Fame

I heard a spot on NPR as I was driving in to work today talking about how, since many people share first/last names, in this Age of the Internet and the Universal Database this can lead to both confusion and ego-deflation. The story was talking about how when some folks do a search on themselves they are dismayed that their personal identity is swallowed up by all the others out there who share their name. The thing that I found curious was the implication that apparently a lot of people want to be personally identified and known to the world. Uhh… OK… would these also be the same people who fret and worry about privacy, creepy stalkers and identity theft?

Of course, if you are in any way in business for yourself and using your personal name for that business, then being easily located and identified is one of the most fundamental requirements. For myself however, I am proud that I have a relatively small digital footprint out there. When I Google my own name there is a Flickr-stream of mine that appears on the second page, but going as far down as I have the patients to go reveals nothing else. When I look at the Google “images” page there are many photos that I have taken (I am an amateur photographer and a lot of my work has been published under my real name), but no photos of me although I do post tastefully artistic self-portraits occasionally.

A “White Pages” search reveals a lot more. Here the top hit shows my current street address and phone number (we moved less than a year ago) as well as my addresses going back 30-years. This may seem sinister to some, but this data is all Public Record and it has always been available to everyone – just not quite as easily and quickly as it is now. By the way, there is a lot of material on my ancestors out there in Internet Land because my family has been on the North American continent since 1630 and so the name is quite well-traveled. You will find more electronic “ink” on my 13th-great-grandfather than on me however – and I think that this is just great. I’m sure that an “expert” could dig up more on me than the surface scratching that I have done, but so-what?

One suggestion of the NPR story was that sometimes a person’s name can have an association with an odious personal homonym. Although fortunately my name is not “Ted Bundy”, I do share my name with a few fictional characters and they are all invariably nefarious. Can there be “type casting” of a name?

The thing that I really find interesting is that apparently a lot of people care about all of this stuff – if not in one way, then in another. It seems like folks are either desperate to be “known” and rank high on search-lists and have lots of Facebook friends and Twitter/Wordpress followers, or they are scared that someone can find out exactly who they are and where they are and all sorts of intimate personal details about them. The really weird thing is that neither of these two groups seem to understand that these are two sides of the same coin. I guess that it is just another sign of my own personal psychosis that although I’d prefer to be anonymous to the world – it doesn’t bother me if it turns out that I am not.

 “…Is it any wonder I reject you first?

Retirement

I am approaching that Certain Age when thoughts of retirement start migrating from the back of the mind toward the front like wildebeests on the savanna. Some people proudly declare that they will never retire. Sometimes they claim that this is because they would miss the social interaction of their workplace (implying that they socialize more than they actually work). Others say that they fear that they would not know what to do with themselves in retirement – presumably because without a “boss” assigning them tasks and regularly checking on their progress they would just sit in a chair and stare at a blank wall with an equally blank mind like an advanced Alzheimer’s patient.

Then there are others who whine that they can’t retire because they can’t afford it. Well, that’s too bad, but retirement is not a “right”, you know. It is a goal that you can achieve for yourself if you put your mind to it and sacrifice for it and work hard at it for many, many years. Being retired is like becoming a top professional musician or sports star or Nobel laureate. It doesn’t just happen on its own and no one is obligated to “give” it to you – you have to earn it for yourself with your own sweat and dedication. Anyone who buys into the common myth that “Social Security = Retirement” and that this leisurely comfort is and should be “automatic” for all is an idiot, and they will be in for a nasty shock when they finally get around to running the numbers because SS was never designed or intended for that purpose.

Anyway, I have been dreaming of retirement as a Life Goal (and working for it, and saving for it) for 30-years and after all this time we are not in bad shape. I have no concerns over whether we can “afford it” or not – and I use very conservative numbers and assumptions. No, the real question is – do I really want to retire?

I am not a social person and I don’t care about the human interaction of the workplace. In fact what I love most is being home and completely alone for a day (or several). I also think that not knowing what to do with yourself without an official “job” to go to is a pitiful indication of a complete lack of imagination, discipline and self-motivation. In addition to working on numerous “personal projects” around our home, I have several places that I plan to volunteer at once my time is my own. The world is too big and too wonderful for there to be any question of “having nothing to do”.

I actually have some perspective on retirement that most folks don’t get the opportunity for. A few years ago, when I was 58, the company I had worked at for 10-years shut our facility and laid-off a bunch of people, including me. Although a little early by my own strategic plan, and therefore a little tight financially, I decided to take the long and generous layoff severance and just declare myself “retired” then-and-there. I was able to wallow in this “practice retirement” for almost a year. I did eventually go back to work though, after much anguished soul-searching, because (and don’t hate me for this) “The Perfect Job” just happened to fall in my lap right as my severance package was running out. I actually got this job on my first resume and only interview. Yeah, yeah I know – I’m revoltingly lucky – but it’s not my fault, this shit just Happens to me. I have now been at this Perfect Job for 2-years and I have just turned 61 and the old dreams of retirement are starting to become more persistent again.

I do have to report that in spite of yearning for it for 30-years, I found my “Practice Retirement” year to be vaguely unsatisfying somehow. For the first 3-months I was a maniac, running around doing all sorts of things and completing projects that had been bottled up and pending for years because I had never had the time to get to them. After that first burst of activity however (and just as winter set in), a subtle lethargy started to emerge. I found that when I had “All the Time in the World” to get stuff done, that it got way too easy to put that stuff off. Although I was never “bored” I found that I wasn’t very “productive” either – at least not as much as I had envisioned being. It also seemed embarrassingly decadent for a healthy and physically capable “youngster” of 58 to be just lying around home reading and puttering and fooling around with hobbies. It felt like I should be doing something more even if I didn’t really want to.

Now that I have been working full-time again for a couple of years, I find that I am thinking nostalgically about that “Practice Retirement” year and I am wondering if I should give it another shot soon. I have no illusions about my luck being endless and I am very sure that the next time I quit working will be my last. When you walk away from “The Perfect Job” The Universe will not hand you another one. What I have been doing is trying to pull together the “Lessons Learned” from the practice year so that I can make my second (and final) attempt at retirement successful and satisfying.

Lesson-1: I think that the first thing that I will do The Next Time I decide to retire is go to my employer and float the idea of working part-time. Actually, it would be great if this were the official definition of retirement – when you turn 60 you automatically go to 20-hours/week until you turn 70 (and maybe SS pays a supplementary stipend in this window too, which would help make SS solvent also). This gives a little money, it gives you purpose and someplace to go 2 or 3 days a week, but you are still able to slow down, “rest” more and spend more time in the other arenas of your life.

Lesson-2: I don’t really expect to be able to work PT for my current employer, so the next thing that I would do in retirement is get out there and volunteer some of my time at local places of personal interest (we have a community theater, for example, that is always looking for free help). Most importantly, I would do this quickly,  within the first couple of weeks of quitting FT work. Although this had been my plan the first time, what I found was that the longer that I delayed and just sat around the house, the more inertia there was. For The Next Time I retire I will recognize this danger of falling into bad habits and make (a few) outside commitments for my time early in the process. This will also insure that I have a reason to get my ass out of the house once in a while, because I am so a-social that I could easily turn into a complete recluse left to my own natural preferences.

Lesson-3: When The Next Time gets here (probably another 2 to 4 years) I am going to set more reasonable expectations for myself. I think that part of my dissatisfaction the first time was not that I was doing nothing, but that it was just less than I predicted that I would be doing. By the time that I am 65 (the very latest that I plan to do this) I will be old enough to feel like I deserve to move slowly and accomplish less. If I have a day free of volunteer work and all I want to do is read a book and take a nap – well – that’s just fine. After all, I’ve worked and saved for over 30-years for that privilege.

Feeling the Riptide

I don’t follow a lot of blogs. The ones that I do follow are mostly personal journals and (IMHO) especially well written. Life is too short for any-old prosaic prose. In one of those blogs recently there was a post where the young(ish) author was wondering if her parents might be headed for divorce because she observed that they seemed to be arguing and fighting with each other far more than she ever recalled. I considered writing a direct response, but my style tends to be too verbose for a mere “comment”.

I, myself, will turn 61 this month and my last wedding anniversary was the “pearl” one (not that we honored that archaic tradition), so I am probably much closer to that author’s parents in age and status than to her and I may have a deeper perspective on these things.

I have noticed in myself that as I get older I am becoming increasingly less and less “tolerant” toward many things. Although I would smugly contend that it is not true in me, one of the more obvious ways that this can manifest in some people is as more conservative political views and stands on the social issues of the day. It is the cliché that “old people” tend to be right-wing, Fox-News types desperate to return to the “Good Old Days”, no matter how unnaturally rose-colored those hindsight views might be. This seems to be as evermore when seeing the liberal-progressive beatniks of the 50’s and flower-children of the 60’s (and whatever the 70’s and 80’s had) morph into solid, upstanding, flag-waving Republicans. And yes, dear children, this is a natural progression and it too will more-than-likely be your fate in another 40-years or so – mark my words.

I really do think that this creeping intolerance naturally affects us all as we age and the consequences can manifest themselves in other more personal ways as well. There seems to be a general attitudinal sclerosis that develops right along with the physiologic symptoms of arthritic joints, paunch and dry wrinkling skin. By the time we turn 60 we know what we like and that’s what we want and any deviation from it is simply annoying. At the interpersonal level, the quirks of a partner that used to be invisible or even endearing become so much sandpaper scraping across our ever more sensitive nerves. Some completely unconscious habits of my wife that I know she has had for 30-years have now become so irritating to me that I cannot stand to be in the room with her during an outbreak. To be fair – I am quite positive that I too have such habits that grate equally hard on her. In the case of our relationship we have always adhered to a strict non-critical approach however. It is not true that marriage gives anyone the right to “mold” another person to be an extension of them, or even that it involves subscribing to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Even within a decades-long marriage the key to happiness is to view the other person as a completely separate and independent individual to be shown all the rights and courtesies (and hopefully even more) that you would extend to a casual acquaintance. If you wouldn’t pick at and fuss with and bark at and criticize a co-worker for some silly if annoying behavior, then for God’s Sake don’t do that bullshit to your spouse, of all people!

I have declared that “attitudinal sclerosis” is natural, and I believe that there is a natural explanation for it too. Something that I am only now beginning to truly appreciate is that as we get older, life gets harder (sorry all you 20-somethings – but your own future-self will confirm that all you’re “going through” now is a piece-of-cake compared to what awaits you). As our bodies begin to deteriorate and our mental acuity declines many people will go into denial, but whether we acknowledge it or not, the result is that we have to work harder and harder just to get up each morning and make our way through the world and function in society. Simple little things that used to be thoughtless reflex now take more concentration and effort. It’s not that we “mature adults”  can’t do things; we just have to apply more focus and energy to those simple everyday tasks. The more effort that we must expend on the basics of navigating life, the less we can tolerate deviations because we just don’t have the spare “cycles” to process it anymore. We want everything to be as easy (read: “familiar”) as possible because that requires the least amount of energy and we need every ounce of that energy to overcome the ever-increasing inertia that each new day brings.

It is like swimming in the ocean and feeling the tug of a riptide at your feet. You need to stay focused on keeping your head above water and it takes all of your effort to keep moving forward, and you just can’t tolerate any distraction from that objective even as others continue to “fool around” about you, oblivious to and unconcerned by this existential threat that you, perhaps even unconsciously, can feel. As we age we naturally become more and more intolerant of any disturbance from the well-known and comfortable because at its ultimate extent such distrait can threaten to tear away our faltering grasp on life itself.