51 Introspection

 

51 Selfie
51 Selfie

Dear friends, let me first apologize for the blatant blog neglect perpetrated by your’s truly over the last few months.  Work and everyday life has gotten in the way of “me time.”  Now that I have spent the better part of the day reflecting on 51, I’d like to share some thoughts with you.  Again, I offer an apology in advance for the tone of this post. It can best be described as a jaded, self-conscious peek into the psyche of a man struggling with mortality. What can I say, I’ve never been a “glass half full” kind of guy.

If you read my post leading up to my 50th birthday, you’ll know that it was quite a struggle. I thought 50 was a hump to get over and that once over the hump, life would get smoother.  In many ways it has and in some ways it hasn’t.

Here are some observations, discoveries, and realizations that I share for your amusement and pity:

Obsessive Compulsive Behavior Won’t Slow Down – I find that there is an alarming increase in my obsessive behavior.  I spent the better part of the day washing my hands after having touched a dead baby bird while cleaning the pool skimmer.  Dead-baby-bird cooties is not the way that you want to start your 51st birthday. No amount of scented lotion can convince me that I’m not smelling dead baby bird. I now have a laser like focus on creating or acquiring some tool to pull the skimmer basket out without inserting my hand into a soup of dead baby bird and chipmunk.

Things Hurt More – I hurt from sitting. Did you hear me? I said I HURT FROM SITTING. Rising from a chair after sitting for a while should not result in aches and pains. I’m an active guy. I work out 5 days a week. Why is there such rapid deterioration? There are times when sitting still, in the quiet of the night, quiescent in a room devoid of light, that I can literally hear the decay as it’s happening.  Muscle tearing down. Ligaments weakening. Fragility attacking bones. Neurons misfiring like failing spark plugs.

Fashion Relevancy – The realization that I will never succumb to dull fashion has set in. I am destined to sacrifice comfort for style. Yes, there will be times, later in life, that I will undoubtedly look like an old man trying to cling to the glory days, but so be it.  There will be no “dad jeans” in my future. You shouldn’t spend a good portion of your life building your personal brand only to abandon it because you stop caring. If you don’t remember me for anything else, remember this…SWAGGER MATTERS.

I’d rather look like this guy:

Oldmanswag

Than this guy:

OldJeans Music Relevancy – Music discovery will always be a part of my DNA. A recent study suggested that the average person stops listening to and discovering new music around the age of 33. I find that rather depressing. I might be an old man listening to Byonce “Twirl on her haters in albino alligators” or Drake fluttering between being hard-core and a ladies man, but if it has a funky beat, and interesting lyric, a conscious message, I’m going to be on it. I’ll rock a band like Tao and the Get Down Stay Down when I’m 80. “Yes, I love Earth, Wind & Fire and Al Green, and Miles Davis, but I choose to honor the past while celebrating the present. So pass the Depends underpants and my Beats headphones because I’m gonna drop it like it’s hot…old…but hot. The goal is to counter some of the regression with progression.

Fuck It – It’s slipping out of my mouth more and more these days. Indeed, it is liberating. Not giving a shit is like a new right of passage. To my expanding waist line, I say fuck it. To my painful left pinkie toe, I say fuck it. To overpriced restaurant food, I say fuck it. Curling 60 pounds instead of 70 I say fuck it. Letting things go and not sweating the small stuff is finally sinking in at age 51.

New Obsessions – I’ve had passions and interests come and go and I suppose they speak to various life stages. Today’s obsession is retirement and, more specifically, planning for retirement. Not surprising for this stage in my life. I find the whole thing rather fascinating and highly educational. I’m collecting EFTs and mutual funds like I use to collect socks and underwear. Educating myself on asset acquisition, asset allocation and portfolio management with a glass of wine now defines most evenings at home. Recent news stories highlighting how unprepared for retirement most Americans are is disturbing. While It’s never to early to start saving, it can be too late. Assess your portfolio, assess your retirement needs, and seek help from a financial planner. I’ve been very fortunate to spend the majority of my career with an employer that has generous retirement benefits. For that, I am thankful.

Number-51I Am Loved – This is not a new revelation but I will take every opportunity to acknowledge how fortunate I am in the love department. I am rich in social capital. While, at 51, my daughters often look at me like I’m eating jello, sitting in a rocking chair with a blanket on my lap, I know that they love and respect me. They get currency from making me proud. And I am…very proud. I look forward to watching them develop and grow into strong, intelligent women.

And no man is more fortunate in the pair bonding department than me. My wife loves me more with each passing year when logic dictates it should be the opposite. She’s a tough coach, uncompromising supporter, and fantastic partner. Every day with her  represents a new day of discovery; new dreams developed; new passions uncovered; and life made new with every awakening. I am loved. And that’s what makes 51 and beyond worth living and enjoying.

 

The Road to 50: On The Eve of My 50th Name Day

Evening

Life is a lot like eating sugarcane – the beginning is sweet and sappy and in the end you are left with fibrous strands bereft of flavor and joy. I am unsure where 50 is on that continuum.

It’s no surprise that my body is slow to recover; that there are more aches than not; that a new gray hair sprouts every 30 seconds; that I forget what I am about to do next; that my pace is slower; my words lie beyond grasp; that I’m more irritable.

And yet I remain inspired.

I am inspired by my friend Scott Allen who, at the precipice of turning 50, discovered new love; gained a new life partner; and is invigorated by love’s toxicity.

I am inspired by my friend Sean Yoes who continues to discover new interests and chase new dreams.

I am inspired by my friend David Littlejohn, who at age 52, is in better shape now than you and I were at 25.

I am inspired by many of my high school classmates who have been celebrating 50 recently with spirit and dynamism, surrounded by those that love them dearly.

I am inspired by my friend Jay Washington who said turning 50 gave him license to tell people to “piss off”.

I am inspired by my friend Jennifer Douglas whose thirst for knowledge exceeds my own.

I am inspired by all of the people who continue to enrich me on all platforms of life.

My life has been full of moves, calculations and plenty of miscalculations. I’ve made both good and bad decisions along the way. But no single decision can compare to the decision to ineptly, pitifully, and lazily ask Angel P. Brown to become my wife. The fact that she accepted my crappy proposal speaks volumes to what she saw in me. She saw potential in me that I did not see in myself; in fact could not see in myself. Getting that woman to marry me stands as my greatest achievement and biggest con job to date. And my children are a manifestation of every pure thought I have ever had.

50 will be celebrated quietly. A day off wine shopping with Angela that will conclude with a special Bleezie burger, a fantastic bottle of wine, more self-reflection and new edits to my life’s script. And who knows; I might just dig deep enough into the sugarcane to find more sweet, sappy goodness.

The Road to 50: Useless Information

I believe I mentioned before that my wife Angela often says that my head is full of useless information. She claims that the data takes up important gigabytes of storage in my mental CPU meant for meaningful and useful content. She also says that I tend to vilify her in my blogs and she might be right. But not this time. Her assertion, in this case, is likely on point. I have a curious mind and I tend to hold on to information that cannot possibly advance my cause in the workplace or life in general. Or can it? I’ll come back to that. For now, here are some of my favorite bits of “useless” information:

The Bowerbird has swag
The Bowerbird has swag

1) One species of Bowerbird in Australia has a unique way of picking up chicks. The male Bowerbird builds intricate structures and decorates its nest with blue items. I am fascinated by the specificity of color. Is it not amazing that a bird will go through great lengths to find blue items just to get laid? That’s my kind of dude animal (or dudimal).

2) The Deepest point on earth is the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The deepest depth known to us to date is just under 7 miles. A long way down. Our oceans are relatively unexplored compared to the rest of our planet. I’d like to see as much interest in exploring the deep seas as we show in exploring space. Secretly, the little boy in me hopes they discover a real Godzilla down there.

 

 

Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars...
Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars…

3) On the Saturn moon Titan, the atmosphere is so thick and the gravity so low that a human could theoretically fly by flapping wings attached to their arms. Fly on Titan? Sign me up. Titan is the only object, other than Earth, in our solar system that has stable bodies of surface liquid.

4) Ancient Egyptians used crocodile poop as a contraceptive. Don’t ask me how I know this “crap”, I just do. I read it somewhere. About 2000 B.C. Egyptian women swallowed croc pellets for planned parenting. Croc dung  apparently contains alkaline like many modern contraceptive drugs so it just might have worked. If a woman told me she ate crocodile poo, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole. And there in lies the foundation of its true success as a contraceptive.

 

 

Dance with me Andromeda
Dance with me Andromeda

5) We are on a collision course with Andromeda. Seriously. In approximately 4 billion years (give or take a few hundred million), our Milky way galaxy will collide with our galactic neighbors in the Andromeda galaxy. Head on, full merge, galactic hug-fest. And our sun is predicted to survive the merger. This totally blows my mind and I hope that I am around to witness it. I’ll be soil by then but I hope that I am soil with consciousness.

Can this seemingly “useless” information benefit me in some way? The answer is yes. Research has been highlighting the benefits of life-long learning as a prescription for a longer, healthier life for years. A stimulated mind promotes a healthy brain and even an aging brain can grow new pathways and connections when challenged and stimulated. I’m sure that I will continue to take classes and perhaps take on the challenge of learning a new language after I turn 50, but I really enjoy learning about things that appear to have no impact or benefit on my daily life. That is until I find a way to work some of it into a conversation at a cocktail party. Angela acknowledges that my knowing a little bit about a lot might make me an interesting cocktail party attendee.

How about you? Do you have a favorite bit of useless information stored in your memory banks? Do you engage in life-long learning activities? Feel free to share.

The Road to 50: Are Our Views of Me In Alignment?

Self-imageMy mind has been so preoccupied lately that I almost forgot that I am celebrating a milestone birthday in just a matter of days. That is until a couple of friends reminded me by e-mail today and one of them thoughtfully welcomed me to the “old farts club”. For that minor transgression, I am making them buy me lunch.

The reminder triggered self-reflection and questions of goals and accomplishments. Am I the man that I set out to be? Is there still time to transform? Do I even care at this point?

The caption in this art work reads “It does not matter how others see you. But it is important how you see yourself.”  I strongly disagree with that sentiment.

Dear friends, we spend a good deal of time and effort creating our personal brands whether consciously or unconsciously. And while we think we know how we are being perceived, we don’t have the faintest idea how we are coming across to others. Studies show only a minor correlation between how you think your viewed and how others view you. For example, you might think that you are engaging and gregarious in public situations. But if people tend to shy away from you at conference gathering, they could find you boring or stand-offish. If people are shying away from you, their perception of you is closer to reality than your own. Why? Because numbers matter. Our individual encounters with one another may be distorted by bias or ego-centrism, but in aggregate the chance of coincidence is dramatically reduced.

My wife Angela often accuses me of having a “dark soul”. I certainly hope that is not how I am coming off to others. It certainly is not a part of my branding strategy. I am not a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of fellow. I am closer to being a what’s-in-this-glass and why-this-particular-glass kind of guy.

I spend a good portion of my day analyzing data. Everything from audience ratings data, to web site analytics, to financial performance; the aggregated data gives as accurate a picture of performance as any. In that same spirit, I turned to friends and family to measure their perception of me against my own.

Based on individual one-word responses that describe me, I created 5 themed buckets to categorize what people think.

The fullest bucket was Attitude.

Attitude

The Attitude bucket contains descriptors like candid; determined; opinionated; intense; and relentless. These can be both positive and/or negative and you’ll get no argument from me. The more colorful descriptors include “fierce”, assigned by Anne Messenger; former classmate Hillery Brown’s “whimsical”; and colleague and friend Ron Jones’ “Mackdaddy“. I literally LOL’ed on that one. I’ll admit that I give off plenty of attitude; both good and bad. No doubt partly resulting from my quick-tempered, irascible, and determined demeanor.

The second fullest bucket was Cultured. In the Cultured bucket you’ll find descriptors like fashionable; jazzy; debonair; worldly; and renaissance. I particularly appreciated former classmate Tina Tarrant’s “Metrosexual”; former classmate Sharon Faulcon-Harney’s “quintessential”; and my good friend Lisa Resper France’s “Bon Vivant”.  Classy ladies…very classy. It’s true. I dig fine food, a good bottle of wine and a kick-ass pair of wingtip brogues.

The third ranked bucket was Intellect. Smart; intellectual; thinker; well-rounded; and informative were common themes. I enjoy learning and sharing information. It is important to work for continuous improvement. And while my wife Angela often says that my head is “full of useless information”, the act of discovery is an enjoyable part of life for me. I appreciated my friend Jay Washington’s comment, “I actually look for your post and enjoy interacting with you.” Likewise brother!

Bucket number 4 was the Values bucket. Former WAER student Jim Patry claimed I was “fatherly” which made me feel real old. Others said caring; supportive; familial; grateful; profound; and dedicated. My favorite response was from my 15-year-old daughter, Hadiya, who described me as “devoted”. I almost teared up on that one.

The 5th and final bucket I called Physical. Strong, manly and handsome represented the few sparse crumbs of accolades for my “old fart” physical being. Though Jen Bailey Robb referred to me as “eye candy” and that was the highlight of this exercise.

So how did our views of me align? There was some agreement and some disconnects. In my view of myself and how I present through word and action, I would have thought Cultured would have topped the list. It was a very close second so, in that sense, we were pretty aligned. The disconnect, however, in our views of me is apparent in the high aggregation of Attitude descriptors and the relatively low consensus on Intellect. I’ll refrain from telling you all to kiss my ass for fear that I’ll be accused of giving off too much attitude. While I don’t consider myself an intellectual in either professional discipline or high academic achievement, I do highly value intellectual pursuit, intellectual conversation and the need to question everything. I am, after all, a public radio professional.

When it comes to your personal brand or reputation, it’s not about how you view yourself. What matters is how the world sees you. As I draw closer to crossing the 50 yard line, I am comfortable with how the world sees me. But I still have some work to do.

The Road to 50: Heat Check

Limp Noodle

There’s a term that sports announcers like to use when referring to a shooter’s hot streak – the heat check.  The reference relates to the next shot that a shooter takes to test just how hot he/she is.  I too have a “heat check”.  It happens when I reach for my wife Angela under the covers to see if I can generate a physical reaction.  An equipment check if you will.  A good portion of the time, I am less interested in intimacy at the moment and more interested in the equipment appearing in good working order.

Virility is a major concern of men over 50.  We are far more concerned with having strength, stamina, energy, and a strong sex drive than we are in the degradation of youthful appearance.  The heat check, for me, is a way to gauge my virility.  Lately, I find that recovery from vigorous workouts is taking a bit longer, my energy is down, and I think about sex far less than I ever have.  And I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a concern.  This is my new reality.

MenTalk

It’s a concern of many men but we just don’t talk about it.  When men talk about sex, the conversation is full of half-truths and gross exaggerations.  Rarely does the discussion center around issues or concerns.  I had a recent conversation with a friend who shared some of the same concerns and described experiencing similar psychological and physiological changes.  It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in the journey.

The saying is that men think about sex every 8 seconds.  While that claim has never officially been proven or disproven, I can guarantee you that it is a lot.  At least in our teens, 20’s and 30’s.  My friend pointed out that if we had focused our thinking and directed our energy on other things rather than the thought and pursuit of sex, we might be brain surgeons or astrophysicists today.

holding-hands-

When the fellas get together to talk about sports, their golf game, careers and family life, here’s what we are NOT talking about:

Andropause – the male version of menopause.  Yes, there is such a thing.  Also referred to as “aging male syndrome” (AMS), andropause happens roughly the same time that women experience menopause: somewhere between the ages of 35-70, but most commonly experienced in the early 50’s.  In its simplest form, AMS is the decrease of the male hormone testosterone.  Symptoms include a loss of energy, lower sex drive, decreasing strength and endurance, mood changes and erections that are less strong.  All difficult things to discuss with your homie.  I can imagine the conversation, “Hey Joe, how’s it hanging?”  “These days it’s hanging low and a little depressed.  How about you?”  Crickets.

Erectile Dysfunction –  While not a direct result of aging, impotence can come with age due to increase risk.  It can be caused by mental, emotional, or physical factors.  It can also be a side effect of certain medications or excessive drinking.  Concerns about developing ED could lead a man to perform the occasional “heat check” on his wife.  How do you even start a conversation about this with another dude?  It’s easy actually.  Just ask. “Yo, how’s your sex life these days?”  And hope that he is completely honest with you.  According to the National Institute of Health, 5% of 40 year-old men suffer from ED.  So if you’ve just finished a full-court basketball game with the fellas, bring up the issues of ED, and they all say there is no issue…the shortest person on the court is lying.

Attachment – Here’s an interesting one.  Apparently, as testosterone levels decrease and oxytocin levels stay the same, men tend to attach more to their partners after sex.  Testosterone can drive sex and interest in sex while oxytocin (the love hormone) is responsible for bonding partners and children.  A 2012 study that increased oxytocin in monogamous men found that they were attaching themselves more to their partners after sex.  So the conversation after shooting hoops goes something like this, “Yo, want to grab a brew or something later?”  “Naw man.  I think I’m going to stay home and cuddle.”  Crickets.

Recovery time – It used to be that the amount of time that you needed to recover for round two with your babe was about 15 minutes or so.  That was in your 20’s.  According to the Male Health Center, the “refractory period”, the time it takes to achieve another erection, can take 24 hours or more for men in their 50’s.    But if you’re like me, you don’t even want to think about it until next weekend any way.

The Premie – A University of Chicago study showed that 31% of men in their 50’s experience premature ejaculation.  There are two primary reasons for this: anxiety and penis-centered sex.  Penis-centered sex puts more pressure on the male organ than it can handle.  Actually, that sounds kind of fun, huh?  Anxiety comes with concerns over performance.  The pressure is daunting and can lead one to “fire one off” well before he or his partner is ready.

The possibility of interesting and helpful conversation exist if we would assiduously share our experiences and concerns with one another.  One thing’s for sure, I’m not telling you mine unless you tell me your’s first.