Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A "split" retirement

Jack Malinowski and  Deborah Frazer
Two years ago, Jack Malinowski retired from a 35-year career at the American Friends Service Committee.  One year ago,  his wife, Deb Frazer, a clinical psychologist who is seven years younger, was offered an exciting new challenge.
And there you have a new American dilemma: 
Where once a couple’s retirement involved just one decision (that of the working spouse – typically the guy), now, with so many career women,  it’s usually two decisions. Often, they come down at different times -- sometimes  by choice,  sometimes  in this brutal economy, by layoff or arm-twisting of older workers to take a buyout.
How do staggered retirements play out at home?
“Every day is like Saturday for me,” says Jack, 71. “I can pick my spots.” He volunteers with a number of Friends groups, visiting inmates in a federal prison in upstate Pennsylvania; works with Friends Center City, which is trying to build an intellectual and socially-conscious community for older people;  attends lectures; serves on a board. He also does the grocery shopping, errands, and is slowly cleaning out the couple’s Mt. Airy house for their eventual downsizing.
“I try to remain flexible,” he says. “I’m always happiest if I have things on my list to do or I say, 'Oh, dear, how do I justify my existence?'"
But he yearns to travel more.  Since retiring, Jack has twice traveled alone to visit the couple's son, who is working abroad -- first to Korea, and then to China.  And Jack is raring to go at night, just when Deb is crashing.
“Jack has so much more energy than me,” says Deb, who is running the new Friends Foundation for the Aging, seeing private clients and testing a behavioral healthcare model for those in long term care. In the evenings, “he’s ready to go out to movies or the Curtis [Institute],”  she says. “For 40 years we basically did everything together. And now sometimes it makes more sense to do things differently.”
Jack’s trips alone to Asia were such choices. Deb admits she’d like to go somewhere for a month or two, but even two weeks “seems like a huge leap.” She’s unwilling to abandon her elderly clients for what could amount to three to four weeks, when her travel and patient schedules are factored in.
Deb sees herself gradually working less so their lives can be more in sync, but for now she’s hoping her income will help replenish their nest egg, crushed by a “horrible hit” in ’08. And they want to be supportive to their son, who has done several unpaid internships while looking for work, and may decide on graduate school.
She lives by placing bets on the future and hoping things actually turn out that way.  Now, Deb's making choices based on the probability "that over the next five years I”ll be able to work, we’ll both be in good health and our son will be more settled.”
As for traveling?  "I miss him when he's gone, especially more than a week."
Frankly, this not-in-total-tandem couple sounds happier than those who complain about being in each other's space all day.
So keep going to the office,  hubby!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On erectile dysfunction and ultrasounds

Hey, guys with a certain problem,  
Need treatment for erectile dysfunction?  How would you feel if your partner had to sign an affidavit first, swearing that you really can’t … ? And how would you feel if you were forced to see a video of the side-effects of medication?
Pennsylvania State Sen. Larry Farnese of Philadelphia says he’ll propose just such a bill.
Absurd? Yes.
It’s his way of ridiculing a bill being considered by the state House of Representatives which would require women to undergo ultrasounds – likely, transvaginally --  before getting an abortion.
Hey, women (and men) of a certain age:  Isn’t it time we speak out loudly to protect the reproductive rights we fought so hard to win? At the very least, talk to our daughters, granddaughters, sons and grandsons about the way things once were?  They take so much for granted. After all, abortion has been legal now for nearly 40 years
Even so, states have whittled away at that right by throwing up obstacles —24 hour waiting periods, counseling, denial of abortion funding for poor women even for medical necessity, parental notice or consent for minors.  
And now, mandated ultrasounds, to which Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett said, “You just have to close your eyes.”
According to a new Guttmacher Institute report, “55 percent of all reproductive-age American women lived in a state hostile to abortion rights in 2011, up significantly from 31percent in 2000. The increase is the result of a dramatic shift in abortion policy at the state level, including a record number of abortion restrictions that were enacted in 2011."
Even contraceptive rights are being made to seem dirty.
Witness Rush Limbaugh calling a young woman advocating for contraception  coverage a “slut.” And Presidential aspirant Rick Santorum,  last fall telling a blogger that contraception is  “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

This week, I talked with a Philadelphia woman whose mother bravely advocated for abortion rights in the era before Roe v. Wade. The mother, let’s call her Dora, was also a go-to person because she knew of a doctor whose name she was willing to share.
“Abortions were illegal, secretive, dark and scary,” Dora's daughter said. In one instance, her parents paid for the abortion of a desperate and broke young woman who was getting married. The young bride paid them back with her wedding money. “I remember at the wedding, her slipping an envelope to me and saying, ‘Please give this to your mother.’
I don’t think my mother set out to be an intermediary but my mother never lost sight of what was important.”
Hearing Santorum talk about contraception, the daughter, now in her 60s,  said,  “I felt like I was put in a capsule and whooshed back in time.”
Still, she said, “I’m glad it’s come up as an issue. It was in the background for a lot of people. A lot of women don’t pay attention to the chipping away.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Project Renewment (and I don't mean facelift!)

Think about this: The first big generation of high-powered career women is contemplating "retirement" or already grappling with it. Better yet, call it “renewment,” as Helen Dennis does. Dennis had no name for this landmark societal shift  in 1999 when she and co-founder Bernice Bratter and a handful of other women in Los Angeles threw together a potluck dinner to talk about their futures. How would they feel about losing their workplace identities? Their paychecks? Their missions? Their ambitions? How would they spend their time?
They had so much to talk about that they kept on talking, gatherings that in 2008 led to a book Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women and what Dennis calls a “movement.” There are no dues, no board of directors, no marketing, no money. Just the book, a website (Project Renewment), and some 20 to 25 loosely affiliated groups that have sprung up in Florida, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., with the biggest critical mass in Los Angeles.

“This kind of thinking did not occur before,” says Dennis of the effort to come up with a retirement model for career women. “It’s really unrealistic to think that you’re going to leave your career and three days later it will be clear to you what that next chapter looks like.”
These are glass-ceiling-breaking women who in their youths asked themselves, “Is this all there is?” then launched into careers. Now many of them are leaving their careers. Again they are asking,  “Is this all there is?”
“How do we think that a homemaker role could be sufficient, if we didn’t think it was sufficient before?” Dennis says. There could be 30 more years to think about, without that workplace identify or business card.
The early potluck group was made up mostly of “people in their 60s looking for new careers, not necessarily retirement,” said Dennis, a gerontologist, who writes the syndicated column, “Successful Aging.” The idea took off, spreading to Chicago and the East Coast. “It’s like an amoeba,” says Dennis, joking  that she is “aging in the field of aging.”
A men’s group has just formed in LA – the “Life Transition Group.” “These are men who are highly accomplished. They meet once a month with a speaker and talk about transition issues,” said Dennis. Younger groups are forming, too, trying to deal with balance, among other issues. And one of the most recent groups consists of women in their 80s, who’ve taken the name “La Troisieme Age.”
On a personal level,” says Dennis, “work continues to be very important to me, but I am vigilant of the need not to be totally consumed by work.” She makes time for her children, grandchildren, her book group and friends, and admits that if her husband were alive, “this life stage might be different.” She refuses to stand still. “I’m more keenly aware of the need for new experiences, that my base is broad. I feel strongly in this notion of renewal and potential.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Start-up of You

I loved the title. Had to have it. Cause that’s how I feel. Like I’m a “start up.”
The book, The Start-up of You, is written by Reid Hoffman, one of the creators of LinkedIn. As you might expect he believes that in this turbulent world of layoffs, devastating “black swan” events, and new technology running roughshod over old technology, there is only one anchor:
Your network of trusted friends.
Besides your skills and your ambition, your network is all that’s left for you to rely on.
Actually, it’s how you leverage your skills and your ambition to become “entrepreneurial,” even if you’re not launching your own business.
As someone who has just left a long career in newspapering (speaking of old technology),  you might wonder why I found the book, though prescriptive, still intriguing.
It’s because my entrepreneurial side was limited by what I could accomplish within the boundaries of  my job.  Now, who knows? Any idea that pops in my head, I can act on – and tell others about, so I’m blogging, occasionally Twittering (@ideaDotty), Facebooking, and LinkingIn.
Here’s what Hoffman and coauthor Ben Casnocha say about discovering the entrepreneur in you:
Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’. If you’re not growing, you’re contracting. If you’re not moving forward you’re moving backward.”
Figuring out your “Plan A” (based on your skills, your ambition and the market), your backup “Plan B” and your last resort if-all-fails “Plan Z, ” is “a process as important for someone in their forties or fifties as for a newly minted college grad. ...No matter how old you are or at what stage, you will always be planning and adapting.”
There’s lots of sound advice here (and a  website with more), but here's the nut:
"You won’t encounter accidental good fortune—you won’t stumble upon opportunities that rocket your career forward – if you’re lying in bed. When you do something, you stir the pot and introduce the possibility that seemingly random ideas, people and places will collide and form new combinations and opportunities.”
So here’s an idea to take you somewhere new: 
“Ask the most curious person you know out to lunch.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

A tough retirement

William Barnes at Eastern State (Jesse Southerland)
How do you retire from a life spent mostly in prison?
How do you plunge into the world again, at age 75? These questions must be on the mind of William J. Barnes today after learning that his controversial imprisonment will soon end.
In the summer of 2007, on a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary, my husband and I and our daughter and  son-in-law-to-be heard the ex-convict movingly talk about his time in that historic prison for a variety of reckless crimes before it closed in 1971.
He also talked about his more recent stint -- 16 years behind bars for shooting a police officer.
He was finally out of jail, working in a supermarket and being brutally honest about the wrong turns and harmful actions of his younger years.
Listening, rapt, to Barnes' talk
Barnes, frail-looking with white-hair, spoke to a small crowd of tourists sitting in the courtyard of the prison-turned-museum. He talked about being the “bad” kid in his family and how he shot the officer in a scared effort to escape a botched robbery. He talked about how he would never have a wife or children and all he had missed out on. How he had wasted his life.
His talk was so compelling that I asked him afterward if he’d agree to an interview, then suggested to Inquirer reporter Michael Vitez that he write a story about Barnes.
But just weeks later, before Vitez could lift his pen, the police officer, whom Barnes had shot so many years before, died. Suddenly, Barnes was re-arrested – this time for murder.
I returned from vacation to find a letter for me with a prison return-address on it – from Barnes. In it, he said he’d been justly punished for many of the things he did, but this time his imprisonment was “unfair.”
In 2010, he was re-tried and found not-guilty in the officer's death. Still, he languished in jail for violating his previous parole by carrying a cell phone and car keys  while working at the supermarket.
Barnes should soon be out, trying to find his way in an unfamiliar world. Perhaps telling his story at Eastern State Penitentiary.