Down the Rabbit Hole in Gaza

I guess I’m one of those Jews who doesn’t support Israel in its mad recriminative effort to uproot Hamas at all costs. Yet the terrorists may have provoked their own eventual demise. So thinks Netanyahu and his government. Or maybe, as others have said, they are just creating more terrorists.

These butchers brutally murdered some 1,200 Israelis on October 7, and one month later over 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed. One does not expect proportionality in warfare but Israel’s violent response has cost it dearly with a preponderance of people around the world. The conflict has pushed many down the rabbit hole of partisan madness.

I grew up in a 1950s environment of strong anti-Zionist feeling, when the establishment of the new nation and its purpose were hotly debated. I could never understand why some Jews were so against establishing a homeland, given the horrors of the war just ended.

In the many years since, the messy history of Israel’s relations with Palestine has rendered Israel dominant at every turn, and there have been countless rabbit holes in that adventure. The Guardian just published a strong piece on how the West (mainly the G7 countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the European Union, and the United States) “represents a long history of racial and imperial arrogance.”

When the Israeli defence minister declared on 9 October a “complete siege” in which “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” would be allowed into blockaded Gaza, and called its 2.3 million inhabitants “human animals”, there was not a single protest from an official in a western capital.

Leftists everywhere are now protesting en masse, and so is much of the rest of the world, some calling Israel an apartheid state. To them, President Biden, staunch defender of Israel, has fallen down his own rabbit hole.

I think we’re all victims of very partial media reportage about this war. Just contrast what you see on CNN and Al Jazeera. I watch a lot of CNN but often mute or turn off much of its constant, repetitious coverage of Gaza and the endless interviews with survivors and the hostage families. Some would say these people are being exploited. Others just love the CNN coverage. Al Jazeera is less biased but still avoids any such interviews, and the Israeli stance is hardly mentioned. Arab media is for the Arabs.

A former CNN’er, Arwa Damon says:

Space needs to be made for Jewish and Israeli voices on such [Arab-funded] outlets. Not all Israelis support their government’s policies, the illegal settlements, or the oppression or occupation of Palestine. And not all Jews across the world support Zionism or what Israel has done.

The pictures and the accounts of the war on most American media are repetitive and sometimes just played for their histrionics. Such images are appalling but that approach seems to work, as most Americans are sympathetic, believing the Israeli response to Hamas is in some degree justified. While a large, growing contingent—and not just those on the left—judges quite differently. The world faces another huge moral challenge.

The Bowels

You might call this the inside story. It’s not my purpose here to break the centuries-old taboo about the subject of poop. Rather, the idea is to justify its importance since everybody does it. And many of us enjoy talking about it—despite others like my mother who found it disgusting.

I heard a lot of toilet humor growing up, much of it generated by my father. He once brought home a record album called “The Farting Contest,” which featured remarkable noises and bawdy British humor. For that moment, at least, shit brought us together.

A college friend, John, told how when he was young he set fire to the toilet seat while lighting toilet paper to disguise the smell of what he called “stinkies.” His father was not pleased. Kids, we know, are into poop from an early age. In high school, Ed remembered his sister’s son coming down to a breakfast of pork sausages: “Look, mommy, grunt-grunt for breakfast.” Such stories remain blithely commonplace. My friend Phil once described an aristocratic fat woman devouring hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party: “She was eating like she had seven rectums.” And so it goes.

Scatology in literature goes back to medieval times (see Pantagruel and Rabelais, for instance) and, before that, Aristophanes. In modern high-brow literature it became increasingly taboo, though not for present-day comedians. Serious writers have seemed to avoid it, though Nathaniel West wrote a crazy satire in The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931) in which the hero journeys through the intestines of the Trojan horse.

Personally, as some of you know, I’ve been afflicted with Irritable Bowel Syndrome for many years. OK, I’ll invoke the taboo here so as not to go into details. But I will say that the situation has made me very aware of how our gastro organs work and don’t work. We still don’t understand much of this.

Sex and porn are now all over the internet despite the efforts of right-wing Christians and others to stop them. Scatology, I predict, will be the next meme because poop is part of our under-culture and, like all “bad” things, it cannot be suppressed. The whole idea of breaking taboos is part of what created the internet. Trump’s gold toilet could well become the new symbol of our age.

Fitness at This Age

Here is my elliptical trainer, a great exercise machine bought several years ago with the best of intentions. It now serves mainly as a clothes horse, though I do get on it and work out occasionally. Somewhat occasionally.

When a friend moved away from here two years ago he gave his little-used rowing machine to another friend on whose back porch it now sits gathering dust. We elders are prone to fight exercise as much as some others enjoy it. We know regular exercise does us a world of good, so why is it such a battle to engage with it?

I’ll speak for myself. It’s because our brain turns off all our good motivations to work out and do it regularly. We manufacture other, more pressing things to do. Or we promise ourselves to get on the old ellipto today and something always comes up. Or we just find it boring. Or we get turned off because we get winded easily or have a cramp.

Usually, it’s just plain avoidance, and we older people are pretty good at that. The older you get, the more one gives in to whims and capriciousness. At least I do. We dismiss the joys of having a fit, well-toned body. For a while before I moved here I was a pretty regular gym rat, had a good bod for someone my age, and enjoyed a better mental attitude. I miss that and still do nothing about it.

I played sports and swam competitively in high school and college, then quit because it took so much time away from drinking and partying. I miss the good health and good feelings it brought, and when I get in a pool now I get winded quickly. I’ve had a few medical problems and use them as an excuse to be sedentary. All this is mental evasion.

There is so much foofaraw about how important it is for oldsters to just keep walking. Well, Oaxaca’s sidewalks are like tank traps, and I’m not so steady on my feet these days. So it’s easy to promise yourself you’ll do a session on the ellipto instead. Consequently, I’ve gotten pretty skinny and make regular vows to put on some muscle.

When you get sufficiently fed up with the sedentary life, you may finally get serious about exercise. As I’ve suggested, it’s also a matter of vanity. I don’t want to end up looking like a bag of bones. On the other hand, being with people who take physical culture so intensely is a real turn-off. Look what it did to Jim Jordan, whose devotion to dominance and aggression through wrestling made him the prick that he is, an “unyielding combatant, whether grappling on the mat or in the halls of Congress.”

“Nobody’s thinking about you.”

Such are the wise words of essayist Roger Rosenblatt, who goes on to explain, “The rules were less about aging than about living generally, one of the first being ‘Nobody’s thinking about you.’”

But then he does get into aging:

In old age that’s true in spades. And that’s another of aging’s unnerving surprises. You disappear from the culture, or rather, it disappears from you. Young women and men shown on TV as world famous, you’ve never heard of. New idioms leave you baffled. You are Rip Van Winkle without having fallen asleep.

Old people don’t seem aware of how prevalent and isolating the phenomenon is. They are just out of it, culturally speaking, though many get a daily charge from following all the Trump tripe. I’m getting sick of that.

Then there are the things that bug me so much I refuse to follow them. Like the chatter about gender pronouns. Gender sensitivity seems to be the new norm with liberals. I really don’t care to get into it. Let them live their own lives but don’t ever use “they” as a pronoun for one person.

As Rosenblatt noted, who are those young celebrities on TV you’ve never heard of? The meaning of so many internet acronyms eludes me. Pop music and hip hop are mostly garbage. Who can get interested in most of the new movies? How much can you really grasp of the controversies over AI? And how much more do you need to know about Kevin McCarthy and Matt Gaetz?

There is clearly a large audience for this kind of stuff or we wouldn’t be constantly confronted with it. Older people are just not part of it. They have their own problems, like trying to master their smartphones. The new culture ignores us, and it may be time for us to ignore it.

Real Work and Pseudo-Work

I asked Google how many hours a typical Congressman works and couldn’t get a straight answer. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tn) said on CNN last night that it was about four hours a day. In the face of his disintegrating speakership and a looming government shutdown, Speaker McCarthy sent his members home for the weekend.

It’s common knowledge that Representatives spend much of their time fundraising and electioneering. What kind of work is that? There are no work requirements for Congress, just as there are no term limits. Senators and Representatives make $174,000 per year for working four hours a day with lots of time off.

This is but one of many kinds of pseudo-work. Another kind is what David Graeber has called Bullshit Jobs. Millions of people work in pointless jobs like “corporate lawyers, public relations consultants, telemarketers, brand managers, and countless administrative specialists who are paid to sit around, answer phones, and pretend to be useful.” Such people “are being handed a lot of money to do nothing,” and most of them know it’s a canard.

Let me talk for a moment about how I experience another kind of pseudo-work. I came to Mexico fifteen years ago with the intent to finish my book on Mingus, which I did. I followed up with a memoir, a kind of weird journal, and the present blog. Solid enough work for a writer, but I find I need more of it.

So I put in a lot of time at the computer in pseudo-work—hunting up new blog ideas, reading the political news, doing emails, trying to generate another book, wondering if I have shot my wad as a writer. Some hours each day are devoted to this sort of random online probing, looking for a new project. This feels like work, but of course it isn’t.

So I wonder what my “retirement” is about. I read that many current retirees want to return to work, either for financial or social/emotional reasons. I’m a little too old for that but the idea of “work,” which I used to belittle when younger, has come to mean a real involvement in something meaningful. As someone once said, “when you work from home, you’re never off the clock.” And certainly your concept of work changes as you age.

I think about my father who made the grave error of retiring from work at age fifty-five. He and my mother moved to Florida, and he thought he could live a life of leisure. After he spent most of his money buying a yacht, they led a reduced existence and he turned sour on life. He filled up time by going to the Publix market and bugging my mother to turn down the air conditioning.

Now, with an outbreak of strikes, the work from home movement, and pressure on Biden to retire, the old concepts of work are clearly threatened. Today the New York Times published an interesting exchange of views titled “When It Comes to Work, ‘the Current Situation Is Unsustainable.’” The profusion of strikes has gotten people thinking about the nature of work. Lydia Polgreen, one of the Times participants, finally had this to say:

I think that people need to spend their time doing things that are meaningful. Sometimes those things are paid work, sometimes it’s caring for the people that you love, but I think that we’re also seeing that people do want to work. What they don’t want is for such a huge swath of the fruits of their labor to be accruing to the very top 10 percent. And that seems to me to be like a reasonable thing to be really, really mad about.

Duke Ellington: “I have been mistaken for an actor, yes.”

Here is a rerun of a piece I wrote for (now discontinued) some years ago. The Duke, by most accounts, was America’s “greatest jazz composer and bandleader of his time.” His impact on Western music has been immense, yet now nearly fifty years after his death we hear so little about him. What follows is a personal recollection about his music and its impact on me.

When I started pawing through the 78s in my parents’ library at around age twelve, there seemed to be a lot of Ellington sides, one or two going back to the early Cotton Club days of the late 1920s. But most were from the mid-1940s, that is, relatively contemporaneous music for me. I fell in love with those disks, a few Vocalions but mostly black-and-gold RCA Victors, because the Ellington sound was like no other.

I couldn’t then have put it this way, but what caught my ear was the voicing of the brasses and reeds. None of the swing bands sounded like that, and none offered the kind of rhythmic punctuation that characterized the Duke’s music. But it was the timbres his players achieved and their harmonic blends—the tone colors, if you will—that struck me.

Remade tunes like “Black Beauty” and new ones like “Esquire Swank” I played over and over. I got hooked on Joya Sherrill’s little-girl voice as she and the band made pop tunes like “Kissing Bug” and “Everything But You” into sterling three-minute compositions. I hadn’t yet heard the famous earlier stuff like “Cottontail” and “Ko-Ko.” But these tunes from the mid-1940s contained references to the war—whose events made a big impression on me—and to lovers and love affairs, to life, loss and leisure among adults. Then came Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” courtesy of Nat King Cole, the lyrics of which I didn’t understand. But music was a way to begin comprehending these things. Ellington’s music was a way to learn what sophistication meant.

The 1945-46 records were made by bands which developed out of the more famous Blanton-Webster unit of 1940, and in many ways they were almost as good. The basic personnel follows but changed often owing to the war’s toll and defections by some of the best players. Trumpets—Cootie Williams or Ray Nance, Wallace Jones and Rex Stewart (cornet); trombones—Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown; reeds—Barney Bigard, Otto Hardwick, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ben Webster (later Al Sears); rhythm—Fred Guy, Oscar Pettiford, Sonny Greer, Duke Ellington (piano).

These became household names to me, familiar from their music and from photos and writeups. My firsthand knowledge of the band began in the early 1950s when some of my high school buddies and I would make regular trips to Chicago’s Blue Note where the Ellington band became a fixture for a time. We had fake IDs to get in and sought out members of the band to talk with during set breaks. Clark Terry and Russell Procope, who was kind of dour but sometimes willing to sit with us, were favorites. We liked Russell because of his cool, detached demeanor. Clark told great stories.

Duke’s music in the ‘50s has been subject to a lot of criticism, sometimes deserved. The band got brassy and repetitive; the maestro developed an addiction to certain formulas like the medley of famous old numbers, Cat Anderson’s high notes, and constant repetitions of “Satin Doll.” His key line, “We love you madly” became tiresome.

Terry Teachout’s book, Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, is the new reference for Ellington’s history, his bands, his business dealings, the music, the life exposed in all its splendor and evasion. Forget the dozen full biographies; this will be the received source for many years. I learned an enormous amount I didn’t know.

It should be said that Duke, for all his greatness as composer, bandleader and musician, must have been impossible to deal with as a person. A spoiled child from his earliest years, he indulged every appetite every day—from steaks to superstitions to women—and procrastinated constantly, failing deadlines, commitments and friends. Withal, he was a kind of Beethoven whose genius would not be confined by accepted norms of behavior. The façade he maintained as a sophisticated Mr. Charm finally fooled no one though we all appreciated how well he played the role.

Duke was a consummate artist who was also an entertainer. His constant striving to create music was more than a passion; it was an economic necessity. Likewise with the brutal schedule of one-nighters and the nonstop travel. Likewise with the fluctuations in styles and personnels. To enable the band to survive as his instrument, Duke had to make many sacrifices, first among them his early partnership with Irving Mills, the manager who took most of the money and publishing credits in return for selling Ellington to the public.

Yet none of this really matters as we consider Ellington’s music.

Duke’s was originally a show band, a pit band, accompanying the dreadful jungle numbers at the Cotton Club. And to the end his music testified to that showbiz aspect. Throughout his career he was attracted to the stage, the opera, films and television. Early on, he was influenced by Paul Whiteman, “king of jazz” in the ‘20s—symphonic, highly arranged jazz, that is. We had Whiteman records in my house, and my parents used the names of Gershwin and Whiteman when they referred to jazz generically.

Contrary to received opinion, some of the band’s work in the ‘50s was fine stuff. It was the era of Ellington Uptown (1951), with Betty Roché’s version of “Take the A Train” and Louis Bellson’s drums on “The Mooche.” The Duke loved Bellson. “Skin Deep” here is part showbiz and part jazz. Maybe extended drum solos are always showbiz? My father and I often listened together to Uptown, one thing we could agree on liking.

Masterpieces by Ellington (1950), has gotten traction as one of Ellington’s most realized long-form recordings and “The Tattooed Bride” is one of the better examples of how he used longer forms. Like the “Tone Parallel to Harlem,” it’s really a kind of nonstop suite. The Duke forever had problems with truly symphonic long forms, and the critics were generally harsh.

Bethlehem has reissued the 1956 Duke Ellington Presents, on which you can find arresting performances of standards like “I Can’t Get Started,” with Ray Nance, “Deep Purple,” with Jimmy Hamilton (the band’s Mr. Clean), and an extended “Blues” featuring many of the others.

It was also the era of Ellington at Newport, a recording of the 1956 concert at which Paul Gonsalves took 27 choruses of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” which got the crowd on its feet, cheering and dancing. This album was the Duke’s best-selling LP ever and put him on the cover of Time. I still think Paul Gonsalves was an overrated player, and the 27 choruses are full of repetitious R&B fills.

Duke went on to produce other good things in the ‘50s, though many were mixed bags. The 1959 Jazz Party featured marimbas, tympani, xylophones and Latin percussion in two numbers, plus some of the same old same old. Still, he got Dizzy Gillespie to sit in on the album’s best cut, “UMMG” (Upper Manhattan Medical Group, Strayhorn’s tune); and Jimmy Rushing sang “Hello, Little Girl,” a rousing blues featuring Jimmy Jones on piano and Dizzy. One wishes the Duke had been able to explore such pathways more consistently.

Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s I sometimes had the feeling that Ellington was losing his way, that he was struggling to maintain his claim against the new music, or that the band was failing him. At the same time, I got to hear that band live on many occasions, and it was still a group of very extraordinary musicians playing an undying concept of jazz.

With someone whose music has endured like Ellington’s, at first the scope of the whole can overwhelm you since you jump into the stream where and when you can. Only later, when you have the chance to dip into the earlier music, do you come to understand how the later styles developed. Geoff Dyer put it this way: “As you move further back, so you are able to recognize the special traits of the predecessors; it is like seeing a photo of your great-grandfather and recognizing the origins of you grandchildren’s features in his face.”

The Duke in the ‘50s and ‘60s struggled to find a new audience through experiments like Jazz Party even as he kept playing the mainstream stuff—in the end pleasing nobody but the diehards like me. Which is another way of saying that, after all, the band and his muses didn’t desert him. If anything, the times finally did him in. But the great music he made will survive forever.

Disengagement from the Political

William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election, 1755

Looking over the back issues of this blog I realized how much political writing I’ve inflicted on you. Much of that dealt with topics other than Trump whom I tried to avoid after going at him full bore in a former blog,, now deleted. Yet, as for many of us, he became a near obsession for me that has persisted into recent years.

I also wrote speeches and coached a lot of political folks over time so that, in a way, politics became a real passion. Now I feel trapped in the political world Trump et al. have created, obsessing over the insistent daily news reports of indictments, trials, MAGA defectors, poll numbers, mass delusions and conspiracies, Republican collapse, all of it. With elections looming in a year, this stuff has recently gotten much more insidious and virulent. Politics right now is sickening.

Many of us must feel like we’re locked inside some mad media carnival of craziness, powerless to escape. For breakfast we get fried pickles and funnel cake served up by WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin; then comes a later ride on the CNN Tilt-A-Whirl, where the same stories go up and down, round and round daily.

The Democrats are also victims of their own madness. They refuse to confront the real issues the public is concerned about. Like Biden’s age which worries some 77% of voters, while two-thirds want somebody else to run. The government glosses over their consistent gripes about the economy and inflation. It’s hard to believe but the administration’s measure of core inflation doesn’t include food or energy, the two volatile areas of most concern for people.

I often look at these developments with feelings of schadenfreude, especially on the Republican side since the party seems to have embarked on a singular road to ruin.

I don’t want to be called an elitist, but in some ways I am. I want to balance my long-shot liberalism with the more stable truths of music, art, history and literature. Well, that’s become pretty difficult. Right now, I’m rereading Thomas Mann’s great novel from the 1940s, Doctor Faustus, and the book is full of political implications. (Does everything have political implications?)

The author’s mad genius of music, Adrian Leverkhün, makes his Faustian deal with the devil for musical mastery. One reviewer notes that Zeitblom, the book’s narrator,

fatally turns a blind eye, distracted by social events and awed by Adrian’s genius. He misjudges Adrian in the same way that the [German] nation misjudges Hitler until it’s too late. (And if this doesn’t make you think of Donald Trump, you haven’t been paying attention).

So much of what I read these days seems to echo or predict Trump and the ensuing nightmare he has brought us. American Midnight by Adam Hochschild presents the horrifying history of America’s descent into racial and anti-Red madness from WW I to the 1920s. The parallels to what we are now living through—hatred, violence, corruption, political chaos—are manifest on every page.

Once we understand such history, escaping its relevance is practically impossible. Yet what’s relevant is not always what’s significant, and you can’t read significance into everything political today, which is what so many of us do. Getting away from the news is hard, so you need to live by other truths. Sadly, the older we get, the more we become creatures of habit and custom. Independent thought becomes more difficult.

And finally, I do have my doubts about achieving any kind of genuine detachment about politics. It’s too ingrained in my life, and you have to dig into your soul to find the resources to keep sane. Still, it becomes a matter of keeping one’s mental health in balance. If everything becomes significant, nothing is significant.

“Rouse Yourself and Pay Attention”

I used to hear admonishments like this in my high school English class. Miss Morgan was a fine teacher who brooked no nonsense in her classes. Edward and I used to sit in the back row and he’d draw detailed pictures of hot rods and race cars. This did not go down well: Morgan demanded close attention and once kicked us out of class.

Kids like me sometimes flouted the rules and conventions of school learning. This would often persist even into my college years. Finally, for most of my later life, I learned the value of attention, concentration and focus. That’s how one learns about the world and masters a subject, after all.

Now in my later years I find it hard to pay strict attention to a number of things, some of them formerly precious and engrossing. Listening to music can be absorbing or boring, depending on my mood or its former involvement in my life. Sometimes a piece that I loved no longer appeals or moves me as it once did. Is my memory disengaging? Why have I lost interest?

Yesterday I put on an old and valued CD of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, a long and meditative piece that evokes thoughts and feelings of death and dying. Not quite up for that, I quit after the first two movements which dealt with lighter things. I play regular poker with good friends but often lose my concentration on a hand and the game. I came to realize I really don’t like poker but don’t want to lose contact with my buddies.

Getting old means you sometimes lapse out of boring conversations—or ones you just choose not to hear. Getting old means that more conversations fit into this category. Namely, how interested are you in another person’s travel stories? How much more repetitive carping about Trump et al. can one attend to? How much local gossip?

I talked about some of these withdrawal symptoms in this post. Here, it seems to me a function of how memory changes as we age. The specter of Alzheimer’s is often in the back of one’s mind. NIH says in fact not to worry and offers this comparison:

Normal agingAlzheimer's disease
Making a bad decision once in a whileMaking poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time
Missing a monthly paymentProblems taking care of monthly bills
Forgetting which day it is and remembering it laterLosing track of the date or time of year
Sometimes forgetting which word to useTrouble having a conversation
Losing things from time to timeMisplacing things often and being unable to find them

In our later years, memory often becomes the source of much pleasure, contemplation and resurgent knowledge. This is not a withdrawal into the past. One’s memories can enrich the present and permit you to detach from matters that have less meaning in your new life.

Being Jewish

First of all, being Jewish means recognizing your differences from the non-Jews, the goyim. For me this didn’t really happen until high school, as reported in my memoir:

Once, walking home from high school I got in a fist-fight with an Irish kid who called me all kinds of rich-Jew-bastard names and happened to be a good lightweight boxer from the other side of town. It was totally humiliating. I had no idea of how to duke it out, none, and he kept popping me until finally I just walked away in disgrace, blood from my nose dripping on the snow. After this incident, the kid would go out of his way to say friendly hellos to me at school. I wanted to take his life.

Jews like me were brought up to be non-confrontational. In some ways we thought of ourselves as more like the gentiles than our co-religionists. And, it should be said, most of us didn’t have any real sense of religion, the stark, grim old-testament stuff that fueled our more conservative and orthodox brethren.

Reform Jews like me and my parents were practiced hypocrites about religion. My parents rarely went to temple (never to be called “schul,” of course). But they wanted me to be grounded in the faith so I went to what was called Sunday School starting in, I think, the sixth grade.

Finally, I found it just boring and unenlightening, and I told my mother I wanted to quit. She said that first I should talk with the rabbi, an amiable man named Dick Hertz, whose name made him the butt of many jokes. But I stood my ground and the elders gave way. To this day, I have nothing to do with the religion, though I love Jewish culture, its myths and memes and street wisdom.

In my teens I laughed at the funny pseudo-Yiddish jazz that Slim Gaillard recorded, tunes like “Drei Six Cents” and “Dunkin’ Bagel.” People like Slim and Cab Calloway weren’t mocking the language; they were having fun with it. Slim seemed to look at Judaism the way I did, as an amusing cultural artifact. Mickey Katz was funny, man. After them came Sid Caesar and a wave of Jewish comedians like Lenny Bruce. Mel Brooks was my hero later on.

Jewish humor finally permitted folks to dwell on the horrors of World War II after it was over. Earlier, my parents and grandfather Sam did not discuss these things, though Sam sent money early on to save some of the family in Germany. All of it was too grim to confront and, like many, they were living a life of ease.

The 1950s were a time of conformity, as we know. Life had been good for a lot of Americans during the war, and now it was time for some Jews to relax a bit and assimilate culturally. My family was part of this. They made a big deal out of food and sumptuous meals, with fare like matzoh ball soup and latkes (referred to as “German potato pancakes”).

In my later years I strove to recover the truths of what cultural Judaism had become since my family had glossed over it. I finally could take pride in my culture and its ability to survive not only Hitler but a whole history of antisemitism. As I grew older my nose, formerly straight, began to droop. You can’t read too much into that.

Aging Is Confronting Change

Dogs, also, bark at what they do not know.

“There is nothing permanent except change,” said the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived around 2500 years ago. And, the sage added, “No one ever steps in the same river twice.” His lesson for us today is that the world is always becoming, something older folks know even if they don’t act on it.

Confronting change and the need to change is hard for us oldsters, though not always. Let me use myself as an instance both of resisting change and accommodating to it.

At my age (now 89), you think more about death—how it may arrive, uselessly planning for it, thinking how your ultimate departure will affect others. The Great Unknown lurks ahead, its very nature impossible to comprehend. Will we become a caterpillar or a butterfly?

But change in one’s daily life is what we should be concerned about. The key to a full later life is dealing with the changes that inevitably occur. I’ve written before about the urge to withdraw—from friends, society, the things that used to give us pleasure. To the extent you permit these withdrawals to take over your life, that life will be diminished.

The changes you want to accommodate to are the important ones. Music for me has always played a prominent part in my life. I studied it, played it (for a while), wrote about it, collected it, and for a time fancied myself as an authority and critic. Now my music has become part of my aging routine—i.e., mostly just listening—and it has blended into a background of a habitually reduced active and full life. You could call it a kind of withdrawal, and accepting that has been hard. I’ve also had to accept that my musical tastes have changed over time. I loved ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll; now much of it sounds like jejune ramblings.

I think I’m still growing and learning to understand the world, but today it ain’t easy. My personal and political judgments have changed in part because I now understand history better. Yet it’s easier to remember the good old days than to deal with the ever-changing and confusing present. When I see IRA I think Irish Republican Army, not Inflation Reduction Act.

All of us have daily reminders of how physical needs and changes control us. Old people can get lazy. They like their afternoon naps. They sleep more—and wake up more during the night. They want and need routines, which make us feel in control. What do you eat for breakfast? Every day?

Technology especially tests our ability to change. What do you really know about crypto? Or AI? It’s hard enough for an old guy to master all the changes that have come in software and computing. As I said here, “my old brain is not equipped for this.” And then there are the vagaries and aggravations of the so-called smartphone.

To end on this note would be wrong. One good thing about getting old is that you learn (or some of us learn) what it means to confront change. A good strategy is simply to accept it, not necessarily for what it is but for how you can reframe it to fit your new life patterns. Think of change not as threat but as thinking outside the box.