Where Do Old Nerds Go To Die?

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, September 1, 2015

While I was still working and planning my retirement, I assumed I would eventually relocate somewhere with a low population and high density of 55-plus people. I don’t like the idea of getting old and living in a big city. The older I get, the less I tolerate the hustle and bustle of young people. Now that I’ve been retired for a couple of years I’m feeling a stronger urge to find that place. In my mind I picture the elephants in the old Tarzan movies who instinctively knew the path to the secret elephant grave yard. My instincts are taking me in weird directions.

Staying put in my house that will be paid off in four years will be the easier, less stressful path to take. Yet, now is the time to consider moving to a town that’s safer, quieter, more beautiful, and possibly populated with people more like myself. I figure the older I get the more stressful it will be to move, so if I’m going to move, doing it it sooner would be better than later. Deciding where keeps haunting my mind. Starting over means both adventure and loss. I moved a lot growing up, so I know what it’s like to begin again in a new town, leaving all my old friends, and having to look for new ones. However, I’ve been settled in one city for over forty years now, so I’m a much different person.

When I wonder about where to retire I fantasize about my ideal living environment.  Susan would like to stay near her family, but I feel we’ve always stayed near her family, so maybe it’s my turn to pick. My sister lives near West Palm Beach, Florida, and I grew up in Miami, where my oldest friend still lives. Nostalgia makes me want to return home, but South Florida has changed a lot in 45 years. Thomas Wolfe was right, we can’t go home again. And when I drive around Florida using Street View on Google Maps it’s not the terrain I want to see when I leave this planet. But what landscape do I want to pass my waning years viewing?

If you think about it, where you retire is where you’re likely to die. And as much as we like to think about beautiful bucket-list places around the globe, most people want to die at home. And to be honest, it would be much more natural for me to die in front of my computer monitor or big screen TV than on some scenic mountainside or majestic beach. I fantasize I want to move to one of those beautiful mid-century houses I see in Atomic Ranch Magazine, in a quiet 55 Plus community of blue state folks. I could do that, but nagging doubts hold me back.

I’ve been anguishing over that issue for months now, so I was surprised this morning when my unconscious mind spit out the answer. And it wasn’t what I expected at all. Out of my dark subconscious a ray of illumination informs me that thinking about where to move my body is a diversion from the real issue I face; where to locate my mind.

TV

Now, here is where things get really squirrelly, and my unconscious mind shows its savvy awareness of my true motivations. I’m almost embarrass to admit what my dark mind tells me, because it seems like a kind of perversion of the natural. What I love are high resolution screens. What I enjoy most is processing reality through television screens, computer screens, tablet screens and smartphone screens. Because wherever I move, what I want is a comfortable house that will hold all my screens and a high speed connection to the internet.

That should have been obvious to me all along, because for all these months I’ve agonized over where to retire I’ve also been researching how I can upgrade all my screens to 4K resolution. When I contemplate this revelation I realize I spend most of my waking hours in front of screens, and the only time I prefer 3D reality is when I’m with people, eating, going for walks, or looking at paintings in museums. Most everything else I prefer digitized.

Where to retire will be the best place for me to keep my screens and speakers, hang out with friends and go for walks. I’m not really interested in golf, shuffleboard or skiing, although if I lived somewhere where people did those things daily I might do them to be social. I need a certain amount of social time, but not nearly as much as I crave screen time.

It’s weird to confess I love books, movies, television shows and music so much, but if you think about it, I’ve always loved them, so why should I expect to change? What would be great is to move to a retirement village populated by people like me who want to socialize by sharing what they are learning and experiencing from their screens.

Is there a place where old nerds go to die?

Then my unconscious mind informed me of its second revelation. It’s not time to be thinking about dying, or even retiring. Just because I’m retired from the world of work doesn’t mean I’m retired from my ambitions. My hidden self informed me this morning not to waste time on thinking about where to live, but to apply that processing time to being creative. I retired from work to have time to write. I have that. I’m already where I need to be.

Thinking about beautiful locales of where to live was only a way of avoiding working on my ambitions. I need to move to Shangri-La when I no longer have the will to keep trying and want a pleasant place to wait to die.

Since I’m not an old nerd ready to die, then I’ve got to get back to work.

Have screen—will travel.

JWH

Exercising My Attention Span

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, July 23, 2015

Few people can read an entire article on the internet, no matter how short, including this one. I know I can’t.

My attention span has become a 90-pound weakling. I wish my focus was a Olympian weightlifter. I’m quite confident I won’t make such a dramatic transformation at age 63, but I do wonder if mental exercises lead to heavier feats of focus.

Here’s an example of my current ability. I can focus on Sudoku, Crosswords or Chess for maybe five minutes. I can handle maybe ten minutes of Words With Friends. If I’m inspired I can write on a blog for a couple hours, but if I’m not, I peter out in about twenty minutes. I have a hard time sticking with a movie on TV if I’m by myself. If I go out, or have friends over, I have no trouble watching a whole show. But if I’m by myself I might take 2-3 nights to finish a film. A sitcom has to be great for me to stay to the end. I seldom give them a second try. When I was younger I could watch TV for hours and hours.

Sudoku

I have kept my stay-on-task muscles toned for reading. I have read 43 books so far this year, mostly on audio. I listen while I walk, or when I fix food, eat and clean up. I can eyeball read a book if I really like it in about a week, doing 40-60 pages a night. When I was young I could read a book in a day. I have a damn hard time finishing shorter works of fiction, especially novelettes and novellas, which used to be my favorite length.

All of this makes me wonder if the duration of my attention span is related to age. Does getting old mean losing the ability to stay on task? I’m not unhappy with my activities. I just flitter from book to TV to music to computer to magazine. I fill up my days always wishing I had more time. I’m not bored. But I have changed.

Chess

To be honest, I’m 327 words into this essay and I already want to take a nap. Before I retired I could spend hours focused on a programming problem. Now I never program. I can’t tell if it’s because it’s not required, or I don’t have anything fun to automate, or I just can’t keep my mind on the project long enough to get started. I do have programming ambitions.

I knew that getting old meant slowly becoming physically weak. I also knew I’d have trouble with memory, and I do. I didn’t anticipate diminishing ability to concentrate. I always thought being retired meant I had all the time in the world to do what I wanted to do—I’d just do things slowly, hobbled by forgetfulness. I’m paying a lot more attention to old people in movies because they are blazing a trail I’m following. By the way, go see Mr. Holmes.

Crossword

Now I’m not complaining. This condition doesn’t hurt or make me frustrated. It is what it is. I just wonder if I could beef up my attention span to pre-retirement levels because I’ve let my mind get flabby from lack of exercise, or is my decline just a physiological side-effect of aging?

When I woke up this morning I set myself three tasks. First, cook some pinto beans in a crock pot. They are cooking. Second, clean off my two desks. Task not done, but it should happen. Third, start research on an essay I’ve been thinking about for weeks and brainstorm it in X-mind and Evernote. Haven’t even thought about it again until now.

I wonder, as a kind of experiment, if I could train myself to work up to an hour a day on Sudoku puzzles, Crosswords and Chess, if that would strengthen my attention span and allow me to work longer at other mental tasks? Many older people do brain games to exercise their memory and thinking ability. I wonder if brain games will extend my ability to concentrate? Research if iffy on that.

I have stuck with writing this essay for three hours. However, if I came across it while surfing the net I would scan it in twenty seconds and jump on to something else. Maybe I should just practice finish reading essays instead of deducing the positions of numerals in nine 9×9 grids. Marie Kondo has made me change when it comes to tidying up. Maybe other self-help techniques work too.

Further Reading

JWH

Retirement 2.0

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, March 22, 2015

Now that I’ve been retired for a year and a half, I see that I need to rethink my retirement plans and habits. Living without the structure of work is changing my psychology. Unlimited free time is like living land of the Lotus Eaters. Doing whatever I want, when I want, is like a habit forming drug. Want to kick back and listen to Van Morrison for two hours – cool. Want to watch the Oklahoma Kid, a western from 1939, sure, why not.  Want to put off lunch until 2:30 to keep reading my science fiction novel, that’s a-okay. I go to bed when I’m tired of doing things, and get up when I’m tired of not doing anything. I’m like a dog that takes a nap whenever and wherever it damn well feels like it.

pugs-cropped

Now this might sound like paradise to my hardworking friends who toil away at their nine to five grind. And it pretty much is. I’m not really complaining, but I sort of am, a kind of worry that I have too much of a good thing. My mom used to always ration cookies to me and my sister, Becky, so when I got my first apartment, I would buy a bag of Chips Ahoy! and eat the whole damn thing. Retirement is overindulging in free time.

I need to make Retirement 2.0 more disciplined. Maybe I need to schedule my fun, so I’d feel more productive about doing nothing.

The trouble is, I’m writing less, letting the house go, ignoring things on my to-do list, and losing all sense of discipline. I don’t know if this is because I’ve gone eighteen months without working, or because I gave up junk food January 1st, and don’t have enough brain fuel to keep me energized. However, I don’t want to get a job just to force a routine on myself.

I started writing this essay last week. I wrote the title, thought about it, and then went and fixed myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and went back to reading The Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. Writing takes work. Writing takes sticking to the project for hours. And since I’ve been retired, I realize that it’s much too easy to skip working at things. I’ve talk with some of my other retired friends, and they also talk about losing their discipline. We can’t decide if it’s a matter of just getting old, or not having a routine forced on us. Evidently, what they told us in school was true, work builds character.

At work, if I got assigned a big project, knowing it was due in two months, and I’d project manage myself and get it done. Now if I want to do something, it’s whenever I feel like doing it, and that tends to promote a lackadaisical mindset. If I have to do things by a date, like a doctor’s visit, or help a friend move a tree, I get it done on time. Which makes me think I should assign myself tasks and deadlines, even if it’s fun, like promising to go a movie with a friend next Sunday afternoon.

Now I’m sure BillyPilgrim is going to suggest I’m depressed, but I’m not. I’m writing this essay to think about the nature of my situation, and figure out solutions. I should plan each blog post as a specific job with a deadline, and divide up the work like a project manager.

I’m fascinated that we all go through various phases in our life. My friend Connell, who retired ahead of me, warned me about this phase. I didn’t understand. I wonder how many more phases I will experience before I die? Could older people warn me about future life phases of retirement years? Would I comprehend what they tell me. Could I use the knowledge to my advantage? I don’t know, but I’m going to research into this.

[p.s. I scheduled writing this essay in my Outlook Tasks, and I’m finishing on time. And I’ve just scheduled a much bigger writing project that’s due March 31st.]

JWH

Asking Who, What, When, Where, Why and How About Ourselves

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, February 5, 2015

Most people are too busy with life for self-examination. In youth we have family and school, in adolescence and our twenties we have the biological imperative to get laid and complete a bachelor’s degree, then comes jobs, marriage and kids. Often, it’s not until we retire that we have the time to think about who and what we are, when and where were going, and why and how. Now that I’ve been retired over a year, and have had the time to contemplate these questions, I’m starting to see things differently.

Quite often in life when we meet a new person, we’re asked what we do. I always said programmer. It was an easy answer. Now that I’m retired I can’t say that anymore. I now tell people I’m retired. That’s an easy answer too, but not a good one. When we’re young we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. When we’re in college we’re asked about our major. But once we get a job, our work defines who we are for decades. Our job description answers who, what, when, where, why and how. But it’s not a good answer.

earth-in-space

Some people like to define who they are by their philosophy. They will say they are Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Republican, Liberal, Vegan, and so on. And like our job label, this is an easy pigeonhole to categorize oneself for others. Yet, when you have all your time free, with no external agency defining who you are, it gets a lot more difficult to answer who, what, when, where, why and how about our personal identity

If you study reality enough you’ll learn that no God defines our purpose , and the multiverse is indifferent to what we choose to be. We literally have the free will to do what we want – if we can throw off our biological impulses. Most of us follow those inner urges to find companionship, sex, social relationships, food, conflict, pleasure, and other bodily cravings. If you can step back from those bio-programs you’ll see your bigger potential. The trouble most people face is the angst of deciding. It’s much easier to hide out from fulfilling our potential by watching television, reading books or eating Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk.

At a very basic level, what we do every day answers who, what, when, where, why and how. At the moment I can say I am a blogger, that is writing this essay at 7:41am CST, 2/5/15  in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, North America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, Universe, Multiverse that’s about the philosophical anxiety I’m feeling over what to do with my free time, using Windows Live Writer for WordPress.

Generally we consume our time with family, friends and routines of life, so we don’t think about our existential opportunities. We’re like the animals – amoeba, penguins, rattlesnakes, naked mole rats, bonobos – and focus on business at hand. Our activities keep us from  noticing the huge reality we live in. It’s only when we stop the routines that we notice how far out things truly are. Sometimes visionary writers and artists will remind us, but not that often.

Being self-aware in this vast reality is a tremendous piece of luck. The odds are beyond winning a thousand $300 million sweepstake tickets in a row. It’s a tragedy that we ignore reality. On the other hand, paying attention is the hardest thing we can do.

JWH

What I Learned From My First Year of Retirement

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, December 11, 2014

Now that I’ve been retired for over a year, I realized I’ve learned something about being retired. Ever since I retired, the most common greeting I get is, “How’s retired life?” I don’t know if folks are curious about retirement, or if it’s just their way of asking what’s new. Anyway, here’s my answer.

RetirementArrow

Money

When people bring up retirement, most of my unretired friends lament they can’t afford to retire. I have many friends that have retired and many that haven’t. It’s like the story about ants and grasshoppers. Some creatures hoard for the future, and some just hop around having fun. If you want to retire you have to transform from a hopper to a hoarder. I did that by spending less years before I retired. I just stopped buying shit.  If you want to know what retired life is like, live off 50% of your present income each month and save the rest for three years.

Now that I am retired I don’t seem to have any money problems – yet.  This morning when a guy was blowing leaves off my roof, I wondered how much it would cost me if he fell and sued.  Or could I pay for that kind of cancer drug that cost $80,000 a year? Or something bad happens that insurance doesn’t cover. We’re all one random catastrophe away from being ruined. Even though I’ve arranged to afford retirement, there’s always money problems to consider. As I tell my unretired grasshopper friends, every dollar you spend now is one you’ll want in old age.

I’ve got my finances in order, and hope the money lasts the lifetime I have left. But on a day-to-day level, being retired means watching pennies. If you’re the kind of person who has fun without looking at the bill, then I would recommend working as long as you can. In the past year I’ve been called cheap or tight a few times, and that bugs me. That’s not something I was ever called while working. But I realized, part of being retired is learning to live cheaper and hanging onto money.

The stereotype thing to say is “I’m living on a fixed budget” but that’s bullshit. Most people live on a paycheck that’s the same every month, so a “fixed budget” doesn’t really convey the point. Being retired means learning to live on a reduced budget. There won’t be any merit raises or jumps to jobs with higher salaries. So no more fantasies for fancy cars, bigger houses and vacation adventures, and that affects you psychologically. Middle life is about expanding and upsizing. Retirement is about shrinking and downsizing.  But don’t get me wrong, it’s not depressing. Once you start living efficiently, you realize how wasteful living used to be.

As of now I don’t worry about money.

Do I Miss Work?

No. Not in the least. Work did provide a structure, filled up my time, and gave me a sense of purpose and value, but after 35 years at the same workplace, I was done. It’s extremely nice to have all my time free to do what I want.

However, I don’t know if I’m typical. I do know some retired people who are restless not working. I never use the word bored about myself, but if you’ve ever claimed to be bored, I’d be wary of retirement. Every night I go to sleep lamenting I didn’t have enough time. If I have any complaint about retirement, it’s because I still don’t have enough time. Having all your time free does not mean endless time, but for some people, it’s way too much time.

I worked at a university and helped a lot of people, so I got a certain sense of satisfaction from work, plus I felt like my efforts went to a good cause. Now that I’m not working I feel selfish, and that I’m not contributing to society. But that doesn’t bother me. I did my time, I’m retired. However, if you need constant proof of self-worth, you might not want to retire.

Am I Doing What I Dreamed of Doing?

I thought I’d write a novel after I retired. I always imagined if I had the time I would write a novel. I didn’t. Now I see that writing is a novel is something you have to do no matter how much time you have. I don’t have that drive. But this also taught me who I was before retirement is the same person afterwards. I don’t know if this applies to other people or not, but I’m guessing if you’re retiring so you can be a different person, it might not work out.

I haven’t given up on writing fiction, but I’m becoming more aware of what’s involved. It’s real work – like a job. It takes discipline and dedication.  Right now I’m enjoying not working and just puttering around with my hobbies. Some people continue to work after they retire, and some don’t. I haven’t decided. I feel no need to work. I wanted to write novels because I think I have some good stories to tell, but I’m not motivated by money or success, so it’s hard to push myself to work hard again at something with no immediate rewards. But that’s another aspect to retirement.  Retiring is a kind of letting go. Picking an age to retire is picking an age to let go. You’re letting go of work and ambitions of success.

Live With Less

Disregarding the issue of money, retiring means living with less – unless you’re a natural born hoarder. You start thinking, “Do I need this big house?”  “Do I need all these clothes?” “Do I need all these books?” “What am I saving all this junk for?” and often the answer is no. I guess hoarders always answer yes.

Giving up cable was great for me.  Susan works out of town M-F and has cable at her apartment. When she retires we’ll get cable again because she’d go crazy without it. But for me, having fewer channels sharpened my sense of self.  I’m pretty much down to Netflix streaming, PBS, and the NBC Nightly News. And I’m good. I’m very good. I have more great shows than time to watch.

Now here’s the danger of this trend. I had a friend, John Williamson, who before he died, had gotten down to only liking two things in all of reality – the music of Duane Allman and Benny Goodman. When it comes to pop culture I’m still expanding my interests, but I can foresee a time when I’ll contract. I don’t know if I’ll jettison as much as Williamson, but I can sense the beginning of that urge. One to withdraw into stuff I love and forget everything else. Well, as they say, you can’t take it with you.

There’s something appealing about living with less. It’s a feeling of streamlining. Of scraping the barnacles, packing to travel light, of seeking Zen simplicity.  My guess is getting old causes two extremes.  You become a hoarder or monk. I’m on the monkish side.

Fewer Friends

Working at the same university for thirty-five years made me feel I knew a lot of people, and I did. But work friendships really don’t transfer to retired friendships. Some did, most didn’t. I tried to keep in touch with some people. I called them three times. If they never initiated a call back, I gave up. The job place is a powerful source of social contacts. The friends I see now are mostly the same people I saw before I after work before I retired.

If you love a lot of casual friendships keep working and don’t retire. If you’re not your own best company, think real hard about retiring. Luckily, hanging around the house is no punishment for me.

Happiness

If you aren’t happy at your job, you might not be happy retired. Scientific research has found most people are happier at work than in their leisure. People generally find happiness when doing things, and for most people, work is where they often get things done. Now that I’m retired I’ve also learned that I’m happiest when I have things to do.  At the end of the day, I feel best when I can remember several things I did that day. It doesn’t take much though – finishing a book, cooking a pot of soup, publishing a blog, cleaning off a desk, watching a documentary, doing something with a friend. People who get bored are people who don’t know what to do.

It’s also rewarding to think of two or three small tasks each morning, and actually get them done before the day is over. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be much – order new underwear, pay a bill, visit the library, clean out a drawer, zero out my email inbox. My days are happily filled by with little pursuits.

Now that I’ve been retired over a year, and I’m getting into my new routines and habits, I’m starting to discover new things about myself. Work filled so much of my time that it distorted my view of life. Now that I have all my time free I’m seeing myself differently. Who I planned to be in retirement is much different than who I’ve become. But then, fantasies are always different from reality.

Before I retired I imagined filling my time on big projects, but I’ve discovered that it’s more about the little projects that count. Big projects take weeks, months and even years to accomplished. For day-to-day happiness, it’s all about how many little things I can do in a day. Before I retired I thought being free from 9-to-5 work meant I could finally write that novel. And that still might happen, but writing a novel takes a very long time, and if I had to wait until one was published, it might be years before I found the satisfaction of accomplishment.

Becoming Different

Even though I’m the same person as I was in youth and middle age, I’m also becoming different. I’m not really old at 63, I’m sort of like an infant elderly person, just learning to crawl. From this vantage point I can see becoming old is transformative. I have no idea what it will be like. But I feel like I’m in a marathon and I’d better pace myself.

JWH

Making Sense of a Zillion Pieces of Advice

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 17, 2014

Have you ever notice how much advice the Internet offers?  The web probably has more advice articles than the complete history of women’s magazines.  From how to organize your life, to the most healthy foods to eat, to the best cities to live in, the quickest meals to fix, to how to fight memory loss, or meet the love of your life,  or which smartphones to buy, and so on, and so on. Some of the advice is based on scientific studies, but most of it is from personal experience, and probably a good deal is just some blogger making shit up.

What if we could consolidate all that advice into meta-lists so we could discover what the most common tips reveal? If one dietician says eating broccoli is great for your health, would you start eating it three times a week?  What if 2,000 different scientific studies proclaimed the virtues of broccoli? What if they said broccoli increases your sexual stamina, reduces cavities, clears your skin and conquers constipation?  At what point are we willing to take notice and act on advice? We’re all failures at keeping New Year’s resolutions, so is all this advice wasted on the undisciplined? Or are we all slowly evolving and improving from all these studies?  It’s taken about fifty years for most people to stop smoking.  And even with a Mt. Everest pile of evidence, many people still light up. When and how does advice become overwhelmingly convincing?

memory-loss

Memory Loss

The 800-pound gorilla squatting in my generation’s living room is memory loss. I don’t know how scary dementia is to people under 55, but for us folks over 55, it’s scarier than a serial killer with an idling chain saw. “Memory Loss From Alzheimer’s Disease Reversed For the First Time With Lifestyle Changes” is one article that grabbed my attention.  It’s based on this press report from the Buck Institute on a very small trial of ten patients.  Nine patients with varying degrees of dementia improved after 3-6 months following a specific 36-point  lifestyle guideline.  The tenth person with late stage Alzheimer’s didn’t improve.  The full report in PDF was published in AGING, September 2014, Vol. 6 No. 9.  Scroll down to Table 1. Therapeutic System 1.0.  The entire system is not easy to describe, but here’s a summary.  How many of these pieces of advice are you willing to follow to save your mind?

  • Give up all simple carbohydrates and gluten
  • Give up processed food
  • Eat more vegetables and fruits
  • Eat wild-caught fish
  • Meditate twice a day
  • Do yoga
  • Sleep at least 7-8 hours a night
  • Take CoQ-10, fish oil, melatonin, methylcobaliamin and vitamin D3 supplements?
  • Use electric toothbrush and flossing tool
  • Take hormone replacement therapies
  • Fast at last 12 hours between dinner and breakfast
  • Don’t eat 3 hours before bedtime
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week

How many articles have you read in your life that recommended some of these lifestyle changes?  Over the years I’ve seen some of these recommendations hundreds of times. Why didn’t I start following them in my twenties, thirties or forties?  Why did I wait until my sixties to get down to business? Even though this report in AGING came out in September, 2014, its advice is quite common.  Just read these other articles.

This is just a half dozen articles out of whole libraries devoted to the subject. Yet, if you take the time to read them, you’ll see consistent pieces of advice show up time and again, and even interesting contrasting advice.  Such as sleep at least 7-8 hours, but it’s bad to sleep more than 9 hours.

It’s key in evaluating articles on the Internet to understand where the knowledge comes from. First check if it’s based on a scientific study, and see if you can track down the original study. Popular articles summarize scientific studies, and sometimes they slant their summaries.  See if there are other articles from other sites that take a different slant. Great essays will cover multiple studies, and even explain conflicting studies.

Most articles aren’t based on scientific studies. In those cases you have to evaluate the expertise of the person giving the advice. If you’re reading dating advice, what experience does the romance guru have? Is it just personal, or do they have a relevant degree, or work for Match.com? Plain old personal advice can be valuable, especially if that person’s insights are savvy and practical, and they fit your own observations and experience.

My point here is not to write specifically about memory loss prevention, but to show that there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge, and maybe even wisdom to found on any subject.  How do we evaluate the wealth of information?  Most people find it confusing that on so many topics there’s lots of contradictory advice.  So, how do we decide which recommendations are valid? Wisdom doesn’t come easy.

That’s what I’m wishing for here, a web site that collects and contrasts all the studies and averages them out for every issue we want to consider. I want a Meta-Advice site, a one-stop-shop for evaluating advice, organized like Wikipedia, that has an army of specialists hammering out summaries and comparisons of all the research for any specific subject people want advice on. Google is great, but if you use Wikipedia a lot, you’ll understand why it’s structural approach is better for organizing advice information.

Imagine going to this Meta-Advice site and looking up memory loss and CoQ-10.  Let’s say it evaluates 57 different research studies. The summary might not be conclusive – science rarely is – but it would give us the best current answer, even if it’s only a statistic like in 63% of cases using 23,204 subjects, memory retention was improved when CoQ-10 was used in trials varying between 6 months and three years.  I’m making up these numbers, but you should get what I mean.

When research scientists or PhD candidates want to explore new territory they do a literature review of all the previous studies. They need to find the boundaries of what’s known and not known. This Meta-Advice site should do the same thing, and make it understandable to the layman where the boundary of knowledge is, and what they can learn from it.

It is possible for an individual to go to Google Scholar and do a search on “Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention.”  But the results are overwhelming. Only the truly dedicated will wade through the massive number of articles available. That’s why a site like Wikipedia, where knowledgeable editors can predigest the information for the average reader would be a huge help. The Internet is coming up with all kinds of new ways of doing things. We have no idea what cognitive tools will be invented soon. If you think of the effective nature of what Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, IMDB, Flickr, etc., they all make managing information easier. I believe advice management is in need of an Internet makeover.  

JWH

Very Late Bloomers–Finding New Successes After Sixty

This essay is written for my friend Linda, who told me last night a previous essay of mine depressed her for a whole week, and to my friend Janis, who recently told me my I had a morbid streak.  It’s true, I find inspiration where many find depression.  I dwell on subjects, sometimes in tedious detail, that others would rather not think about at all.  For instance, aging is a fascinating topic for me, but I’m discovering it’s a downer with many of my friends, especially my lady friends.  Now I feel challenged to write something uplifting about the last third of life.

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Part of the problem I face making our years before dying appealing is our generation has always protested growing up.  As children we dragged our feet about becoming teens because we loved the wild abandon of childhood and resisted discipline and work.  We were passionate teens who rebelled against those on the other side of the generation gap, claiming never trust anyone over thirty.  Hitting thirty was particularly hard for us.  Psychologically we felt we had lost our youth.  We tried so hard to pretend otherwise.  When our forties came we refashioned thirty into something good, and pretended that forty was the new thirty.  Then in our fifties we lied to ourselves again, desperately clinging to the belief we were just as good as we were in our forties.  Then boomer marketers tried to sell our sixties as the new forties.  It’s not.

Okay, I don’t think this is working.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to be depressing Linda and Janis again.  Where’s the positive spin?  The trouble is I don’t want to be peddling snake oil words about getting old.  To be true to myself I have to be realistic.  My point in the previous paragraph is to show that we’ve always gone kicking and screening into any new phase of life.  The other day a woman of forty asked me if she could pass for twenty-eight.  I immediately said, “No way.”  I don’t think she loves my honesty either. 

See my point, how can I sell the virtue of living in our sixties when no one wants to be that old?  Even though I’m being Pollyanna here and trying to make the new sixties as exciting as the old sixties, it’s a damn hard sell.  It’s like I’m living in the Twilight Zone, and everyone is telling me this isn’t planet Earth when I know for sure it is.

Yes, I’m willing to admit that being old is bumming out many of my close friend boomers, but I’m asking what choice do we have?  Linda said to the others last night that I was being existential.  That’s true, I am.  I’m also saying, suck it up and face the challenge.  But that doesn’t sell either.  How can I make a salable feature out of wrinkles, sagging folds and titanium hips?

The trouble is we judge ourselves by our bodies, and not by our souls.  We worry about how others see us – not by how we see ourselves.

It’s not about what are bodies are like when we get old, it’s about what we do with them.  It’s about pushing our limitations and finding success.  But what is success?  We can cheat and define success as being young, but that’s like wishing for extra wishes when a genie gives you only three.  Everyone has to define their own success.  We’re all completely different.  I am reminded of Gail Sheehy’s Sex and the Seasoned Women, a book about post-menopausal life.  She interviewed countless women who said that the first half of life was about their husband and children, but they wanted the second half of life to be about themselves.  Often this meant radically reinventing themselves, and many started careers and businesses late in life and succeeded.

Getting old is a time to start over and reinvent ourselves.  In past eras people mainly died before they got old.  Now we live an extra thirty years, years that in history, were never defined with a set purpose.  We are among the first generations to give the last third of life a purpose.  Sure we all wish we were young again, but unless a rejuvenation technique is invented like in a science fiction novel, we have to remain old.  Even if you get a facelift and look younger, your not.

My positive spin that I’m trying to sell is we can find all kinds of successes if we try, even successes never imagined before.  We’ll have some very late bloomers, and maybe even some black swan new flowers.

Many successful people continue their successful lives well past sixty and on into old age.  That’s not news.  What I want to know is how many people who start on a new path after sixty find success?  Studying the 2010 census tables shows 50 million people who are older than 62, and over 82 million older than 45.  The last third of life is a new frontier, with two thirds of all people who have ever lived past sixty-five alive today.  And many of those people wanting to do more with their golden years than just sit and wait to die.  They want to reinvent themselves.  They want to do all the things they couldn’t do when they didn’t have the time. 

For most people who love their jobs, staying at work as long as they can is probably the best option.  Fulfilling work is the basis for well being.  But if you have decided to retire, or been forced to retire, then the final third of life offers the tremendous potential of time.  What can we make with all this time?  Most retirees, after a long hard working life, look forward to leisure time, hoping to have a quiet relaxing life with family and friends, pursuing their hobbies and traveling. 

But what if you wanted to be more ambitious?  What if you wanted to start a business, get a PhD, invent something new, program an app or write a novel?  What are the odds for your success?  Well, I got on Google to find out, and here’s what I learned.

Travel

Travel seems to be the dream ambition of most retired people.  I must assume most people secretly wish they had the time to roam the Earth.  Luckily, becoming a successful world traveler isn’t age dependent.  If your dream is to become a NFL quarterback after 60 the odds are zero in your favor.  That’s just how the cookie crumbles for some dreams – they are age related.  However, if you’re dream is to fly, sail, drive or even walk around the world, it’s still possible after you retire.  Recently the New York Times ran “Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road,” about seniors who have given up the comforts of a home to become international gypsies.  They report that between 1993 and 2012 the percentage of traveling retirees went from 9.7 to 13 percent, many of which finance their travels on a social security budget, with 360,000 Americans receiving their SS checks at overseas addresses.

These wandering oldsters use everything from CouchSurfing.org, VRBOAirBnB,  to HomeAway.com to find places to live.  Many Americans choose to live abroad and find support on the net like GringoTree.com for living in Ecuador.

This is a huge topic, and common one on the internet, like these at Forbes, Wall Street Journal, RetirementCafe, Huffington Post, Home Free Adventures, New York Times, and many more.  Just start looking.

Travel is an ambition common associated with older folk, so what’s a little more ambitious?

Starting a New Business

Most new businesses fail.  And it helps to start a new business that’s based on years of personal experience.  So it’s hard to judge if late blooming entrepreneurship is age related.  Starting a new business after sixty that’s totally unrelated to your life’s experience is going to be hard, but not impossible.  Most people think of retirement as leaving work, but many people want to leave a job and work for themselves as a creative endeavor.  Sometimes this endeavor is based on work experience, but other times it’s doing something completely new.

I worked with computers, but I’ve often daydreamed of having a bookstore.  I love shopping for books, and now that selling books on the internet is a big business, I realize I could make extra money by hunting down rarer books and selling them online.  ABE Books and Amazon allows anyone to start a virtual bookstore.  I think many people have similar dreams.  Other people are far more ambitious.  Maybe they’ve always loved cooking and want to open a restaurants, or they loved animals and thought running a doggy daycare would be great.  The Guardian wrote about people like this with “How to change your life at 60.”

Searching Google for late bloomer entrepreneurs often comes up with the same old suspects, like Colonel Sanders, who started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65, although he had previous business experience along those lines.  Most famous businessmen started early, but if you search hard you can find stories of smaller big successes, like Antia Crook who invented the Pouchee, and turned it into a multimillion dollar enterprise.

Yahoo’s Small Business Advisor profiled several “Older Entrepreneurs.”  Colonel Sanders again shows up.  Obviously, he’s the poster child of late blooming business starters.  I found many journalists and bloggers who have written about the idea I’m working on here, and often come up with the same people.  So I went looking for demographics.  I found “Demographic Characteristics of Business Owners.”  It doesn’t report and people starting a business after 60, but it does say that 50.9% of all small business are owned by people 50-88, with a 4.9% growth since 2007.  In other words, over half of small business owners are old, and get older.  It also implies that running a business isn’t impacted by aging.

According to Forbes, 65% of new jobs have been created by small businesses since 1995.  543,000 new businesses get started each year, and 52% of them are home based, which seems to imply that working for oneself is a popular goal.  Intuit offers “Intuit Future of Small Business Report” that does suggest that Baby Boomers will be a major factor in new small business creation in the coming decades.

Famous tech started wizards might be young Turks, but they’re not the norm.

I’m satisfied that we’re never too old to start a business.  But what about something more creative.

Writing

My dreams has always been to write a science fiction novel.  While I worked I rationalized I didn’t have the time.  That was bullshit.  Now that I have all my time free, I’ll have to face the fact this was just a pipedream, or go to work.

There are some careers that if you don’t start early, you don’t start at all.  Of course, child prodigy is the obvious one.  But being a chess champion, musical virtuoso, or math genius requires making your mark when young.  Other creative endeavors like writing and painting are often taken up by people late in life.  For example, Frank McCourt, who wrote Angela’s Ashes, didn’t start writing until 65, yet won a Pulitzer Prize.  Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first book until 65.

Yet, to be honest, coming up with hordes of examples is hard.  Most people who are successful at writing start out as natural born storytellers, yet there are enough examples that suggest that it’s never too late to start writing.

Summing Up

For this essay I’m satisfied I’ve come up with enough examples to be inspirational.  However, if you prowl the web there’s a whole world out there devoted to exciting 55 Plus living.  Millions have been doing it for decades.  The idea of retiring is just new to me and my friends, especially the ones who haven’t retired.  And it’s especially scary for those people who haven’t financially planned for retirement, or spent much time thinking about it.  On the net when I make friends with older people, most tell me they are having the time of their lives.  Maybe they are lying to me so I won’t be scared to go where they have gone, or just maybe, they are telling me the truth.

JWH – 9/7/14 – Happy Birthday Charisse