Retirement Fears for the 2020’s and 2030’s

The Road

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, September 15, 2018

I’ve been retired for five years. I’m almost 67 and the Social Security Longevity Calculator claims I’ll live to be 85. That will be in 2036. I need to financially survive another 18 years (or 216 months since we pay bills by the month). Of course, I could die this afternoon, or live to be 116. Judging my own health and psychology, I tend to think I can make it to 78, which would be 2029.

My financial security comes from a pension, social security, and a 401K. All three are under threat from conservative political ambitions. Plutocrats want to siphon off all the remaining wealth they do not control. As long as Republicans run the government, anyone who is not wildly rich should worry about their economic future, even the moderately wealthy.

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic for years, but what I’m really worried about wealth siphoning. The insanely rich are looking for large pools of money to target for acquisition. All the main sources of traditional capital investments are within their control, so they are looking at large social pools of money like Social Security, Medicare, pensions, welfare programs, public healthcare, and so on. If you look around to any large body of wealth that’s not in private hands, it’s in the crosshairs of the plutocracy.

I tend to believe, and hope, that Social Security and Medicare will be around for the rest of my life. However, the success of the greedy under Trump has been startling. Trump quickly transferred a tremendous amount of social wealth to the rich, and he’s working hard to do it again as often as possible. The conservative’s goal of shrinking the government is really a way to siphon off trillions of dollars by the wealthiest of citizens.

If they get their way, we’ll lose Social Security and Medicare, two programs I depend on, as do tens of millions of other people too. I could survive without Social Security. But I know plenty of people who couldn’t. I could survive without Medicare as long as I was willing to die when I got expensively sick. Without Medicare, having a heart attack will kill either me or kill my 401K.

As a consequence the rich siphoning off social wealth, the federal deficit is skyrocketing. Ultimately, this will destroy the economy, which will destroy everyone’s 401K savings. Without Social Security and 401K savings, I could probably still survive in the poorest part of town with just my pension as long as I didn’t even need moderate healthcare.

As the federal government comes apart, it puts the squeeze on state governments. That will threaten my pension. Of course, by then, almost everyone will be destitute, and it might not matter.

The one thing I hope comes out of the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections, is stability. Of course, this is like wishing I’d win a billion dollar lottery. Too many people are casting votes simply because they don’t want to pay taxes. I don’t like paying taxes either, but all those deductions I made for fifty years is now providing me an income and medical care. I bitched then, but it’s truly wonderful now.

JWH

Prioritizing My Ambitions

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Being 66 and retired gives me a lot of free time, yet at the end of every day, I always wish I had more. My lifelong, no-so-secret ambition has been to write a book. I’ve had plenty of ideas, and I could have found the time, even during my nine-to-five years. Yet, I haven’t. Why? Because I fritter away my goddamn time. I have a personality that loves to do what I want when I want. Some people call that laziness, but it’s essentially poor time management. Somehow I need to learn how to prioritize my time to succeed.

Most people must achieve their ambitions before forty. Most big ambitions required the peak performance of youth. Generally, writers must also succeed in bloom, but there are a few outliers that give me hope. Writing is one endeavor where late bloomers have an outside chance. So, if I don’t want to go to my grave still fantasizing about the books I want to write, I need to conquer time management.

All that’s required is focusing, working diligently, and ignoring all the distractions. Of course, that’s easier declared than lived. I’ve mind mapped how I spend my time. What I need to, is Marie Kondo its branches.

Time Mind Map

I write best in the mornings, but to maintain my health I must exercise. My self-control wanes quickly during the day, so if I don’t do my exercises in the morning, there’s little chance I’ll do them at all. In fact, I’m skipping my morning bike ride to write this. That bike ride gives me vitality, something in short supply. And if I don’t do my physical therapy and Miranda Esmonde-White exercises, my back will go out. Maybe one reason people don’t succeed after forty is that we have to spend too much time on body maintenance.

I need to completely get over this ingrained habit. I need to write in the mornings and exercise later in the day. I doubt I have the mental and physical energy to write more than four hours a day, maybe only two, even if I give it my best hours. Somehow I need to make those writing hours the #1 activity in my day. After that, I have to make exercise #2.

I have a friend whose life-long ambition is to live abroad. She’s finally getting to do that because she’s getting rid of everything she owns here. Part of my time management problem is possession management. According to minimalists, owning less is more freeing. That’s true, For example, I’ve been spending a lot of time and mental energy researching buying a new television and computer, or what books and magazines to collect. I need to stop that. It would also help to get rid of all the stuff I must spend time maintaining.

If you study that mind map, you’ll notice I consume a great deal of fiction. Generally, I rationalize television and reading by claiming I only do it when I’m too tired to do anything else. I need to make sure that’s true.

Looking closer, I also realize I spend a great deal of time socializing. I’m not sure I can give friends up, but I need to make being with them more efficient. People are just as essential as food, but some of my social activities are junk food.

Many of the activities listed above are mostly ambitions I just piddle around with at best. Maybe it’s time I give up thinking I’m a programmer. I spent my work years programming, and I think of myself as a programmer, but I really don’t program anymore. I want to. If I gave up writing I’d want to program. But I can’t have two ambitions. There’s not enough time.

If I’m really serious about writing a book then I need to prune the crap out of that mind map above. Meditating on it is very revealing. I should print it out and study it first thing every morning when I wake up. I should reread this essay every morning to remind myself of the lessons I’ve learned writing it.

I find it most rewarding on waking up if I make two goals for the day. It used to be five, then three, and now two. They can’t be too big either. And sometimes I have to waste one on things like grocery shopping or seeing a movie.

If my mind map was smaller, with fewer branches, it would be easier to be ambitious with my limited resources. It’s going to be painful to give up so many possessions and activities. But if I really want to succeed with my goal, I can see from studying the mind map, that’s the price.

Afterward:

The two goals that came to mind this morning, were to write a new blog, and finish a scanning project and submit it to Internet Archive. This accomplishes one of them. I think of blogging as writing. I’ve always said blogging was piano practice for writers. Yet, I see it’s not working on a book. I’ve got to start blogging outside my morning writing hours. Blogging is essential to my my mental agility. It has to be #3 after morning writing and exercise. But I positively have to stop blogging in the morning.

If I can’t make writing in the morning my #1 activity every day, I should Marie Kondo my ambition to write a book. To be honest, I must prune my ambitions too.

Maybe I’m really doing what I want, and the desire to write is what I should give up.

Not yet.

JWH

 

 

Yard Guilt and Lazy Landscaping

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 14, 2018

I’m an inside person. I enjoy an occasional walk in the Botanic Gardens or a bike ride through my neighborhood, but for the most part, I dwell indoors. I’m a bookworm who’s addicted to music and TV. I interact with the larger reality mostly through computer monitors and flat-screen televisions.

The trouble is I have a yard. Up till now, I like to think my yard as an independent creature that can get by without my help. We pay the lawn guys to give it a trim, and in the fall, pay the lawn guys to rake the leaves, but other than that, I leave my yard to its own resources. Wouldn’t Mother Nature know best? Oh, and every few years we have to spend the price of an OLED TV to have the trees trimmed and thinned. I don’t know what message she’s sending, but Mother Nature likes to drop large limbs on my house and yard. I wonder if she’s aiming at me? Sometimes it feels personal.

In the past, Ernie, my neighbor complained when my weeds got too tall and were pollinated his nicely kept lawn. Since then, I’ve had the lawn guys come very regularly. I figure I’ve done my neighborly duty. Other than Ernie, no one has told me I should do anything, but it worries me my neighbors spend so much time outside in their yards. What do their actions say?  In the past few years, many of my neighbors have had their lawns resodded. It makes me want to take up golfing. My yard is mostly weeds, clover, dandelions, and a smattering of grass-looking plants that may or may not be actual grass. When mowed, it’s green and flat, so I think it’s good enough.

My neighbors spend a great deal of time working on bushes and flower beds, and I’ve started feeling guilty. I don’t want to be considered a yard slacker.

Then the other day I attended a lecture given by a friend Kim on garden walks. She goes all over the country visiting different cities and towns that have garden walk tours. The point of her lecture was to convince people that garden walks improve neighborhoods dramatic ways beyond appearance. I was convinced, and her lecture made me feel even worse about my yard.

Here’s the jungle of my front yard. I have some azaleas, mostly dead or dying, some sapling trees that need to be cut down, weeds, vines, and other assorted unknown plant beings.

Front-YarsAnd here’s the jungle of half my backyard. The other half is paved for parking. Raccoons, squirrels, rats, cats, chipmunks, and other creatures live back there. Years ago we had a fox, but it got ran over. By the way, I live in the city. There are even more neighbors behind all that green.

Back-yard

After seeing Kim’s lecture I felt very guilty. I guess I’m letting my neighbors and neighborhood down. I’d like to think yards should belong to nature, and whatever nature wants to grow in my yard should be good enough. Evidently, city-dwellers feel a need to create their own visions of nature. I suppose my front yard should look like these yards:

Front Yard 1

Front Yard 2

Front Yard 3

But even if I take the simplest approach to landscaping, I’m going to have to learn a lot of new stuff, spend more money, work outside, and use up a bunch of my bookworm time. And the ironic thing is I won’t spend any more time dwelling outdoors. I have many nature-loving friends who plead for me to sit out on my patio. I don’t know why.

I think we need to rethink landscaping. Why does the grass need to be green and uniform? What’s wrong with weeds? It seems like we should have lawns and shrubs for the creatures that enjoy them the most – birds, squirrels, bees, moles, snakes, butterflies, wasps, slugs, rolly-pollies, etc.  We need yards that have low carbon footprints that consume CO2 and supply O2. Seems like these two yards would be more natural.

Front Yard 4

Front Yard 5

Why burn fossil fuels to maintain what nature can do on her own? Maybe I could fool my neighbors by planting some shrubs with flowers. Could it be the dobs of colors that impress people? Just plant a whole bunch of them willy-nilly and see what happens. Maybe the results will look landscaped.

I need to research plants, flowers, and shrubs that need little or no attention, but look fancy. I have no idea what to buy though. That will take some research. I just found a Pinterest site called Zero Effort Plants. That sounds good. But anyone reading this that knows about lazy-landscaping let me know.

And I hate the sound of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and weed eaters. We need to start a landscaping movement that does away with anything that requires making noise to maintain it.

JWH

Letting Things Slide

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 21, 2017

Recently I told a friend they were letting things slide.

“What a horrible phrase,” they replied, “it sounds like I’m in a death spiral.”

“I didn’t mean you were going down the drain,” I said. “But you do keep pushing deadlines back.”

Psychology Today defines “letting things slide” as procrastination. Dictionary definitions include, “to ignore something, to not pay attention, put aside, write off, negligently allow something to deteriorate, allow something to go without punishment, to not do anything about something or someone when you should try to change or correct that thing or person.” Evidently, it’s a widely used phrase. By the last definition, if I hadn’t said anything to my friend I would have been letting things slide by not telling them they were sliding.

now-later

Often, offering helpful criticism means getting a foot stuck in our mouth. I then pointed out that one of the side-effects of getting older is letting things slide. My friend hates any suggestion that they’re getting older. They got even more annoyed with me. My wife tells me I’m too happy to accept aging. She says if I’m not going to fight getting old, I should at least not admit it.

I started thinking about causes of sliding not related to aging. I remembered that I started letting things slide more after I retired. I assume it was because I was getting older, but what if retirement causes sliding? What if not having a 9 to 5 structure promotes procrastination and delay?

When all your time is free its very easy to reschedule obligations. It’s also easy to choose pleasant activities over annoying tasks. I’ve known this for a couple years since I’ve been retired longer than my friend, so I was trying to pass on that bit of wisdom. Maybe people have to discover it for themselves.

I even wrote an essay, “Overcoming Inertia in Retirement.” I guess my friend didn’t read it. I often study older people when I get a chance to see if I can spot trends I might be following as I get older. And I do think letting things slide is an aging issue. Older folks generally do much less than younger people. We assume that’s because of health and energy, but what if it’s mental too? Life is about making an effort to get what we want.

What if the wisdom of aging is learning that some things aren’t worth the effort? Or is that a cop out? Maybe we just get tired of making an effort. I know I dream of arranging my future life so it requires much less effort. To put a positive spin on things, maybe we just streamline living as we get older.

Unfortunately, I think it’s more insidious than that. As we age our brains shrink, and we lose neurons and neural connectivity. Exercise, especially aerobic exercise can counter that trend. We actually grow new neurons and make more connections with exercise. I do very little aerobic exercise according to my FitBit. And I do feel I’m in a cognitive decline. That’s why I do things like write essays and solve crossword puzzles to keep what little brain matter I have oiled and active.

If we chart our activity levels across our 40s, 50s and 60s, we can probably plot a line that will show our activity levels for our 70s, 80s and 90s. Research shows we can tilt the slope of that line up if we exercise physically and mentally.

If other words, slowing the slide now means we’ll let things slide less in the future.

JWH

621 Ways To Be Happier

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, April 29, 2017

Each day, the Internet now offers me more lists on how-to-be-happier than funny-cat-videos. That’s ironic since funny-cat-videos make me happy.

In recent years it seems that “12 Ways To …” is the lowest common denominator of journalistic seduction, whether its for newspaper, magazine, webpage, blog, or social networking readers. Evidently the quickest way to grab someone’s attention is to entice them with a list.

Life is Good

I wish I had a computer program that would collect advice lists on various topics and statistically analyze them for the most popular pieces of wisdom. Then I could ignore this whole category of journalism. I’ve theorized that if I stopped reading about Donald Trump and self-improvement lists I’d have time to read two quality novels each week instead.

How many people actually follow self-improvement advice? And if we did, would that advice work? I use a program called Instapaper to track what I read online and have collected 35 essays with 621 pieces of advice. It’s fascinating how many recommendations overlap. You’d think everyone would be 100% happy by now, and very productive.

I’m naturally a happy person, but I have several friends that suffer from depression. I sometimes forward these articles, but I’m not sure if they are helpful. Can willpower overcome genes and hormones? As I read more of them I realized some of the advice did apply to me. I never feel depressed, but I do feel regrets. Emotionally, I’m as happy as a drooling pug reading, writing, listening to music and watching TV. However, I have lingering regrets about not doing more. That’s why I tell people I’m a Puritanical Atheist – I feel guilty if I don’t spend a portion of each day accomplishing something, no matter how small.

Many of these lists appear to equate success, productivity, and creativity with happiness. I’ve often thought my natural state of contentedness keeps me from working harder at my ambitions. So I started reading these lists for tips on improving my productivity. I assume I’d be happier if I got more done, and regret less about not finishing all the projects I fantasize about doing. However, some advice is geared towards unhappy productive people. They are told to relax and do less. That makes me wonder if I did more would I be unhappier?

I could have gathered lists for any area of self-help that I wanted. Such lists are overly abundant on the net. I wonder when the trend will collapse? At some point I think everyone will get tired reading about Donald Trump and numbered advice lists.

I realize that by gathering this meta-list of lists I’m only playing into the trend. Gotcha! Well, I hope you find some good advice. My takeaway is I need to go to sleep earlier, get up earlier, focus, avoid distractions, and reduce my goals to as few as possible. I’m not sure, but I did’t Benjamin Franklin make that list over 200 years ago?

The Wisdom of Happiness

JWH

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