Can I Hibernate to Old? Please?

How I wish I could hibernate for the next thirty years — no make that twenty — so I could suddenly wake up feeling old and being okay with it. Gray hair: check. Wrinkles everywhere: check. White eyelashes: check. Liver spots (ugh): check. I’m all here, but I’m calm in my old age and not fighting to be a young old person coloring my hair, wearing ingénue clothes, working at break neck speed to keep up with a race for new technology that I cannot win.


And there I would be, coming out into the light of day, stretching, yawning, squinting form the glare; nearly falling from the atrophy of unused muscles; my hair long like Rip Van Winkle’s, my fingers gnarly and stiff from arthritis, but all of the trappings of being old are hanging happily on my psyche because it’s okay to look old at the age we all know is finally old.

It used to be that fifty-five was old. People retired then. Next the age went to sixty-five, jumping some invisible chasm from which retirement definition comes in non-dictionary form, to be suddenly the number chronologically at which one turns out the lights to one’s office for the last time. You close the blinds, turn off the computer, turn to look one last time at the place you called work, and bend down to pick up the box full of stuff that you accumulated and that they cannot keep for the next desk jockey to house your spot: your name plate, your own crystal tennis ball paper weight from your twenty-first birthday; pictures of your mom and dad when they were young; a completely different century where horse-drawn carriages still peppered the byways.

Your handcrafted leather-handled letter opener combination staple remover (you always used it for both) and pictures of your children, your grandchildren, all four of your dogs and the last picture your youngest child drew in water color class in fifth grade are all there. He became a famous chef and caters to the rich and famous in a snooty New York City restaurant with and unpronounceable name meaning “Chicken Feed” to those in the know and who care. Most people don’t. And you’ve just had your last treadmill test; the ticker is ticking, like a well-oiled time bomb wanting to blow up the thing you have deftly called life, but you’re not really sure any more. It could be something else — a dream, a play, or a movie.

* * *

Here’s my life at eighty-seven.

I’m a little old lady in tennis shoes, a member of the Red Hat Society; purple dresses, traveling with a carpetbag. I’m feisty and spry. I have no kids, no husbands, no PTAs no big house to clean, no laundry to speak of. I have an herb garden and tomatoes in pots. Where am I? I’m spending long days and cozy nights by a fake fireplace in a tiny, neat condo near a park. I live in a small town with a university at its center; I take classes and walk in the woods. I put up the tomatoes, write stories and essays, make mosaics, try to play the piano, and read to the kids at the local library, acting out the parts with wide eyes, arching eyebrows and big arm gestures. The children squeal with delight as I act out Little Red Riding Hood or Stella Luna to these lucky few that aren’t so mesmerized by television and computers that they actually enjoy the story. I’m happy in my tennis shoes. Happiest still in a pair of old-lady pedal pushers or jeans and baking brownies.  Or not. No one really cares. I’m the only one I need to do-for now. Yes, I like seeing the grandkids, but I don’t want them over every day. Oh. But they’re here today.

“Grandma Kaffrum, Grandma Kaffrum,” they call me now. “Can you help us make a blanket fort?”

I love blanket forts. I made them with our kids until they became quite the edifices that surpassed my talents: the kids had a dining room, living room, and TV room, all separated out nicely in their blanket forts, and I was proud. Going deftly and carefully from one soft-sided room to another without puling the walls down with bigger clumsier feet than those of my little boys made me happy. And letting them sleep in the fort was a special treat for special kids. I remember the time when “closets” were added with boxes and masking tape; and doors made out of appliance box flaps had “Keep Out” signs emblazoned in big block letters with the skull and cross bones to scare away the meek and tender. Flashlights made strange light forms on the ceiling as the rays bent and twisted through the blanket folds.

I miss those times and hope for their return when I wake up from my next hibernation. As in why not?


2013-10-12 04.16.31We lasted THREE (3) weeks on our trip to Europe each of us with only one carry-on suitcase. In the winter. That’s right: a few pair of pants, a few tops, washing every few days and drying over the towel racks, and VOILÀ.

It made me wonder when I returned home: Why do we need SO MUCH STUFF?

I overbuy. We overbuy. I buy when I’m bored, when I’m lonely, when I’m procrastinating. Then, I buy too much. Stuff I DON’T NEED. It’s the American way. Well, no, it’s the “affluent” way that keeps economies rolling and people in debt and working. Newspapers in Europe in early January carried articles bemoaning credit card debt (along with extra pounds) as the left over (maybe hung over, too) “blessings” of the holiday season.

I came home and threw out three pairs of socks that I absolutely hate to wear, but keep in my drawer because I made the mistake of buying them in one of the multi packs that Target and Costco sell. “Heck, I’m getting all these pairs for so little money!” I say to myself. And I end up with a bunch of things I don’t want and feel guilty about so I keep them, stuffed into already over-stuffed drawers and closets. When it’s dark in the morning, I grab a navy blue and black sock and wonder when I get to work, how THAT happened. Or wear navy blue hose with a black skirt. I hate that.

I think Henry Ford had the best idea. Black. Any color you want as long as it’s black. Wouldn’t that simplify our lives? And out of sheer boredom, we wouldn’t go shopping so much. Who needs another black outfit? And then the retail industry would falter, the automobile manufacturers would crash, and the worldwide economy would swoon. For a while. And then, all the brain power that drains into marketing stuff we don’t need would flow into important things like global warming, electric cars, solar energy, public transportation in Los Angeles, and real transporters, like on Star Trek, so we wouldn’t have to endure endless, cramped air travel to far-away places. We could live unencumbered.

Stuff makes me stuffy. It weighs me down. It forces me to pause to organize, dust, and categorize it instead of creating, thinking, writing, reading, and loving.

I’m de-stuffing this year. In fact, I read somewhere, that when you go into a drawer, a closet, or a cabinet to remove TEN THINGS in it and throw them away. I almost lost my wedding ring that way, but sanity prevailed. I get carried away sometimes, but I don’t want to get carried away by my stuff. Please. Don’t bury me with it. I plan to enjoy the other side. Without stuff. Heck. Without clothes at all!

© 2008

The Project Lifestyle (TPL)

We all voted and it’s unanimous. The Project Lifestyle (TPL) is a means to sanity in an insane world.

  • What is it?
  • Who uses it?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why does it work?
  • How does it work?

What is TPL?

Question MarksLife is a project. Webster’s defines project as: “an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.” Hah. No more needs be said, right? We are born as individuals. Most of us collaborate along the way… especially at the beginning. The planning may or may not be done carefully, but still, the aim is to live, somehow, and get to the end. Death. There is nothing in the life project that says we need to get there in one piece even. Nor does it say how long the project will take, either in the definition of project nor in the definition of life. We’re good so far.

The Project Lifestyle as defined here will be one that accepts that each undertaking, each life event, each age, party, move, educational rung, job, business, relationship (yes, those, too), and just about anything you name has a project nature to it. Why I like the project lifestyle: There’s an end. That’s why they’re so cool. Start here. End there. Like Monopoly or something. Closure. Relief. It is over. The end, however, does not say that the project was necessarily good. No. It does say that it existed, and that it has been completed — good or bad, it’s done. That’s why people like hobbies, usually. In. Out. Done.

Who Uses TPL?

Everyone uses the Project Lifestyle. They just don’t know it. Or, they don’t know that it’s got a name, mostly because I just made it up. Anyway, the people that gain the most from it are those that realize it exists and capitalize on the good space it creates in one’s psyche. Parents use it. There is the baby project, the cute years between three and ten, and then there’s the dreaded teenager project. These projects all come to an end. Thank goodness. Then there’s the empty nester project, the retirement project, and the doddering, forgetful project spent mostly looking for stuff that they just had a minute ago.

Mini projects are tucked into each of the parent projects above: birthdays, discipline projects, organization projects, PTA projects, lessons and so forth. Adults with or without children have things called jobs. Those are projects. Entrepreneurs have projects. Retirees have projects: the figuring-out-how-to-retire project and then the-deciding-what-the-heck-to-do-while-retired project based on how well you did the job project or the how-to-fund-your-retirement project. Politicians, plumbers, pediatricians. All have projects.

When Do You Use TPL?

The Project Lifestyle can be used at any life stage. Early on (kids have projects like tying shoes and later learning Pokémon). Teenagers have projects: finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, hanging out, learning to drive, or the increasingly expensive and difficult getting-into-college project. Yes. But when the letters come back, you’re in OR not. The project of getting in is over. Then it’s the getting through-college-in-one-piece project. Then it’s the finding-the-job project. Then it’s the finding-spouse or finding-house project. Or not.

Each project begins and ends. That’s why so many people like their hobbies. They’re little projects that get done a little at a time, but they get done, and people are happy from the result. David Allen of “Getting Things Done” fame says people often don’t start projects because they’re too big. Yes there’s that. So the life project is an amorphous thing that Clutterhappens to us if we let it, and often there’s no formula or system to it. The unplanned life project is usually not very satisfying. The David Allen secret is in having projects be a series of steps, so that the question isn’t “How do I make a frictionless freeway?” (which would likely put anyone’s mind in a dither) but rather ask: “What’s the first step?” For instance simply answer the question, “What is friction?” Then, “What’s the next step?” Answer the question, “Why would a frictionless freeway be cool?” And so forth.

Where Can You Use TPL?

At a table, in a stable; in a room, on a broom. In the air, on a stair. You can ‘project’ anywhere.

Why Do Projects Work?

To have one big long, blobby, unending, winding, circuitous road with no signs gets you nowhere fast. Plus it makes you nuts. Projects are great. They have lids. They’re contained. They begin. They’re (hopefully) organized and get more so with practice! With luck, projects and the tasks in them are prioritized so the more important ones get done first. OR at least they get started first, so momentum is now shoveling snow from the path, and progress is being made.

So there are actually people that have degrees in project management from the Project Management Institute. You don’t need a degree, though, unless you want a career in it. Otherwise, everyday people can adopt The Project Lifestyle and reap the benefits. It’s a question of starting. Start one. Start another and another. Then finish the first one. Then the second and start another. BUT FINISH.

Or consciously quit, but don’t abandon. Don’t let things die. Kill the unfulfilling project consciously: With a hatchet. A broom. A hammer. Be sure you want it gone. Or finish it. Visit the projects list and the action steps on the various projects often. If there’s one that never moves from visit to visit, consider a resounding, meaningful, ceremonial death.

How Do You Start a Project Lifestyle? Buy David Allen’s Book, Getting Things Done. Or buy other how to books. Read and listen to books written about and by people you admire. Seth Godin has several books on powering through and staying in. He also visits conscious quitting.

Projects rock. They’ll save your sanity. And that’s a good thing.

Take the Keys but Don’t Take the Car!

Some folks might call it crazy. I call it coping.

empty-fuel-guageFor those of us with parents that are of a certain age, we are thankful that someone had the sense to recommend that your octogenarian (in their 80s) or nonagenarian (in their 90s) parent not drive. It’s a good thing someone said it, because the DMV (at least here in California) doesn’t seem to be smart enough to put an age limit on driving.

Here are some stats:

Although they only account for about 9 percent of the population, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show senior drivers account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

A recent report by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 is about three per million miles driven – on par with teen drivers. Once they pass age 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens.

So how do you get these “I’m very careful when I drive” folks off the road?

Take their keys, but don’t take the car.

Here’s my vast and deep survey upon which I base the above statement. With a sample size of exactly four I have developed this great theory, and I’d like to know if anyone else would weigh in. Or if this helped you make the right decision, let me know that, too.

Four cases “prove” my point:

  1. When my mom was 92 (!), she finally gave up driving (she made the decision, thankfully), but didn’t give up her car. That made it okay somehow. (She lived to 104. Maybe giving up one’s car guarantees a longer life.)
  2. When my father-in-law was in his mid eighties, he insisted that he could still drive. Never mind that he hadn’t driven in three years, and that his license had expired two years previously. Because his car was still in the driveway, he was somehow okay that he didn’t drive because the car’s presence told him he “could.”
  3. My girlfriend’s mom (89) hadn’t driven in years, but knew the car was in the garage. It made the idea of not driving tolerable somehow.
  4. Just this month it became clear that my mother-in-law (over 90) could not drive. “I’m keeping the car,” she announced. “I’m making it available for the family to use in a pinch.” A generous gesture: She’s paying the insurance.

These are only four cases. I get that. And  yes… insurance is a cost, but what’s the real price of getting rid of the car? Your mom or dad feels isolated and immobile. Ugh. If they can afford it, what’s the harm? Sometimes, it’s not what’s real but what we want to believe by any means that keeps our psyches on an even keel. Besides, when we all have driverless cars it won’t be an issue at all. In fact we may look back on these times as “quaint.” But until then, it’s something many of us will have to deal with.

The solution for now is clear. Let them keep the car, but take the keys.

Thoughts? Let me know your experiences.

I’m an American

Note to Readers: This is fiction.

The security line stretched from the screener checkpoint back through the boarding pass/I.D. checkers, and around the Disney-esque, maze-like lanes almost to the street. It was a Friday afternoon. TSA agents hated Fridays. Passengers waxed surly from long workweeks. Businessmen wanted to get home; weekend travelers wanted to escape the clutches of the hum drum and start their weekend away. It was hot. Tempers had risen with the heat, and Orange County’s toney airport lost its allure that day. Some passengers over-challenged their deodorant.

People in my line chatted about the weather, the crowding, the latest Apple announcement, the falling stock market, rising interest rates . We even dipped into the taboo subjects of sex, religion, and politics to divert our attention from the heat. We tacitly shared the need for a respite from this intolerable degradation, and tried to remain civil in an uncivil situation, gritting our teeth against the noticeable diminution of our freedoms in the name of national security.

At random intervals, as we all know by now in today’s post 9/11 traveling protocol, passengers are tapped from the parade to experience closer scrutiny. Same-sex agents pass wands under arms, across the back and buttocks, and around calves and feet. LikCowe slaughter animals, we submit to these annoying intrusions in the hopes of avoiding being passengers on a 9/11 replay. I imagine casually dressed terrorists tittering behind invisible sunglasses, hiding their amusement behind their eyelids, hoping no one notices the slight movement of lips suppressing smirks at our shenanigans.

She was three people ahead of me. She was a blond of unclear age with perfectly pert Orange County breasts, tight face-lifted skin, and equally tight designer Capri jeans hovering taut over French-manicured toe-nails splayed on one-inch-heel rhinestone-studded sandals. She was picked to be scanned that day.

You can’t do this to me! I’m not a terrorist,” she shrieked. “I will not stand for this!” She had that look in her eyes – the look of fear mingled with indignation and outright anger. She couldn’t suppress it in the heat and in her rush to leave town. We knew the feeling; we had managed to swallow the bitter medicine, hating every minute.

“Calm down, Miss,” a male agent approached slowly, gently.

“Don’t touch me. Don’t come near me. I don’t have to do this. I’m an American!”

 We silently cheered her, those of the rest of us who still claimed a vestige of national patriotism remembering what made this country great, besting our poor northern and southern continental stepsisters with every turn and by every measure.

“It’s the law, Miss. Please step this way,” a female TSA agent had taken over, hoping to diffuse the male/female element. “It’s just a random sampling. We have no way of knowing who is picked. It comes from the computer is all,” she purred.

God damn it. You people think you’re going to stop terrorism by picking on innocent women? Forget it. I’m flying on this airplane whether you like it or not.”

The people in line grew quiet, watching the scene unfold like a schoolyard fight. No one wanted the bully airline to win, and silently cheered for our scrappy, salon-preserved blond emissary. But we were conflicted.   We hoped the terrorists weren’t watching. Would they see a weakness? And what if she was indeed a terrorist? What if she was a plant to test the system? On the other hand, what if she was just regular, feisty, independent American, pissed at the outrage?

Four security officers appeared out of nowhere. “Ma’am, come with us. We can’t let you fly today and we have to keep the line moving. Please, ma’am. This is for everyone’s protection. We will refund your ticket right away.”

            The guard spoke loudly so enough people in the front of the lines heard the matter of fact tone that was neither accusatory nor inflammatory. Justice was done amicably. The offender of the system, the lemming who chose not to follow the rest of us off the cliff of compliance, was removed as if by vacuum. The enforcers were trained to be benign and emotionless, as if they had just walked out of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

“What happened to that woman?” I asked as I came through on another trip the following week … “the blond who went nuts when she was asked to be scanned?”

“We gave her her money back and she bought a ticket on another airline. She was as meek as a kitten,” the agent said. “But it made for an interesting day, at least.”

An interesting day. A break in the boredom of shuffling people through the new existence the terrorists have created for us. I hear a sound – a low hum. It’s a distant rising drone that grows louder very day. It’s our diluted freedoms seeping upward through the ground of our continent, evaporating for now, but forcing upward like magma under the earth’s cap. It will either blow up into the atmosphere and fall useless like so much ash, or spew large, angry powerful rocks we can pick up and thrust at our oppressors, forming a new land, powerful and strong against those that want to take away that which we fought for when we founded this, the most wonderful, richest, and free country on earth.

I am an American, damn it.

The Sky Is Falling!

Chicken Little was sure of it. I am too. I felt it. Didn’t you? Bang. There goes another one. I especially feel this way when I look at news — or read a newspaper (yes I still do that, although I’m not sure why).

Here’s the deal: Chicken Little attracted ATTENTION when she said the sky was falling. But even though she is wrong, that doesn’t stop her from alarming those around her.

Today’s media has a “Sky Is Falling” mentality.  While they’re not usually wrong, they’re rarely telling us about something good that’s happened. It’s probably a good idea to ignore the news. If we don’t know the sky is falling, we don’t worry about it nearly as much, and are able to accomplish more because of it. When something REAL happens, then we can engage.

I like to think about the two main variations on the ending of the Chicken Little story, each providing a strong moral or takeaway (which is what fables are supposed to do). (1) In the happy ending, the story makes a case for standing up for whatever you believe in. It’s okay to be different and a little weird. Spoiler alert for ending #1 . Chicken Little and her friends don’t get eaten by the fox. (2) In the unhappy ending, the moral has to do with the consequences of believing everything you hear, no matter how ridiculous. Spoiler alert for ending #2. Chicken Little and her friends are all eaten by the fox.

I like the happy ending. I want today’s children to understand that being different is a good thing. Yes, you might get eaten, but if getting eaten is only failing, what’s to worry about? Lots of people fail and then rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of their defeat, stronger and more prepared for the next battle. On the other hand, I am very tired of the Media trying to outdo each other with the worst story du jour. The trouble is, there are too many pieces of ugly sky falling about our head and shoulders these days.

Here’s what: I say make today a good day. If you choose to watch the news and see that the sky is falling, decide if there’s anything you can do about it. If not, keep doing what you’re doing, and dare to be different. Be the weird Chicken Little. Run around with feathers flying. Squawk a little. Better yet, make the sky fall. Carve a Steve Jobs ding in your universe and then eat the fox.