NEWSLETTER, June 8, 2011

Posted Jun 10, 2011
Last Updated Jun 10, 2011

Life in "Assisted Living”

I have now completed more than four months in an assisted living facility, The Sanctuary, in Dublin, Ohio. The move was a good decision. I have far more —far more— day to day interaction with other human beings here, residents of my age and older, and staff members young and middle-aged.

Most of the residents have substantial medical issues—notably limited mobility—but are quite able to carry on intelligent conversation. And many, like myself, are more or less absent-minded. Which, in a generation more or less dependent on medications and dietary supplements, results in forgetting to take one's pills. Thus nurses (male as well as female) deliver and monitor medications, or in my case check my pill tray from time to time, checking for memory lapses. And of course there are the more or less frequent physical checkups—of blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and for some of us blood sugar. But in my case blood primarily blood oxygen.

Meanwhile someone looks in on us frequently. If I show symptoms other than my usual, they'll be noticed and followed up on.

Most of us are unsteady on our feet (I am still okay to walk unsupported), and many need help bathing, dressing, and putting on their shoes. Many are on physical therapy, to retain the mobility and flexibility they still have. I work out on my own, as always (which is no doubt why I retain the mobility I have), and make good use of the exercise equipment.

Meanwhile I'm enjoying the good food here, and the pleasure of daily interaction with the attractive, mostly young, waitresses and waiters and physical therapists, nurses, nurse's aids, kitchen folk and administrators. And the younger relatives of residents—often great grandchildren—who come to visit, sometimes for dinner. Then there are occasional entertainers, particularly musicians but also stand-up comedians. And wine parties, ice-cream parties, and card parties (but no orgies). And birthday parties sponsored by families.

MisCon Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

MisCon is a 4-day science fiction convention held annually over the Memorial Day weekend at Missoula, Montana—this year May 27-30—under the loving guidance of Cthulhu Bob Lovely. It's a sort of a large family reunion (this year some 700 attending), and as usual it was a blast. Like most family reunions, a few of the regulars were absent—this year notably for health issues—but while they were missed, a wealth of others were there to blend their personalities in the fantastic blender. And new folks from afar—including Colorado Springs' Carol Berg, the Author Guest of Honor, and writer Jim Burk, of Wichita Kansas.

(Meanwhile the creek through the woods close behind Ruby's Inn and Convention Center caroused bankfull, exuberant and boisterous! the very epitome of a mountain stream.)

Again I was escorted, accompanied by someone less susceptible to confusion and absent-mindedness—competent to deal with federal security requirements and my oxygen equipment: namely Shawn Olson, who is also my webmaster. I dubbed him my geezer wrangler (he prefers "geezer handler”). There was even a nurse on hand, who kept an eye on me; thank you, Brooke Stanley, for your attention and good company.

Of course, I arrived hoping to have good conversations with a number of friends, which as usual, partly came to pass and partly not. With some I spoke only briefly in a corridor enroute to different events. But also as usual, some of us shared thoughts in panel discussions during the day, while those who made the party and dinner rounds found good opportunities to share thoughts over beverages, notably "Toxic Waste” (mmm), Cthulhu Goo, scotch, bourbon, brandy... Four blissful days!

When I got home, I had "ten thousand” (Chinese for "a zillion”) Facebook messages back-logged; they descended on me like a tsunami.


Regretfully, old people commonly handle routine actions poorly; we forget how to do things. Hand-eye coordination declines. One result is untidiness.Another is, loss of keyboard skills, in my case typing.
And here's a big miscellany! You may have heard we use only 5% of our brain. Huh! Talk about low-value generalities! Life, the universe, and human beings are too complicated and important for that to be meaningful.

What do life and the universe have to do with it? Let's give it a look. As we age, our access to stored mental data declines. Speaking metaphorically, we "compress” data for storage, which slows—even occludes—access, and requires more and more access strategies. In fact it slows the whole cognitive system. And it seems that time-in-storage gives priority; if it happened 60 or 70 years ago, it's likely to pop up readily—old lyrics, old poetry...especially if it was enjoyed. Thus a 1943 hit song sung by Frank Sinatra or Pretty Kitty Kelly, and not heard since it fell off "Your Hit Parade,” may still come gladly to the tongue. But the Krebs Cycle, learned in grad school? Vanished!!! Kaput!!! (though I could look it up). I no longer even remember what it does! Jack Benny's best lines, yes! Shakespeare's Great Solliloquy? Much of it. But learn a new computer system? Fugedubahdit!

As for using only 5% of our brain? Under what circumstances? What 5%? How was that determined? Whose brain? Awake or asleep? Drunk or sober? While doing what? Living involves a vast array of brain-directed or brain-mediated activities, the details of which are complex and very largely unexplored—in fact indescribable!—carried out by de facto groups of subroutines, some of them seemingly self-rigged on the spur of the moment according to perceived needs. With the engineer/driver not even knowing what the heck is going on! Consider what that requires of the brain! The complex neural routines and subroutines that have to mesh—the vast number of synapses—involved in even the most automatic activities... Or especially the most automatic activities.

At any given moment, the entire body depends on a multitude of such goings-on just to stay alive, balancing and coordinating our personal life-support system, internal and external—an open system constantly peppered by "environmental” input—monitored, evaluated, and responded to by not only the central nervous system but the digestive system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the immune system, the lymphatic system, and perhaps especially the endocrine system...not to mention any spiritual elements you might care to posit.

Perhaps the guy who came up with the 5% datum saw some value in it, but whoever publicized it wasn't thinking at the moment. Call it clinical tunnel-vision. Think of the brain as conducting the whole darn orchestra (with an electrochemical baton), while at some level writing the score and the lyrics as it conducts.

Perhaps I exaggerate the role of the brain in some of this. Once installed and activated, much of this may be no more (no more?) than chemistry, but the entire nervous system operates via electrochemistry.

And with age we depend more and more on "compressing and decompressing” data—names, words, identities in general—the whole broad category lumped together as "short-term memory.” Hopefully learning all the way.

Whatever, I'm having to make unwanted adjustments in life, one of which is to substitute newsletters for one-on-one correspondence (grumpf!). Matter of fact I'm going to semi-abandon Facebook in self-defence, at least until I get some coaching on using it. I'm getting far too little done on projects—novels; essays and blogs that seem meaningful...

As for you Michael Munchkins, I may lurk from time to time; maybe even respond on occasion.

If you want to get in touch with me, best do it by regular email, rather than by FB, useful though FB may be.

To Jude: thank you for your welcome communications, numerous and fond. I am proud and glad to be your dad. Have been for a long time—since your infancy, as a matter of fact.

John Dalmas/John Jones/Dad/Grampa/
Onkel Sven/Cousin Jerry/Casey Jones