Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Process – January 2017

Every January I go through a process of reflection on the past year and planning for the next year. I start around New Year's Day and continue through my birthday near the end of January. It's a cross between making New Years resolutions and goal-setting.

I couldn't remember much about the results of my process last January, so I looked it up. It appears I did not get very specific last January and apparently the same is true for the previous January.

Hmmmm. Last year I decided to carry over 'discipline' as my keyword for 2016, in part because I failed to follow through on discipline in 2015. Looks like I've done it again.

Another thing I noticed is that I considered letting 2016 just be whatever it wanted to be. I am often guilty of overthinking and making detailed plans that I don't follow through on. In reflecting on 2016, I guess I really did just roll with whatever came.

The year itself was weird, dominated by political crap. However, it was a pleasant year for me. A great relationship got even better and some friendships grew stronger. Travel included the beach, New York and New Orleans. Work continued to be crazy but fun.

One new thing popped up during numerous conversations... the word 'retirement'. That's always been an interesting but far away topic. Now I actually have a target year in my head. I'll never fully retire but I can see a day when I'll cut back. It's not soon but it's no longer decades away.

So what's the plan for 2017?  The 'process' begins on Sunday, New Year's Day. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Age and Mick

Legendary Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger just welcomed his 8th child. Mick, age 73, and his 29-year old girlfriend Melanie are parents.

Ok, I'll pause for a second while you think about that; about their age difference.

Some questions probably float through your head:
-Isn't that a crazy age difference? What do they have in common?
-Why does Mick want to be a dad again in his 70s?
-What does she see in him?
-Can you picture them together naked?

The real question: what difference does it make?

I clearly remember four years ago when I didn't understand why some women I was interested in hesitated getting involved with me because of a twenty year age difference. Mick and Melanie are 44 years apart. Mick had five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Again I ask 'what difference does it make?'

I know a couple who are twenty years apart. He's 74 and she is 54. They are an awesome couple.  Three years ago I found someone who is six years younger than me and that is perfect. Would things have worked out between me and a women twenty years younger than me?  I don't know. I also don't care. I found what I wanted.

Why are we obsessed with age?  I don't know. Age is just a number, right?  Let's keep saying that.

Meanwhile, let's try to visualize Mick having a baby with a woman who is younger than his last hit song.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

It IS Rigged


Our voting process is definitely rigged, but not quite the way Trump whined and lied about during his campaign.

Maybe rigged isn't the right word. Our process is unfair and outdated, subject to corruption, just plain stupid.

The math is really simple: Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, yet Trump will become president because 302 'electors' of the 538 voted for him. Why is this antiquated and obviously unfair system still exist?

We don't actually vote directly for
President. We vote for 'electors' to the Electoral College. The exact formula varies from state to state and is more complicated than I want to talk about here.  The short version: we elect electors and they elect the president. Millions of voters pick 538 people who actually elect the president.  The electoral college electors do not actually have to vote for the candidate they pledged to vote for, although most do.

What all this means is that my vote in Maryland is not the same as a vote in California or a vote in Wyoming. We are 50 states but aren't we ONE COUNTRY?  Shouldn't each vote be worth the same as every other vote?

There were good reasons for this system a couple hundred years ago but not in 2016.

For the 5th time in our history and the 2nd time in 16 years, the candidate who got the most votes did not become president. This is wrong, wrong, wrong and it's time to change the system.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Wireless World

Technology is awesome, scary, miraculous, confusing, helpful and creepy.

My work world depends on technology and I embrace most of it. I do a reasonable job of keeping up with changes. Yet I seem to be a little behind the curve sometimes, marveling over things that are new to me but firmly established for many other people, especially younger-than-boomer aged people.

Some examples: I've had an iPhone 6 for a year but rarely use Siri. I'm sure it would be easier to say "hey Siri, what's the weather forecast today?" than to type in my passcode, click on my weather app and scroll down to the forecast. But I do the latter.

Prior to Christmas Eve my only Bluetooth devices at home were a printer I bought a few months ago and a speaker I received for Christmas last year from my girlfriend's sons.

On Christmas Eve her sons gave me two more Bluetooth devices, which I am connecting as I write this. Right now I'm playing a playlist on my phone through my stereo, with no wires. Everybody does this but it's still kind of new and amusing to me.

The other device is an Echo dot. When that's set up I'll be able to say "Alexa, play my Christmas playlist."  This Alexa entity could adjust the volume, turn my lights on and off and answer important questions like "How old is Sting!" Do I need something like this?  No. Will I enjoy using it?  Yes.

Sometimes awesome innovations we consider necessaries begin as novelties. The telephone is a pretty good example. The tv remote is another. The personal computer and the smart phone are two more. I get the feeling Alexa can be a best non-human friend for visually impaired people. I picture a future world in which nearly all of our home and work activities are voice activated. That's already the case in some countries. It was certainly the case in Star Trek.

Awesome!

And a little scary, miraculous, confusing, helpful and creepy.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Does It Have To Mean Something?

My high school buddy Jim had the right idea about jobs. He was a U. S. Postal Service letter carrier for more than twenty years. He did care about doing the job well but he didn't particularly care about the job itself. He didn't take it home at night, he didn't think about it much during his off hours. It was just a job, merely a way to earn money to fund the other parts of his interesting life. He had no identity wrapped up in it and he hasn't missed it at all during the five years since he retired from it.

I have poured my heart and soul into my jobs for four decades. It's a career and I take pride in my work. My industry is 24/7 and I do think about work when I'm not at work.

To a large degree what I do is a big part of who I am. I care deeply about what I do. Some parts of my job have great meaning to me. So when management messes with parts of my job, effectively diminishing the importance of certain parts of it, I get pissed. When I don't even know about some changes till after they've already happened, I get pissed.

That happened this week. I can't really get into any detail, other than to say it's one relatively small part of my job and I wish I didn't care. If this stuff didn't matter to me, I could just go on my merry way. I could just 'deliver my letters', cash my paycheck and live my interesting life. However, this particular part of my job means a lot to me and to say I'm disappointed is a diplomatic understatement.

So, I'll do what I always do: I'll suck it up and move on. And if I don't get reprimanded or fired for the email I shouldn't have sent but sent anyway, I'll just suck it up and move on. The grudge I'll hold indefinitely will live in the background and this post might be the last time I verbalized my disappointment. Maybe.

Does your job have to mean something? That's entirely your choice. For me, the answer is always yes.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wow What's Wrong With Me?

Every December I realize, and reluctantly admit, that I am gift-challenged. I give Christmas gifts to my sister and two very close friends, and participate in couples or group gifts for a few more people, but I rarely think about getting gifts for anyone else. Till someone unexpectedly give me a gift.

What's wrong with me?  I certainly appreciate co-workers, colleagues, the neighborhood mailman, the apartment maintenance guy. And I think I'd like to give them something. But then I forget.

A salesperson at work just gave me an Amazon gift card as a thanks for what I do to help her clients. She is very easy to work with and helping her with client relationships is part of my job. I don't expect anything more than the occasional gratitude email and I get plenty of those from her. But I barely know her and was surprised to get a gift. Appreciative but surprised.

Ten or more years ago I gave some coworkers holiday gifts, customized to their tastes. Simple things like picture frames, a Kenny Chesney calendar, a book about Maryland history. I stopped doing that a few years later and I don't remember why.

I send Christmas cards to some cousins and a couple of close friends but I used to send more. And I tried to send cards right after thanksgiving, partly to be first and partly so I wouldn't forget. What happened?  I don't know.

Anyway, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Zero G and I Feel Fine

Most dads went to work while most moms stayed home to cook and clean. Cars had AM radios and crank windows and a house usually had only one phone. A typical house had only one TV, a small black-and-white set, and there were only two or three channels to choose from.

In 1962, kids like me were glued to that TV every time a man was launched into space. On February 20th that year John Glenn became the third American to be launched and the first to orbit the earth. He died this week at age 95. If you're religious, you might say he was launched to heaven.

"Roger, the clock is operating, we're underway,"

John Glenn was memorable for many reasons and a role model for living and for aging. He was a fighter pilot, a test pilot, an astronaut (at the relatively old age of 40), eventually a Senator, and then at age 77 he became an astronaut again, the oldest ever, flying with a space shuttle crew and conducting tests related to aging. That's what I call not letting age define you or stop you.
"To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible."

He was married to the same woman for 74 years. He ran for senator in 1964 and 1970, losing both times. He ran again and won in 1974 and remained in the Senate till retiring in 1999.

John Glenn was a hero on so many levels. He flew 59 combat missions in World War II, 90 more in the Korean War. He set the transcontinental airspeed record in 1957, flying from LA to New York in 3 hours and 23 minutes.

I looked up to John Glenn as a kid because of his space flight in 1962. I respected his accomplishments in the Senate. I always wanted to meet him and actually took some steps to do a radio interview with him in 1994; unfortunately that didn't work out. I cheered him on during his 1998 shuttle flight, again with eyes glued to the TV like when I was a kid.

John Glenn was a role model for living the dreams, for living without limits, for creative aging.

"Godspeed, John Glenn."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Family

Thanksgiving week in my hometown New Orleans is an interesting mix of old and new attitudes, old and new people, old and new places.

We stayed at my sister's house, which is the house she and I grew up in. She moved back in when we had to move our parents into a nursing facility. She moved out after Hurricane Katrina flooded it and returned after two years of rehabbing. It has the bones of the house Dad built but is now totally reflective of her tastes and lifestyle.

Interesting then and now emotions spring up as I wake up in her guest room, which was my bedroom growing up. I wrote this at her dining table which is in the exact spot where dining tables sat for the whole 50-plus years this house has existed. A pleasant difference: the wall between the dining area and the living room was removed, making way for a more contemporary open floor plan.

I visit New Orleans every year or two, although I should visit more often. Those trips usually include cousin reunions. I lost touch with my cousins for a couple of decades because of my own stubbornness and lack of attention, and I now treasure being in touch with them again. I enjoy sharing stories about our parents and I learn more family lore every time. These gatherings help me connect the dots of my often disconnected life. Six decades of family ties helps make  my life a unified novel rather than a collection of disjointed chapters.

I often wonder, and write about, finding purpose and meaning in life and ask whether this is a boomer obsession or just my obsession. I have no answer to that question, but this thought pattern is part of my search for that answer.

The word family is much bigger than its six letters. Family is blood, friendship, connection. Family can be siblings, cousins, parents, friends, neighbors, workmates, schoolmates, country mates. On some level all 7 billion of us earthlings are related but those closest to us are the ones who count the most.

Most of my cousins are slightly older than me and many of them have experienced health issues during the past few years. Four have died since my reunions began and I'm grateful to have reconnected with them before their passing. As I write this paragraph I realize that one of my favorites was unable to join us this year for health reasons. I'm going to call or email him today. I have this horrible feeling that I might never see him again.

It was interesting to see which cousins have attempted to stay contemporary in their attitudes and which either cling to the past or merely choose to take their time catching up to the present. I don't mean to sound judgmental; there is no right or wrong about things like that. I tend to be ahead of the curve for my age with respect to technology, music and social attitudes, mostly because most of my coworkers are half my age and I have to try and keep up. But some of my cousins surprise me. There were many iPhones at one table, which contrasted with my sister's flip phone. One iPhone user at another cousin party is not on Facebook and does not have email.

Anyway, before I get carried away with minutia and rambling, let me say that one thing I was thankful for during Thanksgiving week is that I get to spend time with family.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

No Bah Humbug

The first time I saw a live performance of the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" was in December 1984. A manager at work treated a dozen of us to a memorable evening that included tickets to see the play at the historic Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.

I promised myself that night I would see the play at that theatre again one day and hopefully share the evening with a special lady. Twenty-nine years later I finally did and now we've made this an annual tradition.

The whole ghost of a story resonates with me and I'm not completely sure I know why. I do know that I get teary-eyed near the end, even though I already know how it ends, and I feel so good after it's over. And for weeks later.

We see it during Thanksgiving week and the spirit stays with us through the season.

Maybe it's the idea that we often get so busy in our lives that we lose our heart. Without even realizing it, we lose the wonder, caring, purpose and fun of our youth.  It is replaced by the hard-edged, selfish pursuit of careers, of making money, of living up to expectations of others. It often takes some jolting event in our lives to snap us back to the idealism of our youth. For Ebenezer, that jolt is the overnight visit of three ghosts. For me, it is seeing A Christmas Carol.

Hard to believe that Charles Dickens novella was written in 1843. It connects on many levels with our lives in 2016. I went through many years of holiday depression, probably caused by the mismatch of expectations and a disconnect between the Christmases of youth and adulthood. Maybe I was just grieving the loss of my youth. The words "bah humbug" crossed my lips many times.

My determination to live a more positive life over the past five or six years was enhanced by adding A Christmas Carol to my holiday season. The annual production at Ford's Theatre is especially spectacular.

I'll end this line of thought with one of my favorite paragraphs from the play:

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!"


The stage for A Christmas Carol at Ford's Theatre


The Lincoln box.  I'll take the tour some day.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Different Stuff Matters

Maybe this is why people retire: their priorities change. Things that matter so much at work for so many years eventually begin to seem like a waste of time. When viewed in the context of a person's life, little details that seemed so important don't really matter.

We begin to question things. We seek meaning and purpose in life.

On the other hand, maybe we just get tired of working. At the peak of our careers, if we have careers, we work our asses off, we get really good at what we do, we make more money than we thought we ever would. Then we sort of crash.

I love what I do, I'm good at it, I'm at my peak earning power; and sometimes there is just too much on my plate. And sometimes I laugh at myself when I look at the tiny details and think that those details that seemed so important a year ago or a decade ago aren't really that important.

Somewhere between mid life and retirement age, we read that this is the time to do what we always wanted to do. I am lucky that I AM doing what I always wanted to do. I'd really just like to do less of it or maybe focus on the parts that really matter to me or to people who might benefit from what I do.

This is a recurring theme in my blog. I'll try to keep it from getting too boring or redundant. I'm pretty sure, however, that I'm not alone in pondering these questions.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Black

Colored, Negro, African-American, Black. These monikers, and a few more that I won't print here, show an evolving attitude about race in our country during the boomer era. I'd like to believe we've come a long way since the 1950s. I'd like to believe there is little or no discrimination based on race. I'd like to believe our children accept the equality of all races. I'd like to believe I have escaped the racial prejudices of my Louisiana upbringing.

I'm not sure any of that has happened. We've come a long way but are we there yet?  Do we still make judgements based on color?  Is this a white issue? A black issue? Everybody's issue?

Do we ... and by that, I mean us white folk ... see a few black faces in suits in our work place and say to ourselves 'we've come a long way'?  Do we (white again) go out of our way to hire or befriend black people out of some form of white guilt?  Is that kind of prejudicial attitude just as biased as rejecting black people for jobs or friendship?

Do we use the term African-American rather than black out of respect? Concern that we're saying the right thing? Guilt?  I have a black friend whose heritage is Caribbean. She told me once that she sort of laughs when people (white people) use the term African-American to describe all people of color.

Are white people upset by the phrase 'black lives matter'?  The white reaction is often 'all lives matter', implying that saying black lives matter means other lives don't. Some black people say 'black lives matter' is not intended to say that other races don't, but rather to indicate that  black lives do.

In an effort to prove we aren't prejudiced, we sometimes say we are color-blind when it comes to race. A black acquaintance pointed out once that she doesn't want people to ignore that she is black, but rather to just not judge her based on race.

I work for a country music radio station and I regularly see confederate flags waved in the parking lot at local outdoor concert venues. One of our young producers is black. He has the perfect skill set and personality to help me record listener comments about music and DJs but I asked him if he would be afraid to walk out there in that parking lot with a recorder. He said he'd be happy to. I'm still reluctant to ask him to do that. Am I concerned for his safety?  Yes, to some degree. Am I concerned that there is some image issue sending a young black man into a nearly all-white concert crowd in Virginia wearing my radio station logo?  God, I hope not, although I did just ask that question, didn't I? Would I even bring this up if he was white?

Speaking of confederate flags, I got into a testy conversation about that topic a few months back with a white acquaintance. She said that flag was about 'southern pride' and not racial hatred. I said I grew up in the Deep South and I know that the confederate 'battle flag', the specific flag in question, became the symbol for racial hatred in the 1960s, a hundred years after the Civil War. Corn bread and fried chicken are symbols of southern pride, not that flag.

So why is race still an issue in the USA?  On one hand, I am a little embarrassed by my southern heritage and my over thinking and overcompensating of the race issue. On the other hand, I enjoy learning about other cultures and debunking some of the myths of my youth.

My bar hangout friends include a black former HR exec/current author who grew up in Watts during the Los Angeles riots of the 1960s. Another friend is a man of Indian heritage who lived part of his life India but most of his life in NJ, NYC and MD and just officially became a U.S. citizen this summer ... on Independence Day! Another bar friend was born in Ireland, another in the Philippines and another in Somalia. White, black, brown, 'other' ... those characteristics certainly inform their personalities, values and beliefs but provide no reason for judgement, no reason for concern, no reason for prejudice, no reason for special treatment.

In a perfect world we would celebrate our cultural differences as well as those things that unite us. The heritage of our roots as well as our common American heritage are cause for celebration. Diversity is the thing that makes the USA the great nation that it is.

But old ideas, old beliefs and old attitudes die hard. A few paragraphs ago I asked 'are we there yet?'  Something tells me I've answered that question too.