"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Man at Work

     A little over a week ago, something unexpected happened to me. I got a job. Nothing permanent, mind you. But an assignment that will take me about a month to complete.

     We all know that retirement is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. And neither is financial independence. Besides, even retirees who are truly financially independent, the experts tell us, need to find pursuits that engage their interests.

     Nobody can expect to be happy sitting in front of the TV for the rest of their lives. (Btw, B and I have started watching "Madam Secretary" with Tea Leone on Netflix . . . good show!) We need activities that stimulate our imagination, connect us to other people, and help us develop a commitment to something more than our own self-interest.

     I do enjoy working, now and then, because it gives me some focused activity; it brings in a little money; and it makes me feel good to be engaged in a project that's important enough for someone to actually pay me for it. A job takes me out of myself, and makes me feel like I'm worth something beyond my own little life and my own family.

     I've been freelancing and consulting for more than ten years now. But honestly, in the last year or so, the work has been drying up. I think there's probably plenty of work out there, if I was willing to go out and get it. But according to the Social Security Administration, I've reached my full retirement age, and so I don't feel as if I still have to be beating the bushes, pounding the pavement, networking and cold calling people in order to find a job.

     But now one comes along, and I can do it mostly on my own terms. I have the time to spare since we've completed our move, and our condo has been fixed up -- at least as much as we're going to fix it up.

     Besides, I could use the change of pace, as well as the few thousand dollars I'll get for a month of employment. So I'll be working for a few weeks, and may be posting less often. Somehow I think the blogosphere will survive my partial absence.

     See you around . . . and if I'm looking a little frazzled, it's because I'll be blogging in my off hours, with my other eye on the paycheck being dangled in front of my nose.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I Don't Like to Fly ...

     So I went to see Sully last night.

     The last time I was on a plane was in 2012, on a round trip flight from New York to Phoenix. The trip wasn't too bad, but I must admit, I had a little help from Xanax. The time before that was a trip to San Francisco in 2006 to see my daughter graduate from college.

     Back when I was younger, I used to fly three or four times a year. To Florida and back. To the West Coast. To Europe. But now that I'm retired, and have more time, I drive whenever I can. I drive to Florida every year; and I even once drove to the West Coast, and then took the train back. I don't necessarily recommend that. It's a long trip! (I was delivering my daughter's car to her; then she drove it back to New York a few years later when she returned to the East Coast -- although she'll hop on a plane in a minute, she actually likes to fly.).

     Yes, I know that statistically, it's safer to fly than to drive, especially on a long trip. But I just don't like the idea of barreling along high in the sky, cooped up with hundreds of other people in a cylinder barely bigger than an elevator, with only a thin skin of aluminum between me and 35,000 feet of . . . nothing. I feel every bump; I hear every noise. Air turbulence makes me sick to my stomach. And the most disturbing thing is, I know if something goes wrong, I can't get out and fly.

     I think it's largely a matter of control. I like to think that I am in control of my life (yes, I know that's largely an illusion, but that's the way I am). I don't particularly like to drive with other people, either, I don't trust them -- although I feel safe with B, who's even more of a nervous nelly than I am.

     But I've had some bad experiences. Haven't you? A bumpy flight through the clouds to Washington, DC. A death-defying puddle jumper to Montauk on Long Island. An aborted takeoff on a flight to Orlando. A hard landing in Miami when all the oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling.

     I remember reading The Right Stuff while on a flight out of New York, sometime in the 1980s. We were held up on the runway at JFK for over an hour, due to thunderstorms, and I was reading about jets stalling at 50,000 feet and pilots punching out as their planes fell to earth.

     Sully stars Tom Hanks, who does a good job. I also saw Hanks in Cast Away, which features a pretty realistic plane crash at the beginning of the movie. Anyway, Sully is not as scary as I thought it would be. The story is told as a flashback, as Capt. Sully faces a post-crash inquiry from the NTSB.

     It's a good movie. Hanks is convincing in his role, as he always is, and so is everyone else. I have two minor quibbles. One of my favorite actresses, Laura Linney, plays a pretty lame part as Sully's wife. She's a great actress. What's she doing in this pallid role?

     And the other thing is, I go to these movies mostly to confirm my prejudice, my bias that flying is a dangerous, foolhardy thing to do. But Sully didn't thrill me and scare me nearly as much as I thought it would. So once again, I have to admit that I am not the prudent, reasonable man I think I am, but the emotional and psychological basket case that I really am.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Things Retirees Share

     This week I began to wonder if retirees have anything in common, other than the fact that we don't work anymore.

     A lot of retirees, including yours truly, relocate after they retire. For their part, Laura Lee and her husband Mike retired to a beautiful, rural area in southern Colorado. But now they have begun to wonder if other retirees will follow them and risk ruining their patch of heaven.

     In her latest post, Do We Want to Grow or Not? she discusses the ambivalence she feels about attracting others to an amazing part of the world. And yet, she admits that whatever her feelings about it . . . they are coming.

     You might say that about many areas of the country, for there are multitudes of Baby Boomers retiring these days -- reportedly 10,000 a day -- and many of them are relocating to places far and near.

     B and I were at the Jersey Shore this past weekend, around Asbury Park and Manasquan. Nobody would call the Jersey Shore a "beautiful, rural area" (although those beaches are the best I've seen anywhere north of the Outer Banks).

     Until a few years ago, Asbury Park was a depressed, rundown city. Now it's making a comeback as a hipster heaven. And as for Manasquan? We visited some people at an over-55 community, and they reported that retirees are flocking to the Jersey Shore from all around the Northeast, and over-55 communities are sprouting like pumpkins in the fall.
New Jersey

     Most retirees are also focused on their finances, since we don't have anyone sending us a paycheck anymore. Rita Robison of The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide offers us all a warning about our money: Wells Fargo to Pay $185 Million for Secretly Opening Accounts Consumers Never Wanted. Apparently Wells Fargo employees, spurred by aggressive sales goals, opened some 2 million accounts for customers without their permission, transferring funds from authorized accounts and racking up extra charges for consumers.

     So be careful when you approach the counter at your friendly neighborhood financial institution. Bank robbery may be taking on a new meaning these days.

     Robison issues another warning prompted by a phone call she received. Her granddaughter was on the line, and she said she'd been in a car accident. She sounded a little different -- but then, she'd been living overseas for several years. Then suddenly Robison realized what was going on. Ring up Grandparent Scammers Continue to Call to see how she concluded the conversation.

     Kathy Gottberg has another issue to consider. "Shortly after my husband and I met in 1977 we opened our first business," she writes on Ten Benefits to Being an Entrepreneur at Any Age, "We named the beach nightclub we owned on the coast of North Carolina, Night Moves. Since then, except for a few painful months as employees, we founded several other businesses and fully embraced the entrepreneur lifestyle. Yet, I recently realized that the entrepreneurial approach isn’t mentioned much these days. What happened? Where did it go? And why aren’t more people embracing the many advantages that come from being self-employed?"

     My answer is that a lot of us retirees have become entrepreneurs. We rent out rooms on airbnb (like our host rented to us on the Jersey Shore), or we sell our wares on Etsy, or (as in my case, and especially if we retire young) we continue to freelance or consult part-time in our old (or a new) profession. And we do reap many of the benefits she identifies, whether we appreciate it or not.

     Another thing we all have in common is a warm feeling for nostalgia. This week Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting recalls that on a September day decades ago (Sept. 10, 1953 to be exact), a new food product was introduced. It revolutionized food preparation -- as well as what we ate and how we ate it. See if you remember this gastronomic gem in Recalling an Iconic Food Product. Hint: the product cost 98 cents at the time.

     And just in case you have any violent reaction to the food product in question, fast forward to Heart-Mind-Soul to catch Carol Cassara's motto of the week, a feeling we can all use and share:  "Don't worry, be happy." So see if Your Smile lights up a room. Then check to remind yourself how you really do want to be The Kind of Person you would like to meet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back to School

     Yesterday was my first day back at the Academic Support Center of our community college, where I am a volunteer writing tutor. This year I am only a "substitute" because I'll be away too much to fit into the regular schedule. Still, I enjoy tutoring students and find the experience very rewarding.

     When I arrived on campus, I noticed that the parking lots were as full as I'd ever seen them. Later, the ASC coordinator told me that student enrollment is up this year.

     The newest, most recognizable building on campus is called the Gateway Center . . .

     . . . and inside the Gateway Center is my favorite place on campus.

     There were many students streaming in, ready to learn -- although there wasn't much for me to do the first day, since no students are facing a deadline for an essay the first week of college. The only help I gave was showing people how to log onto their student accounts, where to go for placement exams, how to access online homework assignments and course information.

     The Academic Support Center, where I hang out, is located on the first floor of the college library.

      This is a community college in one of the more affluent suburban areas of New York. Yet we still get many students who have various challenges -- some are poor, many speak English as a second language, many are also working while they go to school, or taking care of kids; some of them have a long commute by bus.

     Sometimes we tutors wonder if we really do any good at all, if we're ever getting through to people. (In case you can't read the quote: "It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.") But we keep on trying -- helping students write their own stories on their own blank slates.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Turn the Page to a Longer Life

     A new study from researchers at Yale University has found that reading books can help you live longer -- up to two years longer.

     The study called "A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading with Longevity" used data from a broader health and retirement survey that asked 3,635 participants, all over age 50, about their reading habits.

     Researchers divided the subjects into three categories: those who didn't read, those who read up to 3 1/2 hours per week, and those who read more than 3 1/2 a week. They then followed each of the groups for 12 years.

     Those in the second group, who read up to 3 1/2 hours per week -- or 30 minutes a day -- were 17 percent less likely to die within the 12 years compared to people who did not read. People who read more than 3 1/2 hours per week were 23 percent less likely to die.

      The study controlled for other factors such as marital status, education, gender, and it focused on books, not magazines or newspapers, and so did not make any claims about reading other materials. However, it did suggest that by exposing readers to new people and places, and engaging their minds more intensely, reading novels in particular offers more health benefits than skimming the news or reading online.

     Previous studies have also linked health benefits with reading fiction. A 2008 report from the Mayo Clinic concluded that reading books, especially novels, can help stave off dementia by as much as 50 percent. And in a 2013 study from Emory University, researchers found measurable improvement in people's brain function after they read fiction. The researchers theorized that by transporting the reader into another person's world, and putting you in someone else's shoes, reading fiction can increase empathy, expand your imaginative powers and perhaps decrease stress.

     With all that in mind, I can recommend three brand new novels:

     News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Set in post-Civil-War Texas, this tells the story of Captain Kidd, a newsman who has been asked to take young Joanna back to her family in San Antonio. Joanna had been kidnapped by the Kiowa and held captive for four years. Joanna has now been rescued, but she doesn't speak English and doesn't trust Captain Kidd. The story unfolds as the unlikely duo faces various hardships as they head south -- and what happens when they finally meet up with the girl's family.

     Harmony, by Carolyn Parkhurst. Tilly Hammond is a girl on the autism spectrum, providing a daunting challenge to her family in Washington, DC. When Tilly is thrown out of school, the Hammonds join a commune run by Scott Bean, a man with seemingly magical powers to help troubled children. The story is told in alternating chapters: by little sister Iris when they're in the commune, and by mother Alexandria when they're still in Washington, trying to decide what to do with Tilly and whether to put themselves in the hands of Scott Bean. We all know to what lengths parents will go to help their children; and we also know that some promises are too good to be true.

     The Trespasser by Tana French. I admit to being a Tana French fan; I've read all five of her previous detective stories set in present-day Ireland. This latest one involves hard-bitten detective Antoinette Conway as she tracks down the killer of a young Dublin girl, even as she fights off harassment from her fellow Murder Squad detectives.

     P. S. You can go to amazon and still get a copy of You Only Retire Once, which if it doesn't help you live longer, will, as Jeremy Kisner of Surevest Wealth Management says, "offer consistently good reading -- like a conversation with an insightful friend."