Peter Pan is Alive and Well!

I love to play!  Always have and hopefully, always will.  Somewhere along my boy to adult years I acquired the nickname, Peter Pan.  I liked it and took it as a compliment.  Too many of my friends were too much in a rush to “grow up” and, whatever that meant, to me it clearly lacked the notion of play and fun and energetic satisfaction.

In my latter years, someone told me I was child-like.  Again, without hesitation, I embraced the intent.  Being playful is a part of who I am.  It’s the time when I feel I’m most alive and vibrant.  Immersed in play, I feel free and light and without care or worry.  It is as if I’m in a meditative state of being.  I’m so focused on whatever I’m playing, I think of little else.  I exist for the state of playing whatever the game may be.

Young children and pets inspire my playfulness and somehow, they sense that in me.  In my mid forties one of the 8 year-old boys in the neighborhood rang my doorbell and asked if I wanted to ride bikes!  As principal of the best ever elementary school, I would be sure to check (several times) if the sleigh riding was safe for the kids by trying out the sleds on the playground hill.  Once my “kid-at –heart high school principal colleague also joined me! (Go Susan!) Several weeks ago as I walked back from my grandson’s bus stop with a mom and her preschool age daughter, the child whispered into her mother’s ear and asked if she could invite me to their house for a play-date. It’s the same with dogs.  They seem to know I’m up for animated roughhousing and, somehow their owners (my sister in particular)  are certain I am to blame for getting the dogs to a state of noncompliance.  (Of course they’re(she’s) right but I think her dog actually started it!) 

I enjoy all sorts of play.  I love many sports and still would rather play them than watch them on TV.  I like many box/card games.  I still play hide and seek with my grandson and his friends.  Earlier this winter, after a sizable snowfall, I went over to his house to join the kids, ages 10 -15, in a snowball fight.  Of course last winter I was still rushing down my hill on my sled trying to beat anyone who would agree to race with me.  

Recently, I realized that my men’s poker group which met every other Thursday night for some 11 years, was really a gathering of grown up kids finding an excuse to tell jokes, act silly, and otherwise shirk off the cloak of responsible adultness for a couple of magical hours.  We laughed more than we frowned and found renewed energy in our play even though for most, it was the end of a long workday.

Since being playful comes naturally, I never really thought about the value it brings to my life.  And while some of my friends and family are tolerant but not especially fond of my childlike ways, I can’t help but wonder if they were to view play as a means of balancing the challenges of the day rather than the irresponsible actions of an adult, if they might consider embracing what they once felt as children.

Tonight I’ll raise my glass (perhaps a chocolate ice cream soda) in a toast to a sense of play, whatever age we may be!

Fun and Games

People say that growing up in the 50’s was a completely different experience than our current times. Perhaps that’s accurate. But I will say many of the stressors were similar: struggling to break into the middle class, gang violence (remember zip guns?) cold war tensions and fear of nuclear war. Despite this, my parents placed a high priority on family interaction, as well as personal freedom if I could be shown to keep my word.

And games – lots of games. 

Both my parents worked at least one job all the time. When my dad got home, my brother, he and I would play catch, wiffle ball, badminton, Pluto Patters (the original frisbee) and – you name it. While my parents were at work, I was responsible for my little brother, so we would play stoopball, flip baseball cards, and make up games using baseball cards and bottlecaps. Bottlecaps were a big thing, because once a year our local park sponsored an annual bottlecap carnival, where bottlecaps were the currency to play arcade games or enter foot races or other contests. Luckily, my aunt owned a candy store in Queens and saved all the caps that fell into the cavity of the opener embedded in the Coca Cola ice chest. We separated the bottlecaps based on the color of the foil inside the cap: silver foil were usually beer bottles, while white plastic and plain cork were sodas like Ni-Hi, Hires Root Beer, and Orange Crush. Battalions of caps would be assembled to recreate the Revolutionary war: the white caps were Americans, but silver caps were Hessian troops. We’d bang them together on the carpet – those that flipped over were designated KIA.

Evenings could find our family playing card games and board games: Chess, Risk, Game of Life, Monopoly, and Clue were favorites. We learned to play Gin Rummy, War, Blackjack, Canasta, Hearts, Spades, Poker, Cribbage – and even Bridge. 

In our spare time, Rich and I would head down to the local park for pick-up games of baseball or, stickball against the handball wall. In fact, I have spent most of my life with a ball and stick in some level of sport.

All of these ‘play’ activities developed a good sense of dealing with others, building trust and coalitions, as well as honing strategy and tactics. Seems like play is a bit of rehearsal of life skills with some humor, improvisation, and joint discovery thrown in. However, somewhere along the age spectrum, play morphs into industry as we begin to value counting coup more than the fun itself.

Simply put, industry can bring satisfaction, but play brings delight. So, I admire Hen’s ability to stay emotionally supple and value opportunities for play… Roll on, Pan! And although George bemoans his ability to have fun, I remember a guy who looked just like George who loved to dance during our college mixers. Hmmm, I also remember George look-alike at a particular marshmallow eating contest – and I remember George being the center of many social gatherings. Even today, his sense of wordplay is nonpareil (Ha! Look that one up, buddy!). Play is where you find it.

Fun Through the Ages

I met Wally and Henry in the spring of ’66 when we all rushed the same fraternity.  We became friends then and have remained friends throughout all of these years.  Henry and I were roommates for a while in Capen Hall.  I first remember meeting Henry coming out of the dorm which had a railing around the doorway and instead of walking out through the opening he would do this thing where he would hop over the waist tall railing and depart.  I always envied that and secretly tried to do it frequently when no one was looking to no success.  I even think I may have been the one who gave him the moniker of Peter Pan. He refused to grow up if growing up meant it would be against his dignity to climb a tree……I admired that childish energy. Growing up we all played.  I’d get home from school, change clothes and join the group already playing in the street.  We would run and yell and scream CAR CAR C-A-R when a car had the nerve to drive through our games.  We all knew that when the streetlights came on that was our signal to rush home.

As adulthood approached, and maturity (which is highly overrated) crept in I became an elementary schoolteacher which allowed me to play all day while hopefully the kids were learning.  I had license to regress and relate to them the way I used to with the kids on my block.  To get their attention I would write on the blackboard backwards, or upside down and they would start to giggle and quiet down. When teaching the three kinds of adverbs, manner, time and place, we would do the adverb congoline- Manner, Time and Place….UUUHHH as we danced bunny hop style around the classroom. It was fun, playful and made an impression on the classes.  Grammar didn’t have to be deadly.  Being a classroom teacher allowed me to have fun, I could read great children’s lit to the classes in different voices and with different accents and it was fun.  We did fun things but always with a learning purpose in mind.  And the fun continued til retirement (after 35 years) loomed.  But then I owned an Inn in Vermont and all my teaching stories would entertain our guests at breakfast and even though it was a different kind of fun it was still fun.

That went on for another 14 years or so and then real retirement happened and things were still fun.  I loved sharing lunch or an afternoon drink with former students and colleagues but then Covid struck and I pretty much forgot how to have fun.  Isolation for me isn’t fun and today I still haven’t gotten my fun quotient back to where it should be. I envy Henry and Wally cause they still know how to have fun. Both seem to have the admirable quality of having fun while alone and by themselves.  I can’t do that for some reason. and I realized that my entire life for something to be fun I had to share it with others.  I also came to the realization that right now, and probably always I got fun out of using my words to make people laugh- snarkasm and pun- ishment became enjoyable when shared with other sharp tongued individuals.  Puns are only as good as the  loudest groan accomplished after it is spoken!

Two years of inertia has taken its toll on my energy and stamina and it seems like too much effort is needed to get off the sofa.  But I am working at it and am looking forward to having fun again.  I promise, before my ride on this roller coaster is over, I will have fun again!

The Art of Perception

The Art of Perception

”Where you sit determines what you see”. I was reminded of this nostrum during dinner with friends in mid-December of last year. I had presented Marc and Deleah with a Christmas ornament that I made – a hollowed and dyed maple ball with a wooden final.

Marc said ‘What is this?’

“A Christmas ornament”, I replied – “or just an ornament if you don’t celebrate Christmas”.

“No, it isn’t,” he said.

Now Marc was not playing word games. He is a man with serious chops as an artist, professor, and businessman in the world of artistic enterprise… so, I listened. I believed that he was making the point that my labeling of the object presented limitations, both on the work – and maybe in life as well. He viewed the object as a mini-sculpture.

Photo by Marc B.

As a follow-up to our conversation, Marc sent me two items: a) a picture showing the ‘ornament/sculpture’ in a different presentation and b) a discussion of one of Rene Magritte’s paintings. The painting was “The Treachery of Images”, which presented an object (a pipe) with the painted words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” – “This is not a pipe”. In this work, Magritte was declaring that the image of the ‘pipe’ was not an actual pipe, nor the drawing of the words themselves, actual words. He is challenging the audience to make a distinction between representational art and the object itself. His piece is a philosophical argument.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein followed a similar line of thought: he believed that the object that a word stands for does not convey the meaning of the word (or, I assume, its image). He is famous for the line “If a lion could talk, we would not understand it.” Bottomline, our language and communication of ideas is very much dependent on context and use, not simply pointing to an object while saying its label. Therefore, Magritte says his painting is not a pipe. (I think Freud would agree, even though he felt that ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’).

There are lots of ways that context and/or use can be altered. It occurred to me that another method of underlining the difference between an object and its representation, is by varying the angle of view – or its scale. After all, art is essentially juxtaposition – allowing the viewer to see something in a different way. To that point, two sculptures highlight the same utilitarian object – a clothespin – in a vastly different context.

Claes Oldenberg’s Sculpture

Claes Oldenberg created his work in huge scale in urban Philadelphia – and it is certainly representational! It’s easy to see that this piece distinguishes itself in context from a run of the mill clothespin. Yet another take on the clothespin theme was completed by Mehmet Ali Uysal for a park in Belgium. Now this is also an installation of grand scale, yet I think we’d all agree it is more ‘clothespinny’, because it speculates a use in line with a conventional pincer. 

Mehmet Ali Uysal’s sculpture

So now we come full circle. Where you sit determines what you see. The labels we use are rooted in the context of our experience. Sometimes a simple challenge will cause you to change where you normally sit and realize a different field of view.

Note from an Impressionist

Perhaps because it was December when Wally presented his friend with his beautiful handmade gift, he assumed it would be perceived as a Christmas ornament.  In spite of Christmas carols playing on the radio, Wally’s intention to make it an ornament to decorate a tree was not enough to prevent his friend’s perception to wander.  Perhaps his friend was planning his summer vacation or planting his garden, Christmas just wasn’t on his mind. Because of the situation, location, time of year, what he had for breakfast, when he opened the gift his first impression was not that of a Christmas ornament.  I’m not sure of the shades of difference between impressions and perceptions, but first impressions are strong persuaders of how we react.  Impressions and perceptions can change over time.  Fortunately, time allows us to adjust first impressions based on additional information, change of mood, time of day and degree of hunger!

Having owned an antique store for a short time and having been an avid antique hunter for most of my life, I always looked for alternative purposes to the items I purchased.   What I perceived as an end table, with a little creative thought could be repurposed as a plant stand, an aquarium stand, a book shelf and whatever one’s creative mind perceived it as regardless of its original intended purpose.

Perception is a critical process we experience daily.  It is essential to life.  It deceives us, comforts us, endangers us, supports us, and the list goes on… We all perceive constantly.  When Wally approached the topic. my first impression was not about objects and how they are perceived but rather about people.  I am an impressionist!  First impressions are my life blood.  More often than not, that protects me from behavior I might regret while giving me time to adjust my impressions ’til I feel comfortable with my perception of the person.  I think most of us do that.  When I go to a new doctor that first impression dictates what I will share.  That reaction more than likely changes with subsequent visits.  What about that crazy driver in front of you who is driving at a snail’s pace?  I have two friends (who shall remain nameless) who perceive that person to be someone on the spectrum somewhere between common criminal and mass murderer (slight exaggeration here).  But perhaps over a beer or glass of wine could be fine company.

I guess my point is perception is everywhere- all the time- an essential life skill.  I wish I could quote some world-renowned expert in the field, but I mostly read fiction.  I trust my first impressions and adjust my perceptions as time passes and I get to know more about those people who impressed me!

The Power of Embracing Perspective

After reading Wal’s story about perception I was struck by his ability and willingness to be open to listening to his friend’s interpretation of the gift that was given.  Despite the fact (reality) that he intentionally crafted this wood-turned Christmas ornament, he was still able to accept that his friend perceived it differently.

I have often heard, and used the phrase, “perception is reality.”  However, as I spent more time thinking and reading about perception, I realized that perception is not reality.  In an article in Psychology Today, Jim Taylor, Ph.D. suggests that, by definition, perception (“The way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.”) and reality (“The world or the state of things as they actually exist… existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.”) are not the same.  However, because our perceptions come from a myriad of personal experiences and influences and since these are often strong enough to create a sense of certainty within us, it is may be more accurate to say, perception can (and often does) become an individual person’s reality.  My “reality” isn’t reality.  It’s just a construct of what I believe, based on everything I’ve assimilated over these many years as fact and right and good.

Therefore, when one’s beliefs are challenged, ignored, or replaced with another’s opposing thought, it is understandable for the common response to dig in, defend, and spend time creating a convincing argument to help the other see the “error of their ways” and counter with the value of one’s initial viewpoint.  It is my belief that we are seeing this kind of behavior more than ever before.  And, more than ever before, there appears to be less trust, less compromise, and fewer examples of collaboration and community.

But there are a few exceptions! Case in point, Wal who reminds us that despite the inarguable fact that he intentionally made an ornament, he was willing to listen to another’s immediate challenge to his label (his reality) and substitute it with a term/realty of his own.  And, in doing so and by asking questions, Wal was able to understand his friend’s point of view.  Furthermore, he seized the opportunity to think more about art, perspective, and philosophy.  I would venture to say that he likely enhanced his relationship with this friend, as I know few greater needs than the need for people to feel heard.

Wal closes his piece with words worth repeating:

“So now we come full circle. Where you sit determines what you see. The labels we use are rooted in the context of our experience. Sometimes a simple challenge will cause you to change where you normally sit and realize a different field of view.” If we could learn to practice what these simple, but powerful words suggest we might be open enough to realize a different field of view, which in turn might allow us to better understand each other.  If we understand each other better and feel heard, then perhaps…  (I’ll let you finish this piece with your own perspective.)

State of the Union

I have had to rewrite this several times because my purpose was not to push my political leanings but they somehow leaked out anyway.  In an effort to be more balanced I have attempted to compose my heightened feelings without my personal perceptions clogging or distracting from my ideas.  These last two years have been very difficult.  The isolation and the threat of disease has overshadowed our lives.  And, just as things seem to be easing up, a war starts. Hard to find a half full glass around now. I have been in a constant state of unhappiness if not depression for over 2 years, exacerbated by the loneliness and isolation demanded by a virus that spreads through social contact.-  the one thing that affords me enjoyment and purpose.  But there are signs of change and hope. A new administration that seemed to know how to handle not only the pandemic but also how to raise the civility and respect in a country suffering horribly from rudeness and lack of proper social behavior.  Yes, even I was feeling the weight lifting a little as restrictions eased and infection slowed.  I noticed a few more drops of water were added to that glass unexpectedly.  Things were looking up and hope was rising as the voracity of the disease was slowly ebbing.

And just as that ray of hope was entering our homes, the threat of war became more real as attacks on the Ukraine slowly began to tear apart the new found hope.  It was difficult to watch the destruction being committed on the civilians of Russia’s neighbors and see my glass being filled anymore. Yet, I held onto glimmers and was waiting to see what our next moves would be.  Our president was preparing for the State of the Union Address and I was anticipating it with less than exhilaration and more with same old same old blah blah blah platitudes and promises that usually don’t come to pass. The country is so divided that nothing is getting accomplished other than one side blaming the other.  The President is being accused of being senile due to his stuttering which occasionally makes his words a little difficult to understand.  I have known stutterers in my personal life and in my career and know that techniques they use to pronounce words sometimes elongates sounds or clips off words in an attempt to avoid the repetition associated with stuttering.  Stuttering itself in no way suggests feebleness or academic deficiency.  With all this running through my head, I sat down with a glass of wine and prepared to be less than awestruck.  I was sort of half listening and sipping my wine when I sensed the need to listen more closely, impressed by the manner in which he presented his intended information.  You could sense his integrity, and his empathy for a nation in pain. He was encouraging our nation to come together and addressed some of the issues that have separated us for the past 5 years.  His language was encouraging, comforting and yes, even hopeful.  He laid out what he wants to do for us average folk in America, things that everyone would benefit from.  Democrats and even Republicans were standing and applauding.  I hadn’t seen that recently, and for a few moments we were united in the common good for the United States.  My eyes teared up and suddenly I saw my glass filling up a little more with my tear drops, slowly perhaps but surely!  I was feeling good, I believed him, I trusted him, and I was reveling in the fact that the Republicans were not cat calling or booing but instead seemed to be in agreement with much of what he was proposing.  I heard shouted ridiculing of President Biden as he talked about his son’s cancer, but that didn’t bother me much because of the source.  That is sad and highly inappropriate.  I realized about 40 minutes into his address that not one discouraging word of ridicule or self promotion was articulated and that in itself was so refreshing because President Biden realizes his job is to promote what is good for us and it is not about him.  I smiled when he honored the little boy who was invited to attend the presentation and a few more drops were added to the glass.  

For a fifty or so minute presentation I felt good about us!  I felt we can work together and was thankful that he was the man in charge of dealing with the epidemic, a possible war and perhaps even pestilence as that seems to be the one thing missing in our experience so far.  I felt good……I felt positive……..I was energized and hopeful and am attempting to hold on to that positivity for as long as I can.

And then my glass tipped over a little and some spillage occurred as the days passed and the war intensified.  The images were horrifying. I watched bodies being thrown into unmarked graves just because the bodies had to be buried and families were separated all over the area.  I am in awe of the Ukrainian people and their commitment to protecting their land.  I am comforted by our reaction as well.  The world will be suffering consequences but the consequences of higher costs can’t compare to the terror these families have faced and continue to face.  Humanity has to return as a natural value of decent people.  More and more I think the world is rising to the challenge and is refusing to be bullied by a rogue nation that just wants MORE of everything for itself. That alone adds drops to my glass!  The faucet isn’t open yet but the degree of tragedy might just be enough to wake people up the dangers of dictatorships and bully authoritarians who want everything for themselves and their cronies and the rest of the people just don’t matter.  Mr Putin, WE DO!

*Ya Ye Ukrayinskyy

Fifty-nine years ago – almost two generations past — John F. Kennedy gave a monumental speech. It was during the depths of the cold war, at a time when the Soviet Union controlled the German Democratic Republic and built a wall to around East Berlin to prevent an exodus to West Berlin. In essence, West Berlin was a free island in the midst of a communist ocean. Addressing this situation, Kennedy proclaimed to an audience of 120,000 West Berliners:

“Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

The wall stood for 28 years – almost a generation.  It represented the prison mentality of a regime that detained its citizens, rather than winning their hearts and minds. In fact, the concrete and barbed wire barrier was officially named the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” by the GDR: a wall to keep out the fascists. 

In 28 years, it is estimated that only 5,000 people managed to escape East Berlin past the ‘death strip’ and over the concrete wall patrolled by the GDR. One of the folks who managed to escape East Germany is a close family friend. It took him two attempts. On the second try, he made his way to South America; then Canada; and finally to the US. A man of irrepressible humor, he’s had an interesting life – including the accomplishment of recreating the Columbus voyage to the Americas in his 38 ft. sailboat. He was recruited by the New York Cosmos soccer team, but decided to ply his craft building circular wooden staircases.  You would be hard pressed to find a person who was more proud to be an American citizen. He is a ‘Berliner’ in the sense of the Kennedy speech.

It is of note that Vladimir Putin was in East Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall – fluent in German and assigned as a KGB agent. As things came apart in the GDR, Putin was credited as saving the files of the Soviet Cultural Center in Dresden, which included KGB files. It has also been suggested, but not proved, that he liaised with the terrorist group, The Red Army Faction, during his assignment. 

One wonders how this early experience has affected his outlook and decision making. It certainly appears that the soviet siege paranoia hasn’t changed much in sixty years. The current Russian president seems willing to create a wall of rubble in Ukraine to act as another ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’. 

Ukraine is one of the poorest nations in Europe, yet it has battled mightily to maintain its sovereignty in the face of overwhelming blunt force. Their bravery and steadfast loyalty is rightly celebrated. Perhaps we have not yet missed an opportunity to update the sentiment of ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ with ‘Ya Ye Ukrayinskyy’ – I Am a Ukrainian. 

*With apologies for the phonic spelling!

On Hope

I appreciate George’s offer of hope in his most recent post.  His words convey the struggle he faces as he parses through the highs and lows of pandemic, war, extreme weather, disconnection and more.  And yet, despite how overwhelming the daily bombardment of discouraging news is, finding hope in and between the stories, keeps us going.

Oxford Languages defines hope as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  George goes beyond the wishing stage and helps us see, through his eyes, where we can see evidence of hope.  He provides a path for us to steer through these tumultuous times by modeling a way through to address feelings of helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness.  

Hope speaks to the future, to what is optimistically, yet to be.  It doesn’t look back or flounder in the past.  Yes, it draws on our earlier experiences and what we learned from them.  But it then allows us to take that knowledge and wisdom and see what is in front of us from a broader perspective.  It allows us to see how people and countries have recovered after horrific events and came back better and even stronger as a result of their struggles.  I suspect we must look past the short term and hope the longer view will see the pendulum swing back toward more peace and calm and health and unity.  In the interim, how we face the present will determine how prepared we’ll be to recognize the telltale signs of change for the better.

Today I donated to the children of Ukraine.  Earlier this week I spoke with friends and family about various ways we could help and how we could maintain an awareness of the plight of those suffering the effects of war beyond the time spent watching and listening to the news.  And while it doesn’t help those in need that I remind myself to be thankful for all that I have and often take for granted, it does prompt me to feel gratitude and give greater value to how I spend my time each day.  I’m hopeful that more and more, people all over the world will make time to do what they can to make life more harmonic despite the challenges thrust upon us.

Sending warm hugs to all! 

Slowing Down

When I wore a younger man’s clothes I noticed that older people slowed down.  As I reflect on that presumption it appears I was correct, but more often, for the wrong reason. 

Gray-haired folk drove more slowly, walked more slowly, spoke more slowly, did fewer things, and made decisions more slowly.  At the time, I believed it was for obvious reasons.  Essentially, they couldn’t move or act more quickly because well, they were old!  Their bodies and brains were no longer capable of executing physical actions and mental calculations at the rate of a younger person and they were lazy and lacked the energy to chase each and every adventure and challenge set before them.   I further reckoned that those who were the exceptions put in more effort to offset these limitations.  Of course, I promised, I would be one of the few who would “keep up the pace” despite my years.

However, today I doth protest the notion that slowing down is primarily a function of physical and cognitive decline.  I surmise that it is more often a purposeful result of recognizing the benefits of measured steps and reasoned choices and the oft-ignored limitations of filling every moment and doing so with speed!  Now, at the ripe young age of 75 you might be suspicious that I’m simply conjuring up some defensive rationalization that justifies my shift from rabbit speed to turtle pace…and perhaps there may be a part of me that began this thinking process to keep others from judging me now as I once judged those like me, years ago.  But I do believe that my story holds merit and thus, I’m sticking to it.

In an article entitled, “The Art of Slowing Down” by Karen Horneffer-Ginter, a psychologist and co-founder for the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness, the author talks about her realization of the price of the everyday hurried life when she was granted a sabbatical and felt a dramatic shift in her pace and how it impacted her.  She mentioned the reaction of patients who, coming to see her for reasons of feeling overwhelmed by the fast pace of life, felt a huge sense of calm and release when they sit down on her sofa simply because they were given the chance to slow down and be present.  

The author’s commentary triggered two of my own experiences that were eye opening for me.  The first was when I was in the middle of my career as a school principal and trying to be as perfect as possible as I attempted to balance work and family.  And while I loved the energy I got from my work and relationships, I was shocked when I found myself in the dentist’s chair for some extensive work feeling an overwhelming sense of mental and emotional calm.  In the dentist chair!  With painful work going on in my mouth!  Afterwards, I realized that I was unable to deliberately allow myself any “time off” from thinking about work, etc. unless someone else (the dentist) forced me into a much-needed distraction.  (Interestingly, this also happened to one of my hard-working friends who shared a very similar dentist story.)

The second experience was at the end of my career.  Shortly after retirement, I came in contact with a group of my former staff members.  One of them asked what I found most different in my life now that I was not working full-time.  (I was then working as a consultant only when and with whom I wanted.)  What came to mind was that the previous day, a light bulb had gone out in one of the rooms of my house and I stopped what I was doing and changed it.  I told her that I now made time to change a light bulb when it went out, and didn’t need to plan it (or similar daily happenings) for some future time when I could squeeze it in to my impossibly hurried schedule.   I had just started learning about letting go of getting everything done that appeared before me and I could chose what and when I wanted to do it.  Yes, it is easier when working part time.  But I wonder if I had begun to deliberately slow down in the middle years, how it would have impacted my life.

As I continue to “slow down” I realize that doing so gives me more time to enjoy my active but less complicated life more fully and with less stress.  After all, I am one of the three “Old Guys” who made the time to write this post and who looks forward to Zooming time with my two seasoned colleagues as we nurture ideas of what has been and what may yet be.

Time Stamp

What is nice about sharing a blog with two other friends is that we have an opportunity to discuss different points of view – or the same point of view in different ways.  I usually look to Hen for an aspirational and analytic viewpoint and to George for connecting on a heart-to-heart basis. In this case, I subscribe to the thoughtfulness of both my friends regarding the need to slow down and sort through what is important and to ‘level’ our reactions to life’s issues by applying some mellow consideration.

My head supports this; my spirit is objecting. Perhaps you’ve seen the TV commercial where Ewan McGregor asks the question, that at the end of our lives, will we regret the things we didn’t buy, or rather the places we didn’t visit? While the commercial is sponsored by the travel industry, it is just as meaningful by substituting the “experiences we did not have”. In other words, when should we slow down our explorations?

Lately, I feel the urgency of the moment. So little time, so much to do. A good deal of the problem centers with the catch-up needed to settle affairs that have lain fallow for too long: such as house renovations and estate planning. A second set of tasks revolves around pledges of assistance given to family, friends, and organizations that need to be upheld. A third area of attention is personal physical and mental maintenance: sustaining the ability to function effectively. I view all of these as necessary responsibilities – time-consuming responsibilities all of us share… and responsibilities that should not be reneged.

But there is also a fourth imperative: exploring new ideas and experiences. No matter how old one becomes, no matter our increasing physical limitations, our spirits are built to grow. Whether you call it self-actualizing or being in the flow, there is no better feeling than following a calling. In my case, it is a strong need to be creative and to collaborate with my partner in that enterprise. The realization that each of us has an expiration date adds to the urgency.

Perhaps folks will disagree with my opinion: which is that responsibilities take precedence over exploration. The piper must be paid. But responsibilities get in the way of exploration. So, my spirit rebels – there simply is no time to slow down! 

Speed Dreaming

“Slow down you’re moving’ too fast” the song lyrics go! If you have to make the morning last the best way is to seal it away in your memory cause slowing down won’t do any good. I used to rush through everything I did. When I was young, you know early 60’s, if I was out walking in the winter and came upon a patch of black ice, I would accelerate my pace and slide across the ice!  That’s just how it was.  Stupid?  Sure but I never thought of that until finally in my 70’s I began getting daily notifications that perhaps things like that weren’t in my best interest.   Ice is slippery, your bones are more brittle,  you do the math!  After a couple of defiant experiences where I lost, it dawned on me… yeah-  slow down, you’re moving too fast!

That festered, and I constantly tried to dismiss the concept but the reminders were becoming too frequent and too medically damaging!  Several visits to ER’s for accidents, falls and stupid mishaps occurred.  Ok, I’m intelligent- what are these experiences trying to tell me?  Slowdown!  I kept rejecting that til I synonymized the concept and referred to my need as mellowing. Yeah, that’s it, I needed to mellow .  

Hmmm, how are they connected. My body didn’t know how to slow down.  Sure, body parts hurt when I moved the way I used to, but it is what it is!  Slowly, over time I began to realize that movement can pause until thoughtful arguments are resolved within my mind.  Hence… mellowing.  Example-  Oh look, black ice-  let me slide over it!  Mind- You jerk, fall on that now, break a hip, or a foot, or an arm. OR, carefully navigate your path across that ice and get to your destination without any distress!  Mellow…. Use your thought process to help you survive old age! 

Mellowing not only works for physicality! It also helps with judgment calls and decision making.  I used to make decisions by running at them and sliding over the ice to a decision.  Now with conscious mellowization, decisions and judgments occur, yes it is true, more slowly but less dangerously and with more support documentation behind them.  If I meet a person who kind of annoys me, I run it through my brain.  Why does this guy annoy me?  Yeah, he says crazy stuff that opposes everything I stand for… he can’t string words together into a sentence but I can understand what he is trying to say, which I really don’t agree with, but he just gave that homeless guy on the street $10 so obviously he has some humanity.  Maybe we share other things in common.  Definitely mellowing!

I still speed dream however, and that is ok cause I wake up with no broken bones and not in jail!

Icing Penalty

I had another topic in mind for this post, but the recent ice storm is too present. Our neck of the woods was ambushed by a severe weather event – an ice storm – that seemed to put everything on hold. Forty-eight thousand of the fifty thousand people affected are in the county where I live. A quarter to a half-inch of ice coated branches until trees were too heavy to remain intact; massive self-pruning occurred on each property and roadside. White pines shed limbs accompanied by sounds like gunshots and the glaze of ice made walking hazardous.

And of course, electric power became something you remembered once upon a time. On the day following the storm, wires were down on every road I drove. Service connections were ripped off folks’ homes and it was clear that restoration would not be quick. Boy, I sure wished I had planned for a generator!

Time for an assessment of remaining assets: power- nope, water- nope (we have our own well, reliant on a submersible pump), toilet – nope, heat- nope, food- enough, but no refrigeration, internet or tv- nope, telephone – YES, thank goodness for cell service. How is the battery life? Good thing you got that car starting battery pack with the USB connections. Back to heat – how about the fireplace? Yep, but you never stacked a supply of fireplace wood, since you don’t use the fireplace. Okay, but there is the wood you saved for woodturning – lots of that!

Oy, this is like human sacrifice, choosing which of the fine-grained beauties will go up the chimney. I will draw the line at burning burl wood – that is an apostasy of the highest order. But that beautiful cherry, quilted maple, and figured walnut – oh dear! They could have been bowls or platters of distinction. Now they are warm memories (literally).

Once the immediate safety of the interior is determined, a review of the outside is undertaken. Large pine and maple limbs brush block the driveway on both entrances. The cherry and crab apple have lost half their mass.  Days of chainsaw work will be necessary. However, the electric service is still attached to the house. In that respect we fared better than my two sons, who both have live wires laying across their driveways.

Oh, and our restaurant has no power – a weekend without business is a huge hit these days. We all proceed to the restaurant with 5-gallon containers of water (luckily, my son is on municipal supply) to fill the 10-gallon sauce pots on the gas stove in order to keep the place from freezing. We’re already looking at food loss, as well as revenue we counted on. My son calls the lady who has the funeral party booked at our facility, in order to inform her that we cannot host the event. Surprisingly, she does not seem to understand the problem. My son explains that a restaurant cannot legally open without power; there is no heat; that there is a state of emergency and many of the connecting roads have been closed.  She says that the funeral director up the line has not called her – it is suggested that perhaps their phone service is out and a call to follow-up would be in order.

On the drive home from the restaurant, our mood is lightened. Without the distraction of tv, appliances, computers, and phones, you notice the beauty all around: sparkling trees and fields. We stop by our local version of buttermilk falls and water is rushing over the rocks. Everything is covered in ice. A willow tree presents its branches as a curtain of glass. The old corn fields look like a shining carpet. We remark how the sunsets have been spectacular lately. It’s great to be alive!

It really is a marvel how there is regeneration in disasters. I stop by my elder friend’s house – he just celebrated his 96th birthday this week. His neighbor has already shared his generator with a 200-foot extension, so that he can have heat-or-water-or-refrigeration (but not all at once!) Our jerry-can of water will allow him some flushing capability. Another friend provided a warm shirt and honey for him. Neighbors are helping neighbors all over. We have gotten offers of water and food, heaters and generators – a friend has dropped off fresh greens for salad and soup. Folks do what they can. It is too bad that it takes a real reversal of fate to showcase how connected we are as a community.

Of course, by day four, the adventure wanes. The daybed by the fireplace has rearranged our spines and hygiene has a whole different meaning. Yet, there are some aspects which strangely stand out: wearing a watch cap to bed, motion-activated battery lights in the hall, how well Doug Collum’s stick candles burned (look up his product – great product, great guy).

When power is finally restored on the evening of day four, it seems almost unbelievable. The crew parked in our driveway comes from Indiana. They are up and down the poles in the dark – day after day, surfing the power grid. Well, it’s twenty-five years and out for them, they tell us. We wish good things in their lives.

The last four days have seemed like two weeks. Everything is topsy-turvey. But the hot shower is calling!

Baby, It’s Cold INside!

The urge struck Friday morning around 2 AM.  Immediately upon opening my eyes I just had a sense something was wrong.  I have several nightlights around the house so there is always a low glow emanating from the hallway that was missing. A slight chill hit me as I threw the covers off and headed for the bathroom.I caught on real fast that the power was off.  No big deal, climbed back into bed, pulled the covers up over my head and figured by morning the power will be back!  except it wasn’t…….The chill in the house intensified.  Too cold to shower even though I still had hot water.  Could only eat a cookie for breakfast as there was no heating anything or making anything.  That was the moment the loneliness hit, realizing that there was nobody around to run suggestions by about what to do in this situation.  I ran it by the dog just to hear my own voice but he wasn’t much help.  Progressively the day got colder, the house got colder, I got colder. 

I piled layers of clothing on just to be comfortable in the house. and took my first look outside.  My trees were encased in ice, bowing down and touching the ground as if greeting royalty.  I may have said “at ease” but the trees didn’t chuckle .  The tree limbs were encased in a smooth layer of ice but at the end of each branch was a little ball of ice that would catch the sunlight and make it sparkle.  It was a fairy land and wherever I looked it was the same.  Many trees had broken with the weight, the street was eerily silent.

The day got lonelier and colder.  I didn’t know what to do with myself , FYI pacing is totally unproductive.  Luckily my cell phone had a partial charge and I called my daughter hoping she had power and the dog and I could head over there and warm up but no dice.Texting began and soon I realized the entire area/county was affected.  Now what. My fingers were freezing…..the CAR!  I used my remote start feature and let the car warm up for a few minutes before going out. When I finally slid to the car, my broken foot healing nicely, I was worried about rebreaking it from the crusty uneven ice covering the lawn and sidewalk.  My car was humming away, however, I was unable to get into it.  The handle was caked in ice and the remote lock wouldn’t work. I was beginning to see how the day was going to roll out.  Back in house, back to car, several attempts to get inside no luck.  Next attempt I brought a hammer and a chisel, cracked the ice off the lock, got in and cranked the heat up.  Headed over to daughter’s house, picked her up and went in search of an open diner.  When I got home later that afternoon, the house was cold.  Several more visits to the warm car with the dog and then way too early to bed- flannel sheets, comforter, 3 blankets, bed spread.  Add to that the heat of a canine body under those flannel sheets with me, covers over my head —it was actually cozy and warm.  Surely by tomorrow morning the power would be back on.  But it wasn’t!

That’s when all the insecurities came back to haunt me.  It was the first time since the power died that I felt fear.  Am I going to get through this?  The cold was encasing me, hindering my movement, even the dog was shivering. The car became our safe haven.  We drove around a little, grabbed some food and returned home…..back to bed!  Feeling slightly like a helpless child.  All kinds of insecurities surfaced…..I wanted it over.  Then I began to worry about what kind of damage had been done to my house- broken pipes, what about the yard and the trees.  even my electric toothbrush died- what next?

Honestly, I had trouble seeing the beauty.  I was in awe of Mother Nature but no way would I allow myself to be calmed by the beauty as my anger was growing proportionately to the drop in the temperature inside my house.  Surely by tomorrow morning the power would return………But it didn’t!

Struggles and Gratitude

Having recently relocated, I was untouched by the recent ice storm and resulting disruptions endured by my colleagues.  Several years ago, I found myself in a similar predicament.  Due to heavy snowfall and high winds my home was without power from the electric grid for four days.  Fortunately, I had a manual generator that needed to be wheeled out of the garage and was fueled by gas but once plugged in, provided me with all of the necessities and then some.  I happily housed a friend and his family until power was restored.

I remember some of the feelings Wal described.  The community around where I lived, came together to clear a fallen tree that blocked our road and had taken down power and phone lines.  We checked in with each other, offered firewood to those who were running low, and warm showers to those who sought to remain in their very cold houses.  Despite the hardships for some and inconveniences for others, it was a time of support and caring and selflessness.  It was also a time of beauty for the drifting snow created natural sculptures and had muffled the usual din of traffic, chainsaws and distant shouts of children playing to a soft, indistinct decibel hardly noticed above the quiet.

I’m glad my friends are safe and warm and showered!  This experience will no doubt be fodder for many stories and tales passed along to those who were not affected and to generations yet to come.  And I’m glad that Wal reminds us that in the struggle can be found beauty, community, and gratitude for what we do have that makes our lives so comfortable when the power is on. I can’t help but think that we have embraced technology so fully that we are dependent on it for not only comfort but also for survival. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to build in some back ups for when the systems can’t provide for us and we’re left to our own resources.  

Bartender, Can I Have a Refill?

For the last two Covid years the isolation has caused me to do a lot of reflecting.  Most of it while waxing nostalgic.  I spent way too much time wishing things were back the way they “used to be!” If I were being honest the “used to be” wasn’t always that great but being deprived by a pandemic can make everything that came before it look rosier than it actually was.  Lately, I guess I have had enough of looking backward.  There’s nothing to be gained from it. Now I have to look forward to get out of this funk I have been in.   It isn’t as if I haven’t had to look toward a new future in the past.  I retired from teaching on a Thursday and on Friday my new life began owning and operating a bed and breakfast in Vermont. The difference being that I knew one phase of my life was coming to an end and had time to prepare for the next one, fully recognizing and acknowledging the accomplishments of the past and looking forward to a carefully planned out new experience.  Covid gave us no warning, neither to its arrival nor the end of our previous existence.  My half empty glass kicked in big time!  

Enough!  The last couple of weeks I have been trying to shake the negativity.  Every time I mourned the loss of my previous life I tried to look ahead. I needed to find things to look forward to. Which brought another dilemma in that I had to come up with ideas that brought me some joy. And honestly that was difficult. One crazy thing that stood out was that ever since I was a kid I have been collecting model railroad equipment.  At different points in my life I had layouts in my basement and with every move the boxes and boxes were moved as well.  I have decided that as soon as the weather permits I am going to build a layout in my oversized garage, which will not only necessitate cleaning it out but will have the added benefit of allowing me to park the car in one half and construct the layout in the other half.  Great.…That brought a smile to my face. But what else?   Part of the problem is trying to envision what the new normal will look like.  And then, will any of the things I loved about the past be part of this new era?  Will the skills that I had before and succeeded with be useful in a revised world?  

Probably the most significant thing missing for me today is the social interactions I used to have regularly with friends, former students and colleagues and the fear is that for two years we went into our shells, locked the doors and shuttered the windows.  It has become habit.  I hope there are a lot of other turtles out there who want to come out of their shells again and socialize but we are creatures of habit and I pray that habit hasn’t been broken for good!  I am learning slowly that the unknown can turn out for the better just as easily as it can go sour.  Not sure I fully believe that yet but Henry and Wally say it does!  At this point in my life, what used to protect me from disappointment as a young person doesn’t serve me well anymore, but the local community college doesn’t have a free course for senior citizens to teach them about positivity so I guess I have to try the hit and miss method.  I am slowly trying to fill that glass!  Where’s the bartender?

All Aboard!

Here you go, George – let me top off your half full glass! Your thoughts gave me a lift… it is good to see you expressing forward movement that will bring some satisfaction. People are tired of living under the shroud of COVID. It’s as though we have been living defensively for two years – well there’s no ‘as though’ about it, it’s been bunker-mentality. Time to move on.

I used to work for a psychotherapist who suggested that one treatment modality for a certain type of depression was for the therapist to act depressed. After a while, the client may try to find something positive to talk about and each instance would then be encouraged. I’m not so sure about this approach with really distressed individuals, but there is some truth in the thought that most folks can only stand to be ‘down’ for just so long. Sounds like you’ve reached that point, George!

The immediate future will certainly be different, but we are made to change and adapt. Handle future issues in the future and don’t let your worries cramp your creativity. I’ve got more HO-scale kits that I will happily donate to your effort! It makes me smile to think of you building the layout with plenty of room to be inventive. Let me know if you would like some company in building the structure that will hold the train set.

As Hen points out, anticipating the project is as much fun as doing it. It is nice to have something to move toward, whether it’s model railroading, planning a garden – or woodturning (my favorite)! I’m looking forward to exploring texture and surface embellishment in my next woodturning projects. In order to  prepare, I’m squeezing in You Tube videos to learn more about approaches that work with wood: knurling tools, chatter, sandblasting and pyrography. One excellent byproduct of the pandemic has been the proliferation of live remote demo’s by expert woodturners!  Here’s to the momentum of the human spirit!  Wonder what other projects folks are looking forward to doing? 

Glancing Back But Moving Forward

I like George’s approach to move forward, commit to a project for which you have a passion and loosen up with a libation or two.  He also reminds me that if we hold the right frame of mind, the unknown can turn out better just as easily as it can sour.  Good advice in the time of COVID.

Looking forward to something you want or like or care about can lift our sense of happiness or contentment as if we were actually there or more!  According to a 2010 psychological study about the connection between anticipation and happiness that was published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, “ just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.”  

George also talks about being fed up with looking back.  He realizes that in these almost two years of altered (normal) reality we likely remember the past more positively that it actually was and that pining for what we had (or think we had) isn’t doing us any favors.  I think he’s onto something!  In a related study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2007, it was found that people are happier during the planning stages of a vacation than they were after taking one. In other words, we just might delight in looking forward to trips more than reminiscing about them.  It also goes on to say that if we actively plan our trips or projects over time, we more readily smooth over the unforeseen bumps we will encounter that if we didn’t prepare and will have a more positive experience.

Of course the trick is to not only recognize what George has brought to our attention but to act on it.  I hesitate to look at the happiness studies of people who planned to do things and then never did. L  I recently read that it’s easy to think (believe), harder to act, and hardest to act on what you think (believe).  

For me, I’d love to saddle up to the bar at a local pub with close friends and continue this conversation over a couple of drinks.  Of course, I’ll have to wait until COVID takes a back seat.  In the meantime, there’s always my laptop, MS Word, and tomorrow morning’s Zoom call with Wal and George.

Do You Have Everything You Need…for Now?

Recently I was at a rather busy outdoor restaurant with friends waiting to place our order.  The waiter came over to our table, poured some water, and asked if we wanted any drinks.  When he returned with our beverages he took our food order and asked if there was anything else we needed for now.  Likewise, when he returned with our meals, he asked, if there was anything we needed for now.  And, throughout the meal, dessert, and check deliveries, he always ended with, “Is there anything else you need for now?”

Several days later, unrelated to the meal or our waiter, I watched the Netflix movie, “Don’t Look Up.”  In it there is a scene where family and friends are sitting at the dinner table together and one remarks, “We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it.”

Both of these experiences got me to thinking about the quest for more of or a better something to make me happy or content.  And the more I thought about it, the more I recognize that, for now, for this very moment, I have what I need to do what I’m doing, to be content, and to just be.  And perhaps, if I can agree that in just about every moment, when I ask myself if there is anything else I need and I can answer, no, or not really, then in each of those moments, I can be a little more focused, a little more content, and a little more in the moment.  Many years ago, a friend gave me a rather far out book to read that espoused that life would be so much easier and less stressful if I could simply change my expectations to preferences.  So, yes, I still would like to get new things and improve my living conditions and relationships when I can but if I no longer feel I need to and if I can recognize that, for the moment, I already have what I need, perhaps, just perhaps, life will be even more fulfilling.

When I moved to Delaware in August, I stayed with my daughter and her family for about 5 weeks.  During that time, I had only the clothes that could fit in my suitcase and nothing more.  As the weeks passed I realized that I didn’t miss any of my “stuff” that surrounded me for the 21 years I lived in my former home.  I had all I needed.

It is said that change cannot occur without first having awareness.  These recent episodes in my life remind me that I don’t need very much at all.  This doesn’t mean that I will remain in my small apartment or that I won’t continue to seek new adventures and friends.  Perhaps the change that will occur is knowing that I don’t need any of those things…for now.

Bask

Hen chose a great topic and described it well: recognizing contentment ‘for now’. It’s those last two words that make the difference.

My kneejerk response to Hen’s piece, was ‘maybe we were not here to be content’. A darker part of myself actually was saying ‘Are you kidding? We’re clearly not here to be content – what’s this “maybe” stuff?’ We’re here to try hard, miss the mark, scramble to recover, and hopefully survive to move on. Contentment is code for ‘sitting duck’.

Contentment — but, what’s in a word? Wittgenstein famously said that if a lion cold talk, you wouldn’t understand what it said. He felt that words make the reality we experience – simply put: you might understand the logic of the sentence, but not appreciate the individual meaning assigned to the lion’s words.

Okay, in my lexicography, ‘contentment’ is different from serenity. Serenity is a feeling you have while in the flow of doing a task; contentment is the feeling you have when the task is finished. Contentment is the temporary rest stop while enroute to a summit. If you stay there too long, you won’t finish the climb. That’s why the leavening words: “for now”, make all the difference. It recognizes the deep breath you take before setting off again. It is the opportunity to take stock of where you are and say “how beautiful”, knowing you’ll soon be in motion. Walt Whitman has a pertinent poem Song at Sunset, which in part says:

Good in All,

In the satisfaction and aplomb of animals,

In the annual return of the seasons,

In the hilarity of youth,

In the strength and flush of manhood,

In the grandeur and exquisiteness of old age,

In the superb vistas of Death.

Wonderful to depart;

Wonderful to be here!

I used to work with a mechanical engineer whose favorite line was “Bask!” It was a reminder to take a moment to appreciate the progress a team had made on a project. It was always a good reset before resuming the journey – he was a wise person. So Hen, I agree: Bask – for now!

Two Little Words

Two little words, six little letters…..FOR NOW!  This diminutive statement carries the weight of the world on those two- 3 letter words’ shoulders! How is that possible?  I have been ruminating on this idea since Henry brought it up.   What is implied?  For Now implies change, usually forward change since the the last Now is gone. For Now questions it’s own life span- when is this Now over and the next Now begins?  If NOW is static like with a pandemic or something NOW could last a very long time.  How do we know when this NOW is over and the next NOW is arriving?  The optimist looks forward to the next NOW assuming improvement or betterment. The pessimist fears the next NOW cause history has told him things can get much worse.  Not to mention all the factors involved in creating NOW.  Factors such as current events, weather factors, one’s own humanity and outlook. Do all those things change at the end of one NOW into the next?  And how many of those factors have to change to label the quality of the next NOW?

Now throw in the concept of “contentment.”  Contentment is one of those emotions that fits somewhere on the Ladder of Happiness.  I suspect it is a high rung of that ladder right below joy and peace.  Lower rungs include comfort, amusement, ease, pleasure, higher up come satisfaction, with happiness and possibly euphoria just below the ultimate rung of peace and serenity-the absolute top! 

We all strive for those top rungs. Some of the rungs are phantomlike.  A feeling lasting only short moments in NOW. They are like the bouquets of flowers in a beautiful garden on a beautiful day.  They boost the spirit and make the Now special but rarely last long.  Happiness is one of those feelings.  We experience moments of true happiness and it enriches us beyond belief but seldom lasts for great lengths of time like peace and serenity do.  And euphoria is just a short sharp blast of bliss too soon gone to even remember how it felt….. but peace and serenity …… they last from this Now to the next and help us get through the subsequent Nows that lay ahead.

My final point right now is that For Now I am truly struggling.  Struggling with the loneliness, the worry for friends’ and family’s health and the fear of normal never returning.  Throw in a little anger for those who have decided their right to do what they want with their bodies supersedes our expectations for this pandemic to end.  So for now, my For Now is strangling me.  Sure glad the waiter didn’t ask me!  

Begin as You End

Irresolution

I am done with the convolutions

I know I’m too old for the revolutions

I am still seeking some solutions

And know I still need absolutions.

I am personally done with evolutions

I have no need for retributions

I’ve lost faith in most institutions

Yet, I continue to make contributions

So, from this simple elocution

I am declaring a conclusion

To each and every illusion

Of my keeping any resolution.

-Tom O’Brien

A New Year! A fresh start, perhaps? Have you made a resolution or two? Like Tom, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions – often my wish exceeds my grasp. But I do believe that how you end the year is emblematic of how you will be in the New Year: history is the best predictor of the future.

So on the last day of the year, I try to sample some behaviors I hope to be doing all year. My list of New Year’s Eve day activities includes:

  1. Being civil. Often I’m impatient to start or finish tasks and my impatience is obvious. While I probably won’t change that condition, I can limit the sphere of toxic Type A behavior.
  2. Prioritizing family time. We’re fortunate to have children and grandchildren close at hand. We will share a dinner this New Year’s Eve and keep the grandkids overnight.
  3. Doing what you love. I will use an hour or two in my shop, finishing a present for one of my sons. Being creative is energizing and carries over to other parts of my life.
  4. Checking in with at least a couple of folks who have had a tough year. We don’t go it alone. I firmly believe that each of us needs to strengthen the ties that bind.
  5. Exercise. I don’t always make time, but miss it when not active. My regimen is to complete a short workout on free weights daily. In a way, it’s a test – a litmus to mark when my body can no longer keep up. (I set the bar very low – no pun intended!)
  6. Mental Acuity: I play solitaire for keeping track of cards and picking order of play. It’s not sudoku or chess, but it’s quick and instructive as a meditation).

Okay that’s mine… what do you do to welcome 2022?

I’m Giving Up Brussels Sprouts

I’m not good at resolutions!  As a kid I would resolve to do something I was already doing to guarantee success.  It was sort of  like what I would give up for Lent.  I would give up brussels sprouts or liver, something I hated so that the task would be easy.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to do such a thing!  The purpose of these activities is to improve your being, to make you a better person.  So failing at such a self imposed task is overwhelmingly a failure of character.  I already am good at beating up on myself so I don’t need any catastrophic defeat to emphasize it.  
So bring on 2022 with no promises or self imposed demands!  In fact, if anything has to make resolutions, it is our society.  It needs to resolve to come together,  to accept people for who they are, to care about the well being of our fellow citizens, to address the real needs of our nation and our world…Too much?  Probably! Maybe the country will slip into my old habits and not make any demanding resolutions!  Status quo!  Maybe Covid will stick around and we’ll do nothing to end the damn thing. Maybe we’ll just let our kids get shot in school,  Maybe we’ll keep burning those fossil fuels and continue to burn acres and acres of forests and villages! Hell, it is much easier to do nothing than to actually take a course of action that might improve us.   Don’t let those strangers who look different or worship differently come into our perfect country!  
On second thought,  maybe a resolution or two isn’t bad.  Give it the old college try and if I succeed DAMN I’ll feel good and it just might improve my family, my neighborhood!  And if I fail? Nothing ventured nothing gained!  Maybe if we all made one resolution and tried to work it, we will be in a better place! Maybe 2022 will be the year for trying, resolving and acting to make it a better year than the last!  We can’t do much worse.  What do I have to lose?

Moving Forward

Wal invites us to reset and/or confirm our focus for how we wish to welcome the New Year.  I agree that while we can do this anytime, there is an emotional and perhaps psychological bonus when we do so at the outset of something new or, as Wal does, set our intentions just before the beginning.

Since I’m writing this after the ball dropped in Time Square, I can tell you what I did do on the last day of 2021 and what I’d like to continue.

I spent the day with friends.  We played, laughed, listened to music, enjoyed good food, exchanged thoughtful gifts, and engaged in hours and hours of physical activity.  Although I was so exhausted, I didn’t stay awake until midnight, I felt energized, fulfilled, and happy.  I ended my year full out, used up, and thrilled to be able to feel so alive.

  1. Spending time with family and friends and people who make me laugh and think and who challenge me is something I will seek to include in my life as much as possible.
  2. Eating healthy foods that I enjoy (even those that take time to prepare) will be more on my mind and on my shopping list.
  3. Giving to others with a full heart and often will be a practice I will increase.
  4. Hiking, biking, Pickle Ball, and other forms of exercise multiple times per week will be written into my daily journal.

I’m thankful to Wal for helping me see the last day of last year as an excellent reminder of how I want to live my life more fully and with intention. 

Forward!

The Late Late Show

Henry, Wally and I had our weekly Zoom call yesterday morning.  Our discussion rambled over several timely topics.  We argued politely but nonetheless passionately and ended the discussion with respect for the others’ viewpoints.  At least I came away feeling that.

It is now 3:30 AM and I have been awake for about an hour and not the least bit sleepy.  That will hit around noon today!  My mind is racing. Jumping from our zoom call to the darkness, the sound of the rain, house noises- the purr of the furnace, an electric clock motor, the dog’s groan as he changes position and the loneliness creeps in.  Is it the darkness or quietness that has let the loneliness creep in and intrude on my rest?  My mind is racing, bouncing off unrelated ideas like a ping pong ball.  I was going to write about people who entered my life for very brief moments and yet have occupied a corner of my mind for decades. A little girl named Maureen is who came to mind. When I was 4 years old we lived in an old railroad flat on East 23rd St and First Ave.   It was an old apartment building, 6 floor walk up.  On Thursday’s the dumbwaiter would arrive at our floor, and my mom would open the little door in the kitchen, put our garbage in it and send it up to the roof for incineration and there would be Maureen, peeking over our respective garbage, and waving as her mom added garbage from her side of the dumbwaiter.  I never played with her, never even knew her last name, never even heard her voice but for some reason she has been hiding in my brain for over 70 years.  That is what I was going to write about this time around but the loneliness tonight overwhelmed me.  Sitting in the dark with only the glow of my phone emphasizes that incredible insecurity and hesitancy I experience a lot.  And now, here it is staring me down face to face and no one to pat my shoulder or take my hand and offer encouraging words.  That’s probably what I miss the most, and this is probably the time I am visited by my worst demons.

I am resting my head on my hands and looking out my living room window into the dark houses and empty rooms of my neighbors. Their houses are as dark as mine and I can’t help but wonder if they have demons that haunt them, too.  I figure they probably do but I can’t empathize with them right now cause I am too absorbed in how to deal with mine.  Health issues loom among the biggest demons right now.   What late life decisions will I be forced to make.   Here we are going into Christmas week and I forced myself to decorate just so my daughter wouldn’t worry.  After years of large family gatherings, food everywhere, even in our stockings hung by the chimney with care (the stockings were always filled with oranges and walnuts and candy as well as little gifts) we are reduced to just the two of us.  My son moved away which left yet another empty chair in my life.

But, a car just passed the house, my hometown will be waking up soon, and even a hint of daylight will break through the darkness. I’ll probably fall asleep for an hour or so thinking how fortunate I am to have friends I can talk to about this! How thankful I am for my kids and my dog. The demons will subside with the daylight, things will make me laugh, the worries will disappear just as the house sounds do and be replaced by the neighborhood awakening.  I am sure there will be other nights like this but for now the promise of daylight comforts me as my mind begins to slow down and cry for rest!

Night Terrors

Boy, lots of possible rejoinders in this post. George writes about the vulnerability he feels on some nights, when darkness rules and minor issues grow into golems knocking at the door. Hen relates a childhood story about a boa constrictor slithering across ribbed vinyl. Wow – I can imagine that sound –scary!!

While Hen has come to terms with the darkness and embraced the gentile quiet and star-filled panoply of the evening sky, I tend to relate to George’s troubles.

Nightfall signals the time of winding down and reflecting on the day. While I’m active, I make plans for the next day: sticky notes with tasks to be accomplished. That’s all fine until bedtime. Generally, I fall asleep immediately, but wake up 3 hours later. That’s when the troubles can start. Overlooked issues, past mistakes, and seemingly insoluble problems slither up my bedpost like Hen’s boa constrictor.

Sigmund Freud felt that while we are asleep, our consciousness magnifies minor discomforts several-fold. I always assume that some physical discomfort initially wakes me, but once alert, it’s the worries that keep me awake.

Most of the time, I can dismiss the problems. When I can’t, I get up and write down every problem that is the source of anxiety. Funny, but once these issues have been named and recorded, I’m ready for sleep again. However, George’s wonderful description of the aloneness that you can feel at night – the anxiety over what cannot be controlled (which – let’s face it – is a lot), can make you uncomfortably aware of the existential void.

That void may be the real night terror: measuring your life, it’s inevitable ending and underlying meaning aside from the busy-ness of daylight routine. Your wants and fears are more clearly reflected in the dark. That’s why the act of writing down my anxieties and worries frees me up. The items that bother me are so generally pedestrian as to be laughable in the cosmic perspective. So in the end, I wind up reminding myself what a little being I am in this big world. Rather than making me more anxious, it makes me chuckle. 

The Power of the Mind

George raises an interesting question about darkness and light and their relationship to how we carry our demons.  With the coming of dawn he felt comforted and his mind slowed perhaps enough for him to regain control of what he allowed in, what weight it carried, and how long he would allow it to last.

As a child, I remember being awakened one night by a sound that I was convinced was a huge boa constrictor slithering across the vinyl, slightly ribbed kitchen chairs listening for my heartbeat so as to know where to find me.  It was as if everyone in my family disappeared and I was alone in the house with only this giant hungry snake.  To this day I have no idea why I conjured it up. At first it was a game and I began to play with the idea knowing full well the noises I heard were likely the oil burner or refrigerator motors.  But soon, it was out of control as it took over my mind in the dark and quiet of the night, and try as I might, I couldn’t shut it off.  Sometimes the power we give to our mind can evolve into a force of it’s own.  Scary!

These days I have a different relationship with the dark.  The darker my bedroom, the better I sleep.  When I lived in the country, I would often go outside at night and gaze at the stars.  The darker it was, the more I could see.  For me he dark has less to do with triggering my concerns or fears as does more situational things like a conversation, an article, or a distant memory.  Yes, from time to time they may keep me from sleep for an hour or two as I puzzle through solutions, next steps, or strategies for letting them go. But most of the time I’m planning how to keep myself entertained with things I want to do and am still able to do which leaves me little time to spend with the demons.

However, I must share a brief story of the power of mind over matter and the influence George seems to have over my thoughts.  When the three of us began working together on this blog, he once complained about the aches and pains he felt each morning when he awoke.  Although we are the same age, I explained that I hadn’t noticed any such thing when I got up each day.  The next morning I paid attention to my body as I woke up, swung my legs to the floor and walked to the door.  I was shocked and saddened to realize that my joints were full of aches and pains as well!  Every since, I thank my friend George for bringing this reality to my attention, each and every morning!  Somehow I had grown accustomed to them and never realized they were there.  Of course now I’m afraid to find out what happens tonight when I shut off the light and try to go to sleep.  Ugh!

Reflection

Institutions often set calendar benchmarks for reflection and evaluation.  Workers and/or programs are reviewed annually or semi-annually ostensibly to improve performance or productivity.  While setting arbitrary anniversaries for such reflections may be more efficient, I wonder if they would be more effective if we measured the time for such experiences based on changes in feelings about the work or an observable indicator from regular monitoring.  Such is the case, for me, to review my purpose and performance of these blog posts.

Our first post was on May 21, 2019.  Now, 66 posts and some 30+ months later, I’m feeling a need to check in with myself as I recognize that what was once stimulating has become more of a responsibility.  I am aware that what works at one point in time may not in another.  And while some might say, “ If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” I don’t want to wait until it’s broken before I make the necessary adjustments to keep it healthy.  Factor in my recent move and challenging transition to relocating and it feels like the right time to take stock of where I am with my writing, where I want to go, and how to reclaim the energy and vitality I initially had.  Of course I am only one third of what makes this all work.  I also owe it to my two very patient and supportive blog-mates to check in with myself.

For the last ten years or so I’ve felt a need to pass along my thoughts, feelings, and what I understand to be wisdom to my children.  Sparked by a lively conversation sometime in August of 2018 with Wal and George in a bar we once frequented many years before, the idea of sharing written thoughts and opinions about chosen topics was kindled.   And so we began this journey, fueled by anticipation of the unknown, a powerful reconnection with former classmates, and the excitement of creating something new from our shared experiences.  As I looked back at our early notes, emails, and outlines I found some possible causes for the change in how I bring myself to my writing.

I read less than I did when we began.  In the early days there was a flurry of articles shared among us as well as references to books and authors that we discussed and debated.  Today I rarely contribute to this process. There are some apparent and some not so obvious reasons for this.  However, this is something I can certainly do more of in the coming months.

For a while, I was journaling on an irregular basis but often enough to keep my writing and ideas and experiences fresh and connected.  This all but stopped as I began the process of selling my house.  Now that I have begun to establish new routines, I have the option of scheduling regular journal entries.  I imagine this would not only contribute to my writing but will serve to help me adapt to my current life style.

Being outdoors and getting abundant exercise and fresh air has always been a major source of energy for me.  Since my move, this has changed dramatically.  Finding ways to do both on a regular basis will take far more effort than in my former setting but I know the benefit will far outweigh the effort.

I am also aware that, for me, new beginnings are easier than sustaining middle ground in any of the projects I’ve undertaken.  The struggle has been how to sustain the energy, momentum, and excitement of the work over time.  Going back to our beginnings has helped me rediscover my original purpose as well as to recognize the important behaviors that helped propel my work.  And while I can and will recommit to some of them starting now, I wonder if there is something else that needs to shift as we close in on three years of posting our blogs.  Perhaps so, but for now, I look forward to putting first, the things that helped me in the past.  Then, after a short period, I’ll look back to today to see what, if any progress has been made and what I can do differently, moving forward. 

Blogolution

Hen’s piece asks us to reflect on writing this blog after 66 posts. Have we strayed from our original goal and have we maintained the same level of enthusiasm?

I guess the answer for me is yes to both questions.

Sure, anything done repetitively can wear thin over time, but I’ve felt that this blog is an evolving enterprise. My original goal was to share advice with my grandkids in mind. After writing a few entries, it seemed to me that my advice is not so cogent – or sufficiently clear — as to spare them the same mistakes I’ve made over time. In addition, it is a slim probability that my skills as a writer will rise to a high level of sophistication. So now what?

Well, there are several aspects of this ongoing conversation which I continue to enjoy:

  1. It is an opportunity to sharpen ideas. One of us writes on a subject and the others weigh in with some counterpoint. How else does a person grow in one’s perspective? It’s pure dialectic. Of course, it would also be constructive if readers at large commented with their views as well.
  2. The above only works if folks with different points of view can find common ground — and the respect to actually listen – genuinely participate: that’s what friends do. We started with the premise that each of we three old guys had a distinctly different style and set of life experiences. I believe that we realized pretty quickly that we were more alike than different. In a season characterized by identity politics and differentiation, we are harmoniously diverse. I find the opportunity for relationship building is more satisfying than mining and exploiting differences.
  3. We laugh a lot. We old guys zoom every week to explore ideas and check in on one another. It’s an easy and spontaneous conversation. We start with a plan and invariably devolve into good natured banter. God only knows where our conversation will lead at any given time.

It’s pretty clear that my goals have changed over time. I think that honing ideas will help me express something of significance to my wonderful grandkids… but I’m not in a hurry, because even as I age, my points of view also marinate. Point of view is, after all, a time-slice of opinion.

There are times when I have no clue as to what to write. Yet, words still find their way to the page, mainly guided by references to writers with greater insight and intellect. The motivation to research and synthesize information from these folks fuels my enthusiasm to connect to this blog.  

So, yep – I strayed from our original goal, but remain pretty satisfied with where our conversations have taken us three old guys.

Journalicious

I journaled my whole life.  Mostly recording places I visited or events that occurred.  Early on I used calendar books just to jot down a daily reminder of what occurred.  Recently I gave a collection of those books to my daughter so she could read what we were going through in the process of adopting her 50 years ago and how we fell in love with her the moment we were first introduced to her at the Ulster County Office Building, more affectionately known, in the early 70’s, as the Glass Menagerie.  Health issues arose and the release papers were withdrawn and we went through an agonizing period for about 7 months when we weren’t sure if she would be released.  I wanted her to know how much she was wanted!

Then I moved on to composition books.  I loved the way a page looked when I was finished, always writing carefully and always using a favorite fountain pen to do the writing.  I just always loved to write!  So, when we three old fraternity brothers met at our 50th reunion and the idea was presented I loved it.  We had a combined life experience of over 220 years’ worth of life experience.  Not having any grandchildren my audience is different than Henry’s and Wally’s.  I had gone through some traumatic medical procedures and wanted to share that with folks our age so they wouldn’t have to go into these situations without some encouragement and advice from someone who experienced this kind of stuff.   So many scary, new experiences face seniors and it is helpful to maybe hear how someone else made it through! 

We certainly each have our own writing styles.  Henry and  Wally write much more scholarly than I do, quoting experts in many different fields whose books they have read.  I read mostly fiction, and quoting Forrest Gump or Holden Caulfield doesn’t carry the same weight as a person with half the alphabet following their names, so my pieces are based only on my own feelings and experiences. 

These other 2 old guys helped me survive Covid.  They gave me a purpose and the knowledge that every week I’ll get to have human contact either in person or video-ickly just to validate there are still other humans around.  Our discussions range from all kinds of things and are always encouraging and thought provoking!  Our process has evolved over the course of our 66 publications, and that’s a good thing!  Things have to evolve because our thinking evolves and that is good also. Let us know what you think!  Share with us your thoughts, disagree with us, yell at us. That’s how we develop and improve. But keep reading us!