Year-end thoughts and such
Various friends and family write annual holiday letters, and it’s a neat way to share the year that is about to pass. However, I cannot get my act together even to send out cards, so these meanderings will have to do!
As 2018 comes to an end, it’s impossible for me not to acknowledge the state of public affairs here in the U.S.
I’ve been an amateur student of history and politics for some four decades, and, at times, a political activist. Nothing in my experience or learning approaches the situation we face today. The core fabric of the country is fraying and tearing apart, and it won’t be repaired easily.
The news cycle coming out of the nation’s capital is set to hyper-speed and is shaped by daily tweets and bombasts coming from the White House. Characteristics such as reason, kindness, and understanding are increasingly foreign to the current political culture. It’s all about react, respond, and lash out. It is exhausting and dispiriting simply to be a relative spectator. This is a deeply unsettling time, and it casts a pall over our daily lives.
And what of the year’s end on a personal level? Does hanging a new calendar on the kitchen wall also call for looks back and ahead?
Writer and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau has used this time to do an annual review. Here’s the lede from his piece about that personal assessment and planning process:
Every year since 2005, I’ve spent the better part of a week in late December planning my life for the next year. Overall, this is probably the best decision I’ve made in terms of working towards multiple goals simultaneously.
The idea is to create a road map for the year ahead—not a rigid daily schedule, but an overall outline of what matters to me and what I hope to achieve in the next year. I complete this process in bits and pieces over several days, partly because of my ADD brain but also because it helps to think about it slowly. Some of you who have the ability to concentrate on one thing for hours at a time may prefer to do it all at once.
In this essay I’ll take you step-by-step through what I do every December to help plan the next year. . . .
Guillebeau’s annual review process is quite the undertaking, and it’s a bit beyond my inclinations or self-discipline. However, inspired by his example, I will engage in some reflective thinking and planning during the days to come. It may not yield any major revelations or changes, but I’d like to head into 2019 with a good and healthy focus.
Indeed, when I wasn’t distracted by the news, I had the proverbial full plate this year, and I feel like I am sort of dragging myself to the end of it. I’d like to use some welcomed down time during the coming week to take stock.
Maybe you’d like to do the same. If so, I hope it is time well spent.
Among the reasons why I revived this blog is to take closer and more serious looks at the role of Generation Jones (b. 1954-65) in shaping American society during the years to come. We are now squarely into our 50s and 60s. I think this is prime time to consider what Chris Guillebeau has called our “legacy work,” i.e., the lasting, signature contributions that we make to the world.
Of course, a lot of folks have already done some wonderful legacy work, even if they haven’t labeled it as such. It may have been a meaningful career accomplishment. Perhaps it was being a parent or caregiver. Maybe it was a form of community service or a creative endeavor shared with the world.
In any event, I’d like to think that many of us who have entered life’s second half still have plenty of gas in the tank to do remarkable things that contribute to our communities and make a positive difference in the lives of others. We can do so with the benefits of hindsight, experience, and wisdom.
It’s something to ponder as we approach the New Year.
A blog revival
I’m happy to report that I’m reviving this little blog after a 15-month “visit” elsewhere. In 2017, I decided to try the TinyLetter platform for my personal blogging, but I missed writing a blog with a more defined theme. I also missed the editing options and flexibility provided by WordPress.
The original hook for this blog played on the concept of Generation Jones, the term often used to describe that cohort of people born from 1954 through 1965 who fall between classic Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. In contrast to my professional blog, Minding the Workplace, which often delves into some pretty heavy themes about workplace issues, I wanted Musings of a Gen Joneser to strike a lighter chord. And so, for roughly four years, I used this blog to share personal nostalgia, bits of trivia, and popular culture.
I’m going to retain that emphasis with this revived edition, and I’ll be adding more serious commentary about lifespan issues and adult learning — especially as relevant to members of Generation Jones. I continue to believe that, on balance, our age cohort has experienced and viewed life in ways that are different from our Boomers and Gen Xers friends.
In addition, I may also repost a few writings from my TinyLetter entries, as I think several are worth re-sharing.
I hope you’ll enjoy the return of Musings of a Gen Joneser. Thank you for reading.
Ear worms for Gen Jonesers
Ear worms are those tunes we just can’t get out of our heads. Especially for members of Generation Jones (born 1954 through 1965), I’m guessing that the early 70s produced a lot of ear worm tunes. To test that theory, and our memories, I’ve put together 25 first lines of pop songs (all different artists) from that era. Let’s see how many you can get right:
- “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”
- “What if birds suddenly appear…”
- “Who can take a sunrise…”
- “Goodbye to you, my trusted friend…”
- “I was born in the wagon of a traveling show…”
- “He was born in the summer of his 27th year…”
- “Hey girl, what ya doin’ down there…”
- “You and I must make a pact…”
- “Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time…”
- “There’s a port, on a western bay…”
- “I’m sleeping, and right in the middle of good dream…”
- “We’ll be fighting in the streets…”
- “She packed my bags last night, pre-flight…”
- “Waiting for the break of day…”
- “There’s a spark of magic in your eyes…”
- “The marchin’ band came down along Main Street…”
- “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying…”
- “We can never know about the days to come…”
- “I can tell you’ve been hurt, by that look on your face girl…”
- “Well the South Side of Chicago…”
- “Daddy was a cop, on the east side of Chicago…”
- “She ain’t got no money…”
- “Day after day I’m more confused…”
- “Our love is like a ship on the ocean…”
- “I road my bicycle past your window last night”
Okay, have all your answers ready? Check out the answer key below, right under the album pic! If you got 15 or more right, then consider yourself a member or honorary member of Generation Jones!
Answers: 1. Joy to the World, Three Dog Night; 2. Close to You, Carpenters; 3. The Candy Man, Sammy Davis, Jr.; 4. Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks; 5. Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, Cher; 6.Rocky Mountain High, John Denver; 7. Knock Three Times, Tony Orlando and the Dawn; 8. I’ll Be There, Michael Jackson; 9. It’s Too Late, Carole King; 10. Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl), Looking Glass; 11. I Think I Love You, The Partridge Family; 12. Won’t Get Fooled Again, The Who; 13. Rocket Man, Elton John; 14. 25 or 6 to 4, Chicago; 15. Betcha By Golly Wow, The Stylistics; 16. Billy Don’t Be a Hero, Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods; 17. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye; 18. Anticipation, Carly Simon; 19. One Bad Apple, The Osmond Brothers; 20. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce; 21. The Night Chicago Died, Paper Lace; 22. Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes), Edison Lighthouse; 23. Drift Away, Dobie Gray; 24. Rock the Boat, Hues Corporation; Brand New Key, Melanie.
International travel before globalization
My visits with long-time friends Sharon and Don Driscoll inevitably include good conversations, and some of them revolve around our shared status as members of Generation Jones. During their recent trip to Boston, Sharon observed that Gen Jonesers were the last generational cohort to discover international travel before the current mega-era of globalization, and it struck me as a very apt point.
Generally speaking, those among our age group who have traveled abroad started doing so in the 1980s through early 1990s. Starting around the end of that stretch, the globalization of goods and cultural tastes significantly impacted the look and feel of major cities, soon to be fueled by the ubiquitous presence of the Internet.
I didn’t have this blog post in mind when I snapped the photo above over the summer, but it sure fits the bill. In July I was in Vienna, Austria, for a conference on law and mental health. While the city has retained much of its Old World ambience, a quick turn of a corner might reveal (drum roll) a Starbucks and a T Mobile store.
Given my usual international travel destinations, these changes are most apparent to me in Europe, where many American retailers and fast food vendors have staked their claims. For those of us with adventurous spirits that stretch only so far, it can be reassuring to find a known quality in an unfamiliar place.
But such discoveries are good only on occasion if we are to reap the benefits of travel. All things being equal, when traveling abroad, or even to a different part of one’s own country, ’tis better to try out new places unique to those locales than to be searching around for the same brand of mocha latte.
During my 1981 collegiate semester abroad in England, we weren’t surrounded by American fast food outlets and retail stores. Oh, I confess that I was thrilled to discover a McDonald’s during a brief visit to Paris, but the real benefits of those five months involved exposure to new places, ideas, and cultures, mixed in with the maturing experience of being much more on our own as we traipsed around the U.K. and the European Continent.
Return trips to England in the early 1990s brought more of the same. While I definitely noticed the presence of more American franchises in London, they didn’t dominate the city storefronts. (Yeah, I was kinda happy to see Pizza Hut there…)
Today, the great European cities I’ve visited in recent years — London, Cardiff, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Vienna — still retain much of their historic flavor, but a more homogeneous and familiar array of shops and retailers is definitely present in each of them.
I know that Burger King, KFC, and smartphone vendors are unlikely to disappear from the global cityscapes. If anything, we’re likely to see more of them. But it’s worth noting that these developments have changed the experience of international travel to make it feel less, well, international.
Gen Jonesers: Sally Draper is us
In a fun piece for the Boston Globe (registration may be necessary), TV critic Ty Burr ranks all of the major characters in AMC’s brilliant drama, Mad Men, which finishes its seven season run this Sunday.
Of course, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) ranks high on this list, as do Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks). Also, for what it’s worth, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), “the grinning office rat,” ranks at the bottom of Burr’s list.
But finishing at the top is Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka), the daughter of Don and Betty Draper Francis, who grows into a wise, observant young woman while trying to cope with her very messed up parents. When Mad Men premiered in 2007, I doubt that many (if any) viewers imagined that Sally would become such a key character in the show. But thanks to compelling story lines and the emergence of Kiernan Shipka as a gifted young actress, Sally’s scenes are significant. Burr explains why he ranks Sally at the top:
Well, this one’s easy, especially if you’re the right age. Sally is us. . . . [H]er progress through seven seasons of TV and a decade of American cultural drama has coincided with her coming to adulthood.
Sally is us. Yup, during the first season of the show, set in 1960, Sally celebrates her sixth birthday. She’s right at the older end of Generation Jones (born between 1954 and 1965). Although by 1970, the year captured in the final season, she has clearly been influenced by the 1960s counterculture, she’s a tad too young to be a classic Boomer.
Of all the Mad Men characters, it would be most interesting to see where Sally is, circa 2015, and what the past 45 years have been like for her. She’d be in her early 60s now. What kind of life has she forged? Did she manage to overcome the dysfunctional adult, umm, role models that were part of her childhood? I don’t know if Sally at Sixty would make for much of a sequel, but I’d be curious enough to tune in for it.
Stories of personal reinvention
The Huffington Post just ran a terrific five-day series, “50 over 50,” profiling 50 individuals who significantly changed their lives after reaching age 50 and beyond. In partnership with the TODAY Show, they’re looking at how people have reinvented themselves later in their lives, often after experiencing major challenges. Here’s a piece of Shelley Emling’s introduction to the feature:
We recently asked readers to submit nominations of people who’ve reinvented themselves for the better after age 50 as part of an initiative launched with the TODAY show called “50 Over 50.” We were overwhelmed with submissions. We heard stories of people who’d changed their lives after losing a partner, getting divorced, or suffering financial hardship or a health concern. We heard from many people who nominated themselves — something they said they never would have done before turning 50.
Here are links to the five main stories posted this week:
The Risk Takers — 10 people who took risks after 50
Career Reinvention — 10 people who reinvented their careers after 50
Following Your Passion — 10 people who followed their passions after 50
Health and Wellness — 10 people who pursued health and wellness after 50
Giving Back — 10 people who gave back to their communities after 50
Whatever your age, you’ll find inspirational stuff here. Especially for those over 50, this may speak directly to you. But even if you’re under 50, perhaps by many years, you may find this valuable, or at least worth tucking away until later.
This is drawn from a slightly longer version posted to my professional blog, Minding the Workplace.
Space Food Sticks, Jiffy Pop, and more: Gen Jones convenience food and snacks
If you’re a classic Gen Joneser, certain kinds of convenience food and snacks were part of your upbringing. Yes, the late 60s and 70s were a Golden Age for the emerging processed food and snack industry. Take a look at this list and add your own if you’re inclined!
1. SPACE FOOD STICKS — Processed, artificially flavored sticks of whatever…chocolate, vanilla, and so on…like a grainy Tootsie roll without the chewiness.
2. JIFFY POP — Popcorn packed in a foil container, put it on the stove and wait for the kernels to start popping and the foil to bloom. Puncture the foil and enjoy.
3. TAB — Addictive diet soda made with cyclamates, an artificial sweetener later yanked off the market for health reasons.
4. CHEF BOYARDEE CANNED “PASTA” — Spaghetti & meatballs, “lasagna,” Beefaroni, and other authentic Italian specialties, just like they prepare ’em in Boston’s North End. NOT. If you didn’t like Chinese food but enjoyed ingesting MSG, these products would meet your needs. Still on the market.
5. PRINGLES — They were such a novelty when they first came out. Imagine, a perfectly stackable alternative to the traditional potato chip! We were more easily impressed back in the day. I still think they’re pretty lousy tasting.
6. BUITONI’S INSTANT PIZZA — Self-enclosed “pizzas” that you’d pop in the toaster until hot. The instructions were silent on how to clean your toaster when the product broke or started leaking.
7. HOSTESS TWINKIES, CUPCAKES, ETC. — Rumor has it that the crème filling is not organic.
8. SARA LEE FROZEN CHOCOLATE CAKE AND POUND CAKE — For those moving beyond Hostess. Remember how they came in tins? But once defrosted, oh my, they were delicious. The chocolate cake, with the rich creamy frosting, remains among the best I’ve ever had.
9. KOOL AID — Believe it or not, back then it was a special treat. Nothing like drinking 73 parts sugar + 1 part artificial flavoring.
10. JOHN’S FROZEN PIZZA — More on the pizza theme. Even though things cost a lot less back then, we still should’ve realized that a 12 inch pizza for around 79 cents wasn’t exactly the real deal.
11. BUGLES — Salty, crunchy corn snacks shaped like, natch, bugles.
Super nutritious, too.
12. SWANSON’S AND BANQUET TV DINNERS — With foil trays and little compartments for each food item. I didn’t like it when the gravy would spill into the fruit compote. Descendants of those who invested in companies that made food preservatives are grateful and probably living off the interest.
Gen Jonesers: Are you more Boomer or Gen Xer?
Generation Jones is a “generation within generations,” made up of folks born between 1954 and 1965, i.e., late Boomers and early Gen Xers. A main premise behind the Gen Jones concept is that those of us who fall within those birth years, on the whole, had a very different set of framing events and experiences during our formative years than those of the more well-defined generations that sandwich us.
Writing for the excellent Next Avenue site, Liza Kaufman Hogan discussed the differences between Boomers and Gen Xers. Many readers here will find her contemplations of interest, but what really caught my attention was her 11-question quiz, “Gen X or Boomer? Which Are You?” (go to her article, scroll down for quiz). Your responses will give you a score that places you somewhere on the Gen X/Boomer spectrum.
I scored a 37. This puts me in the middle, a classic Gen Joneser!
Even this fun little diversion gets me thinking how, from a pop culture standpoint alone, the music we listened to, the television shows we watched, and stories on the nightly news coverage we followed in the 1970s were quite a contrast from those of the preceding and following decades.
Vive la différence, right? Take the quiz and find out where you stand!
“I want it all” (Grown up edition)
In the course of a life, can we really have it all?
The YouTube video above — featuring a song from the 1980s Broadway show “Baby” — captures our wishful thinking, especially when we’re younger. In this scene, three women of different ages and life circumstances — but all on the south side of 40 — meet by chance in a doctor’s office. In a sweet and clever number performed by Liz Calloway, Catherine Cox, and Beth Fowler at the 1984 Tony Awards, they share how they want it all.
Way back in 1985, Norman Redlich, the dean of NYU Law School, referenced those Broadway lyrics in his remarks at our graduation convocation. His message: It sounds great, but most of us can’t have it all. There are choices to make and realities to navigate in a life that moves all too quickly.
So there we were, sitting among family and friends in beautiful Carnegie Hall, feeling a bit heady about ourselves, while thinking that the world was ours to conquer — and here’s our dean throwing cold water on us and suggesting that it’s probably not going to happen in the way we’re imagining it.
Among the sea of forgettable graduation speeches that I’ve heard over the years, I guess it means something that I remember this one.
Instead…how about a meaningful life?
Rather than chasing such an elusive goal, let’s focus on what makes for a good and meaningful life, while respecting the fact that we’re not able to control everything.
For some, that meaningful life may be grounded in raising a family, caring for a loved one, or pursuing an avocation. For others, it may mean devotion to a career or a cause, or perhaps creating something artistic or delicious. And still others may find meaning in overcoming significant personal or family challenges.
A lucky few may achieve a zen-like blend that allows them to check all the boxes. But for most of us, it will involve some juggling, choosing, compromising, and hopefully succeeding more than failing.
And if we are fortunate and play our cards well, we will get to do a lot of good things during the time we’re here.
Sorting through clutter
For some, sorting and tossing clutter — objects, emotions, experiences, what have you — may be a key to that meaningful life, especially when we reach a certain age. (Fill in number here.)
Okay, I’m the last person in the world who should be talking about reducing clutter. I’ve been a saver and collector all my life. (I’m a classic Cancerian in that sense.)
But that’s what I’m doing now, tossing a lot of stuff. You wouldn’t know it from the current look of my office or condo, but believe me, this year I’ve been offloading!
And you know something, it feels good. I have a pretty clear sense of what brings meaning to my life, and I am jettisoning or recycling the stuff that doesn’t connect with who I am and where I want to go.
These thoughts are especially pertinent to many Gen Jonesers. As I’ve written before, for our generation, it’s game time. As a group, we’ve still got a lot of fuel left in the tank, but we need to be open to how we can create really great years ahead and define our personal legacies.
This is a considerably reworked and augmented version of a 2011 post from my professional blog Minding the Workplace.
Music and memories
Music and memories. We hear an old pop tune on the radio or MP3 player and it quickly summons memories — good, bad, in-between — about a chapter of our life we associate with that music. Are there any stronger connections between popular culture and our life experiences?
The Andrews Sisters or Glenn Miller and The Greatest Generation. The Beatles or Motown and classic Baby Boomers. Music can be an instant on switch to a personal nostalgia channel.
Gen Jonesers and pop music
For many Generation Jonesers, Billy Joel provides a body of memory-making music. The songs contained in volumes I and II of his Greatest Hits album were especially popular during my college and law school years (late 70s through mid 80s). When I listen to them in the rough order of their release as singles, I’m treated to a year-by-year “mind’s eye” trip down memory lane.
Among the 25 songs in the album, my favorites are “Piano Man,” “New York State of Mind,” “You May Be Right,” “Allentown,” “Tell Her About It,” “Uptown Girl,” and “The Longest Time.”
But they’re not on the list because they’re necessarily the best songs, objectively speaking. No, I include them mainly because I associate memories with each. Overall, they capture a meaningful time in my life when I was finishing college in Indiana and moving to New York for law school. In fact, it’s hard for me to listen to the album for its own sake, because the memories connected with those songs are so sharp.
Given my druthers, I prefer the popular music of the first half of the last century to the stuff that followed. Yup, I’m more likely to listen to Frank Sinatra than to The Clash, though I enjoy both. In any event, I know I’m not alone among my peers when I turn on that 80s “oldies” station and fill with memories.
A song and a smile
Associations between music and memories can run deep, into the recesses of minds otherwise harder to reach. About ten years ago, I was part of a group that gave short vocal concerts at senior homes. At one of our little gigs, I sang a classic from the World War II era, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” Here’s a lovely Vera Lynn rendition:
While I sang, a resident of the home grew the sweetest smile on her face. The way her eyes lit up, I could tell that the song resonated with her, that it touched some part of her experience. After our show was over, I thought I’d say hello and went over to her. But my effort to strike up a friendly chat quickly revealed that she was non-responsive to verbal messages, that she had withdrawn back to the place that likely led to her to be living in a senior home.
It was a quick lesson: Music could reach her in a way that ordinary conversation could not. And it could still cause her to smile.