Monday, July 18, 2016

Out of Selfishness

Out of selfishness, I want to talk to you about something important.  It will sound preachy.  There will be imperative sentences.  I don’t know how else to say this.

You need to sleep.  You need to make sure you go into a dark room at night, lie down, and sleep for a long time.  Go for a long interrupted period of good sleep.  Strive to dream and then remember your dreams.  It helps to talk about them or write them down immediately after waking.  But if you can’t go that far least think about your dreams.  They’re a wonderful part of life, usually markedly different from the world we stand up in and experience during our waking hours. The world we live in while awake can be difficult.  The world of dreams has infinite possibility.

Nap when you feel tired.  Find some good quiet place to shut your eyes and let your mind go.  You know what happens: you find yourself breathing deeply, you forget what it was that occupied your thoughts just moments before, your mind begins to expand and scatter, you let go of wakefulness, and you doze.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  Go for it, even if it’s only ten minutes.  Or five. Take what you can get.  And don’t let anyone give you shit about it.  We need those naps.  They recharge us.  You might wake up and find an answer you were seeking because your mind is clear.  Napping is the best.  It’s good for you.

Limit your work.  You may work to make money, to achieve a goal, or accomplish some desired end but don’t do it all the time, whatever it is.  Stop thinking about those ends, those goals, those accomplishments if only for a while.  Do something entirely different.  If you work with your mind do something physical to shut off those thoughts for a while.  If you labor physically take time to be still and think.  Find a balance that feels good.  Lose yourself in the lives of those you love.  You may have to change a lot or only a little to limit your work but limit your work.  Pursue the different, the fun, the never done, the always wanted to, the I don’t think I can, the oh not me.  Mix it up.

Concentrate on how you feel and do things to make yourself feel better.  You may need to admit, confess, or share fears, worries and concerns.  Don’t keep them tight within you.  Let them out.  Write them down, talk about them, do something to make them external to you and not secret.  And then breathe.  Feel your chest and your shoulders relax.  Eat at home and eat well.  Sit down at a table.  Shut everything else off.

Does this all sound touchy-feely and new age?  I don’t care.  We live in a world of high stress.  We are flooded with constant news and information, much of it horribly violent and traumatic.  Looking too closely at the larger world for too long can be hazardous to your health.  Of course you have to look.  You can’t help but look.  You must be informed, you must read, you must form opinions, you must vote, you must be involved.  But you also must withdraw from the craziness.  You have to create your own space, your own reality that is a comfort to live in.  That space need not be physical or material, it could be only in your mind, but you need to relax.  Create in yourself an awareness of when you are hurting yourself with worry and stress and back the hell off.  Put yourself in a place, mentally or physically of both, where you can sleep, eat, laugh, think, relax, escape, and recharge.  Please.  Please.

How is this selfish on my part?  It is selfish because I want to hear from you again, be with you again, enjoy your thoughts or your company.  Chances are if you are reading this we are acquainted and you are important to me.  I am having another birthday in August, aging like everyone else, but I plan to be around for some time.  I’d like you to continue to be part of my life.  I feel an attachment to my readers.  If we do this right we can all grow old, in varying degrees in our own way, and finish up at relatively the same time.  Whatever else happens let’s try getting old and taking it from there.  Getting old can be a challenge, but dying young is worse.  Some of us may not be able to do anything about our death but some of us can.  Stress can kill you.  You don’t have to live with it.  Dump it, escape it, endure it in small doses, recognize it, manage it in some way.  But for Christ’s sake don’t let it take you out. 

Consider this e mail string, excerpts of which took place over the three years since I retired.

Me-When are you going to retire?
Him-I don’t know.  Not yet. There is so much to do.  I think of you down there in the shack.
Me—You should visit.  Whatever you do, don’t work too hard.

Me-I’ve been reading about your outfit in the news.  It must be awful.  The decisions, the cutbacks.
Him-You have no idea.  But it’s almost over. That part at least.
Me-When are you going to retire?
Him-There are so many things to sort out yet.  Soon.

Him-I was down your way, drove past on 80 but didn’t have time to stop.
Me-You should have stopped if only for one drink. The shack is always open.
Him-When I retire I’m coming down for a day.  I’ll bring a bottle, and records.  Do you have a turntable?
Me-I bought myself one for Christmas.
Him-It’s a plan then.

Me-Glad you liked the blog. When are you going to retire?

Him-Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pulling the plug at the end of the fiscal year.
Me-Does that mean you’re coming down to the shack?
Him-Yes it does.  As soon as the dust settles.  I’m going to the vacation house for a while first, then I’m coming for a day with the old albums. 
Me-That’s perfect.  You’ll love retirement.  Before you leave I’ll need a home e mail address.
Him-I believe you have it.  Just in case I’ll send you another e mail from that address. 

Him-Here you go from the house computer.  Hey, you’ll like this.  Went to see Willie Nelson on Saturday. (a mutual friend) and his wife joined us. He doesn't seem to miss the BS at all. And by the way Willie at 83 still plays a mean guitar.  When I come to the shack what kind of bottle should I bring?
Me-Anything you like that is brown and 80 proof or more.  See you soon.  

My friend never made it to the shack.  His retirement lasted less than a week, and not because he went back to work.  He won’t be coming.  I’m still trying to get used to that.  He won’t be coming.  I won’t be seeing him again.  I will never again slide into a meeting late and sit next to him.  He won’t be bringing me copied CD’s of old folk music in his briefcase.  But at least he has attended his last meeting.  I won’t be listening to his albums.  We won’t be toasting retirement by clicking mason jars of brown spirits in the shack.  He worked hard and did a lot for others.  I wish he had done more for himself.  I’m selfish that way.  I want to stay around a long time, and I want you to stay here with me.

I don’t know what the playlist was for the Willie Nelson concert my friend attended, but chances are he sang “Lucky Old Sun.”  It’s a 1949 song by a guy named Beasley Smith, lyrics by Haven Gillespie.  If you judge the merits of a song and its lyrics by the performers that have covered it this is quite a song.  Let me give you a partial list of the artists who have recorded it: Frankie Lane, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Sara Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan.  Willie Nelson did a great version.  I’m biased towards writers but I think it’s the lyrics that carried this tune to its popularity.

Lucky Old Sun
Up in the morning
Out on the job
Work like the devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun
Ain’t got nothin to do
Roll around heaven all day

Fuss with my woman
Toil for my kids
Sweat till I’m am wrinkled and gray
But that lucky old sun
Ain’t got nothin to do
Roll around heaven all day

Dear lord above
Can’t you see I’m cryin'
Tears are in my eyes
Send down a cloud with a silver lining
Take me to paradise

Show me that river
Lead me across
And take all my troubles away
Like the lucky old sun
I’ll have nothin' to do
Roll around heaven all day

I hope Willie played that song and my friend enjoyed it without an inkling of what life had in store for him in the near future. We just don’t know, do we?  All we can do is relax, live well, and enjoy life while we have it. 

Take care of yourselves.  Please.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What was Gained?

I surprise myself sometimes.  While I was golfing last Friday someone brought up the state budget in casual conversation and I heard myself go off on a rant.  I’m not sure I get out enough.  Anyway I recognized it as a rant pretty quickly and managed to contain myself.  I hope it didn’t affect anyone’s game.
This was Friday morning golf, which is different than Tuesday afternoon.  Tuesday afternoon golf is a small group of eight guys, invited via e mail, who move to a different course every week, play their own ball, and golf a group game, collective scoring of birdies and pars, without wagering.  My wife calls Friday morning the old guy game.
“Which group is this?  Is this the old guy game?  Where you never know who you’re going to play with?”

“Yeah honey.  It’s the old guy game.”

The old guy game is a standing event of sometimes 60 guys.  They play the same little nine hole country course every week, flat as a pancake and without a lot of trouble.  If you hit an errant ball you can play it down the adjoining fairway.  It’s pretty forgiving.  The old guys play an entirely different format from the Tuesday group.

The old guy game is a scramble in which you play the best ball hit by your team on each shot.  All you have to do is show up, pay the money and you’re in.  The money is pretty reasonable.  Nine holes with a cart is $17, and the organizers collect $3.25 from every player which goes into a hat and is paid out as prize money in the end.  The top four finishers are in the money, which includes splitting payouts for ties.  They keep track of putts in order to keep ties at a minimum but they still happen.  My team recently tied for 4th place and each of us got $2 back.  You’re not going to get rich on the old guy game.  Closest to the pin on one of the par three holes pays something.  I’ve yet to win that so I don’t know how much.  Not much I’m thinking.

Actually that little feature of keeping track of putts changes the game.  At times the team chooses to play a ball just off the green rather than a long try on the putting surface to reduce their overall putts in the event of a tie.  There are guys who think golf is not worth playing if you don’t put money on it.
By far the best feature about the old guy game is that the teams are random every Friday.  They do something with a deck of cards, the organizers do at their table in the corner where they keep the sign in sheet and collect the bet money.  The result of what they do in turning over the cards somehow is that team members are constantly shuffled.  When 9:00 a.m. comes they call out the numbers and names of the foursomes and we go outside and sound off our numbers until we find our team.  I’ve not yet played with the same team and I’ve played most every Friday all summer.  That’s refreshing.  You don’t get cliques of old guys who don’t let others on their team.  You meet everyone.  It’s sort of a fraternity of old guys; a collegial group of peers, egalitarian even, united only by age.  I’ve yet to be paired with anyone on Friday morning with whom I haven’t enjoyed golfing.
When I say they’re old I mean it.  I’m possibly one of the youngest.  The ultra old, those over 80, get to hit from the red tees.  I’m convinced it’s a decided advantage to get one of the 80+ guys on your team.  Invariably they are in good shape and golf well or they wouldn’t be out there.  The stuff they say about old guys is generally true.  They may not hit it as far as they used to but it’s typically in the fairway, and they tend to have good short games.  I was reunited with an old guy I knew from my past life as a caseworker with adolescents.  He was a school administrator and coach at a little area school which referred kids to YSB.  I didn’t have direct contact with him but with our mutual friend the former school counselor who was a renowned nice guy.  He passed away a few years ago.  The guy very much alive and golfing well is 87.  We used his ball a lot.  He hit from the red tees which are, after all, a big advantage.

So Friday we’re waiting to tee off and this talk of the state budget comes up.  We don’t talk a lot of politics but like every group of people in Illinois the budget affects us, our families, and our community so we are interested.  One of the guys remarked that the governor didn’t appear to get much of his agenda passed.  None in fact.  That’s when I went off.

“Rauner could have made that same god damned deal a year ago.  He kept the whole state in limbo, ruined social service agencies, impacted the decisions of college students, took food out of the mouths of senior citizens, took care away from runaway kids, the mentally ill, the homeless, and the addicted while putting Illinois in deeper debt than it’s ever been.  And for what?    Political advantage?  In a presidential election year with Trump at the top of the ticket?  Give me a freaking break.”  I didn’t say freaking.

“What was gained?”

The question just sort of hung out there.  One of the guys began looking for tees in his bag.  Another murmured something and changed clubs.  I realized I was being loud and opinionated.  Not the kind of manners small town Midwesterners are supposed to display on a beautiful July morning on a golf course.  I toned down.

“I’m just saying that whole fiasco got us nowhere.  We don’t have tax reform, we didn’t create new revenue, the school funding formula goes on as before, as do worker’s comp and public pensions. We’re stuck in the same place we’ve been for years and everything is put off for six months.  We didn’t change a thing. We made it worse.  It makes me mad, but actually it is just so sad.”

It was my turn to hit.  I teed it up and hit it a long way.  Apparently I was energized.

Had I waited till 65 to retire, and left on the last day of the fiscal year as I did three years ago at age 62, last Friday July 1, 2016 would have been my first day of retirement.  If I had stayed I would have fought through a year and a half of the Rauner administration as the director of a largely state funded social service agency, the last year one in which contracts supporting important programs in my agency were not paid a dime for a full twelve months.  Then Governor Rauner, on what would have been the very last day of my career, would have caved as we all knew he would have to, made a deal which accomplished nothing but damage and pain for Illinois, and I would have gone home for good.  That assumes I could have made it through the last three years.  They say timing is everything.  Thank God I left when I did.  I still feel the stress and I’m not even there.

I’d rather be golfing.