Dealing With The Inevitable

During my “day gig” as a digital marketer, I have a variety of clients that I love.  One of our new clients in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, and so I am learning a lot about aging and aging gracefully from a community of people who I really admire.

While this means I am confronting retirement and mortality realities much sooner than I’m comfortable with, the bottom line is ignoring the fact that we will all eventually pass away isn’t a good option for any of us, personally, or for our families.

I’ve been spending some time interviewing seniors- mostly older baby boomers, and like myself, they are kind of surprised they’re getting old. Many of them have also struggled with the needs of their parents as they have aged, and are deciding to take a different path, one where they have control, rather than letting- or making- other people make the decisions for them.

I get this, because my husband and I have three aging parents, all in various states of health, and each one is in a different state of acceptance/denial about this.  One thinks with the right planning, they will live to be well over 100, no matter what actuarial tables or doctors might say. One is starting to have mobility problems, and there’s no telling how much of this might be permanent rather than transient. And the third is getting, well, vague is the best way to put it. Not quite on the dementia spectrum, but starting to slowly fade, might be the best way to phrase it.

My husband has two siblings, as do I. We live far away from all of the aging parents, so our siblings are doing a lot of the hands-on maintenance. While it might look like that would be easy, after all, the daily burden isn’t in our laps,- it makes us sad, guilty, and wanting to be able to help more, but not sure how, especially from a distance.  I can gather information, make calls, and listen, but all the day to day hard work is really hands on, and we’re just not there.

For the relatives that need less direct help, but might need a longer term plan, having conversations about this is not easy. One one hand, we’re talking about our parents here- people who have been the adults in control in our lives for our entire lives. The thought that they may no longer be that shining, guiding light on how to do things still takes me by surprise from time to time. Plus, if my husband thinks I’m stubborn, guess what? My stubborn skills pale next to the tree from which I came.  And I’m still vaguely afraid of my mom when she gets angry, even if I think I could take her in a fair fight if it came down to that.

Welcome to the Sandwich generation. We are trying to make sure our kids get launched into life successfully, while simultaneously worrying about aging parents and making sure they get the care they need and have earned. It’s stressful. There aren’t any clear answers. There could be impending doom around the corner, but the best thing we can hope for is that they have a decent power of attorney and estate plan in place, to be honest.

And I get it. No one wants to get old. No one like facing their mortality. But answering questions, not only about care choices, but about disposition of assets, where to find the important stuff, a list of primary contacts, where you hide the safe deposit key, etc. just seems to me to be a minimum amount of planning that will make your kid’s lives less stressful later on.

All I can say is that I know a little planning goes a long way, and I hope my husband and I are getting the message of how to plan, to help our kids so they don’t have to make choices for us. As someone said to me last week, it is so much better to be five years too early than 5 minutes too late. In that regard, I hope all of us learn the lessons we are being taught now and don’t put our kids in the same situation, because it’s easier to ignore the inevitable than face it.

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Bookends

The Simon and Garfunkle song, Bookends, talks about old friends and memories.

I went to a memorial service this weekend for a great man, Sam Armstrong.

Sam was a teacher at Centreville School. My son James went there, as did Sam’s son, Jack. I knew Sam in his roles as parent and teacher back then, but I didn’t see him much until I ran for office, and then I met him again through his involvement with the local democrats, and it was such a pleasure to see him again. He was one of those people who always made you feel better about life, just being in the same room with him.

As someone said at the service, Sam didn’t really remind you of anyone else- he was his own category. He was a kind listener, but not a tea and sympathy guy, so much as a “Well, dust yourself off and let’s go fix it” kind of guy. He pushed everyone around him to do better and be better, just to live up to his standards of always doing the right thing. It started with kindness, and always seeing the value someone brought to the table. He made kids feel like they were special, they were heard, and they had something to contribute.

Same worked at Centreville Layton School, a school for kids with learning disabilities.  Often times these kids have had rocky school experiences, and come to Centreville with feelings of not quite fitting in in the world, and Sam was the kind of teacher who could help those kids feel valued and that they had something unique to contribute to the world and the school community. That can be a challenge with kids who aren’t used to that sort of fierce love and kindness- but Sam helped them all feel important.

He had a passion for the environment and native plants. He made kids feel a part of nature and science. His neighbors remember him as the guy who could fix anything, take the time to help a neighbor, and always, always, did the right thing.

I wish I got to spend more time with Sam, but even from a further distance, I always thought of him as a person who was someone we all wished there were more of in the world.  Someone who was fiercely loyal and kind. Someone who was empathetic, but not sympathetic- he understood, but spurned you to take care of it, not wallow in pity.

It seems so unfair that he was taken from the world at a young age, by a particularly rare disease. His kids are still in those early years of adulthood, when a Dad’s advice is valued so much, and I know when I lost my Dad at that age, it was really hard. And as I looked at my son who is about Jack;’s age this weekend, I thought about how lucky we were, and that every moment we spend together as a family is precious. It was a reminder to me about how fleeting things can be, and how we can’t afford to waste time on things that don;t matter.

Thank you, Sam, for everything you taught me from afar. Thank you for everything you have done for kids over the years, and how you have inspired so many people to just do the right thing- always.  We will miss you always.

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Pay it Forward- For Yourself!

I work for a digital marketing firm, and I produce a lot of content for the web- videos, blog posts, copy for websites, and more. The one thing I do every day that pays off the most in the long run, is trying to capture ideas, pictures and little snippets that end up becoming the pieces of bigger, more impressive projects later on.

For example, last year one of my clients participated in a big 4th of July parade.  I took lots of pictures and video that day. We posted some of the footage and pictures live that very day.  Some of the pictures went into an email newsletter shortly thereafter.  And all of those pictures and footage made putting together a short video for their site to get people excited about this year’s parade super easy.  This meant the time spent capturing the moment last year has continued to pay off in different ways for at least a whole year- that’s a good investment of time and resources.

Likewise, for another client, we write a ton of case studies about the work they do.  By having their workmen take a few shots when they are installing new equipment, and having the owners shoot us over a little bit about the job and the folks involved, I’m able to create a great case study that showcases a solution to a problem many other people have, while also demonstrating our client’s knowledge and expertise.   A few minutes of capturing data and pictures, and the payoff becomes content for the blog and Facebook that helps create new leads and multiplies their success.

Yesterday, I was trying to solve a problem for a client, and I remembered a friend had posted about this particular issue a few years back- the post stuck with me.  So I looked up their blog, and while the post was no longer there, I found a couple of other interesting ideas, and now I’m thinking about ways we can work together on a few things.

In all of these cases, work and ideas I paid attention to a long time ago come forward and become incredibly useful now- it’s like David Sedaris’s new book- Theft by Finding- by revisiting what you’ve done, you can then remix, rework and come up with entirely new ideas based on everything that’s gone before.

But how do you create a personal Swipe File- Idea Board- collection of stuff that you will use again and again?

Personally, I use Flipboard to alert me to new information and blog posts I might not otherwise see.  I sort the best stuff into a couple of “buckets”- they call them magazines- where I can collect relevant info for projects or ideas that I can then go mine later on when I’m stuck or feel particularly uninspired.

I use Flickr to post pictures, and I also try to take pictures of flowers, signs, etc. while I’m out and about- things that capture my attention, because that all becomes a decent backbone for are for a slidedeck or blog post in the future. I have a log of background sounds I’ve recorded while on vacation- sounds I can use in videos, podcasts, or even a story/drama if I ever need one.

In the age of digital media, you can be a content hoarder and easily get overwhelmed.  The key is to try to stay a bit organized, tag everything so it’s easy to search and find, and use the right digital tools like Skitch, Flipboard, This blog, Pinterest, and even Facebook to keep the good stuff easily available when you need it.

Building in capturing moments that grab your attention now will end up paying off huge dividends later.  All you have to do is keep your eye out for the things that are creative, odd, memorable, goofy- with flashes of brilliance that make you smile. Save that stuff- digitally- and it can reap rewards (and save tons of time searching for this stuff online later).

Just remember the time you put into this now- just moments when you are doing your everyday stuff- can yield dividends multi-fold in the future. Pay it forward- for yourself and others, by being observant in the now.

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You are More Than Your Audience

A friend was remarking on going back and deleting posts from his facebook and instagram accounts, trying to be quieter and more purposeful.  Part of the reason seemed to be a lack of attention to recent photos, etc. and it became painfully obvious to me.

We are more than a collection of our digital posts and data.  We are more than our audience and brand.

Do not value yourself based on the number of likes, etc. you get on your daily stuff.

Unless you are trying to build a business, run for office, or something else that relies on building a brand and pleasing an audience every day, FORGET THAT STUFF.

Be Yourself.  It is Good Enough.

Facebook was designed so friends can keep in touch.  It’s morphed into a place you can easily see as a bragging billboard, or a marketing billboard.  And it’s okay for it to be that in part.

What I love about Facebook is the personal interactions that matter. Connecting with friends I might not see for years and keeping in touch in a low-level way. It’s like a “Hey, How are you?” call without the time disruption.  (We should make more time for those sorts of calls in our lives, by the way, but that’s for another post entirely.) Heck, I even put up with my brother’s trolling my political/policy posts. But at least I know what he thinks and feels, for better or worse.

I keep in touch with extended family. I keep in touch with podcasting friends and neighbors who are now spread all over the world, and sometimes, I actually get to see them in person. And that makes all the difference, right there.  To see a friend or classmate, you haven’t seen in years, but you happen to visit their own, or find out on Facebook they are coming to yours… it’s such a joy to grab lunch, catch up, and see people you really like and enjoy, but may not be as close as you were in another part of your life, when you shared the same physical space more often.  It’s been all pleasant memories and fun, and that’s the joy in living.  It’s much better than just a Christmas card.  It’s another super experience that you will remember and one that makes life richer.

Now for business, I try to bring that human voice and caring to my clients.  I want them to know the business cares about them, and we try to offer helpful stuff, interesting stuff, things worth your time. Because just like friends, I want people to see the business as a part of the fabric of their community.  Sure, they would like you to come and buy stuff, but we’d like the business to be more of a relationship and not just strictly transactional in nature. And the folks who run these businesses mean it- they want to be the folks you like and trust, because it not only helps them grow their business, it feels good to be one of the good guys in the community. It’s a positive cycle.  That’s what we need more of.

Even as a township supervisor, I want people to see our Township Government not as a monolith, but a group of folks in charge of getting things done, with the best interests of the community at heart. I want people to know our roads master and code enforcement office, police chief and township manager, and everyone on their teams as the friends and neighbors they are. Sure, there are things we can and cannot do as the Government, but we’re also trying to be people, doing the best jobs we can, day in and day out.  We make mistakes.  We try to fix them when they happen. We make choices. It’s not easy, but in the end, it’s about so much more than a popularity contest.  It’s about the people we live and work with every day.

When you start everything from the human perspective first, from the kindness and caring perspective first, the other stuff will follow.

The best performances in music, art, acting or anywhere else are always when the person is in the flow, in the moment, and whether or not anyone is watching is secondary.  Sure, the performer is happy when the audience is pleased, but the real satisfaction is knowing the job was well done to begin with.

We need to be that way in our everyday lives.

Sure, there are tons of trite sayings about dance as if no one is looking, but the real message underneath that is to do what you enjoy for you, not for others. Because in the end, they decide for themselves how they feel. You can’t make anyone else feel anything- you can only present what you have to offer and their feelings will take care of themselves.

Do what makes you happy. Please don’t hurt other people in the process.  Be kind. Treat others with respect and the benefit of the doubt. And the rest will mostly take care of itself. Constant self-editing of your overall “profile” is largely time consuming and pointless, since the real you is always clamoring for attention anyway. Just be you, and seriously, I promise, it’s all good.

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Getting Involved- How To’s

Pussycat Hats

I assume you’re reading this blog post because you are concerned about changes in our government. Many people are reading the Indivisible Guide online. That is a document that has a more partisan edge to it, so I will leave the discussion of strategy and tactics to them, and instead concentrate on how you can get involved in your local community and start making a difference right away.

 

Non-partisan -Just starting out- Instructions

Step 1- What are the issues or areas that are most interesting to you?

The very first step is to pick an issue you are passionate about- that will sustain you for the long haul. Is it environmental issues? Social Justice? Health and fitness? Young people? Economic opportunities? The arts? Politics in general? Write down a list of some of the things you care most about, or wish were better.

Step 2- Pick three of the issues that you wrote down for step 1. Write down why they are important to to you. Add any ideas you have about improvements in these areas you’d like to see. So for example, around here, preserving farm land is a big deal, and we have an open space tax that’s in place to help preserve open space for the enjoyment of all.  If farm preservation or land conservation was on my list, I might say” open space is important to maintain a healthy environment for the community and preserve ecosystems for local wildlife. Without it, we would have nothing but track housing and strip malls. What I’d like to see happen is more farmers being able to afford to work the land, or turn open space into public space that everyone could enjoy.”

Now you’ve established a few issues that motivate you and provide a focus. That helps for the next bit.

Step Three- Write down your “superpowers”.  What do you do well?  What are your talents? Do you love running a group? Do you love posting on facebook? Can you build a website? Are you a writer or good editor? Do you have marketing skills? Do you love hosting parties and events? Do you like crafts? This is a great list so you identify the things you love to do- any many of your passions and talents can find a home either in getting involved in a community organization or in government by having identified things you can and would like to do.

Big Secret: Most people running for office don’t know very much about websites or marketing If you are social media savvy, if you can set up a website, if you know something about SEO, Facebook, graphic design, Video and audio production, Memes- ALL of these skills are desperately needed by candidates.  Most political marketing depends on- wait for it-DIRECT MAIL.  We all know this is expensive and rarely works to change hearts and minds.  If you have any digital media skills, local candidates in the next year for local elections and in a year from now for Governor and Congressional elections will NEED your help. Find out who the candidates are on your local county’s voter services website and find out who their campaign manager is on their paperwork, and CALL THEM.  They will be thrilled to have your help.

Step Four-Attend a public meeting of a local government group here you live. This could be City Council, county council, board of selectmen meetings, township supervisor meetings, school board, planning commission meetings, zoning hearing boards- go to something.  To be honest, the meetings of the council or other government groups will probably cover a broad range of topics versus planning commissions and zoning hearing boards that largely deal with development and real estate issues. Sit at the meeting and listen, and take notes about what’s going on and who the players are. This will give you the lay of the land, and you’ll learn more about what’s happening in your local community.

You can also do this by looking up your local government’s website, and look for meeting agendas and minutes.  Many public meetings are also video-taped, so you can watch them from home.  That’s okay, but it will prevent you from getting to know the other people at the meeting, who tend to be the more engaged and involved group in the community.

At most meetings, there’s a time allotted for public comment.  Each governmental entity handles this differently, so you need to go to a meeting and see what’s up and how this works.  The next meeting you attend, make sure you get up and ask a question about an issue facing the local governmental body that concerns you. This will let everyone else know who you are and that you want to be engaged.

Talk to other people before and after the meeting. Introduce yourself.  After all, you are a taxpayer and you pay the salaries of every person in the front of the room. If you want to find out if there are positions open on various commissions and committees, ask while you are there in person. Who knows?  You could end up with a committee assignment sooner than you think.

You can go this pathway to get more involved regardless of your party affiliation. If you are registered one way or the other, that can make a difference in some areas about whether you will be welcomed immediately with open arms. If the party in power is of the opposite persuasion from you, you may be viewed suspiciously at first, but persevere. Getting involved means showing up consistently and demonstrating genuine concern for your community. Don’t get discouraged. If you have any problems, feel free to email me or comment here, and I will help you personally.

Alternate track- Go Political

If you are definitely in the camp of a political party of your choice, there is likely a local group of organizers. In our area, we have a County-wide party group, and each smaller area in the county has a separate “zone” that covers a smaller local area. By calling the State Party or County party, they will likely put you in touch with your local group leaders on the party committee who will be more than happy to have you attend a meeting and get more involved.

Committee People

On a local level, each party has Committee people. Sometimes there will be one or more committee people assigned to each voting precinct. These folks are the ones who set up the card tables and hand out literature on election day, and we always hand out the “I Voted” stickers as well. The rest of the year, they are involved in helping support candidates running for office, contacting voters in their precinct, and often help with other projects, whether it’s getting mailings out, yard signs, voter registration drives or other things.  Committee people are the backbone of political organizing and are instrumental in making sure potential candidates for office get the signatures they need to get on a ballot. Committee people also are in charge of nominating candidates and this is can be a stepping stone to becoming a National Convention member and even a member of the Electoral College.

Committee people are also part of the group that helps find people to run for office, or may decide to run for office themselves. I was first asked to run for the State House by a committee person who got to know me through volunteer work I did making phone calls for the party in presidential election years. I had never really been to a party meeting, and had to be walked through the process of how to get one the ballot. By having the support of the committee people, they helped me form a campaign committee, find a campaign manager, introduce me to local area leaders, and provided the vital help I needed to run my campaign.

Timelines

On your State or Local voter services website, there will likely be an election calendar posted. This is where you can find out the days people need to start circulating petitions to get on the ballot, the date of the primaries, and the date of the general election. Candidates will need help getting signatures- and here in Pennsylvania, petitions will start circulating on February 14th. We’ll be out circulating petitions for local judge positions, township supervisors and more. Come join us!

Getting involved early like this will also likely give you an opportunity to meet the candidates up close, and you can choose who to support – Assuming you are not the one running yourself!

You can do this- but many of the pathways for getting involved aren’t always clear.  I hope this helps. Please let me know if you need help, and I will help you find the people locally to help you get involved.

We’re only going to have good people who are concerned about the needs of every citizen in office if we find them, and support them getting there.  It takes time. money, and it’s not easy. But the more we let only those folks who have personal money run for office, the more we will have people who are in office for personal power reasons rather than the power of the people. Help us change this. Let me help you change this trend.

We can do it, together.

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