Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reading Signals

Ever since childhood, other people have considered me to be sensitive to the feelings of others. When it came to interpreting what was going on emotionally with people around me, I seemed able to recognize what went unseen by most others.

When my uncle and his wife were reaching the point of divorce, I was the first person to read their emotions. Although I was about 11 at the time, I recognized that my aunt was "acting strange" and mentioned the fact to my mother. Our family saw my uncle and his family only every couple of months since they lived several hours away. But I had always felt close to them and I was the daughter my aunt never had. She doted a bit and usually brought me a treat when they came to visit. However, on this one occasion, I could tell that something was wrong. A few weeks later they went their separate ways and that was the last time I ever saw her.

It's not that I am psychic or possess rare or unusual powers. There are some people who are simply more attune to the behavior by people and animals. Kindred spirits or such, I guess, and I must fall into that group.

Seems like when our lives are busy with careers and daily demands, we run around busily somewhat like chickens with their heads cut off. During such frenzied times, we are less likely to pick up on the "signals," which are bouncing around us all the time. But when we are relaxed, on vacation or otherwise engaged in quiet pursuits, there is less static in the air. Our antenna begin to retrieve a few of the vibes that are being transmitted.

Retirement brings a much longer period of relaxation. It creates the perfect atmosphere in which to intercept vibes. And, unfortunately, by the time we reach retirement, much of this atmosphere is negative in nature.

Baby Boomers who have retired seem to worry incessantly about nearly everything. Many mature folks express concerns about their appearance. We may not feel as confident at 65 as we did at 45. We may be carrying a bit more weight than a few years earlier. Certain parts of our anatomy may have changed in appearance. It takes longer to glue ourselves together than previously.

People might tell us that we look good -- all things considered -- but what really matters is how each of us feels about ourselves. And how we feel about ourselves is directly related to the signals we have received.

Perhaps this phenomenon of receiving less-than-desired signals can account for a variety of mid-life adjustments. Whether we call them mid-life crises or mid-life crazies, the fact is that many people suddenly become aware that they might be missing a lot of life.

Close friends may suddenly seem absorbed with their own personal problems -- aging parents, neglectful spouses, foolish adult children who are creating their own problems. Problems may seem magnified by the fact that they at last have adequate time to become overly-fixated on mundane issues. These perpetual worriers project such unending anxiety that their family can have a hard time listening to the analysis of every worry. The family becomes less attentive which in turn causes additional problems.

Spouses cannot bear to hear a constant rehash of anxiety from his/her partner. Each spouse may have some of the same concerns about similar issues, perhaps in addition to harboring unshared concerns about health issues. In some instances, these moments of stress may erupt into a midlife divorce. It happens all the time.

If someone you know and care about seems inclined to fix everyone else's problems, try to gently bring this to their attention. They need to stop tending to every other garden and look after their own. Weeds will grow without proper maintenance.

Retirement should be a joyous experience, a time to enjoy life, not to be spent worrying every minute of every day about problems which are truly private and should be resolved in private.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Style and Grace

Recently I watched an interview on Turner Classic Movies that ignited some thoughts.

The subject of the interview actress Kim Novak. She was interviewed by Robert Osborne during the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival. Novak, now nearly 80, looked great and seems to have finally caught the brass ring of life -- especially since she turned her back on the Hollywood lifestyle at the pinnacle of her career.

Over 30 years ago, she married an equine veterinarian and moved to rural Oregon. Her life there sounds idyllic and includes a happy marriage, unbridled natural beauty and scores of horses and other animals.

Novak seems extremely content with life and several of her observations caught my attention.

It sounds as though the Hollywood experience was the result of happenstance. During the summer in the early 1950s, Novak and two friends traveled the country to showcase and advertise refrigerators, of all things. Their tour terminated in California and the girls decided to visit a movie studio. During a the studio tour, Kim Novak was hired as an extra to appear in a movie musical. There she was spotted by an agent, got a screen test, etc. Voila. A star was born.

Despite difficulties encountered in movie land, Novak did not appear bitter about what followed. She spoke of how pleasant and full life can be when one is surrounded by positive people whose opinions we appreciate.

Isn't that true? Think of situations that are positive and then some that have been less than positive. These situations could be brief or lengthy, but we've all had some of each type.

Remember being in school? Some years were a lot more enjoyable than others and it was the good years that we recall more easily. School might have been more enjoyable because we were sitting near a friend, we enjoyed the view from the classroom windows or a particular teacher made us feel special. Years later when I became a teacher, I was always aware of the impact that the teacher has. He/she could casually make some off-the-cuff comment that might be remembered by the students for years. If students felt inferior or slighted, that feeling could linger with that child for a lengthy period of time.

We have all had friendships that became uncomfortable. I have worked with adults who had severe personal problems of one type or another, perhaps even marital difficulties. When I would be around those persons, I felt guarded and ill at ease for fear of saying something inappropriate. Such an feeling of constant uneasiness is tiring, to say the least. Despite our best efforts, these situations remain unpleasant until terminated.

My marriage was much the same. I was constantly criticized and chastised. The manner of the dominant male merely reflected the way in which my husband had been raised. The man made all the decisions with no options and no room for negotiation. The result was years of keeping my opinions entirely to myself, squelching my views, interests and outlooks. Fortunately, that marriage ended and we were both free to move on with our lives.

I know people who would rather endure years of misery than to express an unpopular idea or terminate any relationship, whether that relates to spouses, friends, interests or jobs. It takes courage to remain in a situation that is unpleasant, especially if there does not appear to be an end in sight.

It is only natural that we seek out people who make us feel valued. The teacher who realized that we thought differently and acknowledged our opinion remains a valued part of our past. A friend who shares our outlook and exchanges information with enthusiasm is a treasure. A person who seems to like us as much as we should like ourselves is someone we should keep close.

This observation is not complicated. In fact, it's rather simplistic. Unfortunately, many of the basic truths of life are so simple that we tend to overlook them entirely.

We all need to keep in mind that we should seek people who value us as much as we should value ourselves. Then we need to hang on to these people and keep them in our lives.

Everyone can benefit from having a someone special in their corner.







Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Keeping at It

There were several big stories in the news yesterday. But few seemed as impressive as the fact that Diana Nyad had been successful in swimming from Cuba to the Florida Keys. That's 110 miles and she swam for 52 hours, 54 minutes to complete the trip.

Oh, and she is 64 years old.

When I heard the news, it was announced simply as, "She made it" and I knew immediately what that meant.

"Really?" I responded. "Wow."

The fact that anyone could swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys is remarkable. The fact that this 64-year-old could make the successfully complete the trip was nothing short of phenomenal.

One has to wonder why she would even want to set a record in endurance swimming. Such a feat might well be matched and likely bettered by another swimmer, perhaps soon after Nyad's victory. The world is filled with adventurers who would love nothing more than topping the previous act.

The entire concept of endurance swimming seems a little self-serving because it involves no competition and few actual followers. Scores of people do not camp-out or line the path to watch the endeavor. The story had little media hype or coverage other than remarks to the effect of "There she goes again."

But you really have to admire someone who sets any type of personal goal and then keeps at it until they are victorious.

In Nyad's case, her effort at this goal began in 1978 when she experienced the first of four unsuccessful attempts to cross the open sea.. Reportedly she did not try again until she reached the age of 60 and then said she felt compelled to resume trying to achieve her goal.

How many people do you know with that type of persistence? I can honestly say I know of no one personally although I have heard and read of such chutzpah. I have also long admired those who will go to great lengths to accomplish a particular task.

We live in an era of quitting. We are surrounded by throngs of folks with short attention spans. They can't wait for a slow search engine, a long check-out line or too many commercials on TV. They click, switch, balk and fidget when delayed in any manner.

Young people want a new car when they first learn to drive, not the older but reliable car that we cherished while in high school. Young couples want their first house to be their dream house with all the bells and whistles, granite countertops, 4,000 square feet, 4 bedrooms and a home theatre. The current way of thinking is: "Let's get it now or forget it."

Gone are the days when newbies entered the work force and were happy just to have a job, any job. Now they want to impress their friends right away by having their own office, perks and privileges. Why wait for what you want now? What's the point in waiting? Can't afford it? Just charge it and move on.

Somewhere between wanting nothing and wanting everything should be a happy spot where we could be content. It would be nice if we could reach that plateau.

Not that I expect Diana Nyad's victory to transform our extremely impatient society. But it's nice to know there are still folks out there with high principles and a great deal of drive. These are the people who help us maintain the bar at a reasonable height, even if we can't manage to raise it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Days of Yore

Modern technology has certainly made our daily lives easy. When you think about all the conveniences and comforts that we enjoy each day, it's a bit overwhelming.

Recently in a discussion with a few other women, the topic turned to household chores. Noting that our present weather had taken a very warm turn for late August, someone mentioned that in the "old" days, there simply was no air conditioning. This person had been raised in a family of 10, not particularly uncommon 60 or 70 years ago. The mother in that family had been required to perform many laborious tasks, in addition to simply giving birth 10 times.

There was laundry for a family of 10. This was likely a rural or at least a semi-rural environment, which meant work clothes, school clothes and probably "good" clothes for church and other social occasions. Kids needed shirts, jackets, pants, dresses, jumpers, petticoats, underwear and socks. Plus long underwear, lightweight jackets, heavy coats, mufflers, gloves, mittens, etc. Clothes alone -- even excluding linens -- meant a large amount of washing.

There was food for a family of 10. Three meals a day, perhaps including a lunch to be taken to school, mostly home cooked. That was a lot of food prep in the days before microwaves and packaged foods. There were cows to milk, eggs to gather, bread to bake and canning to be done. Even if the mom was fortunate enough to have some help either from a hired lady, a boarder who pitched in or kids who minded the cows, there was a lot going on. Pigs were raised and butchered, an enormous task which consumed at least a full day. The meat was smoked in the smokehouse and could feed a family for several months. However, the pork didn't find it's way to the smokehouse without some guidance.

Chickens were raised for eggs and for meat. Wringing a chicken's neck was not an easy task. As a child, I watched a neighbor kill and de-feather a chicken in the back yard. Suffice it to say that it made a big impression on me. It was a lot of work compared to visiting a local chicken shack for some extra-crispy.

These women often maintained large gardens where they raised vegetables to consume and can. So-called "putting up" veggies was also a significant task, requiring skill and many hands to make the chore worthwhile.

In the old days, there was no trekking off to the store for a loaf of bread when the supply ran low. Bread was made from scratch. It required flour, yeast and a few other ingredients. Once mixed, bread spent time rising. Then kneaded and prepared, it was carefully baked. Such work nearly dictated that sufficient loaves be made to warrant the effort. Bread was usually served with every meal and with a large family, just imagine how much baking was done.

Not to mention such tasty baked treats as cookies, cakes and pie. These were also made by hand, sometimes from freshly grown fruits and vegetables which happened to be around. That meant apple pie and cobbler in the fall, strawberry pie and shortcake in the spring and early summer, pumpkin pie after the first frost. The economical housewife did not waste treats which happened her way. She used whatever was available -- and all of it.

My great aunt loved to preserve the old way of life even into the 1950s. She made her own bar soap, large white rectangles which might actually have done the job, but were unscented, unattractive and generally unwelcome. But she had made the soap to preserve a lifestyle from the past and my mother graciously accepted and used each bar. It seemed like a lot of work for a small item easily purchased for a few cents at many locations.

That was generally the way of the housewife from years ago. They didn't know how rough they had it and so (hopefully) didn't whine too much. They had no way of knowing what would be coming their way in the not-too-distant future.

Strangest of all is the fact that most women in the days of yore loved their lives of pre-ordained domesticity. They wanted nothing more than having children and keeping a nice house. Women of today -- including me, of course -- are stunned at such comments. But I have heard and read time and time again that woman were perfectly content with darning socks and changing diapers. That was all women seemed to want.

Little did they know what was awaiting…

Friday, August 23, 2013


A recent conversation with an old friend prompted me to dust off some neurons regarding my past life. The result was a shocking recollection about the way I used to live.

The conversation began when my friend related a story he had read about a young investment banker in London who recently died at age 22. This tragic death followed three days of working without rest. Granted, the man may well have had some underlying or undiagnosed health issue. But it sounds as though he had simply been working too much.

Extreme overwork has become common, even in other part of the world. In Japan, it even has its own name: karoshi (which translates literally from Japanese as "death from overwork"). The first case was reported in 1969 when a 29-year-old male worker in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper died of a stroke. In the 1980s, several high-ranking Japanese business executives died without any sign of illness and the press took notice. Since 1987, Japan has tracked the statistics related to karoshi deaths.

As Japan's economy continued to boom and workers began to crave success, the combination began to claim scores of ambitious executives. Mix that ambition with the Asian tradition of accepting personal blame for failure, and the result has been perilous.

A few years ago, I lived in Northern Virginia and worked inside the Washington, D.C. beltway. It was an exciting experience with an amazing job, earning significant kudos and money. But life was tough and after eight years I bowed out to a simpler, happier life in the Midwest.

I saw first hand the impact of overworking. It stressed workers. It stretched and contorted family life into a strangely misshapened creature. In the extreme, it even caused health problems and claimed lives. Overwork was a monstrous creature then and I can only imagine that the economic down turn has exacerbated the situation. The fear of failure and related job loss must have caused additional pressure on highly-motivated workers.

In nearly every work environment, there are certain workers who will find the situation to be stimulating. They thrive on the challenge of proving themselves in such a demanding atmosphere. Many large businesses are anxious to hire such "go-getters" who have likely spent their formative years overachieving at every turn. These young hires want to prove that they can make it in the big world and are willing to do whatever it takes to impress their supervisors. They may actually thrive under the expectation of failure, boosted by working long overtime and getting results at all costs.

People who I have known in such circumstances actually want to be challenged. They consider the experience to be a trial by fire and are willing to endure this test period. Some will pass and be accepted, perhaps only later to suffer the consequences. For those who don't pass and either resign or are encouraged to leave, they will no doubt find success in some other field, perhaps one that allows for a little more balance between life and work.

Balance appears to be sadly absent from the corporate world today. I once worked with a man who happened to be out of the office when a family emergency occurred. His wife had been taken ill in the middle of the day. When the school called to advise the man and found him absent, they left a message asking if he could arrange for someone to pick up his daughter from school. When the man returned that afternoon and got the message, he did not know the name of his daughter's teacher, what grade she was in or even the name of her school. He scrambled, phoning friends and arranging for help, but the entire office was a bit surprised that he had so little involvement with his own children.

I knew of many such stories.

People worked nearly every spare hour of nearly every day, including weekends and holidays. It was not uncommon to go into the office on both Saturday and Sunday of nearly every weekend. I have worked until early morning (5:00 a.m.) on more than a few occasions. These were usually situations structured by an approaching deadline, so we knew that the end would eventually arrive. And, of course, we were well compensated, to say the least.

But money and appreciation do not remedy fatigue and exhaustion. Thinking back now, I marvel that I could survive such a relentless work life. A bigger question in hindsight is: why.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Where Are We Headed?

Sad news was learned today as reports announced that author Elmore Leonard has passed away.

Some readers may be asking "Who was Elmore Leonard?" Obviously, those asking such questions were never big readers of popular fiction or viewers of film.

Elmore Leonard was a great writer of crime and western genre fiction. Among his extensive accomplishments were such books/films as Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre and scores of stories/novels/films. He also penned the popular F/X show Justified. To say he was a prolific writer is more than an understatement.

I read today that he first published a story in Argosy magazine in 1951 and continued writing because it "was fun." This was a man of talent and conviction who could create characters who had something to say. His stories had style and substance and were structured to reveal a lot about the world in general.

Unfortunately, we have been losing a lot of great artists in recent years. These are people who told us a story and made us think. We sympathized with the characters depicted and were able to see the world through their eyes. It takes someone with real talent to capture an idea, reveal it to the viewer/reader and elicit a reaction. This is not a skill that can be acquired through a creative writing course or absorbed from a webinar. Writing is hard work and requires a certain amount of unabashed dedication to the craft.

The highly talented folks of the show business world are leaving us at an astonishing rate. Many of these folks captured our eyes and ears for years when they were at the peak of their careers. Their departure has depleted the talent pool forever. They had talent which enriched us and their songs, performances and endurance are remarkable.

One day soon, the talent pool will be completely dry. All that will remain is the 20-something flashes-in-the-pan who we will be hard pressed to even identify. I flinch now when I am in a conversation with someone and I happen to mention the name of a well-known celebrity from the not-so-distant past. I can see the look of panic in their eyes. "They don't know what I'm talking about," I warn myself as I change the subject.

So far in 2013, the following list indicates a mere sampling of the celebrities who have passed away:

Michael Ansara
Karen Black
Eileen Brennan
Van Cliburn
Dennis Farina
Bonnie Franklin
Annette Funicello
Ray Harryhausen
James Gandolfini
Eydie Gorme
George Jones
Stan Musial
Patti Page
Jean Stapleton
Esther Williams
Jonathan Winters

The list is actually much longer but I narrowed it to include the names of people that boomers like myself will remember. Afternoons wearing my mouse ears with Annette, Steve and Eydie on The Tonight Show, Jonathan Winters making me laugh for decades, Stan Musial in the days when baseball was on the radio. Most of these names triggers fond memories and it's too bad that those days will eventually fade along with the impact of these individuals.

Now people swoon over pimply-faced kids who attempt to sing but whose careers will end when their voices change. We watch movies starring a large crowd of "stars" about whom we have never heard. Watch the search engine news and see how many people have become "famous" overnight. Next year they will be flipping burgers at a Hollywood bistro or delivering pizzas in Brentwood.

Easy come. Easy go.

There are still some people out there with talent. They have endured and will continue to do so as long as they can find a movie in which to appear or some other gig that will showcase their skill. But eventually they will no longer appear and the world will be a lot less interesting.

If you hear of a movie starring one of your favorite actors or see that he/she has written a book or given an interview, take a look. You will no doubt feel enriched by the experience. And it just might be one of the last times you get to see real talent.













Sunday, August 18, 2013

Staying Active

The key to retirement seems to be: staying active.  Analysts have been pondering various aspects of retirement for years now. I thought I would chip in a bit of common sense.

By the time the majority of baby boomers have reached retirement, many of us have worked for approximately 50 years. That estimate includes high school summers spent flipping burgers or helping out with sports programs.

When I was old enough to get my driver's license, I considered myself completely liberated. The summer after my sophomore year in high school, several of my friends landed summer jobs. In the small community where I grew up, there were plenty of jobs which lent themselves to the unskilled and untested. Jobs like waiting tables, fast-food fry cooks and tidying up motel rooms were always available in our tourist-prone town. Add in the proverbial life guard and sports program assistant, and a job could be had if wanted. Yes, such an era did exist.

Even during college in the mid-1960s, there was plenty of part-time work available. While no one could pay all their expenses on a minimum wage income, they provided enough extra money for an occasional treat. Also lifestyles and basic needs were much less demanding in those days, so the little extra money had a much bigger impact.

By the time I entered the full-time work force, most of my friends and co-workers were already familiar with the world of scheduled hours, W-2s and completing tasks. We adjusted to the 40-hour week, wage increases and performance evaluations. It was 1970 and we stayed employed, hopefully, until retirement. Aside from intrusion of the draft during Vietnam, the only people I knew who left the work force were women who took time off to have kids. The days of June Cleaver and staying home with the kids were nearly extinct, but a few woman managed to convince their husbands they were better off at home than working.

Prior to the boomer generation, American society was quite different. It's as though someone drew a line in the sand in about 1940. Men born on one side of the line were dependent on a woman to fix meals and take care of domestic tasks. They had little to no training in handling these tasks themselves. These men liked having dinner on the table when they arrived home. When they married, it was understood that the little woman would stay home.

But for folks born on the other side of the line, things have been quite the opposite. More women entered the work force. They learned how to get hired, hold a job and were able to juggle many tasks at the same time. They could fix breakfast for the family, plan dinner to fix when they got home after work and put in an 8-hour day in between. It took perseverance and planning, but they learned how to take care of two separate lives -- the one at home and the one at work.

Modern life was made easier with the advent of technology. Microwaves came along to help cut preparation time for dinner. A wide assortment of packaged foods sped things up, too. I recall spending hours each week ironing clothes for the week ahead. But gradually the majority of clothes needed little, if any, touching up straight from the dryer. While home life and work life each demanded much of participants, things did get easier over time.

So, let's examine a typical boomer woman. She has worked since her teens, perhaps caring for and raising children, most certainly having to fix meals, do the shopping and tackle a job. It's been a harried and tiresome existence. Then she decides to retire. With the kids gone and the job gone, she can do what she wants on her own schedule. Whether she is still married or is alone, her time is pretty much her own.

But what is it that she wants to do with all of her time? She was so busy for so long that she rarely even thought about she was going to do once she retired. Sure, everyone wants to put their feet up for a while, at least, to relax and contemplate what to do. But there is far more to life than putting up one's feet.

Long before retirement arrives, people need to think about how they want to proceed. There are more hours in the day than they ever imagined and those hours need filling. Remember going on vacation and relishing the time off? You felt so relaxed and happy and began to dread returning to work. That's only normal and many of us felt like that when our routine changed. But when change comes and working has stopped, what about all those empty hours?

The secret to enjoying retirement is to keep active. That does not necessarily mean keep working. But there are plenty of people who do continue working because they tell me, "I don't know what else to do."

There is far too much worry spent considering the monetary side of retirement and not enough time given to the rewarding side of retirement. Both are important but only one is likely to provide some joy.