The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

As the years go by and I face my old age, the autumn seasons become an almost emotional experience for me. I can no longer look past the shortening days, the growing dark of night, the cooler air, the gusty winds, and the falling leaves from the trees. I now take note of every flower that might still be in bloom, no matter how limp or scrawny, since it might be the last flower for the season. As such, I got my camera out the other day to record this brave morning glory flower rising above the yellowing, dying vines below it.

I heard on the radio that Bruce Springsteen just celebrated his 68th birthday. Even though he’s still famous, and right now he is appearing 5 nights a week on Broadway (i.e., his sold-out play “Springsteen on Broadway“), he had some bittersweet, autumn-like reflections about his own about mortality. “It’s the one thing I miss about growing older,” he said. “I miss the beauty of that blank page and the endless possibilities.”

Yea, Bruce, I know what you mean. But hey — it’s not like the beauty is all gone forever. I’m gonna go Buddha on Bruce and offer this autumn flower to him (and to everyone who feels this way — which must be a whole lot of people, since Bruce still seems to be considered the spokesperson for his generation, at least the working class portion of it). The blank page may be closing, but . . . the flowers will still bloom, in their own good time.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Have you heard of “nootropics“? I hadn’t, until recently. Actually, the term “nootropic” goes back to 1972; it basically means a drug or supplement that you can make your brain work better, especially with regard to cognitive functioning, e.g. alertness, memory, quick thinking, etc. In recent years, however, there has been a “nootropics movement”; this is one of those modern internet things, and not surprisingly it seems to have started in California’s Silicon Valley.

This phenomenon is also called “biohacking”, and generally involves young tech-savvy people who want to juice up their brainpower so as to get an edge over their fellow coders and software developers. And so, you can now find a series of web sites that focus on the use of nootropic supplements, and also some commerce sites that specialize in selling nootropic supplements.

One of the key concepts for the new nootropians (or bio-hackers, if you wish) is the “stack”. These folk don’t just settle on one particular substance as their main “nootropic”. Instead, they look for combinations of pills and supplements that will give them the most mental bang for the buck; they’re looking for synergy. One of the rudimentary “nootropics 101” combos is caffeine with L-theanine (through pills, of course, even though this combo comes naturally in green tea). The caffeine revs up your mind, while  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Every now and then I like to post some thoughts on how I’m adapting to old age (or sometimes not adapting too well). Perhaps something I say might be of help to someone else, just as I sometimes pick up a good tip or two from another blog or column on the web. (Unfortunately, there is so much junk to sift thru on the web these days before you find something valuable). So today I’m going to talk about sleep, or lack thereof.

Ah yes, sleep, a seemingly simple topic that is really very complex. Or at least when you start getting old like me. When I was young, sleep wasn’t much of an issue. It was once pretty easy to fall asleep whenever I chose to, and stay asleep as long as I needed to (usually 7 hours or so). When I was in college, I had a summer job on a railroad, which required me to occasionally work a night shift (or “3rd trick” as they called it). I had no trouble adjusting my sleep pattern as to fall asleep in the morning after getting home and getting up around what would be my usual supper time, feeling fully refreshed and ready for another night shift (or an adjustment back to normal daytime living).

Today I have a regular 7:30 to 4:30 job, but over the past 6 or 7 years, getting enough sleep every night has become harder and harder. I myself am a morning person, so I generally like to get up early (and thus I should get to bed early). As I got into my later 50s and now into the mid-60s, it has become harder and harder for me to sleep straight thru to the alarm clock — I started getting up too early. My problem is not on the evening side; I usually fall asleep pretty easily when I hit the pillow around 11 pm (but it should be 1030). The problems start sometime after 3 (and sometimes as early as 2:30 am), when I get up and then have trouble getting back to sleep. Basically, my problem is called  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:13 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Unlike many people who live in my vicinity, I’ve never been through professional psychotherapy. This is not to say that I wouldn’t possibly benefit from it (and some people say that I probably need it!). But I’ve managed to get by and keep on progressing through most of my life without needing to sit down and hash things out over and over again with a shrink. I have my moods and my fears and anxieties, and I’m sure that I’ve missed some opportunities in life because of an unnecessarily negative attitude on my part. But overall, I’m just not all that unhappy (not yet, anyway).

Furthermore, therapy is rather expensive. Yes, I know that many people manage to use their health insurance to pay for at least some part of their shrink-fees, but I don’t want to get involved with all of the paperwork and bureaucracy involved with such a ploy unless I’m really in bad shape. Another turn off — just how to you find a shrink that you can relate to and who can relate to you? I’ve known a handful of therapists in my life, and there are perhaps one or two I could imagine working with. But as to the others, ughhhh.

Given that I don’t suffer from chronic depression and that I’m not harmfully bi-polar (hey, I have my moods, but . . .); and given that I’ve managed to hold a professional job with the same employer for the past 16 years; and further still, that I’m not abusing anything intoxicating or mind-blowing . . . given that I pay my taxes and stay out of trouble . . . well OK, all of that still doesn’t mean that I’m a totally sane and healthy individual. But as to whether any particular therapist could improve things for me . . . well,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:08 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
History ... Personal Reflections ...

The Fourth of July is one of the few American holidays that celebrates the history of the nation. Yes, Thanksgiving and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day certainly have strong historical roots; and yes, there is Lincoln’s Birthday and President’s Day. But Independence Day focuses squarely on a momentous historical event, i.e. the signing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the document that proclaimed the end of colonization and the beginning of a new nation upon the North American continent.

For those interested in Civil War history, the Fourth is also a momentous time. On July 3, 1863, two big battlefield events marked a turning point in the War, and heralded the beginning of the end of the nation’s division. On that day in 1863, the Confederate Army suffered a punishing defeat during its second attempt to invade the North, i.e. the bloodbath at Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, PA popularly known as “Pickett’s Charge” (even though Pickett was only one of the three generals leading the charge). Also, after a long Union campaign to re-gain control of the Mississippi River, General U.S. Grant successfully concluded a long and costly assault on the strategic river city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Civil War would go on for another year and ten months after this day, and would yet impose a great amount of death and destruction. But from this point on, the Union pretty much gained the initiative; it no longer spent most of its resources reacting to Confederate military thrusts (in ways that were often bungled and ineffective). In 1864, the War was pretty much a matter of attrition for the Union. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign in Virginia and Sherman’s destructive “March to the Sea”  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:15 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, February 20, 2017
Personal Reflections ...

I recently was called for jury duty in my county, which is Essex County in New Jersey. I take my civic duties fairly responsibly, so I filled out the form and showed up right on time on my assigned date. The jury management office in Essex was rebuilt just a few years ago, and relative to the other places where I’ve done jury duty in the past, it was quite luxurious. The seats in the waiting rooms were fairly comfortable, not the old molded plastic auditorium chairs. There was free wifi and a computer lounge with library-like carrels where you could sit in relative privacy with your laptop. The waiting rooms offered a choice between three TV channels, CNN for news and politics, ESPN for sports, and another one for the usual “lifestyle” shows. The public address system worked relatively well and you could hear the announcements, and there was a free coffee dispensary with 4 Keurig machines. Essex County is a relatively large urban county and the courts are busy, so there were a lot of people waiting to be called out to the courtrooms for possible selection. But the management area was spacious enough to keep things fairly comfortable. So I could not complain at all about the waiting and processing area.

And yet, I was pretty miserable from 8:15 am on Tuesday when I first reported right through 12:15 pm on Wednesday when I was released. I had been called to a courtroom for final evaluation each day, but both times I was excused for various reasons beyond my control. So I didn’t wind up sitting on a jury. And that’s probably for the best, because I just wasn’t in a good mood about the whole thing. Yea, I watched the video that they show you right after your report, where the Chief Justice of the NJ Supreme Court tells you what a great duty it is to a free society that ordinary citizens like you be used to judge their peers whenever the courts are called on to resolve a dispute. And I agree with that theory. But still . . . I don’t know, there was just something I found unpleasant about being a stranger in a crowd, being ordered and herded around by anonymous bureaucrats as if we were in a prison or in the military. Now I know a little better why most people don’t like prison or being in the military.

Funny thing is that I don’t remember ever feeling this way about jury duty in the past. Somehow, most of my past experiences were in places where the crowds were smaller and you were usually addressed directly by a human, you weren’t herded into a big room awaiting the next announcement from speakers mounted in the ceiling. And maybe I was spoiled by my past experiences. I was never selected to a jury in my life, despite 4 or 5 previous jury duty rounds. In every case, someone would  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Personal Reflections ... Spirituality ...

If you really, really, really want to believe in God, I think that the best way is to make sure that you are part of a church and a religious tradition that strongly affirms the existence of God. It’s not so much that the church and the religion say that God is real. It’s more the fact that you will be surrounding yourself with a group of people who all say that God is real. When you are surrounded by a bunch of people who all strongly assert a particular proposition, it’s much easier to believe in that proposition, even when there is evidence that would otherwise cause you to question that proposition (or lack of evidence to support it). Religion is thus something of an “echo chamber“.

When you are involved in a church, it’s easy to feel good about believing in God, even if you are familiar with the long list of rational doubts expressed by atheists and agnostics. The logic goes some thing like this — I am person A and I feel OK about believing, because person B seems to believe. But if you ask Person B why she or he believes, they will tell you that it’s because person C seems to believe. Then go as Person C — and guess what he or she will say? Yes, it’s because person D believes. Sooner or later you come full circle. Someone points back to person A, and the chain goes round again. In reality, it’s probably a matter of 2-way networking between everyone from person A to person ZZZ. In other words, person A feels good about God because persons B thru ZZZ are God-fearing; person B feels good because of person A plus persons C thru ZZZ; etc. But it’s ultimately the same dynamic — ultimately it’s all a loop, like the proverbial snake that continually eats its tail.

Personally, I still want to believe in God. But I don’t want to base my faith on the comforts of a internal loop / “echo chamber” like this. So I’m not part of a regular church; I am active instead in a Zen community, where at least half of the members have declared themselves to be atheists. Maintaining one’s faith in God is certainly more of a challenge in this context. However, all of the time that we spend in quiet meditation gives me lots of time to search for “the small voice within”. I don’t often “hear” that voice, but  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:53 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Personal Reflections ...

Being a quintessential Baby Boomer, the 1980s were a pivotal time in my life. So much happened, so many memories that stick with me. I mostly enjoyed growing up in the 1960s, but the 1970s were kind of a drag; and as to the decades following the 1980s, I can’t say too much. They just didn’t stick in my head the way that the 80’s did. The 1980’s were in so many ways a fun time for me, and yet there was the sadness of my failed attempt at marriage (which at least came to an amicable enough-ending in a mutually agreed-upon divorce). But then again, there were so many good people around me who helped me to get through that time. And thus there was even some fun in that process. I really doubt that I’d have anything like that to help me thru another major trauma, which becomes more and more likely as I get older.

So I was saddened to hear about the deaths last week of actress Carrie Fisher and singer George Michael, both within a few days of Christmas. Those two figures played significant roles in my 1980’s memories. Ms. Fisher, of course, will always be known for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the first 3 Star Wars movies. Of course, the first Star Wars film came out in 1977, but its techno-pomposity and intoxicating entertainability helped to set the mood for the coming of the 80’s, a promise of an escape from the slow decay of the post-WW2 suburban order that the 1970’s represented. The next two were products of 1980 and 1983, and they really helped to cement the new mood for the times. To be honest, after the first 3 Star Wars films, I didn’t pay much attention to Ms. Fisher’s career. But she was a surprisingly prolific actress, with roles in the original Blues Brothers, Agnes of God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Wedding Singer and When Harry Met Sally.

For better or worse, however, Ms. Fisher also showed up in some rather forgettable films, including Hollywood Vice Squad, an Austin Powers episode, Drop Dead Fred, Charlies Angels Full Throttle, and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:57 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

It hasn’t been a very good season for my outdoor mini-garden. Once again, the landlord had no objections to my cultivating a few square yards of land along side of the backyard parking lot; and so back in March, I once again invested in a few bags of fertilizer and black soil, got out the shovel and hoe, and prepared a seed bed. I also prepared 7 or 8 clay pots for growing herbs (basil, sage, oregano, parsley and mint). By late April, I had a variety of flower seeds planted, including my usual morning glories and moonflowers and recently adopted nasturtiums. I’ve had mixed success getting sunflowers started, but I was ready to give it another go, having bought 3 or 4 different varieties of seed. And I wanted to try something new and supposedly easy to grow, so I added 4 O’Clocks to the routine this year.

Well, the morning glories eventually took hold, although it took several tries (I would start the seeds indoors and then transplant the seedlings into the backyard). The moonflowers seemed to take pretty well, and the nasturtiums got going right away. But as to sunflowers, I just couldn’t make them work. I tried planting new seeds every few weeks from April thru early June, but it was always the same; the seedlings would poke thru and seem to thrive, then after a few weeks  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:29 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, August 5, 2016
Personal Reflections ...

I was going through some file cabinet shelves in my apartment, and I came across a cache of old marble notebooks containing my written diary entries from the 1990s and early 2000’s. I don’t want to start going through them right now, as I don’t have much time right now for memory lane. Just staying alive and gainfully employed these days is more than enough to soak up my remaining mental and physical energies. But I found one of them in the wrong place, and while moving it back to where it belongs, I decided to take a quick look. So I came across this little mini-story from early September, 2001.

At the time, my mother was still alive but was just starting to lose her ability to walk. Part of that was because she had steadily gained weight throughout her adult life, and was now pushing her aging muscles and joints beyond their limits. She was living in her own house with my younger brother, but she needed more and more assistance. She could still get up on her feet, but mostly needed a wheelchair to get around. We had just hired our first part-time home health assistant, who stopped by for a few hours most days of the week (generally when my brother was at work). One weekend, my brother was having a day out in Manhattan, and I was sitting in at the house so to keep an eye on mom. I would stay until the home assistant arrived in late afternoon.

Here is my diary entry for that afternoon:

I had to wheel Ma to the bathroom before, and while backing her our out (in her wheelchair), I heard the TV, the narrator of a PBS special about polar bears. As I struggled with the wheelchair, I heard the TV man say “now the problem becomes how to move such a large creature”. Couldn’t help but have a mental grin at that moment.

On looking back 15 years later, I’m sorry if I wasn’t being entirely charitable about my mother’s weight problem. But in elder-care situations, a little mental humor often helps to keep you going.

Ironically, this bit of home-care humor came just a few days before September 11, 2001. I wrote about it the next night, and here is how I started my diary note:

Well, Black Tuesday happened. The WTC in lower Manhattan is gone. A symbol of the business world, a place where Top Gun people wind up. [I had recently completed Chubb’s “Top Gun” computer training camp for mid-career people looking to become business programmers; however, the Chubb placement department had failed me, and so I was back at the non-profit agency in Newark where I had spent the past decade before Top Gun] So yea, I was shaking in the office on Tuesday AM after seeing the one tower standing, pouring out smoke like a chimney at a power plant. Chic [the colloquial name that I used for my boss back then, mostly behind his back] was grim, wouldn’t say hello. Our world was under attack [Chic had worked for a big corporation, and had just made a mid-career change of his own by joining with the non-profit group]. The social fabric was torn.

After reflecting on how my cousin Mike and I used to take little walking tours of lower Manhattan while in high school in the late 60’s, and how we had often passed the business district site where the WTC was being built, I concluded as follows:

Maybe its just as well that Top Gun didn’t transport me into that world.

For now, I’ve put the diary books away. Hopefully, though, I’ll be back.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:42 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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