The Key Card:

It Takes a Worried Woman to Sing a Worried Song

“Do you want me to turn this in?” My daughter asked as I handed her my hotel key card. 

“Well sure, why not?” I answered.

“You know they can store all your information on this card, your credit card number, address. . . “

“Really? Don’t they just reprogram them, which means one less tiny piece of plastic in a landfill somewhere.” It was my turn to be the smart one.

“Aren’t you worried?” Carrie asked again.

“No, you can turn it in.” And I started to load the car with our luggage.

***

Really? Was she really all that concerned about what a hotel clerk was doing with the key cards after guests checked out? Were they in the back office downloading information they would use later to access my credit card account and buy a car maybe? But more important should I worry about this?

That was the big question for me. I’m 75. There’s not much room left in the worry portion of my brain. Just to get started, I’m worried about my friends’ health, my health, global warming, and the Trump presidency. Stuff I can do nothing about.

There’s a whole folder, rather several folders in my brain of things to worry about. Should I take Allegra for summer allergies—actually a debilitating headache that accompanies the allergies? It might give me Alzheimer’s. Speaking of Alzheimer’s, what about the fact that when I get up in the morning, my words come out like I have paste in my mouth—slowly. And I might even search for a word. This gets worse when I listen to myself and try to speak at the same time. And while we’re on the subject of health, what about gum erosion and the tense shoulders I get when I sit over the computer for a long time? I do love it when a young person complains about this. Or the good ol’ mucus, much more, it seems, as I’ve aged. Does this mean anything? A cancerous polyp in my throat, maybe? Do throats even get polyps?

Every day I open my email to advice on health. I probably clicked on these sites once, and now they target me. Usually they want to sell me something, and showing me something scary might get me to spend money on a “cure.” Why am I sluggish? What about menopause fat? Is it real or do I just eat too much? Is that fat around my middle indicative of silent diabetes? Is plaque accumulating in my arteries, threatening to break away and give me a stroke that will leave my tongue paralyzed so I can never speak with paste in my mouth again?

And my daughter’s worried about someone stealing my credit card information from my hotel key card. Daughter dear, have I got worries for you! What about that non-grass fed steak my husband keeps buying? I do so want to eat it, but that animal might have prions, which everyone knows will give you Alzheimer’s. Then there’s the question of whether the animal had a good life. I suspect not, but unless I go out and inspect the fields of happily grazing cows, I’ll never know, will I? 

The list of worries about food is probably the longest—well, on any given day health worries will probably Trump food worries—notice I capitalized “Trump” because there’s always that worry. Right now, he could be watching TV, maybe a thriller, and he looks at that button that deploys nuclear weapons and before anyone can stop him, he’s pressed it. Meanwhile Federal lands are being sold to oil producers, but then it won’t matter when whomever Trump bombs will by now have retaliated.

Image result for Worry

Back to that hotel key card. Baby, I’m just holding it together at 75. The world threatens to come back at me every day of my life. I can’t possibly worry about everything I should be worrying about, least of all my key card.  

Maybe I’ll just settle down with a nice cold drink (Yes, I know, soda is bad for me, so it can’t be soda. Maybe iced tea.) and read some escapist fiction, if I can find any, that is.  Or I’ll look out the window at the chickadees, who’ve built a nest in our birdhouse, flying back and forth from the feeder tending hopefully to the next generation. When I take a walk later, I’ll see marigolds lifting their heads to the sun. In spite of a terrible winter and rainy spring, they wisely celebrate our Minnesota summer. And maybe, for a short time, I won’t have anything to worry about.

The preponderance of evidence suggests that key-card data theft is nothing more than an urban legend, but some travelers remain unconvinced.

(And a shout out to my daughter, who claims that throwing away that key card is one less thing to worry about.)

How Did We Get Here?

Karen Martha:  In December 2015, I retired. The next six months I floundered, dazed by lack of structure and purpose to my life. To give myself something to do and a voice, I decided to start a blog, a place to write about retirement as I searched for a way forward. I called it Karen’s Descant determined to get above the noise of my uncertainty. I wrote one post and stopped.

Karen Rose:  While Karen Martha made a precipitous decision to retire, I continued to moan about retirement for several more years.  I promised myself that I would fully retire before I turned 75 because I was terrified that I would turn into “that person” who stayed too long, and who had to be urged to leave.  I wanted to leave while I was still relevant…But, when I negotiated a 3-year phased retirement in 2017, I panicked.…

Karen Martha: About the same time that I retired, another friend, Kyla, retired, although she stayed engaged in her work studying sleep in adolescence and its effects on school performance. Then Karen R. began the process of disengaging gradually from her work as a professor.

Karen Rose:  I looked at both Karen Martha and Kyla, both of whom I have known for 30+ years, and said “Both of you are failing retirement.  You are still doing some of the same work but either not getting paid for it or getting paid less.” 

Karen Martha:  The three of us decided to have periodic lunches together to discuss retirement, calling it at various times, the Retirement Biddies and the Winsome Threesome.

Karen Rose:  Since I file everything on my computer (I have a paper problem), my first electronic folder was “The Retirement Chronicles”.

Karen Martha:  And I called mine “Retirement Exercises.” I’m a big believer in exercise.

For the lunches we read and discussed popular books (often doing exercises which we shared) that might guide us, including Designing Your Life (https://designingyour.life/the-book/); the Not So Big Life (http://www.notsobiglife.com/); It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again (https://juliacameronlive.com/books-by-julia/its-never-too-late-to-begin-again); Repacking Your Bags (https://richardleider.com/books/repacking-your-bags-lighten-your-load-for-the-good-life/) ; and The Creative Age (https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Age-Awakening-Potential-Second/dp/0380800713). These lunches and our responses to these guides, as well as spilling out our troubles, triumphs, dreams and steps on our journeys, in no time became a priority for the three of us.

In our search for books about retirement that we could read together, it was quickly obvious that most (other than those listed above) were variations on two themes—how to handle your money and finding a second career or the euphemism—your passion. But what we most found ourselves discussing was the emotional experience of letting go of work we had loved, leaving behind colleagues of all ages for a more age-constrained group of friends, the importance of new and old relationships in our lives, the negotiations with spouses about how to spend the stretch of time we all hoped was ahead, fun stuff, and things we worried about.

Karen Rose:  At the same time, my anxiety about retirement was soothed during our lunches but did not fully abate.  I began searching the web for thoughtful ideas about retiring better…and reported that the blogs and posts were largely the same as the books.  They reflected an approach to retirement as a new “strategic planning problem” and not an ambiguous design challenge that bumped up against existential value assumptions.  After money or where to live, most of the websites appeared to be firmly located in the “10 steps to personal happiness in retirement” genre.  While some of them were helpful, they barely touched the surface of the (often random) issues that hit me when I woke up or had to make decisions about what I would agree to do and what I would say no to.

Karen Martha:  I don’t remember quite how it evolved, but at some point Karen Rose and I decided we wanted to blog and since I had already set up Karen’s Descant, we decided to make it Karens’ Descant and we were off and running.  Kyla was busy figuring out how to retire from the remaining work that she was beginning to let go – and developing her unexpected but clear passion as a talented watercolor artist.

Karen Martha and Karen Rose:  Our blog will reflect the woman’s perspective on moving into the awkwardly named “beyond adulthood” phase of life – as we begin to imagine what we want to do during the last 1/3 of life. We will inevitably quote and learn from men – both those we live with and love, and those who have shown wisdom about living. In fact, we came across the phrase “beyond adulthood” in a lovely film by David Carey (http://agingfilms.org/.

We promise to challenge conventional approaches to retirement and to bring some levity to the discussion.  Like many of our friends, we often look at our small failures (once we have recovered from our initial embarrassment or sense of inadequacy) with humor. 

Our blog will be two tiny voices among the macro approach that so many retirement books take. You know, those “finding your purpose,” “getting more exercise,” and “how not to run out of money” themes. And we will definitely not provide Forbes-like lists of where, what, when and how about anything.

We are also committed to making our blog a space for community, rather than a recitation of our (??) wisdom.  We won’t tell you that if you think as we do, you will find happiness.  We won’t tell you how to plan for “beyond adulthood” or how best to be retired or find a new career. We see post adulthood and retirement as an opportunity for reflection, and for us, reflection is stimulated by the ideas of others, the community. We will welcome guest bloggers and encourage dialogue. Along the way, we will interview exemplars of retirement.  We won’t avoid painful topics like additional income, illness, aging, death, and loss, although these will be peripheral to the “lived-experience” of retirement as the main topic. We don’t see aging or retirement as victimhood but rather as a new opportunity for creative living. We heard the term “beyond adulthood” and we hope to explore this further.

Finally, here is what we promise our blog will not be: advice, solutions, or a diary.  And most important—we have nothing to sell!