Friendships – Survival or Not?

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If I hadn’t had several career incarnations, I might not have realized that many of the people I commonly called “friends” really aren’t. They’re fun acquaintances that I laugh with day-to-day and maybe even meet for drinks after work occasionally. But most won’t, and didn’t, survive the career split.

I don’t begrudge that at all. I’ve heard many ex-employees bemoan the fact that the people they spent time with at the old job faded away after a few weeks or months. I had this happen as well but the truth is that if I’d really wanted to cultivate a long-term friendship I’d have tried a little harder to make sure we got together on a regular basis.

Perhaps my definition of “friend” is a bit narrow but most of the people I associate with are fun and worth a laugh or two at work but we don’t have enough in common to sustain that relationship after I’ve moved on. I think it’s normal to put your time into the establishment and learn to “fit in.” Consciously or not, that often means acting according to the group norm but not really revealing your innermost thoughts. Workplace relationships can be fickle and it only takes one disagreement or one assignment where you’re pitted against your friend to discover that it’s each one for herself.

That’s just human nature, I think. Everyone wants to succeed; everyone wants to be well thought of at work. And it’s that same survival mode that taught me to tread carefully. I’ve had plenty of friends who turned out not to be when a promotion was at stake or when the company was weighing the worthiness of each of its team members in times of financial crisis. And yes, I use the term “team” loosely because it’s really quite amazing how fast a valued team member can get thrown under the bus. I’ve watched far too many be given walking papers shortly after being told they were one of the most valued employees and would never have to worry about their position disappearing.

But I digress. Friendships. I enjoy my time with many of my fellow workers but I don’t expect that many, if any, will still be in my orbit about six months to a year after I retire. I don’t know if that will make me feel isolated and lonely or not but I tend to doubt it. I always have a gazillion things to interest me and to occupy my time. But who’s to say that I won’t enjoy all those gazillion projects for about a month and then find myself sitting around in a quiet house twiddling my thumbs, wondering who I can call in order to stop chatting with my cats and hear a voice besides my own.

I can’t actually remember a time when I’ve been lonely but that time may be coming. Who knows? I first started contemplating this possibility when I was approached one day in my local grocery store by an elderly man. I noticed him standing back staring and I thought perhaps I was in his way. However, when I moved away to another display, he came over and told me he loved the guacamole I had decided not to buy and wondered why I didn’t try it. I can’t tell you why, but I sensed that he could care less about why I didn’t pick up the guacamole. He just wanted to talk to someone. So, suddenly wondering if that would be me one of these days, I draped my arms on the shopping basket, parked my foot on the lower rung and had a lengthy conversation about what makes a good guacamole.

I measure a “friend” by someone who I’ve learned I can pour my heart out to, good and bad, and they’ll always be there for me. They are the ones that I’d entrust my cats to if I died tomorrow. They’re the ones I’d feel comfortable calling in the middle of the night if I needed something.

I think it’s harder to cultivate friendships like that as I get older, mostly because true friendships develop slowly. They require a gradual give and take of relevant information, the sharing of likes and dislikes, and the realization that this individual has passed all the little subconscious “tests” that have resulted in trust. In any case, I won’t be surprised if, in a few years from now, some of the people who swear we’ll always be in touch when I leave, one day hear my name and say, “Whatever happened to her?”

Why Aren’t We Born with Good Sense?

 

 

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It’s taken me 65 years to learn how intricate the body is and how interconnected all the parts are. If you damage one, you may very well be damaging the whole. But I didn’t see that in my youth. I saw disparate parts, each deserving its own focus and attention and, of course, wholly repairable if my latest fad didn’t work to my advantage.

Up until I left for college, I was pleasantly thin and never worried about what went into my mouth. As a kid I remember going through a butter phase where I would cut off a piece and eat it while I watched television with my parents. I recall my mother laughingly telling my aunt that she thought it was strange but how could a little butter hurt me?

Then I got to college, put on some weight and decided to try some very interesting diets. I started drinking Tab (horrid stuff even then), with a metallic aftertaste that was probably my digestive tract turning to lead. I realized I couldn’t live with Tab long-term and somehow a diet drink didn’t cancel out the crushed oreo covered ice cream I’d have for dessert at the dorm. But then I read about a terrific diet that I knew would be easy to follow – the sherbet diet. That’s all you ate. Yep – sherbet. As much as I love sweets, even I couldn’t stick with that one for long. Who knew I could actually crave a green bean or a spinach leave after a few days of nothing but sherbet?

I’m pretty sure at some point I’ve tried every diet known to mankind. And in my dancing days, I was fixated on the latest trend for improving health – a boatload of vitamins and minerals based on iridology. That would be great if the person “prescribing” the plethora of pills had any medical training, but no, he did not, and yes, I bought close to 15 different products that were going to give me the energy I already possessed as a thirty-year-old and extend my life (which we’ve yet to prove but I hope is accurate). It was the nausea from the handful of pills that finally convinced me to stop.

I’ve learned a lot by working in the medical field and listening to how, as the song goes, “the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone…” The more I hear, the more I understand the complexity of the body and how one small change can have enormous effects up and down the line. It’s no wonder that so many people are loathe to take medications because even though many are great short-term, many are dangerous (even lethal) long-term. In my own case, once I reached perimenopause, my gynecologist decided I needed to get on a low-dose hormone pill. My problems started showing up after about 3-4 months and over the next year got worse and worse. I told our hospice pharmacist that my hips hurt and it felt muscular. He’d never heard of that side effect. I noticed that I couldn’t stand up straight when I got out of bed in the morning and it got so bad that I couldn’t pick up my feet. I would shuffle around the bed to turn off my alarm and then into the bathroom. Oddly, after about half an hour, I would be able to stand up straight. I finally found a doctor who had heard of these drastic symptoms and she agreed I should stop taking this medication. Who would’ve thought that a medication seemingly meant to help me was slowly fusing my joints (my description, because that’s what it felt like).

So here I am at 65, no longer turning my health over to someone else. I’m aware that I eat too many sweets but my cure for that will not be to take a medication; it will be to cut out the majority of the empty calories I eat. It’s taken me decades to listen when I hear people discussing the complexities of the body but it’s fascinating. There’s a ripple effect through the body and it no longer surprises me to find that a pain in my foot is connected to a problem in my eye (I’m making that up but you get the picture) or a muscle spasm in my back is associated with my liver. It’s all connected.

I have a relative who is very heavy . . . and a vegetarian. He has said he can’t understand how he can be so overweight when he eats pretty good meals. Okay, sometimes those “pretty good meals” include soups with a bazillion grams of fat or low-fat products with a bazillion grams of sugar. He’ll liberally salt his meals before he’s even tasted them and then say he can’t figure out why his feet swell.

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Bottom line? I don’t really care if I have wrinkles and grey hair but I do care about how I feel. I realize it’s far more important than I ever understood to know how everything that goes into the body affects all the parts. I figure if I’d had more sense about how complex the body is, how the smallest thing can make such a huge difference, and that some of the damage we cause in our youth is not reversible, I might’ve paid more attention to what I was swallowing a long, long time ago.

Or maybe not. As a kid, I probably wouldn’t have listened because as kids, we know everything, right?

The Dreaded Budget

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This picture shows exactly how I feel about the budget I just drew up – about to be buried under it. You’d think I’d have tackled this subject a long time ago. You’d be wrong. It’s sort of like going to the doctor when you suspect you might have a problem but you feel pretty good. You put it off, telling yourself you couldn’t possibly have something wrong when you feel good. But deep down inside, you know the truth. It’s a not so simple matter of buckling down and facing it.

So I found an Excel spreadsheet that lets me input all my income once I retire, any savings and then list every expense. I was relentless, coming back to it several days in a row with all the little things I tend to forget – and, of course, they’re the ones that add a bazillion dollars to the total. I put in things like the trash bags I order because they fit the particular brand and shape of the garbage can in my kitchen; my weekend Starbucks coffees and treats; my annual car registration (easy to forget when you’re inputting monthly expenses); my company’s annual fee; the donation to Women For Women International; Sirius XM in my car so I can listen to CNN or Broadway showtunes as the mood strikes me; birthday gifts for family and friends; and family dinners.

I anticipated that my current expenses would probably exceed my Social Security income by about $500-$750. Much to my horror, my expenses exceed my income by $1,340. Although I had banked on (pun intended) expanding the scope of my outside company to bring in some extra income, I imagine it would take me years to be able to cover that differential. To tell the truth, it’s sort of horrifying.

Today, I sat and made a first-round attempt at figuring out what expenses I could live without and which ones could easily be cut back. Needless to say, “easily” was the operative word. I managed to see an extra savings of $200 a month. The whole thing would be laughable if not for the fact that it’s a looming reality.

Yes, I realize I can get a part-time job but that sort of defeats the purpose of retirement, doesn’t it? And there’s always that little matter of businesses being loathe to employ anyone over the age of about 40 (that might be a generous figure).

My only possible avenue is through my company, I think. I recently listened in on a webinar about the use of CBD in products. Since I’m a Registered Aromatherapist, the idea of creating CBD tinctures and lotions for my personal company is tantalizing. I discarded the idea about a year ago because of the fact that the DEA had declared CBD a Class I drug. However, word has it that the Farming Act of 2018, which excludes CBD from the list, just passed last month. If that’s true, I see a double benefit. I can use them for my own chronic health issues and perhaps the bridge some of the gap in my budget.

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Becoming Obsolete

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I have so many thoughts on this subject that I hardly know where to begin. Let’s try this: the closer I get to retirement, the more I want to feel like I’ve made a contribution to the place I’ve worked for the past twelve and a half years. However, since I haven’t actually retired yet, haven’t even given my notice, no one feels like they need to reassure me about this. Why would they? But as my attention starts slowly focusing outward on the big, wide world and less on my workday issues, I find my tolerance for day-to-day problems grows shorter and shorter and my self-worth as a team member becomes more and more fragile as I realize that I’ll be missed for about five minutes before everyone moves on. It’s disconcerting to feel my long-term contribution beginning to feel obsolete before I’ve even left. I want to have mattered and I’m afraid I won’t.

So here was the inciting incident that prompted this post and all my conflicted thoughts. One of my employees, a self-confident 30-something girl, came into the office where we share a space. I told her something that might affect her workday and she started to respond. As she spoke, I turned to my computer to start logging in and commented on the screen saver. With that, she stopped talking and proceeded to shove her things around on the desk. I thought perhaps something had happened the night before that had put her in a bad mood so I turned and said, “What’s wrong?”

She responded something to effect of, “I was trying to answer your question but this is a  pattern and so I’ll just sit here and let you talk.” She might as well have slapped me. What’s a pattern? I was a bit stunned and so it took me a second to narrow down the possibilities. I told her I was still hearing every word she said. Nevertheless, I sat back, gave her my full attention and asked her to please tell me what she had started to say. I guess the thing that confused the most then, and still does now, is that even when I’m not looking directly at her, I always engage in the conversation so I’m clearly hearing what she’s saying. So was this time a problem for some reason or was it always a problem? And if it was always a problem, I don’t understand why she didn’t address it sooner and in a different manner.

Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I recognize that it could be seen as a slight because it appeared she wasn’t getting my full attention. But the thing that bothers me the most is the level of disrespect for a supervisor that was displayed. Is that just old-school thinking on my part? Another reminder that I’m past my “use by” date? Is that a difference of the Baby Boomer generation and how we approach authority from her Millennial generation? I’ve had supervisors that I detested but I would never have dreamed of telling them what I thought they were doing that irritated me.

So yes, I read it as a subtle comment on my age and it hurt. She saw no reason whatsoever to show any respect to my position. It made me wonder if the young workers I think are enjoying my company actually tolerate rather than appreciate me.

So there you have the issues: ageism, generational ways of dealing with authority, unintended but subtle insults, and a clear lack of communication. In any case, she hit the mark she intended. I was wounded by the barb and it made me wonder if my contribution to the organization is obsolete.

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Looking Back – Las Vegas Arrival in 1977

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I arrived in Las Vegas in 1977, grabbed a waitress job at the pool at the Circus-Circus and set out to scour the newspapers for audition notices for the shows. One of those was “Bare Touch of Vegas” at the Marina Hotel. I auditioned but had not heard anything and so had written it off and resigned myself to cocktail waitressing.

My poolside boss at Circus-Circus (I’ll call him Frank) was a young, easy going fellow who loved to put on a fake French accent to talk to “the girls.” He kept us endlessly amused and used the accent often. This particular day, Frank told me his car had died and asked if he could call me for a ride if he couldn’t get it up and running. He promised not to call too late. Mai oui.

Sure enough, my phone rang in the early evening. When I answered, the French-accented voice said, “Leeza Brodeur?” I responded with similar flair. “Oui.” There was a pause and then he said, “This is Pierre Bezard. I am calling to invite you to an audition.” I giggled at how far Frank was willing to take this little charade and said, in a voice full of innuendo, “Oooh, what kind of an audition?” A longer pause. I started to feel a bit doubtful and said “Frank?” “No, this is Pierre Bezard. I am calling to invite you to a callback for ‘Bare Touch.'” OH MY GOD!

I went to the callback and although I was pretty good, I was told that I was 2 inches taller than the rest of the cast, so they decided on someone who blended in a bit more. As it turns out, Frederic Apcar, the producer of “Bare Touch of Vegas,” was also the producer of “Casino de Paris” at the Dunes Hotel.  A couple of months after the phone fiasco, I auditioned for and got a place in “Casino de Paris” and stayed for four years. Pierre was often around and at some point I fessed up to being the crazy girl on the phone call. Unperturbed, he just laughed and commented, “Ah, you are the one.”

Looking back, although I’d initially been devastated to lose a job because I was too tall (a rarity, I discovered), I was lucky to spend the next four years in “Casino de Paris.” I’ve often commented that “Casino de Paris” was the best dance show I ever did and that if I’d known I was starting with the best, I’d have retired after that. That’s not quite true, of course, because I subsequently spent three years traveling overseas to places I’d most certainly never have had the opportunity to see otherwise but, forty years later, “Casino de Paris” remains my favorite.

Sabotage the Butterfly

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“Dying at your desk is not a retirement plan.” Thomas Heath- Washington Post

Maybe not, but I know many people my age who, as much as they say they want the easy life of no alarm clock and not answering to anyone any more, still manage to remain in the job year after year after year. “Retirement” is a wonderful concept until you sit down and really think about all that it involves, both the known and, more important, the scary unknown. Which side occupies your every waking hour? How long can you hold out and avoid the metamorphosis to retiree and major life change?

I have a friend who worked at a small firm for almost twenty years. When the owner decided to cut costs, he first fired her and then offered to hire her back for less money, less hours and less benefits. I was mystified as to why she’d even contemplate the offer but she took it. As it turns out, the thought of change was (and is) scarier to her than the horrific circumstances she was already in. She opted for the known over the unknown.

I have been through many career incarnations and always figure that even if the new job turns out to be terrible, it’s not likely to be worse than the one I’m leaving. And if it is, I’ll have some time to find something else. Yes, you sacrifice seniority and vacation time when you do that but you salvage your peace of mind. That always won out for me. My friend told me once that every time I moved on to a new job, the thought of it made her a little sick.

But then we get to retirement – THE REALLY BIG CHANGE.  I can sit back and steadfastly refuse to change or I can hope I become the butterfly. I’m at the stage where I sort of look forward to it on the one hand, and sort of worry about it on the other. Today, looking forward is winning. I hope it stays that way as the reality looms closer.

Another concern – probably the main concern – is money. In my years as a dancer, we didn’t have things like retirement plans and I spent every dime I made. By the time I focused on the fact that I was aging and needed to start thinking about saving, it was pretty late in my working life. So I’ve managed to pull it together somewhat, but not comfortably. Even so, it’s hard to alter routines and lifelong habits in order to squirrel away enough money to live comfortably. I read a quote by a retiree named Fritz Gilbert who said, “Not making a decision is still making a decision. Spend the money to buy that ‘thing’ and you’ve made a decision to work longer.” I guess that all depends on what that “thing” is. If you’re looking at a boat or new living room furniture then yes, you’ll probably sabotage an early retirement.  But my “things” are smaller – mostly Starbucks coffee on the weekends and a couple of magazine subscriptions. I think I can probably swing it. Nevertheless, retirement is looming and I’m keeping my eye on the butterfly and hoping to make it a colorful one.

Foul-Mouthed Adult

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Here’s another advantage to approaching retirement age: you get to hang on to all the old habits you adore that everyone else abhors.

I used to be one of those youngsters that, hearing an elderly person curse or seeing him shoot the finger at someone in traffic or adamantly refuse to give an inch in a long-term family feud or get into a spitting match with a stranger over a place in line, would comment, “You’d think he’d know better than to act like that at his age.” Really? Why?

I’ve always had a bit of a sailor’s mouth. I’d like to blame it on working in backstage dressing rooms for years, but that’s not really the source. I can’t remember when it actually became my favorite way to blow off steam but distinctly remember the first time I used the “F” word in front of my mother. I was practicing a twirling routine for upcoming high school auditions and had gone over it in the back yard so many times that I’d worn a bald spot in the grass. Every day I would start from the beginning and every time I missed a trick, I’d start over until I could get through the routine three complete times. Try that in a Texas summer with the heat and the humidity. But then again, I was a teenager and much more resilient than I am now. I had finally completed three error-free sets and, with auditions coming up soon, finally called my mother out to be my audience. Right in the middle, I dropped the baton, instantaneously spit out, “F_ _ _!” and then froze.

My mother’s face was priceless – mouth agape, eyebrows damn near scraping her hairline, hands fisted at her waist. “Lisa!” was all she said. I couldn’t help it; I laughed. I knew she’d watched me torture myself for weeks and all of that afternoon and that she understood my frustration even though she might’ve objected to the way I chose to express it.

So here we are some 50-odd years later, and the “F” word is still my favorite. It’s funny how young people think age brings wisdom, certainty about everything good and right, and a gentle, placid nature, one free of all offending language. Maybe there are more people than I think who have found all the answers and nothing bothers them enough to warrant a curse word here and there, but somehow I don’t think so. Most of us never grow up.

It was another laughable moment when I used the “F” word in front of one of my younger co-workers and her facial features took on a similar look to my mother’s 50 years earlier. Horrified, she commented, “I’ve never heard you use that word.” My response was, “Are you kidding? I lived in backstage dressing rooms for much of my youth and it’s my favorite word.” I could see that I’d become a completely different person to her. I’m still not sure if that was good or bad but it struck me that I was supposed to be of an age when I resorted to strong words like “shoot” or “darn it.” All I can say is she clearly didn’t know me at all. Once a foul mouth, always a foul mouth.

So all you youngsters keep in mind that unless you work on them now, your bad habits will follow you into retirement and you’ll be annoyed to hear someone twenty, thirty or forty years younger say, “Shouldn’t she know better at her age?”

And when that happens, watch your language.