The Process of Aging

I try to swim two times each week. Usually, my swim days are Monday (or Tuesday, if I miss Monday) and Friday. If I leave my house just after 5:00 I can be in the Bath Area Family YMCA pool around 5:30-ish.

For a guy who never thought he could learn to swim, let alone swim well enough to complete triathlons, this has been a revelation. It’s taught me to never underestimate your ability to learn new tricks, even when you feel like an old(er) dog.

Actually, age is relative, or that’s what the salesman is now selling. What, with all the talk about 60 being the new 40, Botox treatments, and Google—shoot, they’ll probably eradicate death one of these days. Or, maybe not.

One thing about the Bath Y, and likely at every other workout/fitness facility is that the early crowd will be a bit older. I learned that a few years back when I used to show up at Planet Fitness in Auburn at 4:45, and the regulars were already hard at it. Since Planet Fitness opened at 4:30, you could get in a good workout and still be at the office well before 8:00 AM.

Most of the PF crowd were my age, or a bit older, which put them in their late 40s and early 50s. There were also some amazingly fit 60+ fitness fanatics up at that time of the day, getting their workout in.

Occasionally, I’d miss my morning workout and have to hit PF at lunch, or later in the day. At those times, the demographic was cut in half, especially after 5:00 PM. That’s when the younger set showed up. Working out wasn’t the primary purpose, or so it seemed. It was more about wearing the right outfit, and mainly showing off one’s tats and body parts.

The Bath Y reminds me of those early morning workouts at PF. Plus, since there is a therapy pool, a sauna, and a hot tub, the Y attracts a demographic oriented to seniors in the early AM.

What’s become one of the perks of these early morning swims has been being able to wind down with 10-15 minutes in the hot tub, before showering and heading for home.

I love the hot tub. My legs and hips usually ache after umpiring, or running (I try to time my runs so that they happen the day before a pool visit), so the hot tub is welcome post-swim.

Sitting in the hot tub usually leads to conversation, and I’ve learned a bit about a few fellow tub-sitters, including one man named Bob. He’s in his 80s, has MS, and comes to the Y Monday through Friday with his wife. Both of them walk the upstairs track, Bob with his cane, and his wife with a walker. They then spend time in the therapy pool, and Bob ends up in the hot tub.

I’ve always appreciated the stories that seniors tell. It probably was something I learned growing up with grandparents nearby. I also was taught to respect what elders had to say—that it likely contained nuggets of wisdom.

When I see Bob, hunched over, with an 80-year-old’s body (one not touched up with Botox or other Hollywood enhancements), I realize I’m getting a look at what I might look like in another 30 years. I hope I’m motivated to keep moving and work through any health issues I might have when I’m Bob’s age.

I’ve told Bob that he’s my motivation on mornings when maybe I don’t want to go to the pool, knowing he’s going to be there. I’m not sure if he believes me, but it’s true. He is an inspiration and someone I’ve learned from, watching how he carries himself, how he exudes positive energy and never complains, and always shows up for his workout.

That’s one of the realities of aging that resonates with me because it’s authentic and real.

Obama’s Got a Twitter

Well, it’s official. The president has a Twitter account. Great to see @POTUS yucking it up with @billclinton about Hillary’s run to be Obama’s successor.

This is big news in a nation where we no longer have the means and the will to fix our roads, bridges, or other infrastructure. No, let’s just reduce everything to 140 characters and be done with it.

President's on Twitter.

President’s on Twitter.

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Baseball Eye Candy

I’ve been talking and writing (at least on this blog) about infrastructure because it seems obvious to me that rebuilding and upgrading our nation’s structural foundation is essential—economically for sure—but also to stave off literal collapse and disaster.

I’m not in the business of reading tea leaves. Occasionally, however, something happens that lends an air of prescience to some posts—like when a train goes off the rails on one of our busiest rail routes between Washington, DC and New York City.

As a writer, my hope was to parlay some of this interest and research into paying gigs on the topic. Alas, like the lack of spring rain, my freelancing has hit a dry patch.

It’s always disappointing when you think you have something to say about an issue, but instead, editors only seem interested in the same old claptrap re-purposed with new ribbons and colorful bows—offering nothing new about politics, economics, and the way the world works.

The local news used to be a morning ritual. Lately, however, as soon as I get my weather forecast, I’m tuning into last night’s baseball highlights via MLB Network’s Quick Pitch with old Boston friend, Heidi Watney. It’s less stressful than being fed lies, obfuscation, and outright propaganda about the world.

Baseball highlights, Heidi-style.

Baseball highlights, Heidi-style.

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Making Things Last

Planned obsolescence—designed to break and eventually fail—has been fueling our consumer culture for at least 60 years, if not longer. Being beholden to throwaway products will eventually bring everything down at some point.

This morning, I grabbed a t-shirt in the dark as I was dressing to head out the door for my twice-weekly swim at the Y. The fabric felt worn and lived in. When I got into the light, I saw it was my Uncle Tupelo shirt I bought at Bowdoin College in 1994, when the band came through town on their Anodyne Tour. I don’t have any other similar shirts that have lasted 21 years. The shirt is a Fruit of the Loom, 100 percent cotton, pre-shrunk tee, which was also made in the USA. My shirt actually outlasted the band, which splintered when the band’s creative duo of Jeff Tweedy left to form Wilco and Jay Farrar went on to form Son Volt.

I wonder when Fruit of the Loom offshored its manufacturing? Probably soon after.

Well-worn Uncle Tupelo rock tee.

Well-worn Uncle Tupelo rock tee.

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Games of Chance

Driving Maine’s roadways is challenging. With all the bumps in the road and potholes, it’s a bit of an art form avoiding throwing your front-end out, or snapping a tie-rod, while not smashing into one of your fellow travelers passing from the other direction.  Austerity is a beautiful thing.

Bump sign

Speaking of austerity, our allies across the pond have opted for more of it, in resounding fashion, as David Cameron and the Conservatives were victorious in the British general election, securing an overall majority in Parliament. Listening to the BBC, while dodging potholes on my way to the Bath Y for my Friday morning swim, I heard a host of political “experts” prattling on about the vote. Listening to talk about “shy Tories” and confounded pollsters reveals that their pundits are just as clueless as are our own in the U.S. God save the Queen! Continue reading

Building Bridges

Political dialogue of the binary type, common in these late days of empire, usually centers on a small set of topics: taxes, government size—big for liberals, small for conservatives—military spending, entitlements (like social security), and a few others (maybe). Like a feedback loop, once begun, it continues without variety.

Also, the race to become the new occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016 has begun. Establishment candidates—Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, maybe Chris Christie—will be opposed by more marginal candidates on both the right and the left. They’ll debate the issues, or at least create the aura that a debate is actually taking place. Then, the party bosses will demand that everyone line up behind whoever they deem most electable, and the sham we participate in every four years will again occur a year from November.

Do you really believe that 73-year-old socialist, Bernie Sanders, has a snowball’s chance to get the Democratic nomination? And if you say that his role is to push Hillary to the left on issues, then I fear you might be giving our current political process far too much credit as means for necessary change. Continue reading

Step Back

It’s easy to react, especially if you’re a reactive person. That would be me.

There have been numerous times when I experienced something and my first reaction was criticism. Later, after reflection, I came to a different conclusion. Then, there are the times I thought something was great, only to debrief later and my assessment had changed. That doesn’t mean I’m wishy-washy, but that space and distance often delivers a different sense of an event, person, or circumstance.

Our ever-present, ever-on technology platforms allow us to emote, bloviate, and impose our opinions on others—in real time—without any space or distance to ruminate. Our media channels do the same thing. No one reads newspapers, and few people subscribe to thoughtful publications offering opinion backed by facts. It’s simply garbage in, garbage out via Facebook or Twitter.

The natural world is a perfect place to reflect.

The natural world is a perfect place to reflect.

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Know Your Home State

Maine’s been known as vacationland for as long as I can remember. It’s a place that visitors from other states and across the world flock to, especially in the summer. Yet, many Mainers (I include myself here) have yet to really get to know their home state.

Rather than pining for adventures beyond Maine’s borders in locales that others consider exotic, me and my better half are committed to doing a better job of exploring the back roads, peninsulas, coves and harbors of the Pine Tree State. It’s easier to do now that winter has departed and warmer days are en route.

We spent the past weekend in Ogunquit. The town’s white sand beach, with the backdrop of rugged coastal cliffs is breathtaking.

Maine's most beautiful beach.

Maine’s most beautiful beach.

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Getting Older All the Time

Certain writers have helped shape how I see the world. Some of them—James Kunstler, Barbara Ehrenreich, Neil Postman, Lewis Mumford—have allowed me to break free of many of the myths and even lies that frame the thinking of many in America. I’d add Susan Jacoby to that list.

The first time I read one of her books, it was The Age of American Unreason, a hard-hitting, nonfiction work that framed the dumbing down of America in a way that was systematic and understandable, but also well-researched, and not one that tilted at the usual suspects. As Jacoby describes it in the book, our problems are a result of “a virulent mixture of anti-rationalism and low expectations.” She was clear in the book that our state “of unreason” was also permanent, not temporary.

I apparently missed that she wrote a book about aging in America. Much like Ehrenreich (see her take down of “positive thinking”), Jacoby doesn’t pull any punches, or mince her words. Neither does she subscribe to the “happy, happy, joy, joy” school of self-help gibberish and positive affirmations as a blanket “cure all” for our national ills.

America is an aging nation. My home state, Maine, is the oldest of the 50 states. Our older population—persons who are 65 years or older—numbered nearly 40 million in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available). That’s 12.9 percent of the U.S. population, or about one in every eight Americans. By 2030, that number nearly doubles to 72.1 million, or more than twice what the number was in 2000. People who are 65+ will number one in five in 2030.

While aging gets acknowledged, it’s mainly communicated in a manner that’s false, couched in a host of magical ideas, like “60 is the new 40,” and the belief that the intersection of medicine and technology will solve all the attendant problems of people getting old in large numbers.

Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of The New Old Age is just the kind of book that everyone that believes the answer to aging is just around the corner should read—but I know they won’t. Jacoby’s book came out in 2011. I spent the past year managing a grant specific to aging in place, and Maine’s rapidly aging population. I received countless emails, had books recommended to me, and heard a great deal of poppycock, really, about the issue. Not once did I run across Jacoby’s book. I found it by “accident” at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, two weeks ago. Continue reading