Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Meaning Of Life

Finding purpose or meaning in life seems to be a boomer obsession and my search for that elusive definition is rapidly growing beyond mere curiosity for me.

I'd like to follow the often suggested idea of 'live for today', 'live in the moment'. But I am also a planner and sometimes a visionary and often look to and plan for the future. Finding a balance between those competing ideas is my challenge and mission.

Have you ever wondered what all this is about?  Why are we here? Where does our life fit in with the universe?  With our friends and family?  With God's plan if there is such a thing?

How much planning should we do for our future?  How much should we embrace the present?  There's no time like the present. In fact that is a quite literal observation because the past is gone and the future instantly become the present.

So what does all this mean?  Sometimes I think if I have a purpose here, maybe it is to help other people feel good about themselves. That's a noble goal but I don't really do a lot to reach it on any large scale.

Questioning the meaning of life also leads to questions about the structure of living things. Why do humans have two kidneys but only one liver?  Why are there poisonous snakes?  What came first, the chicken or the egg? Who ate mushrooms first and when did they determine that some will kill you?

More questions ...

If there are billions of planets, are we really the only living, thinking beings?  Assuming we are not alone, why are our nearest neighbors so far away that we can't see or hear them? Is the definition of life an object that moves and grows or is it possible that the red rocks on Mars are living, thinking beings but we just don't know it yet?

Is a death certificate really a boarding pass for travel to a new and different life on one of those other planets?

Is the life of someone who finds a cure for cancer any more important than the life of a garbage truck driver who works his or her ass off to support a family?

Is the life of a thoughtful, kind and caring person who believes in God any more significant than that of one who doesn't?

Is God the bearded billion-year old man in the heavens guiding and creating or is God the heavens, earth, water, clouds, planets and stars?

Does asking these questions make you feel good or make you feel frustrated?  When you look at the enormity of the universe, do you feel small?

So, backing up a few paragraphs ... past? Present? Future?

I don't know if there is a consistent answer or line of thought in boomer circles. Boomers are people born between 1946 and 1964. The oldest boomers are turning 70 this year, the youngest are turning 52. Is there a consensus between those two ends?  Probably not.

Are both ends of that age range looking for the meaning of life?  Are they/ you looking for meaning in their/ your lives?

Tough questions with no answers. I'll end here and let you think about it. I will also. More another time.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall Is Was Is My Fave

Starting the year after moving to northern states in my 20s, fall has usually been my favorite season.  My hometown New Orleans really only has two seasons: summer and not-summer. Living in Wisconsin, Illinois and Maryland has taught me the beauty of four seasons, especially the colors and anticipatory chill in the air in the fall.

Fifteen years ago, however, I came to hate fall and that feeling lingered for many years.

Fall 2000: an awesome vacation in Arizona and Utah in September, beautiful tree colors in October on the acre and a half property where I had moved a few months before, a pleasant Thanksgiving Day with a roaring fire in the fireplace in November followed by a nice drama-free Christmas and much less than usual holiday depression.

I love fall.

Fall 2001: terrorists attack on September 11, my parents move into a nursing home on October 5, my dad dies on November 11, all of which ramps up to the usually emotional rollercoaster of the holiday season. I was numb and depressed through most of that fall. My then-wife was initially supportive when dad died, but she didn't travel with me to the funeral. In fact she had never been to my hometown with me at that point and never did meet dad. Then one day during my depression-filled holidays, she said something like 'get over it'. I don't remember my exact screaming response but I do remember not saying another word to her for several days. And I haven't forgiven her to this day.

I hate fall.


A few years after that horrible fall, I did begin to appreciate the season again. I knew one day I would leave the semi-rural property and return to the near-in suburban life I wanted, but for a few fall seasons I focused my thoughts, eyes and camera on the Japanese red maples and huge oak trees in the back yard, the two yellow maples in the front yard and the changing color palette in the nearby town. I noted the welcome chill in the air. Living in the country makes you aware of even the subtle seasonal changes like shorter days; your senses become your calendar.

I love fall.

The fall during which I finally decided to move and live MY life was a major positive turning point. I found my apartment in November, moved in December and was actually happy to celebrate Christmas alone that year. I smile when I remember digging through the moving boxes in search of a radio or CD player for some Christmas music while making a turkey sandwich.

I love fall.

The next fall was even better. That's when I met the certain someone I sometimes refer to in this blog but haven't fully celebrated here yet. Don't worry, I will.

I really love fall.

 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Comfort Zones

Sitting on the deck, coffee in hand, witnessing yet another beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic. Standing at the overlook sipping wine while watching the spectacular sky colors as the sun sets beyond the next mountain ridge. Singing and dancing to throwback songs with like-minded friends of similar age. Hiking nearby trails or browsing shelves at the neighborhood bookstore dressed in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops. Three or four friends sitting on the porch sharing life stories and memories of traffic jams and grumpy former coworkers. Talking politics and tax rates and TV shows from the 1960s. Comparing aches and pains and scars. Renewing your driver's license in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Idaho.

Many people my age contemplate retiring somewhere other than where they currently live and visualize scenes unlike their current lifestyle. Right at the age when comfort is key they consider packing up what they don't sell off and moving to another state. Or country.

My mindset drifted in that direction at some point in my life. In the late 1990s my then-wife and I actually spent several hours with a real estate agent during each of our three or four times a year visits to the beach towns of the Outer Banks NC. I knew execs or owners of three of the six radio stations out there and occasionally had employment reality check conversations with them. My ex researched possibilities for lawyers, her profession. We brainstormed seasonal businesses, photography for me, dog sitting for her. I even had a plan for doing the job I had ( and still have) partly from there.

As I get closer to retirement age (I'm already there but refuse to admit it) and spend more time with friends and fellow barflies who have already retired, I hear so many stories and actual plans for retiring somewhere other than here. And I've had serious retirement conversations with my special someone about the pros and cons of moving one day.

At the same time, I can't imagine leaving. I love where I live. On the emotional side, I have a growing set of neighborhood friends. I know where everything is and how to get to where I want to go. I  am comfortable here. On the practical side, that same expanding set of friends could come in handy later in life when I might need help for simple things like getting to places. And I'm within a few minutes of doctors and outstanding hospitals and other medical facilities. I love the OBX but there is only one small hospital on the entire island and I can't imagine how long it would take to get there on a tourist-packed summer weekend, even in an ambulance. Plus, I don't think the Georgetown University Hospital MS Clinic has a branch there.

As always, I seek balance in my life. The patio where I'm writing this doesn't view an ocean or a mountain, but I can drive (or be driven to) such a view in three to five hours. I could certainly make friends in another town or state but I like my Maryland friends.

Am I missing some great future opportunities by staying in my comfort zone? Maybe. But my gut tells me I've got great opportunities right here. And hell, if global warming continues, I might have an ocean view one day too.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Never Forget

The peaceful, cloudless blue sky was a calming stark contrast to the endless lines of red tail lights in my field of vision on I-270 that morning.  Traffic in the Washington, D.C. area is always bad during the first few weeks of school as commuting patterns revert back to post-vacation reality, but this day was worse than usual.  As I hummed along with a country song on my radio I asked myself why the hell did I choose 9am Tuesday morning for a full blown physical?  Why did I choose a doctor inside the Beltway in Bethesda when I lived twenty miles away in a less crowded part of Montgomery County?

I don't remember what song had played a minute before but I do remember the funny conversation the DJs were having was interrupted by one of them saying "oh my God," followed by a few seconds of silence. His next words were something about seeing a breaking news alert on a TV in their studio. Some kind of plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

Some Americans remember every minute of September 11, 2001 and some would prefer to forget the day of the terrorist attacks. I'm one who chooses to remember it in great detail and search for some kind of meaning.

In the remaining fifteen minutes of the drive to my doctor's office the radio reports changed from a possible private plane accident to two obvious intentional crashes of passenger jets into two WTC towers. Nobody at the doc's office had heard the news yet.

I heard no more news during the next three hours of poking, prodding, treadmill testing and questions but as I left I could see tears and fear on the faces of the receptionist and the nurse.

My next sights and sounds were unbelievable. Traffic was gridlocked in Bethesda because everything from federal and local government offices to schools to businesses had closed and people were encouraged to leave DC and some surrounding suburbs. I couldn't believe my ears as I heard that another plane crashed into the Pentagon, less than ten miles from where I was, and one or both of the twin towers had fallen. What?!  I thought I heard it wrong and I couldn't even visualize that.

As I crept along congested streets on the way to my office I tried to reach my then wife but cell phone service was also gridlocked.  It took an hour to travel the nine miles to my Rockville office and that long to contact my wife. She was working from home that day and hadn't seen or heard any of this. She turned on the TV during our call and started crying over the images of smoke, debris clouds, replays of the fireball caused by one of the planes as it hit the building. I still had not seen the images but I could hear the fear in her voice as well as the news reporter voices on the radio as they tried to describe the indescribable and sort facts from rumors.


Other memories that day: Stopping for gas next door to work and continued home; there was no point to going to work at that moment.  Hugs of fear when I got home, followed by lining our front garden with small American flags usually used around July 4th.  Picking up our other car from a repair shop that stayed open waiting for us, even though no other business was still open that evening.  I also remember watching the ongoing television coverage, feeling fearful and depressed but unable to stop watching.

Eerie memories of the next day: Sirens and smoke in the distance on my way to work, which turned out to be coincidental traffic accidents and a tire store fire; but those sights were all too similar to TV images of the still-smoking WTC site in New York.  The only things flying were military helicopters occasionally circling my work building, probably because of the rooftop satellite dishes.  I listened to listeners of my radio station calling in their thoughts, fears and patriotic commentary and decided to make that the focus of my weekly public affairs program on the next Sunday morning.

People were incredibly friendly toward each other for the next few weeks, maybe because of the thought that we had been attacked and we really need to stick together.  Friends and strangers talking through the events, sharing news, thoughts and the occasional “I knew someone in the buildings.”
I usually try to draw some conclusion to my blog observations but I’m struggling right now to find a way to end this one.  I said I remember that day and search for meaning in it, but the search goes on with no conclusion.  The September 11th attacks fifteen years ago did not destroy us, yet they did change our whole way of life.  Metal detectors and other security checks are in place not only at airports and government buildings but also at ballgames, concerts and most other large public gatherings.  The kindness we showed each other that day and week has given way to what appears to me to be fear-based anger and lack of civility in everything from private conversations among friends to rhetoric from political candidates.

There is plenty of uncertainty and fear in the world today and in that respect, the terrorist cowards who orchestrated the attacks have won.  On the other hand, an anniversary of that day brings out public recognition of the heroic reactions of first responders as well as ordinary citizens and reminds us of the resilience and spirit of our great nation.  For now, for today, for this moment, that will be the meaning I seek.
 
World One proudly stands on the site of the twin towers.
 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Twenty

The Atlantic was calm that afternoon, with the slow tidal ebb and flow framed by a clear blue sky and a nearly empty beach. The view from the floor-to-ceiling beach house window briefly included a trio of dolphins in the distance, said by some to be a sign of good luck. That became the signal for us to walk across the dune ramp and pick our spot in the sand.

Our party of six included me, my bride, the minister, his wife and a couple we knew who lived a few miles away. The Outer Banks beaches near Kitty Hawk NC seemed to be the perfect spot for our wedding because we loved visiting there. A small, simple ceremony, written partly by me, with only the minimum number of people in attendance was exactly the right formula for our kind of wedding.

In retrospect, the word 'our' is not really accurate. I fooled myself into thinking that's what 'we' wanted but it was really only what she wanted. I am happy to exercise give-and-take in a relationship but that turned out to be the beginning of many years of me giving and her taking. I was blind to that at the time. To this day I don't know why I ignored the warning signs but on that day life was good and I still have a few photographs of our silly smiles and a printout of the vows we said, claiming we would weather life's storms like the ocean where we stood. Or something like that.

By the way, that day was twenty years ago this week. Twenty. Two zero. At the time I expected to still be celebrating anniversaries. Looking back, I'd say the marriage began its slow death a mere five or six years later and the first nail in the coffin was the year she completely forgot the anniversary. I mentioned it to her to which she replied, "oh, that's today?"  Adding to my disappointment was the fact that my sister was living with us at the time, waiting for post-hurricane flood waters to recede back in her New Orleans home, and she witnessed my facial reaction.  I thought only guys forgot anniversaries.

I've been on my own for almost four years now and lived in our guest room for a couple of years before that. On this day every year I try to remember the good times. Yes, there were good times. But the bad times came to dominate and each argument served as a reminder of how disconnected we truly were.

My life truly is good now. I'll drink to that tonight. I celebrate that every day and every night. Here's to twenty years of THIS life!  Cheers!!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

To Risk Or Not To Risk That Is the Question

I love my job but sometimes my passion for it is diminished. The sense of security I feel as a result of working there for almost twenty five years is not really justified. I could be fired at any moment for any reason. My union contract includes a very good severance package but the prospect of losing this job does scare me, so I probably take fewer risks. I am good at what I do and it is unlikely I would ever be fired, but I still refrain from speaking up, sometimes, and I don't often take risks with new ideas or unconventional ways of doing things.

I'm currently reading the Steve Jobs book and I am amazed and intrigued by the idea that a visionary asshole could become such a success. To use his own words, he made a 'dent in the universe'. He was a visionary who had a huge impact on computers, movie animation and business by combining technology and art. He lived life on his terms. He was simultaneously supportive and a jerk, hot and cold; a man who rejected material things in a Buddhist way yet was one of the wealthiest men on the planet and spent a fortune on many things.

In many ways, I have lived my life on my own terms. So far. There is nothing in my childhood, other than curiosity and dreaming, that would have led people to believe I'd make a career in media, much of it in the public eye; or more accurately, in the public 'ear'. I took risks in accepting some of the jobs I've had, was a visionary at times, creating a type of job that didn't really exist at the time, expressed ideas out loud, some good, some bad, some crazy but eventually the norm. For many years, I had a knack for seeing the future, predicting trends and placing myself in the right place and time to take personal advantage of those trends. Several of those jobs involved relocating to cities halfway across the country where I knew almost nobody, but I accepted those jobs fearlessly.

Now the thought of taking those kind of risks scare the shit out of me. I do go against the norm sometimes and more often than not I make the right choices. But I often second guess myself before taking action. I want to predict the future again and place myself in the middle of it. I can see an end to my job five or six years in the future but every other possibility after that involves risks that I am afraid to take.

Role models for boomers, specifically our parents, often worked the same safe careers their whole lives and rarely changed jobs or cities. My dad did the same basic work for almost fifty years and only changed jobs twice during that time. Except for two years in the Navy, he lived and worked his entire life inside the city limits of New Orleans. During one year, just a few years before he retired from his third job, I had three different jobs in three different cities, two of them a thousand miles apart. Good?  Bad?  Doesn't matter?  He was happy with his life, I'm happy with mine. Maybe the main thing I learned from him is to do what you enjoy.

'Risk' is not a bad four-letter word. Neither is 'safe'.  Taking a risk could set you up for a failure, but that f-word could also represent the learning opportunity that leads to a success. Playing it safe could also lead to continued success.

To risk or not to risk is an unanswered question. Fortunately there is little parallel between my contemplation and that of the Hamlet character my question is referencing.

Visualization and balance have been guiding principles my whole life. At the very least, talking this through in this blog post has reminded me of that. My next immediate step should be to visualize the possible futures I want and balance the potential risks with the potential rewards.

Stay tuned. And thanks for visiting.


Monday, September 5, 2016

What If You Already Do What You Always Wanted To Do?

The common AARP-style advice about aging or retirement is that midlife and beyond is the time to 'do what you always wanted to do.'  The assumption is that we often design our working life around financial needs and family expectations, or maybe we just stumbled into a job or our career.

Some people, like me, spend most of their careers doing exactly what they/we wanted to do. So what do we do as we age?  The typical age of someone with a job like mine is 35 - 45; I'm over 60. I can still do this but at some point I might not be 'relevant' any more. Will I know it?  Will someone tell me?  I love my job but sometimes the workload is out of control. What if I can't keep up?

Ok, maybe there are a few things I always wanted to do but have not done for a living. Writing, for example, or photography.  I've written press releases, commercials and newsletters but I used to dream of writing a column for a newspaper. The closest I've come to that is this blog. I want to write a book and I'd like to publish my poetry. I can't make a living doing those things, however, so maybe that's what I should do as I age into some kind of retirement.

I've been paid for event photography a few times so that means I have been a professional photographer, at least in the narrow definition of 'professional'. Make a living at it?  I'd starve.

So maybe the question isn't so much 'what do you want to do' as it is 'who do you want to be'?

I'll ponder that for a while and continue this later. Your thoughts?