January 30, 2023

Just Going Through The Motions


Don't we experience times when we are simply going through the motions? Every day is much like the day before. It is safe and predictable. There is a comfortable routine to the day. Nothing really new or interesting happens. 

There are no problems we can't handle without a little effort. Inspiration is taking a break. Life moves forward. But, is that truly living? How can I find new energy for whatever might be next in retirement?

* Pay attention & shake it up

One of my best sources of renewed energy and a fresh direction is to stop long enough to look at the world around me. 

What in my life might give me inspiration if taken in a different direction? Old photos, movies, a play or theater presentation, mementos around the house, the birds in the backyard, actually, just about anything can inspire if my mood is right and I'm open to seeing things in a new way.

Looking for a new angle or use of the every day, meeting a new person or having a new experience, any of these can energize an otherwise mundane day. I might read something in a book or online that changes my perspective. Checking out my favorite bloggers almost always forces me to open my mind to some different idea. Shaking up a routine or attempting to break an unproductive habit can be just the boost I need to get moving again.

* Sometimes you just have to act

There will be times when you must force yourself to take action. It would be easier and more pleasant to avoid whatever it is. But, the problem isn't going away until you confront it. Whether this is a relationship issue, a health concern, a financial upset, or even where to go on vacation you may have to simply grit your teeth and do something. Problems and opportunities don't respond well to inaction.

I dislike the "ready, fire, aim" approach most of the time. But, I have done just that at times when I had a brain-lock and had to simply "do."

* Look for something fresh from others

Inspiration for your life can often comes from an outside source. Interacting with other people may be an effective way to find an answer to a problem. They may not directly address what your need is. But, by simply being with them you may find a new path toward something. Being with a group of people you enjoy can't help but make you feel better.

Joining a new club, organization, or church group may be the spark you need. Volunteering in a setting where you interact with folks who need your help and are different from those you normally spend time with can often do the trick. My stint of prison ministry gave me an entirely fresh perspective on people. I helped out at the Phoenix Rescue Mission several times, serving dinner to hundreds of less fortunate folks. It felt worthwhile and the people were friendly, appreciative, and a joy to serve.

* Maybe you simply need a retread

Reusing or reworking something you have done before is really what retirement is all about. A lifetime of behavior and expectations are up for review. Just because you thought one way while working doesn't mean that line of thought is best for your life now. Was there an interest or hobby you used to love that fell by the wayside? Is it time to bring it back, maybe in a slightly different way? When you were 30 you loved to mountain bike. But, now at 60, maybe trail riding is safer and more suited to your body. You still love to bike, but you change your approach.

Kick-starting your satisfying retirement really is just a case of rejecting the status quo. As our hourglass begins to run lower on sand, waiting for tomorrow to energize yourself today is probably not the wisest course. From the book, Tales of Power, consider this quote 

"The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything either as a blessing or a curse."

A passive approach may not take you where you want to go.

January 26, 2023

I MIss Starting My Day This Way


Like many folks in my generation, a morning paper in the driveway was part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents subscribed forever, and I developed the same habit. Except while away at college, I started my mornings with a paper and a cup of coffee. At one point, I actually subscribed to two daily papers: the local one and the New York Times.  

I grew up reading the Boston Globe, which has been considered one of the best papers in the country. Later, daily papers in Cedar Rapids, Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Phoenix started my days. I never gave it much thought: papers were just part of the fabric of life. 

Obviously, that is no longer the case. Print newspapers are an endangered species. Each year reveals a growing list of cities and towns without any printed newspapers. Most recently, Birmingham lost its daily paper. 

For those locations that still have a physical paper, it may be delivered only a few days a week. The paper has gotten thinner, the ink smudges more easily, and the desperation of subscription pleas is obvious.

Aware that most of us get our news and information from the Internet, including social media, most newspapers have made a valiant effort to develop and promote a digital version of the paper. Some, like the New York Times, have seen strong growth in this area. Others struggle to make enough money to validate the effort. Regardless of how visually enticing the site might be, it is hard to compete with the likes of TikTok, Instagram, or even Facebook for what passes as news.

As anyone who uses the digital version of their local or national newspaper knows, there are advantages: no folding the pages and no wind to worry about. 

To me, though, reading a story on a tablet or even a laptop isn’t the same as turning pages. It just isn’t. I slow down with a p[hysical paper and enjoy the whole experience.

Ads in the print version are more easily avoidable than videos that suddenly start up online, or ads that crawl across the screen and pop up in the middle of a story. 

Most sites now have some form of paywall. You can get a little of the paper’s content but after a point, you must subscribe to be able to read the rest. If you pay for the print version, the digital version is either a free addition or comes for a small premium. 

Besides the physical decline in the number of published newspapers is the serious drop in quality. In Phoenix, the 6th largest city in the country, our only major newspaper has local news restricted to just a handful of pages. The rest comes from the same source as USA today. Local business news? Maybe a few stories. The arts?  Today that means movies and pop music. Interested in books, paintings and dance, or other forms of artistic expression? Gone.

I am quite aware that all the forms of social connection and information exchange make the traditional form of newspaper news delivery obsolete and much too expensive to produce. With print advertising an afterthought for more companies, the logistics and cost of having a fleet of delivery drivers to toss a diminished version in your driveway or apartment lobby don't make economic sense

That doesn’t mean I can’t be sad I don’t have a high-quality, local, entertaining, and informative alternative waiting for me each morning. Reading a good newspaper allowed me to start the day slowly and at my own pace.

I tilt against the windmill. I am the only home on my block to still get any printed paper: the New York Times arrives three days a week. Even this mainstay of American journalism is not what it once was, both in size and quality. I hold on to this link with my past, more out of habit than anything else.  Local news or sports must come from an app on my smartphone. 

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mean a newspaper. I am holding onto this part of my past as long as someone is willing to go through the effort to produce it. 

January 22, 2023

How is Retirement Supposed To Feel?


Occasionally I receive some form of the question, "How come I don't feel retired?" And it doesn't seem to matter whether the person has been away from full-time work for a few months, a few years, or almost two decades.

A good example is my wife, Betty. She and I retired together in 2001, which means we have been on this journey for 22 years. That is a decent percentage of our lifetime. Even so, regularly, she will remark that she is still looking forward to figuring out what retirement means to her. She wants more control over her time, doing what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

She is certainly not alone. If the "How come I don't feel retired" question is being asked, something else is at work here.

One issue is that the image of retirement creates certain expectations. I have often written about the mistaken idea that retirement is one long walk in the park. Retirement is a stage of life, not a step into another realm. The responsibilities that come with being an adult don't stop when the paycheck does. Bill paying, repairs, replacements, emergencies, health surprises, and financial pitfalls can quickly sap the joy of retirement if you let it. If you feel that retirement should mean all of the baggage that is part of living comes to an end, then you are likely to pose this question.

Another possibility is one of personality. In Betty's case, she is a giver. If someone needs something, she is first in line to help. She is also a self-admitted over-giver. If that person wants to know what time it is, she will build them a watch. In the past, if our church needed help on a big project, she would volunteer to do almost all of it. She is extremely creative and dedicated, with a significant dose of perfectionism, so it is just easier to do it all.

Of course, that can lead to burnout and self-imposed pressure. Even though she absolutely loves helping others, her physical and mental health can suffer. She leaves too little time to work on things just for her, things without deadlines. So, she has yet to find the balance she seeks even after all these years.

Yet another reason might have to do with a spouse or partner who hasn't accepted the sharing part of retirement. If your partner is no longer working but expects you to continue doing the lion's share of household chores, there will be problems. Excuses like she (or he) has always done the cooking, cleaning, and laundry fails the fairness test. "I don't know how to cook or run the oven" is just as lame. It is hard to feel retired if almost nothing has changed in what your "responsibilities" are in maintaining a household.  

So, what to do? Here are a few ideas that may help:

1) Accept that retirement isn't just a float in a boat. Align your expectations with the reality of living. Honestly compare your lifestyle before and after work: what is preferable and what is worse? When you look at the big picture, you may be surprised how much your life has changed for the better. For those things still bothering you, can you do anything about them?

2) If you find yourself overcommitted to others and under-committed to yourself, realize that is something you can change. You have the power to protect yourself and your needs. That doesn't mean withdrawing from helping others achieve their goals; it means realizing you must allow yourself to achieve what is important to you, too.

3) Decide that you need to start a new season of your retired life, one that matches what you want now. Since your needs evolve over time, be sure how you treat them does, too.

4) Work on developing what you consider a fair sharing of work and chores at home. That doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 split. If you genuinely enjoy cooking, hold on to that part of your domestic life. It is part of the "I feel fully retired now that I can cook to my heart's desire." But, by giving your partner a pass on chores and workload, you are hurting your own experience.

Have you ever admitted to yourself that you don't feel fully retired? Do you know why? What would it take to make retirement "official?"

Did you undergo a transformation at some point that marked your move to real retirement mode? Do you remember what it was?

As someone who does feel completely retired, I am interested in the feedback from those who don't. All of us are on a journey unique to each of us. Sharing what you learn will help all of us

January 18, 2023

I Wouldn't Miss It - Would You?

No one knows how this story will end, though the story's conclusion seems pretty obvious. A social media giant is edging toward oblivion. The question today is, do we care? Will its demise affect us?

Founded in 2006 as Twttr, this 140-character (then 280)  behemoth became a mainstay for all sorts of people. Its ability to connect us quickly led to hundreds of millions of daily users. While not an early adapter, I did use this platform to promote this blog and occasionally leave comments on an issue that caught my eye.

I was hacked (twacked) once but came back. Then, as the online world started to harden and split into warring camps, I left for good four years ago. With the recent change in ownership and a promised adjustment in policies, I was tempted to step back into that environment but avoided the siren call.

Rather quickly, it became clear that this service was moving in the wrong direction. After paying around $44 billion, the new owner seemed to have no idea how to manage his new toy. Advertisers left in droves while the crazies came back. The company fired more than half its employees and stopped paying rent on time. One report says people had to bring their own toilet paper from home after janitorial cuts left bathrooms unstocked. Offices and server facilities were shuttered.

In days past, politicians, and one in particular, used this platform to govern. That meant announcing policy changes, prodding someone to do something, or insulting or denigrating everyone from world leaders to school teachers, scientists, to business people. It could be bragging about some achievement or complaining about a perceived slight.

Under at least some control after a rocky period of several years, the flood of false and misleading information, racial and sexual hatred, or posts designed to tear us apart returned with a vengeance. Visiting this site risked being overwhelmed with negativity and opinions separated from reality.

Once a mainstay of daily communication for so many of us, how long will Twitter remain a functioning business? What, if anything, will replace it? Have our social media habits changed to the point where many will simply abandon this outlet, regardless of what happens? Will a new social media force rise from the ashes?

So, now the questions are for you. This post is an opinion post by me. I have left Twitter; several hundred million others have not. Clearly, they are hoping that the ship will steer clear of the rocks dead ahead and find a way to fix whatever is wrong.

Where do you stand? Have you been a Twitter user in the past and are still tweeting, hoping for the best? Or have you left the blue bird for other options? Will the social media world be better off with a functioning Twitter, or has its time in the sun come to an end?

January 14, 2023

I Have Cold Feet


This post has nothing to do with the weather. It has nothing to do with my ability to feel cold in my extremities.

Rather, "cold feet" refers to indecision or a lack of confidence, when faced with a major change in our life. Anything that can disrupt what we know and are accustomed to qualifies. That is a natural reaction. I would guess it is somehow connected to the flight or fight reaction.

Retirement would certainly qualify as an event that could cause cold feet. There aren't many experiences quite the equal of stopping something you have done for dozens of years, has probably defined you in some way and has paid the bills. 

Not having your job description as the answer to "what do you do" can be scary. I may preach about the tremendous joy of a satisfying retirement, but I can attest to my own case of almost frozen feet when it came time to close down my business over twenty years ago.

A while ago, a reader reminded me of this common occurrence. An e-mail detailed the struggles her husband was having in letting go. The family business was up for sale, and the decision to move on had been discussed for over a year. This couple had downsized their housing and belongings. They had started making plans for their time together. But, when it came time to actually walk away...those cold feet poked through her husband's socks.

After my assuring her that hubby's reaction was very normal and would eventually work itself out in a way that was best for both of them, I agreed the general topic of last-minute retirement cold feet was worth a post. Like always, I am depending on some insightful comments and suggestions from you.

I will assume that this couple's financial house is in order. To retire without a good plan and a solid financial footing isn't wise. That would cause anyone to have second thoughts. 

Retiring when someone is tired of going to work every day or had a fight with the boss, or any other reason...without months, if not years, of thinking through all the aspects of life without full-time work, is very likely a mistake.

If, on the other hand, money has been saved and invested, expenses have been reviewed, and projections of future needs have been made, then retirement becomes doable. The decision as to when to retire can then be approached without unnecessary financial fears. 

True, life is going to through some problems your way. Your retirement plans are not going to unfold exactly the way you may hope they will. At some level, financial concerns will be with you under you die. But guess what? Being employed doesn't change that. We have no guarantees, working or not.

I will assume the couple has a firm foundation for their relationship, one that won't be harmed by having both spouses together more of the time. Even for a loving, long-term relationship, retirement takes compromise and adjustments. The cliché of being "joined at the hip," implying a couple that is with each other 24/7, is usually not a good idea. There is a need for private "me" time for each partner.

I will assume the couple isn't planning on quickly leaving family and friends behind to move to a "dream" location near the ocean or halfway up a mountain. Living on a canal boat in France sounds nice, but how realistic is it to most of us? Moving soon after retirement doesn't always turn out well. No longer working is a major stress producer. Add a move to that, and you are off the charts in terms of pressures on you.

So, that brings me back to the central question: how does one deal with cold feet after making a decision, whether it is our own hesitation or that of a loved one?  I can make a few suggestions, but then want to turn the forum over to you.

Retirement is a step, but not one that is irreversible. Plenty of folks stop working and then decide at some point that they miss some part of the working world. It may be the extra money, but it also could be time with coworkers. A sense of being part of something bigger than one's self motivates some to return to work. Feeling productive is a motive.

The point is, if you find you simply can't settle into retirement at this point in your life, then don't. Stay where you are. Find another job, either full or part-time. Of course, once you leave your chosen field, picking up where you left off may be a bit of a struggle. But retirement today isn't necessarily a permanent state. You have options.

Secondly, start focusing on what you will gain from retirement and less on what you may be leaving behind. Think about the hobbies, activities, travel, extra time with family, reading that stack of books on your nightstand, or sleeping until you want to wake up....all the good stuff waiting for you. A satisfying retirement is about gaining the freedom to do what you want when you want.  

OK, cold feet experts. How did you break through that final mental barrier that kept you from taking the plunge? What was it that finally allowed you to look forward rather than backward? Regrets? Second thoughts?


January 10, 2023

Can"t Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them: Family

The just-ended holiday season is often centered on family, relatives, and close friends. That can be the highlight of this time of year, or, it can be stressful, even something you take steps to avoid. Family can be complicated. There is a lifetime of history, memories, good times, and bad.

As we put last year away, at least mentally, it might be interesting, helpful, and even cathartic to learn that their relationship struggles and dynamics are not unique. We have all watched enough Christmas movies to know everything isn't always sugar cookies and smiles.

Let me pose a couple of open-ended questions for you to ponder. Think about all the bits and pieces that have built the entity you call family. How does what happened in the past, what is going on now, and what you think the future will be with those people? 

If you feel like sharing, please do in the comments section. As I noted, many of us have issues that sometimes feel like a boulder in our path. If you have an experience or vivid story to share but would rather not use your name, that is completely understandable. Click "anonymous" and leave your memory.

Others have a relationship with family members that could make a Hallmark movie.  They are your biggest fans and your major support group. The time you spend with them is precious and important. A strong, positive family is the key to who you are.

Ready? Let's start with a biggie: Do you wish you lived closer to family members, or actually long for more distance?

*Which member of your family is your favorite? Why?  Or, on the flip side, which family member drives you nuts? 

*What times in your life would you not have gotten through without the support of family?

*What "wounds" do you continue to deal with that have followed you into today? What can you do about it?

* Would you describe your family as something like The Cleaver family in Leave it to Beaver, the extended dramatic family in Dallas, maybe oddly eccentric like the Addams family, or a mix of characters that has yet to be portrayed?

Trust me, whatever your answers are to any (or all) of these questions, your experiences are shared by many of us.

Unlike most posts, I think it will be most productive if I don't respond to every comment. Each family dynamic is unique. Any thought from me would come from my perspective and that isn't the point.

This should be a fascinating glimpse of the state of familial relationships today.

January 6, 2023

What Would Future Generations Think About Us?

A few days into the fresh start that a new year seems to offer, I want to look both back and forward. Living in the present is the healthiest way to spend our time. Even so, there is value in thinking about the totality of our life; it seems especially appropriate as we flip the calendar, both literally and figuratively.

Let me use the idea of a time capsule for this post and see where it takes us. Imagine I am about to select things to put in a box to hold items or descriptions of ideas and concepts that someone decades into the future would dig up. 

Would they get a solid grasp of my life and what I thought was important? Or would they shake their head and wonder why I picked what I did? Why did my time in history identify these things worthy of highlighting and saving? How much had human history changed in those intervening years?

Ask me these questions fifteen years ago, and I am sure things like CDs or DVDs would have been included Social media was just being born, so a copy of the Facebook or Twitter logo would not have crossed my mind. What's a social influencer? Not on the radar yet. 

What is MAGA? What does "election denier" even mean? Oh, was that the Bush-Gore situation in 2000? That had no lasting effect on our behavior at the polls, so it must mean something different. TikTok? Is that some sort of clock reference? What in heaven's name is a "smartphone?"  

The point is that time, even short periods, rapidly changes our world, our language, our daily life, and our politics. What should go into a time capsule today that will make any sense to people 100 or 150 years from now? How do I capture even a small sense of what life was like in America in 2023?

In no particular order, here's what might be included:

* The previously mentioned smartphone. Few pieces of technology have changed our daily lives, culture, communication, and what gets us into trouble as much as the modern cellphone. It has disrupted lives, the political landscape, human communication, family dynamics, and certainly economics. It has been a tremendously positive tool in tying us all together while simultaneously tearing us apart and emphasizing our differences. 

* Print Newspapers and printed books.  It would surprise me if printed materials survived for another hundred years into the future. The cost and the use of natural resources to produce something that is easily available digitally means printed forms of communication will become something found in a museum. Future generations will wonder about our holding a 400-page novel in our hands.

* The Bible and The Koran. Religious beliefs have been responsible for much of our development of language, common rules of conduct, and how we think about the past and future. Unfortunately, they have also been the driving force behind many of our most violent conflicts. Those who identify themselves as secular, rather than holding any particular belief system, are rapidly increasing as a percentage of the population. In 100 years, when this time capsule is open, will these two texts still hold sway over tens of millions? 

* A few books (or digital files) and stories about climate change and its effect on the planet. What will the planet's climate look like this far into the future? Will people have adapted to the changes we predict coming, or will they have managed to rein in the causes enough to make the entire issue more of an academic subject? A few references from the past will help the future "us"  understand how we approached this critical problem.

* A can of motor oil and a  piece of coal. Will the use of fossil fuels be seen as an unfortunate period in history? Will people have found some other use for these products? Will they even recognize a lump of coal?

* A small, portable solar panel. I will assume that decades into the future solar power in all sorts of forms will be as commonplace as the corner gas station once was. How will our early attempts to harness the sun's power be seen?

*  A list of all the streaming, satellite, and cable TV channels reflecting what passed for mass entertainment during our time. There are two possibilities. All these entertainment options will amaze future people with how we chose to spend big chunks of our time. Or, what we think of endless options will have just been the beginning of a process where entertainment, education, and leisure activities are implanted into our bodies via a miniature chip of some kind.

 Face Mask and hand sanitizer. Here is hoping that these two remnants of the Covid period are historical relics and not part of everyday life a hundred years into our future. But, few events have had a more telling impact on the life and experiences of humans in the 2020s.

What have I missed? What belongs in your time capsule?

January 2, 2023

What Could Be an Eye-Opening Project

Regular readers know I come from a family of librarians and teachers. For the last four years, I have volunteered at the local library and served as president of the Friends library organization. I also serve on the city library board.

I am an avid book lover, promoter, and reader. Being able to read is one of the keys to a fulfilling life. Being able to choose what I read is as normal as breathing. 

It has never occurred to me that a book I would like to read may not be available because someone else has decided it wouldn't be "appropriate" for me.

I am certainly aware of books being banned. The  Nazis in WWII were notorious for banning and burning books they found subversive. During the Reformation, The Roman Catholic Church attempted to halt unauthorized texts from making their way into public hands. When I was much younger "Catcher in The Rye"  had a reputation as too racy for my eyes. Lolita wasn't appropriate for the young, either. But, a general, organized campaign against certain types of reading material wasn't something I ever encountered.

Things have changed. For reasons ranging from sexual identity issues to this country's history with different races of people, religious or political issues, and violence deemed too harsh for younger readers....why a particular book should not be available is a long list. Though often thought of as the pursuit of conservative or fundamentalist folks, there are those on the more liberal side of things that are upset, as well.

Libraries, both public and in schools, are now faced with difficult choices. Demands from parents, politicians or various action groups are no longer hesitant to make their feelings well known. It is simple to find all sorts of lists that include anywhere from a few dozen titles to over a thousand that have inflamed people for some reason. Library and school board members have been threatened.

As a parent and grandparent, I wholeheartedly agree there are some books that I wouldn't have wanted my children exposed to at too early an age. Likewise, my grandkids range in age from 12 to 16; there are subjects or presentations that I don't believe they are mature enough yet to read and process.

What I find unreasonable and dangerous is that someone else wants to make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to read a particular book or be the decisionmaker for my family. 

I completely accept that a parent has the right to decide if someone in their family should be shielded from something until they are grown enough to handle the information. Frankly, with what youngsters are exposed to on various streaming movie channels of smartphone apps, I am a little surprised that the movement to ban certain printed material hasn't extended more aggressively to other media. A PG-13 rating for a movie doesn't mean what it used to.

What all of this has led me to is an interestingintention and eye-opening project for the new year. I found a book published by the American Library Association: Read These Banned Books - a Journal and 52-week Reading Challenge. 

In addition to a list of books that are often on various book-banning lists, this journal provides a summary of the content of each. More importantly, it lists the reasons often given as to why this particular book should be removed from all library shelves for everyone.

The Library Association asks the reader to check out each book from their local library, read it, and write some thoughts and reactions in the journal section. I gather there are three primary reasons to do so:  see how many of the "banned" books are available in your library, keep them circulating, and attempt to understand why each book is deemed inappropriate for certain segments (or all) of the population.

My intention is to approach each book with an open mind. If there are topics, a wording choice that seems more designed to shock than communicate, or assumptions made by the author that seem unsubstantiated in the text, I will note those deficiencies. If a book strikes me as inappropriate for various reasons, I will make that clear in my summary. 

Importantly, I am not reading a book on the list to make light of those who see a reason to question its availability, mock their stance, or state that anything in print should be available to anyone, any time, and any place. If something is deemed not suitable for an eight or nine-year-old by a parent or guardian, that person should take steps to keep their child from being exposed to it. 

But, and this is the big but, one parent's decision cannot become the de facto standard for every parent, every person, every library. Each one of us is free to not pick up a book if it offends us. But your definition of offensive may not be mine and you have no right to force it on me.

This approach absolutely does not mean I agree with banning books, any books, for any reason. But, there will be some books in this project that I will understand the rationale for restricting its availability to certain segments of our population. Many of the titles appear to be YA-based or Young Adult in content, so they will be read and critiqued with that in mind.

No to banning books, yes to sensible restrictions imposed on an individual basis.

So far, the first three books on the list are available at my library. I have started the first one, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. I have never read it, actually never heard of it before now. So, I am starting completely fresh.

This could be a fascinating project for 2023. If it seems useful or interesting, I will share updates on my findings throughout the year.