Comparing Where-To-Retire Strategies

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, April 24, 2017

My wife Susan and I have been talking about possible places to retire. Right now we each have completely different thoughts on the subject. It would help if I laid out the possibilities. Making this decision feels like climbing a mountain. Quite often I want to turn around and go back down.

mountain-and-reflection

The Least-Effort Lazy Plan

Our house will soon be paid off. We could just stay here. We’ve recently bought a 30-year roof. Since the Social Security Life Expectancy calculator predicts we’ll live another twenty years, we’re covered so-to-speak. Twenty years seems like a long-time and not-too-long time. To give perspective, the film Titanic came out twenty years ago.

Retiring in place has many advantages. We know the city. We have our friends. We have our routines. We know all our doctors, dentists, plumbers, and such.

The main disadvantage is it’s the same old place and we could be living somewhere much more exciting — or secure.

The Secure Low-Maintenance Plan

Maintaining a house, especially while getting older, is a pain-in-the-ass. My idea for the perfect low-stress retirement is to move to a 55+ community and rent a nice apartment. It would need to be well-built and soundproof. I don’t want to hear neighbors or they hear us. But the idea of having no yard is overwhelmingly seductive. I’d also love to live somewhere where we didn’t need a car. I imagine moving to a retirement community near a small city would be a safer place for aging. The bustle of a big city is probably scary while aging.

Living in a 55+ community would also offer lots of social outlets and activities. Plus all the support services would be geared to people our age. Such a lifestyle would maximize free time by reducing chores to a minimum.

The Atomic Ranch Plan

I love old 1950s ranch style houses, like those profiled in Atomic Ranch magazine. If we wanted to keep a house and car, it would be cool to move to small Florida retirement community, find a corner lot with a ranch house, buy a vintage 1950s car, and then recreate a beautiful recreation of our childhood. I could collect 1950s science fiction books, pulp magazines, and old vinyl records. I could put in a 21st-century large screen TV to show old movies and television shows. If I wanted to get really weird, I could drop off the net, and cut the cord to cable.

This retro-retirement-recreation appeals to me, but I don’t think it does for Susan.

atomic ranch

The Cool City Plan

If we’re not quite ready to mosey off to the elephant graveyard to wait to die, we could pick a trendy city to live in and attempt to stay young for another decade. This would appeal to Susan more than me. I already consider myself old. She still loves going to parties, eating out, rock concerts and baseball games. If we chose this path I’d like to find a very liberal city, but on the small side, maybe a college town. I like living in flat cities but wouldn’t mind being near mountains or oceans.

The Not Likely Adventurous Plan

If I had the guts to be adventurous I’d love to live in several interesting cities before I died. I feel bad about not trying to see more of the country or even the world than I have. I traveled around a lot when I was young, but have been in the same city for the last 46 years.

It would be far-out to get a 1-year lease in a new city every year for ten years, and then settle down in a 55+ plus community. Such a plan would require pairing down our possessions to a minimum. We’d have to learn to make new friends quickly, and how to find new doctors and dentists wherever we went.

The Least Likely Political Activist Plan

It bothers me that conservatives have taken over the nation. Conservatives have worked for decades at the grassroots political level to achieve their goals. If liberals want to regain power they need to duplicate those efforts. It would help the cause if liberals living in urban areas would move to red counties, districts, and states. It would help even more if they got involve with local politics and social activities.

The Most Rewarding and Scariest Plan

I have a friend who plans to move to Mexico. I’ve been watching films about expat life with her and reading newsletters and books about living abroad. I’ve never traveled outside the U.S. If I really wanted to enrich my life before I die, living abroad would be the way to do it. It could involve living in a city, an expat community, or even an overseas retirement community.

guanajuato

JWH

Confessing My Anxieties

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, April 14, 2017

There’s nothing that sets off my anxiety more than having an event in the future to worry about. Next week I’m scheduled for jury duty and I’m worried I’ll be sequestered. I have no idea how many people are like me. We never know how other people think, do we? So I thought I’d just tell you about my quirky anxieties and figured you might tell me about yours.

the future 

The tendency is to believe everyone thinks in the same way, but I don’t know if that’s true. First, we can divide the world up into the anxious and the anxiety free. Of the people I know who confess their anxieties, it appears our symptoms come in all varieties, with many variations of physical and mental properties.

I have no idea how common my type of anxieties are among other people. If I studied psychology I could analyze the data and statistics, but I think I’ll take different path. I’m just going to confess my anxieties and ask my friends to confess theirs. Confession is great for the soul, or so they say.

I’m not sure how honest I should be. I don’t want to come across as psychically naked. But on the other hand, this experiment is based on revealing what’s behind my barriers. The act of writing down my problems is therapeutic. That implies a certain degree of honesty is required for effective results.

My main source of anxiety comes from thinking about the future. That can be planning my grocery shopping trip or worrying about climate change in the year 2100. I’ve always thought this was a particularly good trait for someone who wants to writes science fiction – an ambition I’ve had since age 12. Unfortunately, even though I imagine hundreds of scenarios every day, I’ve yet to learn how to dramatize them into fiction.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered this trait is a handicap. It has a number of downsides. It’s especially paralyzing for social activities. Future worry has led me to create a very comfortable now. I am my own siren. On the other hand, any disruption to my routine causes anxiety. Most of the time, it is very minor anxiety. I am happiest when I have nothing scheduled. I have friends that schedule their lives weeks in advance – what a nightmare.

My second anxiety, and I believe it’s caused by the first anxiety, is I hate to leave home. When I was young I always wondered why older folks were so homebound. Now I know. Home is security. Controlling my future is easiest done from home. Leaving the house increases the variables involved in imagining the future. When I was young I could go out and play all day, ranging over neighborhoods, countryside, and woods. It never even occurred to me to plan my future. After I retired I had nearly complete control over my time. It was only when I have to be somewhere else do I lose that control.

My agoraphobia is not extreme, but it is growing. I have not always been this way. Even after I grew up and out on my own, I could leave home with abandon, worry free. Before I got married, the longest I had lived in any one house was eighteen months. I’ve lived in my present house about ten years, and I think that long comfortable stay has affected me.

However, I believe my agoraphobia started when I developed a heart arrhythmia in my forties. My fear of having an episode in public made me want to always stay home. Even after I had surgery to fix my heart a bit of that anxiety remained. I began going out again, but never like before. Because this event was concurrent with getting older and living longer in the same house, I’m not sure which was the primary cause.

Then in my early sixties I had to have a stent put in my heart because of clogged arteries. Around the same time I developed spinal stenosis which has caused a number of physical limitations. I have a Catch-22 situation. If I exercise more to help my heart, my legs go numb, and I have back problems. If I exercise less the numbness decreases and the pain goes away, and my heart feels worse. I have to walk a razor’s edge to stay feeling reasonably well. I’ve also worked out a rather severe diet that helps both conditions. Eating out makes it very difficult to follow that diet. All of this conditions me like Palov’s dog to stay close to home.

Many of my retired friends are trying to do more outside the house, especially travel. Travel scares the crap out of me. First, I’d have to leave home. Second, I’d have to give up most control. Third, I’d have to eat at restaurants. Fourth, I wouldn’t have my custom exercise equipment. Fifth, I might have to sleep in a bed, which freezes up my back. (I’ve been sleeping in a recliner for years.)

Are my anxieties just in my head? Or has my body dictated them? If I worked hard I might discover how to eat healthy on the go, how to exercise anywhere with no equipment or portable elastic bands, how to sleep comfortably by improvising back friendly nests with available furniture at hand. Theoretically, all that’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine. To get a good night sleep I need a certain kind of recliner adapted with four kinds of pillows.

Now I know why old crotchety folks I met in my youth were so set in their ways. Aging means adapting to your bodily demands. If I eat just right, exercise just right, and sleep just right, I can avoid pain. Have my anxieties evolved through pain avoidance? Or am I just being a pussy? Should I just get over them?

My wife thinks I give in too easily. She might be right. She loves to be on the go, to travel, to be active. She has aches and pains – but just ignores them. I know a number of people our age who eat whatever they want, never exercise, and lead happy active lives. Then I know other people who are adapting their life to deal with ailments, conditions, pains, disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

Is anxiety mental or physical? Like I said, there many kinds of anxieties. I think some are mostly mental. I think mine are related to the physical, but I could be fooling myself. If I changed a mental condition with drugs or conditioning, is it really mental?

Most people associate anxiety with depression. As long as I can pursue my hobbies at home I’m extremely happy. I don’t feel crippled by anxiety. I guess I would if I wanted to travel. Maybe I’m happy because I accept my limitations. If I wanted more, I might be unhappy. Even this might be age related. If I was young and felt this way, I’d feel resentful, even imprisoned.

Does getting old allow us to accept what we can’t change? Or does getting old mean we stop trying to change.

Is everything I’ve written here a rationalization that allows me to avoid living life to the fullest? I have a feeling going to jury next week will teach me a lot. I’m not to try to get out of the duty, but it provokes all the fears I mention above. I’m having far more anxiety than before my heart procedures. I’ll write an update to this piece and confess what I learned after I’ve faced those fears.

JWH

Serving Only One Master

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I’d like to repurpose a famous saying by Jesus, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” and apply it to modern self-help advice about goal seeking. If we replace God with goal and money with everything in our life that keeps us from our goal, I think it works quite well.

Every day my newsfeed Flipboard includes a handful of articles about successful people and their habits, especially lists of things to do if we want to achieve our goals in life. Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of such how-to guides. I’d say the most common bit of advice is to narrow your goals down to as few as possible. And if you’re really ambitious, make it one. Jesus didn’t know about psychology because it hadn’t been invented yet, but he must have been a keen observer of people.

focus

For my whole life, I’ve been plagued by wanting to do too many things. Too many choices paralyze us with indecision. Humans are terrible at multitasking, and we’re not much better as task switching. Success requires focus. To focus requires getting into a flow state, and that’s not possible with distractions.

Recently I wrote, “Time Management for Work, Hobbies, Skills, Chores, Pastimes, and Interests” that calculated the time requirements for different levels of applied focus. Since I’ve retired I’ve been trying to organize my time to pursue as many of my favorite hobbies as possible. I wrote “Sisyphean Hobbies For My Retirement Years” about how I hoped to juggle them.

It’s been a complete failure. The more I divide my time, the less I get done. A byproduct of aging is a slow decline in the total time I can focus. Maybe I could have kept more balls in the air when I was younger, but I can’t now. I thought having all my time free would give me more time to focus. It just hasn’t worked out that way.

When I quit work in 2013 my plan was to write a science fiction novel. I quickly learned I couldn’t focus on such a big project. I switched to essay writing. Novels normally run 50,000-100,000 words. My essays run 500-1500 words. Even that shorter length requires a great deal of focus. And it’s not just a matter of cranking out the words. The challenge is to write better essays over time.

I think what happened in recent months is I got distracted by other hobbies – coloring, drawing, photography, computers, math, crossword puzzles, socializing, television, and I started writing less. If my retirement was only about having fun that wouldn’t matter. Nor am I trying to become a successful writer. What I’m really talking about is maintaining a skill while aging.

We need one master to serve to measure our ability for commitment and focus. We need one goal that defines us. Reality does not assign meaning. Existentialism requires us to define our own meaning. I believe happiness comes from having something we want to do. Whether that’s a goal, discipline, job, art, hobby, religion, philosophy, etc. is up to us. But it becomes our yardstick by which we measure ourselves. It’s the anchor of reality which everything else is related.

We can pursue as many activities as we can cram into our schedule but we need one to be the yardstick.

JWH

Time Management for Work, Hobbies, Skills, Chores, Pastimes, and Interests

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, March 26, 2017

I don’t have the time to do everything I want – and I’m retired! I assume everyone gets up daily hoping to do more than they do because I’m constantly seeing time task management advice on the web.

Time is never on our side.

Time Management

If I could distill all that web advice it would be: Focus on the fewest goals, avoid distractions, start your day early, stick to what’s important. Of course these advice lists are aimed at people who want to make it big. What if you’re less ambitious? What if the only person you have to please is yourself?

This got me to thinking about retirement and goals. There’s nothing stopping me from being completely whim driven. The other day I got a jury duty summons. It made me realize I had my first work schedule in years. Except for doctor and dental appointments I seldom punch a clock. My main time pressure is to finish essays, but even then I don’t have actual deadlines.

Does a retired person need to worry about time management skills? That depends on how productive retirees want to be. I’ve decided there’s a hierarchy of using time productively.

  1. Ambitions. If you want to be successful at anything then you have to put in the time. Generally, your ambitions are your major goals in life. And it really helps to only have one at a time. Everything else is subordinate. The most successful people can focus so intensely on their ambition that it becomes their life. Few people go that far.
  2. Hobbies. It’s possible to have multiple hobbies, and even get pretty good at several of them. Just putting in 30-60 minutes a day can lead to remarkable results.
  3. Skills. Over our lifetime we develop various skills. Whether it’s chopping vegetables or fixing computers, skills come with practice, but we don’t routinely focus on them like hobbies.
  4. Chores. Chores are like skills, but we don’t even think about how good we are at doing them. Doing the dishes or grocery shopping are just things that have to get done.
  5. Pastimes. Watching TV can be mindless but fun. We often fill up our life with activities that are pleasant, but we don’t think about improving our pastime abilities. Watching basketball on TV is a pastime. You can make playing basketball into a skill, hobby or even ambition, but most people don’t.
  6. Interests. There are topics you enjoy talking about at parties but on subjects you’d never study. Watching the news might be a pastime, and sometimes it covers your interests. Our interests are our least active pursuit. We waste time thinking and talking about them, but we don’t work at become specialists. We’d probably do poorly if we were tested on our interests because we treat them so haphazardly.

If your goal is to be the best at something, than spending time on activities 2-6 are detrimental to your ambition. Few people are that driven. Most of us don’t even have hobbies we systematically work at. Probably the average person is content with skills, chores, pastimes and interests.

I came across a video yesterday that perfectly illustrates what applying an hour a day can achieve. It shows the progress of a young woman learning to play the violin from week 1 to 2 years. In a separate video she explains how much she practices. I don’t know if this means anyone could learn the violin, or if this woman had music ability that made her more suited to the hobby. She does claim the violin is her first instrument, and she started playing in her twenties.

In recent years, whenever I needed a new skill, from opening a mango to repairing a toilet, I’ve learned from YouTube. That suggests we can learn almost anything if we try. The above video is proof we could get good at a hobby if we spent 30-60 minutes a day working at it. Which means even employed people have time for one or two hobbies.

My problem is I have too many interests that I want to develop into pastimes, skills and hobbies. Right now writing essays is my main hobby. It’s not even an ambition – yet – because I haven’t dedicated myself to it. If I wanted to be a great essayist, I’d need to ignore casual interests,  abandon hobbies, and only pursue skills that related to writing.

I’m not that focused or disciplined. I wish I was, but I’m not. I do wish I could get good at a second hobby. I’m hitting a wall that might be age related. I seem to have only so much activity energy to apply at learning each day. Once it’s used up I fall back to pleasant pastimes and interests. I haven’t figure out if active pursuits are like muscles which can be built up, or like chemical energy, which is consumed.

Off hand, I’d say being active in the above pursuits is related to health and age, which means our time on target dwindles as we get older. I’ve recently got much better at crosswords, so that was encouraging about being an old dog learning new tricks. But then I read “Here Are the Age You Peak at Everything Throughout Life” and saw that 71 was when we peaked at vocabulary. Unfortunately, they didn’t mention essay writing, photography, drawing, and other skills I’d like pursuing. I am past the age for peak arithmetic skills – 50, which might explain my trouble with relearning 6th grade math.

JWH – Happy 39th Anniversary Susan

A Personal God of My Own

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sometimes I wish I had a personal God for amicable chats when I have insomnia in the wee hours. Lying in the darkness, I often wish I had someone to share philosophical thoughts. I picture this personal God like a kid’s imaginary friend, or even a big pooka rabbit, like the one Jimmy Stewart conversed with in Harvey. I imagine my imaginary deity as a mashup of Mark Twain, Robert Sheckley, and Kurt Vonnegut. Maybe this God should look like Clarence the guardian angel, clueless and hapless. (Again, a Jimmy Stewart reference.) I suppose my guardian angel could look like the suave Dudley (who looked like Cary Grant), but that wouldn’t be as funny. Loretta Young would make a sexy guardian angel, and I can picture her being very insightful.

(I wonder how many people under 60 get my angelic movie references?)

female-god1

I once dreamed I had sex with God and was shocked (in the dream) to discover God was a woman. She was a stout matronly female in her sixties, with big soft bosoms, who looked somewhat like an older Sophia Loren. In this dream, I’m having very pleasurable sex with this zaftig lady, and my reaction was fucking an older woman was a lot of fun, especially one so jolly – but then I realize she was God. Seeing my shock she laughed at me with a deep throaty laugh, like the laugh my father’s mother had. I’ve always wondered what Freud would have made of that dream.

I was in my forties at the time. When I woke I was a little embarrassed to be enjoying a sex dream with a grandmotherly woman. (It didn’t bother me she was God.) I’ve had some very strange dreams over the years, and I’ve run into God before – but not as this woman.

So I suppose my personal God could be a she. I might even prefer that. When I first thought of having a personal God the name Fred popped into my mind. A good, no-nonsense name. I could have some great conversations with a God named Fred. But I sort of like God being a woman. Probably, I’ll call her Gladys or Gloria.

I’ve been an atheist since I was eleven years old. I remember my mother making me go to church as a kid, and me trying hard to believe. I even asked to be baptized thinking it would let me see what everyone claim to see. But after nothing was revealed, I took the path of unbelieving. I’ve never been the kind of atheist that advocates disbelief. I know too many people who find great comfort in theism to ever want to take it away.

And when I say I’m an atheist, I mean I have no doubts. God does not exist for me. When I talk with God, I know I’m pretending. It’s better than talking to myself, but not by much.

I believe we are all bubbles of consciousness that have accidently emerged into this infinite sea of random reality. I use the word reality because I don’t believe the universe is everything. I believe reality is quite indifferent to us and infinite in all directions and dimensions. People want a God because they want a father figure. They want their lives to mean something. When I think of my imaginary personal God, I’m really pretending I’m talking to reality. I know reality isn’t listening and doesn’t give a shit, but I like to pretend otherwise.

Many of my atheist friends would like to talk to God too, to curse the creator for all the suffering they see and experience. I’m not that way. I’d like to thank God for my existence. I used to have a lot of questions, but I’m satisfied now with what I know and don’t know. There are some things I’d like to kid ole Gladys about, though.

Like last night, I had friends over to watch A Man Called Ove, and at one point in the film, I glanced to my left and noticed my friend’s foot. It was beautiful. And I don’t mean in a sexual fetish way, but in an existential existence way. Gladys, why is one portion of reality more beautiful than another? Why are we here and not nothing? Why is the foot more aesthetically appealing than other objects in the den? You can be very weird at times. Your sense humor can be so trying – I can understand how I got old, fat, and bald – but why not shut off the sex drive as we age? Very funny, Gladys.

I accept the random nature of existence. I even accept what I fear and don’t want. So I’m content without God, but bantering with a personal God could be satisfying. It would be fun to have Gladys to chat about the beauty and absurdity of this existence.

“By the way Gladys, can you explain Donald Trump? That’s really going too damn far!”

JWH

More Sense of Wonder Than Science Fiction

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, February 20, 2017

Origami-NOVA-3

For the first two-thirds of my life sense of wonder mostly came from science fiction, but in the last third science is supplying more wonder. I have theories as to why. First, aging is making me more fascinated with reality. Second, I’ve lived long enough to feel the real world is science fictional. For example, my science fiction book club is reading Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper, a 1962 novel about the discovery of cute creatures on a distant planet that might be sapient. As a kid in the 1960s, that was an exciting idea. But in 2017 we know animals are far more intelligent than we thought and in ways far more exciting than an old science fiction novel. Learning how and why has a great sense of wonder.

The dimensions of sapient behavior have become far more fantastic than fiction, including old stories about robots. For example, The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein, published in 1957, and first read by me in 1964. Heinlein’s character Dan Davis built household robots – which dazzled me back then. But today I could build my own robot with a Raspberry Pi kit, producing a completely different kind of sense of wonder. I could also download open source machine learning toolkits. This era of Makers and DIY produces a different kind of wonder. Science fiction is great, but I believe I would now give a kid a subscription to Make Magazine before telling her to read science fiction.

More and more when I watch a great documentary I want to know the details about how things are actually done. I don’t want to just be an observer. Last night I watched a wonderful episode of NOVA on PBS that has more sense of wonder than any science fiction novel I can remember reading in a very long time.

It was about origami.

Origami?

Yes, origami. You know, paper cranes…

It was titled “The Origami Revolution” – about how the art of folding paper has inspired scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. The producers completely blew me away. Origami is a fascinating craft, even an art form, but not one I ever paid much attention to. The program began by reporting the latest developments in the art, which go way beyond making simple paper cranes. Using a single sheet of paper, it’s possible to make very elaborate 3D shapes by just folding paper (and without cutting).

Origami-NOVA-2

Cranes are simple, requiring about thirty folds. Modern advanced origami art like above requires hundreds of folds involving very complex geometry. This is where the excitement started for me – because they brought in mathematics. The program introduced Erik Demaine, showing him working on a 60-page mathematical algorithm with Tomohiro Tachi for computerized origami folding. Can you imagine the mathematics of creating the above work of origami? I can’t, but I wish I could. Tachi has developed a software program Origamizer that the two of them hope will eventually be able to create any 3D figure from a 2D piece of paper. Their theorem should prove it’s possible.

Origami-NOVA-5

“The Origami Revolution” then goes on to survey wide-ranging work in biology, genetics, chemistry, physics, astronomy that have been influenced by what we’re learning from folding. This has been happening for decades, so I feel a little left behind. The program generated a tremendous sense of wonder in me, probably because this new research offers so much far-out potential, including building robots and spacecraft, and even claiming that dark matter theoretically reveals folded shapes in the structure of the universe.

Here’s a 2008 TED Talks by Robert Lang which give more details than the episode of NOVA, including some examples that are more impressive than shown in the TV show. Follow the link in his name to his website for even more information.

Understanding how modeling 3D structures from a 2D source teaches us about nature, because once the mathematics of folding were revealed scientists began seeing folding in nature, including plants, insects, and even the cosmos. From there it goes into applied engineered structures.

(This isn’t folding per se, but I think it’s related. See SmartFlower Solar.)

If you watch “The Origami Revolution” count all the far out bits of technology. You’ll realize that many of them were never discussed in science fiction. When I was young, I thought science fiction explored ahead of science, but after all these decades I’ve learned something different. Science fiction trails science. This show could inspire countless science fiction stories. Even while watching the TV show I imagined other folks seeing it and thinking up science fiction stories as they watched. They will magnify the demonstrated concepts, extrapolate, speculate, imagine, and come up with possible future scenarios to dramatize. I’m sure they will create far-out tales.

But I think getting older is making me both more patient and less patient. I’m becoming impatient with fiction. It’s easier to skim over the drama, and just zero in on the current science. Now that I’m retired, I have more time to fool around with tech toys. I spend less time reading about imaginary futures, and more time trying to figure the details of now.

You can also watch the full episode of “The Origami Revolution” on YouTube.

JWH

Catching Words With Crosswords

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, February 17, 2017

I like to imagine my conscious mind as a small boat floating on a sea of memories. Words I readily use swim in schools near the surface. I can  grab them quickly. Other words swim deeper, take longer to catch. Some words dwell in the darkest deeps of my memory sea, taking hours to reel in. Doing crossword puzzles helps me catch words I haven held in my mind for a long time. After I release them, they swim close to the boat for a while, making them easier to catch again.

crossword_puzzle

For most of my life crossword puzzles had little appeal for me. I’ve never been good at games. But last year I started doing the mini-puzzles in the New York Times. I liked them because I could actually finish the grid, which I couldn’t with the full-size puzzles. The mini-puzzles provided positive reinforcement, and only took a few minutes. Which is the limit of my gaming patience. As my confidence grew I looked forward to doing the mini-puzzle each day. My wife Susan, who works out of town, does them too. We do them before our last phone call at night, and compare our completion times. I’ve only beaten her once.

Recently the New York Times sent me an sales pitch – get a year of the full-size puzzles for just $19.95. My new sense of crossword ability con my ego into pressing the buy button. As soon as I started the first full-size puzzle I had buyer’s remorse. They were way too hard for me. They were over my head. I did find it satisfying that I could answer many clues, more than ever before, but felt bad about leaving most boxes empty.

I’m not giving up. I just figured I needed more practice. Then my friend Linda told me about the Dell Crosswords puzzle books. I bought one called Easy Crosswords. And they are easy! Maybe too easy. But it’s very encouraging to complete whole puzzles, and they’re more practice than the mini-puzzles. I’ll get to the big puzzles someday.

I noticed something else. Doing the crosswords made me think of words I seldom used. Ones that swam deep in my sea of memories. This must be why the social security set love doing crosswords. I’ve already started my battle of recalling words (which I know I’ll ultimately lose but will fight the good fight anyway). Every year more nouns and names hang out on the tip of my tongue. Which reminds me of a poem by Bill Collins my friend Connell sent me, called, “Forgetfulness.”

The poem begins:

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

In my struggle to recall words, I’m not sure if they completely disappear, or merely sink too deep to be captured. I’m always surprised by forgotten vocabulary suddenly returning. Doing crossword puzzles churn the words in my sea, keeping them near the surface. One scientific study found that doing crosswords could delay the onset of memory loss by 2.54 years. Other studies show elderly minds can retain elasticity and even grow new brain cells and connections, although those studies focus on aerobic activity, and not games.

Then there is the issue of speed. I feel my mind goes slower than other minds. My wife Susan and my friend Linda can do the mini-puzzles 2-5 times faster than I can. That might explain why I’ve never liked games. It makes me wonder if people who think faster are attracted to games. When I first started doing the NYT’s mini-puzzles they took me 5-12 minutes to complete. I now do the easy ones in 2-4 minutes. Susan and Linda often finish in 1-2 minutes, with occasional times below a minute. I think Susan’s best is 43 seconds.

I’m wondering if I think slower than other people. My wife used to get very impatient with me, finishing my sentences before I could. I complained and she’s been more patient. Which is nice of her, but I can tell I’m slowing her down. Maybe that’s why I like writing better than talking. I can say what I want at my own chosen speed.

Anyway, the point of this story is to express my thanks for crossword puzzles. Hope I didn’t take too long in doing it.

JWH