I am a Genius. The New York Times Says So.

Is tidydame a word? It should be. Are you listening, all you Marie Kondo acolytes? Petition the Oxford English Dictionary so I can maintain my genius status.

For the uninitiated, I’m talking about Spelling Bee, the daily New York Times brain teaser, which for me serves the vital function of mental status barometer. If I may brag, even though I know some sizable proportion of you will find my telling this obnoxious, I reach Genius level – and get the pangram- almost every single day. (In this instance, a pangram is a word that uses all seven letters in the game.) How do I manage this feat? A lifetime of training, mainly via crossword puzzles. Epee, anyone? How’s about alar?

Also… I have no life! Okay, I exaggerate. But I am in possession of the bandwidth to play this farkakta (Yiddish for ridiculous) game all day long. Here I do not exaggerate. The day’s seven letters swirl around in my brain – and occasionally make it all the way to my mouth; yes, I sometimes talk to myself- throughout the day. Sometimes I manage to banish them but, like an annoying colleague, they refuse to leave my consciousness. Just a few short hours ago, after a brief early morning battle of the letters, I turned off my phone and got comfy for a return to dreamland and smack! Today’s pangram whacked me over the head, forcing me to turn my phone back on so I could execute today’s entry. (Yes, I was forced by the Spelling Bee police, who arrived at my door, pencils and an old hard copy of Webster’s in hand.)

In truth, I need those swirling letters. They serve as the test of my continuing ability to live my life as a fully – well, fully may be too much to ask for, I’ll settle for mostly – functional human being. I’m dancing around the subject so here goes: Spelling Bee is my daily dementia test, with the mini crossword in the co-star role. I like Wordle too but that one doesn’t feel test-worthy to me.

Perhaps the most important part of the test is the “yesterday” button, which takes you to the list of all the eligible words from the previous days’s test, I mean game. But no, achieving Genius level isn’t enough. The number of missed words is what matters and what those words are counts even more. If I’ve never heard of the words I’ve missed, so what? But if they’re familiar words that I should have gotten but didn’t, it’s worry time. Light bulb: I should chart the number of missed familiar words every day so I can track the trend and then what? Diagnose myself with dementia? This is starting to feel a little neurotic, even for me.

Most of my friends have already diagnosed themselves with dementia. Seriously. A pal once called me in a panic because she saw Ashton Kutcher on TV and for the life of her couldn’t remember his first wife’s name. She made me swear not to tell her, and three days later I answered the phone and heard a jubilant voice cry “Demi Moore.” I don’t think I’d ever heard her so happy.

I shared my concerns with my shrink and he said he’d have a word with my neurologist about some neuropsych testing. But, I asked, if I am experiencing some form of dementia, what’s the point of knowing if there’s no treatment? He assured me there was something available for Parkinson’s related mental decline but I foolishly did not ask for more details. If it turns out that not much can be done, I plan to pass on the testing.

I’m relatively okay, cognitively, for the moment. I do believe my lapses are more frequent and severe than those of my friends who are experiencing some of the same symptoms, probably due to normal aging. They’re fortunate enough to be free of this nasty chronic illness. Time – and maybe some testing but probably not right now- will tell.


My advice to you: plan something fun this weekend. With someone else if possible. If no one else is available, how about a nice scented bubble bath with Prosecco and some music. I sound authoritative but I’ve never done this in my entire life. Maybe this time I’ll actually take my own advice.

You call this retirement?

In January, 2022, I bade adieu to my colleagues and, after 40+ years raising funds for a host of non-profit organizations, I walked out the door. Was I worried about how I’d fill my days without a schedule or meetings or people to gossip with? Not I.

I was the poster child for a fulfilling post-work life. I enjoyed a number of hobbies, the two most consuming being writing and knitting. I exercised regularly, relished a robust social life with dear friends, and participated in cultural activities.

I told friends that I would begin my retirement with a somewhat fixed schedule. I imagined that I’d sign on for a volunteer project of some kind that would necessitate my leaving my home at least twice a week for a meaningful and pleasurable activity among a collegial group of folks. I was certain that, on my first Monday morning after exiting the work force, I’d need to know that at least a part of my week would be spoken for, giving me a sense of purpose and something to look forward to.

A friend wiser than I listened to my plan, and pointed out that I really had no clue as to what would spark my interest right away, and that I’d be much better off leaving my days open to explore the myriad opportunities available to someone like me in the city of Boston. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became of her wisdom.

So now I had an open non-plan and I could explore and test my options. The one rule I’d made for myself and determined to keep was that I’d participate in no activity that involved attending a meeting, ever. That meant I’d have to refuse the invitations to join non-profit boards that came my way (which I’d already begun to do); it felt liberating, especially since I’d had the unhappy experience of attending some meetings that were absolutely excruciating in their endless examination of the most arcane and irrelevant minutiae.

And then Parkinson’s struck just a short time before my scheduled final day at work, surprising me with symptoms both physical and psychic. Even my non-plan plan overwhelmed me, especially since my chief complaint was fatigue. I wasn’t sure if my need for two naps a day was a result of my medication cocktail (22 pills a day) or the disease itself. In any case, my new reality forced me to toss my agenda out the window and do something that was a foreign experience to me. I would “wing it.”

Spontaneous is not my middle name. Nor is it my first, last or fourth. I recall a line in one of my favorite films, Goodbye Columbus, in which Richard Benjamin’s character tells Ali McGraw’s “I’m not a planner, I’m a liver” to which she replies “I’m a pancreas.” Well, I am much more planner than liver. I’ve gotten better at spur-of-the-moment; if you call me at six and invite me to go out to dinner right now, I just may say yes. Unless I feel like crap due to my illness, but that’s an entirely different story.

Here are some of the ways that my new reality has fallen short – or more accurately different – from expectations.

Plan: Read New York Times cover to cover every day.
Reality: Lucky if I hit all the headlines on any given day.

Plan: Submit my novel to every appropriate literary agent on the planet.
Reality: Recognize that the novel isn’t worth the time; I suspect it’s not very good.

Plan: Start writing novel about dysfunctional New England Jewish family.
Reality: Start writing blog instead.

Plan: Take advantage of multifarious cultural activities in Boston.
Reality: Take at least one and frequently two naps per day.

Plan: Spend at least half an hour a day reading a foreign book in the original language (I’m proficient in French, Italian and Spanish). Yes, I really thought I’d do this.
Reality: Get excited if I read an entire chapter of some thriller in English that doesn’t excessively tax my shrinking brain.

Plan: Learn to play pickle ball.
Reality: I was all set to tackle this one when I fell and broke my hip. Yup, life’s a bitch.

Plan: No meetings. Ever.
Reality: Joined the executive committee to help plan my (gulp) fiftieth college reunion. Lots of meetings, albeit by Zoom, and I’m enjoying every minute of them.

There you have it. I guess it’s possible for a planner to become a liver. To become flexible at the age of 70. Trigger warning, cliche ahead: to make lemonade from lemons, the juiciest lemon being my blog, where I can sound off on any subject that strikes my fancy and no one can tell me it’s not appropriate, or entertaining, or whatever it is I wish it to be. Correction: people can tell me whatever they want, but I need not pay them the slightest attention.

Okay, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and, despite no morning nap, I’m feeling more energetic than usual. My stationery bike awaits. As do my knitting and the semi-cheesy chick-lit I’m reading. Au revoir, ciao, and adios.


Goodbye Columbus movie and book
This frequently-overlooked movie winningly captures the Jewish-American experience in the 1950’s- 60’s. It made me both smile and cringe, which is probably why I love it. It’s real.