Defensive Living

When I learned to drive I was taught to be a defensive driver.  My interpretation of that was to be on the lookout for unexpected events that could impede my safety.  Of course when I was sixteen I believed my lightning fast reflexes and gift of invulnerability were enough to keep me safe without much need for caution.  And now, at seventy-five, after almost sixty years of driving experience and with slightly less reflex time and visual acuity I must say that driving defensively has become more and more of a daily practice.  And lately, I realize that it also applies to my daily living.

I’m fortunate to have the gift of time.  I am no longer in a rush to fit an endless and overwhelming number of “must do’s” into my day.  I am able to make the time to get up and out of the house each morning with intention and calm.  Often I’m up before my 6:00 am alarm (usually because Duke’s automatic clock sends him to my bedside just before the buzzer.) This gives me sufficient time for my morning routines before we set out to my daughter’s house to help get the grandkids off to school.  By 8:30 I have the time to journal and workout before we head off to the dog park for more exercise.  All of this is to say that I can pay attention with less distraction.

Many years ago, when my daughter was first learning to drive, one of her former classmates was involved in a fatal car crash.  In this case, she was making a left turn from a stop sign.  She looked left and saw that the oncoming car’s right signal light was on so she pulled out in front of him.  Unfortunately, he had no intention of turning and had unknowingly left his blinker on from an earlier lane change.  A similar experience, (without incident) happened to me just the other day.  Fortunately, I left plenty of room and time to avoid a collision.  I was driving defensively.  I’ve noticed that the more I let go of what “should be” and simply be prepared for things to not necessarily go as planned, helps me in day to day activities as well.  Follow up reminders, double-checking times and numbers, and taking more responsibility for getting things done, leaves me less stressed and more productive.  Of course moving from an “it’s unfair!” and blame mentality to accepting what is without all the drama, is not an easy shift for me.  It’s takes daily reminders and practice to make progress. 

Another example of this acceptance of how things are without judging them to be wrong or bad happened to me in the supermarket last week.  I often have little tolerance for people who appear oblivious to other shoppers when they leave their cart in the middle of an isle or block a section of shelf while they chat away or text on their phones seemingly uncaring about those around them.  After all, what excuse could they possibly have, I surmised.  Well, I use my Anylist app on my phone when I shop.  It has all of the items I need to buy and all I need to do is glance at my phone for my list of groceries.  So here I was at the end of the dairy aisle, checking my app and realizing I hadn’t checked off the items I had already put in my cart.  I proceeded to update my list thinking how happy I was that I actually found all the things I needed and reviewing the menu for that night’s dinner.  What took seconds to write about this experience actually took a minute or so.  As I was about to finish I looked up and noticed I was completely blocking an entire section of cheeses and a man was quietly and politely waiting for me to move so he could continue his shopping.  For all he knew I was texting my blogging buddies about an epiphany I just had in the dairy section of the supermarket (it could happen…) but he simply smiled at me.  I apologized profusely and told him how I hated when others did that to me.  He waved it off and said it was not even an inconvenience compared to all the other things he could be upset about.  I was humbled.  From now on I will seek to rethink my first response to supermarket blockers, drivers who cut me off, and desk clerks who make billing errors on my invoices and consider what I need to do to move on with a minimum of upset or “poor me” attitude.

I’ve also found that this kind of defensive living is not the notion of expecting everything to go wrong and worrying about every action I take.  It’s more about acceptance of the way things are without fixing negative labels on others for mishaps and unwanted outcomes.  I find it easier to embrace this philosophy now as an older man than I did when I was younger.  Perhaps it’s another perk of the aging process!


Hen writes of a discipline of practice: to approach the day without assigning a limited number of acceptable outcomes and to be present in the decisions that he makes. All of which argues for assessing the consequences of the actions that one takes. Both Hen and George remember the headlong rush that life can be when we were younger. I’m sure that each of us has particular cautionary tales.

What popped into my head was an incident that occurred when I was eight years old. A group of us were playing in a friend’s front yard with balsa airplanes. Do you remember those models where wings and stabilizers slipped into slots in the fuselage – and could be launched with a rubber band attached to a stick?

One of ours had a great flight but landed on the roof of David-Charles’ house. We weren’t sure how to retrieve it. Being kids, we thought ourselves ace problem solvers. I came up with a prudent plan that we all agreed would work. It went like this:

  • Find a heavy, round stone we could throw onto the roof.
  • The stone would roll down and bring the plane with it.
  • The stone would fall down, but the plane would glide away unharmed.

Now the quality of the stone was important. It needed to be round so it would roll off the roof. We did not want to leave flat stones on David-Charles’ roof. It had to be heavy – well, because it should be a consequential stone.

Okay, so the idea was that I would hold the heavy stone in two hands and run up to the pachysandra garden that was in front of the living room picture window and fling the stone with all my might onto the roof. 

We examined the plan and could find no flaw. Brilliant, right? What could possibly go wrong? 

That was the last time David-Charles and I were allowed to play together – I mean, after the tree fort ‘elevator’ disaster, requiring stitches for David-Charles, I could understand his mother’s point of view. And I accepted full responsibility for the consequential stone laying on the living room floor, surrounded by the glass shards of the picture window.

It seems to me that I’ve had a number of those plans through the years. They seemed based on well-grounded assumptions – at least, at the time. 

I read somewhere that the parts of the brain that marry action to consequence do not fully develop until the twenties. (Now this would certainly explain the college years). And even so I have always strived for a well-ordered life. But whether the fault is in our stars, morphology, or a few slippery peptides on the DNA chain, I have some reservations about my ability to apply a strong over wash of rationality to all my decisions. 

Jumping in the Shower

In my youth, i.e. up to ago 50, I did everything in a hurry.  In fact our language reflects this youthful energy and idiomatically reflects our hurry.  Each morning I would “jump in the shower.” Then I’d “grab something to eat,” probably “gobble it down,” and then “run to the store.”  Our culture encouraged us to speed up and our youthful energy matched the expressions we used to indicate our hurry. 

At 76 (I always round up my age in hopes someone who thinks I look like an old 75 might just say that he doesn’t look bad for 76!) But i digress!  I, as Henry suggested, have time now to digress, it allows me to plot my next move. Impulsivity is no longer my friend.  So at 76, I no longer jump in the shower but rather carefully raise my leg over the edge of the tub holding on to the secure towel rack while carefully testing for the slip factor of my foot on the porcelain surface of the tub.  No longer can I grab something to eat, it requires thoughtful concentration and review of whether or not it is healthy, or redundant (didn’t I have that yesterday?) or in need of intensive preparation!  And forget about running to the store- start the car, let it idle for a few, buckle my seatbelt, check my rear camera and thank the manufacturer for that gift, as turning my head far enough around to see out the rear window is no longer an option!

Defensive living today requires thought about most things.  I no longer carry my laundry basket down the cellar stairs cause I don’t want to wind up like that lady who fell down the stairs and can’t get up.  So I use a soft laundry bag and toss it down from the top of the stairs, hold the railing and proceed down the stairs carefully.  I had a friend who had just retired from teaching, was taking her laundry down to the basement, missed a step and hit her head on the cement floor and unfortunately passed away.  That had a profound effect on me. Having broken my foot twice in a year in the same place also causes me to do some defensive moves to prevent self-harm.  I am especially careful on frozen winter mornings where I place my feet on my carefully thought out and executed journey to the store!  

I guess I still do the same things I did in my youth but with consideration for aging moving parts that have become brittle over the years!  It isn’t so much worry as it is an awareness of what could go wrong with one careless move.  Cautious consideration of what I am about to undertake is always a good move.  I now avoid the poison Ivy growing in my shrubs that I am trimming rather than forge ahead full steam, consequences be damned. But I sure do miss the swashbuckling nature of jumping in the shower, grabbing a bite and running off into the sunset!  At least, as Henry suggested, I have the luxury of time to allow myself this privilege!


“I am very impressed”, said the surgeon – “about how much damage you’ve managed to do to your hip. “You need a full replacement, so let’s see how soon we get you scheduled”. Two thoughts occurred right on top of one another: a) boy, am I lucky to have an option to reduce the pain, b) wow, I am officially old.

I admit to being a surgery rookie – fortunate to have avoided hospitals since my tonsils were removed, so many years ago. So many years ago, that Robbie the Robot was the toy of the year. But now, I am joining the Society of Waiting Room Junkies, an exclusive club of seniors who inhabit a labyrinth of calendar conflicts almost totally devoted to medical service. I figured to be pretty good at this, as my working life taught me to wait productively in airports, but I have to admit that doctors’ waiting rooms have their own vibe. Mostly, older and infirm individuals emit auras of fading energy, but I have witnessed some full-on, call the cops outrage with the administrative process.

Problems tend to arise when patients do not understand insurance-speak or waiting room ethics… and some admins tend be unaware that folks may need to be ‘socialized’ into appreciating the specialized tasks assigned to various members of the medical team: front desk reception (‘what is your birthdate, please’), intake nurse (what is your birthdate, please’), medical history admin, phlebotomist, x-ray tech, surgery scheduler (‘what is your birthdate, please’), co-payment processor – oh, and the physician or PA.

Since western medical practice is a symptom-oriented approach, specialists exist for every symptom. Your medical team wants to know (in addition to your birthdate) the names of your urologist, cardiologist, nephrologist, neurologist, oncologist, physiatrist (yes, that’s a thing), psychiatrist, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, proctologist, and pharmacist. In addition, your team will be pleased to hook you up with an anesthesiologist. Look at all the new friends! We may have not found the cure for COVID, but we have certainly cured loneliness in our lifetime!

Obviously, I speak with tongue-in-cheek, observing a rite of passage that people of a certain age must cleave to, or not survive past that certain age. We are fortunate to have excellent healthcare, even if at times the process gets in the way of the service. How nice it is to encounter the upbeat nurse, the skilled practitioner, or the pleasant fellow traveler… they keep us keepin’ on!

Organ Recital

When I was in my forties I had a phone conversation with my colleague Jack.  He asked about our health insurance coverage to see if I had any knowledge of reimbursement for a procedure he had scheduled.  One thing led to another and soon we found ourselves immersed in a completely health-obsessed exchange of body parts, broken bones, previous illnesses, and surgeries.   He paused, chuckled, and then said we sounded like two old men who talked about little else than their medical conditions – he called it the Organ Recital!

Ever since that day I remain observant when I find myself pulled into such a conversation and seek to make it more about gathering information rather than enjoying it as a new mode for social entertainment.  And now Wal’s post reminds me that, in fact, I am an old man who will have more and more medical issues waiting for me on the horizon.  The question remains how much of the “concert” I choose to participate in and/or listen to.

As Wal points out the challenges that lie ahead include more than just the condition of eroding body parts; they include the endless stream of paperwork, administrative error or incompetence, and waiting rooms that bombard us with a myriad of conversations and germs!  I’m thinking that George’s approach from his previous post will likely serve him well; expect the worst and you’ll likely be surprised that it wasn’t as bad as you expected.  And, as Wal reports, sometimes these conditions can lend themselves to pleasant surprises when we might experience highly respectful and efficient check-in and follow-up services and the opportunity to make a positive connection or two.  I try to combine my optimism for the latter with preparedness for an experience that might require much patience and a Zen mind.  After all, if this is the new normal for “Old Guys” then it makes sense to adapt and accept it.

I think the part that I have control over is whether I make these medical interventions a symphony I play in regularly or an intermittent recital I can leave behind when the visit is over.  Perhaps if I choose to bring my playful and curious nature to this venue rather than become an organist playing and replaying the same old song, I might just continue to enjoy the music!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Relatively Speaking…

Everything is relative! I just had a major revelation about everyone’s fixation about my glass being half empty all the time.  It just occurred to me to get a smaller glass and pour my concerns into it and magically my glass is FULL!  Not half full but all full (say it slowly and enunciate so it doesn’t sound like ‘awful’) See?  Relative!

In our youth our social life consisted of parties, big events and social gatherings!  Every weekend was filled and work took up our weekdays!  Life was busy and full (not half full), fun and laughter were the currency of those gatherings.  Life was good!  In our mid-life prior to the crisis, our social engagements quieted down slightly. Our social calendars were filled with weddings, christenings, work related parties, road clean ups.  Life was getting softer, quieter and cozier.  Life was comfortable if a little quieter.

The Golden Years, which sneaks up on you mercilessly, changes the nature of our social calendars.  The weddings and christenings are finished for the most part, gatherings become less frequent but the one commonality we all face at this stage is the maintenance of our physical bodies.  Life can become concerning.  They say in your mid-fifties your ‘check engine light’ comes on and predicts the ailments and medications soon to be arriving at an organ in you! The friends you maintained over the years are in the same boat and remain faithful at your side, sympatico to what you are going through.  Hence the conversations Henry refers to as organ recitals.  Now here’s where my new revelation about my glass kicks in.  You begin to see your week is filled with blood work, X-rays, appointments with specialists, Medicare physicals where you get extra credit if you remember the four special words in their right order! But as Wal pointed out, the new socializing opportunities are in the waiting rooms of all these new and exciting locations.  New friendships develop as you run into the same person you met at your general practitioner’s office pops up the following week at your cardiologist’s office! “How is your son doing with the divorce?” Or “Social Security thinks you died?  I have a friend that was declared dead by them and he had to be resurrected!”  Meeting new people is always fun and the conversations are so much more interesting than in our youth.  So you see, everything is relative!  Just a little digression.  Wal and I have the same general practitioner so I had to fill out that list of specialists as well, so after I listed my Cardiologist, Nephrologist, Dermatologist, Therapist, Orthopedist, in my snarkiest printing I added one that wasn’t on his list….I figured since they want to know everything about me I listed my Veterinarian too!  The doctor asked me if I was trying to be wise and I told him I didn’t have to try, it came with old age…

What, Me Worry?

It all developed at lunch on Monday with Henry and Wally in our old stomping grounds in New Paltz.  Henry came up north from his new digs in Delaware and it was a nice reunion.  My idea took shape at lunch as it often does when the three of us begin conversing about ideas, emotions, and feelings. This time though, due to my vast storehouse of scholarly research, I am finally able to quote an authority with substantial credentials in the field of psychology, intelligensia, and a myriad of other fields too numerous and hard to spell to mention.  In the words of the world reknowned intellect of Dr Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?” I reply, HELL YEA!

I learned early on that worry was my friend!  If I worried strong enough, and painted the mental picture dark enough of whatever event led to the worry in the first place, chances are when events unfolded I would be pleasantly surprised.  Deep relief sighs would emanate from this small 5 year old body and the world order could return to normal.  That practiced and improved living technique got me through most of my informative years. It started mal serving me as I grew into my adult years and took on more adult responsibilities. But old habits and practices die hard. 

Glass half empty and half full began to be used to describe me.  I couldn’t see the half full part.   But I had to try cause I was no longer the only one who had consequences of my actions. I hoped I could find a better way! I had to find a way to trade worry for hope.  I hoped that the situation  would improve, but I worried it could be much worse!  I worried that intense worry could lead to real anxiety but then intense hope that never came to fruition could lead to the same place.  Henry, Wally and I discussed how useless and unproductive worry is. There is nothing beneficial that comes from worry, nothing to take away that improves one’s life.  I can see that.  Nothing tangible, nothing helpful, nothing material changes with worry.  So if that is the measure of an emotion, we should ban it from our emotional index and lock it away.  

Hhmmmm, But……..with more reflection, when I dredge up hope from my thesaurus I wonder, is it not just the other side of worry?  If I hope too much do I not risk incredible disappointment?  Just like worry, what do I take away from hope that is tangible, helpful or material?  And if the answer is “nothing” then what is the difference?

The difference is that I am human.  Hope springs eternal! Hope and worry are tools we use to get through our lives.  The use of one over the other may help to label us and define us but I’m not sure one is anymore productive than the other.  Try to get through a conversation with someone without either using the words hope or worry!  I dare you….As for me, I am more comfortable with worry because over the years it was a tool of survival.  I can’t discard it now!


George, I get it – I’m a worrier as well. I think that what Hen and I were trying to say is that worry can be helpful if it spurs a motivation to set a plan of action and assists you to examine all the possible options to relieve your situation. My normal approach is to make lists of all the worrying problems I face and to do my best to break them down into digestible bites. But I’ve also used worry as an ‘amulet’ to imagine the worst-case scenario in order to console myself that anything short of that would be a positive outcome. Call it a hedge against disappointment. James Reston coined a term ‘preventative worry’ which fits in that case.

You’ve raised a point about the relationship between worry and hope. I think an old myth holds part of the answer. The story about Pandora addresses the situation where the gods have given Pandora a box that holds a number of spirits. The box – more accurately, a lidded clay jar – isn’t quite a loving gift. She’s told not to open the jar, although it is a foregone conclusion that she will. When she removes the lid, the Furies are released upon the world, causing all sorts of havoc.  But one spirit gets stuck under the jar’s lid – Elpis, the spirit of hope, which remained inside Pandora’s vessel of clay.

If it stopped there, I might have surmised that our vessels are strengthened by hope in the face of chaos. I was surprised to learn that elpis can be translated not just as ‘hope’, but as an expectation of the future, be it positive or negative. In that context both worry and hope are simply expectations. Expectation is a way of toting up the probabilities of success. Therefore, it makes all kinds of sense that individuals cycle between hope and worry as they evaluate their changing landscape. Perhaps both hope and worry serve you well, given the state of play at any given moment. It’s probably also true that excessive worry, just like false hope, never solves a problem.

I like poetry… it’s amazing that such descriptive and profound thoughts can be captured in a few lines. I’m going to try to find a poem for each post that makes some sense about the subject at hand. Here’s one by Mary Oliver:

I Hope You Don’t Worry Too Much

It seems to me that worry precedes anxiety.  That is, a worry is a lower level baseline for a concern that often grows in scope and intensity to actions that are indicative of anxiety, fear, and anger.  After examining what worry and hope mean to me, I came to the conclusion that I often skip the worry stage and move directly into anxiety.  

I don’t believe that I’m a worrier.  I have learned to anticipate and prepare for what I need to do each day with hope that they turn out as I have anticipated.  And, I do so with less and less dependency on how it actually transpires.  For the most part this works well for me and I don’t “worry” about how my day will turn out.  Of course I do have certain parameters that, if not met, move me swiftly into an anxious and much less easy-going mode of operation.  For example, (and by the way I wasn’t always like this,) I like to be early to a scheduled event or appointment. (I would also add that George and Wal are also early-to appointment-people.  In fact, if it’s five minutes before we’re scheduled to meet and one of us is not yet there, some of us would argue, it’s time to WORRY!)  This takes the “worry” out of concern for something out of my control that could make me late – traffic, unexpected phone calls, etc. However, if I’m reliant on someone else to get somewhere on time and they have a more laissez-faire attitude about timeliness, I move directly into an anxious mode.  My brain fires in multiple directions from blame to fear to anger.  This is not a place I want to be and I’m working on letting go of the outcome once I know I’ve done all I can to stick to the timetable.  I’m fairly certain I’ll never completely overcome this glitch but I hope to make progress in both the frequency and intensity of my unwanted reactions.

And since I used “hope” in the previous sentence I’ll explain my relationship with this word.  I see it as a desire for something good to happen.  I often use hope when I wish someone a good trip or a speedy recovery from a medical situation.  I like the word.  It feels optimistic, positive, and light.  For me, it doesn’t carry the same level of intensity of a worry or concern.  It’s a preference for something nice or pleasant to happen but usually not designed to counter a worry that something bad will take its place.

One last thought on this subject.  I sometimes find myself using wonder rather than a word like worry.  For example, I wonder if this rejoinder is too short.  I’m not really concerned if it is.  And, if it is and my blogging buddies tell me that it needs to be fleshed out more, I’d do so.  No worries!

Here’s hoping you all have a pleasant and worry-free day!

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.


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!