Thursday, 18 February 2016


“I was astonished to find how intensely one lives in one’s eighties.  The last years seemed a culmination and by concentrating on them one became truly oneself.  Though old, I felt full of potential life.  It pulsed in me even as I was conscious of shrinking into a final form which it was my task and stimulus to complete.”         Florida Pier Scott-Maxwell  "The Measure of My Days"

Defining “old” these days is an interesting exercise made all the more interesting by talking with people who are advanced in years but who are also active, energetic, engaged and living well.  I recall seeing a cartoon in The New Yorker some time ago, two men sitting at a bar, one saying to the other, “Seventy is the new nothing.”   That seems to have come from the observations that 60 is the new 40, according to scientists who say longer, healthier lives mean people now hit middle-age later.

What we think of as old has changed.   Age can be measured as time already lived or it can be adjusted taking into account time left to live.  What is apparent to me, as I approach my eighties, is that we can make of it whatever we can to the extent we are ready, willing and perhaps most of all, able to do so.  (“Ready, Willing and Able” was a 1937 film starring Ruby Keeler and Ross Alexander and featured the Johnny Mercer song.  “Too Marvelous for Words.”  Ironic or a coincidence, that was the year I was born.)

My observations correlate with the feelings of many others although each of us occupies a unique position relative to our own condition.  At this point, I happen to be healthy, in good spirits and looking forward to the next chapter and whatever adventure I might explore next.  I continue to be an eternal and incurable optimist grounded in the reality of the moment.  There may be a few exceptions given some of the external situations around politics, the environment, health care and education.  Although I have been a social activist in several fields over the years, I believe it is now time to leave those concerns to others.

The past has been rich and full.  It is gone and in truth we are disconnected from it except as we allow it in for memories and reflections, perhaps some learning lest we make the same mistakes all over again.  The present is what it is although I feel increasingly detached from it as well.  It seems often too busy, too noisy and somewhat stressful, none of which are among my preferences.  I much prefer a quiet mind, free from ideas and opinions, and I celebrate these days of walking, reading, writing and being with myself.   

What will come from this remains to be seen and, as my wife put it so eloquently and humorously a few months ago, “What’s to become of us?”  I believe I may now have at least a partial answer to her question.   What will become of us remains to be seen and that opens the door to unlimited possibilities. At this point in time I feel privileged and blessed, grateful and glad.  Each day continues to be a gift begging to be unwrapped, embraced, celebrated and shared. We shall make of it what we will, do the best we can with what we have where we are.  That seems good enough for now.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE - Taking a measure of days

Looking ahead to the start of my 80th year in a few months. I am enormously grateful just to do that. I am healthy for the most part, still active physically and mentally, as far as I know, and I am enjoying wonderful opportunities for work and play, days of re-creation.  My days begin and end with gratitude for the gift of time, places to go, things to do and those are more available than I would have thought about previously since I live as fully as possible in the present.
We are currently in Mexico for several winter months enjoying the tropical environment along the Pacific coast.  Some might say that we are retired but I think quite the opposite, opposite being a place where I often find myself compared to what others think.  On my morning walk yesterday I saw a couple who are bird watchers and we stopped to chat about what they’ve seen.  In two months, here at the edge of the ocean and jungle, they have seen 70 different species in two months.  Among our favorites is the black-throated magpie jay.  This couple from Texas have lived “on the road” for 15 years, energetic, active, hikers and birders. He carries binoculars and she carries a camera.  They are a team.
In the past three months I have worked on short-term educational projects in Barcelona and London, continued this blog, worked on a manuscript for a book called “Pearls From An Irritated Mind,” traveled in our thirty-two foot motor home and am trying to learn Spanish albeit at a snail’s pace.  We will accelerate that a bit when we move from here inland to San Miguel Allende in a couple of weeks.  Lifelong learning is just part of who we are.  My wife, Susan, was “in class” last night with her teacher in Bolivia, a class on “Advanced Memoir Writing.”  
We look at this upcoming election with amusement and amazement, talk with each other about the candidates and the process, and debate with our friends about these people who say they want to be elected so they can make things better.  As the UK said to the U.S. recently, “What are you thinking?” I would like someone to explain why we spend (waste) so much time and money with this spectacle.
As a country we have had both time and opportunity to “make things better” and while there is evidence that we are better off now than we were ten or twenty years ago in some very specific areas, it's debatable for the larger picture.  Some other countries seem to have figured things out better than we have, at least from my perspective, on things like health care, education, the environment, and child care.  Many have not and are suffering greatly.  I am looking forward to Michael Moore’s new film, “Where Should We Invade Next.”
In my 75th year I wrote an abbreviated memoir called, Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir and the following year, I published Your Child, Your Choice: Finding the Right School for Your Child. My first book, co-authored with a colleague, and published by Longman in1988, was Understanding and Enjoying Adolescence. It is both out of print and out of date.  I thought of revising and updating it but the number of changes in 28 years would require more than a revision.  Some developmental issues have not changed all that much but the world has changed significantly and rapidly.
We read continuously and I just finished Oliver Sacks’ memoir On the Move: A Life, as well as his recent work, Gratitude.  Other books we have enjoyed lately, in case you’re looking for one to read, include Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande; Circling the Sun by Paula McClain; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; and I am in the middle of Adventures in Being Human: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum, by Gavin Francis.  Our weekly addictions include "The Huffington Post" and "The New Yorker Magazine."
We are connected digitally to the outside world via more than enough technology to suit our needs and interests. That helps us stay in touch with the world as a whole, with professional colleagues, our extended families of seven children, thirteen grandchildren, brothers, sister, their children and in-laws, plus Susie’s mother who celebrated reaching102 in January.  It’s quite a tribe all added together and we look forward to seeing many of them in the near future.  There is no substitute for face-to-face presence.
Life is not only good, it is full.  Our days begin early, before sunrise, and end early, soon after sunset. “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”   Florida Scott-Maxwell, The Measure of My Days.
Our hope for you, your families and ours. is a good measure of days, living joyfully, thankfully, engaged in those things that are challenging. rewarding, and satisfying. Every day presents choices and opportunities.  Try and make the most of what you will and if it fits, be fierce with reality.

PS - An earlier review "LIFE WORKS" is here:

Saturday, 6 February 2016



Most educators, and parents, know about the concept and practice of a gap year.  Often that year is taken between high school and college but not necessarily then.  It could be a junior or senior year abroad in either high school or college or it could be between the freshman and sophomore year of college.  The point is to consider the benefits and rewards of such a year or some other extended period of time outside of the regularly scheduled, progressive march toward a diploma.

My first point is to try and change both the concept and the term from gap year to bridge year because the notion of a bridge makes more sense and is far from a year off but rather a year on another path.  That path crosses the gap with a planned structure of design, engineering and construction that takes you from one place to another.   OK, enough said about that.  You get the point.

Secondly, think about all those kids who have spent 13 or more years in school, fairly well tied to a curriculum that has all kinds of good intentions for expanding the student’s world of knowledge, understanding and skills requisite for a good education.  You can address the question, “What are the marks of an educated person?”

Third, there are now numerous programs to assist students and their families who are interested in one of these experiences that might include an internship in a profession or business or the arts, travel and study abroad in a different country and culture, or a self-directed study in a field that the student is passionate about from technology to outer space to the inner spaces of human behavior.  Suffice to say that a year like this may well provide the student with a new and deeper level of understanding about the possibilities for careers as well as a renewed vigor for continuing formal studies in a college or university setting.  Colleges look favorably on such experiences.  For a fine, solid example of such a resource have a look:
Finally, this kind of opportunity is also one that provides additional responsibilities and choices that can add a degree of maturity to the individual’s growth and development.  Not only does it give the student time “off” from the regular grind of school, but it also allows time for some serious reflection about addressing the question of why they are doing what they’re doing.  That alone would make this year of great value.

What I recommend is to engage in a conversation about the opportunity, the possibilities, the pros and cons and have a go at evaluating whether this might be a terrific opportunity for one of your students or children, knowing they are unlikely to be reading this post!

EPILOGUE:  This Bridge Year is not only for students but can also be for older adults who could use a bridge year for an important transition.  In the world of academia we instituted sabbatical years. In other professions and in business, people sometimes take a year to plan a significant change in careers.  And in life itself, there can be an event that has a tremendous impact such as an illness, an accident, a divorce or a death. A bridge from that previous experience to the next stage of life may be exactly what is needed to effect a desired change.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


I was probably nine or ten years old and my parents had dragged me off to church as they usually did on Sunday mornings. After an hour in what was called Sunday School, singing, learning Bible verses, and going off to class with a small group of other kids my same age, we were invited upstairs to the sanctuary for another hour of worship.  More songs, more Bible verses, a sermon, a choir, and if you are familiar with this scene, you know the rest of the trappings.  If you're not familiar, imagine a very large room with big windows, some of them in stained glass, a kind of stage up front with a lectern and a pulpit and the choir of 30 or 40 people. There were rows of hard, oak benches or pews filling the sanctuary that held some 300 people.  The order of worship was pretty much the same every Sunday.  This was what was called then The First Congregational Christian Church in a small, western Ohio town.  I often wondered where the second, third orfourth might be, as I knew of banks in town that had names First National and Second National.

As the church service unfolded there came a point in time where the ushers - four, suited gentlemen - marched in step from the rear of the church to the front.  There they received four large brass plates from the pastor, after a short prayer asking people to give as they had been blessed in their own lives in order to help the lives of others.  Frank was the CEO of the church who was often called "the preacher" for that's what made him popular or so it seemed to me. He delivered sermons with a fairly high degree of passion and intensity that kept most people awake and listening fairly well.  However, as I looked around I could usually find one or two who had nodded off.  I looked around often, counting ceiling tiles, window panes, organ pipes, people, whatever I could find to keep my mind occupied.

As the ushers proceeded from front to back, row by row, they passed those large brass plates back and forth to each row so that people could put their "gifts" which meant money, into the plates.  Those gifts were in numbered, weekly envelopes or in hard, cold cash.  My parents put their envelopes in each week with the cash inside duly recorded after the service.  I watched this weekly ritual with great interest and one Sunday morning, I turned casually to my Dad, as this part of the service began and said, "Can I take some out?"  With his characteristic candor and wisdom, he leaned over and whispered back, "Yes, you can, but remember to always put in more than you take out."

Little did I know then the impact of what my Dad said which was also what he did in his own life.  Later on in my life this life lesson was renewed over and over as my career of learning, teaching, leading and serving unfolded and evolved over some fifty years. That aphorism was so imprinted on my mind and spirit that it became a constant guide for my work, my relationships and my goals.
I have not always lived up to it 100% as there have been times when I felt like I took out a little more than I put back although I may have tried to repay it later in another way.  Regardless, it's a lesson from Dad, one of many, that has stuck with me over the years and served me well.  For that, and much more, I am enormously grateful.

(Included in Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir (River House Press 2013)