One Happy But Solitary Retiree

 

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The corona-virus crisis has created a new stay-at-home environment for all of us. With the exception of healthcare appointments, grocery pick-ups, and mail deliveries (as well as a few other essential services), we have been banished to indoors for the most part, allowing only an occasional excursion to go get take-out or walk the dogs.

And, many of us feel a bit claustrophobic and worried about the future!

Do not underestimate the cognitive and emotional load that this pandemic brings, or the impact it will have on your productivity, at least in the short term. Difficulty concentrating, low motivation and a state of distraction are to be expected. Adaptation will take time. Go easy on yourself. As we settle into this new rhythm of remote work and isolation, we need to be realistic in the goals we set, both for ourselves and others in our charge.

— Desiree Dickerson at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00933-5

The purpose of this blog is to reflect on the measures we can bolster our sense of well being, stimulate new directions of personal growth, and endure the unpredictable “ups and downs” of this period of mandatory confinement.

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Self-Care and COVID-19

According to mental health providers and experts in wellness such as Geisinger Health, it is important to your overall health to make time for personal self-care.

From watching the news every hour to scrolling social media a little too much, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of what’s going on around us.

And you’re not alone in this.

If you’ve found yourself in an extended state of self-quarantine, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your mental health, in addition to your physical health.

— Geisinger Health at https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2020/03/18/17/56/self-care-during-quarantine

Geisinger recommends these practices of self-care during a quarantine:

  1. Make time to unwind.
  2. Exercise to promote good health.
  3. Be mindful to support your immune system.
  4. Take breaks from the news.
  5. Remind yourself why you are in isolation.

Here are a few more websites that might help if you are feeling depressed, confused, or just not coping well with all the “corona chaos…” (like us all):

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What Are You Waiting For? Just Make Music!

If truth be told, as a writer and a musician, I personally don’t mind having all of this extra time to focus on creative self-expression.

Think about it…

  • What have you always wanted to explore… play… sing… compose… record… conduct… create?
  • When will you finish your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” prepare the parts, and eventually have it taught, performed, and/or recorded?
  • When are you going to publish your next song, article, book, warm-ups, instrumental method, essays on pedagogy, musical, drumline feature or halftime show… or write your personal memoirs?

Well, what’s stopping you from devoting yourself to it RIGHT NOW?

As retired music teachers, we have an advantage… avoiding most of the stress that our still-employed colleagues are experiencing, suddenly having to “catch-up” with the technology, search for online music learning tools and lessons for their classes, and facing even more mostly unanswered challenges:

  • How can I care for my music students and the school program from home?
  • What essential learning can/should I offer during the school/activity closures?
  • How can I rehearse my music ensembles?
  • How can we provide meaningful feedback? Should we assess their work?
  • How do I motivate my students to continue their practice or music enrichment?
  • How will I find the mental, emotional, and physical stamina to serve my students during this lock-down without becoming overwhelmed?

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Costs and Risks Associated with All of This “Social Distancing”

Yes, we have ways to stay in touch electronically via text, email, videoconferencing, and social media, but it is not the same. In fact, many studies indicate that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy, less empathetic, and more envious we are.

The very act of meeting face-to-face, making eye-contact, and physically touching nourishes us but also exposes us to the coronavirus. We all know of the infant mortality research that shows babies deprived of physical touch experience development limitations. It is no different for adults. The Atlantic quotes Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, in describing the power of physical touch:

“…any pressure or movement on the skin helps increase the activity of the Vagus nerve, which connects to every major organ in the human body. Touch from another human slows down the heart. It goes to the GI tract and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system. That vagal activity can also lower a body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol is known to harm the ‘natural killer cells’ that can fight viral, bacterial, and cancer cells.”

Field concludes that as people are now especially stressed over the consequence of the virus, they have even greater need of these valuable effects of touch, now that they are afraid to hug or shake hands as usual.

— Robert Hall at https://ifstudies.org/blog/avoiding-a-relationship-pandemic

Indeed, what I do miss most is the human interaction… the ability to share two-way verbal and musical communication in an ensemble. I long for sharing music with the players in my community orchestra – the South Hills Junior Orchestra – who before the outbreak, rehearsed every Saturday for two hours at my former employment placement, the Upper St. Clair High School. I have to settle for sending them more of my “how-to” music articles (Fox’s Firesides) and basically low-tech “distance learning opportunities” discussed in my last blog here.

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Go-To-Meeting, Google Hangouts/Meeting, or Zoom.com

Zoom is not a great vehicle for a “free and easy” exchange of ideas or being able to “monitor and adjust” the learning of a group of students. We use it, and other choices like Go-To-Meeting and Google Hangouts, because we have to use them. It’s better than nothing. It’s important to at least “check in” with the members of your community, church, or school band, orchestra, or choral ensemble, and give them a chance to talk to one another, if only by allowing the use of the chat feature or unmuting all of their mikes at once. (But, get ready for a loud cacophony of sound!)

Zoom is offering a package that is free as long as you stay under 40 minutes for your virtual meetings of more than two people. The sound (delayed and designed for voice not music) is not great,  and you will need to do a quick study of how to adjust the technology to fit your needs. Several websites offer some advice on adaptations for music educators:

If you are thinking about holding online private music lessons, take a look at my string colleague Susanna Sonnenberg’s article. 

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Don’t Become a “Couch Potato!” Get Active and Stay Active!

What we don’t want to do during this emergency is to spend most of our time watching television. Besides being totally unhealthy, sitting in your easy chair like a lump and watching hours upon hours of generally, in my opinion, totally uninspiring programming, will drain the gray matter from your brain. I don’t know if I could stand watching another PBS broadcast rerun, National Geographic episode, or “Nature” program.

The bottom line: being solitary is not being alone. And even if you are left alone at a given moment, you should not be bored!

“Boredom isn’t good or bad,” said John Eastwood, who runs the Boredom Lab at York University in Canada and is co-author of Out of My Skull, a forthcoming book on boredom. “It’s what we do with that signal.”

That’s a confusing moment, especially amid the pandemic, with news outlets and social media publishing endless lists of things to do with all the newfound time, from the juiciest TV to downloading hours of podcasts — a digital bounty that Newton, thankfully, didn’t encounter.

“When you don’t have a lot going on, you might say, ‘Wow, I’m going to binge watch Netflix. This is perfect,’ ” Eastwood said. “That will get rid of the feeling in the short term. But treating yourself like an empty vessel to fill with a compelling experience makes you more ripe for boredom down the road.”

Why?

“Because what you’ve done,” Eastwood said, “is you’ve failed to become the author of your own life.”

— Michael S. Rosenwald at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/these-are-boom-times-for-boredom-and-the-researchers-who-study-it/2020/03/27/0e62983a-706f-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html

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A Top-Ten List for Retired Music Teachers

So, here are my ten things-to-do when stranded at home during any period of forced inactivity or voluntary self-quarantine:

  1. Use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. to “call” several loved ones, friends, coworkers, or neighbors in your life, and “check in” with them to see how they’re doing. They would appreciate hearing from you!
  2. Feeling lonely or a little down yourself? Reach out to someone. Studies show that when we connect with someone, we release the hormone oxytocin, a chemical that can actually help repair your heart. Simply talking about our problems and sharing our emotions (positive and negative) with someone you trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.
  3. Practice. No matter your choice of instrumental or vocal self-direction, or exposure to the self-exploration of other art forms like painting, drawing, sculpture, sewing, woodworking, photography, or writing, now is the perfect time to develop greater levels of personal artistry, proficiency, and self-confidence… even to establish new goals/pursuits. I have found that mornings work best for me with anything that requires creativity. (Brainstorming for this blog occurred at 8:20 AM one morning, after sleeping in a little, watching the news, and having my breakfast and coffee).
  4. Go outdoors and exercise. Get your body moving… a little every day! If you are lucky to have a furry pet or two, venture into the neighborhood with them… of course, maintaining “safe social distancing” (even the dogs have to stay 6 feet apart from the two-legged mammals) and adhere to the essential rules of pet walking etiquette and citizenship (mentioned here).
  5. Return to those “old fashioned” leisure activities: listen to your favorite music or read a book. Revisit something from that Hornblower (C. S. Forester) or Tom Clancy series (my frequent “gems”). When I needed a break in college (100+ years ago?), I took the afternoon off, ordered myself a medium pizza (yes – I ate it all!), and then walked to the Oakland branch of Carnegie Library to sit in those wonderfully comfortable high-back leather chairs and pull out one of my “old friends” to read.
  6. In other sections of this blog site (here and here), I have already discussed avenues for developing the right side of the brain, mainly our innate creativity and curiosity quotient. Visit these notable sites: https://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/, https://curiosity.com/, Sir Ken Robinson, Odyssey’s 9 Useful and Inspiring Websites for Creative People, Dr. Curtis Bunk’s old “Best of Bunk” site, and the “pinkcasts” and eBooks of Daniel Pink.
  7. Puzzle doing or making can be a relaxing pastime. Some people like to create them (I drew mazes when I was in grade school), while others try to solve them. My wife can sit for hours completing crossword puzzles or assembling the pieces of a virtual jigsaw puzzle on her iPad. If you like making word games, look at websites like http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/ or https://www.puzzle-maker.com. 
  8. If you are in a “tidy mood,” now would be a great time to reorganize, de-clutter, or sort through your closets, cupboards, or drawers. Put aside unused or unneeded clothing for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Have you indexed your record/CD/DVD collection? One year I alphabetized (by author) and reordered the entire collection of sea books on the shelves in my library (100’s of fiction and nonfiction editions). Do librarians or data base managers get bored easily?
  9. If you are lucky enough to be a pensioner and can rely on a somewhat safe monthly income coming in, you might be surprised that this might be a good opportunity to save money. My wife and I have suddenly stopped going out to our favorite restaurants, which was our usual practice 3-5 times a week. Cooking and eating at home, although raising our grocery budget, has brought down our overall food expenses. Put away a little green every month while eating those healthy greens! And, if you can tolerate the stock market doing it’s “roller coaster ride,” consider planning a few new long-term investments if/when you decide the prices are low or discounted enough during the economic crisis.
  10. Finally, schedule a virtual field trip. During our careers and now retirement, my wife and I were never much into traveling around the country or the world. Professional responsibilities (string camp, music workshops, youth orchestra tours, and the extended marching band season) usually precluded taking cruises or long vacations. There are a lot of places on the planet to which we have not journeyed. One thing a lot of people have discovered during these shelter-in-place restrictions is the amazing number of FREE online resources that transport us to museums, galleries, architecture “wonders of the world,” online films of Met operas and Broadway musicals, etc. Plan to take a handful of these wonderful “Internet trips.” (Special thanks for the advance “legwork” of many of these destinations done by Andrea Romano at https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours).

virtual tours

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More websites with suggestions about conquering boredom or avoiding becoming too sedentary during the COVID-19 “stay-at-home” orders:

This article and researching the links above took 4-5 hours, and were the things I did to pass the time TODAY! So, now it’s your turn.

The world is your oyster. Get out there and crack it!

Best wishes for your continued good health, safety, happiness, and finding a little music and meaning in every day!

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order)

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From Pixabay.com

  • concerns-concerned-about-the-anxiety-4944455 by Larsgustav
  • yoga-exercise-fitness-woman-health-3053488 by lograstudio
  • score-music-piano-guitar-melody-4947840 by sweetlouise
  • covid-19-coronavirus-distance-4940638 by geralt
  • meeting-relationship-business-1019875 by Peggy_Marco
  • wood-couch-potatoes-funny-potatoes-3119970 by Alexas_Fotos
  • sunset-island-mar-dusk-brain-485016 by 95C
  • pieces-of-the-puzzle-mix-hands-592798 by Hans
  • wooden-train-toys-train-first-class by Couleur

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© 2020 Paul K. Fox

2 thoughts on “One Happy But Solitary Retiree

  1. Paul, I think it is irresponsible for you to spew this nonsense of “mandatory ‘stay at home’ confinement” and “banishment” in your posts (I just saw one on the my NAfME feed. Your overall message of doing something positive with this time does not need this negativity, and those who are looking out for our health do not need this either. Let’s all get through this on two feet, rather than six feet under. Some parts of this country are dealing with catastrophe right now, and don’t need to feed into the negativity toward those trying to keep us safe.

    Like

  2. Did you read the entire article?

    I agree that the constant NOISE of gloomy predictions from the news media has been disheartening.

    However, regardless of my use of the terms “stay-at-home” and “confinement” here (which seem to be offensive to you), they are not “nonsense” and do represent our “new normal.” We should not underestimate the effects that COVID-19 is having on our communities.

    Rather, it was my hope that this blog would be read as “positive” in providing some thoughtful remedies of self-care in coping with this pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

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