It’s Derby Day — and a major anniversary!

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Today is Derby Day, an important date for any Kentuckian, like myself. More importantly, at least in my personal history, it is the day I met Deloris, my wife and the love of my life. Some years ago, I wrote a piece, entitled “Tiptoe Through the Juleps,” describing our initial meeting. While it is a bit long, it’s also kinda a fun story. I have copied it here.

Tiptoe Through the Juleps

        The first Saturday in May generates an almost religious feeling for those of us who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s Derby Day! I am a proud son of the Bluegrass, and a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. While I seldom go to the track, I always read all about the horses in the paper and was aware of the excitement and public attention Louisville received the week before the Run for the Roses.

As young boys, my friends and I would sit on the sidewalk, feet dangling in the gutter, counting cars with out of state licenses. There sure were a lot. When I was a teenager, we moved to the suburbs, outside the flow of racetrack traffic, but near the small, non-commercial airport. The arrival of numerous private planes heralded the beginning of the horse-race-centered social season. The only poem I can ever remember writing was an ode to the Derby. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, that poem no longer exists.

I only went to the Derby only. When I was in law school, my roommates and I, with our girlfriends, drove down from Chicago and camped out at my parents’ for the weekend. Early Saturday morning, we loaded the car with food, blankets, and coolers of beverages, mostly of the adult persuasion, and headed cross-town to Churchill Downs, to spend a hot, sunny day in the infield with tens of thousands of others. We were more what would be termed hard-core partiers than racing fans. That there were actually horses running around an oval track, on which one could bet, was a side-attraction. It was the atmosphere, and the sense of being present at an event that was the important thing. And, of course, the mint juleps!

So, it came as no real surprise to me that my life was changed by an encounter years later at a party on the other side of the country in a location where the First Saturday in May had a totally different significance. In Seattle, the first Saturday in May is celebrated as the opening day of boating season. The event is marked by a long parade of decorated pleasure boats, many crewed by people for whom a Saturday on the water means imbibing quantities of their favorite adult beverage. For my friends who lived in a house along the parade route, this event required hosting a bunch of non-boating friends who were equally intent on celebrating. This, then, was the setting for my major life- transforming experience.

I had been invited to Ben and Fredericka’s party, although I had accepted an invitation to escort a good friend to another gathering at some friends of hers who lived down the beach. In early afternoon, I decided to wander up to Ben and Fredericka’s and say “hi” to my friends at their party. As I entered their yard, I was greeted by their little dog, who mistook my bare ankles for party food. Or perhaps, she just didn’t like lawyers; the dog and I were never the best of friends. Shooing her off, my ankle sore but not bleeding, I entered the house, greeting people on my way to the upstairs den where I knew the horse race would be on TV. I was dressed in shorts, sandals and a bright red shirt, with pinball machines being the central design feature, and wrinkles the secondary one. This was not quite my white linen suit, string bow tie, Southern gentleman fantasy dress, but it was much more comfortable. The small room was filled with about ten people.

“Anybody want a mint   lep?” I asked.    Heads swiveled in my direction and hands began to be raised. I took a count and headed downstairs, where I had dropped off my bag of fixins. Derby Day calls for mint juleps, a beverage my New York-bred, Scotch- drinking daddy likened to bad cough syrup. Yet, it is the traditional drink for the day, and in the South, tradition is of central importance. So, juleps it was, and juleps were what I had now been drinking for several hours. The first batch for this party completed, I returned upstairs and distributed the drinks to everyone in the room, except one woman who seemed surprised by my return and my actions.

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         “You were serious?” she said, surprise mixed with disappointment in her words. “What do I have to do now to get a julep?”

Through somewhat alcohol-hazed eyes, I looked at this woman, whose reddish-blond hair, falling in page-boy bangs, framed an attractive face with clear, intelligent eyes. I did not know her, but felt an immediate desire to do so. “You have to be very, very nice to me,” I replied.

“OK,” she said, getting out of her chair to follow me downstairs. We had about fifteen minutes before the race began, plenty of time to do another batch of juleps.

The Cuisinart whirred to a stop, the ice clearly crushed. I removed the top and reached my right hand into the bowl to scoop up the crushed ice, forgetting about the sharp stainless steel blade lying below the surface. Bright red blood spurted from my thumb, coloring the ice. My fingers were so cold, there was no pain. I was, however, more than a bit surprised.

Ben, who was talking to someone on the other side of the room, rushed over when he heard my yelp of surprise, concern etched on his face. “Oh my god. What happened? What did you do?”

“I was crushing ice to make some mint juleps. I forgot about the blade. Those things are damned sharp! I don’t have such fancy appliances in my apartment, where I usually just use a hammer.”

Relief, mixed with amusement, replaced concern on Ben’s face. “Let me put a bandage on. First Fuji bit you, and now this. I don’t want to get sued. You damned lawyers.” This banter was part of our normal interchange. A research scientist, Ben was a non-practicing MD. Within minutes, he had encased my thumb in a bandage only slightly smaller than a dinner roll. If my finger was going to continue to bleed, there was no chance of any of it escaping this mummy-wrap. My right thumb was all but useless, which required me to finish my bartending obligations as best I could with my left hand.

I handed a plastic cup (not the traditional julep container) to the woman. “Here ya’ go,” I said. “Enjoy. By the way, my name is Allan,” using the beverage exchange as an excuse to introduce myself.

“Thanks. I’m Deloris. I’m an old friend of Fredericka’s,” she said.

“Me, too,” I replied. “Nice to meet you. We’d better get back upstairs if we want to see the race, and then I had better get back to the other party and my date.”

I don’t remember who won the Derby that year; I don’t even remember watching the race. I do remember seeing a friend who was a nurse as I was making my way out of the party. She took a look at my thumb and, after hearing the story, said, “Ben did that. Right?” It really wasn’t a question. Laughing, she took me back into the house where she unwrapped the yards of gauze and bandage, replaced the wad of wrapping with a small band-aid, and sent me on my way. It’s another example of why we want RN’s, not doctors, dispensing care at bedside.

About a month later, I was walking down the street several blocks from my office. It was First Thursday, the time when the art galleries in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle sponsor an “Art Walk” to attract people for art show openings and receptions. I was on my way to meet a couple of friends at a gallery when I ran into Fredericka and Deloris going the other direction. We stopped and talked for a few minutes.

“Why don’t you ever return phone calls?” Deloris asked with an edge to her voice.

“I always do,” I replied. “Especially when they are from women that I do not know well.”

“I left several messages and never got a return call,” she accused.

“I don’t know what happened. You probably need to try again.” I don’t know why I responded in such a flippant way, as I do not think it was really in character. It was as if the response had been voiced on its own, unbidden. However, to this day, I do not remember ever receiving her phone messages; I don’t even know how she got my phone number.

As there seemed little more to say after my response, we said goodbye and went off in opposite directions. Much to my surprise about a week later, Deloris called and invited me to meet her for a drink after work. For reasons neither one of us remember, we met at a Pizza Hut and shared a pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza; I do not recommend the combination. This meeting went much better than the earlier one on the street. Shortly before the pizza was finished, she invited me to her house for a drink and to watch the sunset.

Several days later, I arrived at her house, a quaint, old, artistically converted beach house overlooking Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. The view was spectacular, even though it was to the East, opposite the sunset. Nevertheless, the setting sun’s colors reflecting off the mountains and illuminating the sailboats racing along the lake below us made up for the absence of a direct sunset view. Deloris had invited a friend to join us, either as a “chaperone” or, as she later explained, someone she thought might be interested in meeting me. She was surprised when her friend Elayne and I greeted each other with hugs and squeals of delight. Luckily, when Elayne and I had stopped seeing each other after a few dates, it was with no hard feelings on either side. Seattle is a socially small town.

The evening was enjoyable. Comfortable with each other, we drank wine, talked, shared stories, enjoyed the view. When Deloris heard that I had been involved in making a short film, she wanted to see it. Elayne did as well. We decided the best place to see the movie would be at an outdoor party, and the only people with an appropriate outdoor location were Ben and Fredericka.

“But they’re out of the country,” Deloris informed us. “How can we find out if they are willing to host the party?”

“Why don’t we just send Fredericka an invitation,” I suggested, knowing that she had seen the film and would likely be OK hosting a showing.

The plot was hatched. Elayne, an artist, designed the single invitation, which was mailed to Fredericka. When she opened her mail, Fredericka called Deloris, furious at what she had just received.

“I just got an invitation to a party — at my house. I can’t imagine who would have such nerve!” she fumed.

“I sent it,” Deloris responded, matter-of-factly.

“Oh. Well, in that case, OK.” Fredericka said, relieved at not being taken advantage of by a stranger. When she heard about the party’s planning and purpose, she was all for it. The party was held, the film shown, and, shortly thereafter, Deloris and I became an item, as they say.

Each year, on the first Saturday in May, I continue to make mint juleps. Rather than putting them into plastic cups, I now serve them in silver julep cups, embossed with the seal of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. Deloris and I watch the race, remembering that fateful Saturday almost 25 years ago, when the drink and a televised horse race changed our lives, by bringing us together. Like I said, I don’t know who won the Derby that year; all I know is that I won the race!

I am a Caregiver

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I am a caregiver. This is the hat I wear today with both pride and humility. And while it is not a hat, a role, I planned or one I imagined would give me the gratification and learning it does, I embrace the joys and heartaches that come with this important work. I also wear other hats now — non-profit volunteer, community member, author, to name a few — and in the past — criminal defense attorney, massage therapist, small business owner, higher education administrator, adult educator. I have found them all satisfying in many respects, and still do. At the same time, being a spousal caregiver has, in many ways, been the most rewarding.

(As an important aside, speaking of hats, my favorite hat is now, and always has been, a panama straw.)

This is the kinda hat I like to wear.

This is the kinda hat I like to wear.

My wife Deloris had a stroke in August 2005 and while she has recovered from this debilitation to a great degree, I still am on call 24/7. We live on Whidbey Island, about 40 miles north of Seattle, Washington. Our family members are spread out from Salt Lake City to Rhode Island, so they are not available for daily care. Household responsibilities — cooking, shopping, laundry, driving, scheduling, as little house and yard work as I can get away with – as well as monitoring Deloris’s medications, diet, exercise, and other daily routines are my responsibility.

Deloris a couple of years ago. Looking good after the stroke.

Deloris a couple of years ago, post stroke.

While I discharge these responsibilities with varying degrees of positivity, depending on the day, I attempt to maintain some semblance of a personal life for myself, knowing the first rule of caregiving is taking care of oneself in order to be able to care for others. And I strive to remember that the woman who needs my help, who is incapable of full independence, is not some invalid but rather is my wife, a highly intelligent, mature, and loving woman. She is my life partner, my soul mate, and not some recalcitrant three year old—regardless of how I think she is acting in any given moment. This is a hard balance to maintain, and one I am not ashamed to say I have not always capable of doing. Throughout this journey, in fact almost in any given week, I have experienced the entire gamut of emotions, a fact I of which I am not necessarily proud. As much as I want to think of myself as always being compassionate and understanding, accepting whatever is presented with patience, grace, and love, there have been times when my “Evil Twin” has taken possession of my body. I can’t believe how he treats my wife at those times! Where does he come from? Who raised him! Luckily, as I write this, he seems to have left. I can only hope he stays away. I know Deloris does.

I know my experiences are not that different from other family caregivers, some of whom are working with loved ones with much more serious debilities than Deloris’s. We are all on our separate journeys, even as we face many of the same issues and concerns. All I know is my experience, which I share in this blog, for whatever help it might be to others.

May the Light be with you.

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It’s Christmas Eve. Santa has changed the frequency on his GPS from monitoring the lives of everyone to calculate his route as he travels around sneaking into people’s houses, scarfing down milk and cookies, leaving some toys that will be broken before he gets back to the North Pole, and replacing the batteries on all the spy equipment he installed last year. How else does he know who to put on which list?

Since I don’t think Santa visits grown up Jewish men (or if he does, he hasn’t found me in more than a few decades,) I don’t have to worry about his lists. The government lists are a different story, but at my age, if I don’t have an FBI file by now, my life has been a complete failure.

Today was one of those glorious Pacific Northwest days – beautiful blue skies, warm enough to be comfortable in a lightweight jacket. No concerns about snow, rain storms, or power outages. Good visibility for the reindeer. Have you ever stopped to think about reindeer pulling a flying sled? What a strange image. Appropriate for the far north, but elsewhere in the world? And what about the tropics? What iconic deliverymen do they have in their mythology? Heavy coats, sleds, even reindeer are not ubiquitous in the hot climes.

I have been thinking about the crass commercialism of this holiday season. Toys, clothes, household appliances, perfume, and expensive cars are some of the items being incessantly hawked on television these days. Buy! Buy! Buy! That seems to be the message of the season. And it fits with the American religious (spiritual beliefs of consumerism and capitalism.

However, what I want to talk about is light and love. That’s the real spirit of the season, the message of the holidays. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is a time of darkness; the solstice was four days ago and so each day brings minutes more of light. Yet, we need to manufacture light to guide us, to illuminate our lives, to keep away the dangers we perceive lurk in the night. And so, we have holidays of light – Hanukkah with its historical story of the resurrection of the Temple and the day’s worth of sanctified oil that miraculously burned for eight days. We have the lights of Christmas, on trees, the Yule log, house decorations. Kwanzaa uses seven candles to illuminate the night and commemorate its traditions. During the holiday of Diwali, Hindus Diwali, along with some Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, celebrate Rama’s victorious return home by lighting candles. And of course, the winter solstice, however, it is celebrated, marks a scientific turn toward the light, as days begin to grow in length as we move toward Spring and Summer.

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I gathered with members of my Circle of Caring on Monday, the day after the Solstice, to participate in our annual ritual. Poems were read, songs sung, candles lit, intentions spoken aloud following moments of silent meditation. We honored the darkness and welcomed the gradual return of light, safe and secure among trusted and loved friends. That, to me, is the true meaning of the season.

So, whatever you are celebrating this December, in whatever way you choose to do so, I wish you great joy. May the Season and the New Year bring you and yours a time of health and happiness, peace and love, the actualization of fantasies and the realization of dreams.

Happy Birthday to . . . ME!

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Today is my birthday; I am 72. I’m not sure what that means, except its a golfing goal I’ll probably never achieve. I have already outlived my father by about six years and am only months younger than my mother when she died. I don’t know how or if these facts have any bearing on my age or my life expectancy; they do give me pause, however.

Maybe I should feel old. Certainly, I think of some people in their 70’s as old. So, why don’t I have a similar self-image? Perhaps because many of the people I associate with are similar in age? Maybe because I think I am “younger” than I am. When I think of how I lead my life and how I imagine they do, I am probably “older” than I am willing to admit. Certainly, Deloris’s physical condition and my resultant caregiving have made me less physically active and narrowed my focus so I engage only in activities that accommodate my commitment to Deloris.

I’m in pretty good health, I think. My lab tests are good; like most Americans (and me almost all my life) I could stand to lose weight; I have the beginning of arthritis in my hips and tendonosis in my left Achilles tendon. Neither require medical intervention. All in all, I feel good.

I am blessed with friends, am involved in my community, and have just published my first book. My spiritual life, such as it is, grounds me. While not rich by any American standard, Deloris and I have sufficient funds to support our lifestyle for the foreseeable future. We are both thankful for the physical beauty and supportive lifestyle in which we live.

So, what’s next, besides marketing my book. Is there any need for me to do anything more to justify my life? Or can I just relax and have fun? And, what does having fun look like? How does an old Hippie age? My creative abilities, such as they are, manifest in my writing. I play at golf, but do not consider it to be a lifestyle. I don’t fish, sail, tinker, renovate cars, houses, or anything else. I am not a collector; I have no passion to accumulate things, including knowledge. In many ways, I guess I am an intellectual dilettante, which is not a bad way to be.

As I get ready to prepare the house for the gathering of my Circle of Caring this evening, I offer up blessings to my parents for my existence and giving me the foundation to make myself into the person I am. A person I am comfortable to live with, and in. I greet this day, my birthday, with a sense of wonder and a curiosity of what this next circle around the sun will bring in my life. Whatever it is, I hope to be able to accept it with equanimity and appreciation. If I am able to do so, then perhaps I have learned some valuable lessons in my first 72 years.

Happy Thanksgiving and a Black Friday rant

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As I write this, stores in the Pacific Northwest are scheduled to open in a matter of a few hours. While for some of us, it is Thanksgiving, for others it is already Black Friday. What an appropriate label to identify the feelings some people are experiencing as they leave their families and loved ones to facilitate others’ indulging their shopping addiction. While the picture of the baby crying clearly was not meant to be attributable to Black Friday, who knows — perhaps his (her?) mother just left to go shopping. (Or maybe, the baby is angry because his wishlist is still on the table.) Is our society so consumed with making money and conspicuous consumption, we no longer are able to take one day out to give thanks for what we already have?

Those of you who are going to participate in Black Friday sales may have already left to get in line. Certainly on the East Coast, stores have probably already opened. This rant, then, is not directed at you. If you feel the need to shop, if you believe there are actually bargains to be had in exchange for sleep and family time, go for it. And I know there is little I can do to divert this marketing juggernaut. Nor do I really have any desire to do so. People have to make a living; corporations have to make a profit for their shareholders (or so the economists would have us believe.) So what if “family values,” as the GOP hypocritically termed mores they neither believed in nor politically supported, are subsidiary to bottom line maximization.

Saturday is Small Business Saturday, as American Express reminds us. (gotta love commercialism!) If we have to shop and buy things we neither need nor want, or gifts for people who will most likely neither need nor want them either, let’s do it in our own neighborhoods, supporting those mom-and-pop stores that are the backbone of our economy and society. Better still, stay home. Read a book. Play with your kids. Take a walk. This year, give contributions in your gift recipients’ names as presents. It is more keeping with the spirit of the holidays than almost anything else we can do.

And in the meantime, give thanks for who you are, for what you have, even for the opportunity to go shopping Thanksgiving evening. That too is a gift.

Learning to Float

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Learning to Float

Years ago, I ran into a friend eating lunch at a restaurant. He looked as sad as I had ever seen him. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I just lived out my last sexual fantasy,” he replied. The sense of loss and uncertainty about what was next clearly visible on his face.

I’m not sure why I shared that story except I was so stunned by the incident when it happened and still find it rather amusing. I too have just had a dream actualized although the story is nowhere near as titillating. (That word is so much more fun to say than to write!) Rather, my first book is about to be published! So, it’s a dream I am happy about rather than feeling empty because all fantasies have been realized.

When I was in college more years ago than I can easily remember, I knew I wanted to write, and publish a book. Something non-academic, although I had no idea whether it would be fiction or non-fiction. Over the years, I have written a lot, and and had a few things published. Mostly, it has been non-fiction — business letters, proposals, academic papers, legal briefs. (OK, so maybe it wasn’t all non-fiction!) I did not consider myself to be a writer. That was my wife, Deloris —an award-winning journalist and creative writer. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, buried under years of other fantasies and unachieved dreams, a book remained to be written and published. I just had no idea what it would be about.

A little over nine years ago, Deloris suffered a stroke and I became her caregiver. For several years, I sent emails to an ever-extending distribution list (I didn’t know about blogs,) relating her progress, or lack there of, and eventually discussing my emotional responses. Part of me was observing what was going on about me while the other part was participating in the action. At night I would sit at my computer and write about it, both as a way to stay in touch with others and as a means of integrating what was happening. The writing helped me make sense of it all. Friends encouraged me to put the emails together into a book, saying they could be a great help to others, especially men, who found themselves in similar situations.

Now, Deloris has progressed to where I have time to pursue endeavors in addition to my caregiving and I have written the book. While the motivational circumstances were certainly not what I wanted, I feel lucky to have been able to transform the pain and challenges into something positive. Publication of Learning to Float: Memoir of a Caregiver-Husband is imminent.

I am incredibly excited and proud of my achievement, in spite of how long it took to realize this fantasy (and how I would willingly give up the book to reverse the situation which gave rise to it.) I also wonder if anyone other than family and a few friends will read it or find it of any value or quality. I know I can’t spend time worrying about that; all I can do is whatever I can to generate interest in it and awareness of stroke. And, given that November is National Caregiver Month, it seems appropriate I do so.

In the coming weeks and months, I will excerpt parts of the book in this blog and, maybe, share some stories that didn’t make it through the final edit. I welcome comments, critiques, the sharing of your stories, and suggestions for how to learn to float through difficult, life-changing situations. And, of course, I will let you know when and where you can buy your own copy. In the meantime, enjoy the cover.

Think F-A-S-T

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October 29 was National Stroke Awareness Day; it also marked 9 years and two months since my wife, Deloris, suffered a stroke. On that day, in 2005, I joined the hundreds of thousands of family members, mostly women, who are unpaid caregivers. I assumed this new role with no hesitation, and truth be told, no thought about what it entailed. My wife needed me and I was able arrange my other responsibilities to be there for her.

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Deloris the year before her stroke

While these nine years were not easy, we were among the lucky ones. Deloris never lost the ability to speak or swallow. Although her mobility and endurance are impaired, she is not paralyzed. The stroke impacted her decision-making processes, ability to focus and follow through on a task. Her sense of humor is intact, if a bit more edgy than before. She remains extremely curious about all sorts of things, and capable of holding her own in conversation.

We are, however, no longer the equal partners in our marriage we were before. All major decisions fall to me, although I do what I can to bring Deloris into the process. I do all the cooking, housework, and laundry. I am her driver, her appointments secretary, her medical advocate. When she needs help for anything from getting up off the floor if she fell to reheating a cup of coffee, I am there. For years, I helped her dress, assisted in her toileting, her bathing. I provided support when she stood and an arm when she moved. I made sure she had both clean clothes and a clean body. I was/am on-call 24/7/365. It was as if I was raising another child, albeit an adult one. Before her stroke, we led busy professional and personal lives, committed to each other while often traveling close, parallel, but separate, paths. We talked about needing to find ways to spend more time together. Well, we found the way; it was just not what we had in mind.

Strokes devastate those who suffer them as well as their family and friends. While the specific impact and the resultant debilitation varies person to person, a stroke survivor is seldom, if ever, the same afterwards. Deloris has been forever changed. I have lost the woman I married, and I grieve that loss.

At the same time, I feel incredibly blessed by what I have experienced as my wife’s caregiver, I have learned about love, compassion, the importance of family and community, and what is truly meaningful in life. Since our families live thousands of miles away, they have not been available to help with Deloris’s care except sporadically. I have had to rely on the resources in and the members of the wonderfully supportive community in which we live, as well as some committed and compassionate professional caregivers. Deloris and I are luckier than many in that we have sufficient financial resources that allow us to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle, including hiring others to help with chores I can’t or don’t want to do (I joke that our financial solvency is in part the result saved a bunch of money by Deloris being unable to travel.)

We’ve developed a “new normal,” finding new ways to maximize our time together in ways that are both enjoyable and recognize her disabilities. Many times I wished my life were different from it is; at the same time, I recognize the futility in such thinking, and prefer to focus on the blessings and the love we are both experiencing.

Writing has provided me with a means to maintain social connections, as well as a creative vehicle through which I can process and integrate this experience. I have attempted to gather what I have learned through my experience in a soon-to-be-published book, Learning to Float: Memoirs of a Caregiver-Husband. More about this in future posts.

For today, I encourage us all to:

  • Learn the warning signs of a stroke: Face dropping; Arms drooping; Speech slurring = Time to call 9-1-1. Early intervention by medical professionals can alleviate long-term repercussions.
  • Write instructions for medical personnel; complete durable powers of attorney forms; update your wills.
  • Take control of your life while you can.

Equally important, love your spouse, your partner, your family members, your friends, yourself. Let them know how you feel and how important they are to you. Don’t wait. Do it now. It’s the right time.

To Tweet or not to Tweet, that is the question

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Spent yesterday at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference, interacting with writers and book marketers extolling the virtues of social media. I know. I have heard it from too many people at too many times. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and the rest of the social media world are how new authors develop “platforms,” become known, and attract readers. I don’t mind blogging; in fact, I think I like it, even though I don’t do very much of it. It’s like public journaling, verbal public masturbation, if you will. While I like writing about myself and what is happening in my life, I can’t imagine why people, especially those I don’t personally know, want to read about it. It’s not like I am famous, or even if I was like I am doing anything more fascinating than my readers (hopefully there are some) are doing.

Before I go any further, some disclosure is necessary. I am a 71 (soon to be 72) year old geezer, although people have told me I have the body of a 70 year old. I do have the attitude, and often the mouth, of a 15 year old boy. I am somewhat computer savvy — I taught online for over a decade, write and edit papers online, can do minor computer repairs, and after becoming totally frustrated with Vista, drank the Apple kool-aid (or was it cider?) I have a MacBookPro, an iPod, an iPad, an iPhone, and a Kindle. I use Dropbox, at times watch tv shows on my computer; I read books and newspapers on my Kindle and my iPad. I research things online and work crossword puzzles online. And I have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Before blogs were popular, I lived my life relatively publicly through a several-times-a-week basis couple of hundred email distribution list. I am Facebook a lot, but mainly to stay in contact with old friends, ex-girlfriends and one ex-wife, friends in other parts of the country. I am setting up a Facebook page for a book of mine that is about to be published.

So, I am not totally computer-illiterate. Blogging is understandable, at least if the person has something intelligent to say or has life experiences relevant to my own. The mind-set that believes one can be intelligent and relevant in 140 characters totally escapes me. Why am I interested in a picture of what people are eating, much less where they are and what they happen to be doing that moment. If you are tweeting about something that is happening that moment, you are not paying attention to the experience you are tweeting about. One cannot multi-task; it is physiologically impossible. This is true even of our politicians (for whom a strong argument can be made they cannot even single-task!) Immediate responses to an event or a speech are not thought out; they can’t be. They are emotional sound-bites, good for a 15 second TV spot, some image-building for one’s constituency, but hardly sufficient for sound, rational governing.

And, what’s with selfies? The seem to be the epitome of narcissism. I fully grok a desire to commemorate an experience with a photograph. But why inflict it on other people, especially strangers. Do the pictures serve any purpose other than make others jealous or falsely build up the poster’s self-esteem?

Sure, some people post links to intriguing and thought-provoking pieces which originally appeared elsewhere. There are some informative and valuable conversations in the special interest groups on LinkedIn and other sites. Facebook has lots of fun ways to procrastinate. All the sites have some value to them, if you look deep enough.

But seriously, folks. Is immediate gratification that important? Can we really solve serious problems in 140 characters? Is it necessary for the world to know what you are eating? The music you listen to, the TV shows you watch? Sorry. None of us are that interesting, nor that important. There is no need to share every minute of your life. No one cares. Live it, don’t just talk about it.

Just some thoughts from an old geezer. Now I have to post this to my blog and put the link on my Facebook page and my Twitter feed.

To Smart Phone or Not to Smart Phone. That is the Question.

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I don’t have a smart phone. In fact, I haven’t ever wanted one. I have nothing against them — other than price and the need for a commitment to a service provider. I have other electronics including a laptop, an ipad, an ipod, to which I am attached and enjoy. Unfortunately, the ipod I bought to replace the one I left on an airplane does not have a camera — an omission I didn’t realize when I bought it from a friend. I have a cell phone that has a camera, although not one that is easy to use or that takes good pictures. (One reason I haven’t started posting pix.) It is a pre-paid phone, allowing me to avoid monthly contracts. While it supposedly has web access, I have not found it convenient or easy to use, as it does not have a touch screen. Also the lack of a qwerty keyboard makes texting difficult. Is it possible to find a functional smart phone without mortgaging my future to Verizon or AT&T? (Don’t even mention T-Mobile; reception is spotty enough on Whidbey Island where I live with the two majors.) If I decide to go that route, do I stay loyal to Apple and get an iphone, or will an older generation Android phone, considerably less expensive and available from my pre-paid service provider, suffice? I will soon have a book published after which, hopefully, I will need to make sales wherever I happen to be. Can I justify the smart phone as a business expense? Maybe. And maybe there will be income against which to take the deduction. We live in hope.  

 

 

 

Aside from the publication of my book, none of this warms my 71 year old heart. Since I am retired from my fulltime work, and do much of my present activity from home or nearby coffee shops, So, I am usually near an accessible Wi-Fi hub. My ipad allows me to be online whenever and wherever I want, and it takes good pictures. I don’t think I can text from it though. My pockets are not large enough to hold the ipad, and I have no desire to wear pants with bigger pockets or get an ipad mini. It’s not like I have anything against the Mini; I just don’t want to spend the money.

 

 

 

I was at a conference last week with thousands of attendees. While the ages of the participants ranged from being in utero to a decade or two post-Social Security, a large number of those I saw seemed to be of graduate students age or younger. All were constantly on their cell phones, thumbs flying as text messages soared and Tweets posted. Selfies and other cell-phone photos documented meals, booth presentations, speakers, attendees, and a myriad of other subjects. It wasn’t as if I felt out of it; it was more like part of me sorta wanted access to those capabilities, to that world. At the same time, I was grateful for the lack of connection, for the solitude amidst the masses my phone’s technological non-capabilities provided.  An creative writing instructor speaking at a panel on using humor in memoir, a subject near and dear to my heart, told of an undergraduate student who wrote a paper describing various public restrooms on the campus of their school.  Included in the description was the nature of cell phone reception in the various stalls and urinals (the writer was male.) While this information made for some humorous reading, I was a tad disturbed by thinking some of his readers considered that information to be relevant if not extremely important. I tend to choose public bathrooms on other criteria, usually proximity and standard of cleanliness (that bar moves up and down depending on the urgency of my need and their proximity.)

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know whether I will break down and get a smart phone, or should I say, when I do so.  At a minimum, I will replace my present phone with one from which it will be easier to text.  Given the hassles my wife’s new pre-paid phone has caused this past weekend, I could give her mine, thus justifying my purchase of a new phone. Again, it is not the initial cost that is of concern. It is the continuing expense. It’s the old “give ‘em the hardware, sell them the software” business model, successful since it was first utilized.

 

 

 

Another possibility I have considered is to sell her my ipod, recouping a bit of my investment, and buy a smart phone. (Had I not just bought the one I lost, I would probably just give it to her, as I offered with my old Nano.) I could load all my music onto the phone, have a camera, and be able to text, all with one less piece of equipment.

 

 

I know at some level I have already made the decision, merely by seriously considering the question, and this is all intellectual masturbation. Well, physical masturbation is often fun, so why not the intellectual kind as well? 

A bit more ramblings about armor

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In my last post, I wrote about growing up in Kentucky, and wearing Bass Moccasins. I even found a picture of them which I incorporated, none too professionally. They were definitely part of the armor/uniform I and my friends wore.

 

I now live on a semi-rural island in Puget Sound, about thirty-five miles from Seattle. Since my wife and I moved here about 11 years ago, I have had little reason to go to Seattle except to see friends, go to doctor appointments (for specialties not represented among our local health care providers,) and make side trips to Costco and Trader Joe’s.  Daily commuting is in my past, as is wearing professional clothes.  I don’t remember the last time I wore a tie or a dress shirt. Hell, I don’t remember the last time I bought new clothes, although I bought a pair of pants at a thrift shop earlier today. We have a number of thrift shops, each supporting local non-profits. There seems to be an unstated contest among those in my social circles as to who can find the greatest bargains at these stores.  Women usually win as there are more women’s clothes than men’s available. There is no need to dress up, or sometimes even get dressed, when one’s day is spent in front of a computer screen or sitting in a chair reading a book. One does not put on a suit to work in the garden, walk on the beach, or have coffee or lunch with a friend. We live a casual, laid back life. Our armor consists of hybrid cars, old clothes, gardening gloves, casual shoes. A person in a business suit or even a coat and tie is immediately assumed, for no reason other than his/her external dress, to be (a) an outside salesperson, probably for insurance; (b) a lawyer on the way to or from court; (c) a mis-dressed tourist; (d) a religious missionary.  Whatever the actuality is, the person is assumed to be “other,” not from “around here.”  They are still treated with friendly and courteous hospitality, but also with just a smidgeon of pity for having to wear such uncomfortable clothes.

 

Perhaps I live where I do because I have never really liked spending money on clothes. It’s not that I didn’t like to dress well, although I was always more interested in personal style rather than trends set by others. Perhaps my clothing choices reflected my general distrust of authority and tendency toward (mild) rebellion. And now that I am older, and retired, I don’t care as much about what other people think when they see me than I did when I was working and attempting to establish a professional persona. People still judge, we all do, but now the clues they have tend to be non-visual — words on a page or computer screen, actions at a meeting or as a volunteer, Skype calls. My main work is being a caregiver for my wife, writing, and volunteering. None require any particular form of dress, although there are times I think I use my computer the same way many people use a camera or a smart phone — to put a degree of distance between whatever is happening and myself.  I am still there, still participating to a degree, but as an observer and perhaps recorder than an actor. I am there, but I have no responsibility for what is going on or the results. It’s often a comforting and comfortable position to be in.

 

I do have academic robes for graduation ceremonies in I participate as either an instructor or an administrator. I have been both. The robes are also a form of armor, in that they separate me from others in the room, with the hood and tam identifying rank. Image

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and social media are also forms of armor, in the metaphoric sense of a protective covering. If I am engaging with social media, displaying vulnerability through my openness in sharing my life and thoughts I am identifying with those who read my posts, who share their lives, who are active in social media. The content of our sharing may be important or mundane. That is of less importance than the fact we are sharing. Our armor in this arena, this context, is our involvement, our vulnerability.

 

Last month I was watching a football game – yes, I am a sports fan. A commercial came on showing various women, all extremely attractive, in different situations – a businesswoman, a mother holding a child, a student. All had intense looks on their faces and were wearing clothes not usually seen on women — football jerseys complete with shoulder pads. It was a commercial for NFL clothes for women. A way to combine sports armor, marketing, and retail sales.  I am not sure why I was surprised by it, other than wondering why it took so long for the marketing gurus to come up with the sales pitch. I did, however, find the whole idea a bit repugnant and depressing, but then I feel that about a lot of things I see being sold on TV, and other forms of mass media. My thoughts on the consumer society, however, is a topic for another time.