April 6, 2020

Thinking of An Escape Plan?

As my stay-at-home period continues I must report I am starting to feel a little antsy. Betty and I have visited our daughters' homes over the past few weeks for Sunday games and meal time. One major change: each couple or single person brings their own food and drink. Obviously it would be quite difficult to expect the host to feed 8-13 people. So, we all contribute. Last weekend: mac and cheese with a green salad for us.

I have squeezed in a run to Lowes for a lawnmower.  If my lawn service stops coming the grass will keep growing, so the mower might become quite important. Never fear, it was ordered and paid for online, brought outside by a worker and loaded into the car without my touching anything. At home, after unloading the box, hand sanitizer was liberally applied. Otherwise, with everything closed, a neighborhood walk with the dog and a book on the back porch is my world.

Each day I wake up to reports about the spread of this invisible menace. The number of cases, the mounting death toll, the use of refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies...it is all surreal. People using scarves as masks, health workers so overwhelmed that they must rely on food and supplies from fellow citizens to stay on the job...how will this end?

It is hard to stay mentally upbeat when everything we have known as normal is upended. It is humbling to see the power of Mother Nature, uninterested in the politics and desires of man, do what she will do. It is distressing to realize that the minor inconveniences my family faces are nothing compared to so many parts of the world, including our own country. It seems very selfish to celebrate the food deliveries from Walmart and Amazon, when millions, soon to be tens of millions, have no money for food, rent, or medicines.

I have read a few comments from some knuckleheads on various social media sites that bothered me, and prompted this post. The premise of those thoughts was that we should be thinking of where we can escape to, now, or after the pandemic is starting to wane. I gather these folks are thinking about outrunning, or hiding from two things they fear: the spread of the flu and the collapse of the social and economic system we have come to expect.

Frankly, it reminded me of the rush to build bomb shelters during the height of the arms race and the Cuban missile crisis. People were tearing up their yard to dig a giant hole, line it with concrete walls, ceiling and floor, install a bombproof (and neighbor-proof) door, and stockpile several months worth of food and water for the day when Russia launched the missiles.

Now, it seems that these modern-day people are convinced that this pandemic will linger for not just months, but years. Food supply chains will rupture. Hospitals and those who work there will have all gotten sick, or so burned out they can longer help. Medicine, masks, and ventilators will be unavailable at any cost. Most of the businesses that are shuttered now will stay that way. Millions will roam the streets, willing to do anything to find food. Government will have imposed draconian restrictions and used the pandemic as an excuse to expand their powers.

The only option these folks see is to head for the hills, either here or some other country. Take as many supplies as they can get their hands on, and find someplace that is isolated from the disaster they see coming. Live off the grid and away from a society that has collapsed. 

Whoa. Let me modify my first sentence. Compared to the mindset of these people, I am not getting antsy at all. In fact, I am downright content and feeling blessed. I have plenty of food, I have my family all nearby, I have books and the Internet to keep me content. My guitar works, my paint brushes still paint. My turntable, old CDs, or Spotify keep the music flowing.

We are going to have a tough go of it for a while. There will be a terrible human toll on way too many of us. Our economy will struggle to restart itself, the financial health of millions will be compromised. If for some reason the November election is postponed things will get seriously unpleasant.

But, with all that said, I firmly believe the answer is not to run from what faces us. I have a solid faith that God is with me. He (or She or It) gives me hope and a strength to go through whatever I must face. He won't make it go away if I pray enough; the virus is part of the natural world that will follow its very well-defined rules. God isn't going to interfere with what has been created. But, he will walk through it with me.

Nor do I believe that the virus will destroy our way of life. Will there be changes? I think there will. There could be more awareness of the importance of social interaction, and I don't mean on a smartphone, but real human-to-human relationships. Our belief that the stores will always be open, the shelves always fully stocked, and instant gratification is a law of nature could undergo much needed adjustments. Our appreciation for medical workers, teachers, and delivery people will grow. 

But, thinking of an escape plan, whatever that means....no way. We are in something very big and very scary, and we are in it together.

April 2, 2020

None of Us Are Quite What We Appear.... Are We?

If I mention the name, Walt Disney, what are your first thoughts? Disneyland? Disney World? Mickey Mouse? Bambi? Dumbo? "Uncle Walt" on the TV every Sunday night? Maybe it is watching Frozen for the twentieth time with a grandchild. How about being scared by the various wicked witches or the  marching broomsticks in Fantasia?

Whatever your Disney trigger, more than  fifty years after his death Walt Disney remains a powerful part of our collective memories. What he created has an amazingly powerful pull on us. Over 70 million stream through his major theme parks in the U.S. with double that entering the various Disney parks around the world.

I am finishing a fascinating biography of Mr. Disney. At over 600 pages, Neal Gabler's, Walt Disney, The Triumph of The American Imagination, covers every aspect of Walt's life, from his humble beginnings in Marceline, Missouri, through his struggles with his parents and finding his way in the world. As he found his artistic voice, the book takes the reader deep inside the development of what would transform him, and the rest of us: Mickey Mouse and animated films. 

Eventually, his ultimate creation, a place where dreams come true, begins to consume his time, energy, and hopes, even at the cost of attention to his company's film and television efforts. He becomes an American icon and has to play the role of "Walt Disney" even as his health begins to slip and the business pressures change him.

He becomes a difficult husband, harsh employer firing employees on a whim, treating others poorly, all while forcing himself to conform to the image the public expected. The public Walt Disney forced the man, Walt Disney, to change from a happy farm fellow following his dreams into the face of a huge corporation, with responsibilities and duties that began to overwhelm him.

My reason for focusing on this book and his story is detailed in the blog title: "None of us are quite what we appear...Are We?" Walt Disney was not alone in finding the forces of life and commitments changing his personality and joy of life. All of us have at least two personas: the one we show to the world and the one that only we see and live with.

We would assume that the happiest people have managed to keep those two parts rather closely aligned. What you see is what you get would be a good summary. There is no ongoing struggle to keep the two parts in sync. This is someone who has figured out a good balance.

Of course, that doesn't always mean such a well-balanced person is nice to be around. The "inside"  can a bit of a loner, someone firm in his or her convictions, and not really a big believer in compromise. The world is mostly black and white, with good and evil rather easily defined. For that person, it is possible the public perception is the same. This is not a person you expect to be the life of the party. A smiley face is not his choice for an emoji. Compromising to fit in isn't how she functions. 

Someone who has very different personal and public images might be easier to be around, but could be quite unhappy trying to protect the two realities. The face we see is happy, engaged with others, willing to help when asked. Inside, the pressures to retain a pleasant public image is causing all sorts of stresses and problems.

That person could feel used by others since he or she is always the first to be asked to volunteer.  Damage to personal relationships occurs on a regular basis. The work required to keep a private and public image separate is overwhelming at times. Celebrities and politicians spring to mind as groups that are more likely to exhibit this clash, but this conflict can occur in anyone.

What is the lesson, then, from Walt Disney's story that we can use as a check on our own balancing act? How important is it that our private self and a public self are well integrated? Which one should we change to make life more of a smooth sail than a choppy voyage?

The amount of effort required to maintain the image of the person happy to serve, never turning down a request, and willing to take on other's burdens, all while feeling put upon, taken advantage of, and unhappy with a schedule overwhelmed with the needs of others, creates a very unhealthy tension. The mental and physical strain takes a toll. 

I have written several times before about the need to say, "No," in retirement. Assumptions about all our free time (really?) and having so little to occupy us that we are glad to be asked, is one of the more important hurdles we must overcome.

Making it clear that you will not always be available, always say "yes," and agree to always subjugating your needs to others becomes a survival skill. For many of us, saying we can't do something is tough. Turning down a chance to serve in some way risks harming our public image: how others think of us.

To answer my question about changing one of our images to make things go well, I would suggest that changing the core, personal you is a mistake. If your true, inner self believes certain things to be true, wants limits on your availability to others, and does not "follow the crowd" in how you think about certain subjects, then to bury those parts of yourself so the happy, always helpful you is what others see will not end well.

What if the inner you desperately wants to serve, loves being asked, and wants to adopt five strays from the pound but people perceive you to be very private, standoffish, and somewhat rigid? Should you allow your public image to keep you from experiencing all the things that make you happy? 

No, of course not. In this circumstance, changing the perception that people have of you to one that reflects who you really are becomes a necessity. The frustration of being unable to use what makes you the very unique person you is not healthy.

Personally, I have a somewhat conflicted inerr/outer profile. Around others I can be involved, happy to meet someone new and eager to engage in conversation. Maybe not the life of the party, but certainly not a wallflower.

The inside "Bob" is more reserved and private. Happy to be alone or with family members is my default feeling. Not counting the present situation, a day when the car doesn't leave the garage is a good day for me. Maybe that is why I enjoyed radio so much: locked away in a studio, talking to thousands of people that I didn't really see or interact with, all while projecting the image of a typical rock DJ. When the microphone went off I was just Bob again, happy to head home.

Over the years I have worked on making these two sides of me more compatible. Blogging has helped tremendously in giving me the chance to interact with others, at times even meeting readers and enjoying the time together. I have gotten better at restricting the time I am volunteering to only those activities that really satisfy me. 

But, I am still happiest with a good book, a sunny, warm afternoon on the back porch, or time with my wife and family. 

How about you? How well do your private and public selves mesh? Is there a constant conflict that causes some stress? Or, have you learned to keep the two sides of you in balance? How about right now?

Has our virus-infected world caused you to rethink how you feel about the two parts of you? Do you see a change taking place? Do you think what we are experiencing may change you?

Pandemic or not, this seems to me to be an important question to answer to really have a satisfying retirement journey.

March 29, 2020

RV Travel: A Wife's Perspective

How about something very different today? No virus talk, no worries about the future. A look back when things seemed easier.

It has been a few years since we sold our RV. There are times we really miss the freedom and excitement of cutting the cord that binds us to home and setting our sights on someplace down the road. After almost 5 years, though, we felt it was the right time to sell it and try other experiences.

A post from our RV days did receive a lot of interest, so I have decided to rerun it. I asked Betty what she thought of RV travel after one of our first trips in a rental unit before we plunked the money down on our own rig. While we shared the duties, there was still shopping, cooking, and cleaning every day. So, time on the road still meant the same type of duties we did at home.

Overall, though, what did she think?

What was the overall experience like? Is it something you're glad you did?

Frankly I was a little apprehensive about trying this adventure with my husband who is a bit more serendipitous than I am. I have always trusted Bob and usually am always ready to try new things. (within limits!) As it turned out it was quite enjoyable. We were able go someplace where it was a little cooler and leave our worries behind for awhile. 

This was a test not only to see if we could manage the hookups but also to see if Bob and I could live with each other in small quarters for an extended period of time. I’m happy to announce we did very well and passed both tests! 

The big test next time is to try this with a puppy who barks at everything. There will be obedience classes and lots of socializing with the pup before venturing out.

What were the biggest surprises of RVing...both good and bad?

Everywhere we looked we ran into friendly people who were willing to lend a hand, come and visit and knew when to give you space. It was so refreshing to meet people literally face to face. In this world of texting and Smartphones it was great to sit outside and have someone come up to your “front porch” and chat a while.

About 2 in 3 campers had a dog. There were all different types of dogs from the tiniest to huge breeds. Out of all of the dogs that we saw all but two were extremely well behaved. I loved watching the dogs go by.

The showers/bathrooms at the RV Parks/Campgrounds were beautifully maintained.

It can get to be a little boring if you stay in the same place for an extended period of time. Unlike Bob, I can get antsy in a short period of time. Except for photography, and reading, my hobbies can be quite messy and take up a huge amount of space.

Painting, carpentry, scrapbooking, and building things are hard to do in an RV. But with a little imagination everything can be geared down to a miniature level. I even saw a man with his saw horse and table saw set up outside his RV. One word of caution… Don’t scrapbook outside on the picnic table on a windy day!

What were your favorite parts?

The people!

I love getting outside during most of the day, something I don’t do it very often when I’m home. It was wonderful being able to get to the cooler weather.

I loved seeing all of the different breeds of dogs. It seemed as if every other RV had one or two dogs enjoying the RV life as much as their humans!

Having the ability to pack up and leave with your “house” anytime you want.

What were your least favorite parts?

Alas, it is kind of a working vacation for all. Since Bob did all of the driving and hooking up, it fell to me to pack, unpack, prepare meals, and clean up.

The bed in our rented 25’ RV camper is small, (a double?) and they supplied us with only a flat sheet, making it next to impossible to make the bed. The sheet and comforter kept coming out, plus I had to crawl over Bob to get to my side of the bed.

What I worried about most was how much stuff I should I bring. I am sure it would be loads of fun supplying your own things when you have your own camper. Because we were in a class”C” camper and we needed transportation to get supplies, go sightseeing and go into town I had to drive our car behind the RV for the whole trip. Next time we’ll see if we can our car behind the motorhome.

The air conditioning was loud. (Question – Are most RV air conditioning loud or was it just a rental thing?) You couldn’t watch a video with the air conditioning running.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of taking their first RV trip?

The most important thing to bring is painters tape. We used it to hold several drawers and the stove grate in place because they rattled.. Painters tape does not leave residue like duct tape.

I would pack everything in labeled (Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, tools, clothes) appropriate sized plastic totes. Labeling everything makes it so much easier to find it in the storage area underneath the RV.

I literally went room to room in our home before leaving and put things in that I thought I’d need. Overall, we did well, though I  got kind of tired of the handful of clothes that we brought. 

Betty hugging a tree (don't ask)
So, there you have it: RVing from my wife's perspective. I must say I am very happy she enjoyed the experience as much as I did. I would add one essential ingredient to her list: good WiFi availability at your campsite. With the need to maintain the blog, respond to e-mails, pay bills, and watch movies on Netflix, solid Internet service was a must-have. Unfortunately, our experience was that most campgrounds and RV parks do not have good WiFi. At times that was quite frustrating. I am afraid we were unable to leave all the electronics behind.

Followup: As regular readers know, after this positive rental experience we did buy our own RV: a 30 foot Class C that could tow our car.

We visited 32 states, a dozen National Parks, and had a ball. It was a part of our satisfying retirement that was worth every penny and all the hassles. 

If this is a dream of yours, Betty and I urge you to go for it. The memories will last a lifetime.

March 27, 2020

Count Me Out

In possibly the most insensitive comment of the past several years, a Texas official suggested that older Americans should be willing to sacrifice themselves to help the the economy through this period of shutdowns and closures.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick thinks the right thing to do is for people of grandparent age (which includes the 69 year old Patrick) to risk contracting and dying from Coronavirus if that means the country could get back to business. Forget the social distancing, forget the dangers of being near lots of other people. For the stock market's health, older folks should simply suck it up and take the risks as a matter of doing their part for the country's economy.

Are you kidding me? I couldn't have made this up. No one would believe me. Obama's fictional death panels would be back, but very, very real. Over 65? Don't even ask to be tested or for a ventilator. Stay away from the hospital where you might infect more productive (younger) people. Say goodbye to your adult children and grandkids now, so you don't waste time later.

Well, maybe the sickness police will be coming for me soon. But, count me out. Mr. Patrick can stand next to someone in line at the counter who has the disease, inhale the droplets, and then say goodbye to his wife and kids. He will have done his duty on the altar of economic sacrifice. But, I will be nowhere near him.

To be fair, if that is even possible with such a repugnant idea, Mr. Patrick would make the decision to risk catching the virus a voluntary one. Unless, not enough of us raised our wrinkled arms to join the parade. Then, who knows.

Have you seen the 1973 movie, Soylent Green? Set in New York City (see the connection?), this charming little film is about a society that is running out of food. Then, someone decides that old people could be killed and processed into food, the aforementioned, Soylent Green. 

Probably tasting like WWII "C" rations, these little green blocks of protein would keep the younger people alive and serving the government. No one would miss the seniors and turning them into food would solve two problems at once.

Since the president is 73 (Turning 74 in 3 months), I assume Mr. Patrick is not including him, or more than half the members of Congress who are grandparent age. He is just suggesting that places where us oldsters congregate, like Sun City, or The Villages, or churches (the perfect place to congregate) and Walmart be the place where this exciting, one-way voyage should begin.

Is 1 million deaths enough to keep things humming? 2 million? I appreciate I am being quite snarky, maybe even disrespectful to an elected official of the great Lone Star State. Tough. Count me out of laying down my life for the lords of Wall Street. 

And, if that means a recession, then so be it. We will all be in it together, regardless of our age or "usefulness." When it is even suggested that human lives count less than the state of the economy we have lost whatever separates us from the animals. 

March 25, 2020

Our Aging Brain

Several years ago I read, and reviewed a book,  Wisdom Paradox, about the effect of aging on our brain. The author made the point that our brain works differently as we age. Our mind has the potential to get stronger as the brain itself actually deteriorates in a physical sense. We gain the ability to more effectively analyze information and come to new conclusions to help us. Many of the neurons in our brain do die, but are replaced by other neurons that keep pace. The key point of that post was that we can gain wisdom and insight as we age.

Let's assume the author is correct: our mind can be stronger at 65 than 25 because we have gathered life experiences, both good and bad, for decades. Our brain sorts and connects all the electrical impulses in such a way that we are left with the ability to make better choices and decisions.

So, today I'd like your input. Can you share an example of how failures or successes in your past taught you important lessons that have helped you as you have aged? Do you find your earlier life experiences have resulted in an extra dose of wisdom now? Have you learned valuable lessons from simply being alive this long?

Maybe you disagree with the book's premise...that your younger mind reacted more quickly to a problem or seemed to generate lots of solutions? Now, you seem to fall back on the safe and customary responses rather than plot a fresh course.

I think it will be interesting for us to share stories how the effects of our aging brain and mind have served us during our retirement. To get the process started I'll share an example.

Would you take advice from this man?
For most of my life I have been quite controlling (ask my wife!). There are those that would claim I still am, and they are probably correct. Yet, this condition used to be much worse.

By my 34th birthday I was advising the ABC Radio networks. I had helped write a ground-breaking study for the Associated Press that help change the style of radio news. Radio stations were competing for my services. I was unstoppable. I was convinced I was smarter than most. I owned the golden goose.

Not so fast.  This attitude threatened my relationship with my wife and kids. It harmed my business because I rarely accepted someone else's fresh ideas. I didn't work to live, I simply lived to work. Ultimately, within 16 years I either became much dumber or I was never that smart to begin with: my business went into the toilet along with my invincible attitude. The illusion of control turned out to be just that: an illusion.

Fast forward several years from that point and I had that proverbial slap upside the head. I finally was able to analyze the decisions I had made on how I had lived my life. I could see the flaws in my world view. Quite clearly I was able to put together all the pieces of my life. I could see that where I had ended up should not have been a surprise. It was a direct result of my lack of life experiences and inflated ego. I had achieved success too easily and at too young an age.

Luckily, for me and those around me my mind has become much better at processing information and experiences. I know what it takes to live a life worth living. I understand a bit better the consequences of actions and attitudes. I am much quicker to listen to others and throttle my control gene. I have a better grasp of the difference between needs and wants.

I am not lamenting that I screwed up badly in my earlier days. The Wisdom Paradox makes the point that the experiences we have when we are younger are necessary for us to be "smarter" as we age. But, I am quite thankful that my (soon to be ) 71 year old mind is able to use my life experiences to help me live a life much more satisfying and complete and it has given me enough discernment to chart a more productive path.

OK...enough of my dirty linen flapping in the breeze. Can you think of a situation where your aging brain is actually stronger now than it was at some point in your youth? Are you better able to make sense of a crazy world and plot a path forward that is satisfying? 

Or, can you cite an example where those youthful neurons zipping around inside your head gave you an advantage you'd like to have back? Not necessarily short term memory skills, but a  feeling that creativity and and energetic learning are best seen in your rear view mirror?