Bringing Back My Pong Story in the Age of Covid

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Health Quiz!


The above picture makes me feel:

(check all that apply)

1. Pretty good

2. Appalled

3. Proud

4. Enraged

5. Neutral

6. Disturbed

7. Sexy

8. Horrified

9. Awesome

10. Vomitus

Even-numbered answers = 1 point.

Odd-numbered answers = 0 points.

Analyzing your score:

If you scored exactly 5 points, we are one.

If you scored fewer than 5 points, please don’t read this.


Musings on the Eve of the Next Women’s March

To all the intrepid women and principled men who will march tomorrow, I applaud you. I respect and admire you. However, I won’t be joining you.

Why I’m Not Marching

I know what you’re thinking. My choice to opt-out smacks of apathy, even to my own ears, even as I write this. In my heart of hearts, I know I am not apathetic. Sisters, I am weary.

My earliest childhood memories involve injustice, specifically in terms of gender. As an active, athletic kid growing up in the sixties, I resisted the strictures of girlhood, refused to be boxed in. I became a feminist in my late teens, have made a conscious effort to live my values, word and deed, with intellectual rigor and compassion.

First March

In the fallout of the 2016 election, I flew to Los Angeles to join my two sisters, (and one courageous man) in one of the largest crowds of the global women’s march. One sister created a magnificent quilt, which we proudly carried as our banner. Hundreds of diverse, caring people, approached us to sign the quilt. It was incredibly moving and uplifting to be a small part of this massive outpouring of hope.


Second One

Last year I joined the spirited crowd in our local Courthouse Square, for solidarity.Friends gathered to make posters the night before.


The event was enlivening and fun. Still, in the back of my mind, the label women’s march left me disquieted. The Me-Too movement had just caught fire — another so-called women’s issue.

Traditionally, the notion of “women’s,” domain, has suggested lessened or diminished worth. Women’s stuff — make-up and magazines, perfume and everything pink. Mops, vacuums, toilet brushes.

In a personal example, the arbitrary genre of “women’s fiction,” has been invoked to pigeonhole my writing. Oh, yes, dearie — head pat — isn’t that sweet?Categories such as women’s fiction, cousin of the oft-maligned chick-lit, impose limits. Women’s books? Women’s movies? What the hell does it mean? Soft? Unthreatening? Less than?

This term implies an unspoken comparison to “men’s fiction,” the original, or prototype.

These days, it’s easy to point out examples of glaring misogyny, blatant racism and intellectual lassitude. We open the newspaper or glance at a screen and are confronted with baffling narratives: intentional cruelty, gleeful flouting of reason, erosion of civility.

Rhetoric yells. It screams in our ears. It’s busy and noisy and LOUD!

Our cranial capacity is so crowded and overtaxed, we struggle to detect the subtle notes, the whispers of racism and sexism that permeate our hearts and minds.

It’s getting harder to hear, to pinpoint the quieter, more systemic lexicon. Language is often deeply unconscious; we are rarely attuned to the “other.” Nevertheless, words are potent, insidious. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling queasy these days. I believe our elected leader, whose name I shall not utter, has poisoned the well. With each bitter swallow, I am weakened. Words and images, like toxins, are in my bloodstream now.

Maybe next year I’ll be ready to march and yell, but this year I will reflect in silence.

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Material Matters/The Substance of Stuff


Material Matters

The Substance of Stuff

I’ve been meaning to clean out my closets, metaphorically and literally, for the past twenty years, give or take a decade. I admit my cupboards and drawers are cram-jammed. My closets overflow-eth. As I approached this topic, I imagined writing a lighthearted piece, you know the kind—a dose of self-deprecating humor, roll-up-your-sleeves and get to work gumption. However, my journey took an unexpected, dark turn.

Most of us in the so-called developed countries can relate to the quandary of excess stuff. When our dwellings can hold no more, rather than paring down, we house our precious stuff in storage units. In the United States, the self-storage industry is booming, with an annual industry revenue of $38 billion (Alexander Harris, 3/2018). Individual storage lockers rent for about $1200 per year, so per capita, that’s one hell of a math problem. I blame Amazon’s one-click feature.

Like me, perhaps you’ve vowed to de-clutter. You fully intend to create a tidier, more minimalist existence—some day. Perhaps you’ve consulted books, such as Marie Kondo’s acclaimed KonMari method. Kondo urges us to keep only cherished belongings and discard the rest. Her advice is logical, her writing lovely, poetic and compelling in its simplicity. She provides a step-by-step recipe to envision and create a tranquil, energizing home. For the effort, converts find lasting contentment.

I adore her. I am convinced. I’m ready to begin anew.

Why then, am I paralyzed?

I know the drill. Clutter is a kind of sickness, the outward manifestation of a troubled, disordered inner life. On a larger scale, a visit to any refuse disposal site reveals our beloved planet overburdened by senseless waste—we are literally burying ourselves alive. We have become a mindless, addicted-to-stuff consumer culture gone haywire. The problem is, this knowledge does not help me. I know I am sick. While my symptoms may be obvious, when it comes to a remedy, I am at a loss.

As I stare into the abyss of my closet, I become uneasy. All children know about the existence of the monster that dwells within. Lately I have become reacquainted with that monster, keeper of the closet, guardian of unseen ooze beneath the surface, the skeletons I’ve been avoiding. Like a kid, I promptly shut that door. Damn you, monster.

With a sigh, I admit I am no longer a child, not ancient perhaps, but vintage. For those of us who have turned the page out of midlife into late-life, time is not our friend. Time begins to shrink, along with the freedom to fail, to make mistakes and put things off. Let’s face it. We are running out of do-overs. At last, it dawns on me—this isn’t about cleaning my closets. Putting my “house in order,” is about sorting out my life, and ultimately confronting my own mortality. It means being a grown-up.

If you’ve ever been tasked with the sorting and disbursement of a departed loved one’s possessions, you know the emotional charge of “stuff,” the irrational attachment and anguish of letting go. We may find ourselves clinging to grandma’s moth-eaten, threadbare scarves because she loved them so. Only a heartless person would trash them. We fill a box. Stack it on top of the other boxes. But what will become of grandma’s old scarves after we are gone? Who will recognize her face in those worn, dog-eared photos?

As a child, I didn’t listen to my parents, tuning out their “old people’s” advice. But lately, certain words of wisdom have resonated with me. My dad’s fallback line for any daunting job: Just dig in. It’s like eating an elephant—do it one bite at a time. When confronted with hard choices and life’s complexity, my mom advised us to approach every challenge big or small, decently and in order. These little nuggets, I realize now, epitomize how my parents lived, and relevantly, how they died. They were practical people who accepted life’s impermanence, the inevitability of death.

Mom, never sentimental about stuff, did not abide clutter. Sometimes this hurt our feelings, like the time she gave away our Christmas ornaments. But in the end, her organization and tidy closets made it a little easier to navigate losing her. Before our father’s passing, he made certain his finances were transparent, documents in order, eliminating red tape or legal entanglement. In the depths of profound loss, my sisters and I felt taken care of. We will forever miss our humorous, intelligent, imperfect, exceptionally devoted parents. Only time has lessened our grief. But unlike many of our peers, we did not inherit legal struggles, money knots or heaps of unwanted stuff. Why? Our parents prepared for death. They made considerate decisions, like grown-ups.

I take a deep breath. Once again, I peer into my closet.

I shut the door, flip on my laptop, tuning into another Seinfeld rerun on Hulu, though I’ve already seen it six times. Don’t judge me. It sucks to be a grownup. If only I had an official roadmap.

Truth time:

Nobody has a roadmap for this life. We learn by fire, negotiating all the bumps, twists and forks in the road, as we grow. Traversing new territory at the end-of-life is a sobering task, with few do-overs allowed. Where to begin? Taking stock, as usual, I have more questions than answers. There are no shortcuts, no roadmap, but I do have a few breadcrumbs along the path, guidance to help me find my way. When I’m ready, I hope to take it slow, mindfully, one bite at a time, decently and in order.




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Re-inventing Aging: A Jane-lite Third Act

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Remember when you were in your twenties? Who could forget those old geezers who groaned every time they rose from a chair? Observing them through the illusion of eternal youth, those oldsters seemed like a different species. I’ll bet you never thought you’d be one.

Neither did I.

But these days, creaking bones and aching muscles have become a routine part of my morning. I begin each day by tentatively evaluating my discomfort, and often it’s a matter of degree. Perchance my low back is tweaked, but at least my knee feels okay. My right pinky toe hurts, but my hips and ankles are holding. Now and then I still spring out of bed, pain free, but these days are becoming rare. Ten years ago, I may have been tight from working out, or a little sore from overdoing it, but ricketiness had not become a chronic condition. Recalling the passage of time, I go to a dark place—if this is what sixty feels like, what will seventy or God-willing, eighty bring?

I turned to Jane Fonda, who may have coined the expression Third Act in her 2011 book, Prime Time, an instruction manual of sorts for the over-sixty demographic. In a nutshell, Act One (age 0-29), “a time for gathering” includes the formative experiences of childhood, adolescence, self-image and gender identity. Act Two (age 30-59), “a time of building and in-between-ness” is characterized work and family relationships as they shift and evolve over time. Although Fonda explores the first two acts, The Third Act (age 60 and beyond) is the heart of her book.

Prime Time opens with Jane’s personal reflection at a turning point in her life. On the cusp of her sixtieth birthday, she begins to grapple with “the issue of time—the inexorability of it—pressing in on me.” I identify with Jane’s inertia, her sense of foreboding, and I am struck by her humility and courage.

She begins a soul-searching life review, examining family memorabilia, taking a humble look at the little girl or teenager smiling (or not) in family photos. Her process continues as she pieces together pivotal experiences, poring over her fifty-nine years. As if traveling back in time, she relives the joys and heartbreaks that have shaped her. Letting go and “becoming whole,” she is free to move forward into her Third Act.

Emerging from her life review, Jane hits the ground running. With her trademark vivacity, she steps up as spokesperson and champion for the chronologically challenged. Urging boomers to get off our lazy backsides, she crushes late-life stereotypes, coaching us to live “full tilt to the end.” The exposition is well-researched and prescriptive, providing concrete directives, a recipe for success if you will, with “eleven ingredients for successful aging.”

Here are Jane’s big eleven: Don’t abuse alcohol, don’t smoke, get enough sleep, be physically active, eat healthfully, keep learning, be positive, review and reflect, love and stay connected, give of yourself, care about the bigger picture. These sensible suggestions resonate with me. I cannot disagree with logic. Still, Jane’s recipe leaves me vaguely disquieted, as if I’m failing.

Those if us in our third act (60 or better) have learned a few things. For instance, when we thumb through magazines, ogling glossy airbrushed photos of flawless folks, we no longer compare ourselves to these images. We know better. We understand this kind of perfection is both simulated and humanly unattainable.

Jane’s “full tilt” life is like an airbrushed pic. Compared to her, I will always come up short. My inner cynic quips, who wouldn’t look fantastic with a team of surgeons, trainers and nutritionists? I remind myself of her celebrity status, wealth and entitlement and it’s easy to dismiss her, writing her off as another self-appointed “expert” wielding her fame. Alas, I am not superhuman. I will never be Jane. Who cares? Who needs soul-crushing perfectionism? Pass the pizza.

Yet, as I close Jane’s book and reach for a cheesy slice, I’m hit with an unexpected twinge of guilt, or perhaps shame. Maybe it’s all the wasted hours I’ve spent binge-watching re-runs on Hulu, that third glass of wine. Could it be the dark chocolate that keeps mysteriously disappearing from my cupboard? I glance down at the book jacket, Jane’s all-knowing eyes looking back at me. At that moment, I contemplate her legacy. Whether you love or despise her, Jane is a force. She’s inspired many, including me, as she continues to evolve and reinvent herself. An accomplished actor, controversial political activist and legendary guru of fitness for more than six decades, at 79, her vitality is undiminished. These days, Jane is busy lighting up the screen with Lily Tomlin, eviscerating so-called older women’s traditional roles, in the groundbreaking, irreverent, smart and wickedly funny hit show Grace and Frankie. Unlike the endless parade of vapid, pretty people in the media mainstream, I cannot dismiss her.

I pick up the book, studying her face. What do you want from me, Jane? Must I eat more kale? Must I lift weights? Learn Italian? Perhaps I am losing my grip on reality, because I hear Jane’s response. She reminds me that my choices are my own, but whatever I choose, to live with intention.

I exhale noisily. I admit it—Jane is right.

Very well, Jane. You win.

Did she just wink at me?


The Reckoning

Taking an honest inventory of my life, I recognize room for improvement. Disclosure: I’m afraid to start something I cannot finish. I don’t want to fail. Sorry, Jane. I’m not quite ready to revisit my past unflinchingly. I’ll save the life review for later. So, how do I begin my Third Act, intentionally and with clarity?

I’ve never been good at diets. The moment a food is deemed off-limits or “forbidden,” it’s literally all I think about. Going cold turkey on vices such as wine, chocolate or overconsumption of the Internet, I am destined to fail. Adding a positive goal, not subtracting, has always been more successful for me.

As fall approaches, I’m reminded of new beginnings. With that mind, I embark on a more conscious Third Act, taking baby steps toward meaningful change. The first thing that comes to mind is diet. I’m a decent cook, but night after night, it often feels like drudgery, so most of the time, I rely on prepacked salad greens to fulfill the vegie requirement. I love vegetables and I know they’re good for my body, but don’t eat enough of them. I tell myself it’s too time-consuming and I’m just too damn busy for all that shopping and cooking. Hell, I’m not Jane Fonda. I have no personal chef, tempting me daily with an abundant variety of luscious, exotically prepared vegies.

This is the point where I smugly justify my laziness. But not this time, because the veil has been lifted. I can choose to make this manageable, yet significant change. There may be only one Jane, but the rest of us can strive for Jane-lite.


JC’s August-September Baby-Steps Challenge

I task myself, and anyone who’d like to join me, to consume a greater variety and quantity of vegetables. Your ideas and suggestions are very welcome.

Baby steps, people.


Stay tuned for updates!





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Confessions of a Tomboy





Born in the winter of 1956, my girlhood was fraught with gender envy. If being a girl meant sitting quietly, playing with dolls, minding my manners, wearing frilly dresses and behaving in a lady-like manner, I did not wish to be a girl. If being a girl meant becoming a princess and someday marrying a prince, I rejected girl-ness.

These early observations led me to an indisputable conclusion. Girls were restricted and boys were free. Being a boy meant riding my bike, playing baseball, running wild, scraping my knees, and shooting mud pellets from my air rifle. Therefore I simply chose to be a boy. I got away with it, too.  Yes, I sometimes fielded the innocent, yet brutal inquiry, Hey kid, are you a boy or a girl? It was worth it.

My carefree boyhood, sadly, was cut short. Junior High School and its cruel sidekick, Puberty, knocked me out, dragged me down and slugged me in the gut. I put away my baseball glove, my air rifle. After my mother took me bra shopping, I succumbed to the bulk of a sanitary napkin between my legs, the stranglehold of its chaste elastic belt. In my reincarnation as a female, I discovered Day-Glo orange patent leather shoes, nylon stockings, garter belts and blue eye shadow. I took to kissing boys rather than beating them up. I learned to let them win. In the midst of change, I lost my voice, my spunk, my edge. I had never heard the word depression, but late at night, alone in the dark, I contemplated the sweet release of suicide.

Jump ahead to 1974. Picture a seventeen-year old girl walking into her first women’s studies class. The word feminist described who I was, what I believed in, who I wanted to be. This moment of homecoming set in motion a lifetime commitment to choice—to equity, as a mother, an educator, a wife. These days I’m still reclaiming my voice, my spunk, my edge.

Footnote: I discovered my inner princess, and I embrace her, too.






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Check out my story on Medium Daily

shutterstock_298658672Zen and the Art of Table Tennis: Navigating My Late-Life Crisis

As the baby of the family and perennially one of the youngest kids in my class, I never envisioned looking older. I’m a person who got carded well into my forties. So, the first time a fresh-faced checker asked me if I’d like the senior discount, I was shocked, indignant and a little horrified. Really? Was she blind? I looked to my elder sisters for a dose of common sense. They reassured me. Don’t take it personally. We all look alike to kids in their twenties. I took in their wisdom, but as an added precaution, avoided shopping on Tuesdays for the next year or so.

My sixtieth birthday arrived without fanfare. On that bright morning in early December, I strolled along the Mendocino shore with my dearest companions. Pausing to gaze out at the cloudless sky, the sparkling water, I released a long sigh, chuckling inwardly at my foolishness and vanity. What was I thinking? This arbitrary number held no diabolical power. I counted my blessings, savored every bite of cake, and convinced myself that I was, unequivocally, still me.

A couple weeks later, in the throes of last-minute holiday preparations, it all changed. On my feet one minute — the next minute, gripped by leaden exhaustion, I collapsed into bed. I passed a miserable week in a fog of self-pity, as my fever spiked and my cough deepened, each ragged spasm, a barbed blade to my lungs. While others celebrated the holidays, I cursed my miserable, aching bones. And no, I hadn’t neglected my annual flu shot.

Even after I returned to the land of the living, the cough lingered accompanied by oppressive fatigue. Routine tasks, such as walking around the block or making the bed, left me weak as a newborn kitten. I’m happy to report that I regained my stamina, but this rebound took much longer than expected. Disconcertingly, everything seems to take longer these days. I had to admit I was no longer the baby, nor the youngest, but frequently the eldest person in the room. The full weight of sixty years had descended, hitting me like a slug to the gut. My “still me” theory crumbled, little cracks in the foundation allowing fear and doubt to seep in. Was this it? Had I fallen into the inevitable, irreversible downhill slide?

Unable to shake my funk, I consulted the Internet, finding a broad spectrum of advice, including a label for my melancholia: Late-life Crisis. We’ve all heard of late-life’s better-known cousin, midlife crisis. A comparison of the two crises can by summarized by one salient distinction. In midlife, we may cling to fading youth. In late-life, we must grapple with mortality.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Marc Agronin, WSJ health expert and author of How We Age, observes: “I am seeing increasingly in my geriatric psychiatry practice individuals…wrestling with existential questions that eluded their psyches during middle-aged years of active love, work and play.”

Late-lifers are tasked with confronting illness, bereavement, career loss and the decline of physical and mental abilities. To my dismay I discovered a rather grim mixed-bag in the body of late-life research, including numerous websites, such as claiming to foretell the exact date of one’s death, down to the minute. Morbidly curious, I sampled a few, with various results. Predictions for my continued existence spanned from 19–28 years. With this sobering evidence before me, the catch-phrase “better get cracking” took on a whole new sense of urgency. I continued to probe for answers, my head swimming with questions.

Who fares better in later life?

Why do some thrive while others rapidly decline?

Is there a formula for a living one’s best life?

I cannot pretend to know all the answers (or any answers, for that matter), but poring over respected research, here is what I’ve gleaned thus far. Death is inevitable, but how we live involves choice. Elders who thrive possess many (or all) of the following traits: physical and intellectual fitness, optimism, autonomy, creativity, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose.

Taking stock of my own life, I acknowledged room for improvement. I eat way too much chocolate and probably consume too much red wine. I love gluten and I don’t get enough cardio or strength training. Ultimately, I’m still seeking my higher purpose. However, I realized that one of my favorite activities — table tennis — ticked many boxes.

Health Fitness Revolution, founded by renowned fitness expert, Samir Becic, cites The Top Ten Health Benefits of Ping Pong:

· Playing improves hand-eye coordination and it stimulates mental alertness, concentration and tactical strategy. This makes it the perfect game for young people to sharpen reflexes, and for older people to refine tactics.

· Develops mental acuity. The speed, spin and placement of the ball are crucial in table tennis, and practiced players are highly skilled in both creating and solving puzzles involving these three attributes.

· Improves reflexes. Due to the fast-paced, short-distance nature of the sport, both gross and fine muscle movements are improved. The game is distinguished by bursts of exertion and recovery, leading to fast-twitch muscle development.

· It’s easy on the joints. Have you had knee surgery, back problems, tired of twisting your ankles? Try table tennis. It’s a great way to improve your leg, arm and core strength without overtaxing your joints.

· Burns calories. A 150-pound person can burn 272 calories by playing table tennis for an hour. Considering the fact that the sport is entertaining and addictive, it can be a fun and easy way to burn calories.

· Offers a social outlet. Whether you play in the community center or at home with friends, table tennis offers a great way to bond with other people while you lose weight. Because young and old people can play the game, it can help improve communication and build relationships, irrespective of age. Playing at home with siblings or parents can bring family members closer and enable them to spend more quality time with each other.

· Keeps your brain sharp. Alzheimer’s Weekly reports a clear increase in motor skills and cognitive awareness from playing table tennis, after a series of preliminary clinical studies in Japan found that table tennis markedly increases the flow of blood to the brain, and could possibly even prevent dementia.

· Improves coordination. Following the ping pong ball as it moves quickly toward you, and following its trajectory as your opponent hits it helps improve hand-eye coordination.

· Improves balance. Staying balanced and being able to quickly change direction are key to being successful in a ping pong rally. This is especially important for the elderly.

· Stimulates various different parts of the brain. By anticipating an opponent’s shot, a player uses the prefrontal cortex for strategic planning. The aerobic exercise from the physical activity of the game stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for allowing us to form and retain long-term facts and events.

The physical, mental and social benefits of table tennis have been well-documented. However, for me, a lively game possesses a quality that is more compelling, enigmatic and harder to define. I often play at my local senior recreation center, (though I prefer Elder Center), meeting up with a group of regulars who share my passion for the game. At a sensory level, I am transported back to childhood, tapping into the joy of play unencumbered by the cynical adult in my head. When I glance around at my pals, ranging in age from late fifties to mid-eighties, I see the essence of the children within. We are back on the playground — riffing, joking, competing — having the time of our lives.

Here is where the “Zen” comes in. In ping pong, I achieve moments of flow. At its essence, flow is a state of calm alertness, complete absorption in a complex and challenging activity that stretches one’s skills. Focused on the task at hand, one may be unaware of the outside world, losing track of time.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, distinguished professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University, also known as the architect of flow, has contributed the most extensive, definitive and highly-regarded research on the topic. In short, Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as an optimal state of intrinsic motivation or being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. This resonated with me as I could not imagine any other pastime that would compel me to drive across town as often as possible, just for the fun of it. I highly recommend his Ted Talk (

Add joie de vivre to late life; make a conscious decision to cultivate flow. Begin by taking stock: Think about activities that bring you joy, perhaps you lose track of time, experiencing a pleasant meld of challenge and ease. Reevaluate your priorities, the shoulds and musts. Free up more time and space to pursue flow. Table tennis is my joy, but moving forward, I hope to discover other ventures leading to flow. It might be making music, singing, dancing, hiking, swimming, painting or sculpting…the possibilities are limitless. No one (including can predict the quantity of our remaining days. Fortunately, we have choices in navigating the quality of our third act.

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JC Miller

  • Writer

  • Table tennis enthusiast

  • Lover of silly animal videos

Please visit JC’s Amazon author page

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