Friday, November 21, 2014

On a Scary State of Being: Boredom

Here's what people contemplating retirement fear most:
What will I do with myself? they say. How will I spend my time?
Boredom, it turns out, can have serious psychological consequences. So their fears may be justified. (Though in my experience, few people actually end up at loose ends with their time.)
 Boredom "correlates with depression, aggression anxiety… and it leads to addiction and other risk-taking behaviors," says Sandi Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Central Lancashire in England. "Boredom is the modern-day stress."
She's among a number of researchers quoted in an an article  in the Philadelphia Inquirer  looking at new studies on the psychological impact of boredom, a mostly ignored field. According to the story, some people would rather be subjected to electric shocks than the torture of being bored.
Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University,  says that being bored means confronting ourselves, a potentially terrifying proposition.
"Boredom, like anxiety, brings you face to face with the world without any distractions," the article quotes philosopher John D. Caputo as saying. Which could be a good thing. It's "an opportunity to think, mull things over and really ask about how you live your life."
That's a question many of us should probably be addressing, regardless of whether we are bored or not.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nat Sloan: The (Still) Dancing King

Nat Sloan, the new 90
How many 7th grade science teachers make an effort to keep up with their students? All through life? I know of only one -- Nat Sloan, who for many years taught at Quaker Ridge School in Scarsdale, N.Y. The proof came last weekend at his birthday party -- his 90th. And celebrating with him -- dancing with him -- were his students from 50 years ago and more! His smile was as broad and infectious as ever, his spirit as lively as his footwork.
I loved that science class. He told scary stories of getting trapped overnight on "Copperhead Island" -- a snake infested spot not far from our school that he refused to reveal the location of.  And I got to take home the class garter snake at Christmas. Showing it off to my younger brother was the only time I ever willingly held a snake -- and then it pooped on me!
What I didn't realize was how much "Mr. Sloan" loved us, his students. As the years went by, as the decades went by, he would make extraordinary efforts to keep up with us  -- like showing up at our parents' funerals. Of course, we would be there.
"He is interested in their stories," said Nat's daughter, journalist Karen Sloan.
Aging usually means losing friends. They move to be near grandchildren, or to be somewhere warm, or because they fall ill.  The circle dwindles.
Nat's post-career project was keeping fit and keeping friends, making sure his circle grew.  He plays tennis, lifts weights, creates art and boogies -- check out this  video.  And yes, he goes to funerals, though at this point he's outliving some of his students.

"Somehow over the years, I’ve been blessed with an enormous store of loving friendship," he said Saturday, as he looked around the crowded room at the Saw Mill Club in Mt. Kisco. This is my real wealth and I’m a multi billionaire on this account. There are some wonderful people here, a lot of them former students and I was lucky early in life to find a niche in life just meant for me as a junior high school teacher of science. I’ve always had a love of science from my childhood on. I was out in the woods, in the fields, climbing trees, capturing butterflies, capturing snakes and just being a part of life of so many young people for 30 odd years. It was the best way to spend a lifetime. 
"There are strange mixtures of people still here. I have a cardiologist who’s also an architect. I have a cardiologist who is also an attorney. What a mixture! I have friends and family, cousins and nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews as well. … Some of my friends here go back to college days over 60 years ago. My students go back to over  40 years ago."
That line was greeted by laughter as guests shouted out, "50 years… 55!"
Also here, he continued are "some of my club tennis buddies. I have my curb ball buddies. I don’t know if you remember what curb ball is. Some of you may remember it as stoop ball. We’ve been playing together for over 20 years and I can still compete with the best of them. One of them is also a student. 
"Life has brought a lot to me. We’ve all had our vicissitudes in life  but we’ve come through it and we’re still here and we’re still going to go on. In November  2019, there’ll be another shindig.
Be there!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Death-Defying Feats

Jane von Bergen: tackling 60

Scaling heights. Or rather, descending them. 31 flights down the side of a building in a harness, hand over hand on a rope.  That's what my former colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jane von Bergen, decided to do to prove -- mostly to herself -- that at age 60, she was willing still to take on new challenges.
It's what so many people in my 'unretiring' universe are choosing to do, even as they move well past 60. They do not "pull back," as the word "retire" actually means. They push forward, trying new things. Not always physical, but sometimes. I started this blog to test and grow the tech skills I felt I would need to stay current as the years passed, if not in the vanguard. A recent vacation to northern Peru and the Amazon found people tackling travel  to remote places for the sheer thrill of the adventure. Even fishing for piranha.

Others have left careers to put their skills to use in new venues. The other day Sharon Greis, a former speech therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that she had surmounted new challenges as  a professor at La Salle University. "I was nervous about supervising students who were working with children with a variety of speech disorders that I had not worked with in many years," she said. "But I did it."

Susan Orkin is pushing herself to take her piano playing to a new level and even went to music camp this summer. She calls it a journey of "learning and self improvement."
And so it goes.
Jane von Bergen, writing of her experience, seems way too young to be saying: "Not dead yet."
Jane, my dear, you could easily have another 30 years ahead of you. Think of all the stunts you'll have time for. You can even jump out of an airplane at 100, like Eleanor Cunningham, who took up skydiving at 90.
Readers of this blog: share your story of challenging yourself and why you do it.
Send me an email and I'll post it..

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why I Don't Hope to Die at 75

Some people just get better. With age, they are more creative, wiser, better at what they've been working at their whole lives.
In this essay, in the New York Times,  we read of such aging dynamos  -- businessman T. Boone Pickens, Supreme Court Judge Ruth Ginsberg,  jazz musician Roy Haynes, naturalist Edward O. Wilson, and painter Carmen Herrera -- who, by the way, sold her first painting at 89 and is now 99.
Of course, this is what we want to hear. People exuberant about living. Refusing to stop. Relishing every moment. We don't really want to hear what Ezekiel Emanuel provocatively declares in his essay, "Why I Hope to Die at 75," in the Atlantic magazine.
Shocking words -- which is exactly why everyone (of a certain age) is talking about it. Yes, most of us will slow down. Yes, most of us will ail. Yes, Dr. Emanuel, thanks for reminding that the best is in the past.   But as the Times writer Lewis Lapham points out in his essay, citing a 1777 letter by Dr. Samuel Johnson:
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Which is why I recently challenged myself by racing with my cousin/niece who is 20+ years younger.  We didn't care (too much) about how long it took us. Mostly, we just wanted to finish.
Kati and Dotty after Head of the Schuylkill race