Category Archives: Health

Decline, declined

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April 2017

My orchid plant has been blooming for more than 3 months now. I received it at a housewarming party in 2015 not long after we moved to CA. After the party it lost its flowers and didn’t bloom again for almost 2 years.

After those flowers were lost, I discovered that orchids without flowers can get pretty funny-looking. So I almost threw it out. Again.

And again, another 2 years later, I was suddenly surprised with a richness of blooms. I didn’t use the support sticks this time. By the time I realized that the blooms were happening, it was too late.

AprilOrchid
April 2019

And then, as July 4th rolled around, I saw this. First to bloom, first to wilt.

Orchid
July 2019

At the same time, I saw this article: Your Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner than You Think, by Arthur C Brooks.  It’s making the rounds.

I’m starting a new career, back to work full-time this year, headed to teacher training in a couple of weeks. This is not the kind of thing I want to be reading. Cue the curmudgeonly grumbles about annoying clickbait headlines . . . But in fact, this article is worth reading in spite of the incendiary headline. Reading it was almost a relief: a rehash of an old, tired narrative, narrowly focused on a narrow skill set and narrow demographic.

Back when I was in graduate school this crap was what young male physicists liked to torture themselves with: if they hadn’t made their Nobel-winning discovery by the time they were 30, they were washed up and might as well throw in the towel. And sure, I guess privileged white extroverted males who have a certain type of high-profile executive career in western neoliberal economies may often follow such a life trajectory. But I think it can be different, and more complicated, for other types of people and other types of careers and economies.

Let’s take science, since there seems to be a lot of fretting about it among graduate students (who really have other things to fret about). I have been fortunate to know and know of some wonderful woman scientists. For 6 years I worked as a project manager for Dr. Susan Lindquist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge. She was one of the most creative and collaborative scientists of her generation, and a winner of the National Medal of Science. Somewhat famously absent-minded, she was more famously able to see patterns and make connections that others could not. She established new fields of inquiry in her 50s and was in the prime of her career, running a lab the size of a small biotech company, when she passed away from cancer in 2016. At the time many people remarked that she was “too young” to have passed away, and that her life was too short. I understand and agree with these sentiments, yet Lindquist was 67 when she died, well into Brooks’ alleged “decline” phase. 

Or, let’s consider Rita Levi-Montalcini, discoverer of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a molecule that I did my PhD thesis on. Born in Turin Italy in 1909 and having spent her young adulthood fleeing Nazi persecution, Levi-Montalcini did her seminal work on NGF in her 40s, with Viktor Hamburger. She won a Nobel Prize in 1986, founded the European Brain Research Institute in 2002 and went on to serve as Senator for Life in the Italian government until she passed away at the youthful age of 103. We are all fortunate that these scientists didn’t give up when they hadn’t made it at 30. At the very least, maybe the the lives of women scientists, like the lives women authors, need to be written differently.

I’m not the only one to have found this part of Brooks’ article’s scope and message irritating and limited. For an alternate view, check out Chris Farrell’s article in Forbes. Instead, I think the “decline” that Brooks writes about is more an indictment of our values as a society and of the way it is set up than a real decline in anything that is actually important in people themselves. Brooks himself makes a big deal about processing speed. He says: “if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.” 

When I read that, I had a lot of questions, the main ones being:  “what kind of analytical capabilities are we talking about here?” and “do *most* professions really require this, or is that some kind of bias on the part of the author?”

I will admit here that  I am biased. I’ve had slow, or at least inconsistent, processing speed all my life, and have suffered for it at the hands of perfectionists and their expectations. Particularly in social situations and with things I only hear rather than see, it has always taken me time to understand what I am taking in. I fit the definition of introvert that is in vogue these days: an observer who needs to think before acting.  But it’s not, and never has been, age-related.

And happily, it’s not worse for me in middle-age, because now more people seem to be in the same boat. Introverts are having a Quiet Revolution. Other people are finally admitting out-loud the value of electronic reminders, habits, routines, and other coping strategies. Other people are having to give up a dangerous over-reliance on working memory to run their lives. Other people are acknowledging the costs of toxic perfectionism. To them I say, come in, the water’s fine. It’s really quite freeing to not have your ego so completely tied up in your ability to rattle off random factoids from memory or to quickly process a complicated schedule without looking at a calendar. We all benefit from slowing down and reflecting, and there is more than one Quiet Revolution underway.

That said, I thought the advice Brooks gives in his article about teaching, sharing knowledge, and lifting other people up, was pretty good. Rather than a “decline,” I think what he is writing about is a shift in values as we get older towards a more sustainable and livable way of life. And you don’t have to be older to behave that way. Some younger people figure it out sooner–young people can make great teachers too. 

MayOrchid
May 2019

And as for the orchid: when these blooms are gone, there is no way I’m throwing it out. I know better now.

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It is imperfection – not perfection – that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain
Rita Levi-Montalcini

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February #WATWB: Bicycling for the Climate

We are the World LogoI’ve written about adventure cycling for the We are the World Blogfest before, when I wrote about my friend Jasmine Reese, who is cycling across the country and around the world with her dog and her violin.

This month I want to call attention to another adventure cyclist, local resident Tim Oye, who is riding for Climate Ride, a nonprofit that organizes events to raise awareness and support for “active transportation” and environmental causes. Tim’s ride will take him through Death Valley this coming week.  Tim will also be giving a presentation at my church on Saturday night.

Environmental advocate and Sunnyvale resident, Tim Oye, is biking across the US to talk with adults and kids about Oceans, Plastic, and Climate Change. While bicycling 4500 miles from San Francisco to Boston, he will stop to give a talk about bicycling across the continent, how day-to-day human activities affect our oceans, and what we all can do to save our environment for our kids. With a degree in Chemistry from Harvard and after more than 30 years in high tech doing product development at Apple, Sun, and Adobe, Tim switched careers to pursue environmental advocacy and public service. He is a certified bicycling instructor with the League of American Bicyclists, a coach instructor for the American Youth Soccer Organization, a 4-H leader, and on the cutting edge of going zero waste.

I worked on “Anything But a Car Day” at my son’s school last year. It is an initiative to promote kids biking to school safely. My son biked to middle school. Now, in high school, he lives close enough that he can walk.

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I like to bicycle and I used to ride my bike to work when I had a shorter commute, but I am not as hard-core as these adventure cyclists. We can’t all do everything but we all can do something!

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The “We Are the World Blogfest” (#WATWB) shares positive news on social media. Cohosts for this month are: Inderpreet Uppal Shilpa GargSylvia McGrath , Peter Nena, and Belinda WitzenHausenPlease check out their WATWB posts and say hello!

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Amazing New Brain Map of Every Synapse Points to the Roots of Thinking

Dave Wolf is on a roll this month with posting cool neuroscience articles! This study, from a team at the University of Edinburgh, is a real tour de force that takes advantage of modern technology in neuroscience. I can imagine that some day that we will be able to map the human synaptome, non-invasively, and in real time. Then we would finally have the tools to address more fruitfully questions such as the nature/nurture debate, how mindfulness changes the brain, even the nature of consciousness and transcendent experiences. Check out author Shelly Fan’s other work too!

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By Shelly Fan – Aug 14, 2018*

Imagine a map of every single star in an entire galaxy. A map so detailed that it lays out what each star looks like, what they’re made of, and how each star is connected to another through the grand physical laws of the cosmos.

While we don’t yet have such an astronomical map of the heavens, thanks to a momentous study published last week in Neuron, there is now one for the brain.

If every neuron were a galaxy, then synapses—small structures dotted along the serpentine extensions of neurons—are its stars. In a technical tour-de-force, a team from the University of Edinburgh in the UK constructed the first detailed map of every single synapse in the mouse brain.

Using genetically modified mice, the team literally made each synapse light up under fluorescent light throughout the brain like the starry night. And similar to…

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Brain discovery could block aging’s terrible toll on the mind

My first instinct on reading this is that the findings are a bit over-hyped. A cure for Alzheimer’s? Really? Of course everyone and their brother wants to prevent brain aging and disease and everyone and their brother has something to sell you to do that–computer programs, supplements, oils, or the next Silicon Valley biotech startup IPO. But as a neuroscientist, I think that even if it is over-hyped and not a panacea it is still very worth pursuing medically. It’s a fresh approach and is likely to be an important missing piece of the puzzle. The brain is a hard organ to study, and neuroscience research has progressed slowly–and not for want of trying!

author david wolf

Faulty brain plumbing to blame in Alzheimer’s, age-related memory loss — and can be fixed

NOTE: this article not written by David T. Wolf, but selected by him from Science Digest

Date:July 26, 2018

Source:University of Virginia Health System

Summary:  Aging vessels connecting the brain and the immune system play critical roles in both Alzheimer’s disease and the decline in cognitive ability that comes with time, new research reveals. By improving the function of the lymphatic vessels, scientists have dramatically enhanced aged mice’s ability to learn and improved their memories. The work may provide doctors an entirely new path to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, age-related memory loss and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Obstructing lymphatic vessels (in green) in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease significantly increased the accumulation of harmful plaques in the brain. “What was really interesting is that with the worsening pathology, it actually looks very similar to…

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Mundane Monday: Used Golf Clubs from Craigslist

My husband and I have always liked to play minigolf, but that’s it. Until now. I had always thought of golf as something rich people and Presidents did.

But recently I decided to try it. There are some advantages to being able to play. Golf is a sport you can play your whole life, even well into your 70s and 80s, as long as you are mobile. It gets you outside and walking. It can be social; you can chat, you can network. If you’re so inclined you might even be able to catch Pokemon on the course! And some courses are located in beautiful and/or interesting places that you wouldn’t even get to see if you didn’t play golf.

There is a course in our town, Mountain View, on Moffett Field. It’s not a well-known course and used to be for military only. Now they have opened it up to the public and while you do have to show your drivers license to get past the kiosk, they are friendly when you tell them you are going to the golf course. When you are leaving, you drive right past Hangar One.

HangarOne

My husband and I have taken a couple of lessons now and we’re planning to do more. I recently got a set of used women’s clubs off Craigslist so I can go down to the range and practice if I want to. I picked them up after church on Sunday, where I was playing violin for Earth Day.

This week’s Mundane Monday theme is “two for one.” Pictured here are the two blue cases for the equipment needed for my oldest and newest hobbies. They kinda match.

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The Mundane Monday Challenge is under new ownership. Check it out at K Ottaway’s Rural Mad as Hell Blog.

Already? Why I don’t like Daylight Saving Time anymore

I haven’t blogged yet this month and suddenly it’s mid-March already. Tonight we set the clocks ahead one hour. This time of year brings out a predictable spate of articles about the history of Daylight Saving Time (not “Savings” Time) and partisans on both sides weigh in.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that they hate changing the clocks. I used to not mind it as much as I do now, but that was before it was so G-d-awful early in the year. Daylight saving time started in the USA in 1918 with the idea of saving energy. That means it is 100 years old this year. I actually remember the biennial clock ritual as a child with a little fondness. Thinking it through helped me understand clocks, timekeeping, time zones, circadian rhythms, and jet lag a little better. And somehow the stakes were lower for sleeping in.

But we don’t currently observe your grandfather’s Daylight Saving Time. The first federal standards established that DST would start on the last Sunday in April and end the last Sunday in October. But in 2007 and 2008, DST was extended by another month, into March and November. This extension was politically motivated and driven by candy and golf industry lobbying. The hoped-for energy savings have not materialized.

This is when I started to get angry about this issue. Nobody asked us: there was no popular vote on this change, and no consideration for what the time shift does to the human body clock.

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Daylight Saving Time doesn’t actually save anything. It just shifts light from the morning, when it is needed to entrain the body’s internal clock, to the evening, when it contributes to insomnia. Especially when instituted so early in the year, before the equinox (before the day is even as long as the night) it puts everyone in a state of perpetual eastward-going jet lag.

The body’s clock never actually adjusts to daylight time. The spring forward clock change is associated with a 25% increase in the risk of heart attacks  and an increase in traffic accidents on the Monday following the time change (Be careful out there!) And it’s in exactly the wrong direction to help sleep-deprived teens be able to get up for school. Daylight Saving Time is one of many factors that disconnect humans from the natural world.

I think we should just end this 100-year-old experiment altogether, and live on standard time all year round. But I’d settle for a return to the standards of the 1960s and early 1970s, when turning the clocks ahead really meant the coming of spring.

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Choose Love for #WATWB

I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks, and just got back yesterday. In a quirk of the International Dateline, our plane landed before it took off, making July 2, 2017 possibly the longest day I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Now that the post-trip laundry is mostly finished I’m posting, belatedly, for the We Are the World Blogfest (#WATWB).It is supposed to take place on the last Friday of every month. This event seeks to promote positive news, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. This month’s wonderful co-hosts are:  Lynn HallbrooksMichelle WallaceSylvia SteinSylvia McGrath, and Belinda Witzenhausen.

We are the World Logo

The story I chose for this month is the following: Mom of Sandy Hook victim says she forgives shooter, wants others to choose love by Allison Slater Tate in Today‘s parenting section.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement in 2016 in his honor. It is a program for schools that aims to change the classroom climate and make it a more caring and nurturing one, giving kids the tools and emotional resilience to “be grateful when life isn’t easy, to forgive when the person who hurt you is not sorry, and to step outside your own pain to help someone else.”

I would find forgiveness difficult if not impossible in Ms. Lewis’ situation. I wish such programs had been more available when I was in school.

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It’s that time of year again, for graduations and award ceremonies. These are generally happy occasions, but I personally find the experience a bit mixed. You see, I am not an award winner, not the one up on stage giving a speech. I am introverted, and, truth be told, not that accomplished.

More than that, though, I can’t go to an awards ceremony without hearing about the awardee’s positive attitude, the smile on the face, the spring in the step, the can-do spirit. The awardee is invariably “more” than their grades, or their work achievements, or their sports skills, and that something extra is what “really” earned them the award. It is not, we are told, the specific accomplishment that award has engraved on it or sculpted into it—not even they are handed a tiny golden man with an even tinier ball stuck to his foot.

This is all well and good–I mean, I wouldn’t want to go back to the bad old days when the only award given out went to the worst insufferable know-it-all in the class. I like that there are more awardees these days, recognizing a diversity of contributors and achievements.

But I still can’t help wondering about the other kids, the other non-award-winners. The ones who, despite a modicum of achievement, can’t summon a positive attitude; the ones whose support systems are fraying, whose grip on mental or physical health may be precarious, or who just aren’t that into it, but who still put in the effort, come to school every day, and do the work. It’s damn hard to excel at something you dislike. But these kids do it.

I think most well-meaning adults would argue that attitude is a “choice” and if you’re not feeling it, you should just fake it until you make it. After all, it’s true that you don’t have to feel like doing something in order to get it done. And from an adult’s point of view, it’s certainly a lot easier to like and bestow favors upon a smiling kid than one who is angry, frustrated or withdrawn.

But faking it emotionally comes at a cost. Student stress, anxiety, and depression have reached alarming levels, even among those who appear to be comfortable, safe, and financially solvent. Students talk about the burden of “effortless perfection” that they feel is expected of them, especially at so-called top schools.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. Students make these expectations of each other, and of themselves too. But I think that adults contribute to the problem when we make recognition all about the smile. I’d like to see, maybe just once during a 90-minute ceremony, a kid getting an award for completing something difficult and unpleasant, for dragging themselves out of bed and facing the inner demons for the 90th time that year, and not having fun doing it.

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Negative

I’ve been getting over jet lag since getting back to California from my European trip, and finding that 9 hours is pretty difficult to overcome. It’s harder than the 6 hour time difference that used to characterize my trips to Europe when I lived in the Boston area. There is also much less difference between going East and going West when I’ve got 9 or 10 hours to change. Now it is approaching the point where everything is just flipped, turned inside-out; day is night and night is day, and the most I can do to cope is to get some sun and exercise during the day, and wait it out.

Continue reading Negative