Blues-Swayed Shoes

My father had that nineteen-sixties-middle-manager-in-a-textile-mill sense of style that was an affront to his teenaged son at the time. His thinning hair, which he so desperately tried to save by throwing money at shyster companies shipping box after box of plastic-bottled, follicle-saving goo, was unconvincingly coiffed in a rooster style combover that was hilarious and tragic at the same time. His half-sleeved Dacron polyester shirts, always white, always sported a pocket protector, or if not that, at least a naked pen or three. The pants were nondescript, belted. Ah, but it was the shoes, the shoes that stick in my mind.

Wing tips.

Those are the shoes I remember my father wearing. Brogues, as they used to be called in Europe, were initially shoes designed to be worn outside, for hunting and other over the ground pursuits. The pointed toe cap was extended back along the shoe in a shape that roughly resembled a wing, thus, wing tips. No matter the color pattern, the materials, as long as the toe cap was configured thusly, the shoe was a wing tip.

My father’s wing tips were the heavy, plodding kind that lasted forever, never seemed to wear out and oozed a work vibe, at least in my teenaged mind. I could not fathom a time in my life that I could ever possibly wear such a shoe, except perhaps when one foot was literally in the grave. They felt heavy in the hand, sturdy but in a rough, uncomfortable way, with severe waxy laces that also screamed responsible adult in a way that I could not bear at the time. They were the kind of shoes that went with the rest of the sixties wardrobe and denoted adulthood and a place to be at eight AM each morning.

Wingtips went along with the daily evening newspaper, the six o’clock news, used cars and retread tires, going to church on Sunday, eating fried chicken and taking a nap in stocking feet on the couch before church in the evening. My sixteen year old self, so confident and busy with my high school pursuits, thought my father stodgy, rigid, conformist and unimaginative. He provided for us, yes, certainly, but did he enjoy his life in those stiff leather shoes with the lines of perforations and chunky heels and hard soles? Was he trapped in those paid-for used cars and white shirts and trying to stop the passage of time by working those combovers down to the last few strands of hair that would reach the other side of his balding pate?

I don’t know. How I wish I could ask him.

Dad, we went to church this morning.

I drove my paid-for car, which I love and will keep until it no longer runs.

I wore my favorite white Oxford shirt and a pair of gray all season wool pants. Very practical and a staple of my adult wardrobe.

My shoes?

Shiny black, size eleven Cole Haan wingtips, one of the most comfortable pairs of dress shoes I own.

Work It

Some thoughts after reading an article this past month about working until we reach an older age.

As we work through our forties, fifties, and into our sixties, there are some definite advantages that continuing to work affords us.

One, we have established seniority. We have spent decades in the field of our choice, building up cred, establishing relationships, building bridges and alliances with others, and learning how to be successful. Seniority and the goodwill that it brings take time to establish, and should not be given up lightly. Once relinquished, they may not be so easily regained.

Experience is gold. Learning how to do something, the mechanics and the algorithmic nature of the procedure, is important. Even more important is learning the nuances, the finesse moves that separate a technician from an artist or craftsman.

Responsibility is another time honored trait that defines the older, more experience worker. When young, we tend to try to figure out how to save ourselves steps, time and work. When older, we recognize the importance of a job well done, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it is. We stick to it until it is done.

We develop varying degrees of indispensability as we age on the job. We become the go to person, the one who knows, the one that cannot be done without. We have the institutional memories, the comparisons to days gone by and the ability to use the past to fashion a stronger future.

We learn how to multitask and delegate as we age into a job. Instead of trying to do everything ourselves, we learn that enlisting the help of others and breaking a task into multiple pieces often helps things go more smoothy.

As we age and continue to work, we may keep the idea in our head that we want to be “in the room where it happens” for as long as possible. We are involved in the big decisions, the generation of important ideas, and we know that we help to run the shop and the show. It is difficult to decide when it is time to give that up.

If we transition to part time or less, what happens?

We may indeed feel less stress. We have more time. We can do more of what we want to do. Our job satisfaction may actually go up when we have less on our plates. We have the ability to try new things, to explore, to experiment.

But…

Management may look on this new found freedom as decreased commitment to the organization or the job. Availability may be compromised, motivation may be called into question and we may find ourselves cut out of the herd when the big decisions are made.

We may struggle to maintain our relevency.

Things to ponder as I turn sixty two.

Goin’ Postal

There is a postal outlet store and mailing facility close to my office that I often use to send packages via UPS or FedEx. It is operated by an older gentleman who is cut from very precise patriotic cloth. He is fit, well groomed, and always wears his work clothing just so. He drives a large American made sedan that often sports two proudly fluttering American flags on either side of the roof pillars.

One of his store rules is that anyone using his services to send UPS packages is subject to a one dollar fee in the week that they use the service. He collects this fee at the time the first UPS drop off is made for that week.

I took a return to him last week, setting the prelabeled box on the counter and chatting with him as he scanned the label and processed things in his computer.

“Okay now, this is UPS, of course. He’s already picked up today, so it’ll be tomorrow before it goes out.”

“No problem,” I said. “It’s a return, so no hurry.”

“Have you paid your dollar for this week, for UPS, you know?”

“No, sir, but you can scan my debit card for that if that’s okay.”

“No, no, there’s no reason to run your card for just a dollar. Just remember to bring it to me the next time you’re in,” he said, amiably.

“Oh, okay, thank you very much. I appreciate that,” I said, pocketing my wallet. “Just hold me to it.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said very matter of factly, ” Just make sure you hold yourself to it.”

Men of his generation, who carry themselves that way, dress neatly, drive American made sedans with flags on them and run their own businesses expect no less.

We should expect no less of ourselves as we move through life, but to hold ourselves accountable for the things that really matter.

“My God, it’s full of stars!”

The nerdier among you will recognize the quote above as being the last words spoken by Dave Bowman as he entered the monolith in the book version of 2001: a SpaceOdyssey. The line was not spoken in the original movie version of the story.

If you were to peruse the shelves of the book case upstairs, or the inside of my everyday carry bag for work, you would find notebooks of various sizes, materials and colors. The main daily working journal I am now using is a bright red Leuchtturm1917 one, slightly wider than the usual black Moleskine or orange Rhodia that I have historically favored.

It was a gift from my loving wife, brought back in her magic black suitcase from Europe, where she is always scanning for things I might like (usually involving chocolate, but not this time). Its cover is sturdy and bright, its paper is smooth and heavy enough to be substantial, but light enough to absorb moisture form the air if you sit outside on the front porch after days of heavy rain (yes, tonight).

It takes ink joyfully. Ideas glide onto its surface. Its dot matrix printed on the page allows for minimum structural organization and maximum creativity for those kinds of days. It has a table of contents section, numbered pages (250 plus end notes sheets), and a heavy stock storage pocket in the back. I have several dedicated pages in the very front and the very back that hold contents, hikes to research, budget items, and airport codes. (Yes, I am that guy.) I usually start each day at work with items on one or maybe two pages that I work on and process throughout the day, transferring some of the pertinent information to my digital information system, some of it being completely dealt with and put to bed in the analog world by the end of the day.

I really like this notebook (thank you again, my love), but I love what it is becoming since I started to use it on 5-9-19. The words in this book tell the story of my daily grind and my work life and thought processes, sure. The best part of the notebook, though, is the inside front cover, which is telling the story of my life. You will find a quote there that I am trying to follow this year. “Eat half, walk twice, give three times and love endlessly.” You will see a visitor pass from a local hospital where I needed to go see a patient for a court evaluation, the same hospital that I used to practice psychiatry in over thirty years ago. (The doctors lounge in that hospital had the best platter of huge, yummy cookies I have ever had anywhere, but that is another story for another day) It has a small purple sticker with a nautical motif that reminds me of our recent trip to Montreal QC and the Pointe-à-Callierè Montreal Archaeology and History Complex, a place filled with history and technology perfectly combined and on display for learning and pure visual pleasure.

In the middle of that front inside cover is a large sticker from the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area gift shop, which we visited after taking a ride in a Petersburg boat with the two oldest grandchildren from Chattanooga. There is nothing like the combination of local history, water, and nature to inspire any of us, all of us.

Off to the side are two odd looking additions to this page. One is tiny Verizon SIM card from an iPhone, and the other is the paperclip-like tool that helped to remove said SIM card from its thin plastic cradle. The tool is made of liquid metal, a technology that was bought by Apple years ago, but that it has only used to build these little tools, to the best of my knowledge.

One can often be better known to others by what he says as he introduces himself, but make no mistake, in my notebooks you can learn who I am in two ways.

One is by reading what I am thinking and how I am solving day to day problems that present themselves to me. The other is to watch the accumulation of pictorial evidence of where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced, and where I will be heading next. Pictures, stickers, quotes, tools, they are all part of who I am and why I am.

Only one way to describe my notebooks:

“My God, they’re full of stuff!”

D Day +1 +1

D Day has come and gone once again, and we have remembered. It is a time to look forward as well as backward, as I wrote about this morning on my other blog, Musings.

I have another personal anniversary that I do not celebrate every year, but I do pause to remember and honor. My father died one year and one day after the fiftieth anniversary of D Day. Now, you might think this is an odd way to remember the date of your father’s death, but I love history, and the two just sort of go hand in hand for me.

My dad was sixty two when he died of a sudden cerebral aneurysm. He would have been sixty three on July 30th, had he lived. As I have previously written, I will celebrate my sixty second birthday this October 24th. Lord willing.

This year will prove to be a challenging one for me emotionally. It is hard to explain what it feels like to outlive one’s parent. (Again, I am being very optimistic and taking liberties here, assuming that I will!) I remember vividly seeing my grandmother sitting down at the funeral home at my dad’s service, making the statement that it was very unnatural to outlive one’s own child. There is a natural order to the world and to the greater universe that we all take for granted. You are born, you live, you may be blessed with children and grandchildren, you teach them to care for themselves and the planet, and then one day you make your exit in good time, as it should be. None of us, so far, has escaped that ultimate fate.

I fully expected to see my parents live to ripe old ages, well into their nineties and beyond. My mother is still working on that, thank God. She will be eighty four next month, and she is a young octogenarian at that! My father’s fate was different. He was cut down by a physical abnormality that no one saw coming, at a very early age. He had just retired, was trying to do other things to stay active and busy and was trying to find a “new groove”. It was not fair, of course, but what about life is, really?

I am happy, busy, working, writing, reading, hiking, traveling, driving, visiting with family and friends, planning vacations (Japan in October!) and assuming that life will go on, if not forever, then for a few decades to come. My wife adamantly and confidently predicts, no, commands, that I will live until I am ninety six. She also commands that she will exit this life first, but I think we both know that the odds of that are slim to none. I am reminded of that scene in the John Adams miniseries when President Adams is at his wife’s bedside in her last moments. “I can’t believe I am going first”, she says, resigned to the fact that she will leave her husband, who loved her dearly, behind.

I do not want to merely be somber and sad as I think on these things in this space in the coming year. No, I am realistic as I grow older, but I am also wishing with all my might that I might have the thirty four more years that my dear wife promises me (maybe she has God’s ear or some other inside track not known to me?) so that I can love her, my children and grandchildren and this life that I have been blessed with with all my heart and soul and mind and body.

Yes, that is the goal, my friends.

To live long, if that is possible.

To live and love well, as long as one is given to do so.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Sleep is way overrated.

At least that’s what I used to think, before I met my wife and before I started to get older and began to feel the very real consequences of not sleeping well or enough.

I went to college for three years, medical school for four years and then did a residency in psychiatry for four more years before I could start to work as a “real” doctor. All during that time, sleep was a very real luxury that one very quickly learned could be sacrificed for something else, like last minute cramming for a final, research that helped avoid a tongue lashing by a picky attending on morning rounds, or more coffee. We were basically trained by medical training NOT to sleep. In addition to my regular academic duties, I worked a third shift lab job in the hospital, had to go to class, had clinical rotations and had to read, like, all the time. Little naps were good, but an unbroken eight hours of sleep never happened.

Somehow, and I still don’t know quite how, that lack of sleep, perceived need for sleep, and inability to understand the need for sleep carried over into private practice and starting a family. As time went on, sleep deprivation became the norm. I’m sure it deprived me of some experiences and some moments of being fully awake.

As I age, I know in my head and my heart that I need more sleep, but I still begrudge the time lost. I love to sleep, but I hate to end the day and get to bed!

Funny thing is, if I get at least seven or eight hours of good sleep now, I can tell a night and day difference. I am sharper mentally, I feel much better physically, my tolerance is better and I am more creative.

I am trying to learn these key points:

Sleep is good for me. I need to sleep. A lot more than I do. Every night possible.

Routine is important, not just for my little grandchildren, but for me too. Get up at about the same time each day. Get to bed. Let the day end. You’ll have another brand new one tomorrow!

I have a feeling that if I do NOT learn these important lessons on my own, my aging body and brain will let me know in good time….

Growing Older

I have often heard people say, “I’m getting so much older”, or “I feel so much older!” They lament the aging process and rail against it, as if that is going to stop it in its tracks or make it any easier to get through.

I prefer to think of it as “growing older” and not getting older.

We have a lot of potential for growth as we age. We learn a lot about relationships, money, travel, work, children, grandchildren and a myriad other things almost by default. If we put even a little effort forth, we can maximize these growth areas and enrich our lives many fold. Simply deciding to age gracefully (or not so much!) is an option, but not the best one. Aggressive learning and growing as we age is much better.

A lot of this is based on attitude. When you wake up in the morning, are you glad to be alive? Are you excited about the coming day? Do you relish the challenges ahead and have a plan to attack them with vigor? A positive attitude can go a long way as we try to maintain an upbeat demeanor going into our senior years.

I have to do a certain amount of continuing medical education every year in order to maintain my medical license. Most years I do many more hours above the minimum required to meet the goal. It’s fun to learn new things or just to confirm that I’m on track with what I already do to treat my patients! You know, continuing education is not just for doctors or other licensed professionals. Anyone can continue a learning program, and make it as structured or unstructured as they like, all life long. If you never stop learning , you never stop growing.

As I mentioned above, one can passively accept the fact that aging will occur and do to us what it will, or one can choose to fight back, stay in shape and not go quietly into that good night! This includes staying healthy in mind, body and spirit. I worked my Telepsychiatry job the last three evenings in a row, so when I got off work today I was very excited about getting outside and walking in the heat and sunshine. I am very fortunate to live near a river and in a conservation community, so it is not unusual to encounter wildlife and birds and other creatures on a walk.

It was 97 degrees and humid today, brutal for this time of year, but I changed clothes immediately on arriving home (so I would not chicken out!) and went right out the back door toward the river. I was lucky enough to see a couple of hawks, a giant white egret, a blue heron, came within six feet of a beautiful doe standing in the swamp plants just off the boardwalk ( she didn’t move a muscle and stared me down as I walked quietly past her), and then on the other side of the neighborhood I saw a mother and the cutest tiny little fawn you could ever want to see. Although these beautiful creatures sometimes nip at our new lilies in the middle of the night, I still thrill every time I see them up close. I got back to the house after a three mile walk, overheated and tired, but so pleased that I am able to get out and feel my physical body straining against obsolescence.

If we are going to age gracefully, we must be positive, never stop learning, push ourselves in mind, body and spirit and always choose active growth over passive acceptance of aging.