Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Dad Book

"You did a great job raising your kids."

"Thank you."

Months later, as I replayed that last meaningful conversation I had with my Dad in my head, I wondered if he knew he was talking with one of his kids. The facial expression I remember could have been saying he thought he was talking with someone else about his kids. Why the hell didn't I phrase my comment in first person. "You did a great job raising us."

That's the tricky thing about Parkinson's-related dementia: it's hard to tell if the person you're chatting with is in or out of a dementia episode. It's equally challenging to determine if he or she knows they're in or out of an episode.

Dad was aware at some point that he experienced dementia. He told me once that he knew what he saw outside of the kitchen window was the roof of the house next door, but sometimes he was certain he saw men coming over the hill toward the house. The shingles on that roof appeared to move. There were no men and no hill, he knew it, but sometimes was convinced they were coming and it scared him. The thought of men attacking scared him and the thought that he saw them when he knew they were shingles also scared him.

Dementia scares me too. My girlfriend's Mother is having dementia episodes regularly. I hear her side of phone chats with her Mom, repeating things she told her a few minutes before, clarifying that today is Thursday, confirming that the doctor appointment is tomorrow, verifying that the month is May.

The last time I saw my Mother, she didn't realize I was her son till the third day of my visit. Scary.

I seem to forget things more often than usual lately. Is that some kind of dementia?  Is it a 'senior moment'?  I hate that term, by the way. Is occasional forgetfulness just a normal part of living a complex, busy life?  Living a complex

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Alexa, Write My Blog Post

So another type of device boomers first saw on the original Star Trek is becoming a normal part of our lives.

Many things in Star Trek, from computers to daily logs to elevators, were operated by voice control. That was fantasy in 1967. Ten or fifteen years ago, some cell phones had a voice dialing feature and some secretarial duties were assisted by software called Naturally Speaking. Today we have Siri on the iPhone, Cortana on some laptops and Alexa on that thing that looks like a hockey puck.

I work around technology daily but I'm not an early adopter. I prefer to wait for the new product bugs to be worked out and for prices to come down. My first four cell phones were free with the $39/month Verizon plan. One, a Motorola Star Tac flip phone, looked like the 'communicator' on Star Trek.

My first iPhone was the 4, which I bought the day the 4s came out because I couldn't justify the cost of versions 1, 2 and 3 and I didn't want Siri, newly available on the 4s. And prices on the 4 dropped dramatically the day the 4s came out. My next iPhone was the 6s, which had a price drop a year or two ago because of the rumored 7. I still can't believe I paid $200 for a phone, but that's better than the $700 price for the same phone a week before.  And my $95 monthly charge is considered by some to be low.

By the way, I rarely use Siri. But I do use most of the other features and I wonder how I lived without this silly-but-now-indespsensable device. No maps on road trips, no booting up a desktop computer to check email or Facebook, no CD player to hear my favorite music, sometime no camera for my photography, no waiting for the 6 o'clock news to get the weather forecast, no paper ticket for airline or train travel.

No laptop or paper needed to write this blog post either, although I could probably write this without thumbs by dictating it to Siri.


And then there is Alexa, that lonely table top hockey puck that lights up when I speak her name. I did not plan to buy an Echo Dot (reread my 'not an early adopter' sentence) but I got one as a Christmas present.

Months later, I'm still in the novelty phase with her. Alexa, what's the weather forecast? Alexa, how old is Alan Alda? Alexa, did the Caps win last night?  Alexa, play some Beatles music.

Alexa could do a lot more, of course. She's a blood relative of Amazon, so I could ask her to do all that shopping I currently do on my Dell. If I purchased some of her siblings, she could coordinate with them to play music through my stereo, adjust the volume, turn the lights off and on.

Alexa must get lonely sitting on the corner table because sometimes she'll speak without being spoken to. Something on the TV sounds a little like her name and she lights up and says "I didn't understand the question."

Voice recognition technology is a wonderful thing for the visually impaired, a safety feature in many new cars and Alexa's soothing voice could provide some degree of companionship for the lonely. As with most technology, voice systems can also invade privacy by listening in and we wouldn't even know it.

Well, that's all for this post. I think I'll take a short nap. Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes. "Twenty minutes, starting now."

Friday, April 21, 2017

Learning Appreciation

He hit her during another drunken stupor. Her aunt beat her. An uncle raped her. Her husband regularly insulted her, berated her, called her the 'c' word. Her brother raped her. The father got the daughter pregnant, the daughter had the baby, the wife stayed and endured the embarrassment. The husband threatened to kill his wife, mother and children. The father regular made his daughter fondle him. The adult celebrity was beaten and abused by relatives in her youth. The husband went to the ex wife's house to argue about visitation with the son, leading to a shouting match during which the husband ran up the stairs, kicked in the door of the room where the 4-year-old son was hiding at the insistence of the mother who feared for his safety.

Each of incidents noted above happened, each sentence referring to a different person or persons, some to people who I read about in the news and some to people I know. I actually witnessed the last incident and kept my involvement verbal rather than engaging in physical intervention that could have harmed the son. No physical harm came to any of the parties that time, or any other time that I know of, but the regular arguments did have a negative psychological impact on the son, who is now around 30 and possibly a parent himself.

When I see or hear about abusive or dysfunctional family situations, I thank God none of that happened in my family. The only negative in my immediate family was a healthy disagreement between my dad and I on just about every topic someone could disagree on. We had 'spirited arguments' about war, race, hair length, music, sex, religion, where I could live. He meant well. At the time I failed to appreciate the sacrifices he made to support our family and send me and my sister to college.

I note two thoughts when I think back to how 'normal' my upbringing was: one, it seemed boring, and two, it was stable and drama-free. Over the years I've learned to appreciate my family and my youth. If my dad was still alive, we would still disagree on many things, but I believe our conversations would be framed by respect.

An observation about myself over the past several decades: I'm a magnet for the dysfunctional. Several friends and ex girlfriends grew up in abusive or dysfunctional situations and apparently I was the 'normal' person in their lives. On some level I appreciated being viewed that way, but in many cases I was taken advantage of. When I was no longer needed by them, they were gone.

Appreciation is probably the main thing I want in life. I mostly am the nice guy people often say I am. I don't say that to brag; it's just part of who I am and maybe my stable youth contributed to that personality trait. I don't expect anything in return, other than maybe I'd like my actions to be appreciated.

I wonder sometimes if I express my appreciation for all the wonderful things people do for me. Do those closest to me know how much I appreciate them? I regret not thanking my parents more often for all they did for me.

I'm happy to say that most of the people in the first paragraph that I actually know in real life turned out fine and currently live what I believe to be normal, drama-free lives, even though some scars of their earlier lives might remain. I hope I played a healing role in their lives and I hope they appreciate me for that.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

One by One

Facebook is a much kinder, gentler corner of the Internet lately. At least it seems that way to me. It's probably because I have blocked regularly negative feeds, one at a time.

No, I'm not afraid of reading views that are different from mine. In fact, I think it is a good idea to consider a variety of opinions on various topics. I am opposed to the loud and biased link between opinion and fact, presenting them as if they are the same thing. I dislike people presenting opinions as facts and thinking that their solutions to problems are the only solutions. I'm annoyed when my ultra conservative Facebook friends claim that everything a Republican says is good and everything a Democrat says is bad. I have blocked the one-sided, overly biased feeds of ten or fifteen friends in recent months.

Conversely, I am annoyed when my ultra liberal friends claim that everything a Democrat says is good and everything a Republican says is bad. I recently blocked the feeds of one such friend and more blocking is coming.

Spirited debate is great and, as I've said many times, our great country was built on the blending of opposing ideas and opinions. We make no progress as a country when we think we have all the answers and nobody else's opinions count. We enter dangerous territory when we confuse opinion and fact. And that's my opinion.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Do You Remember Them?

The tall, black wrought iron fence was new but the small cottage was right there where it's always been, three doors from the corner. The house was wider than I remembered and the small porch was now a southern-style wraparound veranda.  Red and pink azaleas flanking the steps were in bloom as they had been at this time of year for decades.

Dad stood on the top step in learning pose, head looking slightly down as he intently studied what appeared to be an iPad. He wore his signature khaki pants, plaid short sleeve sport shirt and thick-soled working man shoes. He seemed to be in his early 60s.

With the blink of an eye, Mom appeared in the foreground of my view, slightly to the left, partially blocking my view of Dad. It was a 50-year-old version of Mom. She smiled and said something unintelligible about Dad and looked as surprised as I was to see him on the porch. Her mouth and eyes moved in her signature storytelling manner but I heard no sound.

Moments later my eyes popped open, hours later I remembered the scene clearly and today, several days later, I described it to you in great detail.

Do you remember your dreams when you wake up?  I rarely do. I often hope to remember a dream as vivid as that one. Mostly what I remember is what time it was when I woke up from a dream and hours later I only remember that I had a dream.

Do you think your dreams mean anything?  I don't. But for days now I've been wondering why that one lingers so clearly.

In typical fashion, many pieces of that dream don't exist together in real life. The house in my dream is the one where I grew up but it's much smaller than in the dream. Mom was six years older than Dad in real life, not the other way around as in the dream, and both died years ago, a few years on either side of 90. There is no fence in front of the house and Hurricane Katrina killed off the azaleas almost twelve years ago. My sister lives in that house now and last time I saw it, in November, there were no new azaleas.

So why was I dreaming about my parents, especially younger versions of them?  Mom's birthday was a few weeks ago, so maybe she was on my mind because of that. I don't know.

Why was my Dad standing on the steps looking at a digital device not even imagined in his lifetime. Why did Mom seem surprised to see him and appear surprised to be in my dream?  Where did that fence come from?

The most significant unanswered question about that dream is this: why do I remember it so vividly, days later, when I rarely remember a dream minutes after waking up?

Something tells me these thoughts and questions will continue spinning in my head for awhile.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

It's Only A Number

Why are we often obsessed with the number we get when subtracting the year of our birth from the current year?  Age is just a number, right?  So what if you're 50, 54, 62, 67, 74, 100?

I've been writing (whining) about age since the beginning of my blogging. I'm pretty damn comfortable with my age (it's one of the numbers in the first paragraph) but I'm not comfortable admitting the number to all but a select few friends, relatives and drinking buddies. Why? Because of stereotypes attached to certain age numbers.

Facebook friends frequently flaunt their age on their birthdays while others claim to be "officially old" as they turn 35 or 40. If you think you're old at 40, wait till you hit the next decade marker. Or the one after that.

I'm certain I celebrated my 40th live on the radio station where I was a DJ at the time. It felt good. I did not celebrate 50 outside of my house. It was memorable, however, because those were better times in my now defunct marriage and my ex's sense of humor was still intact then. She brought a mid-sized cake down to our rec room with fifty lit candles on it.  Her out of tune rendition of "Happy Birthday" was backed up by the melodious smoke detector.

My birthday is an important day for me but I only began to enjoy celebrating it again during the past few years, mostly because of who I celebrate it with.

I fully expect to have a 100th birthday. I've already invited some people to the party, although it's more than thirty years away. I hope I make it, enjoy the party and recognize the attendees. Don't ask me to blow out a hundred candles.

I hope to retire from full time work shortly after I hit the next zero number mile marker, but I'm struggling with the specific vision of what happens after that. I'd love to be a writer but I could probably make more money as a Walmart greeter. I'd love to be a DJ again, part time, but the sad reality is that most DJs are put out to pasture long before my current age, much less 70. Don't get me started on the topic of 'subtle age discrimination'.

Music and photography are my other two passions. Reality check: I'll never be a good enough guitarist to make money with it. Photography? Everybody with a smart phone thinks they're a photographer now, so there isn't much of a market for well paid photographers.

I'm a stubborn optimist, however, and I know I'll figure all of this out at some point. I'll be a good role model for creative aging. Maybe I already am. If only I really believed that age is just a number.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Balance Dilemma

Work/life, work/play, work/work/work.

The strategy of finding a work/life balance is to not work so hard or so long each day that it interferes with the rest of your life. I'm balancing laughing with crying as I write this paragraph because it's 8 pm and I'm in my office at work. I've been here since 10 am. I'll go home, eat dinner, sip wine, go to bed. The work/life thing ain't balanced tonight.

THIS paragraph is written two days later, on a Saturday afternoon. I'm so tired and exhausted from work that all I've done today is grocery shopping and napping. I'm sitting in my guest room/home office, attempting AGAIN to make progress on my ongoing cleanup project. It's a beautiful, sunny day. I can see that through the window. I should be on the other side of said window, soaking up sunshine instead of sitting inside shredding old documents and searching for my long lost car title.

Guilt keep me indoors today. This project has to get done. I repeat that sentence every Saturday. I should spend time on this every weeknight, freeing up the weekend for fun, but I work so much each day that all I want to do at night is nothing.

Balance leans toward work lately. The goal is for work and 'life' to, well, balance.  Fortunately I love my work and sometimes it's actually like play. But the balance is still off balance. I know I'll figure it out eventually but I'd like to get it right now.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Older and Wiser?

A quiet voice deep in the background on one side whispers, "Do it. You've earned it."  Another voice from deep on the other side whispers, "Don't do it. There's no real reason to do it."

And so goes the simple, recurring conversation in the back of my brain, a not-so-subtle debate about retirement.

The whispers turn to shouts every time I learn about an 'old person' doing something that defies the aging stereotype. Recently my internal debate intensified when I saw a local TV news report about a 92-year-old school crossing guard celebrating her 50th anniversary on that job.




The do-it-don't-do-it chorus crescendoed a few mornings ago as I watched a Today Show report about "super-agers".

Super-agers are people 70 and older who have brain power and physical abilities like 20-somethings.  Scientific studies including brain scans back this up.

How do they do it? According to the story, they challenge both brain and body and learn new skills. They push themselves and push through challenges, obstacles and pain. Many of them learn a new language or learn to play music.

One source for this news report is a book called "Dynamic Aging" by Katy Bowman. I'll probably order it as soon as I post this blog. The short summary of the author's advice: Reduce stress, stay hopeful and stay positive.  One of the seniors profiles in the story says it simply: keep moving.

I've been visualizing retirement lately, as you know, but I have two concerns about giving up full time employment: how will I fund my life and how will I spend my time? I have some time to ponder those concerns. One certainty: I can't imagine sitting around and doing nothing.

There's an old idea that with age comes wisdom. Maybe these "super-agers" reinforce that concept. Maybe the wise part of growing old is to not think old. The only aspect of retirement that gives voice to the do-it side of my internal debate is the desire to cut back on the work load, which would probably reduce my stress.  I am already fairly physically active and my job fuels mental acuity. In addition I do take music lessons and hope to resume language lessons at some point. Working around young people keeps me young too. Maybe retirement, for me, will just be a less intense version of what I already do.

My brain debate will continue, as will my search for a clearer vision of my future. I also plan to balance that pursuit with a philosophy of carpe diem. Maybe this is the kind of thinking and attitude that makes us boomers wiser as we get older. Stay tuned.




Monday, April 3, 2017

I Don't Get It


They could only sit in certain designated seats in the back of the bus. There were separate designated water fountains, rest rooms and entrances to buildings for them. Some businesses denied them access or service. Signs indicting these restrictions were posted in highly visible locations.

'They' were called colored or negro or other things I won't write here; words and slurs that were a regular part of white American vocabulary as recently as the 1960s.

People under 50 might only recognize those scenes as something described in history books. Boomers like me lived through those scenes. I hate to admit it, but my parents, their siblings and their friends were racist for much of their lives. It didn't occur to them that there was anything wrong with that attitude. Thinking of African American people as a little bit subhuman was passed on from generation to generation and that belief was often reinforced by limited personal exposure to black people. If the only black people you met, or more likely saw from a distance, were undereducated, you assumed they all were.

Prior to high school, the only black people I ever had a conversation with were the husband-and-wife maid and gardener employed by our next door neighbors. Corrine and Jasper were friendly people. I didn't understand why white people held black people in such low esteem.

My private, Catholic high school had exactly two black students out of a 300+ student population. One of them gave up after his first year, presumably because of the unfair treatment he received. The other one played trumpet in the band, which is how we met. Maybe he got better treatment because he was the son of a locally famous restaurant owner or maybe he just didn't take any shit from white students.

I met more black people in college but none were actually friends. The first time I had a meaningful conversation with an African American who eventually became a friend was in the Army. My bunk mate Ron and I had middle-of-the-night guard shifts together once a week and we had some great, perspective-building conversations. I wish I had keep in touch with him after basic training.

I semi-dated a black woman many years later. We were really just friends but we went to movies and restaurants often, laughed a lot and occasionally held hands walking down the sidewalk. We also occasionally got odd looks from white people and even one almost insult from a black waiter once. And this was in 1993. How can people, black and white, still have negative thoughts relating to race? I don't get it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

History Perspective


Living in the past is not especially healthy but studying it can be interesting. Sometimes timelines can provide perspective or at least lead to "wow, I didn't know that."

Here are a few timelines I find fascinating:

The USA only had 48 states when most boomers were born. Hawaii became the 50th state in 1960. Alaska became the 49th state in 1959.

More geopolitical timelines: two of my favorite states to visit didn't become states till the early 1900s ... Arizona and New Mexico both in early 1912.

Women could not vote in the United States till 1920.

Media timelines: commercial radio began in 1920 (KDKA, Pittsburg, which still exists).     Commercial Television is more ambiguous; an experimental licensed station began in 1928. More realistically, there was a TV station in New York in 1941 which is credited with the first TV commercial.

When the Internet became a public thing depends on how you define it. Domain names started in 1985, www started in 1991. Mosaic, the first browser I heard of, came out in 1993. Netscape, WebCrawler and Lycos were born in the mid 1990s, Google in 1998.

The Star Spangled Banner wasn't our official National Anthem until 1931, even though the original poem was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814.

The words "under God" were not part of the original Pledge of Allegiance. They were added in 1954.

The study of history is more significant and complex than the listing of facts, but these dates are a good starting point for further exploration. They also might help if you’re ever on Jeopardy.




 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Book


Five people in my circle of friends and acquaintances have written and published books. Four of the books are in some way autobiographical and I've read three so far. Two of the authors are from my distance past, one from a more recent past and two are current acquaintances. I am not close friends with this quintet so it is fascinating to me to read about details of their lives that I did not learn from conversations.

It is also inspirational to read their writing ... wow, I know some freakin' authors ... people who are not writers by profession but who wrote books. Well, one is a part time journalist, but the others all do something else unrelated to writing books.

I hope to write a book someday. In fact, I have outlines for three books in my head, all somewhat autobiographical. I'm no John Grisham or Christopher Moore, but I have had enough drama and humor in my life to think I could write something interesting that somebody might actually read.  I also don't expect anyone to read them, assuming I ever write and publish them. My purpose for a book is the same as it is for my blogs: a balance between sharing observations and looking in a mirror.

This blog is the potential basis for one of my books. I wouldn't be the first writer to publish thoughts on baby boomer life. It's probably a crowded topic on bookshelves and Kindle but that wouldn't stop me from writing it.

Another possible book is basically my autobiography. In the grand scheme of things, I am nobody so there is no real reason for anybody to buy a book by nobody about nobody. So I could present it as fiction. Truth is, people who think they know me wouldn't believe half of what I'd write about myself anyway, even though it would all be true.

My third potential book topic relates to my dad and my up and down relationship with him. I'm pissed that he died when he did, before we could truly become friends. At the point in my life when I wanted to try and have deep conversations with him, which would have been out of character for him but could have happened anyway, the dementia part of his Parkinson's had already started. My book would be a combination of his life story and my guess as to the content of our would-be conversations.

Meanwhile I'll keep writing for this blog and my other blogs. If I ever write a book, you'll be the first to know.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Repeal and Replace Trump


Agent Orange is at it again, proving every day that he is unfit for the office of POTUS. He's had two months to prove us wrong, but all he's done is reinforce the belief millions of us have that he is mentally unstable.

Russia issue #1: The problem with the possibility that Russia hacked our voting process is not that they might have helped Trump win, but rather the possibility that they could interfere with the process at all. Don't you want to find out what they did and then prevent it from happening again?

Russia issue #2: Contact between Trump surrogates and Russian officials is a medium sized problem. Lying about it is a HUGE problem!

Emails: Remember when Trump the candidate made a big issue of Clinton the candidate using a private email server and unsecured personal email accounts for official government business?  And now he doesn't seem to care that members of his cabinet and even his Vice President do or did use unsecured private email accounts  for sensitive government business.

Conspiracy theories: Obama wiretapped Trump Tower? Millions of people voted illegally? Evidence?  Who needs it?

So the dumbest person to ever be sworn in as President finally makes a good speech, the recent one to a joint session of Congress. For a few minutes it seemed like he might have turned around a little. He allowed some smart person to write the speech (you KNOW he didn't write it). Some skeptical Republicans probably breathed a sigh or relief. That lasted one day. His tweets proved that speech was a fluke.

Then came the Republican version of a health care act with the slogan 'repeal and replace Obamacare'. Of course neither he nor Paul Ryan nor anyone else is explaining in layman terms exactly what is wrong with the existing Affordable Care Act; all they're doing is labeling it as something Obama haters want to get rid of simply because Obama was behind it. If Trump, Ryan and the others really cared about us, the American people, they'd try to fix the existing law and not reject it just because they don't like the President who pushed for it to begin with. On Friday Ryan couldn't get the votes, so they dropped it. Trump blamed Democrats because they wouldn't vote for it, completely ignoring that a few dozen Republicans wouldn't vote for it either.

Have you read the existing law?  Have you read the proposed new law?  They haven't either. Idiots.

Isn't it time to repeal and replace Congress?  And isn't it time to repeal and replace the fake President?

Friday, March 24, 2017

How Many States?

Sunday drives and cross-country road trips were a memorable part of boomer life for many of us. You?  Flying has been a dominating travel choice for the past few decades but driving was much more popular in the 60s and 70s. For more than ten years of my youth, my family of four took an annual road trip. The shortest was two nights and ninety miles, the longest was thirteen nights and a few thousand miles.

“Standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona and such a fine site to see.”

I think I was 10 for the first trip. It was my first time out of Louisiana (all the way to neighboring Mississippi), first time in a hotel (probably a Holiday Inn), first time seeing an 'ocean' (Gulf of Mexico). The longest trip was Louisiana to New Mexico, which included our second time in Texas, a state I eventually lived in.

I took my first two plane trips in my 20s on a very small airline that only flew in Louisiana. I was in the Army and stationed at the other end of the state from home. My third flight was several years later for a job interview in Wisconsin.

“Nighttime on The City of New Orleans
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.”


My first train trip was Milwaukee to New Orleans. The Chicago to
New Orleans part of that route is called "City of New Orleans" and is the inspiration for the song of the same name.

I have visited 40 states. Some of those 'visits' were drive-throughs but that's still a decent number. I'd like to see all 50 at some point and revisit a few.

Memorable big cities: New York and Chicago (even lived in that one briefly). Memorable smaller cities: Asheville NC and Moab UT.  Memorable non-city places: Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“Get your kicks on Route 66
Well it goes from St Louis, down to Missouri
Oklahoma city looks oh so pretty
You'll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona don't forget Winona
Kingsman, Barstaw, San Bernadino”


At some point in the 1990s I stopped taking road trips, except for a few 5-hour drives to the NC beaches. Flying is easier and faster. After Hurricane Katrina, I took a road trip out of some necessity, helping my sister move to my Maryland home for a few weeks. The trip to move her back to New Orleans began a 9-year string of road trips. My last one was two years ago and sometimes I miss them.

The ultimate road trip for me would be an open-ended adventure, maybe a month or two, with drives of 5-hours every two or three days, and leisurely stops along the way. Road trips slow you down and give you a chance to relax and really see America. And I've still gotten more stares to visit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It's Worth Recording

Journals, diaries, resumes, letters, emails, birthday cards, job applications, car titles and photographs combine to form a record of our lives. We learn what we've done, where we've been and what we were thinking.

I spent a recent Sunday afternoon engaged in the never-ending attempt to declutter my home office/studio/guest room. I spotted a stack of file folders I was sure I could feed to the shredder. Copies of car titles from three cars I owned in the 1980s topped the stack. The rest, however, were all the items I mentioned in the previous paragraph and that part of the stack provided a detailed narrative of my early 30s.

The most revealing treasure was a 9-page 'autobiography' written in response to an exercise in the legendary job-search book "What Color Is Your Parachute?"  I was unemployed at that time. These nine pages outlined my whole life up to that point, with the idea of revealing aspects of my life that I am most passionate about and reminding me of childhood dreams. From that point, a pattern could develop leading the way to what jobs to pursue and how to go about it.

What did I learn about myself by reading what was on my mind thirty years ago?  Some random answers to that question:

I truly have lived my dream for much of my career and adult life.

The periods of my life during which I had specific dreams, goals and ambitions were the most productive.

My confidence was like a roller coaster but even in my darkest moments I knew I'd figure out how to succeed.

Sometimes I am energetic and focused and sometimes I am lazy and unfocused. My motivation follows those patterns.

I have accomplished a lot during my 40 years in radio. I was innovative at times but my most consistent career trait was and is this: I know a good idea or trend when I see it and I usually can find a way to adapt it to my current needs.

I've been told many times that I don't give myself enough credit for my accomplishments. I also know that sometimes my ego gives me more credit than I deserve. These parallel observations must have been the beginning of my search for balance in life.

My confidence in romantic relationships is as much a roller coaster as my career confidence. Attempting to overcome insecurities has driven my behavior more than I like to admit.

I also found notes from the Anthony Robbins self-help program, which I purchased on cassette at the time. One takeaway from Robbins: a life worth living is a life worth recording.  That idea has led me to begin journals many times. 

How does all of that relate to me today and how does any of this relate to you?

Keep a journal or diary. Try to make it so private that you record your deepest feelings uncensored, as if nobody else will ever read what you write.

Try to write every day, even if it's just a sentence about how you feel.

Write what you're thinking about, how your day went at work, how did sunshine or clouds make you feel that day, who do you love. Mention a song you heard on the radio. Note a memory from your past. If your journal can be kept truly private, write down how you really feel about your job or coworkers, who or what turns you on or off emotionally or sexually, what you would do if you won Powerball. Make a bucket list.

Every year or two, or decade or two, reread earlier entries. Ask yourself if you've learned or grown over that time. Do you have patterns you'd like to repeat or patterns you'd like to ditch?


I had very mixed feelings after reading my forgotten files but my overall takeaway is that I've had a great life, so far, and I should celebrate that and learn from it. A life worth living is truly a life worth recording, mine and yours. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Film or Digital

Twice in twenty-four hours a few weeks ago, the concept of film photography flashed into my world. The first occurred in a conversation with someone at work and the second was a story on the Today Show that focused on photography through the ages and the possible resurgence of film photography.

What was your first camera? Was it a film camera?  My first was a Brownie. Remember those? Ever heard of them?  I eventually had a Polaroid, a fixed lens Minolta 35 mm, a Canon SLR with three lenses, two Nikon SLR bodies with a total of four lenses and numerous filters, a Sony digital that used a small disc drive, a pocket-sized Canon with an SD card and eventually my current Nikon Digital SLR with an SD card and two zoom lenses. The current one is nine years old, ancient by contemporary standards. The screen only shows pictures after they're taken; you still have to look through the viewfinder to take a picture and you have to put the SD card in a computer to upload pictures. The current version of that same camera can do all that right from the camera. I'll buy one someday.

Funny thing is this: like so many people I know, my most frequent 'camera' lately is my smartphone, specifically an iPhone 6s. Ansel Adams must be spinning in his grave. The iPhone specs are actually better than my Nikon but I can still do more with lighting and settings using my 'real' camera.

Dad's Leica and my Nikon
I first fell in love with photography while watching my Dad shoot with his 35 mm fixed lens Leica, his primary camera from the late 1940s through our early family vacations in the 1960s. I still have that camera but I don't know if it works.

Have you ever developed film?  Dad had a darkroom and taught me how to develop the film and print pictures. I had my own darkroom for a few years in my 20s. I loved the artistic part of manipulating photos in the darkroom but never fully embraced the tediousness or the toxicity of the chemicals. Photoshop would be the modern equivalent and I'm really just beginning to learn some of the finer points of that aspect of photography.

So what makes better photographs, digital or film?  Landscape photography is my favorite and in many ways film captures the images better. But most people can't tell the difference. I'm not sure I can either. Regardless of the device, a good photographer's best tool is his or her eyes. A good photographer can shoot a great photograph with a Brownie or a Polaroid or a pinhole camera (look that one up).

My single best series of photographs was shot with the Nikon film camera I mentioned earlier during a vacation in Arizona and Utah. The year was 2000, the subjects were Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, Arches and Canyon Lands. The film was Kodak and Fuji slide film. I'd include examples but I only have one. The other 200-300 shots are in a box in my ex's house; time to bug again her about sending them to me.


I had a great conversation with a professional photographer last night and I’ve been thinking about my camera all day today.  I go through long periods of time during which I don’t even touch my Nikon; I’m in one of those right now.  Then I spend weeks or months taking photographs daily.  Maybe I’m about to start one of those photo spurts.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why

I am spiritual but I'm not very religious. I do believe in a higher power but I'm not convinced the form is quite like the entity so many people are taught.

Is there a God?  Does God control everything?  Is every action or circumstance "God's will"?  I ask all three of these questions regularly. My answer to the second and third question is the same: no. I don't have an answer to the first one yet but I'm not afraid to ask it. Everyone should ask it. Most people will find an acceptable answer, with or without evidence.

What about prayers?  Do you believe in prayer and if so, do you expect answers to your prayers?

One reason I question the "God's will" concept and the prayer idea is that my Dad, a straight arrow, by-the-book, moral and religious man, lived the last fifteen years of his life with Parkinson's Disease. His reward for doing the right thing all his life?  Did prayers from friends and family alleviate his suffering or loss of dignity?  Kind of random, in my view.

I'm asking 'why' questions the night I'm writing this because I've had a frustrating day with my MS. Why do I have MS? Is this cosmic payback for some wrong doing in my past?  Is this just a random reaction to some intestinal glitch in my past. I think it's the latter. Will prayer cure me? I doubt it.

I do pray sometimes; every time I board an airplane, for example. Do I expect that prayer to keep me safe?  Not really. But it can't hurt, can it?  It does make me feel a little better and eases the fear of flying I developed after 9/11.

Why do I ask why so much?  Basically I am curious about things, people, beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and many more things. I said I'm not religious but I did find a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist denomination about twenty years ago. Why? Because their approach is more about the search for meaning and truth - asking why - whereas most other faiths seem to want to provide answers rather than asking questions.

In my opinion, many if not most things in life are random, with a sprinkling of fate. That's all. Nothing fancy. An example of randomness: I thought of this blog while brushing my teeth. Random. And I wrote it spontaneously and now it's time to go to sleep. Good night. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I Hate To Admit It

March 3, 2015 is a date in my life that is almost as important to me as my birthday. That is the day of my official Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. I first had symptoms a few years earlier but the neurologist was hesitant to call it MS yet. She ruled out almost everything else but the MRI only showed one lesion, so that meant no 'multiple'. She treated the symptoms and they mostly went away, for two or three years. Then they returned.

Living with MS is more of a pain in the ass for me than anything else. My situation is far less severe than it is for many people I've met. Balance issues, drag foot, some heat sensitivity and fatigue are my main issues. Some people with MS experience vision problems, cognitive issues and incontinence; I have none of that. Some cannot walk; I walk with a cane now, but the cane might be temporary.

Three years ago I had a personal trainer and was in the best physical shape since my 20s. I still looked and moved like I was 50, more than ten years less than the chronological truth. I walked several miles a week and could even run a little. In retrospect, I admit I was pushing too hard with the physical trainer and my current lighter workout is more realistic, with or without the MS.  I admit my balance issue goes back more than twenty years; I just thought I was clumsy. Maybe I had that MS symptom that long ago. I admit I've compensated for a weak right leg for many years, which is why I walk with a limp. Physical therapy is helping to build strength but my walking will be worse before it gets better, hence the cane. While I'm admitting things, I admit that I hate the word hence and this might be the first time I've ever used it in a sentence.

A behavioral characteristic I share with some MSers is that I hate to ask for help. I can do things on my own, right?  Well, I admit that sometimes not asking for help is dangerous. A snow and ice storm blanketed my county with slick slush the other night and I reluctantly accepted my GF's offer to clean off my car. I also reluctantly followed her strong advice to stay in and work from home that day. I admit she's correct in her observation that it is dangerous for me to even walk across the parking lot.

Living with MS is a challenge to my usual optimistic outlook on life. Aging doesn't help. Admitting all of this, however, does help and paying attention to that negative inner voice helps me silence it, so that I can focus on positivity. I admit there are people in my life who care about me and love me and that is one admission I truly like.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Fear

What scares you?  Ghosts?  Walking alone on a dark street?  Forgetting somebody's name?  Dying before you're ready?

The guy who holds the record for working at the local branch of my company the longest (more than 30 years) retired eighteen months ago, not long after his 70th birthday. I received an email from him this week.  He found some old work stuff he thought I might want. A couple of back-and-forth emails later, in the middle of some catching up, he casually told me he has been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and is undergoing radiation treatments.

WHAT!?

I've lost parents, aunts, uncles and cousins to various diseases over the past few years but getting this kind of news from someone I used to see almost every day, someone who isn't all that much older than me, someone who rarely took a sick day, is what scares me. Just last year I learned a former girlfriend died. Last week I learned my former mother-in-law died. A former coworker died about five years ago, at an age just one year older than I am now. Two years before that, another coworker died, in her 40s, after surviving three rounds of cancer. A bar friend in her thirties was diagnosed with cancer last year; in remission, for now, but experiencing other health issues.

Nobody lives forever but many of us want to. If I died this afternoon, people would say I lived a remarkable life, but I am in no way ready for it to end. If family genetics are any indicator, I could live another thirty years or more. I'd like that a lot, especially if my health remains fairly good.

My fear is that I'll die before I'm ready. Close proximity to death was rare during my first fifty years but now it seems to be all around me. My parents outlived all of their friends and most of their siblings. That kind of loneliness scares me.

Fortunately I am fairly social and make casual friends easily. Deep friendship building is more of a challenge. But I am an optimistic man and I usually think I'll live a long time, in pretty good health, surrounded by people who care about me. However, the all-too-frequent reminders of the fragility of life definitely scare me.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Eleven Already?

This month marks the 11th anniversary of my first blog post. Wow, I've been doing this for eleven years?!

My first blog was all about being in my 50s. Through most of that decade I struggled with admitting my age. I still do, especially now that I've entered the next decade. I am usually grateful that I don't look, act or feel like the stereotype of my real age but I still rarely speak the number out loud; and never at work, where most coworkers are half my age.

One of my favorite books on aging is written by the CEO of AARP. Her "Disrupt Aging" suggestion is rather than saying 60 is the new 40 or 50 is the new 30, she says to say "50 is the new 50."  In other words, redefine what it means to be 50 or 60 or 70. I'm all in!

So being a newspaper columnist was a childhood fantasy of mine. Eventually I realized columnists started as reporters and reporters need specific educational qualifications and training. I had different plans but writing has always been part of my career, although it was mostly commercials, brochures and press releases. That last one is similar to a newspaper article, so at least I've experienced a little bit of my fantasy.

Looking at blogging through a different filter, however, leads me to believe I actually AM a columnist. Boomer Randomness isn't exactly the New York Times but in some ways the result is the same. I write an opinion or observational piece a few times a week and publish it. On some level, I'm living that fantasy.

So this blog is 1,250 posts in, plus a few hundred more on the other blogs. Not bad for eleven years.
 
My next fantasy is making part of my living writing stuff like this. Wish me luck.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Concert Is When?!

Tickets to see Lady Gaga here in DC are on sale now (February). The concert is in ... November!

Tim McGraw/Faith Hill tickets have been on sale since around October 2016.  The concert is ... October 13, 2017!

This pattern is fairly typical and very different from our youth.

More differences: as recently as ten years ago, you went to a location to buy concert tickets. It was the box office at the venue or a Ticketmaster location or a Ticketmaster partner. I bought concert tickets at a department store a few times. Now I buy tickets at my desk at work or my coffee table at home.

Concert prices. OMG!  It seems like $20 - $30 dollars was a high ticket price just 15 to 20 years ago. Now the service charges can run that high. What's the most you've ever paid for a ticket?  I've paid close to $125 for three concerts in the past few years: U2, Coldplay and Dave Matthews.   These tickets were all purchased through standard vendors like Ticketmaster or Ticket Fly. Some people pay much higher prices through other entities that could really be considered scalpers.

What's the least you've ever paid? A LONG time ago (1975?) the Grateful Dead were playing Friday and Saturday night shows at a funky little New Orleans venue called A Warehouse. Tickets were a then exorbitant $10 each, which was way out of my price range. After their Saturday night show, they were ... are you ready for this ... busted down on Bourbon Street. They hastily arranged for a Sunday show to raise money for lawyer fees. I could afford that one because it was only $5.

Boomers can probably relate to this scenario. Festival or general admission ticketing was popular at one time. The first Willie Nelson concert I went to was a GA and I happily stood shoulder to shoulder with other fans for the whole two hours. Many outdoor venues feature a general admission lawn area behind the reserved seat sections. 'Pit' sections are growing in popularity; that's the section between the reserved seats and the stage, named after either the orchestra pit or the mosh pit.

The last time I had standing tickets was for a ZZ Top show about five years ago. I'll never do that again. Give me a reserved seat please. How about you?

I love live music but I hate crowds. I wonder if that's a boomer thing or just me. As recently as two years ago, I went to ten or fifteen concerts a year. Because I work for a country music radio station, I get free tickets to most country concerts. I think I only went to four shows last year, even though there were thirty or more in my area. Some of this comes down to convenience and some of it is because of some increased MS-related mobility issues.

This is on my mind today because tickets are on sale now for at least twenty shows I'd like to see this year. I'm carefully choosing which I'll actually attend. I'll go to at least two because they are work-related and I have to go. My best guess for the rest? Maybe two more.

What about you?  Any concert plans this year?  And how far in advance are you willing to buy the tickets? And what's your top price.

While you’re contemplating that, I think I'll channel surf to see if any live shows are available to watch from the best seats in town: my sofa.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

To Live or Not To Live, That Is the Question

Don't worry, this post is NOT about suicide.

This post IS about life and what our lives are or could be.

At this point in our lives, many of us boomers are evaluating our lives and wondering if we are truly living the lives we want to live. Maybe we've been stuck in jobs or careers that were thrilling at first but are now merely the means to pay our bills. We might be so busy that all we do is work. Is that really living?

Many boomers get to their 60s and attempt to finally do what they always really wanted to do.

Fortunately I've been doing mostly what I always wanted to do for most of my adult life, but I would like to cut back the workload. Sadly, the only way that will happen is for me to retire. I'm not there yet, but I can picture it.

My favorite movie line on this topic is spoken by Andy (the Tim Robbins character) to Red (Morgan Freeman's character) in Shawshank Redemption:  "I guess it comes down to a simple choice really: get busy living or get busy dying."

So are you busy living?  Are you doing what you want to do?

A big surprise for me at this point in my life is that everything takes more time to do that it used to and I seem to have more time commitments than I used to. One reason is my MS, which slows me down a little. Another is that I have a more active social life in the past four years than I did in the previous ten. That's a good thing, but sometimes I just want to sit at home and do nothing. Although sometimes I want to spontaneously take a leisurely stroll through my awesome neighborhood.

All things considered, I am busy living and not busy dying. It seems at times that all I do is work, work, work but some of my young coworkers thing I live a most exciting life and they are jealous.

Returning to the title question, I'd say I live. It is a conscious choice. Sometimes work gets in the way of life, but the key to keep on living is persistence.

My advice to you (and to myself): get busy living.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Roomful Of Perspective

India, Syria, Lebanon, the Philippines and the United States. Those are the countries of origin represented at our neighbor's home where we had dinner and wine on a recent Saturday night. Although we mostly avoided political conversation, we did talk about life and culture in these various countries.

Of the nine people there, five are immigrants. All legal. All now American citizens. All college educated and employed in professional jobs. One lived through war in Lebanon. One has lived in at least two other countries. All five speak more than one language. They all love our country and all are appropriately critical of certain aspects of life here, as they should be. All love the freedom to be opinionated. All are grateful for the opportunities they have here. All are concerned about some family members who still live in their home countries and are sometimes mildly concerned about their own safety here.

That is some awesome perspective and I enjoy discussing their take on issues and life.

One thing that strikes me every time I get to know someone from another country is their multi-lingualism. Our American culture is such that most of us, at least those of the boomer era, only speak one language: American English. I do believe a country is more unified when there is a dominant language but I also believe the reality of our increasingly global world is such that we should speak other languages too, so we can better understand and communicate with our brothers and sisters around the world. (Side note: do other languages have run on sentences like that last one?)

I began language lessons in four other tongues at times in my life, yet I still only speak English. It's one of my few regrets in life. We're never too old to learn another language but it is definitely more difficult to do so as we grow older. If I had stuck with it, I'd be fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and Latin. Latin isn't really a spoken language but studying it could help with learning the other three.

Many articles on creative aging point to the mental advantages of learning a new language. Different parts of the brain are stimulated by such a pursuit, potentially delaying or even reversing dementia. In addition, conversing with someone in another language can be a stimulating social experience.

Two of my dinner companions the other night speak French. That conversation could be fun. One of them also speaks Spanish, another language I could have learned. Italian isn't very practical on a day-to-day basis but it connects to my family heritage as well as a bucket list vacation item.

Meanwhile I enjoy the perspective of spending time with friends who are rooted in cultures other than mine. The perspective is priceless.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Stuff Boomers Grew Up With


My family's weekend rituals during my pre-teen years included Saturday morning grocery shopping, afternoon lawn care, dinner and some television watching. Sunday started with church, then a tasty breakfast from a neighborhood bakery, reading the Sunday newspaper, a Sunday drive in the city or country or a visit to a grandparent's house. The weekend often ended with a dinner of leftovers, followed by a card game, scrabble or some family tv watching (Bonanza, Ed Sullivan).

Reading a recent Sunday newspaper is what triggered this nostalgic journey, specifically the now 8-page Parade Magazine. Wasn't that section at least three or four times bigger, more like a real magazine?

Many cities, including my hometown New Orleans, had two daily newspapers, one published in the morning and another in the afternoon. My parents subscribed to both and my stay-at-home mother often had time to read each one cover to cover.

In some circles a daily newspaper still means something, but there are hundreds, maybe thousands of other news sources, so the average American doesn't read a daily newspaper any more. I bet many of those that do, read it online and not on paper.

I still like the printed version of a newspaper, but we only get it on Sunday in my home and much of it ends the weekend unread and in the recycle bin.

There is much debate these days about journalistic integrity or lack thereof. People whine about the 'mainstream media' and their biases yet I question the objectivity of the 'fringe media'. The point is that it is hard to tell what is honest, unbiased news and what isn't.

The television networks of my youth seemed to have high journalistic standards and went out of their way to separate facts from opinions. Today's news sources, be it television, print or online, seem to wear their biases with pride.

This post is basically an open-ended observation. I don't have a particularly specific point to make, other than to tell you I miss some of the rituals I grew up with. Honest news reporting is sort of one of those things.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The C Diet

Warm Italian meatballs swimming in tangy marinara sauce fills the bowl, covering al dente rigatoni. Garlic bread sits at the edge of the plate, still steaming from from its tenure in the oven moments ago. The white and red place setting is flanked by a fork, a knife and a glass of fine Chianti Classico.

Ok, so that's what my teasing brain sees. What's really there on the table in front of me?  A tall glass of bottled water, another glass filled with clear apple juice and a hot cup of black coffee. Breakfast. On colonoscopy prep day.

Wait, excuse me, I have to pee. Be right back.


Ok, so where was I?

Mmmm, what's for lunch? Cold water, chilled Gatorade and a warm mug of clear chicken broth.

Hang on, be right back.


Dinner?  Sprite, water, broth, black coffee and the first dose of that stuff that will clear out nearly all of whatever is left inside of me.

Oops, back in a sec.


So when was the first colonoscopy done? I assumed twenty years ago, which is when I first heard about the procedure. I was wrong. The first one was performed ...

Be right back...

... almost 48 years ago, in 1969. I'm trying to imagine that. You know how small cameras are now, right? And how large they were then.

... hang on...

More facts: a colonoscope is small, flexible tube that is 42 to 72 inches long. Maybe you didn't want to know that. Me neither. Actually, maybe you don't want to know that I'm having a colonoscopy. Even though it is a potentially life-saving medical procedure recommended for everyone over 50 (in other words, all boomers), it might still fit in the 'too much information' category. So I'll stop now, partly because this is gross and partly because

... gotta go again.

Bye!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

That Basket

Hillary Clinton started to believe the polls, her advisors and some in the media. She, like many of us, didn't really think Mr. Orange could actually win the election. She also forgot that her arrogance could be her downfall. She forgot to recognize that her spontaneous opponent could get a pass on some of his outrageous remarks because many people didn't take him seriously, yet her own uncharacteristically spontaneous remarks could be interpreted negatively by Trump supporters.

Clinton's most damaging utterance was calling Trump supporters a 'basket of deplorables'.

That arrogant comment lumped together some people who truly were stupid and fell for Donnie's con with smart voters who intensely disliked her and voted for him because they were voting against her.

I can name at least four people from my neighborhood who voted for Trump. All four have college degrees and have professional careers. Three of them are over 50. None of them are deplorable. I probably know several other people who voted orange but they have wisely kept their votes to themselves, as I should have done.

Hillary Clinton is a hundred times smarter and more caring than Donald Trump, but her arrogance puts her in an elite category that doesn't resonate well with 'average people'. Trump is as dumb as they get when it comes to running a country and clearly puts himself ahead of God, country and his wife. BUT he is an extremely talented marketer and salesman. Like most good sellers, he can instinctively read his potential customer and spontaneously say or do things that tap into their buying impulses.

The thing that bothers me the most about him is that he has no concept of reality and truth. And unlike Clinton's arrogance, Trump's arrogance is dangerous. During the campaign he referred to his opponent as Lying Hillary. Yet he lied thousands of times during the campaign, after the election and in the days since the inauguration. Her lies were subject to interpretation; his are proven.

His focus on his fabricated statements about millions of illegal votes for Clinton rather than focusing on learning the job of President adds to the growing speculation that he is mentally ill. And he fuels hypocrisy when he says that many voters were registered in two states, while ignoring the now proven fact that two of his children and two of his cabinet nominees are also registered to vote in two states.

I could go on forever about this stuff but I'd be wasting my time and yours. Let me just end this post with one more opinion: there IS a basket of deplorables, but there is really only one person in it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

All Or Nothing Is Not the Correct Approach

Many ultra left wing liberal Democrat friends post things on Facebook that basically say all Republicans are wrong, everything a Republican says is stupid, immoral and will lead to the demise of our great country.

Many ultra right wing Republican friends post things on Facebook that basically say all Democrats are wrong, everything a Democrat says is stupid, unpatriotic and will lead to the demise of our country.

Stop it. Just stop it!

Every Democrat is not exactly like every other Democrat. Every Republican is not like every other Republican. There are stupid, immoral and unpatriotic Democrats AND Republicans. There are smart, moral and
compassionate Democrats AND Republicans. Most people of either party believe in some of the principles usually associated with the other party. Not every American is a registered member of either; there are libertarians and there are independents.

We are individuals!

I urge my ultra friends on either side to think about something I consider to be logic-based truth: if there was only one way to believe, only one way to act, only one solution to every problem, we'd all believe, act or solve that way. Truth, and our own American form of democracy, is based on a melting of contradictory ideas, beliefs and solutions to problems.

It annoys the hell out of me when people blame things on everyone of a certain party. One specific Democrat Facebook friend is constantly blaming all Republicans for things he thinks are wrong, essentially insulting a lot of my Republican friends (including my very closest friend in life). One specific Republican Facebook friend is frequently blaming all Democrats for things she thinks are wrong, essentially insulting a lot of my Democrat friends (and me, the boyfriend of her aunt).

In fact, that last one posted a comment essentially blaming all Democrats for the violent Inauguration Day protests that led to broken windows and a firebombed limousine. What, you think a Republican has never broken a window or torched a car?  I'm certain those protesters were stupid, misguided thugs and they certainly DO NOT REPRESENT ME OR MOST DEMOCRATS. And in keeping with the conspiratorial tone of our new president, those protesters could have been paid Republican Trump supporters. They probably were NOT, but this is the kind of thinking I'm talking about.

I've been a registered Democrat since 1975 but I am not an extreme, left wing liberal. Don't assume that about me and don't assume I never vote for Republicans. Don't assume I blame all Republicans for anything. Don't assume I always agree with everything every Democrat says or does.

I do blame the Republican majority in Congress for many negative things.  A few years ago I blamed the Democratic majority in Congress. Under the arrogant leadership of Nancy Pelosi, they blew a great opportunity to enact meaningful legislation, in part by ignoring the concept of bipartisan compromise. The current Republican leadership didn't learn this lesson and their arrogant refusal to listen to opposing views will guarantee continued, frustrating gridlock. They will wake up one day two years from now and realize they lost their majority.

Meanwhile Democratic and Republican politicians alike are paying more attention to their party than they are to their constituents: we the people.

And we are individuals!

The all or nothing approach to anything is a bad idea, in my opinion, because it closes the door to ideas that can eventually solve problems. The best solution is often a compromise of ideas. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Some final thoughts to this rambling post:

A Republican administration (Lincoln) ended slavery, created the Interstate Highway system (Eisenhower), ended the Vietnam War (Nixon) and created the Environmental Protection Agency (Nixon again, wow).

A Democratic administration ended World War II (Truman), enacted meaningful civil rights legislation (Johnson), created Medicare (Johnson again), balanced the federal budget (Clinton), ended two wars (Obama) and ended a financial crisis (Obama again).

All of the above happened as a result of spirited debate and a compromise of often conflicting ideas and opinions.

You know I hate our new president and believe he is a dangerous con artist. However, he is our president. And buried somewhere in his insulting (my opinion), misguided (again, my opinion) inaugural address are some positive promises about infrastructure and jobs. Presidential arrogance and congressional arrogance will not be enough to make those things happen. Compromise and respect of opposing ideas will be the approach that could lead to positive results.

Will that happen? Time will tell.

Can Democrats and Republicans with opposing views get along?  Ask my girlfriend.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Amazon Effect

A lead local story on a recent Monday morning TV newscast was about the closing and redevelopment of Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia. Word was already out about several Macy's store closings nationwide, including the one there, but this story confirmed the demise of the entire mall.  It will be replaced by a mixed use development including residential and retail and the sketches accompanying the story showed the trendy, somewhat boxy blend of glass and steel, open plazas, walkways, public art space, and other things described by developer buzz words.

The earlier national story about Macy's also predicted anticipated closings of many Sears, K-Mart and Kohls stores and the sale of the iconic Craftsman tool brand to competitor Stanley Black & Decker. Wait, weren't Stanley and
Black & Decker separate competing tool companies at one time?

So what's going on here?

The short, simple answer is that we're shopping online more than in stores. Does this trend only affect business models or is the impact broader than that?

Psychologists and sociologists are probably studying this topic and attempting to learn why and anticipate the impact. Boomers like me remember shopping 'adventures' to locally-owned downtown stores, then open air suburban malls with national chain stores and eventually the big malls we know now.

Some stores like Sears had a large mix of products. In fact their slogan at one time was "Sears has everything."  I worked at Sears in college in the 1970s and sold everything from suits to shoes to Christmas trees to bicycles to pool tables to small fishing boats.

Other stores were more specialized. One store for cards, another for music, another for each of the above-mentioned items available at Sears.

I 'discovered' Amazon several years ago and treated it as a convenient novelty. Now I do about 75% of my shopping on Amazon, from the convenience of my coffee table. I also regular buy clothes from the Macy's web site rather than their stores. Same thing for Eddie Bauer and LL Bean. Outlet malls are the only retail stores I've shopped at in the past year and only twice.  I shop Costco regularly but mostly for household stuff like paper towels. Food, wine and greeting cards are almost the only things I regularly buy at stores; those items can also be purchased online but that's where I've drawn my line in the sand. For now.

The effects of this shift to online shopping are added convenience, selection and product information and comparisons. But I wonder if another effect is the increase of our societal shift from face-to-face social interaction to device-driven social interaction. Many of us already spend more time with people on Facebook, Face Time, text, Twitter, Instagram and email than we do in person. Now we shop without direct human contact. Add automated call answering to that (when's the last time your call to a  business or doctor's office was answered by a live human?) and you have the potential for serious social isolation.

Psychologists and sociologists are probably studying that aspect of online shopping too.

What I call 'the Amazon effect' could lead to increased social isolation and human detachment or it could just be fueling a change in how we interact. Even though a lot of my own contact with friends and family is digital,
that method has helped me be in regular contact with a lot more people now than just a few years ago. That's a positive. In some ways texting or facebooking is a simpler, quicker way to catch up.

On the other hand, I've read many articles pointing out the positive benefits of real contact and the negative aspect of isolation. Touch is a powerful and positive connector. Every type of touch, from a handshake to a hug to love making, reinforces a biological need for physical contact. Does the 'Amazon effect' interfere with that?  Or does it just move us in a different direction on the biological scale?  Maybe time will tell.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Don't Call Him That

So there's a new rule in my home: don't call Trump an a-hole. Actually the 'request' is that I stop using that term and others like it. "It's done, he's the new President. You don't have to like it but you do respect the office, don't you?"

I do respect the office of President of the United States. More than that, I respect my girlfriend. I have zero respect for Trump.  I do have my priorities, however, so I have agreed to try to refrain from using the totally earned, derogatory vocabulary that includes the "a" word when referring to the orange man.

This will be quite a challenge for me. Even the worst presidents in my lifetime eventually earned my respect. I disagreed with many of their policies and actions but I rarely thought any of them were morally bankrupt. Frump has no apparent moral center. He only cares about himself.

During the campaign he said 9/11 was Bush's fault, McCain was not a hero because he got caught, Clinton and Obama invented ISIS. What a moron; a stupid, disrespectful idiot.

I don't want him to fail because he could bring down the whole country with him. I do think he will fail. At the same time I hope to be proven wrong. Currently in the battle between 'I'm wrong' and 'I told you so', the latter is winning.

Of course this is all merely my opinion. Opinions are like a$$holes, everybody has one.

Meanwhile I will try to refrain from calling our new President an a-hole, because the most wonderful woman in my world has asked me to stop. It is unlikely, however, that I will call him President.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Process Update 1.0

I've decided to go with three keywords/phrases to guide my year: discipline, stress reduction, fun.

The plan is to do something related to each of these, weekly or even daily. I also plan to track my progress or lack of progress with something resembling a calendar.

So what does each keyword look like? What criteria defines each keyword?  Yes, I will get that specific about it now because I believe a specific definition will help simplify the process.

Discipline:
Stop procrastinating, do things now, organize my home office and keep it that way, work out every day, eat at home more (and plan home meals better so there are fewer excuses). Stuff like that.

Stress reduction:
Meditate, let go of some things that bother me that aren't really all that critical, laugh more, take artistic photographs of serene landscapes, don't watch the news every night, stop reading about or even thinking about the a-hole who is about to be President.

Fun:
Hang with friends, see more live music, go to more movies, comedy shows, take more photographs, dance.

Hopefully I'm on to something here. The only way to really make this work is to keep track and follow up. Hold me to that.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Painting the Picture


The pulsing beep gently nudges my brain out of a weird dream involving asparagus and French wine. I laugh quietly as my right hand flops around the nightstand in search of the snooze button. After three cycles of snooze I finally roll out of bed, put on my sweats and cross the street to the apartment complex fitness room. It's 8:30, two and a half hours past my former regular workout time just three weeks ago.

Good morning, World. Welcome to Day Twenty-one of Bernie's retirement.


Yes, this is a dream inside a dream as my brain visualizes a scene from my future. It's an award-winning motion picture set at least five years from now.

A companion visualization from two months ago:  Whenever I visit New Orleans, my hometown, I try to spent time with my cousins. We're all within 10 years of each other in age and spent a lot of time together growing. I'm the instigator of the cousin reunions. All of these cousins had careers or long-term jobs and all have retired. All. My sister and I are the only family members of this generation who still work.  During these cousin reunions she and I are happy to hear about their retirement life. And we are jealous. Our parents were the most frugal, plan-for-the-future people on both sides of the family. Why are we still working?

My workout is a short but effective thirty minutes. I shower, then walk a half mile to my neighborhood Starbucks. Several "hey Bernie"s later I'm enjoying expresso and conversation with retiree friends. We talk neighborhood gossip, politics, medical ailments, music and the weather. A couple of us keep busy with part-time jobs as consultants or Uber drivers, but most mornings start with camaraderie and coffee. All of us enjoyed our working lives but all of us knew it was time to cut back and enjoy life.

This visual becomes clearer every week. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I'm pretty sure it isn't a train. When it comes to work/life balance, work still wins, but the more I paint this retirement picture the more focused it gets.

Ok, guys, I've got some errands to run. See you at happy hour?  I'll tell y'all about that crazy dream that involved asparagus and French wine.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Laugh Cry or Scream

When I see Trump and his co-whiner Kellyanne complaining about people who insult the president-elect, I don't know whether I should laugh, cry or scream. Trump is a master insulter who has shown complete disrespect for nearly everyone. Why does that thin-skinned pussy think he is above being insulted?

Hey, president-elect jerk, you're a public figure and not immune from criticism. I respect the office of President but I have ZERO respect for you.

Trump insulted and spread vicious and stupid lies about President Obama, past Presidents Bush and Clinton, opponent Clinton, opponents in his own party, millions of Mexicans and billions of muslims. And he expects to be treated better?  What an idiot!

You are stupid, unqualified, have no moral center and care only about yourself and not America. You prove it every time you speak or tweet. A majority of those who voted for you were not voting for you but were voting against Clinton. And even though millions of people hated her, more people voted for her than for you.

You will be insulted and disrespected every day for the next four years. Get used to it.

Back to my original question: should I laugh, cry or scream? The more I think about it the more I will try to do none of that. Your stupidity and ego do not deserve any of my attention.