7. Ageing and Death

Nov-09-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A very mixed bag: a 93 year old superhero grandmother becomes a media sensation, a strange Guardian chart lets you estimate your chances of going in any particular way (more accurately if you live in the UK, but still fascinating). LifeHacker praises my favourite film of 2012, a gentle portrait of an obsessive 85 year old sushi chef, while a chilling series of paintings by William Utermohlen chronicle his descent into Alzheimer’s.

* Mamika the Superhero Grandma  TwistedSifter

To raise his ninety-three-year-old grandmother’s spirits, French photographer Sacha Goldberger engaged her as his creative collaborator, model, and muse. Countless costumes, geriatric gaffes, unbelievable stunts, and hilarious photo shoots later, Mamika has become an international media sensation. She even has 1,300 friends on Facebook!

Published earlier this year, Mamika: My Mighty Little Grandmother captures the feisty heroine in a range of amusing scenarios, all accompanied by her droll observations about life and living, making this book a treasure trove of witty, sardonic wisdom for readers of all ages.

* What do people die of? The Guardian

How do we die? Are you more likely to get knocked down by a car, bitten by a dog or fall down the stairs? Find out with the latest mortality statistics. Mortality rates and data for every cause of death in 2011 visualized

* Lessons We Can Learn from Jiro Ono LifeHacker

I have been re-watching the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi for the past couple of months. I’ve seen it at least 10 times, probably more, while writing drafts for this article. I’ve watched it alone, with my wife, with friends, and I don’t tire of it; I’ve recommended it to everyone I know, and now I’m wholeheartedly recommending it to you. I have watched this film in fascination, trying to extract lessons from this master. What have I learned from him? And what questions do these lessons open up for me?

This little gem of a documentary by David Gelb takes a look at the work and life of Jiro Ono, a Michelin three-star sushi chef who, at 85 years of age, continues to work on his craft every day at his tiny restaurant in a Tokyo office building basement opposite a subway station entrance. His colleagues, his country, and at least one very knowledgeable food writer recognize him as perhaps the greatest sushi chef alive.

* William Utermohlen Self Portraits

The late self-portraits of William Utermohlen, chronicling his descent into Alzheimer’s disease, have been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe. We bring together on this web site early and late works to illustrate the continuity, as well as the rupture brought about by dementia in William Utermohlen’s art.

…Patricia Utermohlen recollects the beginning of this final artistic period in her husband’s life: “William was not happy in the mezzanine studio, so it was decided he should move to a studio outside the house in the east end of London. We were soon aware that something serious was happening. He got lost traveling to the studio and began to miss appointments.” Blue Skies was painted in the new studio; it was to be his last large work. 

“It is empty by comparison with the other pictures,  and painted in a much more urgent manner …  Obviously it is a self- portrait.   He sits alone at his painting table,  no evidence of paints and brushes. The colour composition of the whole  picture is simple,  just  a burnt sienna yellow and deep ultramarine blue,  the only break is a little white and the happy light yellow table top that reminds us of his hopeful pictures.   The figure is dominated by the empty space,  one hand grasps the cup,  and the other hangs on to the table for reassurance,  whilst above him is  the skylight.  Although the shape is reminiscent of the other studio shape in Snow, his one leads to nowhere,  just to a terrifying lonely emptiness.”

According to Dr Polini in order to continue functioning, the artist must be able to capture this catastrophic moment.  He must depict the unspeakable – a certain knowledge of his own end. Rarely has a painting spoken so clearly of the ending of psychic life and the desperate effort to continue to exist by continuing to depict the world. 

2. Some Thoughts on Ageing

Jun-15-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: There is a lot of disagreement on ageing, (starting with how it’s spelled.) We look at an anti-ageing piece, at a (typically) powerful Sherry Wolf column on how women are depicted in regards to ageing; at a funny Guardian piece on the rise of mobility scooters (remember Monty Python’s “Hell’s Grannies” skit?) and at a list of ways to survive to 100. Avoiding illness is excellent advice. Tough to do, of course, but.

* People Who Justify Aging are Profoundly Wrong  Maria Konovalenko Ethical Technology

Aging is the worst thing and it’s happening to everyone of us every second of our lives, sucking up our strength, youth and beauty. I want to fight this widely spread idea of how old age is full of pleasure, when your grandchildren sit on your lap. Sure, that’s nice, but it’s not even remotely enough.

For example, it would be much better to have the possibility to go to a night club after your grandchildren’s visit and be able dance all night long. But this can never happen while we have leaders of Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundations saying that aging is ok. Opinion leaders have to understand how harmful justifying aging is – this position is killing us.

* Women of a Certain AgeSherry Talks Back

Every physical stage and emotional aspect of women’s lives has been pathologized, that is to say, viewed through the lens of a medical or psychological abnormality. And though aging is a condition none of us survive, women’s aging is problematized every step of the way.

…Once again, understanding our bodies cannot be disentangled from understanding the social structures inside of which they exist.

* The Trouble With Mobility Scooters  The Guardian

But as they have become more popular, mobility scooters have become more controversial. Although the main growth in the market is the consequence of an ageing population, there is evidence that people with no disabilities are beginning to buy the scooters on the secondhand market (where they can cost as little as £100) because, with no tax, licence or insurance requirements, they provide a cheap alternative to cars for getting around town, particularly at a time of rising petrol prices.

…There has been a marked change in the way people use them. A decade ago these were products used only by very frail people; now manufacturers are designing new models with bench seats capable of carrying people up to 40st. (250kg/550lbs) “It’s a cultural issue. People are larger and, dare I say it, lazier,” an industry spokesman says (before deciding that he doesn’t dare say it, and asking for his name not to be put to the quote). “People are using them as a mode of transport rather than public transport or a car.”

* How To Be Happy Aged 100  Michele Hanson The Guardian

Welcome to you 35% of babies born today who will live to be 100. Congratulations. But of course it’s a mixed blessing. You’ll have to take steps to make sure you have fun, fun, fun and don’t become the new Struldbrugs. Remember them? The creatures in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, born with a black spot on their foreheads, who were doomed to live for ever. And what a rotten time they had – all their friends and relatives long gone, poor health, increasingly ghastly to look at, shunned, isolated, bitter and miserable. But hey, you can avoid that with these easy rules:

1. Do not be ill. This is absolutely verboten. Once you are, you’re done for. If you do unavoidably become poorly, make sure you have a live-in close relative or friend who is caring, patient, strong as an ox, cheery, robust and doesn’t mind wiping your bottom.

2. To avoid the above, take all your pills, eat up your greens, lots of fibre, and keep exercising. Get a doggie. (Keep getting doggies. They don’t last long.) Go for walkies, socialise, keep smiling while out and about and address people pleasantly. You will need these outdoor chums to help you when you fall over.

8. Getting Older

Aug-26-2011 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The bird’s eye is getting rheumy, and may be developing glaucoma. (Does the bird need to check this great chart of how the world looks to those with eye diseases? Probably it does.) But except for you, doesn’t it seem that everyone is aging? We start with a wonderful Doonesbury, looking at how (even men!) become invisible as they age. Then a powerful and moving piece on life after 60, and a look at how the aging boomers still affect the marketplace.

* Doonesbury

* The Hard Truth About Getting Old Lillian Rubin Salon

The chirpy tales that dominate the public discussion about aging — you know, the ones that tell us that age is just a state of mind, that “60 is the new 40” and “80 the new 60” — irritate me. What’s next: 100 as the new middle age?

Sure, aging is different than it was a generation or two ago and there are more possibilities now than ever before, if only because we live so much longer. It just seems to me that, whether at 60 or 80, the good news is only half the story. For it’s also true that old age — even now when old age often isn’t what it used to be — is a time of loss, decline and stigma.

* Media’s Ageing Audiences: Peggy Sue Got Old The Economist

In Britain people aged 60 or over spent more on pop-music albums in 2009 than did teenagers or people in their 20s, according to the BPI, a trade group. Sony Music’s biggest-selling album worldwide last year was “The Gift”, by Susan Boyle, a 50-year-old Scot whose appeal derives in part from her lack of youth. And what has happened to music has also happened to other forms of entertainment.


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