Tag Archives: Shedding

More than a few unanswered questions

Shedders is our favourite blog. It doesn’t hurt that the author is a long-time friend. Here she writes about one of the many great conversations we had when she and her husband came north for their annual visit last summer – their “Down Under” winter.

SHEDDERS, by Heather Bolstler

IMG_2890We had an interesting conversation at breakfast yesterday. Old friends Paul and Cheryl had met up with Rick and me in Powell River BC for a few days‘ exploration, and we were all relishing the Breakfast part of B&B existence. You may be amused by the familiarity of the threads of our discussion – except for the tragedy and frustration of it.

The conversation began as you might expect with compliments on the fine food served up by Yvonne, our hostess, and then drifted to the very social lifestyle of B&B proprietors. We found similarities with Rick and my Shedders’ co-housing arrangement, and that in turn led into co-housing communities that some of us had recently inspected, here on BC’s west coast.

From there, we fell smack into more dangerous territory. All these retirement communities, we lamented; where have all the children gone? Yvonne wondered why our children tend not…

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Broken, … or Declaring a Breakdown?

A serendipitous prod from WordPress has Paul taking a new perspective on an old problem.

Forty years ago, perhaps when I was more impetuous or simply less experienced, I ran for major political office with a fringe party.  We had some good ideas the country needed to hear, but that’s not my focus today.

While speaking at all-candidates’ meetings, or responding to interviewers’ questions, I noticed something very troubling.  Now that I’d put myself forward as “the one with the answers,” I was reluctant to admit that I didn’t have them all.  In fact, I wasn’t even close.  Yet I soon began to speak and answer as if I did.  It was becoming less than OK not to know, not to have it all figured out.  (This realization has been an eye-opener through the years as I’ve watched our political process at work.  I don’t think I was unusual.)

Paul contemplates spilling the beans - or ...

Paul contemplates spilling the beans – or …

I began to notice a few weeks back that I was feeling the same way about this blog.  Having made our declaration about what we were up to, I entangled myself in a pretense that No Pension, Will Travel was unfolding exactly as it should.  In recent weeks, it became apparent that I was shying away from the parts of that declaration that weren’t working so well.  I felt “broken,” and I was resisting it.  This culminated in a case of writer’s block for today’s post.

For the first time, I turned to the WordPress “Daily Post” for inspiration.  There it was: “Breakdown!”  Backed into a corner of my own devising, I had no choice but to tackle this subject.  Having made the decision to proceed, my mind started to turn over once more.

Years ago, I learned of a new way to think about “breakdowns.”  Developed as part of “Conversations for Action” by a Chilean engineer named Fernando Flores, and popularized by Landmark Education, this new context treats a breakdown as something one can creatively declare as an opening to a revised commitment to new, effective actions towards a goal.  Declaring a breakdown becomes the prelude to a breakthrough.  So, instead of hiding my “brokenness,” I’ll declare a breakdown regarding part of our declaration.

While I could declare breakdowns in any of several objectives we’ve set for ourselves, the one I’m focusing on is this:  I have yet to make financially measurable progress towards “post-retirement career options – part-time consulting, telecommuting, and making money from travel.”  The plan that I’ve been working with is focused in the same general areas as this blog, but despite hard work and considerable effort, I’m no closer to a sustainable income stream or “business model” than I was when I wrote Draft 1 of the plan about a year ago.  I haven’t figured out how to be “useful” to the people in my prospective market.  The even bigger breakdown is that I’m broken up about it.  I’m letting it bother me to the point where it’s taken some of the

Not driving Cheryl crazy -- priceless!

Not driving Cheryl crazy — priceless!

fun out of the whole project.  That’s the habit I need to break.  It’s not sustainable!  And it’s driving Cheryl crazy!

So, now what?  I’ve declared the breakdown, and recommitted to the objectives.  Now all that remains is to look for new ways to deal with the issues I’ve identified, and discover new actions to take.  Perhaps I need to develop some tighter focus, eliminate some possibilities, clear away some of the time-wasters and other clutter in my life.  I’m looking at ways to increase my confidence, and push my willingness to take some uncalculated risks.  With a renewed focus on taking actions to deal with the breakdown I’ve declared, a post like this one in my inbox offers me some ideas to pursue.  Having admitted that the way I’ve been “broken” has been generating some marital discord, we’ve agreed to find some more productive ways to work on this “breakdown” together.

Cycling the beautiful Dalmatian Coast of Croatia

Cycling the beautiful Dalmatian Coast of Croatia

As I write these words, I see how past declarations of breakdowns – some made more consciously than others – have led to breakthroughs.  Our “travel crisis” while cycling Provence in the rain led to a decision to put together a group cycle trip the next time;  now we have 16 to 20 friends signed up for a biking trip in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands next Fall.  Finding our friends feeling despondent about retirement prospects led to our starting a Meetup, which has brought new ideas and friends into our lives.  Running low on friends to hike with led to us joining an outdoor club – and now we hike and bike more than ever – and that’s where we’ve met most of our Croatian cycling travel mates.

Sometimes declaring a breakdown seems to have an almost magical power.

Not two months ago, we were unhappy with the unemployed status of one of our sons, a recent graduate still living at home.  After worrying in silence for some time, I chose to declare a breakdown.  Cheryl and I wrote down very specifically what we were saying wasn’t working, and what we wanted to see happen.  This led to a couple of deep conversations.  Next thing we

Working as a team again - but still atop a volcano!

Working as a team again – but still atop a volcano!

knew, our son had a full-time job, a part-time job, and an unpaid internship in his field.  As I said, … like magic!

Not every project goes like magic.  This income project may take some time.  I may find myself stuck again.  You can bet your car that, as I work on some of these new ideas I’m generating, I’ll once again reach a point where I don’t want to admit that there’s “No Pension and Not Enough Travel.”  If you happen to notice, would you remind me to declare another breakdown?

Postscript: while writing this post, I discovered that Flores’ work on Conversations for Action had been collected into a book:  “Conversations for Action, and collected essays.”  I’ll definitely check it out.  Once more, a breakdown has led me to something new.

Paul’s Left Brain Takes a Mayan Holiday

Paul has been reflecting on what he likes so much about travel – about being in “vacation mode”.  He’s not one to sit around the pool with a margarita, but can usually be found on an all-day walking tour, or working on a new foreign language.  He observed that his favourite principles of good vacations apply just as well to “everyday life at home” – although we don’t always remember them:

Paul's not above trying the local beer, however.

Paul’s not above trying the local beer, however.

Here’s something he wrote on the subject a couple years back…

Ah, to live life in vacation mode every day!  What does it take?

I explored the texture of that question on a recent trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

For sun-chair reading, I’d packed a copy of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight.  Neuroscientist Dr. Jill reports “from the inside” what it felt like when a massive stroke shut down the left side of her brain, and put the right side in charge.  As I understand it, the left brain manages linear reasoning and language functions;  the right brain fills a more intuitive, holistic role.  In Dr. Jill’s case, for the first eight months of her eight-year recovery, the “little voice” in her head fell silent.  Imagine!  She used her experience to reflect upon her life in general, and in particular, the relationship between her two different aspects.

Dr. Jill observed that “vacation mode” derives from the right brain.  So simple, I mused?  The question hovered over me like an iridescent Yucatan hummingbird.  Meanwhile, I did the usual holiday things.

Even plain, the best tortillas ever!

Even plain, the best tortillas ever!

One of my travel activities has me strike up conversations with strangers for no reason.  I dusted off my knowledge of Spanish, German and Portuguese to talk to almost anyone I found myself next to, even tried to learn a little Mayan.  Bix a bel, tz’unu’un!  What’s up, Little Hummingbird?  Yet my wife and I both found it hard to start conversations at the resort.  Our fellow vacationers seemed reluctant to connect, as if locked in their tour buses with the windows up.  I felt frustrated.  After this mood settled over me, something startling took place.

En route to climb the great Mayan pyramid at Cobá, we pulled of the road at a corner store in one of the small towns that crouch in the Yucatan interior.  We squeezed in to harvest a few nuts and chicharrones to stave of the need for a tourist-priced lunch.

I plopped a couple of bags of munchies near the cash register, while we continued to hunt for more.  Just then, a small Mayan girl of six or seven came in, chose a bag of the pork-rind snacks and took them to the cashier.  As we arrived at the counter with the rest of our purchases, I saw the store owner already totaling our bill.  The young girl stood waiting.  I sensed him directing preferential treatment toward us “gringo elders”

En route to Cobá, the better known Chichén Itzá

En route to Cobá, the better known Chichén Itzá

In my most sophisticated Spanish, I explained that she had preceded us, and that he should look after her first.  Alas, my linguistic abilities failed me.  After a couple of failed attempts followed by puzzled looks, he asked me if I meant to pay for the young girl’s purchase.  Annoyed that my communication attempt had gone so completely wrong, I shook my head and replied, “No, no!  That’s not what I was trying to say.”  Chastened into silence, I let him continue with our order, and we left the store.

While we poked around decaying ruins that afternoon, however, I had my own “micro stroke of insight.”  I saw that I had at least two valid answers to the store owner’s question, “Do you want to pay for hers too?”

My “right-wrong” linear left brain had jumped in and taken control of the situation in the store.  “No, that’s wrong.  That’s not what I was trying to say.”  End of story.

Yet his question had another valid answer, one that my less linguistically adept right brain could only whisper on a quiet trail in a Mayan jungle.  Did I want to spend sixty cents to buy chips for a cute kid who looked as if sixty cents mattered?  Did I crave a chance to make the tiniest human connection, no matter how fleeting?  Yes. I did!  Yes, I had!  Yes, I would have!  And then a wave of sadness and disappointment flooded my soul concerning opportunity missed – not just this one, but for all the little missed opportunities of a lifetime.

Jungle-clad Cobá from the top of its pyramid

Jungle-clad Cobá from the top of its pyramid

Fresh from Dr. Jill’s book, I supplied mental hemispheric interpretation to the event.  My number one priority on this holiday involved connecting to people, just because – I thought that a right-brain function.  Yet I’d let my linear left brain run the whole show with its need to get the Spanish right.

This reflection troubled me.  My troubling in turn shocked me.  My own stroke of insight had allowed me to glimpse how my left brain’s reaction had drowned out my right brain’s voice, leaving my life just a little less rich.  A single thread dropped from an intricate Mayan blanket.  Even after returning from Mexico, I kept brooding.  Intrigued that such a trivial event had bothered me for days, I pulled at the loose thread.

How often had I missed an opportunity like this one because I didn’t want to get something wrong?  Ba’ax ka wa’alik?  Hell-o?  Now I see how many threads I’ve dropped in the tapestry of my life. It’s a good blanket regardless and it keeps me warm, but my stroke of insight showed me that I could weave it even warmer, more colourful.  Sometimes I hush my left brain’s chatter, listening for a second right answer, a fleeting chance to make the human connection, just because.

Is Paul destined for the Sacred Cenote (also known as the "Well of Sacrifice") at Chichén Itzá

Is Paul destined for the Sacred Cenote (also known as the “Well of Sacrifice”) at Chichén Itzá

I’ve watched myself drop a few more stitches since then.  Sometimes I’ve gone back and picked them up again.  I look forward to catching more before the tapestry runs out.  The colours brighten.

Yum bo’otik!  Thank you, Mayan sun god.

For further exploration:

Speaking of vacation mode, here's another lounge lizard from around the pool

Speaking of vacation mode, here’s another lounge lizard from around the pool

What’s “vacation mode” mean for you?

Why Live Alone

A few years back, we learned of a successful experiment in communal retirement living pursued by some old friends of ours in Australia.  They had joined with two other couples, and built a special home to their requirements.  While each couple has private sleeping quarters, they share most of the 3500 square-foot house.  They love it!

Collaborative retirement household featured in "A group solution to growing older", Sydney Morning Herald, June 3 2013

Collaborative retirement household featured in “A group solution to growing older”, Sydney Morning Herald, June 3

What first caught our attention was the possibility of saving money, retiring sooner, and traveling more.

However, the more we looked into it, the more we discovered that the real value of their arrangement was the new community that came with it:  something equivalent to a new family.

As we approach the next phase of our lives, we can feel our old communities slipping away.  Our kids are preparing to leave home – we think.  When we retire from our current jobs, we will quickly lose touch with former colleagues.  Our friends are beginning to retire and move away – some to the countryside, some overseas.  We ourselves plan to move out of the City, and expect to spend more of the year abroad.

We watched what had happened to our parents, aunts, and uncles.  Many of them ended up living alone for the final years of their lives.  Some of them were shepherded into assisted living complexes when living alone became too uncertain.  Even for those who managed to stay independent – often with the help of several nearby grown children – the solo years struck us as missing something.  Was there a better way?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin - too much solitude now?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin – too much solitude now?

Cheryl and I have valued our privacy over the years.  We started our family in a development of five and ten-acre wooded lots.  We later enjoyed spending time with our boys at our off-grid island cabin.  Our retirement dream at one time included a 40-acre spread of wild countryside.

Now our perceptions are changing.  Selling the island cabin may have heralded this change;  we thought it would be too isolated as we got older.  Our experience with our own parents was pivotal:  we would probably live longer than they did, and – like most boomers – we have fewer children to rely on, children who are unlikely to live in the neighbourhood.  The same demographic shift likely means that the cost of assisted living will escalate while the quality of life in those complexes will decline.

Our reading has also underscored the importance of community.  The declining birthrate worldwide will make it harder to replace the old networks of support we are losing as we transition into the next phase of our lives.  Initiatives such as Blue Zones have shown how critical maintaining community is to our health and happiness as we age.  This aligns with advice on nurturing your communities in books such as Flourish and Younger Next Year.  We have all read by now how we can keep our brains younger by engaging in mental activity such as language skills and problem solving.  Living with other people is one way to ensure that kind of mental workout.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We’re now in the process of realigning our personal tradeoffs between privacy and community.  Can we construct a future for ourselves that replaces the communities we are losing?  We’re taking steps to reach out and join or create new communities for various activities.

What about collaborative living?  Is there a solution that will work for us?  Our friends in Australia had known their housemates for many years before moving in together.  When we took inventory of our own circles, we found very few possible candidates – when we broached the subject with some of those, they soon announced they were moving out of town.  Coincidence, we’re sure!

Can we find new partners for such a venture?  Perhaps.  It’s not a trivial exercise.  The householders and our friends call themselves The Shedders – primarily because of the physical and emotional baggage they had to “shed” in order to make living together work.  Will our circumstances dictate a different form of collaboration?  How far are we willing to go in trading our privacy for community?  We are grappling with now with these questions.  We’ll share some of what we learn over the months ahead.

Solitude or community - in the Marais district of Paris.

Solitude or community – in the Marais district of Paris.

Here are some of the sources that have influenced our journey.

  • Shedders:  This is Heather Bolstler’s personal blog about the journey to their collaborative retirement home.  The earlier entries are now available in this eminently readable Kindle eBook.  The Shedders are by no means the only ones to have made this work.  “My House Our House” profiles a group of three women who turned a preexisting house into a collaborative housing venture.  With an ageing population and lingering economic malaise, we predict a lot more of these in the coming decade.
  • A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    Our own recent experience – such as our recent cycle trip in Provence – has underscored our own need for community.

One of our reasons for starting this blog is to reach out to a wider circle in our search for community.  We’d love to hear from you on this subject.