Happy that some trends are passing me by

I’ve reached the stage in life where the thought that some trends are passing me by brings great relief. When I was younger and heard elders talk like I’m talking now I felt disappointment. How could they not want to move with the times? Now I see it as a case of knowing the times will be eventually be over and wanting to continue to do certain familiar things with the time left.

It’s easy to identify trends I’ll never really have to consider. Take binging on bitcoin. I’m happy never to understand or get involved with bitcoin. I have learned that it is possible to use bitcoin to pay for a house, and that some consider it a Ponzi scheme, because it is also possible to lose your shirt on it. All I need to know.

Then there are trends in the “not likely I’ll adopt, but you never know” category. “Alexa is now at home in new subdivisions,” was a recent headline in the Seattle Times. New homeowners can use Amazon’s voice-activated software “to toggle lights and door locks and play music.”  Wow!

I’m in no rush for 5G (fifth generation wireless networking), which promises “to change our world” through much faster transmission of images and video. I hope not to see the Star Wars series on my phone, or watch the epic historical film, Lawrence of Arabia on that device. There’s nothing appealing about seeing vast expanses of space and desert on a 5.8- inch screen.

Creepier trends include the one reported by the Associated Press, “Boston Dynamics’ scary robot videos: Are they for real?” about “experimental robots resembling animal predators” that will soon be introduced to the world as security guards. The company’s CEO “played down popular fears that his company’s robots could one day be used to kill.” Not that I ever had plans to buy a commercial robot, but I think I’d be happier not knowing about these particular machines.

Writer Tad Friend speculates about much darker trends in “Superior Intelligence.” (The New Yorker, May 14, 2018) “Autocratic regimes could readily exploit the ways in which A.I.’s (artificial intelligence) are beginning to jar our sense of reality.” Apparently they’re good at creating fake video and audio that “could hasten the advent of a full-time surveillance/full-on-paranoia state.”

Yesterday, I was sad to meet the newest trend in grocery shopping. Our local store is now pushing scanners and training on how to use them so shoppers can do everything for themselves. No need to bother with those expendable checkers or the people who know not to pack the eggs on the bottom of our bags and even offer to carry them to our cars. We can weigh and scan our fruits and vegetables and everything else as we shop, then check ourselves out. No more customer service, only self-service. I regret that this is one trend I will have to adapt to and probably soon.

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A poem for everyone

Seems like I’ve been away from this blog forever.  I’ve been busy reading other people’s writing, as in grant applications, as part of my volunteer role on a local committee. My head is into programs for those who are homeless, hungry, and in need of a job, a dentist or a psychologist, and not topics related to life after retirement.

However, a recent email from a friend living abroad inspired me to take a short break from the problems of my community. My friend, who majored in English, signed up for a short on-line poetry class to keep her brain active. Unfortunately, she’s not a great fan of poetry. Like all of us who’ve been out of school for a long time, beginning a university level course of any length is intimidating. Overwhelmed with the long lectures and the homework, she thought about quitting.

I wanted to encourage her to stick with it. I don’t understand much about poetry either, but decided to send her a few of my favorite poems, ones that are more accessible to us non-English majors. After sending poems the past two days, my goal of interesting my friend in poetry began to have an influence on me.  From my overcrowded bookshelves I dug out poetry collections, a book on how to write poetry, books of essays that contained poetry in them.

My husband asked why I was typing the poems in my emails instead of scanning them and sending the copies.  “This way is better,” I said.  “It’s making me pay attention to the poems.  I have to read them several times, make sure the punctuation is correct and that I haven’t left out any words. Each reading helps me understand the poems better.”

In the poems I’ve seen, I’m in awe of the writers use of punchy verbs, beautiful imagery, and their ability to forge a personal connection with the reader over the most mundane topics. In the case of the two poems I’ve sent, the subjects were tomatoes and pears, respectively, though like all poems, the meaning went deeper.

There’s also a sadness associated with the poems I’m looking at.  When a friend died, a group of us put together a booklet for her memorial service that contained her favorite poems.  I am working through the poems in that booklet one by one. The friend who assembled the booklet has also died.  She wrote haiku.  Below are three by Marilyn Sandall.

At the start of the war in Iraq:
bruise the camellia
news of war

On seeing her dying father in the hospital:
bones beneath
hospital sheets —
my father smaller

For Christmas:
bright crested
flashy new neighbor
tidings of joy!

The moral of the story: Even short poems can convey a world of meaning. And there are enough poems out there that all of us can find at least one  that makes us laugh, better appreciate the natural world, or remind us of someone who’s no longer with us, someone we wish were still here.









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Finding silence where we can

7:30 a.m. That’s when the trouble begins: heavy equipment chomps down on the collections of wood, metal and plastic that once were houses, making our house rumble while they’re at it. Following this, the new construction begins with a bang, literally, from the rat-a-tats of pneumatic nailers and the many tons of gravel cascading out of the beds of dump trucks.

This is an outline of the months-long story of four houses — one next door — demolished and being rebuilt on our short block. When we moved to this neighborhood of ordinary 1950’s ramblers umpteen years ago, we never guessed years later we’d be living on a street as popular as the football players and cheerleaders when we were in high school. We’re thankful there are only a few more houses within our hearing left to tear down.

The only comfort is that if we have plumbing problems in the next half year, we’ve got several porta-potties a few yards away to choose from.

In the midst of this chaos, I read a review of a book called “Silence in the Age of Noise,” and rushed to my library. I had hoped author Erling Kagge would make me feel better about whining, by saying that living with this daily noise was hard on my body and mind and my complaining was completely justified.

But no. Instead he talks about how poorly many of us use the quiet times we have, as in research subjects who find electric shocks preferable to sitting alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes. He talks about how we’re “altered by the technology we employ…constantly interrupted, interruptions engendered by other interruptions.”

He doesn’t argue that our neighborhoods should become quieter, as I’d hoped, but says that we don’t recognize the potential for silence within us. “Silence can be anywhere, anytime — it’s just in front of your nose. I create it for myself when I walk up the stairs, prepare food..the potential wealth of being an island for yourself is something you carry around with you all the time.”

After reading these words I started to feel better. Then I opened our back door. It’s hard to find the silence within me when the arborist is using his sputtering chain saw to limb a tree next door.

When things get too noisy, my current solution is to lull myself into calm by reading from one of my many books of haiku poetry. These poets know how to create silence within us using only a few words.

After a long day
With contagious yawns
We parted.

The mountain stream
Milled the rice for me
While I took a nap.

Tired and worn
Seeing an inn
I stopped to gaze at the wisteria flowers

I feel better now.  It also helps that the workers are gone for the day.










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Technical support

free clip art Lunges Lattes blog

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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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