Technical support

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I miss Nancy. She provided tech support to everyone in the building where I once worked. Nancy was calm under pressure from the masses of employees who called her every day saying they needed her help immediately, optimistic that she could solve their problems, and — get this — able to supply new equipment when the problem was bigger than a reboot, a new battery or a little fussing around could solve. She would haul in the new printer, keyboard or console, set it up, and get everything working properly in a short time. No long phone calls, no standing in line for help, no queries about whether you have a long-term maintenance contract, just complete satisfaction with the results Nancy provided.

I’ve been thinking about Nancy a lot lately.  My computer, a Methuselah in the IT world, started slowing down. The alleged grandfather of Noah lived 969 years and my desktop iMac is failing after only eight or nine. Apple doesn’t repair anything over five years old, proof that my equipment is getting senile, losing its teeth and hair, and hardly able to walk. Why would anyone invest in long-term insurance when it and the equipment expire while in their youth.

This week, I bought a new tablet.  I still haven’t figured out how to get email onto it. Apparently, I first need to find passwords for comcast, msn and yahoo.  These are passwords my desktop computer has remembered for years, so why should I have to?

I’ve received technical support for both these products in the form of two afternoons on the phone to Apple support, and one afternoon on hold, and an hour sitting in the Verizon store waiting for help.

A friend spent a couple of hours checking out my desktop computer.  I wanted to be certain I’d saved my photos onto an external hard drive so I wouldn’t lose them when my machine required hospice care. He said I’d better replace the hard drive — more than 10 years old — because it might crash before the computer. I’ve bought the new hard drive.  It’s still in the box waiting for Nancy to appear and install it.

I met the proverbial camels’ straw this morning.  My husband and I save $5 a month if we let our insurance company monitor our driving through a “beacon” in our glove boxes and an app on our phones. I know.  It’s insane to reveal this personal information for $60 a year. But I always worked hard at being a good student and now I get grades in categories ranging from left turns to speed.  (So far I have a B average, with only one C+ grade for acceleration.) This morning I had to update the beacon software.  I followed the directions and got an error message, and along with it a phone number… for technical support.

 

 

 

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Posted in technology | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Thanks but no thanks

Advice you’ll never hear from Miss Manners: You may send your friends and relatives birthday cards, anniversary cards, graduation cards, get-well cards and sympathy cards, but don’t send anyone a thank-you card. It’s too risky for both the sender and the recipient.

My advice comes from experience. I enjoy making greeting cards. That, along with petting my cat, is my therapy. But at one birthday per close friend a year, I will never be able to test out each of my 500 rubber stamps and 1,000 pieces of colored paper before I die.  From time to time I have ventured into the risky world of thank-you cards. “Thank you for the marvelous dinner, good company, lovely weekend, etc. etc.. The response, at times overwhelming, isn’t what I anticipated: “In the future a simple thank you is enough.” “Please don’t do that. You make me feel bad.”

I know thank-you cards belong to another age, say, to Victorian England and to the upper classes there, and I’m not looking to return to the past. I could always create my cards and not send them, but cluttering the house with piles of unused cards defeats the aspirational goal of decluttering my house.

One solution is to stop sending thank-you cards and create ones to celebrate a completely different set of occasions:  National Sourdough Bread Day, National Ferret Day, Tweed Day, American Circus Day (although this falls on April 3, in these times we could celebrate this one every day), World Rat Day, International Carrot Day or even Bell Bottoms Day. And the good news is that I suspect I have rubber stamps to cover all of these and more.

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Letting go of social media

First we closed LinkedIn. Is Facebook next?

Some people hang on to their jobs forever.  Some aren’t sure. They retire, return to work, retire, return. And others leave cold turkey. On my last day of work I believed I’d fit in the second category. A day later, everything changed. I went from, “If you need something, I’m a phone call away,” to “Don’t call. I’m not interested in your problems.” I wasn’t that blunt, but in twenty-four hours, I had lost all desire to work and was ready to enter a new phase of life. Plus, I wasn’t getting any younger. Who would want to hire someone my age?

So why have I spent the last nine years on LinkedIn, a social network for professionals looking for jobs? I first joined while I was working. Maybe consulting jobs would come my way. (This was before I knew I didn’t ever want to work again.) At first, I received a few requests from former colleagues for references and I responded to those. I read the updates from friends’ who’d started new jobs.

Over the years, I stuck with LinkedIn, though my interest waned. And even though it wasn’t particularly interesting, LinkedIn, unlike Facebook, didn’t send six emails reminding me to read someone’s message or tell me a friend posted something that had become old news within hours, and didn’t drive me crazy by flashing reminders on my screen of an upcoming birthday of someone I hardly knew.

No. LinkedIn was just fine…until some company, probably an employment agency, started sending me job announcements every day. The lists included common job titles:  corporate bloggers, grant writers, technical writers, along with uncommon ones, such as, remote script writers, import coordinators and content specialists. In time, these announcements joined Trip Advisor, Crate and Barrel, eBay, Nordstrom and PayPal in filling my inbox.

One of the emails suggested I needed to add something to the skills/strengths section of my profile.  I wrote  “retired” as my strongest skill. Surely this would end the unwanted correspondence. Nope. Next day came opportunities to apply for Regional Vice President, Retirement Sales. Accompanying it was Regional VP Endotherapy.  I couldn’t find Endotherapy in the dictionary, so wasn’t sure I met the qualifications.

Today, I learned that cutting ties with LinkedIn is a lot easier, apparently, than cutting ties to Facebook. And as far as I know LinkedIn isn’t connected to any data-gathering operation designed to influence elections.  And if you’re looking for a writer’s job, I can testify there are many out there.

The irony is that I write nearly every day on my novel and blog every few weeks.  And all for no pay. Maybe I should reconsider one of the jobs listed. And it’s not legal to ask for my age. Right?

 

 

 

Posted in aging, blogging, changes after retirement, humor, letting go of work, writing | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Learning about grief

Fixated as I’ve been for the last month on getting an entry ready for a literary contest, I’ve not thought much about blogging. But in the midst of struggling over my story, I’ve had important encounters that made me realize how much others have to teach me, especially about loss and grief.

I’ll start with a shortened version of the Buddhist fable, the Mustard Seed. Unable to accept the death of her young son, a woman carried his body from house to house in her village begging for medicine to bring him back to life.  Villagers referred her to the Buddha who told her to return to the same houses and collect a mustard seed from each one untouched by death. From the seeds she collected he would create a medicine to bring her son back to life.  By nightfall, she knew that every house in her village had been touched by death and that impermanence was a universal truth.

In the past few weeks I’ve spent time with three people, two of them friends, who lost their spouses. From them I’m learning that each of us find our own ways to respond to loss and grief and that the process of recovery does not move in a straight line.

The one I didn’t know — a standup comedian named Patton Oswalt —  was in town for an interview about his deceased wife’s true crime book. She was an investigative reporter obsessed with tracking down a serial killer/rapist in Northern California. Oswalt responded to his grief by begging his wife’s researcher, editor and others connected to her work to go through reams of notes and pages she’d already written and turn her consuming passion into a book, which was recently published. (“I’ll Be Gone in The Dark”) Most of us won’t have the means to make a loved one famous in death, so we must muddle through the situation as best we can.

About the same time I attended the event with Patton, I spent part of a day with two newly widowed friends and came away awed by their strength and the thinking processes they were going through as they began to manage their new lives.

One is making big changes already, which came as a surprise. I thought the experts advised the grieving to stick with the familiar for a while. But my friend gave up several long-time volunteer positions, is now taking a writing course and hopes to teach seniors to write poetry. She lights up when she talks about what she’s doing, a sign that the experts aren’t always right. The other friend is moving slower, taking on one new volunteer job — registering new voters — and continuing to travel, but on her own or with other friends.

What can friends do for those grieving ? Listening, not offering advice, being available and reaching out seem to be the best ways to help. Also, by avoiding saying or doing things that don’t help.

For many, grief makes it hard to get up in the morning. And despite our best efforts to keep friends up and moving around, sometimes the kindest thing is to leave them in place.

“If I don’t want to get up,” said one of the new widows, “if I don’t want to do anything, I give myself permission not to move.” However, that doesn’t mean she wants to be ignored. My peers had professional careers and are very independent. People like that find it hard to ask for help or even for company. They’ll say to themselves, “My friends are such busy people, I don’t want to bother them.” The sensible approach is to invite them to do things but not feel insulted if they say no.

Choose your words carefully. “How are you doing ?” “How are you feeling ?” “You’ve got another 20 years to live and enjoy life,” and “Time will help.” don’t help.

In the past I’ve wanted to avoid talking to friends who suffered losses, unsure about what to say and how to say it. Now I see it not only as an opportunity to offer support to them, but also to better understand an important stage of life.

 

 

Posted in aging, grief and loss | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Year of the Dog

This is our year, my husband’s and mine.  It’s the Year of the Dog and we were both born in a canine year. I’ve been writing about these Chinese zodiac creatures for years, but only yesterday did I  understand the story behind them.

The Jade Emperor needed twelve guards.  He would select the first twelve animals to enter the Heavenly Gate as Guards of that gate.  Rat rose early as did the Ox, and stowed away in the Ox’s ear until they neared the gate. Rat jumped down and “dashed to the feet of the Emperor,” coming in first, followed by the Ox. Tiger and Rabbit, Dragon and Snake, Horse and Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig followed.  These animals became the Guards of the Heavenly Gate.

On hearing this story, my cat, Gordon, expressed dissatisfaction that the Emperor chose a rat over a cat. This is a common enough question that the storytellers came up with two explanations. One is that Cat asked Rat to wake him up in the morning of the race and Rat purposely let him sleep in, so he would miss the cycle. The other is that on the way, Rat pushed Cat into the water. Gordon says the latter is far more likely. He would never oversleep.

Dogs, according to legend, are loyal, true, honest, just and popular in social circles. My favorite characterization is this: “Everyone needs a Dog friend for advice and help. They are also good at helping others find and fix their bad habits.”

I suspect my popularity in social circles will decline after I’ve called a few people’s attention to their bad habits and offered to fix them, but apparently that’s my destiny.

 

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Chair fitness: a cure for stress

feline chair fitness

This week, I quit going to a counselor to talk about the anxiety I experience every time I read or hear the name of our President in the media or in conversation with friends. Talking to her was calming and I found some of her relaxation techniques — all of which I knew about, but never actually tried — helpful.

I decided not to see her again for three reasons.  First, she’s hearing the same symptoms from many of her clients, has experienced them herself, and is running out of suggestions for solutions that don’t involve moving abroad.  Second, I’m spending too many hours of my life at appointments, from physical therapy to chiropractic to pedicures. (And no, I’m not giving up the pedicures.) Third, I think I’ve found something better, namely putting my body through exercise hell, which forces me to focus exclusively on the pain and ignore politics.

I have enrolled in many fitness classes over the years. In my head I am still able to jump high, run fast, lift fifty pound weights, hike to the top of Mt. Si, and cross-country ski for miles and miles.  These days, I am always shocked to find out that I can’t do any of these things.

This should explain my reaction when a trainer at my local Y suggested I try their “Chair Fitness” class.  Chair fitness?  Really? This woman and I took an impossibly difficult exercise class together years ago. Admittedly, she was much younger and stronger — and a bit of a show off — but I forgave her for besting me in every exercise drill because of her youth.

She handed me the class schedule and I took it from her with more enthusiasm than I felt, then crumpled it up when I got home. A few weeks later I thought about her recommendation again.  Currently, all I do for exercise is walk.  And I find I am having trouble carrying the hundred pound bag of groceries that the teenage box girl hands to me with a smirk and says, “Have a nice day,” which really means, “I dare you to get this one all the way to your car.”

Two weeks ago, I walked into Chair Fitness and glanced smugly at my new classmates, all of whom seemed downright elderly. One of them advised me to pick up my weights, ball and resistance band before we got started and to put some distance between myself and the person next to me so we wouldn’t be hitting each other. This sounded wilder than I expected.

Since then I’ve attended four Chair Fitness classes and two Chair Yoga sessions. These have disabused me of any thoughts that they are for wusses.  We spend a lot of time out of our chairs and even when we’re sitting, we’re still moving all our body parts. And all mine are sore.

Anyone who’s practiced yoga is familiar with the tree pose.  We do this standing behind our chairs, which are there to grab on to if we need them.  The instructor says this pose is known to reduce anxiety since it calls for our complete attention. If our minds wander we fall. There is no way to do the pose successfully and think about national politics or anything else going on in our lives.

If I cannot sleep tonight I hope it will be from muscle pain instead of anxiety, though the email I just got from a friend about our president did raise the anxiety level. Maybe I also need to stop reading emails.

 

 

Posted in current events/themes, exercise, health | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

When to say “yes” and when to say “no”

The subheading for an article in this week’s New Yorker is, “What if self-improvement is making you worse?” This is related to a dilemma I’m experiencing now.

Writer Alexandra Schwartz says that approaches to self-help change with the times and describes some of the current batch of advice books and self-improvement tools.

In contrast to this new wave of guides to improvement is another set of readings designed to help you stop trying to improve, or even encourage you to proudly raise your middle finger to any suggestions that you might need to. An example of a book not designed to bring out the rebel in us, but rather to calm the neurotic seeker of a new self is, “Selfie: How We Become So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us,” in which author Will Storr says, “People are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become.” Other books in the anti-self-improvement genre tell readers to accept their flaws, tell their bosses exactly what’s on their minds, and stop caring what others — especially supervisors — think of them. Caution: people who do this might need to be independently wealthy.

I have made my way partly through a self-improvement book called “Essentialism.” It’s geared to heads of corporations/businesses and to those looking to climb to the top rung of the corporate ladder or even advance from the ground to a footstool. Its message: focus. Have one priority, one goal, and say no to anything that doesn’t help you achieve that goal.  I squirmed as he described people who said yes to every request from colleagues they worked with; he could have been talking about me. Even far removed from work as I am, and with no rungs to climb (though I would like to see my second novel published), I still find myself saying yes to requests from others.

His advice? 1) decide that most things you’re doing aren’t important; 2) choose the one that is; 3) eliminate the time wasters; 4) make your focus your routine.  If I really wanted to see a book of mine published, maybe I should write a self-improvement book instead of a novel. Plotting seems easier.

For a few days I decided “essentialism” was exactly what I needed.  Soon after that, I agreed to help plan a conference and to lead one book group discussion and gave my tentative acceptance to joining a Spanish language conversation group. It’s clear I must finish and then reread the book before I take on any more jobs.

The opposing view to “Essentialism” arrived in an email this week in an article from the blog called feedblitz, titled “An improv principle that can save your year.” The writer says that in improv theatre a better performance will result if actors say yes in response to whatever ridiculous offer a fellow actor makes onstage, than if they say no. In the same vein, he goes on to relate a personal story of saying yes off-stage, which led to an unanticipated interview with a movie producer. He advises, “It might be worth thinking about whether this year you’d like to try saying ‘yes, and…’ to more things and seeing what happens.”

There you have it. Say yes or say no? On the job, saying yes led me into opportunities to test out my skills in many interesting ways that I don’t regret.  However, now retired and unsure how many years I have left, I think I should practice shaping my lips into a no, at least one or two times this year, and hope by doing it I don’t miss out on an interview with a movie producer.

 

 

 

 

Posted in books and movies, changes after retirement, personal reflections, volunteering | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Masking: a better you?

As we age and get closer to the last stages of life, we sometimes have regrets about experiences we didn’t have or ones that passed us by. I’m not yet at that stage (I hope), but I have arrived at a period where I’m delighted that certain cultural phenomena are leaving me behind. I’ve named several here and I’m sure I can come up with more and you can too.

I’ll start with bitcoin. It’s something I don’t understand and am thankful I never have to.

The second cultural experience that I’m happy to miss is ageism on the job, specifically what can happen to someone starting a new job, but by no means a first job, well before the age of sixty-five.

From an article by Tad Friend in the November 20, 1917, “New Yorker”: At fifty-one, a laid-off reporter takes a job at a startup company where his boss is in his twenties and has been on the job for a month. The reporter doesn’t dress up, but fails to come to work dressed as a complete slob, and finds himself, “surrounded by programmers in flip-flops who nickname him Grandpa Buzz.” He soon learns that the “expiration date” for tech sector employees is forty. Heaven forbid if he’d shown up — no, not naked — wearing a sport coat.

The third is related to social media. These days I’m relieved I’m not a teenager or college-age student. These young people — usually women — have an opportunity to learn every ten seconds from Facebook, or worse, from some campus rating system, how many of their contemporaries think they’re unattractive or unpopular, and how many social events they’re missing out on because no one wants them there.

Before the age of extreme social media you could enjoy life without knowing what you hadn’t been invited to.  I learned this when I worked on the planning committee for my most recent and probably last high school reunion. Other members of the group were making reference to the popular pizza spot in our area where apparently everyone congregated, and I had no idea what they were talking about. I am thankful that since I didn’t know I was missing out back in high school, I had no reason to feel slighted.

On-line photo and message-sharing platforms are vehicles that allow one to do more than simply insult. They can make multi-millionaires out of twenty-somethings who post on them, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I just read about a disturbing new trend from another “New Yorker” article authored by Jiayang Fan. Called “internet celebrity face” in Chinese, it has spread to more of Asia and is moving to the U.S.

It involves posting clever, silly and sexy selfie videos but with a new twist. Users can and do add apps that allow them to change their appearance before they post their works. They can “smooth out, tone, slim, contour faces, whiten teeth, resize irises, cinch waists and add height.”

Of the generation using this and similar apps, the writer says, “No one I asked would consider posting or sending a photo that hadn’t been improved.”

A few of these young internet celebrities are making millions selling ads. Their biggest day-to-day worries focus on whether their current video has gone viral. It’s a form of fake news, but the lie is not in their words but in “improved” faces.

On the other hand, is anyone developing an app for marionette lines? Maybe the Chinese app developers can create a new market they haven’t yet considered.

Posted in aging, personal reflections | 4 Comments

The high costs of changing eating habits

(NOTE:  I wrote this yesterday so tomorrow has become today.)

Tomorrow I begin the “Cooking Light 3-Day Detox.” I’m preparing by trying to eat up all the sweets still remaining in my house after the holidays, but my husband and I are heading out to a party soon and I fear I will fail to finish everything.

The first step in the program is to look over the magazine’s list of forty-three food items and go shopping for the ones you don’t have. I’m thankful I had many of the ingredients, which meant I only had to spend seventy dollars at the grocery store for the ones I didn’t. Seventy dollars for three days for one person, and that doesn’t include the chicken breasts I still have to buy.

But no one said detoxing came cheaply. Which reminds me of a cleansing treatment popular twenty years ago — it may still be, but I don’t hear about it any longer — called colonic irrigation. Now that kind of detox sounds downright nasty, like the enemas kids in my generation had to suffer through. I’m thankful to whichever medical expert persuaded our mothers to give up this folk remedy early in our lives.

My last supper (from NY Day party)

This detox diet consists mostly of whole grains, vegetables, chicken and fish. Unlike some detox treatments, this one has no strange ingredients, no eye of newt or toe of frog.The only sugar comes from the frozen mangos and bananas on the first morning, which will offer an interesting contrast to my daily Trader Joe 72% dark chocolate bar and my nightly helping of ice cream or tapioca pudding.

Although this is not a weight loss diet, I hope to lose at least one of the eight pounds I’ve gained since June, when my husband and I ate our way through Scandinavia via its many smorgasbords. “Restrained” did not describe our behavior when presented with fifteen starch choices; six chicken, beef, sausage and fish dishes; seven types of bread; and fourteen desserts twice a day for almost three weeks. Everything but the lutefisk (which smells like ammonia and likely tastes worse) called to us from the warming trays nestled together on tables covering miles of ballroom-sized rooms.

Ever since I made my decision a week ago, I have poured over the magazine’s menus for each meal and wondered if there will be enough food to keep me from being tempted to cheat. A half cup of brown rice pilaf and two cups of kale? I’d rather the measurements were switched. And speaking of kale, it looks like I’ll eating a lot of it. I guess they expect you to fill up on that plus fresh parsley and cilantro, walnuts by the teaspoon, and spinach. I tell myself I can make it through three days. But my story stops there. Any internal monologue about what happens after that is missing.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in health, personal reflections | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Winter solstice and dreams of summer

January 2012

“The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.” Gary Zukov

Today is the solstice.  In the Pacific Northwest, we will have eight and a half hours of daylight. But wait until June when this number is nearly doubled, and we all become monarch butterflies.

I minded the darkness more when I was working than I do now. Driving to work in the dark and driving home in the dark made it seem like I was living in a twenty-four hour night. Now I can get up at seven, see daylight coming and not think so much about its loss.

I checked other cities, ones my husband and I love, to find out how they were faring. We will have fifteen minutes more light than Paris, the City of Light, and nearly an hour more than Amsterdam.

But we’re all more fortunate than residents of Reykjavik, who will have a four-hour day, and Swedes in Stockholm who are enjoying only six hours of light. We’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to stay in these two cities for a lengthier period, a few months rather than a few weeks.  A spokeswoman for Reykjavik’s tourist information center reminds us that they have many hot pools in town, which would surely raise one’s spirit on cold, dark days. Swedes probably take saunas. Still, you can only sit in a large bathtub for so long, so the moral of the story is: if we were to go to Iceland or Sweden in winter, we would need to bring a good and very long book.

People in northern countries have to get used to delayed gratification when it comes to temperature and light. Having been to both these northern cities during the June solstice, we can appreciate how nicely they are rewarded in summer for their patience in winter: Reykjavik, 22 hours of daylight, and Stockholm, 18.

We’ll be fine today because the sun is shining, but our normally rainy winters do make some people depressed. The consequence of a steady string of dark, dreary days for some is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I had a boss who became very cranky by the end of January and I always advised him to take a trip.

SAD is “thought to occur when daily body rhythms become out-of-sync because of the reduced sunlight.”

The easiest solution to the SAD problem — other than joining the geese and flying south — is the light box therapy lamp, which you turn on for a short time each morning to brighten your mood for the day.  We bought one, but have not yet used it.  Perhaps we should visit Iceland to try it out.  We’ll take that and a large book.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in current events/themes, health, seasons | 3 Comments