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.

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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?

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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 

Does An Organized Desk Mean An Organized Mind?

Recently I read “10 Things Organized People Do Every Day” by Jordana Jaffe at MindBodyGreen.  Jaffe is the founder of Embarkability, and her ten simple habits about being organized seem very practical and real.  I hope she doesn’t mind that I quote the ten for those people too lazy to go read her article with explanations.   They are:

  1. They plan each day the night before.
  2. They have and keep only one to-do list.
  3. They spend at least 30 minutes going through and addressing emails in their email inbox.
  4. They clear their desk of paper piles.
  5. They have a morning routine and an evening ritual.
  6. They spend 10 minutes at the end of each day tidying up.
  7. They put their clothing in the laundry bin.
  8. They never leave dishes in the sink.
  9. They carve out time for lunch.
  10. They open up their mail.

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The ten truly resonates with my cluttered lifestyle, so I feel maybe she’s right.

I guess this is why I’m not a successful entrepreneur.  I do eat lunch every day, mainly because going without would be painful.  And I’m pretty good about putting my dirty clothes in the proper bins.  But I’m pretty bad about the rest, especially opening mail, processing email, and leaving piles of paper on my desks.  To pat myself on the back a little, some days, not most, but some, I put the dishes right into the dish washer after eating.  I keep trying to-do lists and failing, and I’ve often tried to develop morning and before bed planning times.  Unfortunately, I always drift back into unorganized chaos.

My scientific question is:  If I faithfully make these ten routines into regular habits will it change my brain so I’m an organized person?  People seeing the way I work and live will not believe this, but for my whole life, I’ve wished I could have an organized person with an orderly desk.  Jaffe tells us organized people follow these habits, but I’m not sure if changing my bad habits into good ones would transform my brain and make me into an organized person.  It’s an interesting experiment to consider.

However, looking at the piles of unopened mail, magazines, forms, warranties, etc. sitting on my desk, and checking that my email inbox has 2,054 messages, makes me think it might take a while to get my neurons to dance a different jig.  I think I’ll try, and I’ll even tell my wife and lady friends to nag me thoroughly, which they love to do, and I start testing this hypothesis.

I wonder how many days of following these ten habits will it take to rewire my brain?

JWH – 5/20/14

Will I Be Left in the Tech Dust If I Don’t Own A Smartphone?

I’ve been using computers since 1971.  Mainframes, minicomputers and microcomputers – labels that have long since disappeared.  I got my first personal computer in 1979.  I used FTP, Usenet, Gopher, email, years before the web, and remember being blown away when Mosaic came out in 1993.  I spent a lot of money on computer and gadgets over the years, but for some reason I don’t want to buy a smartphone.  Oh, I’d love to have a smartphone – I just don’t want the monthly bill.  And since nearly everyone else is becoming a smartphone user, will this leave me in the tech dust?

I have a poor man’s smartphone, the iPod touch and a pay-as-you-go dumbphone.  It essentially does most of what a smartphone does, and I only spend $50 every six months for 500 minutes.  I also have an iPad 2 and a Nexus 5.  I’m not totally out of it, but when I read Engadget I feel like I’m at a black tie party wearing a sports jacket and jeans, and even those are getting threadbare and moth eaten.

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Now I’m reading about smart watches.  Pass.  Google glasses.  Pass.  Have I gotten too old to compute?

I am cheap, but then I’m retired.  I now spend about 99% of my time at home, so mobile devices just don’t have a compelling sell to me.  Yet, all the tech glamor is now in mobile devices.  I do use mobile apps on my Nexus 7, but I’d much prefer using most of them on my 23” monitor.

Is the bleeding edge of tech savvy now limited to on-the-go computing?  Am I joining the ranks of the cyber-Amish by not owning a smartphone.  Am I less of a geek for not wanting the latest smartphone every year?

Getting old is getting old, so I must accept that young people are going to do and know things I don’t.  BFD.  I’m not whining, but since I’ve retired I realized, more and more, I’m cutting myself off from the mainstream of people.  I’ve always done this.  Being a gluten-free vegetarian atheist has a way of isolating me from normal life.  Being a computer geek is something I’ve always identified with, so is choosing not to follow the cutting edge of tech another way to isolate myself?  (I can hear my friend Annie growling at me, “Hell yes, you moron.”) 

This reminds me of a friend who died about twenty years ago.  He had become so negative about life that he only like two things, Duane Allman’s guitar playing, and Benny Goodman’s clarinet playing.  Luckily I still love hundreds of things, but I’m starting to realize that list is shrinking.  Is that another way of defining aging – that you list of likes shrinks?

There another way of looking at though.  One I feel is more positive!  As we get older we juggle more balls, or spin more plates.  Remember those guys on Ed Sullivan that would keep plates spinning on sticks?  Back then, we called life “the 9 to 5 rat race.”  As we grew up we learned to spin more plates.  At some point in your life you realize that keeping all those plates spinning is a lot of damn work.  Then you go all Zen dog and start spinning fewer plates.  Retiring is moving into those years when you spin fewer and fewer plates.  And the positive spin I mentioned?  Well, you enjoy life more because you just keep the things you love most in motion.

JWH – 2/25/14

The Mathematics of Book Buying

Can you resist a great bargain?  Especially when buying something you particularly love?  Every day Amazon emails me the Kindle Daily Deals, of which they have five ebooks on sale, usually for $1.99.  Sometimes it’s $2.99, and sometimes it’s even .99 cents, but usually it’s $1.99.  And I’ve gotten some amazing books for $2 – fantastic bargains!  At Audible.com, also owned by Amazon, they often have audiobooks on sale for $4.95.  Plus, I love going to my Friends of the Library Bookstore, where it’s not uncommon to find great hardback books for just $3.

mathematics-of-book-buying

If I read one book for every ten I buy though, the real price of that Kindle ebook is $20, or $50 for the audiobook, and $30 for the used hardback.  That isn’t a bargain, is it?  If I think of myself building a library, then getting as many books as cheap as possible is a book shopping thrill.  But if I think of myself as buying books to read, then buying books I don’t read is wasting money.

Since I’ve recently retired, how much I spend each month is very important.  Every dollar I spend now is one less dollar I’ll have in the future.  My real goal should be to spend little, and read more.  Now I have time to read all those unread books in my library, but not the money to keep building the library.

Another way to rationalize the numbers is to think of myself as enjoying book buying.  That shopping for books is the pleasure I’m actually budgeting, and ignore whether or not I read the books.  By that measure if I spend a $100 a month and get 25 books, rather than 3-7 at new prices, then yes, I’ve been having a great time bargain hunting for books.

To be honest, owning books is not my goal, so I have to face the fact that I am wasting money.  That’s sad.  Maybe what I shouldn’t completely give up something I love, but just lower the budget.  I wonder how many great books I can get for $25 a month?  Save money, start a challenge!

JWH – 1/16/14

I’m Retired–Do I Throw Away My Alarm Clock?

Which is better:  Following disciplined habits or natural cycles?

Having to get up and get to work on time used to provide discipline in my life.  When I was off for weekends or vacation days, the time I was ready to start my day got later and later.  Every morning I need to shower, exercise, dress, eat breakfast, floss and brush teeth before I’m ready to start my day.  If I get up at 6 AM I can be ready to go by 7:30.  But if I snooze until 7 or 8 AM, my day might not start until 9:30.  This morning, I got up later, and didn’t hit the computer until 9:36.

Now that I’m retired I have a choice to make.  Do I live by the clock or my biology?

clock-stethoscope 
[Living against the clock: does loss of daily rhythms cause obesity?]

Sleeping in seems so wasteful.  But is that a false assumption?  Now that I’m retired, does it matter what time I start writing each day?  Would I be more productive if I lived by the clock or learned to adapt to my natural rhythms?

I’ve always assumed discipline is a major virtue.  That we each seek to conquer nature by using willpower to bend our bodies and environment into our control.  Isn’t it everyone’s assumption that we must overcome our animal urges?  However, studies on health and stress show that might not be the best way to live, and that going with the natural flow of things might be healthier.

If you look across the Earth, have we conquered nature, or merely destroyed it?  That’s getting awful philosophical as to whether I should sleep in or get up early.  Can’t I just accept that the early bird gets the worm?  Now that I’m thinking about this question I realize I’m living by a lot of assumptions.  My 9 to 5 work years forced me to get up early, but now I’m free to follow a different path.

Since my health is in decline, it’s more important that I listen to my body than the Clock app on my iPod touch.  Just writing these words shows me I need to do a lot of rethinking of my commonly held assumptions.  And what other assumptions do I need to question about my other daily habits?

How many meals should I eat and when?  Do I need to shower every day?  Does it have to be in the morning?  What time is best to do my exercises?  When is the best time to write, clean house, socialize, watch TV, etc?  What if I follow my circadian rhythms and I no longer track a 24 hour clock?  How do I adapt my freeform schedule to my friends who follow a work schedule? 

There is something to be said for natural sleep . I notice this morning when I woke up at 7:30 that it was just getting light.  I’m wondering if my natural alarm clock is set by the amount of light outside.  The room in which I sleep faces east, and has one long window without curtains  across the east wall.  Maybe I should do a scientific experiment and note when I wake up and when sunrise is for that day, and see if in the course of the year if I follow a natural cycle.

As I’ve been sleeping later, I’ve been wanting to stay up later.  I’ve been retired just six days but I’m already having a hard time remembering what day it is, and I’ve stopped following the clock.  Also, I’m now eating at different times.  I even nap later.

My retirement goal is to write a novel.  I assumed before I retired I needed to stick to a disciplined schedule and work at novel writing just like I worked as a computer programmer.  Now I’m thinking that was a false assumption.  Or is that just a rationalization to sleep later?

The western world changed after the invention of the clock.  Now that I’m retired I realize I’ve left clock time.  Because I don’t have cable TV, I don’t even watch TV to a schedule anymore.  I’m on Netflix time.  Does this mean I’ve been a Morlock all my life and now I’ve become an Eloi?  That might not be good.  Modern sequels recognized the virtues of the hideous Morlocks – they got things done, while noting the Eloi were lazy and wimpy.

Living by the clock is mechanical.  Living by nature is undisciplined.  There’s got to be a happy medium – or is that another false assumption? 

JWH – 10/28/13