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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Political Campaign

I’d already started today’s blog post when I became hugely distracted by news of the Iowa caucuses; it was being live broadcast on every one of my four radios—each placed strategically throughout my little apartment.

Now, I’m not sure I’m a political junkie, but I am a news junkie, always have been, hence all the radios, each alternately tuned to NPR or WGN, and for large parts of most days.

There was that one time, though, when I was knee-deep in politics, working for an Illinois gubernatorial campaign in the spring of 1982. However, it wasn’t politics that drew me to the job; I was also knee-deep in a state of unemployment.

With some edits, here’s how I wrote about it in my book:

In April 1982, having quit yet another mind-numbing, soul-destroying job, I was hired as the word processor for a gubernatorial campaign. Democrat Adlai Stevenson III was running for governor of Illinois against the Republican incumbent James “Big Jim “ Thompson. 

It went like this: Days after leaving my job, I’d accidentally run into Stevenson’s campaign office manager—a neighbor friend—and told her I was looking for work. She said the campaign needed to hire someone who knew how to operate an IBM word processor, the latest in advanced technologies.

During our interview a few days later, I neglected to tell Susan that I’d really never used a word processor; instead I emphasized how fast I typed; what a good Democrat I was; and how badly I needed the job.

When I arrived at campaign headquarters on my first day of work, I suddenly got very nervous. I’d never used anything more complicated than an electric typewriter, and had no idea how to operate the big bulky thing—and all its component parts—that sat dead center on the desk in my tiny office.
           
But the techno-gods smiled down on me that first day: the printer had arrived broken and couldn’t be replaced for a week. That gave me the time I needed to plow through Book I of the enormous two-volume instruction manual. Even better, I used those life-saving days to become fast friends with every one of the tech support staff on the 1-800 help line.
           
Once I figured out how to work the damn word processor, which actually didn’t take all that long, I could then really pay attention to the campaign itself: the intense pace and day-to-day drama: the highly structured and endless campaign events; the media interviews; the missteps and headaches that often followed those interviews; the relentless fund raising; the professional politicians who daily worked for and/or regularly visited the campaign office; the phone calling and door knocking and polling.

For me, tethered mostly to my machine, typing position papers and fund-raising letters and every one of the many thank you notes that Adlai personally wrote and signed, mine felt less a job and more like a field internship, one that would come to an end shortly after the election on November 2. Which wouldn't be the case, I soon learned, for most of the other staff, those who'd made or wanted to make politics a profession.

And so I soaked it all in, discovering a world I’d never even imagined, enjoying the enthusiasm and energy among the staff, making new friends, working late nights, eating bad food, feeling the thrill of the chase.

But then, irony of ironies, it turned out that my job was not only not over in November, but was one of the few retained when Stevenson challenged the election outcome and demanded a recount. He had lost to Thompson by just a little over 5,000 votes.

And so starting on November 3, 1982 and well into January of the next year, I remained on the job, typing furiously away, now mostly incomprehensible legal stuff. Not surprisingly, the energy of that campaign office had been replaced with a lawyerly urgency that never quite engaged me. 

Then on January 7, 1983, Stevenson finally conceded the election, having failed to convince the Illinois Supreme Court to order a recount. It was time for both me and Adlai to move on.


For anyone who's interested, here’s a link to the Chicago Tribune article that I used to remind me of the timing of events in late 1982-early 1983.




Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Old: The New Normal

Since first appearing on the Washington Post’s website last week, the article “We’re lucky if we get to be old, physician and professor believes”* has been among the top five most-read pieces on the paper’s website (and this as a major blizzard was making its way east). 

Written by Tara Bahrampour, the piece profiles Bill Thomas, a 56-year-old “geriatrician and theater performer who is traveling the country trying to change people’s attitudes about aging.”

Given how many 50+ year olds there are out there, including among the Washington Post’s readers, is it any wonder the article is so popular? Especially as it details the quixotic nature of Thomas’ passionate endeavor to make old age, especially in this culture,  “as rewarding as youth."

But it was the title of the piece, the first part, that got my attention. Because, duh, if death is the alternative, of course we are lucky to be old. Or as I commented months ago on a friend’s Facebook post—she’d just turned 50 and asked how she got to be so old: “Pure luck.”

But Thomas is looking beyond the obvious reason that old age is good—we’re still alive—to what’s to be positively valued and celebrated in this “third phase of life…when age and experience are associated with enrichment rather than decrepitude.”

Now Thomas is a Boomer, and so is expected to have a personal stake in how we think about old age. But there is even a more personal reason that underpins his thinking:

Living with [his two daughters’] devastating illness influenced his understanding of aging. “The grievous lesson was that even though I believed in medicine, there’s no magic path of flowers and unicorns,” he recently told a roomful of alumni at UMBC’s Erickson School. “So you have to acknowledge that two of your children will never speak your name, touch your face, call for you. What I’ve learned from that is you settle into a new normal. . . . Yes, you grieve the loss of the old normal, but there’s always going to be a new normal.”’

Aging, with its constant barrage of new infirmities, requires similar adjustments, he says. If people could understand it this way, perhaps they could change their attitudes about growing old.

So to age is to enter into a new normal, one we are not to judge as negative—any more than we would judge being young as (inherently) negative. They are each simply stops along the way:

Old and young are two distinct times of life, neither one better or worse than the other. He talks about the different ways brains process information and foster creativity at different times of life (the young are more literal and mathematical; the old are better at improvisation and making associations).

Where Thomas’ message falls short, alas, is that it is not prescriptive, but descriptive. He describes the current state of affairs—our negative attitudes towards aging—and tells us we should change them. But he does not tell us how.

One woman came up to him after a show and said, “I was expecting you to tell me what to do.”

 “Telling her what to do is not the answer — the answer is to raise consciousness,” he says. “If people can see this in a new way, they will find their own specific solutions.”

Well, that’s all well and good, raising consciousness (been there, done that), but people need help in re-seeing their march into old age as something to be valued and not denigrated.

Any suggestions from my readers on how to do that?


*


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Second Act Resolutions

Among the zillions of articles and posts dedicated to 2016 New Year’s resolutions was this one on www.nextavenue.org, the website dedicated to the Boomer + crowd (Full disclosure: I’ve been published on this site).

“5 New Year’s Resolutions for Older Adults”—written by Bruce Rosenstein and inspired by the writings of Peter Drucker—makes much use of the term “second act,” which often refers to our post-middle-age-but-not-quite-hanging-by-a-thread years, a time to still be creative in our professional and personal lives.

Rosenstein wants us to consider these resolutions as fit for our “entire future, not just a single year.” As such, we may construe them as practices that will lead to specific goals over many years, not just this one.

Of the five, three inspire journal writing exercises that might help us stay focused on these resolutions.  They are:

 
1. I resolve to embrace uncertainty rather than avoid it.

To do this, Rosenstein recommends, among other practices, seeking out role models. I enthusiastically concur; we do not have to reinvent the wheel when venturing forth into the uncertainty that establishing new goals often include.

In addition to finding these models—among friends and family; in our workplace or community; in some aspect of public life; even in literature and movies—I recommend doing a bit of analysis about why this person might be worth emulating.

For instance, as a journal writing exercise, you might describe what special personality traits/characteristics this person has that you might need for your own launch into new territory.


4. I resolve to remove and improve.

This one is interesting, and probably necessary. Rosenstein tells us we have to unplug from certain things, including relationships, as we make our way into the future.

His suggestion—“to make a list of what and who you can live without”—can be used for another journal writing exercise, though I wouldn’t stop there. As a common journaling technique, the list can lead us to several other writing exercises, including this one:

Do a reflective exercise in response to your “letting go” list, using the prompt “What I notice about this list is….” Keep using that prompt until you feel you’ve discovered in the writing certain patterns that your list reveals to you.


5. I resolve to make friends with risk.

Well who among us hasn’t done this earlier in our lives?  By the time we’re 50+, we’ve certainly taken our share of risks in the usual places: love, work, travel, moves, and in our relationships with family and friends. 

For this journal exercise, start with a list of your life risks, then pick just one—one that worked out—and tell the story of that risk. When and where was it? Who was involved? What happened? And maybe most important: what was at stake?

In the writing, see if you can discover what taking this risk taught you about yourself, your life, your values. What lessons from that risk can be useful when attempting future risks?

Please do enjoy these exercises—and if any of my readers are inclined to share some of what they discover in the process, please contact me at madmoon55@hotmail.com.

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To read Rosenstein’s entire article, click here:


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To read one of my published pieces on www.nextavenue.org, click on the journaling link in Rosenstein’s resolve #3. In it, you’ll find more details about the journal writing suggestions listed above.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

We Are Resolved.

We’ve been around this block many times before: It’s January 1 of whatever new year and we’re resolved to do things differently.

We’ve finally and fully convinced ourselves that we want to make certain changes in our life—in diet and exercise, relationships and work, for our mental and emotional well being. We plan to introduce practices that will keep us focused on these resolutions: quitting smoking with a buddy; hiring a career coach; signing up for classes in woodworking.

We know these changes are good for us, and have been procrastinating far too long. Yes, change is hard, but enough is enough; time to get serious about what we believe will make our lives better.

And yet while we’ve famously institutionalized the New Year’s resolution in our culture,  most of us can and do create goals throughout the year—not just on January 1. How can we do otherwise? Nothing is more constant than change. If nothing else in a long-lived life, boomers and beyonders have learned this.

For now, though, let us stick with tradition and do the New Year’s thing: creating goals that we hope to achieve throughout this next year, goals that reflect where we are in our life now, and where we’d like to be on December 31.

To inspire us in this process, I offer several of my readers’ 2016 goals. I am grateful they’ve shared them with us.


Arlene, age 66
1.  Continue the practice I just began of breathing deeply several times before eating. Stopping when half of the food is eaten. Doing this again while I focus inside to see if I am still hungry. If I am, ask myself how hungry?  If I continue to eat, stopping again when 1/2 more is eaten and doing the same practice again.

2.  Go to the YMCA to swim and walk on the treadmill two to three times each week.

3.  Watch that my social calendar does not get filled up too much.  Spend more time at home.  Hanging out, reading, writing, thinking, watching good movies and just playing in balance with doing office work and house work.



Katherine, age 52
1. To remember to breathe through the difficulties.

2. To live in the moment.

3. To write, to write, to write!



LSC, age 75
1. Work with the Lurie Cancer Center to keep quality of life in the forefront.

2. Finally finish cleaning out the last messy closet.

3. Write a humorous account of my so-called “journey” with cancer.



Anon, age 66.5
1. Write down and prioritize a likely immensely long list of goals (especially now that I’m retired), so that more of them get scheduled and some may get finished.

2. Start again, and this time finish: A. S. Byatt's Possession; Cervantes' Don Quixote; and The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Phillip Lopate.

3. Resume and track progress of an aggressive walking plan so that I can walk a half-marathon in 2017 (seems doable).



Leigh, age 55
1. Spend more time with friends, including in activities we both enjoy. One of those is a 5-week ceramics class a friend and I have signed up for. Art and friends: a winning combination.

2. More time reading, less time on the computer ! I have 2 piles of books waiting for my attention. I also have a ton of movies and good series I'd like to watch on dvd/netflix etc.

3. Keep up with the Jazzercise and yoga. Jazzercise was one of the best decisions I've ever made and I'm in it for the long haul. It's fun and does all the things I need it to do (range of motion, strength, core strength, increased calorie burn, and changing my shape for the better). 



Lisa, age 48 (pre-boomer)
1. Instead of self-doubt, I will focus on something good. Probably puppies.

2. Try to not chase good food choices with poor ones… like Funyuns.

3. To not judge people who judge others, i.e., the Kim Davis rule. This one might kill me.



Elise, age 71
1.  Think creatively about how to live into the last third of my life, including developing classes and seminars for Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being.

2. Develop a consistent meditation practice.

3. Find a color to wear other than black - still my favorite!



Pam, age 64
1. Retire (I’m turning 65 in May.)

2. Be financially responsible.

3. Spend time with people I have neglected.



Colette, age 72
1. Keep the kitchen counter organized and clean by recycling unwanted mail and other paper products and filing the rest where they belong...at least within a day or two!

2. Research Yoga and Meditation to help change the way I deal with daily annoyances and help me to cope with my new life.

3. Make the Serenity prayer my mantra.



And finally, my own: Carol, age 72
1. Find some like-minded codger who might like to share my company on a more or less regular basis.

2. Travel, travel, travel.

3. Expand the use of this blog to include interviews with people about relevant Age Wave issues, concerns, challenges, and opportunities. NOTE: Interested interviewees, please email me.