Monday, September 11, 2017

Red, White, Blue and Gray

Red White Blue and Gray

The sunny, blue sky helped to keep me calm as I inched south in a typical Tuesday traffic jam on I-270 on the way to a 9am doctor appointment in Bethesda. I had already called the doctor's office to say I'd be late.

The DJs and traffic reporter, co-workers at the radio station I work for, were laughing about who knows what when suddenly one of them said "Oh my God."  A few seconds of silence was followed by "it looks like a plane hit the World Trade Center in New York."

The next few minutes were filled with hopeful speculation that maybe it was just a small plane that veered off course and hit the tower. That would be a tragedy, of course, but probably would mostly result in few deaths, few injuries, little structural damage to the building and maybe a few months of investigative reporting about air traffic control and pilot training.

As I left my annual physical exam three hours later, I simultaneously faced traffic gridlock of an evacuating D.C. and the unimaginable news that two airliners had intentionally flown into two of the WTC towers and another crashed into the Pentagon, less than fifteen miles from me. Two of the tallest buildings in the world had collapsed and the Pentagon was on fire.

Today, sixteen years later, the image of that day is as fresh for me as it was then, enhanced by this morning's sunny blue sky and my ride to work on I-270. The 'few months of investigative reporting' has become a decade and a half of countless stories of heroism, terrorism, patriotism, flight safety and building design.

Every aspect of life in the USA has changed and reminders exist everywhere, perhaps most notably at security check points in airports, stadiums and buildings.

Hurricane Irma coverage is the only reason 9/11 isn't the lead news story today; it's number two.

Some people choose to forget or downplay memories of September 11, 2001 and others choose to remember every detail. I choose to remember. I never want to forget the fear and feeling of vulnerability. I also never want to forget the coming together of people, Americans helping Americans.


Maybe the societal divisiveness we are currently experiencing in our great country will take a break today. Maybe the anniversary of that tragic day will help us remember the unity we felt in the aftermath of terror. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Today


We talk about tomorrow
But we've only got today.

(From a Keith Urban song)

The concept of carpe diem, seize the day, is both appealing and elusive.

Living for today, living like there's no tomorrow because tomorrow is not promised, live like you were dying (doing those things you've been putting off, knowing that this is your last chance to do them) ... all of those things line a great conceptual path to a rich life.

Work, commuting, living up to expectations and obligations, work, laundry, cooking, paying bills and work ... all of those things set up obstacles on that path.

How do we find a balance?  How do we live for today, knowing it could be our last day, while keeping an eye on tomorrow, knowing there's a decent chance we will see a tomorrow?

Those are questions I ask every day. What about you?

The closest strategy I have to answer that question is this: carve out at least a little bit of "today" time every day, celebrate that action and do something, however little it may be, to prepare for tomorrow.

In other words, find the balance.
Make the most of today and plan for the tomorrow you hope you'll see.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sixty


Moments after planting your butt in a molded plastic seat, a sturdy u-shaped bar gently inches down across your chest, locking you in place. Your significant other is strapped into the seat to your right. A few duos are ahead of you, several more are behind you. A buzzer sounds and seconds later you're jolted forward, quickly accelerating up a forty-five degree incline.

You are relatively confident you won't be flung into the abyss at the top, emphasis on 'relatively'. You think you know what's on the other side but you're not .... whoaaa ... down you go, sixty miles an hour, maybe more, a quick twist to the left, then right, then slowly up again, now down quickly, a sharp left, up, over, dowwwwnnnn ... a twisted spiral, upside down, twice, shit, didn't see that coming, climbing again ....

Being in your 60s is an amusement park experience someone who is 30 can't really imagine. You watch other people going through it, you see them safely glide to the platform and disembark and comment unintelligibly, walking a little wobbly.

But nothing really prepares you for the ride. Or rides.

As you get near the end of the ride, you wonder how you survived it, you check yourself for bruises and you try to picture the next ride. Back at 30, you jumped off and said "what's next? ... let's go!!"  Now you carefully step off and say, "what's next? Let's go ... to the restroom. We'll think about the next part later."

Sixty years ago, 60 was old. To a modern-day 30-year-old, 60 is old. To some 60-somethings, 60 is old but to others it isn't. I'd like to think I'm in the "isn't" part of that spectrum, but it depends on the day and what I'm trying to do or what I can't do.

I was surfing the Social Security site recently and saw, in a retirement planning section, that someone who is 65 now can expect to live 19 more years. What?!!  That's just a targeted guess based on statistical averages, but it feels very short. My age is near that 60-something number but I want to hit 100.

The target guess based on statistical averages for someone born the year my Mother was born was mid 50s. My Mother made it to 95. She beat the odds many times. She gave birth to me just short of her 40th birthday, an unheard of feat in the 1950s. And I have a younger sister. My Mother never looked her age, even in her 90s; she always looked much younger. My sister and I are lucky to have that same physical quality.

More than half my coworkers are in their 30s and that helps keep me young, in thought at least. Attitude and hair color assist my blessed genetics with keeping me looking young, or should I say younger than the real number.

My future certainly includes more roller coaster rides. Yours too.  I accept them but don't always embrace them.  Some days I'm ready for the ride, on other days I tip toe through the aging landscape with a blend of confidence, annoyance and fear, seeking the predictability of level ground.

Regardless of the ups and downs, I won't give up living the best life I can live. I'll step off the roller coaster each time, as I said a minute ago, check for bruises, thank God I'm on level ground, look for the Men's room and board again.

Sixty is the new sixty. Don't fear the number.

Click! Buzzzz!  Here we goooooooo!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

At What Point?


At what point do childhood memories fade away and why do they sometimes come crashing back, unannounced, for no reason with no prompting?

My sister and I were in a carpool during my first few years of school. My Mother didn't drive, therefore she couldn't really take a turn as the driver, but the other mothers were ok with that. Mom usually came along for the ride, but not always.

I remember Mrs. Collins and her son Mike. And their 1957 Chevrolet. I don't remember the other moms or their cars. I do remember the time, probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, when I couldn't find the car that was supposed to take me home. I walked up and down the street looking, but didn't recognize any cars or mothers. Eventually all the cars were gone and I was still there, confused, scared and crying.

One of the older kids who helped the adult crossing guards asked me what was wrong. I told him. Fortunately I knew my address and this kid offered to walk me home. My mom was scared and worried that it took so long for me to get home that day and was relieved when I arrived. I'm not sure, but I assume she thanked the older kid, probably got his name, probably sent a thank you card to his parents.

I do know she was furious that some mother left me at school. Starting the next day, Mom took me my sister to school each morning for the rest of elementary school, walking part of the one mile route, taking a bus for about half of it. She would then arrive at the school each afternoon and take us home, partly walking, partly on the bus. New Orleans had very good public transportation back then.

Why did that memory invade my brain today, decades later? It's Sunday. I was drinking coffee and reading a science fiction novel. The plot of the novel has nothing to do with school, youth or parents.

The mind is a weird thing, isn't it?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How Do They Do It With All That Noise?

Wine bottles in wood display cases lining the walls from near the front to the back, huge wood-framed mirrors on the only remaining wall space, wooden chairs and bar stools lined up along tiled tables down the entire center, concrete floors ... that's the decorative, functional layout of one of my neighborhood wine bars. All of those lovely surfaces reflect sound, in effect amplifying the sound of conversations among fifty or more customers.

At the front, just inside the sound reflecting floor-to-ceiling glass windows and door, is a musician singing his heart out, playing favorites from three decades as well as a few originals. He's pretty good but he's background music to the customers. Those sitting closest to him are paying attention and applauding at the end of each song. The rest of us are aware that he's there but our conversations and beverages are the focus of activity.  The talking is louder than the singing. The total reflected sound level is close to deafening.

How does a singer do it?  Performers all seek attention to some degree. It's why they do what they do in front people. I'm impressed that a good singer can play in a place with inattentive customers and bad acoustics.

Pete
I met my singer/songwriter friend Pete at this wine bar a few years ago, where he played and sang and did his best to interact with the patrons.  He was asked once to perform at a "comfort concert," which is basically a small show in somebody's home. He invited me and a few other wine bar regulars to share an evening of his original songs. It was the first time I really heard him and the first time I heard most of his own music. He's great.

In this setting, twenty people pay complete attention to the performer and the performer makes a truly intimate connection with an audience. The acoustics of this particular home basement entertainment room were designed for this use.

I have seen Pete perform many times since, in bars, charity events, private receptions and a pool party. Each of those settings had crappy acoustics and most people in attendance weren't really there to pay attention to the music. Pete and others who play in this kind of environment as part of their living accept that they are mostly background.

I'm happy that they are ok with those conditions but I truly don't know how they do it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why the Hell Do I Know All These Songs?

Many boomers grew up in an era of musicals and variety shows. Songs from those performances became a part of our lives and hearing them now can transport us back in time in unexpected ways.

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly In the Plain
Get Me To the Church On Time


I saw the musical "My Fair Lady" at a local theatre this week. As far as I know, I've seen the movie only once, back in the 1960s, and have never seen this as a live stage play. Yet I knew nearly every song.

I Could Have Danced All Night

Why the hell do I know all these songs?  Maybe singers on variety TV shows sang them. Maybe we had the soundtrack on vinyl and maybe our parents played it, although I don't remember that.

On the Street Where You Live
I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face


Is this aging or is it me: when I hear these songs, and other songs like them from my youth, I get teary-eyed. It's almost embarrassing but it happens all the time. Sometimes I wish I didn't react this way.

Wouldn't It Be Loverly?

Two other musical plays I saw in my 20s are "Fiddler On the Roof" and "Man Of LaMancha".

If I Were A Rich Man
Sunrise Sunset

Dulcinea
The Impossible Dream

Those have each played in theaters in my area in the past few years and I made sure I saw them. I had a similar reaction during each, however I did know those songs and I know why I know those songs.

My "My Fair Lady" memory remains a mystery. With a little bit of luck … I'll figure it out some day.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Predicting the Future


Shopping at home, plugging in your car, reaching for a phone in your pocket where cash used to be, watching a round disk vacuum your den while you change channels by speaking your selection.  These are things Boomers saw on Star Trek or the Jetsons in the 1960s but might not have expected to become reality, even as recently as ten years ago.

Shopping at home isn't new; remember or heard of the Sears catalog?  You'd flip though pages of product pictures and descriptions in a book the size of a telephone directory (hmmm, remember those?). You would phone in or mail in your choices and likely write a check to pay for your purchase; two weeks later your stuff would arrive at your door.

Shopping at home today? Browse the products on your mobile device, tap your choices and the Complete Your Purchase button, which also verifies your stored address and credit card number and two days later your stuff arrives at your door. Some items ordered through Amazon Prime can arrive on the same day.

Did we see any of this coming?  I predicted a cashless society for a "what's ahead in the new century" radio news feature back in 1999. We're almost there. During a dinner conversation with friends a few nights ago, I learned that only two of the four of us still write checks. I'm one of the two but I only write two checks a month and I could easily pay those online like I do with my other bills.

Breaking news this week: Volvo announced that it will stop producing gasoline-only vehicles after 2019. Starting just two years from now, all of their cars will be either all electric or electric/gas hybrids. Did you see that coming?  Will other car makers follow that lead? Most major brands now have hybrid options. The rental car on my most recent vacation was a Ford Focus hybrid. I used less than 1/8 of a tank of gas in four days. Friends recently purchased a Toyota Prius hybrid and it uses mostly the electric charge in city driving. Their gas mileage averages 89 mpg. Plug in cars ... who knew?

Anyone remember the days of four TV channels instead of four hundred? And the chore of walking across the room to change the channel and the TV section of the daily newspaper as the source of which program was on which channel and when?

Now I can press Guide on the remote to learn that information from the comfort of my sofa. Or press the microphone button and ask for a show, channel or genre. Press another button to record the show so I can watch it Tuesday at 7:32 instead of Sunday at 9.

And then there's that hockey puck sitting on the table next to my sofa. Alexa, lower the volume. Alexa, who starred in Parenthood? On my phone: Hey Siri, what the weather forecast tomorrow?  On my laptop: Cortina. I can use voice commands to make music choices in one of my cars, if I could figure out how to do it.

Are we on the Enterprise?  Where's Spock?

The pace of technology development is staggering. The older we get, the more difficult it is to keep up. And sometimes the less we care about keeping up. I know three people who still use flip phones. They might also have albums. I have 1400 of my favorite songs on my iPhone. FYI, I wrote the first draft of this blog post on that same phone.

"What's a blog?" asked Gibbs in an NCIS episode just a few years ago.

I also used my phone to buy tickets to a musical while taking a break from writing this. And last week I ordered a car with my iPhone.

Why are there no books on the Enterprise?  Kindle.

MY question today is: what's in our future?  Can we predict it?  Will we just think of something and a device will respond? Imagine a TV show or a song, and there it is. We'll enjoy that entertainment from the comfort of the driver seat as our fully charged solar electric car takes us to our destination without any action or interference from us?  These technologies are already developed and being tested. Are they decades away or just a few years?

Will boomers adjust? Or will we give up. After watching me try to reprogram the instrument panel on my hybrid rental car, my 70+ cousin told me her current car, a 2007 Cadillac, will be her last. She can't quite picture not having to use a key to start a car.

I won't make any predictions right now. But I will say this: if we can think it, it can probably happen.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

How Long


Zero-year milestones, especially birthdays, attract plenty of attention. Hundred year birthdays get even more attention. There are an estimated 72,197 Americans age 100 or more, according to a 2014 CDC report, 44% more than in 2000. I want to be one of them some day.

Living to be 100 used to be some kind of miracle but improvements in lifestyle choices and medical advances have increased the chances of becoming a centenarian.

That said, it seems very few celebrities make it to the triple digit mark. Famous people have the financial resources to survive but many don't. Of course money isn't the only factor leading to a long life, but my sense of logic says it should help.

Adam West, the original TV Batman from the 1960s, died recently at age 88 from Leukemia.  Others this year: Gregg Allman, 69. Erin Moran, Joanie on Happy Days, 56, cancer. Judge Wapner almost made it, 97. Roger Moore, several James Bond movies, cancer, 89. Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs director, cancer and heart disease, 73. J. Geils, 71. Don Rickles, kidney failure, 90. Chuck Berry, 90. Bill Paxton, surgery complications, 61. Actress Mary Tyler Moore, 80.

Fair or not, you might blame lifestyle choices for early deaths of rock stars; sometimes that is the reason. Cancer is the angel of death for many others.

What about non-celebrities like us?  Leading causes of death at the older end of the spectrum include heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's. That last one is on the rise. An expert quoted in a 2016 Smithsonian Magazine article says it seems that in many cases the mind gives out before the body.

That same article talks about the world's oldest person at that time. She was 116 and attributes her longevity to not drinking, smoking or partying; but she eats bacon every morning. Another centenarian works part time as a greeter at a winery and helps make wine cartons. She exercises occasionally and gardens in the summer. I wonder if she samples the product at work.

Adding up all of this, it appears the key to aging is to stay active, keep working, eat bacon and don't be a celebrity. Looks like I'm on the right track. So far.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Letters


In a world where communication is often 140 characters or less, a letter seems ancient. A letter on paper, mailed via the US Postal Service rather than emailed, seems prehistoric.

A friend recently blogged about letters written within her family decades ago. They were nestled in boxes of family treasures her Dad delivered to her as part of a downsizing purge of their family home.  Her blog reminded me of letters my Mom wrote to me during the years after I moved away from New Orleans.

Letters were among the few family treasures that survived the floods of Hurricane Katrina. A few years ago my sister sent me a box full of letters I wrote my parents and I read a few during my own downsizing purge last month. Some were letters I sent them in the 1970s and 1980s. Other letters I found in that same room were letters Mom wrote me during that era.

What I really wish I had were letters my parents wrote to each other. I assume they did write each other during their courtship but I've never seen those letters. I recall a few photographs of them next to a tennis court they frequented but those pictures are lost to the flood.

Letters and newspaper articles are a great source of history. We can learn plenty about our family from such writing. I have so many questions about the earlier years of my parents' lives, questions that may never be answered. My Dad wrote up a ten-page "autobiography" a few years before Parkinson's dementia began to set in. After Dad died, my Mother sort of started an oral history of her life and I regret not recording it. Fortunately I do recall some of her stories.

Sometimes we see our parents only as our parents, only as the adult figures who raised us, educated us, disciplined us. We don't usually see them as young men and women who may have had the same anxieties, fears and fun we had in our youth. That one picture of my parents at the tennis court used to make me laugh because I can't picture them playing tennis.

Another lost photo is of them on their wedding day, dodging rice as they left the church. Their smiles were bigger in that shot than in any other picture I've ever seen of them. Understanding their brand of 1940s and 1950s morality leads me to believe that night was their 'first time', if you know what I mean. That would account for the size of my Dad's smile and the slight tinge of nervousness in Mom's smile. Of course I'll never know if my speculation was correct.

At some point in his youth, Dad played piano. I learned of this in my youth but I never saw him play one note on his mother's piano. There's a family story about my Dad running along streetcar tracks when he was a kid. Naked. Grandma screaming at him to get off the tracks because a streetcar was coming. My conservative prude Dad???  Wow.

Mom was born on a farm. She and her three siblings sometimes played in cow dung. She didn't speak English till she started school around age 6 or 7.  I wish I knew how she felt about those things at that age.

The best story Mom ever told me was the one about how she met Dad. I knew they met at work but I didn't hear the whole story till she was around 90 years old.

Both parents lived through the depression of the 1930s. I'd love to know what that was like for them. I never will.

My sister says both parents were proud of my accomplishments in my career. I sort of knew that but I don't remember ever hearing that from them. Maybe that's in a letter somewhere.

I think I'll stop here before this post gets off the tracks too much. I also think I'll dig through some of Mom's old letters to me. Maybe there's more in them than I know.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

House Shirt Coffee


As I entered the oak-paneled family room of an unfamiliar house, I saw a tall, muscular man facing away from me looking out the window. He looked a lot like Arnold from behind. He turned around. Wow, it was Arnold. Yes, THAT Arnold.

He asked, in his distinctive accented voice, if he could borrow a shirt. I told him yes but said it won't fit. He laughed as I handed him one of my white dress shirts.

Moments later, or so it seemed, I entered another room to say I was leaving. I realized it was a bedroom and a beautiful young woman lay beside Arnold in the bed. She was under the covers from the neck down, facing me; Arnold was asleep facing away from me.

As I turned to leave, I heard a sultry female voice ask if there was any coffee in this house. I turned around to see the beautiful walking my way, dressed only in a man's dress shirt. My shirt. The one I had lent Arnold.

Yes, coffee. Follow me.

Then I woke up. I have the oddest dreams.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Quiet and Alone


Unlike most people I know, I am completely comfortable being alone. It is not necessarily my preferred state, but it is well within my comfort zone.

It is early Sunday morning in the middle of a four-day holiday weekend. I am sitting alone on my patio soaking in the 72-degree temperature, watching the sunshine/shade line crawl across the courtyard on a slow journey toward the flowers lining the patio railing. Chirping birds punctuate the hum of a nearby air conditioner. The only other sounds are from passing cars, a Harley, the clink of a spoon as it scoops up cereal from a bowl to my mouth and the rustling of paper as I search for "continued on C6" in today's Washington Post.

I've only heard three voices this morning: the friendly greeting from a barking dog, a "good morning" from a neighbor in the fitness room across the street and the voice in my head sounding out a text message from the love of my life, who spent the night in her mother's hospital room.

Most of my waking, non-work hours are spent with said love of my life and I cherish every minute. Balance, however, is the root of who I am and I enjoy the occasional hour or day in the company of only me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

FB and the Wild Wild West


The wife and husband friends who owned the farm I lived on for a couple of years more than forty years ago.  Another friend from that same era who now lives in Hawaii. A former coworker who was also briefly a roommate. Several former coworkers from various decades of my career. Two or three old girlfriends and one ex wife. Three or four friends who live thirty miles away but who I rarely see in person. Current friends I've known less than four years. Current coworkers and colleagues. Cousins who I hadn't seen in years.

That's just a partial list of around 400 of my Facebook friends. Some of them are real friends and some are just acquaintances. I have met all but a handful of them and generally don't accept friend requests if I don't really know them or at least know who they are.

Facebook is at times wild, odd, annoying, helpful, revealing and beneficial. Because of Facebook, I found people from my past who I really did want to reconnect with. I also found people who I'd forgotten about and in some cases wanted to keep that forgotten status in tact. Oh well.

The funniest thing about social media is that I often learn more about people from their FB posts that I do in face to face conversations. I've met my upstairs neighbor numerous times, for example, but I know more about her life from reading about it than talking about it. I've learned plenty about a cousin through FB than from chatting because I've only seen him once since he was 18 (he's now 50), but I 'see' him nearly every day online.

I've also learned more than I ever wanted to about prejudices and political views of some friends, relatives and acquaintances thanks to Facebook.

Does any of this resonate with you?  Do you sometimes prefer to know a friend's music preferences more than their views about current or past Presidents?  Have you blocked some FB friends or even I friended them. Do you sometimes just slip past posts of over posters, people who document every moment of their lives on social media?

Facebook is or can be a wonderful tool for personal contact but it can also be a dangerous purveyor of misinformation, fake news and computer viruses. It's sad to think it might be subject to governmental regulation at some point but maybe it should be.  Or maybe people should just be cautious when reading or posting.

I guess that's all that's on my mind today. I'll probably post this to this blog, then spend or waste a little time scrolling through FB. Maybe I'll see a nice cat video.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dad Again

I'm surprised by how much my Dad is on my mind this month. Yeah, yeah, Father's Day, Hallmark cards, Facebook posts, tv commercials ... it's all part of June every year. It's usually the subject of only one post for me, not three.

My Dad and I had an up and down relationship between my teens and thirties, as I mentioned before, but today I'm immersed in positive thoughts about him and his influence on me; and I promised I'd return to positive posts. So this is one.

He was the ultimate problem-solver. He believe he could solve virtually any problem and fix nearly any broken thing if he could spend enough time studying it. He engaged in his hobbies with professional level skill. He was the family's TV repairman and nearly every cousin has a story about some TV "Uncle Benny" fixed. Most TVs in our house were repaired hand-me-downs until he was finally talked into buying a new one.

He was handy with carpentry. He built our house, for example. Literally by himself. Every nail, every electrical outlet, every faucet. The only help he had was with heavy things, like the lifting the framed walls. He paid roofers because he didn't know how to do that, then watched them work so he could learn. Two years after moving in, he built the detached garage, including the roof.

He was an engineer and draftsman by profession. Dad didn't have a college degree, however; he was partly self-taught and partly trade school educated. You could do it that way in the 1940s and 1950s.

He only had three jobs in the first thirty-five years of my life. Each job change was the result of the company owner retiring and selling or closing the business. In one case, Dad went with a new business started by the retiring owner's business partner. When that owner retired years later, several other companies offered Dad jobs; he had a great reputation in town. He held that last job for more than twenty years.

Plumbing was his engineering specialty in that last job. He worked, without name recognition, on projects ranging from drainage on an I-10 offramp to sprinkler systems and restrooms in a suburban shopping center to the fountain at the Italian Plaza in downtown New Orleans.

I could take about his stubbornness and often judgmental attitude but I'll let this sentence be the extent of that observation.

Dad was soft-spoken and usually more of an observer than a participant. Guess where I get that from!  He didn't say much but sometimes one sentence from him capped a conversation perfectly. Sometimes I'm like that.

Dad also had an infectious smile, which I didn't really realize till a few years after his death. I've been complimented on my smile too.


I'm told through family lore that Dad had quite a different personality as a child and young man. If I could have just one do-over in life, it would be to have a conversation with him about his youth.


OK, that’s all about Dad, for now.  I do miss him.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dads Day


A psychologist told me after my Dad died more than 15 years ago that grief never really goes away, if just changes over time. She said we should ignore suggestions to 'get over it'. Each of us processes grief and loss in different ways. Intense internal emotional pain can transform into mild sadness in a few months or a few years or never. Nobody else has the right to force their timeline on any of us.

My grief process, in the case of my Dad's death, is like a roller coaster. I held it together the week he died, from the time in the nursing home when I watched him take his last breath till two minutes after they slid his casket into the designated slot in the mausoleum days later. Then as I rolled my Mother in her wheelchair down a long hall back to the limo, I lost it, sobbing all the way down the hall, my sister on one side and a cousin on the other. That same cousin's fraternal twin brother died this week and my grief over his death combined with this being Father's Day has stirred up a crazy stew of unexpected emotions in me.

The flashback to my Dad's funeral is as clear and colorful as that day. My dark grey suit, white shirt, blue tie; the white marble floor of the mausoleum; the blue sky outside; the tan-colored limo; my Crown Vic rental car. I can picture my Mom, sister and me eating a silent lunch at Mom and Dad's favorite restaurant later, as well as the two-hour exhaustion-filled nap back at my sister's house, the Dad-built house we grew up in, on the sofa our parents picked out years before, two feet from Dad's lounge chair, the kind that lifted him up to help him stand when he still lived there six weeks earlier.

Memories of that whole fall and winter are crowding out every other thought today, Fathers Day. September - terrorist attacks, one of them just fifteen miles from where I lived then; October -  both parents move to a nursing home, a sad but necessary option; November - Dad dies. Then comes the family-infused Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

My grief morphed into weeks of regret and self-anger over not spending more time with Dad when I could. Then some time in January, not long before my birthday, my then-wife has the fucking audacity to tell me to 'get over it'.

I visited that cousin two weeks ago. I knew he was on his death bed (death recliner). As I said in previous posts, he had a remarkably positive attitude about his situation and he knew that week or even that day could be his last. I hadn't seen him in a few years and made that trip specifically to see him.

He lasted another two weeks. The text and email I received with news of his death each also mentioned that he appreciated my visit and told that to every family member he encountered. Our last words to each other were "I love you," words we had never spoken to each other till that moment.

I'm silently crying as I write this. Grief and loss slapping me upside the head.

I'll be fine tomorrow. My grief processing process lasts a day or two, during which I mentally and emotionally shut myself off and crawl into a psychological hole. I don't know any other way to do it. I know it can confuse and hurt people closest to me and I'm sorry about that. But it is what it is.

My Dad and I had a sometimes-great, sometimes-difficult relationship but I think about him a lot and credit him with many positives: my problem-solving skills, my determination, my general do-the-right-thing attitude and my smile.

Today, as I mentally sit in my hole and physically sit in my guest room trying to finally straighten it out, I take this break to write this blog post. I wish it was more positive; at least it's deeply honest. My usual positivity should return soon, probably tomorrow.

This year my Father's Day is melancholy but I wish you a happy one.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Dad Book


(This is a repost.  I realized today that the original was missing the last couple of paragraphs).

"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 life for 500, Alex.

I remember many minor details of the first time I meet people ... which barstool I was sitting on when I met Jennifer nearly four years ago, which row of cubicles I was walking in when I met my friend Wendy 33 years ago, which conference I met my boss two years before she became my boss. I remember minor details of how to tell a '65 Mustang from a '66 Mustang ... the absence or presence of that 3-prong chrome piece a foot behind the door, the horizontal speedometer vs. the round one.

I remember that last meaningful conversation with my Dad as I waited for a taxi to take me to the airport that afternoon nearly twenty years ago.

And I remember the decision I made yesterday to begin my book about him with the same narrative I used to begin this post.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Write Write Write


I am on a serious role writing this week/month/year. Blog ideas hit me almost every day and many turn into publishable posts. This is the third one I've written today, although I like to spread out the posting a bit.

I fantasized being a writer at some point in my youth. I determined early in college that writing for a living is not a good path for someone who wants stability. I also did not have much confidence in my writing skills, even though my SAT scores led to advanced placement in English courses.

My confidence level is higher now, but I still don't see this as a stable income generator; but maybe writing could be part of a retirement income mix. Hmmmm.

Five published authors are loosely in my social circle. Four of them have written personal, somewhat autobiographical books and the fifth recently published her second novel. None of them make a living writing books but the novelist does make some or all of her income as a freelance reporter.

For years I've felt I have a book in me. After several wine-enhanced conservations with one of my published author friends, I began to visualize writing that book. Funny thing is that this line of thought (or was it the wine?) has led me to mentally outline THREE books. One is based in part on this blog, one is about my Dad and one is my own autobiography.

I do plan to write all three at some point. I do not plan to make any money with them. My motivation with all three books as well as with my blogs is strictly personal. I'd like to think some of my writing is interesting but I write mostly for me. If anyone else likes what I write or gains some kind of positive feeling from reading what I write, that is great!

Even if they don't, however, I'll continue to write, write, write.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

MS Stress Mess and Be Yourself


Stress is a significant symptom trigger for those of us who live with Multiple Sclerosis. We are advised to reduce stress. We are also encouraged to not let MS get in the way of living our best lives.

I regularly advise others to reduce stress in their lives and I try to practice what I preach. Funny thing about me (or not so funny): many things are stressful to me. Airplane travel is one of them. I don't really have fear of flying; I do have fear of inconvenience and delays.

My travel companion(s) are probably annoyed by my timeline. I get to airports early. Very early. Two or three hours early. I build in time buffers to allow for traffic jams, parking hassles, long security checkpoint lines, etc. This strategy is based on numerous past situations that resulted in running through airports, something I refuse to do any more, even if I could. I've also encountered massive traffic jams that resulted in missed flights. Not any more, if I can help it. I'd rather be early and bored than late and stressed.

I'm writing this thirty feet from Gate 8, two hours before departure time on a recent trip. I planned for numerous possible delays. My forty-to-sixty minute ride to the airport took only thirty-five minutes. The sometimes fifteen minute shuttle ride from parking to entrance took only five. Bag check took five (no lines), security took ten (no line but removing shoes is time-consuming for me, as is hobbling through the detector while my cane glides past x-ray).

No line at Dunkin Donuts either. I'm sipping coffee and writing this with two pleasantly boring hours ahead of me before boarding.

With long, slow, comfortable breaths, I'm relaxing, stress-free, and being me.

A coffee toast to not letting MS mess with me. Today.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Breathe


It's unusual for me to spend 4 days in New Orleans without saying a word on Facebook or posting a picture, but recently I did. The visit could have been sad because it involved my cousin in hospice care, presumably near death, and another cousin also living with or in the process of dying from lung cancer.

I directly and indirectly reached out to each of them, with no response at the time I booked my flight.

The first two days in my hometown were spent with first and second cousins I've had little contact with for decades. Conversation, catching up, seafood, mimosas, quiet porch swing chatting next to a calming, lazy river. Unexpected, peaceful, awesome, rewarding family bonding.

Well-timed phone calls on the third day resulted in a well-spent hour with the cousin in hospice care. He spends most days in a dark brown lounge chair in his dark paneled living room, knowing any of those days could be his last. His hair and body are much thinner than the last time I saw him three years ago. He is on oxygen 24/7. Food and drink are carefully consumed due to esophagus issues related to radiation treatments last year. He occasionally stops conversation to catch his breath. Always the storyteller, he describes in great detail the journey from first diagnosis to today. He acknowledges that a life of smoking cigarettes led to what will undoubtedly be the end of his life at the relatively young age of 70.

Despite all of this, he has the most amazing positive attitude about his situation and I'm happy I got to spend time with him. In some ways he is an inspiration. His religious faith is something I knew little about but he gives Jesus credit for his attitude and acceptance.

The other ill cousin I wanted to see does not want to see anyone. He has been a recluse for more than a decade. My guess as to the causes of his very negative outlook ... he lost literally everything on Hurricane Katrina, then a few years later was robbed and shot in the leg while making deliveries for his job, then got cancer. I'd like to think I could have made him feel better with my own positive attitude, but, well, no.

In the middle of this unusually spontaneous trip I got to spend plenty of quality time with my sister. That was a blessing on its own merits.

And I ate way too much awesome New Orleans food. Yum.

Family ties are incredibly strong. I left my hometown nearly four decades ago to chase my career dreams and inadvertently disconnected from many parts of my family. Out of sight, out of mind. I am so lucky that my family members have accepted and encouraged my reconnecting efforts over the past ten plus years.

Something else I learned during this particular spontaneous, relatively unscripted trip is that much can be gained, in mind and body, when you slow down and breathe. It is an interesting experience to gain some of this knowledge by visiting some who struggles to breath with every breath, someone who might take his last breath as I write this paragraph.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Turquoise



Two turquoise chairs topped with a blue-green-yellow-white pillow each snuggle with two round plexiglass tables, sharing a 6 by 8 space with two plants, a small metal shelf unit, a stone owl and me. The tables are topped with round yellow place mats; one is covered by my lunch and the other with a book.

The steady hum of the neighborhood is punctuated by the occasional passing car, chirping bird, buzzing lawn mower and almost-synchronized footsteps of the property manager and three prospective tenants getting a tour.

It's early afternoon in early June and I'm on vacation. I travelled early in the week but now I'm home, soaking in an unscheduled Thursday on my patio, wondering if this is what retirement is like.

It's peaceful yet busy today. A FedEx truck pauses as a Waste Management truck turns the corner on the way to the next dumpster. The early-morning sidewalk repair crew packs up for the day; same thing for the landscapers. Two neighbors, a stay-at-home mom and her out-of-school-for-the-summer daughter cross the street on the way to the pool, greeting another neighbor who is walking his dog.

This could be part of my afternoon pattern several days a week if I was retired. I've only just begun to regularly visualize retirement. The R-word conversation has accelerated from once in a while to once a day.

I don't plan to ever completely stop working, but the target of cutting back several years from now seems to be in sharper view; and turquoise might be my new favorite color.

Friday, June 2, 2017

They Were Always There


In the mind-numbing, uncertain, challenging, fun, just "slightly on the edge" pursuit of career dreams, you knew they were always there. You left home to chase the dream, knowing friends and family would always be there. Visits home grew less frequent but you always knew that each time you returned, Mom, Dad, sister, grandparents, cousins and friends would be there.

Months became years became decades. You knew they'd be there, or so you thought. Then, one by one, they weren't there. A grandparent dies, then an aunt, an uncle, a college friend who you lost contact with ten years earlier.

Gone.

Still, you knew the rest of them would still be there.

When I say you I really mean I.

Now the remaining ones are my generation and some of them are dying. They are NOT there. Now I'm dealing with a toxic mix of grief and regret. Regret that I didn't go home and spend time with them as I chased my dreams. Every city I've lived in is less that three hours from where they are. My credit card limit always had enough left for round trip tickets.

Email and Facebook have enabled contact but that only represents a ten year slice of the forty years I've been gone. I mostly missed the other thirty. Ok, I said it before: they could have kept in touch too and didn't. But hey, I'm the one who left.

The point? Or points?  Don't wait. Don't stop staying in touch. Don't assume there's a tomorrow. Don't think you can make this life journey alone.

Don't assume they will always be there. They won't.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Living and Learning

When someone close to you is dying, do you feel sadness and fear because that is a natural response?  Or is part of what you feel because of what is says about your own mortality?

I say it's both.

As I write this, a cousin in New Orleans is in hospice care. He almost died three nights ago. Doctors say there is nothing else they can do for him other than to make him comfortable.

I had already booked a flight there to see him but I don't even know if he'll still be alive. I don't know if he'll want to see anyone.

My head is swimming with sadness over his situation and regrets that I didn't spend more time with him over the past few decades. Those thoughts and emotions are stirred by an underlying dread about my own mortality. I'm not all that afraid to die - I've led an awesome life - but I've got a lot more living to do.

He and I spent a lot of time together in our youth. He was sometimes a prankster and still has a great sense of humor. I did spend some quality time with him during 'cousin reunions' over the past ten years. I saw him at the funerals of both of my parents; but I wasn't at the funeral of either of his parents. I barely know his wife and I don't know his children. A shit-ton of regret is flowing over me right now.

Ok, so he didn't especially keep in touch with me either, but that's not the point. I'm the one who was basically invisible from my family and old friends while chasing my career dreams all over the country.

Anyway, I have two hopes right now. One, that I see him alive this weekend. Two, that I do everything I can to spend time with loved ones while they are alive and healthy and not just when they're dying.

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.