A Short in the Brain

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It was a simple Christmas gift card that eventually led to my realization that my brain is not wired symmetrically and I may no longer be as confident about learning new things as I used to be. Here’s what I mean.

Back in high school, the most complicated electronic thing I had to work  with was a typewriter, figuring out how to carbon copy without making a typing error that required either starting over or tons of white-out. (And I feel certain the younger crowd, if any of them read this, are probably wracking their brains trying to figure out what that means).

Then I entered the computer age and with my verging-on-midlife confidence, knew I was capable of learning anything. Why should computers get the best of me? And learn I did … sort of. I always picked up  enough to do my job but not really much more than that. I would equate it with my capability with cars: I can start them and figure out all the interior bells and whistles but when it comes to how a carburetor works, I’m out. Or maybe it’s just a question of my interest level. Perhaps I could learn it if I needed to; the problem is, I don’t need to and I have zero interest in it.

So that brings us to my gift card. I decided to buy an Amazon Echo Dot and play with Alexa’s fun capabilities around the house. However, I opened the package and panic set in. The instructions seemed straightforward enough but the second I hit a snag and the computer told me one thing (you’re connected to WiFi) but Alexa told me another (you’re not connected to WiFi), I knew it was going to be hours of frustration before anything was resolved (this is why I hate gadgets nowadays). And I was right. It took two trips to Target and three phone calls to Cox to figure it out. It doesn’t help that they ask me questions like, “Is your original equipment a modem or a router?” I finally had to explain to the technician that I had no idea. Those two words are just that – words. They have absolutely no meaning attached to them for me.  He might as well have asked me if my equipment was a squingle or a skelpty. Same damn thing to me! All in all, it took a dedicated four hours to get this simple gadget up and working. Yes, it’s fun but next time I’ll live without it.

What I’ve learned is that there is a limit to my keeping up as I age. Thing is – I don’t really care. I like my world the way it is, thank you.

Climbing the Ladder

Woman in Charge

As a woman, and a pretty adamant one about being in control of my own destiny, it’s interesting to look back at my own journey and the journey of many of my friends and colleagues over the years and tally the common things I’ve noticed about that fight up the ladder – whether or not any of us ever reached the top rung.

There are any number of directions I could go with these observations, and maybe I’ll take one or two of those in other posts, but for now I want to talk about the propensity for women to use skills we learned as kids in order to maneuver in a male-run world (especially the Baby Boomers, I think) and how they may have gotten some women ahead in the male-dominated corporate world, but they also made them disliked by other women. Interesting, isn’t it? Is that because they became different people during that journey to the top, a person their friends and colleagues no longer recognized, is it a bit of jealousy that one woman found a way to succeed when they didn’t, or is it that they now emulate the very male behavior they tried to overcome to get there? Like their male counterparts, they become no strangers to hubris.

In the business environments where I’ve worked, I noticed one thing that remained consistent: regardless of the spoken words, the top echelon set themselves apart and their actions (speaking far louder than words) essentially showed us that the rules don’t apply to them, the implication being that they’ve earned something better and don’t really need to be a part of that “team” they so often tout. It’s always frustrating and leads to morale issues. Is that strictly a female behavior? No, not really. But maybe women dislike it more from their own sex because they feel like the women who reach the top have become different people. I don’t know what organizations would look like if those powerful women set up new playbooks with feminine rules, but I suspect I never will, either.

And what, you may wonder prompted this post? It was a conversation I had with a co-worker – a smart, savvy, self-assured woman – who admitted her scorn for Hillary Clinton because of her “demeanor.” I realize this is a whole different discussion but I couldn’t fathom voting for the likes of Donald Trump when the only argument against Hillary seemed to be her “demeanor.” I could only surmise that part of the issue was the Baby Boomer upbringing and our views on a woman’s place in the business world. And that led me to look back at all the women executives I worked with over the decades and why we’d feel that way. This post then, is an exploration of the issue and I’m not entirely certain I’ve drilled back to the core but I know much of it is apt.

Television Tastes

Television through the ages. My, how tastes change and how television has changed. I can remember when a television show where one person got killed was astonishing and now, it’s become so commonplace that if there aren’t more than a dozen deaths in one hour, the show seems boring. And some say we’re not influenced by what we see every day? I would disagree.

Nevertheless, I really want to focus on some of the shows I watched through the decades and see which ones resonate with other seniors – or which ones they watched instead. Until I hit the 60s, I don’t remember watching anything other than whatever my parents had on.

The first show I can remember that I found titillating and scary was Dark Shadows. It’s the only daytime drama I ever watched – then or now. I would hurry home from school to see what Barnabas was up to.

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And I, like many of my schoolmates, was crazy in love with Little Joe from Bonanza. Well, that is until I went to a dance convention in Houston and someone said Little Joe was in the big ballroom next door and when we trooped in to see him in our pink tights, black leotards and clunky tap shoes, he was smoking a cigar and had his feet up on the table while people were eating around him. That ended my love affair.

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I moved on to a succession of shows through the decades – shows like Dick Van Dyke, Laugh-In, All In the Family, Dallas, West Wing, Mission Impossible and Will & Grace. Now, I watch a lot of CNN, Survivor, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

The Panama Adventure – Part I

In typical senior fashion, I’m unable to transfer any of my Panama photos from my phone and downloading photos from Google Images is resulting in gibberish codes and no pictures. I seem to only be able to add this one “featured” image. This, however, appears to be almost the exact view I had of the river and the nursery on the right when I walked across the bridge dividing the main town from the local Tuesday market on the far side of the river. In any case, here’s my tale of the Panama adventure and what I learned about retiring in a foreign county from this little jaunt. I’ve divided it into three parts because I spent time in three different cities and had challenges everywhere I went. Please note: when reading these adventures, you should keep in mind that I was a 63-year-old woman travelling alone.

The first thing I did when I arrived was promptly lose my passport. I arrived at night, it was dark in the taxi and I think when he asked me for the address of my hotel, I must have dropped it on the seat and not in the bag with my other documents as I was retrieving the piece of paper with my hotel’s address on it. Imagine the panic at walking up to a hotel’s front desk, realizing your passport is missing, the taxi has disappeared and you don’t know a single human being in this country. Fortunately, the desk clerk was very helpful in telling me how I would need to proceed.

I spent the next morning at the embassy getting a new one (which you pay for again, by the way). I walked out of the embassy to discover nary a single taxi waiting for customers and the only people around me spoke Spanish (I don’t) and didn’t want to be very helpful. The driver who had taken me had given me a business card, ostensibly from the hotel, with his “personal number” on it. However, when I called it, a woman answered who didn’t have a clue what I wanted. I then tried the hotel number on the card and, in the meantime, found an English speaker who told them to send a taxi. What a great relief to have an English speaking driver show up who not only took me downtown to the police station where I needed to file a report about my passport, but came in with me, played interpreter and then helped me fill out the form. Getting back into his taxi, he casually asked if I planned to call taxis the whole time I was in Panama or if I’d like for him to be my driver. I followed my gut instinct about him and hired him. It was probably the best thing I did on the whole trip to make things feel more comfortable and manageable. So, if he ever happens to read this, I need to stop and say, “Thank you Sinar!”

Once back at the hotel, I had just enough time to book an afternoon bus tour that stopped at numerous tourist spots where you could get off any time you liked and jump back on another bus an hour later. I would have time for one stop and the concierge suggested I choose the market in the old town. I bet that would be great if I were younger and travelling with friends but when we pulled up to a warren of dilapidated stalls meandering up dark alleyways, I opted to sit it out on the bus. I reckoned I would have made a perfectly delicious target.

So – dinner time. I thought I might pick a local restaurant outside the hotel to get a bit more of the flavor of the city until I was told I probably didn’t want to choose the one across the street from the hotel (a Marriott, by the way) because the second floor was a brothel. Just driving through the heart of the city, it seemed there were modern, clean office buildings side by side with Neolithic-looking stores and houses. Figuring that might also mean a varying level of trustworthy people wandering the sidewalks, I opted for the hotel dining room.

The next morning, Sinar picked me up and drove me to the airport. I flew to David, planning to try and get a feel for this recommended city as a possible retirement site. I had already marked Panama City off the list. I was not encouraged to have both Sinar and the Panamanian woman sitting next to me on the plane tell me I definitely wouldn’t want to settle in David. Well, I guessed I was about to find out for myself but too bad I didn’t have their advice before spending one of my few days in a city that even the locals wouldn’t recommend.

I’ll tackle David in Part II.

Retirement Considerations

First and foremost is the decision of when to retire. Here are the financial considerations I’m juggling:

a) If I quit before I turn 66, I won’t be able to collect my maximum social security benefits. I can work part-time, which certainly gives me more freedom, but there’s a limitation in how much I can earn and when I finally reach 66, the social security benefit does not increase to the maximum I would get if I waited. Yes, once I hit 66 I can work as much as I want but then what was the point of retiring?

b) If I quit when I hit the magic 66, I get the full amount of my social security benefits and I can supplement them by working as much or as little as I like. That’s very, very tempting but they make it even harder to quit by offering increased benefits each year I continue up to age 70. Having more to live off of is attractive but do I really want to work until I’m 70? No, not really. And the fact that I work in hospice and see lots of people in their 50s and 60s dying makes me realize I can’t know how much time I’ll have to enjoy that time off so why wait?

Just writing this down makes me realize I’ve already crossed the work-until-you-hit-70 scenario off the slate. Of course, it’s nice to think about other things I might be able to do to earn money – write the play I’ve been dabbling with, pen the series of novels I have in mind, spend more time on my outside company and try to build it up, etc. – but I can’t depend on those outlets. I have to assume I’ll be living off social security and that’s a shock to the system (hash tag: why didn’t I start saving sooner?).

The next post will discuss the challenges of finding a retirement destination and whether or not to purchase a house or condo, rent or buy some land and build a cheaper, smaller place to live.