Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My changing taste in vacations

My husband and I were serious travelers at one point. During the 80’s and 90’s we took 2 international trips per year--once over the holiday break or during our spring break and then again over the summer. The dollar was strong then and we could do this out of income--two community college teachers’ salaries.

I remember giving my sister a hard time about her Jersey shore rentals: “For the kind of money you’re spending on these shore houses, you could be going to Europe!”

I became kind of self-righteous about not letting terrorist attacks stop me. We traveled to southern Spain during the holiday break after September 11 when just about everyone we knew cancelled travel plans.

When the dollar tanked, we stopped going to Europe and used the opportunity to head south—Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile. I fell in love with Mexico, the people, the colors, the food.

This summer (and last summer) we rented a house on Block Island. My husband and I had the same reaction: isn’t it nice not to have to deal with airports? The list goes on and on: getting there hours before an international flight and then dealing with the inevitable flight delays, the 7 hour flight turning into a 14 hour ordeal; the endless security lines; the lost luggage; the ever-shrinking seats and disappearing amenities. You have to really want to go somewhere to put up with all this!

Our last trip outside of the continental U.S. was to Puerto Rico—chosen in part because it was a 4 hour non-stop flight from Philly. Our last major international trip was Argentina and Chile in August 2006. We loved Buenos Aires but the return trip was the flight from hell.

We departed the day of the aborted liquid gel terrorist attack. On top of the flight delays and pervasive fear, there was total chaos at Miami airport. We couldn’t find any airport personnel who spoke English. The Spanish speaking tourists were all getting their questions answered but we Anglophones were out of luck. (I do speak some Spanish, but not when I am exhausted, anxious and surrounded by all that confusion.) I turned into an ugly American and snapped; “What country are we in?” My husband responded: “Cuba.”

I am sure we will deal with international airports again. There’s a world out there and we want to see more of it, but taking a break from airports is really nice.

And a week in Block Island with my husband and some good friends is now my idea of a great vacation!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bloggers Beware: Your Relatives and Friends Are Reading Your Blog

For most bloggers, our readership consists of our family and friends. And some of them don’t like what they read.

My niece read my post on Obama and the 4th of July and called my sister to say, “I didn’t know you hated the 4th of July. You really didn’t enjoy taking us to those picnics and fireworks displays? ”

Then a friend greeted her with: “Oh, so you don’t like the 4th of July. You’re lucky Bush isn’t president; you could wind up on a terrorist watch list for that.”

Another of my sister’s friends said, “We better get a sworn statement from your sister that nothing said at Thanksgiving dinner shows up on her blog.” (My husband and I spend Thanksgiving dinner with my sister and her friends.)

My husband and son have warned me that I better not write anything about them on my blog.

This does pose a problem. In retirement, friends and family members become a larger part of one’s life. It’s hard to avoid mentioning them. But then I don’t want to alienate the only readers I may ever have.

Any other bloggers out there who have dealt with this problem???

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Retiring from my main volunteer job: generational change in the feminist movement

Retiring from a volunteer job is more complicated than retiring from paid employment. It’s clear I won’t be coordinating the Women’s Studies program at CCP and won’t be teaching classes. I hope to maintain a connection with the College (e.g. guest lectures, serving on advisory boards), but there will be no ongoing responsibility, no significant commitment of time and energy.

Retiring from my main volunteer job (president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women) is not so clear-cut. I want to stay involved, but need to step back so new leadership has room to develop.

Progressive organizations often have trouble with transitions to new leadership. I’ve seen quite a few bad transitions and would like to model a good one—staying involved, being supportive, but not meddlesome.

I’ve seen so many people in my generation who want to hang onto leadership—even if they are just grassroots volunteer positions. Politicians are the worst; they never want to make room for younger folks. A while ago I decided I didn’t want to be one of those old people hanging on far too long, wearing out my welcome, blocking opportunities for younger people.

I am fortunate that there are wonderful younger women taking over my job coordinating Women’s Studies, teaching my service learning course, and taking over my main volunteer job, the Presidency of Phila NOW. (It’s a lot harder to find someone who wants to take over an unpaid job.) Thanks, Mary and Tara and Lauren!!!

NOW seems to be filled with women who want to hang on to chapter presidencies they’ve held for decades. Too often NOW chapters consist of a president-for-life and a mailing list. No wonder membership is falling.

As Katha Pollitt noted in recent Nation article,

“For twenty years, young feminists have complained that older women have kept a lock on organizational feminism. Robin Morgan famously told young women who protested that her generation wasn't passing the torch to "get your own damned torch. I'm still using mine." ( )

We had a real opportunity for generational change at this year’s national NOW convention, but sadly the members chose another course. See my post on the convention at the Philadelphia NOW blog

Granted, it’s easy for me to step aside and make room for a younger generation. I am so ready to retire from both my paid and unpaid jobs, but then not everyone is. Here’s where it gets complicated. Should women who have struggled hard to reach positions of real power and influence (think Ruth Bader Ginsberg) be under any pressure to make room for younger people?

But if everyone hangs on, what happens to younger people in a very tough job market? And how do progressive/feminist organizations, develop the next generation of activists if people in their sixties hang onto most of the leadership positions?

I’m really interested in your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why I feel better about the 4th of July and about retiring now that Obama is President

One of my Facebook friends, Julia Ramsey, asked: “Does anyone else feel a renewed sense of pride and patriotism this July 4th weekend?”

Yes, the 4th of July feels different with Obama as President. To quote Michelle, for the first time in my life, I feel proud of my country.

I brought it up at a 4th of July dinner with my sister, her husband and some friends. My sister said she never liked the 4th of July. It was always hellishly hot, and when her kids were young she had to go to those awful barbecues, parades and mosquito-infested fireworks displays. And as a member of the Vietnam War generation, she didn’t feel very good about her country. None of our friends were the patriotic types.

When we talked about it over the phone yesterday, she said that Obama’s election made her feel more patriotic not just because his victory signals that racism is waning, but also because Obama obviously loves his country warts and all. If he could get over what he called our country's “tragic history,’ maybe she could too. I had never thought of it that way but it made sense and maybe explained some of my (more or less) change of heart.

It’s a lot harder to explain why his election has made me feel better about being retired. A while ago I mentioned to some friends that for some inexplicable reason having Obama in the presidency made me more comfortable about retiring. Their response: that doesn’t make any sense.

With a little help from my friends and family, I've kind of figured it out. Reflection on one’s life comes with the territory of retirement. For a long time I’ve been depressed about the huge gap between what I had hoped for in my youth and the ugly reality of George Bush’s America. This is the tragedy of the 60's generation: we spent our youth in a time of social possibility and our middle and later years during a time of reaction.

But some of the battles we fought did change the culture—if not the economic system—and Obama’s victory was in some sense a validation of the 60’s. (Yes, I know he doesn’t quite see himself that way.)

I was an early supporter—from at least November 2007. My sister recalled that I got into fight at 2007 Thanksgiving dinner with Clinton supporters. But I didn’t believe it was really possible and I was very quiet about my support.(I was a little uncomfortable as I am a NOW chapter president.)

Like most people my age I didn’t think it was possible that this country would elect a Black man as president. After Iowa, I began to rethink this and came out of the closet as an Obama supporter. I told the members of my NOW chapter and it turned out it wasn’t a problem as many of our active members were also Obama supporters.

I was a nervous wreck during the primary and having anxiety attacks up until Election Day. (Thank you, Nate Silver. Whenever I panicked, I went to to look at Nate’s reassuring stats.)

Inauguration Day was one of the happiest days of my life—certainly the happiest day of my political life. I couldn’t believe it had really happened.

Now I have gotten used to President Obama. What seemed unthinkable now seems normal! And like many other Obama supporters, I’ve begun to complain: Why doesn’t he demand repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell?" Is his support for the public option in health care weakening?

So how does all this connect to retirement? Witnessing this change in my country and making some small contribution to Obama's victory has made me feel a lot better about moving into a stage of life when I will play less of a role as an engaged activist--although I’m determined to be politically active as long as I'm sentient. I’ve entered my retirement in a much more optimistic frame of mind about the possibilities for social change. That counts for a lot.