I am not a Robot

I gotta tell you. Writing a shallow blog these days is tough. There are just so many things that make it hard. Believe me. It’s not just about the “moron” (not my words) down south. He’s a problem but like many things, he too shall pass. Unfortunately there are more endemic issues we all face over the long term. Like climate change. Unless you have been living under a rock, and one that miraculously hasn’t been uprooted by a major hurricane, or bulldozed by those brave men and women fighting the extraordinary fires of late, it seems almost impossible to deny that our climate is, in fact, changing, leaving paths of death and destruction in it’s wake. And guns. I suppose not guns in and of themselves. But guns without controls. Guns that end up in the hands of people who, perhaps due to mental illness or, in my less benevolent moments, are quite simply horrible, decide to use them to take away hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Lately that’s happened a lot. Honestly, it seems not a week goes by without some natural or unnatural disaster taking place and so it’s hard. Hard to be shallow in this world of ours.

Here’s the thing. I’m sure you understand by now that even though I am a self professed shallow person, I have feelings. Just like you. Well almost. So all this stuff bothers me too. Afterall, I am not a robot. Google knows that ‘cause I always check off the “I am not a robot” CAPTCHA on their sites. Which is a good thing since, to be brutally honest, I don’t really like robots very much. As a matter of fact, I find them pretty creepy. And if I must say so myself, I’m in pretty good company with the likes of Elon Musk, and my personal fav, Dr. Sherry Turkle, weighing in on what our collective future could hold with a bunch of tin men and women walking by our sides. Ok, they might not be made of tin but, make no mistake about it, they will be walking by our sides.  

I’m guessing that for some of you this revelation may come as a bit of a surprise. Because you might expect that if anyone was going to embrace the prospect of having a companion who, for all intents and purposes, looks and feels like you and me but remains unencumbered by the complexities of the human condition, it would be me. After all, we’re talking about a facsimile that will pretty much do your bidding without batting an eyelash, which, by the way, they will have. No questions asked. No drama. No feelings to hurt. Actually, no feelings what so ever. They’ll laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. Out of bananas? They’ll get those for you without all the whining that would normally accompany such a request to the “real” people who reside in your home. With a robot by your side you could start to think that life had become that proverbial bowl of cherries. And I’m pretty sure they’ll pit those for you too. So what’s my beef? Why would the shallow gal feel so apprehensive about what is clearly touted as the next best thing since sliced bread? Well, here’s why.

Call me crazy but somehow I don’t cherish the prospect of sharing my life with an animate, inanimate object. Especially one that has a brain programmed to learn way more than my brain ever will. I’m an adult educator. I know all about lifelong learning. But this brings that concept to a whole new level. We’re not talking just about intelligence. We’re talking about artificial intelligence. This is not computer assisted learning. This is computers actually learning. Computers that are walking around your homes, businesses, playgrounds. Yep, there too. Computers that are getting smarter and smarter every day. Certainly smarter than you and me but also smarter than the smartest people we have among us. And they’re going to look a lot like us, although they are never going to get blemishes or wrinkles or big brown spots on their faces and hands. Elon Musk is worried that robots will take away our jobs. Rightly so. They can already teach themselves how to walk and talk and very soon they will be able to do what you and I do, only much better. Sherry Turkle worries that we have become so accustomed to interacting with devices that soon we won’t know what’s real and what’s not. Nor will we care. It’s a worry for sure. But I’m worried about a couple of other things.

Like guns. Guns and robots. We all know that guns are a problem. Guns in the hands of the wrong people are a bigger problem. Guns in the hands of robots? A problem perhaps too big to imagine. Here’s a scenario for you. A robot walks into a gun shop. Asks to buy a gun. Of course they do a background check. Not a problem. Robots don’t have backgrounds. It gets the gun. Now it tells its robot friends how easy it was. They all decide this is a really good idea and do the same. Remember.  There are hundreds and hundreds of robots who are smarter than us and have no real feelings. But now they have guns. Maybe they decide they don’t like people who are not as smart as they are. Or maybe they decide they just want to have some fun. You know. Like in the movies or the video games. I don’t know about you but this seems like a big problem and a pretty good reason to not like robots very much.

But that’s not the only reason I don’t like robots. It seems to me that if anyone or anything could be more shallow than me, it would  be a robot. A really smart robot. With no feelings. Smarter and shallower than me. I’m guessing that robot would never be stumped for ideas about what to write. No matter what’s going on in this world of ours. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to give this some more thought. Under the circumstances, getting a robot to write this blog might not be such a bad idea. 

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I’m Sorry

I didn’t start out writing this blog post. I started writing a blog about robots. A shallow blog. And then the world blew up. Again. A dear friend of mine posted a passionate, well-written, well-reasoned response to the grievous events in Charlottesville, and she said this. She encouraged all of her friends to think about ways they too could speak out about what happened and what continues to happen in the United States of America. To no longer remain silent. To stand up and be counted. This is my way.

I am pretty much your quintessential Canadian. I was born in Canada and other than a short stint in the very southern U.S of A, have lived all of my life in this great country of ours. I listen to Gordon Lightfoot, love 5 pin bowling and always pour pure maple syrup on my pancakes. I’m not sure why I am even telling you this as it doesn’t seem to be much of a secret. According to my American friends I sport a Canadian accent which apparently becomes most evident when I use words like “out” and “about”. I also say “pop” not “soda”, assume that everyone knows I want a hot drink when I order “tea”, and always ask for directions to the “washroom” not the “bathroom”.  I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that sometime during a conversation I will inadvertently end a sentence with “eh”, which you would think, would be the most telling of all. But if there needs to be icing on this cake, like most good Canadians, I share with my compatriots a propensity to quite unapologetically say “I’m sorry” for, well just about everything. And that’s exactly what I am about to do now. Because unfortunately, right now in this world of ours, there is plenty to be sorry about.

First and foremost I would like to say I’m sorry to all of my American friends who find themselves in the midst of the turmoil through no fault of their own. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to wake up each and every morning and realize that the man in charge is actually the man in charge. A man who has hijacked their country and taken it on such a turbulent flight that no one knows where and if it will safely land. It’s not a dream, or rather a nightmare. It’s really, really happening. Of course we all know that things have never been perfect. Not here, not anywhere. When it comes to governments, even on this side of the planet, there’s always something to beef about. You know what I mean. There are roads that need to be fixed, money wrongly squandered, past injustices to be apologized for.  But I can’t for the life of me recall the last time that one of the “leaders of the free world” came out in blatant support of a group of white supremacists and Neo Nazis. Not even the “fine” ones.

I’m sorry too for all of the people who lived through the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the white supremacists in the not too distant past. The horrific images etched into their memories, never faded.  The survivors of the holocaust. The men and women who fought in wars to keep our countries free. Those who put their fear aside and marched in the streets of Alabama, and many more streets, in the ’60s. I may be shallow but I’m no fool. I know our problems were never solved. I know that there is still plenty of hatred and bigotry in this world of ours. But for a while there at least, it was frowned upon to walk down the street chanting Nazi slogans and proudly displaying swastika laden clothing. Just ask Prince Harry about that. It hurts me to think that the people who fought so hard for our rights, who implore us to “never forget” must again witness this unadulterated hatred in our streets.

And now let me apologize for myself. I’m sorry for all of the times I stood silent, walked away knowing that something someone had said or done was antisemitic, racist, sexist or egregious in some other way. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t always walk away. There were times that I stood my ground. Let others know what I thought. Fought the good fight. But there were also times when I told myself that battles had to be chosen. When I was too tired to take a stand. Not ready for the confrontations. I had been there, done that. Didn’t want to do it again. Looking back I know better. I just should have done something, said something. As should we all. But now I watch as the daughter and son-in-law of the man in charge have apparently decided to pick their battles too. If I can be so bold, I’d like to say something to them. Here’s some unsolicited advice from one Mother, who at times stood silent, to another.

You are two powerful people. You have a platform, a voice. You have his ear. We counted on you to be his voice of reason. To do the right thing. So where are you now? Ok. I get it. He’s your Father. You work for him. That aside, there are many reasons for you to speak out now, but here’s just one. You made a choice to bring Jewish children into this world. They are your legacy. There is nothing, not anything, that is more important to you than your children. It’s your responsibility to protect them. To speak up, if not on your own, on their behalf. Because if you don’t, one day you’re going to look back and realize that you too, have plenty to be sorry about.  

So there you have it. I’m sorry that this is not really a shallow blog. But I’m not sorry that I wrote it.

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We’ll See.

All I can say is it’s been 2 weeks and I’m not sure this is for me. Maybe it’s because I’m shallow or perhaps because I’m not shallow enough. That rather frightening thought has occurred to me over this past little while. And I say “little” with my tongue in cheek as the last 14 days have been one of the longest years of my life. Let’s get a couple of things out of the way from the start. First, I’m not implying that all of you happy retired people are shallow, although it’s possible some of you might be and there’s really nothing wrong with that if you are. Second, I’ve always  known that the hardest part of retirement isn’t about the money. It’s about figuring out what you want to do with these golden years of your life. And before everyone starts dishing out advice, yes, I did the research. Read the books. Well skimmed a few. Talked to all of my happily retired friends. Found out what they like, what they don’t like, what they do and what they don’t do. I’ve paid attention as they post one seemingly joyous status update to Facebook after another. Good God! I’ve even lived with a retired person for the past 8 years so no one can say I haven’t done my due diligence. And yet, here I sit, wondering why many people seem to spend their entire working life looking forward to the day they don’t have to work anymore.

I’ve never been one for routines. My cat has routines. My husband has routines. I just don’t. I don’t get up at the same time everyday. I don’t even have an alarm clock. Sometimes I eat breakfast, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I get dressed when I get up, most often I don’t. When I worked, I did my work when my work needed to be done. And it’s been this way for quite a while now.

I suppose if I think back to when I was younger, it probably wasn’t the case. In those days I wasn’t seasoned enough to go about my business any which way. Younger people (at least in my day) had the disadvantage of youth. Not enough experience (or guts) to tell the old guys how things should be done. So in we came five days a week, starting at 9, working to 5 whether or not there was work to be done. If nothing else, it gave the day some structure. You knew what time you had to be up, what time you would be home again. You got hungry around 7:00 because that’s how long it took you to make dinner. You did something in the evening but not too much since that alarm of yours was going to go off bright and early the next morning. Much time was spent thinking about what you were going to do on the week-end because back then, there was a difference between weekdays and weekends.

Here’s the good thing about getting older. Some time ago I finally figured out that they needed me just an eensy bit more than I needed them. I can’t say exactly when that happened or when it will happen for you. When it does you’ll just know. You’ll start to come to work a little late and no one will say anything, even though they most certainly will notice. You’ll leave early and they won’t ask you where you’re going because they assume you have something important to do. Eventually you won’t even have to pretend you are on your way to a meeting. Before you know it you’ll add your afternoon hair appointment to your calendar, even though everyone you work with can see it. It’s then you realize you’re captain of your ship, master of your universe. You’re doing things when you want to do them. You broke the mold. Hit the jackpot. Finally, no more routines for you.

And here’s the irony of it all. It seems to me (and you can correct me if I’m wrong) that the people who are most successful at this retirement thing are those who have managed to adopt a routine for themselves. They’re the ones who get up each morning knowing pretty much how the day is going to play out. Maybe they run. Or eat a hearty breakfast. Or find some friends and go for a long morning walk. Perhaps they read the paper. I’m thinking they must make lists because it seems that whatever it is they do, they know what they are going to do next. Things fall into place. At least that’s what they tell me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying they do the same thing each and every day.  After all, there’s not a concert in the park every day. Just every Wednesday. And on Wednesday you can bet your bottom dollar that’s where they’ll be.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I haven’t quite come to grips with my new found status in life and I’m finding this all a bit confusing.   After years of working my way out of a life of day to day routine it appears that my best bet is to go out there and find one.  I’m struggling just a little bit. Maybe I’ll write my way through this. I’ve been thinking about turning those “Prickly Pete” bedtime stories I used to tell my kids, into a series. I’ve also been thinking about writing a “Shallow Guide to Retirement”, although seems to me that might be a tad premature. I don’t know.  I’m not ready to make any commitments. For now I’m reminded of when I used to ask my Mother if something was going to happen for sure. Most often she would reply with a rather definitive “We’ll see”.  Maybe two weeks just isn’t enough time. I suppose we’ll see.

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The Cat’s Not Dead, Yet

To work or not to work. It may not be “the” question but it is a question nonetheless. And it’s one I’ve been pondering for some time now. As many of you know, I retired (apparently fake news) going on two and a half years ago. It’s true. I got the gifts and the accolades from my colleagues, which included a very public declaration of my aversion to hugging. Timely I’d say on that particularly day. I even gave a “poem speech” as I am apt to do on these type of occasions. So you would think I would have packed my bags, bid a fond adieu and rode off into the sunset. You would think. But, again as many of you know, I took a day off (actually two) and headed back to my desk, albeit in a rather distant location,where I have remained ever since. Because apparently it’s what I love to do. Work. But “the time has come to talk of other things, like shoes and ships and sealing wax” (Thanks LC). Well maybe not that. Ok, shoes. But at the very least one must talk about what to do when stepping away from the almost too familiar daily grind.

As I am wont to do at these times of indecision, I called a good ol’ friend and headed to my neighborhood watering hole (ok, you know where I went) to shoot the breeze and have someone else figure this out for me. It’s the least they can do, don’t you think? I mean I’ve pretty much worked out my life for myself to this point. I think it’s about time that someone else stepped up to the plate and took a swing at the bat. Why let fate take its course when you can plant the blame firmly on someone else? Sure. It might cost you a cuppa coffee or two but if that’s what it takes to absolve yourself of all future responsibility for the decisions you make, it’s money well spent in my book. Just think of it as an investment in your future. And so, there we sat under the blazing sun in the eternally blue skies of Alberta, talking about all things retirement.

The thing I love about retired people is how they manage to put a positive spin on just about anything. Talk to them about money. Let’s face it. More than likely, when you retire you will be living on a few less shekels than what you’ve become accustomed. I know. There are the pensions the government gives out in order to leave enough cat food on the shelves for the cats. And then there’s the dollars you have been saving for nigh on 40 years that you can now start to pry out of that wallet of yours. Nonetheless, you are still likely to come up a little bit short. But ask a retired person about living on less and, dimes to dollars, they’re going to tell you that they don’t even notice the difference. First they’ll rattle on about all of the seniors discounts that are now at your disposal. So what if you can only go to the grocery store on the first Tuesday of every month and the lines will literally be out the door? You’re retired! What else did you have to do? Then there’s those early bird specials at the local diner which are perfect, now that you will want to be home for the 6:00 news anyway. Of course clothes are no longer an issue since you can pretty much wear the same jeans and T for most everything. Afterall, who’s looking at you? And if you decide you need a new frock, just head down to the nearest Bay store, on a Tuesday of course.. At the end of this diatribe you’re absolutely convinced that, not only will you be able to avail yourself of all of the necessities of life, but should Bill Gates come knocking at your door you’ll welcome him with open arms and let him know you’ve managed to reserve a suite for he and his family at the Four Season’s. Gratis.

As important as money might be however, that’s not what you’re really worried about. You really want to know more about what’s going to get you out of bed each day. How are you going to pass all of that time now that you don’t have a whack of emails to go through, people to see, places to go. And here again they’ll pontificate on the wonder that is retirement. Somehow, and apparently this happens each and every day, you get up in the morning and before you know it, the day is done. They`re not even sure where the time goes but somehow between reading the morning paper and watching Peter Mansbridge  end the day with the nightly news (it`s a Canadian thing), time just flies by. Asking for more specifics reaps some rather vague chatter about taking walks, meeting friends for coffee, getting through the stack of books that’s managed to accumulate over dozens of years, the gratifying feeling that one gets from volunteering once a week and that continuing education photography course they should have, would have taken years ago if only they had found the time. This will all end with the now very much overused and perhaps even, somewhat trite “I don’t know how I ever had time to work” followed by what can only be described as a long sigh of gratitude that those days of tedium are over and done with.

Of course, the conversation can’t come to an end without some talk about travel. It seems to me that for most, this is really what retirement is all about. Once you’ve wrapped up the daily 9 – 5 you are apparently now free to travel the world. There are places to go, people to see.  And so it was that I sat and listened to my friend wax eloquently about the exotic destinations he’s visited, the wonderful food and wine he consumed, and the beaches he has relaxed on, with nothing better to do than sip Margaritas and watch the evening sun slip through the sky. Who could ask for anything more? So I was not surprised that when he stopped to take a well deserved breath, he noticed the look of dismay on my face. The conversation that followed went something like this:

My Friend: “What?” he said. “Have I not convinced you that this will be the best time of your life?”
Me: “Don’t get me wrong. This all sounds great.
My Friend: “What is it then? What’s the problem?”
Me: As enticing as the walking and the discounts, the coffee and Peter might be, I’m really most interested in the travelling. But, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to do that.”
My Friend: Why not? You’re still young! You have the time, the money and the energy. What’s going to stop you now?”
Me. “Well, it’s none of those things. It’s just that the cat’s not dead yet.”

I don’t know. Maybe I better just keep working.

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I Need a Plan

I’ve never been much of a planner. I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you that. After all, you’ve been reading about the life of a shallow person for many, many years now and, as such, I’m pretty sure you have some idea of how this little brain of mine works. What you may find a tad ironic is that I spent a good deal of my working life as a career planning counselor helping others figure out what they wanted to do when they grew up. But I suppose it’s not that unusual. You can liken it to the carpenter who never has time to build her own deck. Or fix the hole in the wall. Or finish the doghouse she promised to her pooch when she picked him up from his foster home. You get my drift. There are things you can do well for others that you never do for yourself. And for me, planning my life was one of those things.

It’s not that I don’t plan anything. Oh contraire! There are a plethora of things that I plan for. Like vacations. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m really good at planning vacations. There’s never anything spontaneous when I hit the road. By the time I’m done with that planning  I’ll know exactly where I’ll rest my head each and every night. Not only that. I’ll be able to tell you my estimated time of arrival, give or take a minute or two depending on traffic and road conditions along the way. I’ll have gotten the best possible price on the best possible hotel in the vicinity and likely know where I’ll be satiating my hunger that evening. The last thing I want is to end up sleeping in my car on the side of the Trans Canada highway somewhere between Princeton and Vancouver, in the pouring rain, because there are no vacancies due to an obscure peach (or other kind of fruit) festival being held, of all the silly times, on a long week-end in August. I mean who wants that to happen…again. So I plan my vacations.

To tell you the truth, I’m not too shabby on the financial front either. Not that it has made me rich beyond my wildest dreams. But I’m doing all right. Sure I’ve made some mistakes but nothing that has proved to be catastrophic. As it is, I have a lovely roof over my head, food on the table, jeans in my closet and enough left over at the end of the month to take one of those well planned road trips. All of which I am truly grateful for.  And while there may have been some luck involved, for the most part, it was planning that made it happen. Which probably leaves you wondering, why all the fuss and bother about not being a planner? Because on the surface it would appear that everything is hunky-dory. The important stuff has been worked out and as to the rest, well maybe I should just let the chips fall where they may. Of course, you’d be right. Except for one thing. You see, in the very next little while I will be retiring from my current job. And if I have to be honest with you (as I always am) that’s something I really haven’t planned for.

Don’t get me wrong. Like most, I’m looking forward to this new stage of my life. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed working. The truth is, I’ve always loved my jobs and the people I’ve had the privilege to work with. At least most of them. Which could be the reason I face this next adventure (as some would have me call it) with more than a little trepidation. You see, I’ve been racking my brain as to what I am going to do with all of the excess time I will find myself in the midst of. Yes, I know. Friends of mine who are retired tell me they are busier now than they ever were when they were working. Over and over I hear them exclaim “I don’t know how I ever had time for my job!” I can tell you how. They paid you to be there, so you were there.

The truth is, I have had no shortage of suggestions made to me. There’s volunteer work to be done (isn’t that just a job you don’t get paid for?), lunches to be had, books to be read, places to go, dishes to be washed. I get it. There’s lots to do when you retire. The question is, exactly what is it that I will do? I suppose I could say I will spend more time meeting my friends at  the local Starbucks but that just doesn’t seem to cut it. Not that I don’t want to see my friends, or spend my excess cash drinking fancy coffees. The thing about going for coffee is that it only works when you are taking a break from “something”, not from “nothing”. Some people have suggested that my new found freedom will provide me with much more time to spend writing this blog. I’m guessing they are mostly people who don’t read it.

So there you have it. Even for a shallow gal, the prospect of an uncertain future seems somewhat daunting. Sure. Over the next little while I figure something will come up that I can latch on to. I’ll take a class or two and see what happens. Do some sightseeing around this Island of ours. Reconnect with friends I haven’t seen for a while. But in the meantime, if anyone happens to know the name of a good career planning counselor, this would be a great time to pass that on to me.

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