Thursday, December 10, 2015

Happy Holigrays

It’s happened again, the holidays have arrived and I’m left wondering who keeps speeding up time.  It seems like just yesterday I was putting out the Halloween candy and thinking back to Labor day, when I was thinking back to putting on the suntan lotion while thinking, “How did it get to be summer so soon.”

They say that time speeds up the older we get and, while I’m no Einstein, even I know that this is impossible.  What's happening is that since the holiday season is synonymous with stress, and therefore something we try to avoid, it comes upon us sooner than we would like. This is due to the universal law that the things we don’t want to happen always happen faster than the things we want to have happen. I can simplify this with the following equation:

^#%@ happens x attempts to avoid = Wake me up after New Years

The good news for the aging crowd is that the holiday season is the one time of year our culture allows a positive spin on getting older. Families travel over the river and through the woods, not to get to a palatial mountain cabin, but to grandmother’s house.  And there’s grandma in the kitchen, filling the air with the sweet smells of the season. Commercials on TV aren’t showing that grandpa has fallen and can’t get up, they show him cutting up the holiday turkey. This includes wielding a knife, that at any other time of the year he is not allowed to go near, like a Samurai warrior.  Yes, this truly is a magical time of the year when being old can be a gift.

To make sure that this gift does not turn out to be the proverbial pair of socks, clay ashtrays or fruitcakes (feel free to insert whatever gifts you have to feign appreciation for) we have to drop some major hints to the, would-be, Santas in our lives.

By all means, play the gray card if you don’t feel like turning your home into a festival of lights simply because the young couples who live in your neighborhood power theirs with the wind turbines in their backyards.  Refuse to open rooms in your home, that have not been cleaned since the Reagan years, to family members who, despite having spent a king’s fortune on unnecessary gifts, are saying they can’t afford to stay at the local Holiday Inn (go ahead and remind them it even has Holiday in the title).

Other helpful holiday tips include:

1. Repeatedly tell the story—even if it’s not true—about how when you were young the holidays meant sitting around a warm fire, drinking hot chocolate and simply being grateful that the plague passed the family by that year.
2. Drop, not so subtle, hints about not being sure if this will be your last holiday or not.  You can push the guilt factor through the roof by placing revised copies of your will into the hanging stockings.
3. If asked to cook the holiday meal, inform everyone that you are going to go “old school” with it and they should come wearing smocks because, “Butchering the fattened calf can get messy.”
4. Play nothing but an old, scratched, vinyl record of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra’s Holiday with Alvin and the Chipmunks.
5. Play the memory game and show up at the door wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt, straw hat, and waving an American flag, saying, “Happy fourth of July!” 

After surviving 50, or more, holiday seasons, why not take more pleasure in watching others hop on the holiday stress sleigh? Go ahead and fill your holiday mug with warm cider and bourbon, content in the knowledge that, after January 1st, the mass of humanity will be diligently going about trying to make it through the first week of their New Year’s resolutions.  

God bless them, one and all.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Help! Wanted?

Recently, and quite unexpectedly, I found myself back in the job market. After the initial shock wore off and the feeling returned to my toes, I came to a startling realization. It hit me that at the age of 55, I’m going to be competing with people who still have acne, have never known life without Starbucks, and have iSomethings permanently attached to their bodies.

Fortunately, I chose a profession where older is a plus. Wrinkles and grey hair on a therapist simply mean that one has experience listening to stories that make one cringe. Despite that, I must admit that the idea of interviewing in order to sell myself to complete strangers had all the charm of a root canal. Let’s be honest, after a certain age, it’s hard to sum up one’s accomplishments in a 20 minute sit-down and not sound like someone who has one foot in retirement.

That being said, all will be well for me, and it was good to blow the dust off the ol’ resume. Additionally, I was able to come up with a list of handy tips in case any other grayer out there is faced with a similar situation. Here’s my top ten ways to land that next job, despite your senior status:

1. Shorten your resume. It's time to drop your early work experiences as there's a good chance that prospective employers are no longer interested in your ability to cook the Colonel’s chicken to golden brown, clean a toilet till it sparkles, or bag groceries with the precision of a NASA engineer. (All jobs I held at one time.)

2. If you’re going to use any of the new fangled ways of interviewing, i.e. FaceTime or Skype, make sure your device’s camera is at, or above, your eye level. No, soon-to-be, employer wants to see the inner workings of your nostrils.

3. Do not refer to this new way of interviewing as “new fangled.” Only old people talk that way.

4. Never, ever, use the phrase "Back in the day" unless the person interviewing you also remembers the Nixon administration.

5. When asked the inevitable, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” resist the urge to respond, "In a nursing home."

6. If prompted to ask questions of your own, do not lead with, "Where's the bathroom?” no matter how weak your aging bladder is.

7. Avoid telling your interviewer that you have bunions as old as he, or she, is. He, or she, won't get the joke, and you’re going to lose them to Google as they search the word bunion.

8. When asked what your greatest accomplishment has been, avoid saying, “Surviving the 80s and disco.” While most likely true, it won’t increase your earning power.

9. When asked for your areas of strength, do not mention your ability to tolerate the impertinence of people younger than you.

10. When asked for areas of weakness, for the love of God, do not mention your knees, hips, back, heart, etc.

One final note. On the off-chance that the person interviewing you is your age, or older, then, by all means, play the age card. Talk about how you still can’t believe that Hendrix is dead, how you’ve never forgiven Yoko for breaking up the band and how you wouldn’t even be looking for a job if you hadn‘t invested your fortune in 8-Track and Betamax. Happy job hunting!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Senior Trip

One of the distinct pleasures of growing older is the ability to plan and take vacations without having to consider the needs of one’s children.  Places like Disney World are immediately removed from the list as the desire to snake around endless lines with other silent, suffering, sweating parents, with hyper-kinetic children in-tow, is second only to having a root canal.  

In the empty nest stage of life, vacation brochures are filled with scenes of empty beaches with a nary a concession stand in sight, mountain ranges without the obligatory burger joint at every turn, and bed & breakfast inns that offer “Quiet Time” rather than vibrating beds. Yes, this time of life offers the true meaning of the word vacation, which is freedom from obligation, as the primary concern is not “Are we there, yet?” but “When are we coming back?”

This does not mean that vacationing while gray, aka graycation, is without its perils.  AARP discounts aside, traveling to distant places can definitely put a dent in one’s wallet, particularly if one is a consumer of anything purchased at an airport.  I recently paid an amount of money for a slice of pizza in the Philadelphia airport that would, in any other setting, be considered price gouging.  Sadly, I hardly even blinked an eye as I washed it down with my $3.00 bottle of water.  

When not traveling by air, those of us who take to the nation’s highways soon realize that rest stops are for those whose sanitary requirements, unlike us,  have not come of age. Added to this is the realization that the miles between stops lacks an appreciation for the prostate condition of anyone over the age of 30.

All that being said, it’s truly a wonderful time to take time off from the daily grind and appreciate being old enough to appreciate natural wonders and life's simple pleasures.  As an added benefit, when traveling off-season, one finds one's self in the company of other grayers who are also seeking a taste of the retired life knowing that children between the ages of 5 and 18 are safely in the confines of a local school system.  

With a maturing attitude toward life in general, it’s easier to suffer through unexpected twists and turns that are a part of any trip without suffering a nervous breakdown.   Headaches of lost luggage, misplaced room keys, a failed GPS just as you enter the 5 lane highway, etc, become stories to tell when we get back rather than reasons to move "Staying at home" to the top of the list of next years vacation ideas.

So, whether your next trip is around the corner or across the globe enjoy the freedom that comes from being old enough to make your own plans and explore your own dreams. Heck, visit Disney World, park yourself on a bench, watch as stressed out parents try to corral their wandering children, and give Mickey a high-five; it's not only a small world, it's pure magic.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

All the Rage

“I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight... I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh,

I’ve been thinking about anger a lot lately, particularly its relation to getting older.  The stereotype of grumpy old men suggests that there is a correlation between growing angrier as we go gray. But is it true that the longer we live the shorter our fuse?  Do we find that, much like our knees, hips, and backs, anger no longer works the same way it once did?  Finally, are there any benefits to being angry that might allow us to drop all of the “anger management” techniques that mostly serve to turn on anger on ourselves for not being a good manager?

Arguably, anger is our most maligned emotion.  We talked about the need to manage it, to control it, to eliminate it. Conventional wisdom tells us that it is at the root of a myriad of societies’ ills.  Paradoxically, we are told to get angry with our anger and kick it out of our lives.  Despite these warnings, anger is one of our go-to emotions—one of the sharpest tools in the emotional tool box that we return to again and again.  Anger is almost always a more pure and honest expression of how we feel.  People seldom question whether or not we are really angry with them. Really love them?  A different story, altogether.   

Anger, itself, has a developmental cycle that corresponds to our physiological growth.  Early displays of anger take the form of meltdowns, tantrums or fits.  While these often remain the preferred method of expression for some, most will move on to more subtle forms like the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, and, the granddaddy of them all, the stink eye.  These are tempered forms of anger that serve the purpose of expressing one’s inner experience while at the same time leaving room for denial—as in “I’m not yelling, I just have a loud voice.”

Psychological theories of anger vary widely and, quite frankly, many of them are maddening.  The definition I find the most helpful, particularly as it relates to aging, is “Anger is an emotion, resulting from a perceived loss, attributed to a willful agent, and judged as unfair.”  This would explain why anger and aging are intertwined—the loss, that of youth, the culprit, Father Time and totally unfair—case closed.

The anti-anger crowd would probably point out that getting angry at something that is inevitable does not make sense.  To those folks, I say “Shut up!  Who are you to take away anyone’s right to, as Dylan Thomas said, Rage against the dying of the light.”  Sure, we can all accept the idea that life’s unfair, but as the great philosopher Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, once mused, “Why isn’t ever unfair in my favor?”

By no means am I suggesting that we head into the golden years red-faced with rage.  Unchecked, anger can lead to some nasty consequences, not the least of which is spending one’s remaining days alone, having chased away friends and loved ones through one too many unfiltered rants.  I do, however, think that there might be times when not going gentle into that good night could be helpful.   If anger motivates us to tear down the walls of ageism that still divide our county, helps to give voice to a marginalized group, and stops predators from taking advantage of the elderly, then bring it on!  

Here are some useful aging anger tips:

1. Own it. Whoever asks “Are you angry?” already knows you are.  At least do them the favor of allowing them to be right.
2. Use it to solve problems not create them.
3. Take responsibility for it. No matter what was said or done the anger arose within you and therefore you made yourself angry.
4. Save the aggression for the gym.  Anger doesn’t hurt people, acts of aggression do.  Slamming doors, throwing things, and even punching pillows simply create violent habits and send the message that you are not in control.
5. Sit with it. Turn anger into meditative moments where you pause and reflect on your experience rather than fight or flee.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Perk Up! The Expanded List: A Meaningful List of Rewards for Getting Old

1. Being exempt from having to pay state taxes if we choose not to move to Florida and, if living in Florida, a tax refund for continuing to live with unbearable heat and humidity.

2. A specially designed airline just for seniors that offers reduced rates to see children and grandchildren on flights that have no screaming children on them.

3. The creation of a music genre that has less to do with falling in and out of love and more to do with falling and not being able to get up.

4. Dropping the expectation for tips while dining out.  (Someone in his or her 20s serving someone who has survived into their 50s should be asking for advice, not tips)

5. Separate cinemas for those of us who need the sound effects turned down and the dialogue turned up.  

6. Free subscriptions to any magazine whose primary purpose is to sell products to the very people they freak out with warnings about growing older.

7. The right to vote more than once in order to offset the impact of missing the gray vote due to those of us who get lost on the way to the polling center.

8. A voucher program for internet services to make up for all the irretrievable moments of our lives we spent waiting for the first modems to connect to a server.

9. Free vitamins and herbal supplements that purport to counter the side effects of all the crap we were talked into taking when younger that promised to keep us from growing old.

10. Discounts on trips to the beauty salon/barber, who, let’s be honest, have a lot less work to do when it comes to our hair.

11. Special parking spaces that come equipped with the technology to find us rather than the other way around.