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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What's Your Retirement Role?

     The obvious difference between working and retirement is that we no longer get up and go to work five days a week. Now we have to fill our own time and structure our own lives.

     We've been working for 30 or even 40 years, raising a family, taking part in the kids' school or sports activities. Our identity is tied up in our jobs and our families, and we’ve gotten used to the routine, the structure, the social life. We had places to go, people to see, and a schedule to keep. Now that we're retired, there's no place for us to go in the morning, and no one who cares whether we get there or not.

     So after we retire we may feel disconnected, like there's no purpose in life, no focus. I had one friend who, for the first few months after he retired, had nothing more to do than go with his wife to the grocery store and follow her up and down the aisles -- until one day she stopped, turned, looked him in the eye and said, "This has got to stop!"

     Retirement is a new stage of life, and we need something to do, especially if we’re retiring at a fairly young age. So what’s the answer? One suggestion I've heard -- and tried to embrace -- is to find a new role, a new identity, a different way to define ourselves.

     So instead of being the lawyer and Little League coach, instead of being the nurse and PTA member, we can find some activity we’ve always wanted to pursue, but never had the time. Or maybe we need to do some research and figure out a role we can take on that uses our expertise and talents, and that suits our interests. That way, when someone asks what you do in retirement, you can answer:  I volunteer at the school, or I’m writing my family history, or I take care of my grandchildren.

     Here are a few examples of retirement roles:

     The Volunteer. Many people find that retirement offers a chance to give back to their community. So they talk to their friends, or attend a meeting of the local service club -- or as I did, turn to Volunteer Match -- to find out what needs are in the community and how we might fit in. We may find ourselves helping seniors with their taxes, or delivering meals on wheels, or helping kids learn how to read -- and making connections in the community that we never had before.

      The Sportsman. One friend of mine liked to hike and camp, so when he retired he set a goal to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. It took him three years, making three different trips, but he finally did it. Another friend took up pickleball and now teaches lessons at the local recreation center. (She's the one who got me involved, with the result that I busted out my knee, but that's a different story!) My brother-in-law is president of his senior golf league in Florida. It doesn't matter what your sport is, or even how good you are (luckily for my brother-in-law!). What matters is that you enjoy it and make some friends.

Grandparent. According to one study, over 60 percent of retirees cite spending time with grandchildren as a major reason for retiring. Honestly, I don’t know of any better use of your time and talents than helping your children and getting to know your grandchildren. Doesn’t it warm your heart to think that 50 or 70 years from now your grandchildren will recall special moments they shared with you, as they in turn share moments with their grandchildren?

      Traveler. Some people make a bucket list of destinations; others focus on one particular region. My sister is learning Spanish and has made three trips to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. Other people like Road Scholar or other cultural organizations. But you don't have to be rich to travel. One friend of mine lives in upstate New York and she's made it her mission to discover the back roads of New England, exploring old factory towns, tracing old stone walls and graveyards, all within a couple of hundred miles of home.

      Craftsperson. I was at a party after Christmas and met an older man from Michigan. "What do you do?" I asked. "I'm a woodworker," he replied confidently. Later, it came out that he had worked in computers. But that's not how he defines himself anymore. He had just finished crafting an oak bed for his daughter, and now he's working on a series of keepsake wooden boxes for his grandchildren, which he plans to give to them next Christmas. Other retirees make glassware or throw pottery or make clothes, and may even sell their wares online or in a local store.

      These are just some ideas. What am I? I'm a Volunteer, and maybe a Sportsman, since I play golf and table tennis and I tried pickleball -- and I just got another idea yesterday. When my knees won't let me get around anymore, I think I'll take up pool.

      So have you found the chance to try something new in retirement, something different, perhaps even unexpected? What do you really like to do, what engages your interest? What is your role in retirement?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

How Things Have Changed

     Rita R. Robison on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide reports that she has been caught up in the holidays. Holidays? What holidays?

     You mean you don't celebrate national Pi Day? It takes place on March 14 -- after the numerical representation of pie, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, which is 3.1415926535...

     First celebrated in San Francisco in 1988, it was officially named a national holiday in 2009 by an act of Congress. Robison points out that while there are many ways to mark Pi Day, including eating a piece of pie, the day is not to be confused with National Pie Day which takes place on January 23. So I wonder: If the day is celebrated on 3/14, does the moment of celebration, the equivalent of ringing in the New Year, take place at 1:59 a.m.?

     When we were kids, there was no such thing as National Pi Day. In my family we did celebrate March 15, the Ides of March, the day Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. But then my dad studied Latin when he was in high school, which meant that all of us kids studied Latin when we got to high school, despite our protestations that Latin is a dead language and nobody speaks it anymore.

     We also, of course, celebrated St. Patrick's Day, since my mother was Irish. Rita Robison, who also has ancestors who hailed from Ireland, gives us some fun tidbits about the Irish in Facts and Figures for St. Patrick's Day. For example, there are 32.7 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry, or more than seven times the entire 4.6 million population of Ireland. The Irish also have a significant impact on our economy as we import some $39 billion worth of goods every year from the Emerald Isle.

     Meanwhile, I cannot let the moment pass without mentioning that March 20, is the first day of spring. The sun will pass directly over the Equator on Monday morning, marking the vernal equinox for the Northern Hemisphere -- and giving us a sign that better days will come!

     But Meryl Baer has something different in mind. She's been doing a lot of traveling lately, and so when a late winter storm blew in to her hometown, she used it as an excuse to enjoy the day at home. In The Wear and When of Pajamas she address the changing fashions in America today and contemplates the problem of proper at-home attire. Curled up on the sofa, wrapped on a blanket, sipping tea and watching old movies, she finally asks the crucial question: What time in the afternoon can I toss away my sweats and change into pajamas?

     On a more serious note, Laura Lee Carter finds that reading James Baldwin, now as an adult as opposed to when we were kids, speaks to us under our present circumstances in the U. S. If you don't remember Baldwin, take a look at a few Great Quotes from James Baldwin that strike Carter as particularly relevant today. They dovetail nicely into some other thoughts she has in When Did I Lose Contact with My Culture? about, well ... the changing role of women, the changing character of the news, and the changing rhetoric of our politicians. 

     Carol Cassera goes on to more personal issues. She reminds us that our parents looked forward to retirement with expectation and longing, but many of us Boomers find it a time to follow a particular calling. She is now starting her own business. A friend who's been watching her prepare asked her why she couldn't just be a "happy retired person." And so she and others respond in Retired, or Not Really, that the idea of retirement has changed in the last generation or two, and it now involves more of a sense of purpose, a desire to contribute, a need to stay active and relevant.

     But that doesn't mean we have to complicate our lives. Kathy Gottberg at SmartLiving 365 has been traveling, and while she's away she asked another blogger to write a post for her (a good way to simplify your blogging life!). This week Nora Hall, who writes about relationships and retirement and is the author of Survive Your Husband's Retirement, offers her perspective on Rightsizing Your Brain Clutter. She offers some advice on how to focus our minds for happiness -- which may be particularly relevant for those of us who have a spouse walking around the house.

     Anyway, to one and all:  Habere bonum diem et bonam fortunam!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What To Do When You're Stuck Inside

     I arrived home in Connecticut after snowbirding for six weeks in Florida and South Carolina, only to find that the worst of winter is not over, and spring is not around the corner. It snowed for 24 hours, leaving us with close to a foot of wintry mix on the ground. The five-day forecast predicts highs in the 30s, and lows dipping into the teens.

The view out my window
     It will be a week from now, the first official day of spring, before the temperature reaches up into the 40s. Well, at least I now live in a condo, where I do not have to be the one shoveling snow!

     In the meantime, I'm stuck inside. So what should I do? I'm reading a book, Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo. But that gets tiresome after a while. So I decided to take a couple of online courses. Maybe you already know about these . . . or maybe you know of others?

     Anyway, last year my daughter recommended to me a Dan Carlin podcast called Blueprint for Armageddon, a series of six podcasts covering World War I. Carlin is a former news reporter and radio host who has a wide-ranging interest in history and has used his easy manner and good presentation skills to produce a whole library podcasts called Hardcore History. Some are stand-alone, one-to-two hour lectures that approach a subject from an unusual point of view. In one he discusses whether the toughness of a people plays a role in history. In another he approaches the discoveries of Magellan as Globalization 1.0.

     I also listened to a series, Wrath of the Khans, on Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. And now, this snowy day, I decided to start another series, King of Kings, which covers the rise of the Persian empire in the 7th century BCE and then proceeds to tell the story of Alexander the Great.

     Now Carlin is not an historian, and perhaps academics would be appalled at how he popularizes history. But if you are interested in history and want something to listen to that has a little more substance than the latest Youtube video, I can recommend turning to Hardcore History, whether you're at home in front of your computer, or at the gym pedaling out the miles on your stationary bike. Many of these audio files are free; and they can be accessed on your computer or on your phone as podcasts.

Yale University
     I also recommend another source, Open Yale Courses, that can be entertaining and even a little more academically rigorous. These are lectures recorded at Yale University over the past ten years that allow you to sit in on the various classes, watching and listening to top experts in their field, all for free. And if you're really interested, you can access class notes, do extra readings, solve problem sets and even take final exams.

     I sat through The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845 - 1877, a fascinating look at that period of American history hosted by Dr. David Blight. But the Yale courses go well beyond history to include subjects ranging from African-American Studies and Astronomy to Sociology and Spanish.

     One more suggestion is edx, a compendium of courses from a number of top universities around the world. You have to enroll in the website to take these classes, and I have not yet done that. But if this snow keeps up, I might be spending yet another day or two back in college.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Does Your Personality Change?

     I ran across report from the American Psychological Association called Personality Stability from Age 14 to Age 77 Years. The study looked at teachers' assessments of a number of personality traits in their students at age 14. The study then compared assessments of these personality traits in the same people 63 years later.

     In other words, participants were rated on the same characteristics -- self-confidence, dependability, stability of mood, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness -- at around age 14 and again at around age 77. The report went on to review previous literature on changes in personality over time, discussed some of the similarities and differences, and then summarized the conclusions.

     Here are some of the results I teased out of the academic jargon and statistical flourishes.

     This report found less evidence of personality stability over time than previous studies. It concluded that a person's personality typically does not change much over short periods of time, but it does change quite significantly over long periods of time. So personality in old age can often be quite different from personality in childhood.

     There seem to be two periods when an individual's personality experiences rapid change. The first is during childhood, a "period of intense learning and many new experiences," leading to "more frequent" and "more substantial" changes. This period includes adolescence, which is described as "a particularly dynamic" time of personality development.

     Then, after adolescence, it seems that a person's personality tends to remain quite stable through middle age, for as long as 40 or 50 years. Or as the report puts it, "Teacher ratings of personality in childhood ... were predictive of self-ratings and peer ratings of personality in middle age."

     But something seems to happen as we enter old age -- whenever old age is, and it may be different for each of us. New, more significant personality changes may develop as a result of "the impact of changes in life circumstances, and declines in physical and cognitive abilities common in older age."

     In other words, we develop our personality by age 15 or so. Then for most of our lives we remain pretty consistent, exhibiting only minor changes in our moods, our level of self-confidence and dependability -- and how introverted or extroverted we are. Then, perhaps somewhere around the time we retire, our personality begins to change again, perhaps because we are no longer building a family, building a career, but instead are shedding responsibilities and all the stresses that go with them.

     However, the study suggests there are two personality traits that remain more constant than others: stability of mood and conscientiousness. In addition, it tells us that intelligence also remains relatively stable over time, and people with higher IQs tend to score better on the dependability index. Or as the report puts it, "Childhood IQ was correlated with dependability in adolescence, and also predicted dependability in older age."

     The report goes on to claim that old-age dependability also correlates with various measures of well-being, consistent with research that has demonstrated a close relation between personality and well-being. It explains: "Higher intelligence may have led to higher actual stability of moods through better ability to manage environmental circumstances to advantage, and could serve as a resource for emotional stability in older age."

     But all these conclusions are somewhat vague, and they involve statistics and overall trends. That doesn't necessarily mean anything in our individual lives. I remember my mother was quite an agreeable person, while my father was self-confident, conscientious, dependable (and also judgmental and prejudiced).

     But I also remember that when my parents retired, my mom wanted to relocate to Florida. My dad wanted to go to Cape Cod. They went to Florida. So perhaps my dad mellowed in his old age. Or else, just because my mom was agreeable doesn't mean she didn't get her own way.

     My ex-wife was agreeable when we got married, but became much less agreeable later on. But then, I may not be the best judge of her personality. My older sister was a rebel as a youngster, with a lot of self-confidence, but she was also pretty disagreeable. She has mellowed now that she's in her 70s, but ... well, let's not go there!

     Anyway, how about you? Are you or your spouse or your siblings the same people that they were 40 or 50 years ago? Does your experience match what the American Psychological Association says it should be?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Time: It's All Relative

     A post from fellow blogger Dr. Kathy McCoy called Parents of Adult Children: Can You Hear Yourself? prompted me to start thinking about my own children and how they have changed . . . or how they have not changed in my mind.

     You see, as I admitted, I have a particular problem with time, because try as I might, I refuse to believe that my kids have grown up. I think my 33-year-old daughter is still 18 . . . actually about 16. No, really about 14. That would put my 30-year-old son back in middle school. Yeah, that seems about right.

     Does that make sense to you?

     Then there are my parents. They died just a couple of years ago. But actually, my dad died 15 years ago, and my mother passed away 17 years ago.

     How can that be, when they are so clear and present in my mind? Why, just the other night I had a dream about my dad. He was standing in a line ahead of me, and for some reason he had his shirt off. He was that same old skinny guy with a little pot belly from spending too much time sitting behind a desk and not enough time in the gym. Actually, not any time in the gym. Dads did not go to the gym back then.

     It does seem like I got divorced quite some time ago. It feels like I've been single for a long time. Then I met B, just a couple of years ago. We've really only just started dating. And here we have . . . uh, well, actually, when I count it up, we've been going out for almost 15 years and we've been living together for a decade.

     B and me an old married couple? Never!

     B does sometimes keep me connected to reality, though. She recently pointed out that the brand new golf shirt I won when my son was a freshman in college is a little frayed around the cuffs and has developed a hole in the elbow. When I reminded her that this is the new shirt I won by coming in fourth in the parent/student golf tournament, she showed me the insignia printed right there on the front:  Bucknell Golf Club 75th Anniversary: 1930 - 2005.

     "Exactly," I said. "See, it's from 2005." It my mind 2005 is, like, two years ago.

     For the most part my problem in marking the passage of time is a harmless disability. But it did get me in a little trouble this morning. You see, B and I are staying with my daughter, who now lives in North Carolina, on the way home from our trip south. So I was making coffee and looked in her refrigerator for some milk. I found an open half gallon sitting there with an expiration date of 2/25/17. That's ridiculous, I thought. And so I threw the milk down the kitchen drain and tossed the container in the garbage.

     "Dad, what are you doing?" challenged my daughter as she walked into the kitchen.

     "Just getting rid of this old milk," I said. "It's past expiration date."

     "Dad, that milk was fine. It's organic, and it lasts at least a week past its expiration date." Then she looked at me. "Anyway," she said almost apologetically, "you should ask before you just throw something away."

     "Oh, right," I replied. "I'm sorry." But what I thought was: What does she know? She's only 14!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Sport of the Retired

     I've been surprised at how little we hear about the game of golf in the retirement blogosphere. When people retire, they're supposed to play golf, aren't they?

     I admit that I am one retired person who does play golf. I'm not at all obsessive about it, like some people are, but I like the excuse to spend four or five hours walking around outside in the fresh air, hanging out with my buddies, and occasionally enjoying a pint of beer afterwards. Besides, it's easier on your joints than . . .  oh, say, pickleball, which murdered my knee about a month ago.

The clubhouse. Pretty nice!

     Besides, a golf course is usually pretty lush and well-manicured. When you walk up to the clubhouse, it makes you feel like you're richer than you really are.

Uh, oh. My first shot went into the woods.

     I've been snowbirding for six weeks -- we're going home in a few days -- and I've played golf three times. Once with a friend who winters in Fort Myers, FL; once with a friend who has a place in Myrtle Beach, SC. And then yesterday I went out on my own to a course outside of Charleston. B dropped me off, then she went to enjoy some one-on-one time with her son.

The 5th hole bordered a horse pasture.

     I played four or five holes by myself, then joined up with another guy who was also playing by himself. Another benefit of golf: it's an opportunity to meet new people.

Look closely -- there's my ball on the green!

     His name was also Tom. I'd put him in his early-to-mid 70s. He had moved to Charleston from Chicago some 26 years ago. "Best decision I ever made," he told me.

Site of Revolutionary War redoubt.

     The course we were playing was built in the 1990s and incorporated several historical sites into its landscape. In the clubhouse I saw a glass case full of local artifacts, presumably among those dug up and preserved when they put in the course. There were some iron spikes from the old Charleson-to-Savannah railroad, along with a display of Revolutionary War and Civil War memorabilia and a few artifacts from ancient Native Americans. The Battle of Stono Ferry took place here on June 20, 1779. The British suffered 149 casualties and the Americans 153, including the death of Hugh Jackson, President Andrew Jackson's older brother.

A section of the old Charleston-to-Savannah railroad.

     The course was surrounded by a housing development. Tom told me you can get a townhouse in the $200,000 range, but some of the waterfront homes go for over $1 million.

These are the $1 million homes overlooking the Stono River.

     "Do you live here?" I asked. "No," he said. "I work here."

In trouble again!

     He mans the golf shop five hours a week. He doesn't get paid. Instead, he's allowed to play as much golf as he wants for free, except for Saturday and Sunday mornings. He takes part in two golf leagues at the club, and he told me he plays over a hundred rounds per year. So . . . there's someone who is obsessed with golf!

Site of an old ferry crossing on the river, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

      The course was not crowded, so we finished up a little early. I was happy with my game. I didn't score that well; but I was hitting the ball, which is all I wanted as I was just shaking off the winter cobwebs in preparation for playing in my own golf league up north. We start playing in mid-April.

Eye candy.

     I went out to the parking lot to wait for B to come back and pick me up, and saw this parked in front of the clubhouse. It's sure not mine, but . . . I told you playing golf makes you feel kind of rich!