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Wednesday
Feb132019

Going to work - every morning for 49 years

If all the year were playing holidays; To sport would be as tedious as to work.
Shakespeare

I am retiring soon. It worries me.

Financially, I'm good. Pension, Social Security, 403b, no mortgage, no debt, financially independent children. No blackmail issues with the National Enquirer. And except for a slowly healing twisted knee, I am in good health. No expensive hobbies or toys. I like cheap wine, simple food. When I travel, it's usually on a budget.

So here is what worries me. I've gone to a regular job nearly every day for almost 50 years. I worked through college. I worked through grad school. I worked most summers when I was a classroom teacher and school librarian. My tech director position has been year round since 1992. Even on weekends, I've done a lot of writing and preparation for speaking/consulting gigs.

Work for me has always provided structure to my life. It has been the roof over my head that has protected me from my natural indolence. It's kept me from ever using the snooze button. It's kept me, as they say, off the streets and out of the bars. At times it's felt more like a prison than a house, but not very often.

Work has not just provided financial rewards, but social and emotional payback as well. I've liked, by and large, the people with whom I have worked. I've received recognition for the work I've done and contributions I've made to my profession. And work has been personally validating. When I feel bad for people who are unemployed, I usually feel sorry about the vacuum in their self-worth that they must experience.

The few retirement seminars I've attended over the past couple years have stressed financial planning, of course, but they have usually addressed the psychological aspects of retirement as well. What will you do with your days when the need to work is gone? I anticipate the joy of sleeping in (until 5:30) will last less than a week.

My current plan is to take what is becoming called the Senior Gap Year. I do plan to travel. I do plan to enjoy no longer having to deal with ongoing "wicked problems" at work. I have friends with whom to play, clubs and associations I can support with my volunteer efforts. I have a few projects to complete. But I know it will not be enough.

Nearly everyone I talk to says something like "I am busier now in retirement than I was when I was working." I find it hard to believe. I'm sure I will find a lifestyle that balances busy-ness with leisure; problem-solving with relaxation; structure with freedom. I'm pretty sure, anyway.

I do plan to continue writing. The question is "About what?"

Tuesday
Feb122019

Limping to the top of Pinatubo

Earlier this month, I spent a week in the Philippines and got a chance to check the hike of Mt. Pinatubo, site of the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century, off my bucket list.

The adventure started with an hour plus drive from the town of Mexico, Papanga, where my brother and sister-in-law own a house. Through dark roads crammed with lit and unlit jeepneys, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, and carts pulled by caribou (water buffalo), we eventually made it to the drop-off point. 

If over the age of 40, one is not allowed to hike Mt. Pinatubo without first getting a blood pressure check. I passed. If over age 60, one is supposed to have a doctor's note saying that one is in good enough condition to do the hike. I did not know this until the day before the hike started. When I was asked my age, I replied, "How old do I look?" The response was "59." I said "Right you are" and was relieved when not asked for an ID. (I am 66.)

Check in at Sta Juliana, Capas, Tarlac

Once registered, I met my guide, Rogelio, all of 4' 11' 98 pounds of smiles and nods. Rogelio and I got into the nearest 4X4 and off we flew for an hour and half bumpy drive through the lahar (ash) fields to the start of the hike.

Our 4X4.

The drive felt like a scene from Mad Max. The ride, through countless river crossings, up and down steep banks, was perhaps more interesting than the hike. I bought a face cloth and was advised to wear it to keep the volcanic dust from clogging the nose and throat. The occasional Aeta tribe members and their caribou were glimpsed, crossing the ash field or gathering wood.

The jeep trail between cliffs made of volcanic ash.

The valley eventually narrowed and the 4X4 parked and dropped Rogelio and me off to begin the actual hike. Again we followed the stream for about an hour and a half -  me treating a knee I had twisted a couple weeks earlier in slip on Minnesota ice with great care. Rogelio held my hand as I crossed back and forth across the stream on stepping stones. Actually, I think Rogelio would have happily held my hand the entire hike. 

Stream crossing on the hike to the crater.

The hike is not long nor really very difficult. I suppose about 30 other hikers were out this Tuesday morning. TripAdvisor says it gets busier on weekends. The weather was in the 70s and I lent Rogelio my rain jacket since he was cold. And I forgot to get it back from him. Luckily, this is the dry season in the Philippines so I did not need it for the rest of my stay.

Follow the stream.

60 concrete steps led to the ridge overlooking the beautiful crater. A small, well kept park and a few stands selling snacks, soft drinks, and trinkets, made it a nice place to rest for a bit before heading back down. Either Rogelio had more confidence in my balance on the way down or the infatuation was over. Not so much hand-holding.

Rogilio and me at the top.

While in the PI, I also did a short hike on Mr Arayat and took a day tour of Corregidor Island in Manila Bay. But probably the highlight of my trip was getting a chance to meet my sister-in-law's family at a big going away feast for her and my brother.

Jeff and Liway's family.

The main course was lechon baboy, a whole roast pig, served with rice and fried noodles. Not just family dined, but so did the whole neighborhood. It was a great evening.

Our going away feast.

I would like to go back to the Philippines for an extended backpacking stay. I've only been on Luzon in the three trips I've made there - and there are more than 7000 islands to explore. Manila is a hot mess of traffic and poverty, but the rest of the country is quite nice. The people are friendly and speak English. The cost of living is low. And it's warm. Even in January/February when temps here in Minnesota were -20. What's not to like?

More photos can be found here.

Saturday
Feb092019

BFTP: Shallow wit vs. deep intellect

The article-as-numbered-list has several features that make it inherently captivating: the headline catches our eye in a stream of content; it positions its subject within a preexisting category and classification system, like “talented animals”; it spatially organizes the information; and it promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—a bit like sipping green juice instead of munching on a bundle of kale. And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data. Maria Konnikova, "A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love ListsNew Yorker, December 2, 2013

OK, again, here was my take on numbered lists and why we like'm

Here are three reasons, every piece of writing should have a number that helps describe it:

  1. A number gives the reader hope that the writing is finite. When the title is "The 5 Reasons You Shouldn't Pick Your Nose - And the 3 Surprising Reasons You Should," the time-pressed know that once eight reasons have been given, they can move on. In order to have this impact, I'd not go above 12 in the title. Who'd read the "137 Reasons Why ..." for anything?
  2. Many numbers have an association of mystical importance. Through much of history, numbers (3, 7 and 12 especially) have connotations of power. Think of the 3 Wishes, the 7 Samurai, or the 12 Days of Christmas. Don't just use numbers - use the really good numbers. A "Top 10" list just sounds better than a "Top 9" or "Top 11" list. Why is that?
  3. A number signifies selectiveness. If I write the "7 Best Reasons You Should Read This Blog," there is an unstated but powerful implication that there are so many good reasons for the argument that I had to actually narrow the choices. Rather than try to fabricate the last couple as is usually the case.  

    "3 Reasons for Numbered Lists" Blue Skunk blog, December 21, 2011

 Or if you prefer the PPT version:

 

"...effortlessly acquired data," indeed. But Konnikova sums up her article by warning

... we tend to choose the ... bite-sized option, even when we know we will not be entirely satisfied by it. And that’s just fine, as long as we realize that our fast-food information diet is necessarily limited in content and nuance, and thus unlikely to contain the nutritional value of the more in-depth analysis of traditional articles that rely on paragraphs, not bullet points.

I've never made a secret of the fact that if I have any gift it is a shallow wit, not a deep intellect. And wit may well serve a writer better in a fast information culture than intellect. Bullet lists, sound bites, and bumper stickers are the snack foods of knowledge. Tasty, popular, and even addictive, but not nutritious. 

I am always happy to read an article like Konnikova's. Should we all be doing more "close reading" of challenging texts?

Original post 12-9-13