Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

No Time To Retire

     Baby Boomers as a group have seldom been thought of as shy and retiring. And now, retiring isn’t a word many of them will be using under any circumstances, shy nor not.
     A recent survey by Associated Press reports that 78 million of them are approaching age 65 at a time when “stock market crashes diminished their 401(k) nest eggs, companies began eliminating defined-benefit pensions in record numbers and previously unimagined technological advances have all but eliminated entire job descriptions from travel agent to telephone operator.”
     In short, if you have a job, you’d best hold onto it. How long? As long as it takes to keep food on your table and a roof over your head. The old standard of working 40 years for a company, taking your retirement pension at age 65 and riding off into the Golden Years is pretty much gone.
     That’s a shame. It’s bad. But it may not be all bad.
     Granted, I’m saying this from the perspective of one who’s already stepped away from my principal life’s work as a newspaper columnist. I’ve previously been urging people to retire as soon as they could, noting that retirement life can be pretty darn good. It is, but today you have to be willing to accept a few caveats.
     One, I worked full-time until I was 70. I’d been having fun, until technology began making newspapers shrink. But postponing retirement age as long as possible can also help maximize your Social Security benefits. They’re less if you retire at 62 than they are at 65, and so on up. Social Security never will let you live in the lap of luxury, but it helps to have those checks coming in nonetheless, and the larger the better. It does bug me, though, to hear politicians talk scornfully about Social Security as an entitlement. As though that’s a bad thing. I paid into Social Security for more than 50 years. I’m damn well entitled to get some of that back.
     Two, you wouldn’t want to step away from the old job and just play golf all day anyway That gets old quite quickly, and makes you older in the process. Keeping busy at something meaningful helps keep you alive, whether it’s a regular job, volunteering to help others in your community or finally pursuing that hobby that you’re so passionate about. That hobby could turn into a new paying job for you. Who knows?
     I’m only semi-retired. I write this blog, as well as articles for whatever publications I can. I volunteer on non-profit boards such as the American Cancer Society and the Stroke Awareness Foundation, both of which have a personally physical connection for me. I tell people I haven’t completely retired, just changed jobs.
     Not retiring at all may well become the new norm. If you have to hang in there on the time clock, make the best of it. I’m selfish. I need all the people still paying into my Social Security that I can get.
     We’ve worried about making things better for the next generation, but apparently that doesn’t apply to the Baby Boomers. The Great Recession, among other things, has seen to that. And all my generation, the Silent Generation, can do is stand by and shrug. Sorry.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dying to talk?

     I hope it’s no surprise to you, but you’re going to die. We all will. Eventually. Some day. So why not talk about it?
     That’s been the problem for a long time, especially in American culture. It’s not that we don’t realize our mortality, but it’s not a subject that we’re comfortable discussing. Anything else – birth, taxes, thinning hair, gaining weight, religion, politics, even – we’ll talk about easily and at length. But not death. Ewww. Can’t we change the subject?
     We dare not. Our own quality of life – and death – depend on it.
     There’s been lots of media coverage recently about the problems we have with dying. Too many of us spend the last days of our lives in a hospital, hooked up to machines that desperately try to put off the inevitable. It’s an uncomfortable, undignified, wildly expensive way to go. And it could be avoided if we’d only talk about the subject more.
     Statistics show that most of us would prefer to die in our own homes, surrounded by our loved ones, unfettered by ultimately useless machines and drug-delivery systems. That’s the sensible, humane way to exit. But to make that happen we need to tell our relatives what we’d like. And tell our doctors. And put it in writing.
     This isn’t so-called “death panel” stuff. Fears about that are all political flimflammery. This is common sense.
     Talk to your family and your physician. Fill out an advance directive of your wishes and get it on file pronto.
     And then, relax. Talk all this over once and you shouldn’t have to do it again. “Over my dead body” is not an approach to the subject that works. Except literally, and then it’s way too late.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cop a 'tude

     Is it time for an attitude adjustment?
     No, I don’t mean happy hour at your local pub, although that’s not a bad idea.
     Medical science, however, has been saying a lot lately about attitude and its effect on health and aging. For one thing, researchers have found that happy people seem to live longer. Not simple-minded Pollyanna people, mind you, but people who smile a lot. Just the simple act of smiling seems to release chemicals that improve our sense of well-being. I can see that. If you’re smiling at something, you’re already feeling pretty good. But the wild thing about the research is that just smiling – crinkling your eyes, turning up the corners of your mouth – also has much the same effect, whether you actually have something to smile about or not. Given the choice, I’d prefer to have something real to make me smile than smiling like an idiot just because it’s supposed to be good for me. But hey, I’m smiling right now. How about you?
     And that overall attitude thing: Researchers say that people who identify themselves as conservative rate their sense of well-being higher than those who say they’re liberals. No, it’s not because it’s easier to be happy when you’re among the 1 percent. The reason, the researchers said, is that conservatives, no matter how well off, feel better about the future because they believe people can improve themselves. The American Dream. Liberals were less happy about the future because they see more people having problems, they can’t always help, and they sometimes feel overwhelmed. Who knew that empathy could be a problem for your health?
     The lesson for me in all this? Smile all you can, I guess. Especially while you’re trying to help people make their own better future. Should be something in that for everybody.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Saving Face

     What do you think about your face? You like it, I imagine. But as much as you did when you were young?
     Yes, I’m hinting about plastic surgery. The older we get, the more people tend to consider ways to look younger. I have mixed feelings about that.
     We’ve all seen the results of plastic surgery on celebrities. Sure, their faces look pretty good in still photos, but in live action, when those faces have to move, they don’t. I’ve never had much of a poker face, as anyone who has played cards with me can attest, but I still don’t think I’d like to be impassively frozen facially unless I was planning on a late-life career in Las Vegas.
     Neck jobs, though, I might consider. I notice that I now have wattles. Maybe that’s why some people call old guys “turkeys.” I could get those lifted and still be able to show some emotion on my face. Something to consider. Maybe no one would notice.
     Eyes are something else again. Skin tends to sag around the eyes as we age. A friend of mine’s skin had sagged so much that it was interfering with his vision. Doctors easily corrected that, and now he can see fine again. But he looks somewhat surprised most of the time – “wide-eyed” is the term. I’m not sure that I’d like to look like that. Crinkly smiles are nice.
     Full disclosure: I have had a few facial peels, but not as part of any cosmetic procedure. My dermatologist said I should do it to remove pre-cancerous skin blemishes on my face. The peels were painful – sort of like a bad sunburn – but after the redness went away, so did a lot of my fine-line wrinkles. My face was smooth as a baby’s bottom. An old, saggy, baby’s bottom, mind you, but a baby’s bottom nonetheless.
     I don’t think I’d do more than that cosmetically. My droops and wrinkles are there, but they’re my droops and wrinkles. Hard-earned over more than 70 years of living.
     I think I’ll keep ‘em.