pleasure of watching my sons grow into fine young people; an eager appreciation of the intellectual stimulation and political excitement of college life; and then there was my adventuring forth as an independent woman… (I am woman, hear me roar/In numbers too big to ignore/And I know too much to go back an’ pretend/’Cause I’ve heard it all before/And I’ve been down there on the floor/No one’s ever gonna keep me down again). Rich and rewarding years and certainly the best musical decades in history—all mingled with a  mantra of body counts and the whir and  pinging of helicopters and bullets.

 The single biggest takeaway from the doc for me? Rage. Ferocious rage. Over many ideas and events, but first and foremost directed at the Vietnam War’s Liars-in-Chief: And here we thought Trump was the lyingest SOB ever to occupy the White House…. Ken Burns reminded me that no one has bested Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Milhous Nixon as liars. And, while we agree that Trump has no knowledge of history or country, no moral compass by which to tell truth from lie, no bigger goals than self aggrandizement, we definitely expected better of LBJ, maybe even of Nixon—and what we got was worse—because they knew and even privately acknowledged the truth.

I had partially forgotten the full extent of the blatant bold-faced lies told day after day by Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger and their minions. Fairly early on the truth had started to emerge from the fear-mongering but those men never wavered with their face-saving fabrications no matter the numbers of dead, dying, wounded, men, women, children, US, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians. Never wavered, never once told the truth. (Although McNamara eventually made a stab at it.)  I try not to use the word ‘hate’ lightly, but yeah…I remember once again…I hated and hate them. I do not forgive them.

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where Have All the Flowers Gone (Pete Seeger)


The back of my hand…to give you ‘the back of my hand’ is a phrase of disrespect…on the other hand to ‘know someone or something ‘like the back of one’s hand’ is to have great and personal knowledge.

I have good news and bad news about mood stabilizers in pill form—medications often prescribed for individuals dealing with depression, bipolar disorder or traumatic life situations.

The good news is that we all will, sooner or later, have access to a state that, for some of us, is the greatest mood stabilizer in the world. It’s a state labeled variously as ageing, old age, elderly—in which we become seniors, elders, crones, grumpy old men and women, geriatrics, old fogeys… So I suppose we could say the inevitability of this stage of life might also be considered the bad news.

To be honest, for me, this state of being is somewhat discombobulating but not exactly bad. In fact I often talk about the several things I enjoy, even prefer, about being in this advanced-age category. Wisdom, patience, no longer giving a damn what people think, being able to retire after my student loans are paid off (sounds like a joke…is not a joke), the joy of observing…

My confusion lies in the fact that I miss the highs and even the lows of the past. The intense joys and concerns of motherhood; the thrill of a new love affair and the anguish of its demise; the exciting prospects of a new position and the big let-down when it turns out to be just another ordinary job. Remember all that?

 Wonderful things still happen in my life, some of them more exciting and rewarding than I could have imagined back in the day. But I never want to scream and giggle and skip around the block. I’m more aware of man’s inhumanity to man and yet I do not want to throw myself under a speeding bus or drink to oblivion. Every emotion has come to reside near the center line.

And, you know, it’s okay. I don’t always favor the middle ground—I want universal health care and I think religious people of all kinds and places are thought-free twits (mostly) and I always want to march (and rarely do) and I want to man the barricades (but I haven’t done that either) and…

But a middling view of life, middling emotions, middling abilities…not so bad…ah yes, but then again I do remember that moment in ‘72 with a new love…that first peer-down at the Sahara…that first reception with Black Sea caviar within view of the Eiffel Tower…that moment when I dipped a stick in flowing lava…that first glimpse of Scott and Steve and Teresa, the newborns…that first challenge by David Rusk to fix Albuquerque’s art/downtown life…that…well I could go on…

So the highs of those firsts have been transferred into pride in a most delightful and astounding family of siblings, kids and grandkids. And new travel adventures—what can easily compete with a bay of icebergs?—and once getting all the way up to a two-minute plank…you had to be there.

It’s all okay, especially with a nice wine…which I’ve just had. So get crazy and revel in this middling place!


Ageing. An inexorable and disconcerting process. Not bad exactly (except for the part about dying sooner) and not good exactly (although perhaps there’s a modicum more patience and perspective). I had a difficult passage turning 50; birthdays since have been low-key…acceptable…a reason to spend a week in San Diego being catered to by my eldest son. I think, however, that is about to change.

I am 78. Which means…soon…80.  A fact that appears to be sullying my usual sunny (just kidding) nature with just a touch of depression. It started a couple of weeks ago with the email from my former classmate, and the organizer of the class reunion, offering up the information that half of my 21 classmates have passed. Then the trip out to my old home place with the evidence that we—the house and me—are deteriorating at an increasingly rapid pace. That never makes me depressed in itself but combined with dead classmates and feeling achy in the chill of the Minnesota fall and the project I started yesterday—well, yeah, I admit to feeling melancholic today.

My aforementioned project is reviewing old diaries and journals from the 90s. The purpose is to find any travel tidbits to be used for the book and, almost more importantly, to start ridding myself of things that no one else in the family will wish to read, own, sell, or reminisce over. I’m perfectly (well, not perfectly…) healthy so while I am not projecting my eminent demise, it might be a good time to begin the tidying up of life.

Here’s the thing about the 90s—it was one hell of a difficult decade. My out-of-Albuquerque decade. My out-of-money decade. My constant-lack-of-resolve (to quit smoking, eating the wrong food, and leading a disorderly life) decade. Some of it was brilliant, for example living in San Francisco and then in San Diego near my grandchildren, and living near and being with my mom up north many of her last years. I did manage to acquire a Masters in Social Work and also survive several Minnesota winters with old cars and an ageing dog and cheap boots. I had a number of jobs, some of which were challenging and paid decently and I loved (Salvation Army homeless shelter/social worker at a nursing home) and some which were hideous (usually because I wasn’t very good at them and my bosses did not appropriately appreciate my inept good intentions).

What does any of the review and disposal of my-life-in-the-90s documentation have to do with my being depressed this cloudy Minnesota fall morning? I’m not sure…well, I am sure…it was long ago and far away and I’ll never have the time, strength, energy, desperation, or cojones to do it all again. I’m old now and I wasn’t then. That’s why.


What a confusing week. Am I old-old? Or merely oldish but vulnerable? Perhaps I am not any particular age—just a healthy mature person getting on with a most satisfying life. So which is it Marjorie?

In a few days I will leave for my 60th High School reunion in Northome, Minnesota—part of the reason for the road trip north. Per classmate communications, I’ve discovered that 10 of my 20 classmates have died. I pause as I write that today even though I’ve had the information for at least a week. It’s a reality that’s been floating through all of my thoughts, lurking just over my shoulder, interrupting my sleep—it is information I didn’t want.

Then, later this week, I learned one of my Albuquerque buddies of many years, who has been recovering from a ‘wrenched’ shoulder or back, is in a long-term care facility—temporarily a family member says but still…

All reasons enough for me to feel vulnerable. Actually I’m scared to death.

On the other hand, this is a week in which I’ve applied to reactivate my LMSW (licensed master social worker) license; submitted the applications for travel visas to Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal and India; and purchased a new car. I’m just remembering we live in an era of “fake news” so perhaps I’ll consider those sobering facts about classmates and friends and age to be “fake information.” With that thought in mind let me order an economy-size bottle of rejuvenating cream from Amazon and go out to dance the night away. Or at least stay up until 10pm.

Ageing has not been a bad passage so thank you my existentialist “gods” for life so far, and here’s a photo of my new car (even though it appears a Ford Focus is not enough to assuage my fear of ageing and death—possibly a Lexus would have done the trick?).

How Could I Not Be Among You? That is My Question.


The poem/book “How Could I Not Be Among You,” which I remember from college, turns out to be the topic for this second post of my 78th year. Oh dear…I just realized if I passed my 78th birthday, this is the beginning of my 79th year, which sounds scarily close to 80. The truth is that this birthday, this year—whether the 78th or 79th, is casting a slight but noticeable pall on my mood. It began just a few days ago on a pleasant drive with my California son; the ocean sparkled and the sun shone as we drove up the 5 to Los Angeles. We were looking forward to lunch and art, and talking of the future—travels and family gatherings…everyday things. Unbidden, into my consciousness leapt the realization, yet again, that I wouldn’t be around for many of these grand journeys and events. Pictures of Scott playing on the beach with his grandchildren; Scott and Steve and their children and grandchildren sitting down to Thanksgiving dinners; and Teresa, Steven, Patricia and Sara experiencing their own children, partners, dogs, careers, homes, and travel, scroll across my mind’s screen.  I am going to miss much of that. And, I ask the question, “How could I not be among you?” It makes me lonely.

Years ago the poet, Ted Rosenthal, wrote a book of poems about his impending death, after being given a diagnosis of leukemia with six months to live. His question, How could I not be among you? must be a common refrain for all of us contemplating life’s grand finale, whatever the circumstances. Being given a sentence of six months to live when you’re in your 30s is not at all the same as celebrating one’s 78th birthday you say. True or, at least, almost true. Every birthday is a death sentence of sorts; you just don’t notice it for a very long time.

I’ve decided to include lots of poems in this blog along with articles or excerpts from longer pieces when I find them. Here’s the first poem of many:

by Ted Rosenthal

Never yield a minute to despair, sloth, fantasy.
I say to you, you will face pain in your life…
It is not aimed at anyone
but it will come your way.
The wind sweeps over everyone.

 You will feel so all alone, abandoned,
come to see that life is brief,
And you will cry, “No, it cannot be so,”
but nothing will avail you.
I tell you never to yearn for the past.
Speak certain knowledge.
Your childhood is worthless.
Seek not ritual. There is no escape in Christmas.
Santa Claus will not ease your pain.
No fantasy will soothe you.

 You must bare your heart and expect nothing in return.
You must respond totally to nature.
You must return to your simple self.
I do not fool you. There lies no other path.
I have not forsaken you, but I cannot be among you all.
You are not alone
so long as you love your own simple selves.
Your natural hair, your skin, your graceful bodies,
your knowing eyes and your tears and tongues.

I stand before you all aching with truth

Trembling with desire to make you know.
Eat, sleep, and be serious about life.
To be serious is to be simple;
to be simple is to love.
Don’t wait another minute, make tracks, go home.
Admit you have some place to return to.
The bugs are crawling all over the earth, the sun shining over every one.
The rains are pounding, and the winds driving.
The breeze is gentle and the grass burns.
The earth is dusty. Go ankle deep in mud.

 Get tickled by the tall cattails.
Kick crazily into the burrs and prickles.
Rub your back against the bark, and go ahead, peel it.
Adore the sun.
O people, you are dying! Live while you can.
What can I say?
The blackbirds blow the bush.
Get glass in your feet if you must, but take off the shoes.
O heed me. There is pain all over!
There is continual suffering, and puking and coughing.
Don’t wait on it. It is stalking you.
Tear ass up the mountainside, duck into the mist.

 Roll among the wet daisies. Blow out your lungs
Among the dead dandelion fields.
But don’t delay, time is not on your side.
Soon you will be crying for the hurt, make speed.
Splash in the ocean,
leap in the snow.
Come on everybody! Love your neighbor,
Love your mother, love your lover,
love the man who just stands there staring.
But first, that’s all right, go ahead and cry.
Cry, cry, cry your heart out.
It’s love. It’s your only path.

 O people, I am so sorry.
Nothing can be hid.
No circle in the round.
It’s group theater,
no wings, no backstage, no leading act.
O, I am weeping, but it’s stage center for all of us.
Hide in the weeds, but come out naked.
Dance in the sand while lightning bands all around us.

 Step lightly, we’re walking home now.
The clouds take every shape.
We climb the boulders; there is no plateau.
We cross the stream and walk up the slope.
See, the hawk is diving.
The plain stretches out ahead,
then the hills, the valleys, the meadows.
Keep moving people. How could I not be among you?

Just Exactly When Is the Right Age to Die?

An obituary in the paper claims that Jane Smith, age 78, passed away at home, last Thursday; I do not find it surprising nor particularly sad (after all, I did not know her)—in fact it seems quite normal. It falls into the category of “She lived a long life and died at an appropriate age.” Of course—if she had died huddled with her grandchildren as the bombs rained down on her Syrian neighborhood, or she was accidentally shot to death by Trumpian thugs in an ICE raid, or if she suffered a heart attack leaning against a back alley wall in skid row—then it would have been a tragedy. But more about old age in a dangerous world in the future.

Now I am 78 years old.

Today I’m in San Diego, celebrating my birthday with a hike up a (small) mountain. I am not feeling old-old and, in fact, this decade is proving to be one of the happiest of my life. Let me write my way toward understanding why that is so?

Maybe 78 really is the new 68? But that doesn’t explain why I’m happier now then when I was the real 68. Which means what?

  • I am generally content with life as I’m living it right now. Family all doing well. Satisfying job surrounded by interesting people and happenings. Pleasant apartment I can afford—in fact, between my modest social security and equally modest salary, I live with sufficient basics and even a small amount of travel funds. I have friends, a car, lots of books and, all about me, a high desert environment that is sometimes magical.
  • I’ve finally accepted who I am. A person who will die without ever being able to social-dance (You can guess how awkward that was at Senior Prom); a person of too-muchness in almost everything I do—which leaves me in a constant state of failure because I can never do it all; a person who has lost a few good friends by being blunter than necessary; a person with hair too fine, hips too wide, feet too knobby, voice too nasal.

I will Never be the scholar I so wished to be or a famous writer or a perfect mother or pretty again or have sex again or have a dog of my own again.

However some of my best friends are and I have the freedom to keep writing and I’m a good grandmother and I once was (pretty) and I have bright memories (sex) and there’s Luna to hug when I need that special Husky love.

It is not so bad…this life.

Now that you know who I am, please join me as I observe, investigate, and share this ageing process about which I express so much happiness! The political piece is included because it’s quite frightening finding myself on the brink of old-old, and living under a goon in the White House who is trying extra hard to eliminate any vestiges of a social net. I am vulnerable because I’m old, and my president doesn’t care that any of the tragedies mentioned in the first paragraph are happening to the world’s elders every day.

Happy Birthday to Me.