Friday, January 16, 2009

Not-so-Senior Moments

Every now and then a friend bemoans the fact that she is aging in ways she isn’t particularly comfortable with. It hasn’t helped to mention that the alternative to aging is not aging, and that it, too, has its drawbacks. I now feel forced to pay attention to aging because it’s been the friends I look up to as wise and smart, with great senses of humor, good skin, and the sweetest dispositions who seem the most frustrated by its vagaries. The worried talk about aging begins with the manifold bewailing of some part of their anatomy, usually something I find distinguishes them and adds to their charm, and which, I helpfully point out, they’ve hated from adolescence anyway, so the time get over it might be now. But the big thing my friends all seem to worry about are what everyone calls “senior moments.”

These senior moments seem almost exclusively to represent the fear that their previously enormous brainpower is dimming. I’m beginning to worry because I’ve just turned 51, and to hear my friends talk, you’d think senior moments were contagious. I want to know who first coined the term “senior moment” sometime around the end of the millennium. I looked on, but found only links to serious articles. That’s no fun! My first recollection of someone talking about a senior moment was when my grandmother was worried about having them. She was 75 at the time. She told me she’d begun taking Ginkgo Biloba to improve her memory. I asked, “How will you know if you forget to take it?” She laughed and threatened to slap me.

I submit that almost all of my friends still possess incredibly huge brains and even larger hearts, and that this excellent combination is causing them to fall victim to circumstances and poor communication due to the placing of their trust in institutions and software that don’t deserve it, in an attempt to manage certain aspects of their lives.

For instance, I’m not even sure I’m old enough to be worried about senior moments, but AARP has been sending me bi-weekly letters since two weeks prior to my 49th birthday. Since you can’t become a member of AARP until you are 50, they must have been worried that I would forget my 50th birthday. Do many people forget their 50th birthday? Judging by the amount of bulk mail I received from AARP, you might think so. After a year of bi-weekly emails, I sent them my $12.50 for a year’s membership (after I returned from taking all the junk mail to the recycling dump) because (a) I was finally eligible to be a member; (b) I thought the bi-weekly letters would surely cease; and (c) I hoped I might get a nice discount on a hotel or some fun toy in my dotage.

For the next year, I was regaled with bi-weekly letters plus emails, telling me how I was missing out on all the great perks and discounts of being a member. I also received special “member only” offers, for life insurance, car insurance, and credit cards. Okay, it takes some institutions awhile to get the message, so I figured the bi-weekly letter people would eventually get in touch with the “She finally joined AARP after 26 letters and has paid her dues!” people and that would be the end of it. But no. Soon thereafter I began receiving pairs of permanent member ID cards, bi-monthly, first in cardboard, and the last two pairs in plastic. Why two, I wonder, every time a new pair arrives in the mail. Do they send the extra out in the likely event I’ll have a senior moment and mislay eleven? Is it even possible to have institutional senior moments? I’m sure the Supreme Court would think corporate senior moments have standing. But I digress (or do I?).

This morning when I answered the telephone a voice on the other end said, “Thank you for your patience. A representative will be with you shortly.” Someone thought this was a good idea? Now we don’t even have to be the caller to be put on hold. I can hear it now: “Hey, let’s just call them and make believe they’ve called us! We'll put them on hold as if they’d initiated the call, and then we can make them wait until we’re ready to talk to them. The worst that could happen is they'll think they're having a senior moment.” I wonder if bailout money goes to such as this. The question “Who’s having the senior moment here?” may have arisen in my rapidly aging mind.

Let’s face it, though; most of us have been having senior moments since we were children. Mothers all across the globe say, “Honey, where are your shoes?” (if their children are lucky enough to have shoes). Children reply, “I don’t know.” Or, “Did you remember to do your math homework?” “I forgot.” These are perfectly typical replies when given by anyone below 12 or so. But after we turn 50, we fear we might be losing your mind if we can’t remember where that pair of shoes is, what we came into the room for, or where we put the mail we were just about to take to the post office.

These things are normal, folks. Always have been, always will be. One of my friends is sure she’s having senior moments because she sometimes forgets the names of people she knows. I say, “Maybe.” I figure I’ve known three Christina’s in my life, and when I saw the fourth one today at a rehearsal, I asked her name, because even though Christina was the name that popped into my head, I didn’t trust myself because I’d just sent an email to one of my other Christina’s. So, perhaps self-doubt and low self-esteem play a role in this aspect of our memory, along with stress and sleep deprivation.

I find software-induced memory loss, to be one of the worst annoyances. I ask my computer to remember to do something, and then it prompts me to do something else that I’ve never really thought about, or don’t really care about, and which doesn’t seem important or earth-shattering at the time. I usually just click okay. This okay is like the okay your give your kids when you’re in the middle of something really important (like fourth and goal, or the crucial part of any story) and they ask if they can borrow the car to drive their friend home. You say, “Yeah, sure.” Then, about a minute later, the tape in your brain begins to replay and you realize your kid is only 12, and he didn’t really ask you if he could borrow the car, did he? Then you hear the car start, you break into a cold sweat, and run like hell! This same thing happens with automatic computer updates. The computer prompts me; the geek squad has told me to “Just click okay.” This week it was someone’s Firefox browser asking if it was okay to update itself. When these questions come up they go into the category of a kid asking you “May I please go to the bathroom?” We don’t normally ask “why, when, where, how, what,” and the kid/computer doesn’t offer. However, when your browser updates itself, it resets a lot of stuff that you rely on to be there (things you’ve put there SO THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO REMEMBER THEM).

Mostly what a browser update does (but doesn’t tell you it’s about to do) is erase all the passwords that have been automatically filled in for you since the first time you ever used a password. Then you try to log on to a website that you go to every day, and they act as if they’ve never heard of you. Then they make you copy crooked words in boxes that should be labeled “How do we know it’s really you?” This happens to everyone, because the people who make browsers don’t want to bother us with all the details of our lives, but they don’t trust us any more than we trust them. So they ask us “secret questions.” I picture my account being sorted into a corporate storage box with all the other people whose first pet was named Princess. We used to have the hope of decent customer service; now we have this.

The other thing we all do is lose our little black book of passwords and secret codes. We all have one or two passwords that we’ve used forever, with or without an extra number or an upper case letter or two. The last time I lost my little black book of login IDs and passwords, I built an email file filled with generously donated corporate login ID’s and passwords that I have no connection with and couldn’t possibly remember if my life depended on it. My favorite of the corporate given ones and the only one I've committed to memory, but which is no longer current, is "tygoxazo." That one had a strange appeal. Perhaps I'll recycle it sometime. Feel free to make use of it if it casts its spell on you.
I've thought of using famous authors’ names, like Rabindranath or Jhumpa. Who would guess such a password? To look at me, you would never guess that I can even read! Which brings up the question of how we choose our passwords in the first place. In the beginning of the password craze, I used things like secret, password, and, when I was feeling particularly snarky, biteme. Those worked for years, until some clever server analyst decided they weren't secure enough. I suspect there were just too many of us out in the world using "secret" and "password," and the corporate server gods grew cranky at this flagrant belittling of their "safety etiquette."
Then, my fun taken away, I had to resort to something less fun that I could still remember. Ah, there's the rub. I have a great memory, but it has its own organizing system, and there's no defragmentation setting (unless that's what sleeping does, and I suspect it might). I now have little scribbles close to where I'll need them, should I need them (not often, but always when I am short on time and patience); which is a very long way of saying that I'm not sure we're having senior moments at all.


  1. When I worked at the Council the system forced us to change our password every month, which was a total nightmare. Having worked my way through every vegetable I could think of (with 6 letters or more), I started learning poetry. I reckon it is a slow but steady road to self-improvement, e.g. to learn Keats' Ode to Autumn your first password is the initial letters of the first line:
    then the second line:
    and so on - 14 passwords will last you more than a year! I worked there for four and a half years and learned 3 sonnets, which was one of the top perks of the job...
    And for the senior moments, you just need a volume of poetry on your desk (or in it, if you're shy).

  2. Passwords are a drag, automated phone systems are a drag, aging's a (big) drag when your friends won't shut up and just get over it. What's not a drag - multiple Christinas.

  3. Thanks Ana - I needed that...i think.

  4. Got a chuckle identifying with your senior moments, if only I could remember who you are and where I know you from.

    I'm sure it will all come back to me......... once I remember who I am and where I live.

  5. I'm starting a facebook group today called "I think my first pet's name was princess too"!