Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Dull Men's Club

The first time I highlighted this hallowed organization on these pages I thought I would be a natural for membership in their club. If that was true then, it is even more so today.


Can you believe it? Turns out I have become a follower of an organization I didn't even know existed. Truth is, I am a natural fit for any club whose motto is ---”It’s okay to be dull.”
The Dull Man's Club is my kind of group. There are no dues, the few meetings are optional. And there seem to be few rules. Who can argue with an organization that claims it’s greatest achievement is --- “Remaining dull in spite of ever increasing pressure to change.” You can tell that these folks have taken Creative Dullness to a whole new level.
It is, after all, about using ones time in a wise and prudent manner. If you are one of those ‘on the go’ sort, who hurry around, never having time to take your time, I urge you to learn more about The Dull Men’s Club. Because in the end it is all about time. 
As one of their members explains --- “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” And besides, another one says --- “Slow motion gets you there faster.” Turns out, if there is one thing Dullers are good at, it is taking their time.
Did you ever stop to realize that even ‘coincidence’ can be dull. Over the years I have posted several times about the year our family spent living in Winchester, England. Heck, Roma and I even wrote a book about those months. So, a few days ago, when I learned that the contact for the Dull Men’s Club has a Winchester address, it felt a bit like going home.
During our time in Winchester we got to know several Hampshire men. As I remember, they were not a typically ‘dull’ crowd in those days. Still, I’m not surprised to learn that at least some of them have crossed the late-life bridge into ‘dullness.’ I for one am glad to have their company.
These folks have found ways to make even the ‘dullest’ activity sound appealing. That, of course, requires both a lively imagination and the time to sit back and mull the possibilities. Apparently they are especially good at ‘sitting back and mulling.’ You have to admire men like that.
As for imagination---I invite you to view this Dull Men’s Club video, which offers delightful insights into ‘dullness  in action,’ as practiced by the pros. After that, a visit to the Club’s Website offers a window on the amazing range of the members’ ‘dull’ projects. These fellows have taken 'ordinary' to extraordinary lengths, while helping the rest of us see things that have always been there, but are not always appreciated.
Scrolling through the website confirms what I probably have know all along. My all-too-obvious dullness is clearly of the mundane, pedestrian sort. The truly Dull Men you meet there have taken dullness to a higher level. They deserve our admiration and acclaim for the way they have made dullness something to strive for.
If you are one of those ‘on the go’ folks, I hope you will check this out. And if you know someone whose ‘Dullness Quotient’ might make him or her a candidate for Dull Men's Club membership I hope you will share this post with them.

Now I must remember to remind the wife that “dull is good.” Near as I can tell she knows that I’m ‘dull,’ but doesn’t always see the ‘good’ in that. Perhaps she just needs more time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Silent Generation

This seems to me a most fitting Thanksgiving reminder, and a ‘spot on’ depiction of the special time our October / November generation has been blessed to experience, offering a no-nonsense picture of the times we grew up calling ‘normal,’ which it turns out were so much more than that.

I’m sure that October/ November folks will see themselves here. Hopefully our children and grandchildren will take a few minutes to digest the reality that made us old folks the way we are, and why we sometimes struggle to make sense of today’s world.

Thanks to Joyce Carlson Oliver, a long-ago classmate, for helping us remember.


Children of the (1930s) & (1940s)

Born in the 1930s and early 1940s, we were the smallest number of children born since the early 1900s. We were The Silent Generation---remnants of a very special time.

We were the last generation to climb out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and impact of a world war that rattled the structure of our daily lives for years.

We are the last to remember ration books for everything from gas to sugar to shoes to stoves.

We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans. 

We hand mixed ‘white stuff’ with ‘yellow stuff’ to make fake butter.

We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available.

We can remember milk being delivered to our house early in the morning and placed in the ‘milk box’ on the porch. (A friend’s mother delivered milk in a horse drawn cart.) We sometimes fed the horse.

We are the last to hear Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors.

We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945, VJ (Victory in Japan) Day.

We saw the ‘boys’ come home from the war, build their Cape Cod style houses---pouring the cellar, putting on a tar-paper roof, and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out.

We were the last generation to spend our childhood without television. Instead, we imagined what we heard on the radio.

As we all like to brag about, with no TV we spent our childhood ‘playing outside until the street lights came on.’ We did play outside, and we did play on our own. There was no little league. There was no city playground for kids. 

The lack of television in our early years meant, for most of us, that we had little real understanding of what the world was like.

Our Saturday afternoons at the movies included a brief newsreel of the war, sandwiched between westerns and cartoons.

Telephones were one to a house, hung on the wall, with lines we shared with our neighbors.

Computers were called calculators. They only added and subtracted and were hand cranked. Typewriters were driven by pounding fingers, throwing the carriage, and changing the ribbon. The ‘internet’ and “Google’ were words that did not exist.

The GI Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow. VA loans fanned a housing boom. Pent up demand, coupled with new installment-payment plans, put factories to work. New highways would bring jobs and mobility. The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics.

In the late 40s and early 50s the country seemed to enjoy the embrace of a busy, but quiet order, as it gave birth to the new middle class. (Which became know as the ‘Baby Boomer.s’)

The radio networks expanded from three stations to thousands. The telephone started to become a common method of communication and ‘Faxes’ sent hard copy around the world.

Our parents, suddenly free from the confines of the depression and the war, were exploring opportunities they had never imagined before. While we were busy playing by ourselves until the street lights came on, they were busy discovering the post-war world.

Most of us had no life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide we simply stepped out into the world and started to learn what it was all about.

We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity --- a world where we were welcomed.

Based on our naive belief that there was more where this came from, and secure in our future, we shaped our lives as we went.

Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in that experience. Depression-era poverty was deep rooted. Polio was still a crippler. The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 50s, and by mid-decade school children were ducking under their school desks.

Russia built the ‘Iron Curtain,’ and China became ‘Red China.’ Eisenhower sent the first ‘advisors’ to Viet Nam, and years later Johnson invented a war there. Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.

We were the last generation to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland.

We came of age in the 40s and early 50s. The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, the civil rights movement, technological upheavals, ‘global warming,’ and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt our lives. 

Only our generation can remember both a time of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty. We have lived through both.

We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better, not worse.

We are the ‘Silent Generation’ - ‘The Last Ones.’

More than 99.9% of us are either retired or deceased, and feel privileged to have ‘lived in the best of times.’

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The New Senior Man

  I don’t believe we called them “Chicks” in the days of my misspent youth. I came along before that time. Yet, whatever name we used, and we had several, you can be sure those fine-looking coeds were noticed and appreciated.
  Though it probably did not feel that way when I crawled out of bed this morning, it seems that some things don't just change over time---they actually get better with age. Take for instance, today's Elderchicks.
  That is what these friends of mine call themselves. Fact is, they seem rather proud of the label. I must confess, I am proud to have made my personal connection with these ladies, aka 'Elderchicks'. (Actually it is my second, since Roma surely qualifies as my number one Elderchick.)
  I have mentioned Thelma Reese’s Elderchicks website before on these pages---along with their new book The New Senior Man, the follow-up to their earlier The New Senior Woman.

 Together, their two books explore and document some of the many ways that today’s seniors, women and men, deal with the opportunities and challenges of late-life in the twenty-first century---where retirement often lasts for twenty or thirty years. Each volume contains dozens of ‘up close and personal’ profiles of seniors making the most of the years that await them.
  I think Marc Freeman’s review of The New Senior Man sums it up well when he writes, “This  moving and insightful book....and the thoughtful men in it.... encourages us to seize the opportunity to write our own encore, and live our legacy. What a gift!”
   "The opportunity to write our own encore." That sounds a lot like the 'thriving in our October Years' I've been selling for years.  Beyond that, I do believe we have an obligation to 'live our legacy.' 
   In their books my Elderchick friends, Thelma and Bobby, offer dozens of varied and unique examples of men and women 'living their legacy,' each in their own way.
  I suppose the ladies’ first book, about Senior Women, was a logical extension of their Elderchicks perspective. I for one found their feminine observations on Senior Men both interesting and revealing.
  Truth be told, I must admit to an unfamiliar humbleness at finding myself officially labeled one of those ‘New’ Senior Men. (I can hear Roma cheering at the possibility of a ‘new’ me.) You see, the Elderchick’s new book includes my own unlikely story among the many ‘New Senior Men’ they profile. 
    Moreover, their website’s most recent post includes an embarrassingly complementary article about my Tanner Chronicles stories. That was enough to warm my old and not-so-humble heart. 
   I hope you will take time to check out the Elderchicks' Website. Just Click Here. It's a fun place, with a wealth of October Years wisdom among their pages.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Have you been there?

Chances are you know how it feels. We may not like to admit it, but if we have been around long enough we know it is true. Whether it has been calm and cushy or littered with trials we would rather forget, we certainly understand that October and early-November are only way-stations for what waits beyond. Which means that even at our age, we still need to keep our eyes on the road ahead.
There was a time, back in the olden days, when I made my living as a Business Manager. Actually, in one form or another that was what I did for the whole of two different careers. An important part of that work involved looking ahead and planning for what was coming next. As you can imagine, that usually works best when you know where you are now, and where you want to go from here.
Twelve years ago, as I started off on what would become Career Path 3.0---a wannabe writer---I thought I knew where I was. It was a place I called ‘September.’ (Though in fact it was probably early October.) But whatever name I gave it, at that point I had no plan at all. 
Why would I? I had written a single novel-length story thirty years before and nothing since. I was six years removed from the workaday world, struggling to find a reason to get up each morning. From my perspective the golden years were not going so well. Actually, I’ve covered that ground before---how I was flunking retirement. 
Have you ever been in that place where you are not sure what you should do or which way to turn? I know from experience that those unsettling doubts---so many questions and so few answers---making planning ahead a tricky thing. It is hard to navigate such uncertainty in the best of times, even more so in the uncharted landscape of late-life.
I know that in my case, when I finally turned my attention back to that earlier storytelling interest, I was more than a little skeptical. Perhaps that first time, all those years before, had been nothing more than a passing fancy---one of those things I might want to try again some day---or so I told myself. But everyone does that. Right? We all have a story we want to tell, or some other dream we intend to explore ‘someday.’ But how many of us get around to that ‘someday’? So much for planning ahead.
Yet, no matter what our goal, we all know how good it feels when our ‘wanting’ turns into ‘doing.’ There I was, a month or so before my fiftieth high-school reunion, ready to put pen to paper. But what would I write about? I asked that question more than a few times before settling on what felt like an appropriate answer. Without looking back, and with only the most basic of plans, I began the Harris brothers’ story---starting with their own fiftieth reunion---and taking two books to tell. I had told myself I could do that, and I did. I liked the way that made me feel.
From the beginning I was telling up-close and personal stories of what I call the ‘October’ of life, about every-day people dealing with late-life reality. Was the writing great? Not so much, though it has improved with time. Besides, I had not set out to create literature, but simply tell my stories.
In the course of twelve books those friends of mine have faced a litany of October challenges---good times and bad, illness and accidents, poverty and depression. There have been life partners lost, first-loves rekindled, second-loves found and sometimes lost. For twelve long years I wrote about October, mainly because it felt like the time of life that described me.
Then, a while back, it finally dawned on me. Who was I kidding? Times were changing, and so was I. Having spent all that time in October, it was time to consider a new reality---one that waits out there for most everyone. There is only one way to avoid it, and I would rather not settle for that. So there I was, ready to move ahead to what I reluctantly called ‘November.’ Though it was a label I had steered clear of in the past, I was finally ready to admit it seems descriptive of the guy I was becoming. 
Perhaps like you, I was graduating to the next level. Though it was difficult to admit, I knew it was what came next. After all, we can’t hold back November any more than we can return to September. Though it feels a bit like losing an old friend, the time had come to say goodbye to October and get acquainted with November. 
In both books and blogs I have carried on about ‘change’ and ‘becoming’ for years, how October brings change---in ourselves and the stories we tell. But now I had reached the point where October didn’t work so well any more. It was too limiting. It was time for a change.
Think about that for a moment. All around us friends and acquaintances are adapting, trying on a new time of life---sampling new possibilities and facing new challenges. Our late-life friends may be increasingly content to tend their flowers, grow their veggies, and lose themselves in a good book. They are apt to choose cruises over backpacking, preferring the comfort of their own bed to a big-city hotel. Bake-at-home pizza may sound better than a fancy restaurant meal. For some, financial planning becomes less about high-yielding investments and more about holding on to what we already have. And always, lurking in the background, are the troublesome health questions we would rather not think about.
And then, of course, there is family---the children who have become parents, the grandchildren who are having kids of their own---a new generation for us to spoil. We love them to pieces, though we may not understand half of what they say or do. My God, there are times when they make Last Tango in Halifax sound like a documentary. Fortunately, however, when it comes to computers, television remotes, and cell phones they are the ones we call.
We know that all this change will include new and sometimes surprising lessons to be learned. For instance, there was a time when I assumed that October, and certainly November, would be a bleak and boring time. Watching my own parents and grandparents deal with that time of life---dealing with kids and grandkids who had no idea what their elders were facing---I certainly never realized that along with ‘bleak and boring’ there would be moments of frustration and pain, as well as times of extreme pleasure and excitement. Though I rarely understood what they were dealing with, I can see now that their life has become my life. 
It’s true, you and I have learned a lot in the course of a lifetime. But is there any reason to think our life-lessons have ended? Whether we see ourselves living in June, July, October, or November---life goes on. Every day arrives with its own experiences and challenges. We are learning that November‘s leaky-bucket list, the one I wrote of in a recent post, may look different than October’s list, but it will be no less demanding. 

And though it may not qualify as ‘planning ahead,’ it seems that life has a way of preparing us for the future---until, in its own time and way, our December arrives. In the meanwhile, however, why not devote ourselves to thriving in our own October and November?