In good company: A Year in a Room on Midcentury/Modern

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 9.12.59 AMDebbie Galant, editor of an intriguing new online magazine focused on “following Boomers into their third act,” invited us to introduce readers of Midcenutry/Modern to A Year in a Room.

Since her good edits included questions I’m not sure we’ve answered on ayearinaroom.com, I’ve included a link to the story here.  That photo of granddaughter Lanie, now 14, is a bit dated, but we sure did enjoy those pedal kayaks in St. Pete.

While you’re visiting Midcentury/Modern, I hope you’ll take time to read a couple of stories I’ve recommended there:

  • Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.39.14 AMStill Ticking, Debbie’s story of one of those dreaded 5 a.m. phone calls about an elderly relative, shows that not all such tales end badly.
  • Spring Break, Jan Schaffer’s courageous account of a 12-day road trip with her 21 year-old son as he pursues the path of recovery from drug addiction.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.37.09 AMYou can read more about Midcentury/Modern in this announcement of its selection as one of four winners of “Geezer Grants” for media startups created by people 50-plus. I’m aware of various journalism awards programs and conferences for other demographics — including young journalists and women entrepreneurs — but this is the first I’ve seen for the demographic I now call home. Just the sort of thing that someone enrolled in a gap year for geezers might want to pursue.

Pet peeves of community life: Flip side of the upside

At a recent house meeting (we hold them twice a month at BHFH), everyone was invited to write a couple of pet peeves about living in the house and place them in a basket.

Some of the beefs that made their way into the discussion:

  • Overloaded dishracks
  • Crumbs around the toaster
  • Interrupted conversations
  • Lights left on in empty common rooms

Sound like any household you may have been part of at some point?

roomOne of mine : “More a puzzle than a peeve — how to raise questions or issues with staff without feeling like walking on egg shells.”

One of Carol’s: “When people bring a lot of negativity or irritability into public spaces.”

In some ways, it’s strange that I’d be annoyed by the staff issue. I’ve felt from the start of our time here that one of the best things about BHFH — differentiating it from most coop living situations — is the work of staff who are paid to serve and lead a community they’re also part of. Continue reading

Responsibility – to whom about what?

It’s snowing again in Boston. We seem to have a big storm every week and no warm weather in between for the snow to melt. So, you might wonder, why would I cancel a scheduled trip to Florida for a conference in the middle of it?  blizzard1

It was a hard decision for me. I grew up in a family where responsibility was the main virtue stressed. That notion was strongly reinforced by Catholic education in the 1950s. Doing what I say I’m going to do, doing what I’m supposed to do, living up to my responsibilities were primary. Hence, canceling a commitment goes against the grain.

In many ways, it’s a virtue that’s helped me in uncountable ways. It helped with parenting. It gave me a good work ethic and let me plow ahead through graduate school despite multiple difficulties.

It’s only as I’ve aged that I’ve seen it as a liability as well as an asset. Growing up, I don’t remember any discussion of these questions: To whom am I responsible? For what? How does that responsibility change over a lifetime? And how do I sort conflicting responsibilities? The answers to those questions make all the difference in whether responsibility works for good or ill. Continue reading

Downsizing as edit: Creating the “abridged version of yourself”

I’ve been watching, via his Facebook page, the transition of friend and colleague Mario Garcia from his 5,400 square-foot home in Tampa Bay to 800 square feet of co-op living in Manhattan.

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.13.25His Facebook posts revealed the nuts and bolts of the move as it unfolded. But he’s just posted an essay on the downsizing that reflects the same panache and insight that’s made him one of the world’s leading designers of publications and digital apps.

He begins his story like this:

Everyday is special after you edit your life and live with the abridged version of yourself.

This is a story just about that, and how I learned that you don’t have to wait until the third act of your life for editing your life. There is renewal, practicality and emancipation.

As a visual journalist/designer, I have spent my career editing pages for publication, and more recently for websites, phone and tablet apps.

Nothing, however, prepared me for what I call the editing of my life. Editing the work of others can’t compare to the exercise of dealing with the roles of space, economy and redundancy in your own life.

In some respects, our move from Tampa Bay to Boston was more modest than Mario’s. We left a house in St. Pete that was less than half the size of Mario’s across the Bay in Tampa, and we’d lived there for only a decade vs. the 30 years Mario and family spent in theirs. We both relocated to pretty posh parts of pretty great cities — Mario to the Upper East Side of Manhattan; Carol and I to Beacon Hill just a block from Boston Common. Continue reading

Four funerals and a birthday

Shortly after I posted a note last week about the death of college roommate David DeCoursey, a high school classmate, Francine Gouvin Bernard, posted a comment: “Sorry for your loss, Mitch. It’s starting…”

Actually, Dave’s was the last of four funerals I attended in 2014, but Francine was right about something starting: Just as many of our younger housemates at BHFH find themselves heading out to weddings, Carol and I are showing up at more and more funerals.

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

Brian Mitchell and family (photo courtesy of Tracy Mitchell)

The first was for my cousin, Brian Mitchell, who died July 3 at his home on Cape Cod. At lunch after the service, Brian’s widow, Judy, told us that he went out in a way that, had he been given a choice, he might have chosen: Sitting on the porch with his wife of 53 years, drinking a beer.

Brian was ten years older than me, and I wish I’d made a point of telling him what a life model he’d become for me in two important respects: Charting a path that fits, and having fun along the way. Continue reading

Birthday musings: More to see than can be seen, more to do than can be done

Housemate Pan Aobo presents the lunch he prepared to celebrate my birthday and his end-of-semester

Housemate Pan Aobo presents the lunch he prepared for my birthday and his end-of-semester

Last week I turned 66. That’s the first year of collecting social security. According to some researchers it falls within the youth of old age. It’s a time when friends and relatives seem to be dying at a faster and faster rate. Still, I don’t feel old. On my birthday I found myself doing a curious mix of looking back and looking forward.

Looking back, I was caught up in a stream of gratitude both wide and deep for all the people who’ve given me life and shaped me. It stretched back as far as my grandparents and ran forward through parents, siblings, the best husband I could ever have, our kids, grandkids and friends and mentors. It ran all the way forward to Aobo, one of the newer residents of our house who made me a special birthday lunch. Even the really hard times looked different as I reflected on them. They were just part of the journey, parts that have taught me things that have now worked for my good and sometimes the good of other people. Continue reading

Thanksgiving for a life well lived

Rev. Jerry Singer at the 50th anniversary of his ordination, June 2, 2013, Nativity Church, Detroit

Rev. Jerry Singer at the 50th anniversary of his ordination, June 2, 2013, Nativity Church, Detroit

This has been a sad few days. As we were leaving church Sunday morning, Bill checked his email and discovered that yet another friend had died. Jerry Singer was the pastor of our best ever church community. He was also a good friend.

Over the last several years I’ve lost my mother, my only two aunts, three cousins, three important mentors (now four) and several friends. While I understand that death is part of life and on one level am not afraid of it, I still finding it shocking. How can it be that this person who was so full of life is no longer there? Where did they go?

And maybe more important, what of them is left? What is their legacy? How might I help keep it alive and pass it on?

Living at BHFH, we’re focused on what it takes to build a strong and enjoyable community. I wish my fellow housies had had a chance to witness Jerry’s community building in action. He knew everyone in the parish by name. Whenever someone new showed up at Sunday Mass he greeted them before the service, asked their name and before Mass started introduced them to the community. Unlike many pastors, he shared power easily, often being guided by the congregation rather than imposing his own opinions.  Continue reading