TIME OFF AND RETIREMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Time Off

Periodically, we go to retirement parties. Well, not so much now because most of our similar-age friends are already retired. For a long time, it was all retirement parties all the time. Except for the funerals, usually held for people who didn’t make it to retirement.

At some point during the party, someone — usually the wife of or the actual retiree — would say: “Now I (or we) will have plenty of time to visit and hang out.”

This causes the rest of us who are already retired, to laugh hysterically. I’m not sure how or why it works this way, but it always works this way. One day, you are working 40 or 50 hours a week. The next week, you are retired and vaguely worried about what you are going to do.

A month later, you are wondering how you found time to work because you barely have time to get anything done. The more retired you are, the busier you become. Bloggers blame blogging. Artists blame their art. Grandparents blame babysitting. People with money complain they seem to always be packing or unpacking, though I find it difficult to sympathize with those who simply can’t stop vacationing.

Please don’t complain how hard it is to manage your summer-house in the mountains and your extra house in New Mexico. Or at least only do it with friends who also have spare houses.

If you aren’t blogging or on a permanent vacation, you are probably writing, painting, teaching, volunteering, or discovering half the children you thought had moved out are now moving  back– with or without the rest of their family.

Dogs and cats multiply. Houses need repair pretty much all the time and as soon as you finish one task, another — like magic — appears.

Time off?

What’s that?

What happened to all the time you were going to have to visit friends and just hang out? The only thing which changes is you can finally get enough sleep. Among my husband and his sleep-deprived colleagues, sleep is the number one activity on their life chart. They are serious sleepers. This is apparently what happens when you’ve been sleep-deprived for 50 or 60 years. You can’t seem to catch up.

Many of us discover while we used to be casual about cleaning, we now seem to feel a more persistent need to keep the house clean. And doing that is harder than it was. I used to be able to do a pretty good clean-up of a 9-room house in about four hours, as long as Credence Clearwater Revival was playing in the background. Now, I can’t even reach half the things that need cleaning. I’ve grown much shorter during the past 10 years.

The one thing you can count on is that you will not have lots of leftover time. It’s like the magic closet which, no matter how much you remove from it, remains full.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Life is permanently full unless you are uninterested in anything. Most of us have always had hobbies and other activities we have wanted to spend more time doing but we were busy earning a living or raising kids. Now, as retirees, we slide into our “hobbies” with the same gusto we had professionally. Except we don’t get paid.

Oh well. You can’t have everything, right?

HOW CAN YOU GET SPRING FEVER IF SPRING HAS NOT SPRUNG? – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Spring Fever

I don’t have even a hint of spring fever unless you count a deep yearning to see a flower bloom and have the temperature rise regularly about 60 degrees. But spring isn’t much of a season in New England and every year, we hope we’ll get a “real” spring … and we don’t. It’s something about winds and ocean and rivers and rocks.

Birds not of a feather

Living in New York, which is just 240 miles south of here, we got a real spring. By this time of year, we had magnolias and crab apple blossoms and the daffodils were up and the grass was green. You wouldn’t think a mere 4 or 5-hour drive could make such a difference in climate, but it does.

Two Goldfinch

The closest vision to spring I’ve had is watching the birds change from their winter colors to their breeding colors. The dull greenish-yellow Goldfinch are brilliant yellow and even the brightest birds of winter are brighter now. Otherwise, though, we have some green shoots coming up from the ground, but other than a few crocuses, that’s pretty much it. No leaves, no flowers. No green grass.

A pair of Goldfinch – Two boys this time

We do, however, have ticks. And ants. They know it’s spring, even if the rest of New England still thinks it might yet return to winter. I think we are past that, however. It isn’t warm, but the really deep cold is gone. Now, it’s just muddy and chilly. And, I need to remind myself, by a few weeks from now, summer will show up overnight.

Our spring is usually one afternoon in early May. The next day, it’s 85 degrees. Flowers are blooming like mad and all the trees are in full leaf. Sometimes, this rollover into summer happens in a few hours. We go grocery shopping and by the time we are on our way home, everything is blooming.

I’ve lived up this way for more than 30 years and I’ve never gotten used to the suddenness of the seasons. Autumn was like that too, until recently with climate changing. It would be summer and the next day, it looked like every tree had been lit from within.

For the past few years, we’ve barely had any autumn at all. I’m used to missing spring, but fall has always been my favorite season, especially in New England … and having it disappear is very sad.

Maybe it will come back this year.

NATURE VS. NURTURE – DOES HARDSHIP MAKE YOU STRONGER? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #20

Kelly Clarkson song leverages something originally attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” That quote is attributed to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Anyway, the song got Fandango thinking about the validity of Nietzsche’s notion, so here is this week’s provocative question:

I have always hated being told: “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

The people who spout it are usually people who have never experienced anything harder than a long walk with a foot blister. I particularly resent people who add “God” to the expression because if there’s one thing that could give me a strong anti-God point of view, the idea that he does this sort of thing as a kind of  “video game with us as the playing figures” is disgusting.

Does hardship make you stronger? Tougher? Or merely meaner? Does it make you more able to deal with the rough parts of your journey from birth to burial — or does it just turn you mean, angry, and depressive?

Depending on the person, his DNA, and natural “state,” perhaps it does all of the above in varying degrees. Certainly coddling children and making sure they never have to cope with the bumps and dings of “real” life won’t make them stronger.

I think it’s healthy to allow children to deal with reality as they mature because sooner or later, you won’t be there to fend off “the bad stuff.” So letting kids handle at least some of the difficult aspects of life helps them grow up and more importantly, helps them understand what it means to not be protected from everything. It’s always difficult to know when to let it go, let a child stand up for him or herself — or to take a hand in the matter. I suspect one ought to at least consult the kid about it. Some of them have strong feelings on the subject.

But that’s talking about intelligent, involved parents who are not desperately poor, lurking on the edge (or middle) of criminality, abuse, or worse.

So let’s roll this back a bit:
“Do abused children grow stronger?”

My answer? Sometimes, but let’s not count on it. Many abused kids grow up to be abusive parents and criminals. Others become psychiatrists, physicians, lawyers, police officers, or other caretakers. Or writers, artists, and teachers.

We make choices. We live by the choices we make.

The argument over “nature vs. nurture” in child development has been going on as long as I’ve been alive and has probably been going on since anyone had a family and could argue about it.

I used to be all about nurture, but watching children grow — the three in my terribly dysfunctional family, my son in mine, and his daughter in his … I’m inclining more towards a 60-40 nature-nurture split. Before Owen was a week old, he could push himself up on his arms and look around the room. I remember the doctor saying “Oh, this one is going to run you ragged!”

He didn’t run me ragged. He ran himself ragged. These days, kids with that kind of energy are instantly put on drugs because teachers want placid students. They don’t want energetic boys who need activity, not all day stuck behind a desk.

Does being DRUGGED from first grade make you stronger? I think it turns you into a druggie always looking for a better pill to solve your problems. Not to diminish the role Big Pharma has in the current mess, parents who allow themselves to be bullied into drugging their kids from first grade on shouldn’t be surprised if their kid grows up still looking for the right drug to fix everything.

There’s more than one person at whom we can point our fingers.

2010

I grew up in a family of three children with a child-molesting, abusive father — and a mother who simply could not believe things were as bad as they seemed. My brother built a life, but I don’t think he ever stopped being angry. His childhood had been torn away and the pain never left. But he managed to have a marriage that lasted from when he was 20 until he died.

My sister got mired in drugs and vanished into a world of chaos and I don’t even know what else. I haven’t seen her for years and no longer know if she is alive. I’m assuming if she had died, someone would have called me. The last time she was hospitalized, they found me, so I’m sure they’ll find me again if they need to.

2012

And then there’s me. I was probably the tough one. After growing up with my father, I was never afraid of anyone. I was probably just a little bit hostile in my earlier years, mellowing out somewhat as time has marched on. There are still a lot of areas regarding men and especially ANGRY men that push all of my buttons at the same time and I have a temper that I’ve spent a lifetime holding in check.

I worked hard and I don’t think anyone ever referred to me as “easy-going.” Did childhood make me tough? Or would I have been tough anyway?

I was always determined to do my own thing. Unlike many of my peers, parental pressure — really, any kind of bullying — has had little effect on me. On the other hand, coaxing, suggestions, and a fine editor have done wonders. I listen when people have good ideas. I’m always ready to try things a new way.

I think I was born this way.

I think if my mother had tried coddling me I’d have been out the door and miles away before she could call me home. I was also extremely responsible at a very early age. I recognized danger, didn’t do things that would get me killed or hurt anyone. I could (did) babysit for my sister when I was six and no one thought that odd because my brother was older, but I was more responsible.

So this is one of those “maybe yes and maybe not” answers. Nature — DNA and the way our particular helix is designed has more to do with how we turn out than parenting. But other things — manners, taste, and interests — come from our environment. Kids brought up with books read books. Kids whose mothers drag them to art museums learn to love art.

Energy, determination, will-power, and talent are gifts. What we do with them are 50-50 culture and DNA.

Now, let the arguments begin!

A WORLD IN PASSPORTS – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt – Passport

The first time I needed a passport was when I was going to live in Israel. It was such a busy period, I don’t actually remember it. I remember having the passport, but I don’t remember the process or getting it or getting pictures taken, or anything else. I must have done all of it or I could not have gone to Israel, but it’s a complete blank.

I do remember the next passport, though because by then I was living in Israel and I had to get a passport at the American Consulate in Jerusalem.

I was also, by then, an Israeli citizen, so around the same time — I had to get an Israeli passport. Remarkably, the only thing I remember about getting my passport at the American consulate was that the guard was a Marine in full dress uniform. I was very impressed. He was like one of the guards at Kensington Palace — as still as a statue.

As for getting my Israeli passport, I remember that I knew my “number” by heart. Everyone knew their number. These days, I can barely remember my own phone number.

That was the same passport I used when Garry and I honeymooned in Ireland and the same one I used when I went abroad to work in Israel. I had to use my Israeli passport and it had the wrong name on it, so I had to use my American passport too, to prove I was me and will still be me.

The next time I had to get a new passport was when we were living here. I hadn’t even realized my passport had gone past due, but that was when suddenly, you needed a passport to go to Canada and we were going up to Jackman, Maine which is right on the Canadian border and thought we might want to wander into Canada.

Jackman, Maine

That used to be no big deal. You didn’t even need a passport. Just a driver’s license, a wave and off you’d go. Now you needed a passport and there was a line of cars. And prices were really high and there wasn’t any sense of “hospitality” for which Canadians are supposedly famous. Maybe it’s because we were obviously tourists.

Or maybe it’s because our friends were obviously Natives to whom not all Canadians are friendly.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT PREDESTINATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

This week’s provocative question is a spinoff of a question that Melanie (Sparks From a Combustible Mind) asked in her last Share Your World post.

That question from Melanie got me thinking about fate and predestination. So here’s this week’s provocative question.

I’m not entirely sure what “predestination” means. By this do you mean a rigid “ending” that you can’t change, no matter what? Because I don’t believe in that.

I think we end up where we are supposed to be. I don’t think it’s a rigid, unchanging finish. I think it is flexible and will change depending on the choices we make. But there’s a likely place we will probably land.

I don’t believe in a frozen, unbending future. More like a conclusion based on our intelligence, status, birthplace, education … and the things to which we are attracted and choose along our path as well as the kind of people to whom we are attracted.

This is how I like to describe it.

Life is like a bus trip, except you don’t know where you are going and you can’t drive the bus. No ticket, no map.

You will meet other travelers on the bus. Some will be your friends and maybe lovers and mates. They enter the bus at various stops and get off where they must. You may not be happy about it.

The bus will sometimes stop and give you the chance to visit and enjoy the scenery, but eventually, you’ll have to get back on the bus.

You still won’t have any idea where the bus is going and you still can’t drive. Sometimes, the road will be very rough and treacherous. Other times, the road will be smooth and the scenery beautiful. When all is smooth and lovely, you may think you’ve got everything under control.

You will never have everything under control. You never know when the bus will take a sudden turn or for that matter, drive off a bridge.

Life will take you where it takes you.

I don’t know what, if anything, God has to do with it. Maybe something. Maybe nothing. I have no idea. But if prayer makes you feel better, I say go for it. Because whatever makes you feel better — especially if it costs nothing — is worth doing.

NOBODY PROMISED LIFE WOULD BE FAIR – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt – Fairness

No one promised me that life would be fair. Quite the opposite. My mother was a total cynic. Born in 1910, her earliest memories were of living through World War I which she always referred to as “The Great War,” and then living through World War II, which was simply “The Holocaust.”

She didn’t believe in God because how could any God allow such atrocities to occur to his people. She didn’t trust government because even when they sometimes did honorable things, behind locked doors they made dishonorable deals. She was convinced that they intentionally failed to blow up the Nazi concentration camp crematorium and gas chambers because they were good old rich white men and were happy that Hitler was getting rid of those annoying Jews.

She remembered how in the middle of the depression when there was more food than could be sold because people were desperately poor, the government put surplus food in empty lots and poured poison on it so no one could eat it. I heard this was a rumor, but she said it was true. She had seen it.

She knew that the U.S. had refused to let Jews desperate to escape from Germany enter the United States and many of them had died in ships that sank in the Atlantic, in view of the Statue of Liberty. She remembered the jailing of Japanese American citizens during the war and the destruction of Native Americans.

She despised the Catholic church because, she said, they were a bunch of pedophiles, something that proved true eventually.

Lady Justice – Old Bailey, London

She wanted me to get a nose job so I wouldn’t look “so Jewish.” She never trusted the government, always expected it to turn on us. I think she always had a bag packed in case she had to run.

So I never thought the world would be fair. But I also didn’t think it would be this ugly. I thought if we tried really hard we could make it better. That we could fix some of the broken pieces. That I could fix some of the broken pieces myself.

I was wrong but I tried.

Maybe someday we will succeed. May my granddaughter’s children — should she have any — will make things better.

No one told me to expect life would be fair. I always knew rich people would get the best “stuff” and the rest of us would get whatever was left over. It never crossed my mind that we were all genuinely “equal.”

We are all equal. Just some of us are more equal than others.

Those few times when life has gone well and things have seemed fair and evenhanded, it has been a huge surprise. It would be nice if there were more surprises to come, but I’m not holding my breath.

ARE YOUR VALUES WORTH A SONG AND A MOVIE? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #18


And the question is one that has bothered me in the past and will probably continue to nag at me.


“When you learn about highly regarded artists being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, especially with minors, can you separate the artists from their art, or would you refuse to listen to, watch, or read the artists’ works?”


NOTE: I expand this to include all varieties of hatred and bigotry.

The easy answer and the one that requires the least amount of effort is that we separate the artist and his/her art. This is simply because it requires \no sacrifice from you. None at all — not even giving up listening to some music or a few movies.

There are more issues involved than whether or not you like the way the guy sings, acts, paints, or writes. There are values you claim as your own at stake.

I can’t — won’t — watch movies with Mel Gibson. Or with massacres of Native Americans. Or including blackface or other racially derogatory material. Garry used to ignore it (which I never understood), but he can’t anymore. At the very least, he fast forwards through those sections … or doesn’t watch the movie.

Many –especially modern — artists have been nasty people. Rapists and pedophiles. Racists. Bigots of the first water.

An awful lot more artists are fine or at least normal people. Everyone in the music business or Hollywood is not a sexual predator, racist, anti-Semite, or pedophile. If you extract the bad ones, there are plenty of movies and music remaining to which you can listen and view without compromising your supposed principles.

At what point do the values you claim to have actually matter enough to make a minor dent in your viewing or listening life? Seriously. You claim to be an honorable person, but rather than giving up listening to one child rapist’s music, you’ll “forgive him” because he’s such a great artist? Is he really that great? Or are your values that cheap?

At some point, if you have a set of values in which you believe, are you prepared to give up anything to live up to those values? You listen to their music and you watch their movies … and they make money from this. You are supporting them while deploring them.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Your values don’t mean much if you are unwilling to make any sacrifice — and this is a pretty small sacrifice — for them.

I have come to a point in life where the things I value are more important to me that a song or movie. #metoo isn’t just a saying . You either support it or you don’t. You are either willing to make some kind of actual change in your life — and this is a pretty small one — to support it or you don’t support it.

I don’t think giving up watching a few movies or listening to some songs is such a huge sacrifice. In fact, it’s not much and costs nothing. If I’m not willing to do that, then my values don’t mean anything.