Overcoming Inertia in Retirement

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In retirement you can do whatever want – if you’ve have the drive. Otherwise you do what you feel. That distinction might be meaningless to many. (I imagine old hippies replying, “If you’re following your feelings, you’re doing what you want.”) The difference defines ambition.

All too often I feel like kicking back in my recliner to daydream about writing while listening to favorite songs on Spotify, rather than actually writing at the keyboard. Just now I was lazing in my La-Z-Boy when this essay occurred to me. I told myself this morning my number one priority was to finish the essay I’ve been working on weeks for Book Riot, and then finish an idea I have for Worlds Without End. (I do have growing guilt over not working on them, but writing this is what I’m feeling.) The trouble is both Book Riot and Worlds Without End each have an essay in the can waiting to be opened, so the pressure to write another isn’t that driving. (BTW, I’m not blaming my laziness of them.)

countdown to ecstasy

In the middle-third of my life, I hated being trapped in the nine-to-five world of work. Before that, in the first third, I hated being imprisoned in the K-12 school system. But I’ve got to admit without that outside pressure I never would have learned much, or put in my 35-years of work. (At least I’m honest about my laziness.)

If this sounds like I’m wishing for someone to crack the whip over me, I’m not. Na, I’m just whining about my own lack of drive. I didn’t have it then, and I don’t have it now. I’ve always admired people who live like guided missiles, always on target. And that’s the confusing thing about retirement. It feels like I’ve reached the target. The social security years can feel like being in the queue for nonexistence. How we fight that is important. It defines the game in the last third of life.

Don’t assume I’m depressed. I’m never bored. I go to bed every night near midnight, regretting the day is over, and wishing I had more time. Every day I do get a few things done I want, but mostly I overindulge my whims. And that’s quite satisfying too, in a heroin kind of analogy. My problem is I have too many things I both want to do, and feel like doing. My lament is I spend too much time with Ben & Jerry’s, and not enough with broccoli. (Not literally, just another analogy.)

Being the puritanical atheist I am, I’m hung-up on doing productive work in my existential random existence.

Most people think retirement is all about not working – not me. I might have a minor guilt trip about being unproductive, but I’m not about to get a job, paid or unpaid. I won free-time millions in the retirement lottery, and just need to figure out how to wisely spend them. This means creating my own definition work. Right now, I gauge productivity in essays. Any day I finish an essay, feels like a productive day. Even if I write a navel-gazing one like this.

If I actually write a hard-to-conceive, hard-to-implement essay, that takes great effort and research, I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain. That’s when I believe I’ve won out over inertia. It’s how I redefine rolling my rock.

JWH

Best Links About Medicare

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, June 13, 2016

I have many friends like me who were born in 1951, and we’re all needing to sign up for Medicare this year. I’ve promised several of them I’d search the web for the best advice. Medicare is amazingly complicated, and can still be quite costly. Make the wrong decision, and you’ll pay. I provide these links with no warranty of accuracy. This page was created to help my friends and I find out more about Medicare, but if they’re helpful to you too, then great.

General Information

Of course, the first place to visit is Medicare.gov, but you actually sign up through Social Security. I’ve got to say, this site is information overload. They also publish Medicare & You 2016 as a pdf booklet. Plus Medicare.gov offers a whole series of publications, some in ebook format. And Medicare even offers a blog. Here is Medicare’s intro video:

 

My Medicare Matters from the National Council on Aging is a friendlier introduction to Medicare, but still intimidating.

Of course, everyone wants to know what Consumer Reports says.

This video gives a simple intro that’s the first step on a long journey.

 

This information came from UnitedHealthcare, so I don’t know what their vested interests are, but they have a site Medicare Made Clear, and a series of additional videos that explain more about Medicare on YouTube.

FAQs

Medicare B & D vs. Medicare C (Medicare Advantage)

One thing that came up in the intro videos was the concept of Medicare Advantage. It seems very tempting because it combines several options into one plan. However, after watching this video I assumed it wasn’t for me. I don’t like insurance programs that limit choice of doctors and hospitals, but then I watched the second video.

 

Now I’m even more confused. “Medigap Vs. Medicare Advantage: Which is Better?” helps some. Probably if you live in a retirement community near good in-network support, and you don’t travel, Medicare Advantage might be a good deal. My fear is something catastrophic would happen to me, and I’d end up with monster medical bills I couldn’t pay without emptying my retirement savings.

It appears that Medicare Advantage often promotes preventative healthcare practices, and they will make sure you stay on top of your medical problems. That might outweigh the problems of working within a network.

Steve Vernon from CBS Money Watch writes, “Should you buy Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan?” Vernon offers additional links and essays on this topic, but I’m still just as confused and undecided. It seems your choice is between choosing parts B & D and spending around $150 a month, and choosing part C and paying lower monthly fees but with co-pays. Some plans have no monthly fees at all. Medicare Advantage sometimes includes dental and prescription drugs all rolled into one plan, but you’re restricted to which doctors and hospitals you can use.

Consumer Reports also has a page about “Medigap vs. Medicare Advantage.” It offers a nice comparison chart.

I then checked the entry on Wikipedia for Medicare Advantage. Evidently it’s a political issue to allow folks to find alternatives to Medicare. Medicare Advantage are private plans that are required to offer the same benefits as Medicare. By law, you can’t buy both. Medicare Advantage plans are more like HMOs or PPOs. If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage program, it collects money from the government’s Medicare program. Which explains why going to an out-of-network healthcare provider might cost you 100%. I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia entry several times. This statement is telling:

There is some evidence that sicker people and people with higher medical expenditures are more likely to disenroll from Medicare Advantage plans and go into Original Medicare instead,[6] which could be due to the more restricted networks of health providers or to the benefit design of the plans. The federal government makes risk adjusted payments to private plans to avoid this, but it is unclear how effective that policy is.

In other words, if you’re healthy, don’t go to doctors often, and have good in-network support, Medicare Advantage might save you a good deal on monthly costs. Which explains why the advisor in the first video picked it for her father.

 

Medicare Part D

Part D is drug coverage. You can buy Part D from a private insurance program in regular Medicare, or you can get drug coverage in a Medicare Advantage plan. Consumer Reports offers “How to find the best Medicare drug plan.” There are penalties for not signing up right away, but they are low enough to consider delaying participation – see the skepticism section below.

 

 

 

 

Supplemental Skepticism

What makes things really confusing are supplemental plans. These are insurance plans to cover costs Medicare doesn’t, including the infamous “donut hole.” More on the donut hole can be found at Wikipedia.

David Belk claims paying for supplemental insurance is basically giving your money away. He says supplement insurance doesn’t cover what a lot of people think it does. However, I’m skeptical of his skepticism.

 

This just adds to my decision agony. I want to avoid any chance of being stuck with a gigantic medical bill. I hear about that in the news more and more. Belk claims insurance companies are playing into that fear. Belk says insurance companies are mostly insuring against minor costs, not major ones. And they don’t cover what Medicare won’t cover. David Belk is a MD that maintains the website True Cost of Health-Care. He even claims that opting out of Part D might be a good option if you buy low-cost generic drugs out-of-pocket. Check GoodRx.com for drug pricing.

I was all ready to load up on supplemental insurance plans until I saw this video. Now I’m not so sure. However, there are penalties for delaying joining Part B & D. So for those folks who are willing to bet they will always be healthy, they can delay buying Part B & D, but they need to know about the penalties.

Mistakes to Avoid

The penalty for not signing up for Part B on time is stiff – one that lasts the rest of your life.

The penalties for not signing up for Part B & D can be add up to a lot. But there are exceptions. It appears if you are still working and have good insurance coverage you’ll be excepted. Watch out though, how long you go between ending private insurance and starting Medicare is important.

My guess is people trying to keep their monthly costs down will pick a low-cost Medicare Advantage plan, which is a Medicare approved alternative to signing up for Part B & D. These folks will have to go to network doctors, but they may get better preventative medical care. And if Wikipedia is right, these people will eventually switch to traditional Medicare when they get older and sicker, because traditional Medicare covers more.

I thought my monthly bill for health insurance would go down when I joined Medicare, but that won’t be true. The insurance I now get through work is an extremely good retirement perk. If I spring for Medigap insurance, I could end up doubling my existing monthly healthcare bill. However, I have friends that buy their own health insurance and they will save a lot of money.

It’s critical for people to sign up for Medicare promptly. Delay will cause penalties that could continue for the rest of their life. Life would be far simpler if we had a single-payer system. The freedom of options requires both extensive study and risk. There are many private companies offering a variety of options to avoid potential medical expenses. If you have a very small fixed income, you’ll have to navigate these waters very carefully. However, it also appears you can easily overpay searching for peace of mind. None of us know how long we will live, or what kind of healthcare burdens we will face. If we make a mistake in these decisions we could end up spending more each month from our fixed budget, or incur risks to our shrinking nest eggs.

JWH

The Williamson Effect–Losing Interest in Life

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, March 28, 2016

A friend of mine, before he died, called me to talk about life. His name was Williamson, and he was depressed. This was back on the first night of the Gulf War. Williamson said something then, a quarter century ago, that has always stuck with me. He said he was down to loving only two things in life. Benny Goodman and Duane Allman. I had gone to see The Allman Brothers with Williamson when Duane Allman was till alive. That was a long time ago. Williamson and I were buddies for a while in the 1970s, and we went different ways when I got a steady job.

Duane Allman Fishing 

Williamson hated working, always telling friends, “A job a good way to waste a life.” He spent his life avoiding the old nine to five, choosing to pursue endless hobbies and schemes hoping they’d pay off. They never did. I was surprised to hear from Williamson in August of 1990. The decades had changed him, and he was quite bitter. He called me a few times after that, and then disappeared. I heard later he died under mysterious circumstances.

I now worry when a friend tells me they are getting tired of things they used to love. I call it The Williamson Effect. I’m known to be a naturally happy person, even though I love to write about depressing subjects. I don’t know if I’m happy because of genes, or because I’m constantly searching out new things to love. Whenever I hear a friend suffering from The Williamson Effect I encourage them to try new things, especially music. I’m always amazed how a new artist and their music can revitalize my thinking.

I tried to convince Williamson that there was more to music than Benny Goodman and Duane Allman. He only sneered and belittled my then current favorites. Benny Goodman and Duane Allman are still on my main Spotify playlist, but so are Katy Perry and Sarah Jaffe, and I’m still living.

JWH

Time Management for Retirement

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, September 21, 2015

My working friends think I have unlimited free time because I’m retired. Hell, before I retired I thought I’d have a time bonanza too. It didn’t work out that way. I’ve got so much I want to do that I fantasize buying Microsoft Project to run my life. Living by impulsive is turning out to be frustrating. It’s low stress, something that my inner-hippy loves, but totally unproductive.

Everything we do takes time. It’s much easier if we only have one passion to single-mindedly chase, because it’s then a snap to know how to apply our free time. But if you chase many goals, that takes juggling. For example, the other day I got an ad in the mail for the local paper. I haven’t taken the paper in years, but the price was so low that I thought maybe I should give it a try. I feel guilty for knowing so little about my city and state, especially the politics and business. This Sunday I bought the paper as a test. I can’t find time to read it. One reason I cancelled the paper all those years ago is because they would pile up unread. Taking on any new activity requires shifting old ones around. That abundance of extra time I thought I’d have after retiring doesn’t exist.

Time Management 

I figure it takes about an hour a day to properly read the paper. Especially if you want to value what it offers. Just quickly flipping the pages and scanning the headlines isn’t worth wasting its carbon footprint. But where would that hour come from? Either I’d have to expand into another activity’s timeslot, or I’d have to read less on the internet, magazines or books. It’s just not practical for me to take the paper right now. I could, but I’d have to become a newspaper reader and give up being an internet addict. That’s like becoming a different person.

When you’re retired it feels at first like you have all the time in the world, but that’s not true. Half the day is taken up with body maintenance. Another quarter of the day is taking up with socializing and fun. I can’t remember I how squeezed in eight hours of work. Of course the numbers above are rough approximations. I’ve averaged them for the week. I often spend whole weekends in social activities, so I’m spreading activities across a single 24 hour clock as my pie chart.

When I look at this schedule I realize why I’m not getting much writing done. Three hours a day feels about right for how I’m doing things now. I have to work hard to get those three hours. It’s very easy to just fill the day with all the other stuff. I could cut out two hours a day of television and give it to writing, but I’m not sure that would work. Watching two hours of TV before bed every night seems almost a necessity for my body and mind’s upkeep, as valuable as sleep and eating. My mind is shot for the last few hours of each day, so I don’t think I could do anything ambitious.

And the older I get, the more reenergizing my cells need to keep going. All those naps and eye resting moments help recharge my batteries. I’ve recently read that sleep is the time when the brain flushes out toxic byproducts accumulated from mental activity during the day. That sounds true because when I take a nap it erases a mental fog that’s developed from writing.

I’ve been thinking about taking on two new activities – drawing and studying math. I want to push myself to learn something completely new and different. Actually, I get impulses to pursue all kinds of new activities. Writing this essay makes me realize that I’m not devoting enough time to writing, and I shouldn’t take on anything new. But I think I will try learning to draw. I need to find other things to give up, because I think always learning one new thing is essential to mental wellbeing. Thus, I need to make room.

What’s required is performing activity triage. I wonder if drawing is something I can do when I’m intellectually tired? I’m currently taking a Coursera course, “Learning How to Learn” based on A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley. In the book and course she teaches techniques for more efficient learning. And I think her insights points to ways to solve my time management problems. Learning them will make me more efficient at pursuing all my ambitions. I need to stop wishing for more time, to stop hoping to can do more things, and learn to do fewer things, but being better at each, and doing so with greater efficiency.

JWH

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