Third Acts

What to do with our third acts? I remember when I was in my forties and realized that I had now had a longer lifespan that most women who were born 100 years before me, who couldn’t expect to live till 40. ( So my last 27 years were a gift. Now I figure we who have exceeded 65 are in a sort of 3rd life. And “according to the Administration on Aging, 37% of women in the U.S. over 65 live by themselves”(source). According to this article on Aging Horizons, A surprising number of single retired women relocate abroad, despite the idea that we are old and fragile.

How does it feel to be a woman of a certain mature age contemplating moving to another country, away from family, friends and the familiar? The “retire abroad” propaganda makes it sound romantic and easy. In some ways this is the case, but I think it is important to come to terms with what is at stake. It isn’t for everyone, and it is best to at least be eyes wide opened when contemplating the move.

Family and friends will be far away, perhaps when you need them most. In many places you can afford to hire care, but you can’t hire love. Will your family come and see you? I’m not sure, in my own case, mostly for economic reasons, even though I will probably be settling in the Americas. Are you good at making friends and creating a social structure for yourself? You need to be honest with yourself about this. Just because the literature says the we women are much more sociable, that means on average, some of us are more introverts. I personally want distance and space as well as friends. It takes me a while to really establish relationships. This is why it is a priority of mine to find a place that my friends and family will be likely to want to come. I don’t fool myself that simply wanting to see me is enough to bring the tribe to visit. I had visitors when I lived in Vietnam. Not in Saudi Arabia. As my friends and family start to age, maybe they will want to move away too, and I would like to think I have blazed a bit of a trail for them. As grandchildren look for adventure, I’m sure that if nana is in a place they might want to visit, they would be more likely to see me. As I said, I’m just trying to be realistic.

Still interested in people of the opposite sex? I found that, for me, Asia was not so conducive for amorous encounters. I’m tall and I’m very western in my gender ideas. Living a singular life does not mean entering the nunnery, though it mostly did amount to that in my years in Asia, as most of the Asian men of my generation were very conventional and conservative. In Asia, also, the western male retirees generally are interested in the younger Asian women. It is just a fact. When I travel in Latin America, on the other hand, I find that there is at least the frisson of flirtation. I’m not quite so invisible to the ardent eye.

To retire alone as a single women requires some fortitude and confidence. I think it’s a great challenge and a departure from whatever roles we have lived in our home countries. In a new country and a new community, you are no longer seen as someone’s mother, wife, employee, etc.. You can define yourself as you choose for the third act, and that is a thrilling prospect.

‘Blood And Earth’ Shows How Two Modern Evils Are Linked: Slavery And Environmental Degradation : Goats and Soda : NPR

Kevin Bales’ book, Blood and Earth, explains why slavery in the world’s lawless zones is essential to operate mines that pose a grave threat to the environment.

Source: ‘Blood And Earth’ Shows How Two Modern Evils Are Linked: Slavery And Environmental Degradation : Goats and Soda : NPR

3 Studies, 1 Sobering Conclusion

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In the last few months there has been a series of unrelated studies which come together to create a very sobering picture of the United States today. There are lots of reasons for the results they report. Books could and have been and will be written about the state of the States in the 21st century, but these studies measure decline in a very concrete way.

When I was in graduate school, the premise of decline was wildly debatable. Scholars argued about whether the next generations, those of our children and grandchildren, would have a lower standard of living than us. It was a controversial proposition then. It is a fact today. From an article in The Street:

Using the year 2000 as the numerical base from which to “zero” all of the numbers, real wages peaked in 1970 at around $20/hour. Today the average worker makes $8.50/hour — more than 57% less than in 1970. And since the average wage directly determines the standard of living of our society, we can see that the average standard of living in the U.S. has plummeted by over 57% over a span of 40 years.

According to the New York Times:

The middle class, if defined as households making between $35,000 and $100,000 a year, shrank in the final decades of the 20th century. For a welcome reason, though: More Americans moved up into what might be considered the upper middle class or the affluent. Since 2000, the middle class has been shrinking for a decidedly more alarming reason: Incomes have fallen.

How do people deal with this stagnation? I suspect we all have anecdotal evidence: young people are living at home longer, they are more dependent on their families in general, finding a good job is difficult, pay is low, and the cost of living takes every dollar. The evidence is that we are not coping well. Drug addiction rates and alcoholism are up, depression rates are higher, and suicide rates are high.

Why does it hit whites harder? That is where expectations come in (see the Esquire study on rage). White Americans have, as has been pointed out a lot lately, a culture of white privilege. We are used to the doors being open, and opened, for us. Yes, I say us, even after growing up poor and struggling working class. White privilege has meant that we have unspoken expectation of doing reasonably well. I grew up with 4 siblings. My father worked most often a couple of jobs at outdoor physical labor in construction, 7 days a week. We siblings are all doing better than my parents. Our children, to a one, are not doing better than us. We had little doubt we would. We expected it, as did our parents.

When we don’t live up to our own and our parents expectations, as people who are reputedly at the top of the heap in the US, whites, a lot of self doubt seeps in. Add to that the political rhetoric and propaganda that minorities and immigrants are doing well at our expense. The sense of economic decline is accentuated by this relative decline.

And for white men? The lost ground is not just economic and racial, it is gender. Medical and Law schools often have majority female enrollment. The enrollment rates for females has eclipsed male for some time now, according to Forbes:

The male-female ratio in higher education has been steadily moved in favor of the females ever since the 1970s. Total enrollment figures show that females outnumbered their male counterparts for the first time in the late 1970s, and they have steadily increased their numerical advantage ever since. The superiority first came in public universities, but soon private universities saw female enrollment surpass male enrollment.

Ironically, women and non-anglos are still not doing as well as white males. It is the perception of improvement for women and minorities, coupled with the relative loss for white men, fueled by political propaganda, that fuels the rage.


Here are the three studies. Death rates are up for middle-aged white Americans, mostly from substance abuse and suicide. Americans are enraged, with the highest levels being for whites. And the situation is not likely to change. This rich are taking the majority of the wealth, and the situation for the poor, working and middle classes is very unlikely to change.

Americans have woken up and realized that the American Dream was exactly that, an unrealizable dream. American is becoming majority minority (strange concept) and Politicians are happy to deflect attention from the rapacious rich 1% and divide and enrage the rest. This is the result.

“Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds”

Dying in Middle Age

Death rates are rising for middle-aged white Americans, while declining in other wealthy countries and among other races and ethnicities. The rise appears to be driven by suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse.


“American Rage: The Esquire/NBC News Survey”

LET’S BEGIN WITH THE BIG REVEALS: Half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago. White Americans are the angriest of all. And black Americans are more optimistic about the future of the country and the existence of the American dream. There are depths and dimensions, dark corners and subtle contours to our national mood, and setting aside the issue of who actually has a right to be angry and about what—these pages are neutral territory; everyone is allowed their beef—we found three main factors shaping American rage: … (expectations, empathy and experience).

Seventy-three percent of whites say they get angry at least once a day, as compared with 56 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans get angry at least once a day, as compared with 67 percent of Democrats.The least angry household-income brackets: the very rich ($150,000-plus) and the very poor ($15,000 and less). The most angry: the middle of the middle class 
($50,000 to $74,999).


“The Debate on Whether America’s Best Days Are Past, or Ahead”

Moreover, the growing concentration of income means that whatever the growth rate, most of the population will barely share in its fruits. Altogether, Professor Gordon argues, the disposable income of the bottom 99 percent of the population, which has expanded about 2 percent per year since the late 19th century, will expand over the next few decades at a rate little above zero.




Leaving on a Jet Plane

Oh hell yes! On my way to Central and South America! Days on end of studying Spanish, and I’ll finally be put to the test. I’ve been anticipating this trip since last summer, well, since last winter here in Australia where it is now summer. Planning often turns out to be amongst the best things about travel. I’ve spent countless hours following tags for countries and cities I’ll be heading to, or not, depending on what I read. Which way to go? Mexico across Central America to Colombia, or the other way around? Airlines and tickets and busses and backpacks. But I’ve been stretching out my time in Melbourne for too long.

Private Eye cartoon.jpg
Even Paris can be a bore after a fashion

One should know when it’s time to go. When you are mouldering, and and not simply relaxing. When you wake up and can’t figure our why you should open your eyes and rev up. Time starts slipping past and nothing adheres to it. Definitely time to go when a few lines in the journal suffice to sum up the day. Spring turns to summer and days just meld into a hazy soup. Feet and soul become leaden. It’s time to fly away.

I read recently about the syndrome, or at least propensity, soldiers get for excitement and danger in exotic places after a few tours of duty. The adrenaline, the rush, the clarity of leaving all the mundane behind and heading off for adventure becomes a necessity. Real life is a weighty thing. Relationships and responsibilities feel heavy and unrewarding. Of course, these are the things that make “a life”, but for some of us, 30,000 ft. feels like a proper distance. (Why people bring electronics and work on a flights confuses me, 30,000 ft is a free space). Actually, just being in an airport feels weightless to me.

My life for some time has revolved around the syncopation of semesters and holidays. And mid-term breaks, of course. Once I’m in the air, there is no more grading and meetings with students, no more lesson prep and syllabus design. I’ve been careful that way. My grades are submitted before I go. The rest, if not already done, will wait till I return. Most people leave their jobs and go home on weekends and holidays to a separate life (at least it used to be and ought to be that way). Academia subsumes everything. If you aren’t literally planning and grading, your mind is working on it, pretty much 7 days a week. If I have an oppressive dream, it is of being late for class and being unprepared. To finish a semester’s work, the grades finished, and everything wrapped up, and go to the airport was a huge relief. To be going someplace new and challenging made the semester evaporate for a few liminal weeks or even months of suspended “real life.”

Now I’m ready to go again. A week from tomorrow I’ll head back to the US, and then a week or so after that, I’ll be off to Medellin, via Miami. Finally that frisson of the open ended and unexpected wakes me up and keeps me moving towards that flight next week. I’m heading to a new city in a new country on a new continent. The nervousness and expectation is deliciously disconcerting.








Morning Bedroom Visitor

Australia has some amazing arachnids. I really thought this was a piece of brush in my closet. Not poisonous, by the way.

Photo: Joanne Bretzer
Photo: Joanne Bretzer

“This beautiful spider is what is commonly known as a Net-casting spider, and is a species from the genus Deinopis. These spiders have a pair of very large forward pointing eyes, resulting in one of their common names being the rather unflattering Ogre-faced spiders.

The spiders spin a small web that has the ability to be rapidly expanded to a number of times its size and that they hold between their front legs. At night with their large eyes they hang in an area where a potential meal is likely to be and wait with their web. When the prey walks or flies past they drop on them and wrap their net around it.

The spiders are not considered dangerous to people and like many species of spider there is quite a degree of difference between the males and females of the species. The females of the species Deinopis subrufa tend to be a pretty light brown or salmony colour while the males have very spindly legs and black and grey stripes. The legs are held in a way that gives the spider the appearanace of a large letter x, with two pairs held together and pointing forwards and 2 pairs held together and pointing backwards.”

Why Peru’s gastronomy is a bigger draw for tourists than the Incas | Americas | News | The Independent

The sun beats down as local builders and American tourists down cold beers and ceviche at an outdoor market in the scenic Lima district of Barranco, overlooking the Pacific.  Business is booming, says Vicente Furgiuele, owner of the Canta Ranita (The Little Singing Frog), a small but popular restaurant specialising in £5 servings of the marinated seafood salad that is a Peruvian summer classic.

Source: Why Peru’s gastronomy is a bigger draw for tourists than the Incas | Americas | News | The Independent

“Poor people lose”: “Making a Murderer,” reality television and our shared mythology of a classless society –

Another elephant in the room: Class in America. Here is a good discussion in the form of the review of “Making a Murderer.”

“Making a Murderer” is a police procedural. It’s also that rare thing in American film: A story about class

Source: “Poor people lose”: “Making a Murderer,” reality television and our shared mythology of a classless society –