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Friday, November 21, 2014

Boredom: An Interesting Take on a Scary State of Being


Here's what people contemplating retirement fear most:
Boredom.
What will I do with myself? they say. How will I spend my time?
Boredom, it turns out, can have serious psychological consequences. So their fears may be justified. (Though in my experience, few people actually end up at loose ends with their time.)
 Boredom "correlates with depression, aggression anxiety… and it leads to addiction and other risk-taking behaviors," says Sandi Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Central Lancashire in England. "Boredom is the modern-day stress."
She's among a number of researchers quoted in an an article  in the Philadelphia Inquirer  looking at new studies on the psychological impact of boredom, a mostly ignored field. According to the story, some people would rather be subjected to electric shocks than the torture of being bored.
Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University,  says that being bored means confronting ourselves, a potentially terrifying proposition.
"Boredom, like anxiety, brings you face to face with the world without any distractions," the article quotes philosopher John D. Caputo as saying. Which could be a good thing. It's "an opportunity to think, mull things over and really ask about how you live your life."
That's a question many of us should probably be addressing, regardless of whether we are bored or not.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nat Sloan: The (Still) Dancing King

Nat Sloan, the new 90
How many 7th grade science teachers make an effort to keep up with their students? All through life? I know of only one -- Nat Sloan, who for many years taught at Quaker Ridge School in Scarsdale, N.Y. The proof came last weekend at his birthday party -- his 90th. And celebrating with him -- dancing with him -- were his students from 50 years ago and more! His smile was as broad and infectious as ever, his spirit as lively as his footwork.
I loved that science class. He told scary stories of getting trapped overnight on "Copperhead Island" -- a snake infested spot not far from our school that he refused to reveal the location of.  And I got to take home the class garter snake at Christmas. Showing it off to my younger brother was the only time I ever willingly held a snake -- and then it pooped on me!
What I didn't realize was how much "Mr. Sloan" loved us, his students. As the years went by, as the decades went by, he would make extraordinary efforts to keep up with us  -- like showing up at our parents' funerals. Of course, we would be there.
"He is interested in their stories," said Nat's daughter, journalist Karen Sloan.
Aging usually means losing friends. They move to be near grandchildren, or to be somewhere warm, or because they fall ill.  The circle dwindles.
Nat's post-career project was keeping fit and keeping friends, making sure his circle grew.  He plays tennis, lifts weights, creates art and boogies -- check out this  video.  And yes, he goes to funerals, though at this point he's outliving some of his students.


"Somehow over the years, I’ve been blessed with an enormous store of loving friendship," he said Saturday, as he looked around the crowded room at the Saw Mill Club in Mt. Kisco. This is my real wealth and I’m a multi billionaire on this account. There are some wonderful people here, a lot of them former students and I was lucky early in life to find a niche in life just meant for me as a junior high school teacher of science. I’ve always had a love of science from my childhood on. I was out in the woods, in the fields, climbing trees, capturing butterflies, capturing snakes and just being a part of life of so many young people for 30 odd years. It was the best way to spend a lifetime. 
"There are strange mixtures of people still here. I have a cardiologist who’s also an architect. I have a cardiologist who is also an attorney. What a mixture! I have friends and family, cousins and nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews as well. … Some of my friends here go back to college days over 60 years ago. My students go back to over  40 years ago."
That line was greeted by laughter as guests shouted out, "50 years… 55!"
Also here, he continued are "some of my club tennis buddies. I have my curb ball buddies. I don’t know if you remember what curb ball is. Some of you may remember it as stoop ball. We’ve been playing together for over 20 years and I can still compete with the best of them. One of them is also a student. 
"Life has brought a lot to me. We’ve all had our vicissitudes in life  but we’ve come through it and we’re still here and we’re still going to go on. In November  2019, there’ll be another shindig.
Be there!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Death-Defying Feats

Jane von Bergen: tackling 60

Scaling heights. Or rather, descending them. 31 flights down the side of a building in a harness, hand over hand on a rope.  That's what my former colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jane von Bergen, decided to do to prove -- mostly to herself -- that at age 60, she was willing still to take on new challenges.
It's what so many people in my 'unretiring' universe are choosing to do, even as they move well past 60. They do not "pull back," as the word "retire" actually means. They push forward, trying new things. Not always physical, but sometimes. I started this blog to test and grow the tech skills I felt I would need to stay current as the years passed, if not in the vanguard. A recent vacation to northern Peru and the Amazon found people tackling travel  to remote places for the sheer thrill of the adventure. Even fishing for piranha.

Others have left careers to put their skills to use in new venues. The other day Sharon Greis, a former speech therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that she had surmounted new challenges as  a professor at La Salle University. "I was nervous about supervising students who were working with children with a variety of speech disorders that I had not worked with in many years," she said. "But I did it."

Susan Orkin is pushing herself to take her piano playing to a new level and even went to music camp this summer. She calls it a journey of "learning and self improvement."
And so it goes.
Jane von Bergen, writing of her experience, seems way too young to be saying: "Not dead yet."
Jane, my dear, you could easily have another 30 years ahead of you. Think of all the stunts you'll have time for. You can even jump out of an airplane at 100, like Eleanor Cunningham, who took up skydiving at 90.
Readers of this blog: share your story of challenging yourself and why you do it.
Send me an email and I'll post it..  dottyinky@gmail.com



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why I Don't Hope to Die at 75

Some people just get better. With age, they are more creative, wiser, better at what they've been working at their whole lives.
In this essay, in the New York Times,  we read of such aging dynamos  -- businessman T. Boone Pickens, Supreme Court Judge Ruth Ginsberg,  jazz musician Roy Haynes, naturalist Edward O. Wilson, and painter Carmen Herrera -- who, by the way, sold her first painting at 89 and is now 99.
Of course, this is what we want to hear. People exuberant about living. Refusing to stop. Relishing every moment. We don't really want to hear what Ezekiel Emanuel provocatively declares in his essay, "Why I Hope to Die at 75," in the Atlantic magazine.
Shocking words -- which is exactly why everyone (of a certain age) is talking about it. Yes, most of us will slow down. Yes, most of us will ail. Yes, Dr. Emanuel, thanks for reminding that the best is in the past.   But as the Times writer Lewis Lapham points out in his essay, citing a 1777 letter by Dr. Samuel Johnson:
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Which is why I recently challenged myself by racing with my cousin/niece who is 20+ years younger.  We didn't care (too much) about how long it took us. Mostly, we just wanted to finish.
Kati and Dotty after Head of the Schuylkill race



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Come See this Wall of Shame

Happy Fernandez had big plans for helping develop women leaders in the non-profit world. Women in particular, she felt, could benefit from mentoring by other women who, like herself, had made difficult ascents up institutional ladders and were now reaching the end of their careers.
The politically savvy former college head pulled together some 20 women -- leaders in the non-profit  sector -- who began meeting to come up with a plan for giving back. (She included me, thinking some day I'd write about their initiative.)
Then,  very suddenly nearly two years ago, Happy died.
With her spirit and energy still in the room, her rump group continued to meet, following up on one of her ideas: to study the gender gap, both in numbers and salary, among non-profit executives in education and healthcare in the Philadelphia area. Thanks to the Forum of Executive Women,  that report was published this week -- a new addition to the Forum's annual look at corporate salaries.
The good news: the percentage of women at the helm of non-profits or on their boards is far greater than for public companies in the Philadelphia region. A survey of the area's 100 top companies in 2013, found that only 12 percent of executive positions were held by women. That compared with 26 percent of executives in health care and 29 percent in colleges and universities.
The bad news from those same numbers: even in the non-profit sector where women generally reach higher rungs, only about 1 in 4 executives are women, according to the latest data, from 2011.
Plus, most of the medical and educational institutions with significant numbers of women in leadership are those that were historically women's schools and/or Catholic institutions where nuns had significant roles. Their numbers skew the totals.
Look at the pitiful number of women on boards of some big non-profit institutions based on 2011 data:
Thomas Jefferson University -- 4 of 39 board members were women; Temple University (4 women out of 36), Virtua health system (1 out of 12),  and Kennedy Health System (1 out of 11).
Women, after all, account for most employees in both education and health. Those are areas of care and nurturing -- roles that women in particular have claimed as their dominion (though thankfully more men are stepping up at least on the home front.)
Although the numbers of women leaders at public companies (vetted by the accounting firm PwC) have been edging up,  the results remain dismal. Fewer than half the companies  (44 percent) have no women at all as top executives, according to their 10K filings. Comcast, now a big national company, in 2013 had no top executive women, no top salary earners and but one female member out of 12 on its board.
There's more:
--35 of the top 100 public companies in the area had no women on their (well paid) boards;
--Only eight companies had three or more female board members
--Only seven companies had a female CEO
And by my count, 21 of the 100 companies were all male bastions, with not a single woman on either their boards or among the top ranks of their executives in 2013, according to the report, which failed to break out that tally. For the record, let's name those without  any women leadership: Triumph GroupDFC GlobalJ&J Snack Foods (what, women don't eat pretzels?); Dorman ProductsBrandywine Realty TrustFive Below (we know who shops for the toys); StoneMore Partners (owners of funeral homes and cemeteries); Vishay Precision GroupPhotoMedex (a skin care firm); SL IndustriesDover Downs Gaming & Entertainment (maybe that's why its shares are worth only 81 cents); Omega FlexRCM Technologies; Resource America; Lannett (a drug maker); Dover Motorsports (owners of Dover Speedway); WPCS InternationalInTESTInnovative Solutions; JetPay (a payroll company); and ProPhase Labs (which makes ColdEEZE).
While many of these are industrial and technology companies, what do their leadership choices say about their commitment to women in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Math) jobs?

The report also found women lagging men financially, both in public companies and "eds and meds":
Of the "top earners":
--Women comprised only 10 percent of top earners at the 100 public companies;
--Women comprised 32 percent of top earners at health-care systems;
--Women made up 27 percent of top earners at colleges and universities.

Jane Scaccetti, one of three women directors of Pep Boys, a car care company, explains why getting more women on boards can make a difference in decision making.  Not naming a company with just one female board member (herself), she gave this example: "I watched a board committee become enthralled with a candidate because he was once a great athlete. They asked questions mostly about his athletic accomplishments…After the interview, when I questioned the shallowness of the candidate's answers to technical questions and experience, a member looked shocked that I was challenging a great athlete."
At Pep Boys, she said, adding women to the board has changed its dynamic. "As a lone female board member when I voiced an opinion or raised an issue," she says in the report, "I would hear, 'She said.' When there were two women serving on the board, things improved to 'They said.' Now that there are three women, we hear, 'What did you say?'"

Happy, who had just stepped down as president of Moore College of Art, was seeking a way to channel women's leadership experience to help others up the ladder as her "unretiring" project. A way to give back.  Her legacy is inspiring other to find ways to do that. For one, the Forum of Executive Women offers mentoring in the corporate world. What else is out there? Do you know of another programs? Have any ideas?



Monday, October 20, 2014

As for a Name, the Answer is …..

Thanks to many of you for responding to my plea on what I should call myself for the Library of Congress  Some of you thought I should not walk away from my byline of many years (Dorothy Brown). Others advised that I needed a name with more gravitas.
I have decided! I am me! I'm settling for the name I feel most comfortable with -- the name I've preferred since getting married, the one I've been using for this blog -- which by the way does not have "Dorothy" in it!
I tried out my new byline in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, where I wrote a piece that dovetails with the book that I should be working on now instead of blogging.  Here's the link.
The article is about the surprising history of the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, happening Oct. 25-26.
Also, I've decided I have to walk the walk, but in this case it's 'row the row.' If I'm writing a book about Boathouse Row, I need to race!  I'll be on the river with my niece at 2.55 p.m. Saturday, rowing our little hearts out over the 2.5-mile course. We hope to do it in under 25 minutes, which won't be any record, except for us.
Challenges! That's  what we need to continue living at peak performance.
Again, my thanks to all for your advice. --"Dotty Brown"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Picking a Name -- For Me

I was a bit stunned and humored some years ago to learn that my eldest daughter had turned to the internet to ask her friends -- and total strangers -- for advice naming her newborn daughter. In fairness, she had picked out two names but she was stuck deciding which one. She liked the ring of both but worried that one would be the baby name-of-the-year. And she worried which one felt just right. What would her child's identity be?
Now, I'm laughing at myself! Because I'm reaching out for help, too. And for much the same reasons.
Except it's about me. How can it be that at this stage of life, I should worry about my name? my identity?
Recently, I signed a book contract. With the paperwork came a piece of paper asking me what name I want to use for the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress!!
Decades ago, newly married, I made a major turn in life when I was confronted with the question of my first byline at the long defunct Philadelphia Bulletin. My editors convinced me that my maiden name was too convoluted and I should just go with the simple: "Dorothy Brown." Reluctantly, I conceded, though I always much preferred "Dotty," which is what I chose three years ago for my  blog name.
Now I'm pondering: For my book, for the Library of Congress, should I be "Dorothy Brown"?  (Why walk away from a byline I've built up over the years, one friend advised.)
 Or "Dotty Brown?" (It's a "good name," my book editor said and UnRetiring has given it a presence on the web.)
Or use my maiden name in the middle? (For her book, Arlene Morgan told me she added  "Notoro" to honor her parents. Also, my brother liked that idea because, he said, "When people google you, I'll come up!")
I took to the web to see which of my personae could most easily be found. Under "Dorothy Brown," using specific additional search terms (which probably only I know), I did find some of my travel stories:  traveling with grandkids to Italy,  hiking across England on the coast-to-coast trail , or great bike rides in Philadelphia, including "Larry's loop," the directions for which have been lost from the web. (I'll email them to you if you want.) I also stumbled on an article by the late and much beloved Inquirer editor Jim Naughton that mentions me, in 2001, as one of the few remaining people then at the paper who had edited a Pulitzer prize.
But on Google, I'm sandwiched between many other Dorothy Browns, including a Philadelphia woman who is in legal trouble running a charter school. She even has my middle initial!
On the other hand, "Dotty Brown"  is a major purveyor of fabrics in England. Only after you get past her, do you find some of my blogs.
The last time I fretted this much about my identity was when I bought my last car! One person had scarily told me it could, in fact, be the last car I buy.
Is there an afterlife in a book? Or on the web? Should I care? Or should I think more about the good works I do that live after me.
Hopefully, some day, when I cradle my new creation in my arms,  I'll finally be comfortable with who I am.







Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ivan Smith: His Gut Said 'Go'!

Ivan Smith: No more gray 
Actor and educator Ivan Smith knew in his gut when it was time to leave his job. When the vibrancy ebbed away.
As Ivan put it:
"When the dye of the fabric leaves, you're left with sort of a gray … when the color starts to leave it's time for a change."
It's "less of  a mental thing and more of a feeling of the heart," he explained.
And so, after 35 years, Ivan left his career as a pioneering educator in Montreal, developing alternative schools for high school drop outs. A behavioral consultant with a background in psychology, he became "part of a therapeutic intervention team to help kids with behavioral differences and other differences and their families to make schools and their lives a happier and better experience."
"I always in life want to maintain the color, maintain the exuberance, maintain the energy," he said of his leaving. I've never been in a job that I dreaded or disliked or luckily needed financially. ...I tend to change my life when the color does deplete."
But Ivan had --and still has -- a second love.
"I was always an actor, always will be, I think."
Since his first TV role as a teenager, Ivan has performed part time on TV, on stage in Montreal, and in movies such as Dr. Baboor, in The Phantom. See his many creds here.
Where once he was picky about his roles, trying to balance work and acting, he now has the time to go out for cattle calls. "It's a bit of a crush on the ego but at this age you learn to cope with rejection."
A year after leaving the education world, Ivan is is surprised, in retrospect, at how much easier it is for him to now "unplug." It used to take him about 40 minutes of walking or running to feel good, to relax.  Now, it happens in 15 minutes.  "I'd come home and I thought I had border control but apparently I didn't," he explained. "All the negativity that you have to deal with travels with you, stays somewhere in the crevices of your mind. The children who are being abused. The parents who are irate. The principals who don't understand."
His goal: "to continue being freed and savoring the smaller things in life. You need very little to be happy. A walk will do it. A good meal. Friendship is really important All the supposedly cliche things are true…A passion is important. I've started painting again.  I love cooking and am developing that skill.
"You have to have something you want to do so that fabric doesn't turn gray. You need the color."
And occasionally, klieg lights.



Friday, September 12, 2014

On Taking All the Forks

     Huaca de la Luna, a Moche temple

In an eco-restaurant in northern Peru, a dozen people lunch outside at a long table and share their travel stories: Halong Bay, Vietnam after our military left; Zimbabwe before the landowners fled; Xian, China after the long-buried warriors emerged; the castles of Ireland; a boat trip to Antarctica; lions in Tanzania; the grimness of the Ganges,
Now we have ventured to this land where the Moche people lived centuries before the Inca came and conquered and whose story and magnificent pottery and gold and silver  craftsmanship are only now being unearthed.
The travel-telling happened yesterday and I was astounded. For one woman, this trip is her 23d with Overseas Adventure Travel. Others had wandered equally widely, picking tours by time and place. As I look around the table, I wonder how these sturdy folks looked in their youths, before divorces, deaths of spouses, gray hair and grandchildren (now taken on trips as well). Despite some bad knees and hips, thkis gang would  rather travel than do almost anything else. For many, travel is the single most important purchase after food and rent. This is not a group that dresses chic or has had "work done" (though one 73-year-old climbed  onto a hotel fire escape, then walked out on a roof to retrieve his new and newly washed  Joseph A Banks briefs that had fallen three stories). They are people who tread lightly across the planet, packing for two weeks in one carry-on and a backpack, Who never keep anyone else waiting.  Who think nothing of spending weeks in one pair of walking shoes.
I feel as if I have met the  me of my future -- a confirmation that I can continue to do what I love even as the years creep up.  When  I get to a fork in the road, as Yogi Berra advised, I will take it.

Ps if you go to see the Moche sites in Trujillo and Chiclaya, Peru  --such as the Huaca de la Luna and Sipan --hire Miguel Alvan as your guide. He's terrific!!
miguel_got@hotmail.com
In Lima, I have only praise for guide Dante Minaya 
Daminaya@hotmail.com


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Out, Out, Damn Ovaries! Or Not?

With my mother, grandmother and daughter
When you have already traveled a longer route than what lies before you, life gets more precious. To be blunt about it, the destination is not somewhere you particularly want to go sooner.
What bomb may be lurking along the path? Is there a way to sidestep around it? And so it was that I wondered and worried about my risk for ovarian cancer, long after those who may have bequeathed it to me had gone. My grandmother died of this awful disease. My mother may have waffled about the pathology of her surgery. I was clueless about the DNA of the men in my family. And then I watched a beloved sister-in-law valiantly and futilely fight the disease. I was in a quandary about my own risk.
So, what did I do?
I reveal my decision and the steps I took to reach it in the new Genetics Section of The Forward.  You can read the story here.
"Too much information," you may be tempted to say. "Not my problem," the guys may (wrongly) think.  But  knowing your genetic risk and acting on that knowledge may make all the difference. If not for you, then for your children.