Friday, December 22, 2017

Comma Before the Storm

I was an English major, which qualifies me to do just about anything…at least that’s what English majors proudly maintain. But the brouhaha (just had to work that in) over commas is just the tiniest bit absurd.

There are a lot of bad things happening in the world at this moment in time, enough so that a debate over the placement of a comma pales by comparison. If you are not familiar with the issue, here is the lowdown. You could write “We invited the rhinoceri, Washington, and Lincoln.” That would mean you invited more than 1 rhino, Washington, and Lincoln. Without the Oxford Comma, the meaning could be construed to mean that you invited Washington and Lincoln who are both rhinos.

I told you this was a stupid debate.

By the way, it’s called the Oxford comma because it was used by editors at Oxford University Press. The Associated Press and the New York Times style guides prefer no comma before the word “and,” however the Chicago Manual of Style and the U.S. Government Printing Office style manual do not. Even some British style manuals are coming down on the side of dropping the comma.

The argument for keeping the serial comma is that it reduces ambiguity, but diehard “no serial comma-ists” counter that the serial comma can have its own ambiguity and there are ways to rewrite a sentence to remove any ambiguity.

I have to admire the Chicago Manual of Style for the fact that they keep the door open just a smidge:

“When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series of three or more, a comma … should appear before the conjunction. Chicago strongly recommends this widely practiced usage.” In answer to a reader’s query, however, The Chicago Manual of Style Online qualifies this, saying “the serial comma is optional; some mainstream style guides (such as the Associated Press) don’t use it. … there are times when using the comma (or omitting it) results in ambiguity, which is why it’s best to stay flexible.”

So let us bend and stretch as we move on to much more important issues of the day, such as the shredding of the Constitution.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Head Above Water

Excerpted from the mystery novel Head Above Water.

You get used to things going bump in the night when you live aboard a boat. A fender works itself loose or the tide slaps an empty plastic bottle against the hull, and then you have to decide if it’s going to keep you up all night, or whether a pillow over your head might block out the noise. On this particular night, I knew that I was too keyed up to listen to any noise for very long. I was in a rearward cabin and from the sound of it, whatever was banging against the hull was right alongside the stern, just inches from my head. I pulled on my heavy terrycloth robe and well-worn boat shoes, and made my way up on deck. Grabbing a flashlight that I kept at the helm, I went out the port side door on to the walk-around deck, carefully moving to the foredeck where I kept a gaff pole to fish out the source of the noise. Moving back toward the stern I made a quick check of my portside fender lines, which were all intact. I aimed the beam of light toward the water line on the starboard side. If you’re expecting an old soft drink bottle or an empty plastic oil container, you don’t quite know what to make of a smooth round shape. It was like nothing that I had ever seen floating in a marina, and believe me, you see an extraordinary variety of disgusting objects floating on the water where there are boats and people. Holding the gaff pole in my right hand, I aimed the flashlight with my left hand and leaned over the teak capped railing, trying to get a better look at what was keeping me awake. I pulled upward with the gaff and rotated the orb until I realized that whatever it was, it was looking back at me.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I shouted to no one as I backed up with a start. The gaff pole hung up on the railing and the flashlight went skittering down the narrow deckway. My heart was fibrillating at an alarming rate as I realized that the thing banging against my hull was someone’s head bobbing just above the waterline. A very dead person, who nonetheless had stared back at me as though I could save him. And in a way, I would.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mine. No – It’s Mine

There’s this sense that millennials and baby boomers are at odds with each other, but I’m not sure how real that is. Are baby boomers really standing in the way of millennials? In the workplace we may be hanging on to our jobs but millennials seem to be doing quite well when it comes to taking the reins in management positions and it’s hard to ignore their growing dominance in the worker hierarchy.

When it comes to seeking shelter, however, millennials and boomers are competing for the same kind of housing for vastly different reasons. And the situation is exacerbated by the historically low housing inventory that is typical throughout the country right now. Until the residential construction industry ramps up the inventory of 2,000 square foot and under homes, millennials and baby boomers will be jousting for the same properties.

Millennials are looking for 1,800 square foot starter homes and baby boomers are looking for 1,950 square foot downsized homes, so essentially they want the same house. Millennials seek affordability while boomers want a more compact lifestyle. Millennials make up 42% of all homebuyers and the median age millennial (33 years old) makes up 56% of this country’s first-time homebuyers. They may dominate the market by their sheer numbers, but the baby boomer has the cash from the sale of their large home, so they can often bid up the price beyond the millennial’s budget.

Out of frustration with this imbalance, millennials are either deciding to rent or looking at larger, less affordable homes where they won’t be in competition with boomers. If they are thinking of starting a family, the larger home also eliminates the need to trade up after 5 years in the starter home.

If this competition for housing seems disturbing to anyone, particularly baby boomers, let’s not forget that millennials younger than the median age of 33 are still quite likely to still be living under their parents roof because they cannot yet afford even to rent their own place. When you look at it that way, some baby boomers are just as locked out of the smaller house market as their offspring. So who is house blocking who?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sushi Samurai

It was a dimly lit sushi restaurant. There were little candles on each table, but except for the candles it was dark. The sushi chef stood at attention behind the bar, flanked by one short waitress, one tall waiter, and an perpetually smiling host.

We were literally outnumbered as there were only two of us and four of them. Maybe five if there was a dishwasher in the back room. Not good odds. I eyed the door discretely, measuring how many steps it would take to make a run for it. I knew I could make it but I wasn’t sure about my companion.

Calm down. Forget about it. Enjoy the moment, right? Think positive thoughts. We came here for a good meal so why not relax and study the menu. Have some hot sake, loosen up. There was a long list of familiar sushi dishes…sashimi, nigiri, California roll, caterpillar roll. There was a nice selection of noodles, soba, udon and ramen, plus some tempting tempura and teriyaki dishes. And potsticker appetizers…everyone likes those. It all looked good. Things were turning around here.

Then my eyes drifted down to the bottom of the menu. What’s this? In large capital letters that one could not miss. It was an unmistakable warning that filled me with foreboding thoughts. NO SEPARATE CHECKS

What does that mean? Why the harsh tone? What had happened that was so dreadful that management felt the need to boldly print this admonition at the bottom of the menu? Had there been a separate check massacre? A table of six ordered 15 different dishes and then insisted on separate checks for each of them. Business was so good you could turn away customers because they insisted on having a separate check. There were only two of us in the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. What would happen if we insisted on separate checks? I had visions of sushi samurai warriors with very sharp knives coming out from behind the bar. Maybe on horseback, although I would say that would be most improbable given how small the restaurant was and how close together the tables were. Difficult to maneuver on a horse, but not impossible.

Where was I? Right, the separate checks. I decided the best course was to play along, order our food and then when the check came – not going to happen. I was not going to fight the system. The threat of samurai warriors was too great.

I wonder how they are going to react when we ask them to split the bill on 2 credit cards. There was no warning about that.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Loneliness. It’s a killer. Really. An AARP research study found that 17% of adults age 65 and older are isolated. They are facing a 26% increased risk of death due to these subjective feelings of loneliness. Of those over age 75, 51% are living alone. It’s a very safe bet that you and I know someone in this category.

Chronic loneliness is already posing a disturbing mental health threat and it’s growing. We live in a society where offspring leave the nest and relocate in far-off places with little connection to their parents beyond telephone calls, texts and emails. Many aging boomers are hanging on to larger homes rather than downsizing to more collective living options such as assisted living facilities or even apartment complexes where they would have more social contact. Downsizing may be a loss of square footage but that’s outweighed by the expanded social contact that can be gained.

Exploring options to participate in fitness programs or continuing education courses is another avenue that lonely boomers are going to need to consider if they are really motivated to reduce their isolation. Libraries and religious facilities are also logical places to seek out social connection.

The most obvious solution is for boomers to actively support each other. If you know someone living alone, you can be a link to the outside world for them. You’re helping them feel less lonely and you’re helping yourself. The baby boomer generation can act as a giant buddy system which would go a long way to combatting this potential mental health crisis.

You might be thinking that this loneliness problem is something far off in your life. Ask someone who has lost a spouse about the one thing that has changed most about their life and you will see that loneliness tops the possible answers you will get. Yes, this should be the time to do great things with our lives but it does not take much to throw those plans out the window. Illness, death or disability can change your social dynamic irrevocably overnight.

Final words of advice to baby boomers. Unite! Be there for each other. It’s that simple and it will prove that boomers are not as self-centered as some think we are. So there’s that.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Lucky 13

I’m not exactly sure when I knew I was meant to be a writer. It must have been when I was very young. It could have been when I realized words were important because whenever I asked my mother how to spell a word she made me look it up in the dictionary. So words are collected and put in books. Maybe that was the start.

By the time I was in high school, I was typing up short stories that I was sure the New Yorker magazine would be delighted to publish. In college I was bored with the standard curriculum but enthralled to be taking creative writing classes. My mentoring professor told me I had writing talent and I believed her.

Once established in my public relations career, I was writing speeches, congressional testimony, news releases, and articles for publications. I was getting paid to write – I was a professional.

I had enjoyed mystery novels for quite some time but it finally occurred to me that perhaps I could write one. I was living in Annapolis when I got serious about the possibility. The mystery subgenre that interested me most was the accidental detective. A crime is committed and with no experience for detecting, the main character attempts to solve the mystery. It’s even more interesting if it imparts some knowledge about people and places that are outside your own experience. Annapolis and the boating scene on the Chesapeake Bay offered just such an opportunity. And that’s how my mystery novel entitled Head Above Water came to be. I wrote the kind of mystery novel that I liked to read. That was a long time ago.

For years I would not let anyone read it. But then one friend was allowed to see it, and then another, and another and another. All were enthusiastic and encouraging. By then self-publishing had emerged as a real avenue for aspiring writers, so after 13 years, Head Above Water is finally available on Amazon and Kindle. I’m no longer a pre-published author as it used to read in my byline. I should savor the moment but it has freed me up to work on the new mystery featuring an aerial photography pilot in New Mexico. No time to waste because I am not waiting 13 years for this next one to get published.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Down at the Factory Things Are Looking Up

For boomers anyway. Manufacturers in the U.S. depend on baby boomer labor and they are doing whatever it takes to keep us on the job. Around 27 percent of manufacturing workers are over the age of 65.

What’s so great about baby boomers in the factory? For starters, they have experience and knowledge that younger works don’t have. They are loyal. And the best part is they need/want to work.

As enticements to stay on the job, manufacturers are offering flexible schedules, reduced work weeks, and job sharing, along with mentoring and consulting opportunities. Even the ergonomics of the shop floor are being retrofitted to reduce the physical wear and tear on older workers who want to avoid knee and back issues.

The scary aspect of this looming labor shortage for manufacturers is that it’s not just happening in factories. Think about where the next generation of plumbers and electricians are coming from. Or auto mechanics. If you think that plumbing, car engines and the household electrical systems can be engineered to be so simple that expert repair personnel is no longer needed, you are dreaming. If anything, some of these systems are going to get even more complicated as the technology behind them gets more sophisticated. That faucet that comes on automatically when the infrared sensor detects motion? It still can leak under the sink or the sensor can go on the fritz. Millennials don’t even know the meaning of “on the fritz” never mind how to replace a worn out faucet washer.

You might be thinking that robots can pick up the slack but I don’t think that’s the solution. Robots can only intuit so much and a simple short caused by worn wires in a light switch may be beyond their capability.

The solution is to keep boomers on the job and start a serious program for knowledge transfer. Not every millennial wants to be a computer programmer or app inventor. It’s time to give tradespersons the status they deserve, along with better compensation. When a plumber can make as much as a doctor, with a lot less stress, the problem may solve itself. Until then, stay on good terms with your trades people and hope that they keep on keeping on.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Freud to Avoid

I ran into Sigmund Freud the other day (I told you once but I’ll tell you again. It’s my fiction so I can meet up with anyone I like).

We were in front of a smokeshop and he was just coming out the door.

Sig, long time no see. Are you still smoking?

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

I know, but the research? I mean you must know smoking is bad for you.

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

Hey, I’m really glad I’ve run into you because I had this dream a few nights ago that —

“The madman is a dreamer awake”

Okay, but this dream was really weird and I can’t figure out what it means.

“If you can’t do it, give up!”

That’s it? What happened to the whole dreams as wish fulfillments and dealing with the unconscious? You’re the man when it comes to understanding repressed thoughts.

“The ego is not master in its own house.”

Boy oh boy, today you’re handing out these bromides like they’re lollypops.

“When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

Sig, you know I respect you and the whole thing with the Oedipus complex and the libido, I mean it’s brilliant. You’re brilliant. But sometimes you can be really dense.

“We are what we are because we have been what we have been.”

That explains it. That explains everything. How about a little help here. My dreams make no sense to me and I’m really trying to get to the truth.

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

For a guy who’s explored the human mind for a living you can be little flippant about my problem. I’m looking for answers.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”

That’s what I’m talking about. You talk to me like I’m a hopeless case. Can’t you tell me some universal truth, something that will forever improve my psychic condition?

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Things Boomers Can't Let Go Of

I recently stumbled across a list of things baby boomers can’t let go of…I’m guessing it was composed by a millennial. There were supposed to be 25 things on the list but it ran closer to 45. Maybe boomers have trouble letting go but we did learn how to count.

So what kinds of things made the list you might ask? It starts off with diamonds, golf, the mall, plain toast, 24-hour news networks, Yahoo and Crocs. Honestly, I know many boomers would be OK with losing all those things.

From there the list moves on to Reader’s Digest, ironing, jorts (which I had to Google to know what they are), airbrushed t-shirts, cruises, messages in all caps, and Mrs. Dash spice. Once again, many of the boomers in my circle would have little trouble walking away form these things forever.

Racquetball, patterned wallpaper, those fuzzy rug matching toilet seat covers, potpourri, buffets, metal detectors, juice from concentrate, infomercials, Avon, knickknacks and chain restaurants? It’s all good man, if I never see any of them again.

The entire concept of boomers being unable to let go of these things was starting to smell funny. Fossil fuels? Most of the boomers I know want us to promote alternative energy sources so that we can fend off climate change for future generations. Maybe the 70 year-old oil company executive wants to keep drilling but that would put him in the boomer minority.

Was there anything on the list that I did want to hang on to? How about meatloaf? I’m okay with that. It’s not my favorite but it still ranks very high on the all-time comfort food list. Retirement funds? Millennials are so cynical about the future that they think saving for retirement is pointless. That’s harsh. Catalogs? I like catalogs in moderation. Sure it’s a dead tree product but sometimes you just want to see something printed on paper rather than on a monitor.

Somehow this list comes off as just another Buzzfeed tease. I’m ready to battle back with a list of things millennials can’t let go of. Start with bashing baby boomers by blaming them for everything that’s wrong with our world. Then add Starbucks, YouTube, smart phones, yoga pants, Chipotle, Pinterest, Snapchat, Netflix, and more. You can see where this battle of the lists is going, and it’s pointless. The stereotyping does not work. Let’s try to spend more time focusing on what all of us agree are things that are worth hanging on to. Someone second that motion!

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Wild Thing – You Move Me

I killed a scorpion in the bathroom today. How many people you know can say that? And don’t give me that “living thing” rebuke. Did you want me to put this stone cold killer in the scorpion relocation program?

Okay, they don’t often kill you. I’m exaggerating as usual. But within a few hours of being stung by a scorpion you can experience pain and swelling, difficulty swallowing, drooling, muscle twitching, respiratory problems and sometimes death. Does that sound like fun?

This was an Arizona bark scorpion and they, like most scorpions, prefer to hang out in dark and damp places. Hence, it’s no surprise I found one in the bathroom. People here advise one to shake out their shoes and damp towels before using. One advisory notes that scorpions can climb any surface except glass and plastic, which comes as little comfort since houses are made mostly of wood, plaster and tile. They have some impressive survival skills due to their ability to slow their metabolism. It allows them to use little oxygen and live off as little as a single insect per year. You can freeze them overnight and put them out in the sun the next day only to watch them thaw out and walk away. We’re talking hardy.

The stinger is in the tail but I didn’t feel the need to get up close and personal with this cousin of the spider family. Experts suggest you hunt for them at night when they are most active. Dig out your old black light if you have one because they glow in the dark. A flashlight with a black light bulb will work just fine. They also suggest you have a long-handled tweezers or a knife and boots. They don’t say it but I think the implication is that if you don’t want to tweeze them you could alternatively give them the boot. You can also use Raid ant and cockroach spray which has the fastest activation. It’s a good idea to check the perimeter of the house at night with black light in hand to see if you can find them before they get inside.

Cats and chickens enjoy hunting scorpions so if they are persistent, it may be time to get a cat or keep chickens in the yard. Ground cinnamon is a natural scorpion repellent but it can get pricey sprinkling that spice all around the baseboards.

My defense plan? I’ve only seen 2 scorpions in the house in 8 years so I’m going to do nothing unless a third one shows up.

However, I will shake out my shoes more often.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Welcome Campers!

Summer camp for baby boomers? Yes, that’s a thing. And it’s probably great if you loved summer camp the first time around when you were 10 years old. Or if you never had the summer camp experience back then and want to see what all the fun is about. If your only summer camp experience was not having a belt to hold up your shorts and resorting to using the rope that came with the duffel bag, it may be more of a “not so much” proposition. (Yes, that was my camper experience. My belt was at the bottom of my brother’s duffel bag…a fact that he denies to this day).

Camps geared to adults are becoming a big deal. According to the American Camp Association, about a quarter of their accredited camps offer adult-only programs. Prices range from $375 on the low end to more luxurious camper digs for $1,170. Adults in their 60s and 70s are signing up in big numbers.

Canoeing, swimming, archery, tie-dyeing and crafts are still mainstays of the camp experience. But the counselors are there to provide support rather than keeping an eye on rambunctious kids. There is still storytelling and singing songs around the campfire, so nostalgia is very much a factor if you’re wondering what would motivate a 70 year-old to sign up for summer camp.

My memories are a little fuzzy (except for the missing belt….that part is seared into my brain), but I remember the canoes being fun and we made potholders (OK, hotpads for some of you) to bring home to Mom. The highlight for me was making a lanyard out of something called gimp. I think we were supposed to use the lanyard to hold a key. I didn’t own a key so it’s unclear what use I would make of it, but I was pleased that I could learn how to do a box stitch to create a multi colored marvel. Little things can entertain little minds.

I get why a baby boomer would want to relive summer camp life, especially if the away camp experience was the highlight of their adolescent years. I’m going to stick with independent travel that does not include potholders and gimp. And I’m going to wear one belt and pack a second one just in case.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Date With Kate

I met Kate Hepburn yesterday outside of Target. I know. It seems so improbable. You never think of her as a Target customer.

You look fantastic, I exclaimed as I hugged her svelte frame.

“What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.”

And your hair, it’s gorgeous.

“Fuck the roots.”

I’ve always wanted to know what your secret is. How did you get to live the life you wanted?

“As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”

But didn’t you feel like you missed out on things you wanted to do?

“Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”

From what I’ve read about you, you must have been one of the bad girls then.

“I don’t care what is written about me as long as it isn’t true.”

Well you didn’t get much help from the Hollywood establishment.

“If you need a helping hand, you can find one at the end of your arm.”

You showed them. You bought out your studio contract and picked your projects.

“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.”

But didn’t some of the critics make you angry?

“Enemies are so stimulating.”

They thought you dressed funny, wearing trousers at a time when women just didn’t do that.

“What the hell — you might be right, you might be wrong…but don’t just avoid.”

And you kept on working in film and television well into your 80’s.

“I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not. There is nothing particularly interesting about being old – or being young, for that matter.”

Your career had lots of ups and downs in the movie business. That must have been hard on you.

“Never complain. Never explain.”

Good mantra. I bet that catches on.

“Life can be wildly tragic at times, and I’ve had my share. But whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, you have got not to forget to laugh.”

So true. Life can be a bitch.

“Life is hard. After all, it kills you.”

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Me and My Bot

The future is now. Or something like it. For a long time it seemed like only the Japanese were exploring all the ways that robotics could be of service to their aging population. With its labor shortage and lower birthrate, the Japanese felt compelled to turn to robotics to take care of their elderly. I admit I was very amused to see a contraption that washed and dried someone, but when there is a severe shortage of caregivers and that shortage is only getting worse, it’s what you do.

And now it’s here. Retirement homes and assisted living facilities in the U.S. are testing a variety of robotic tools that undoubtedly will be commonplace by the time most boomers are ready for them. A telepresence robot helps residents stay in touch with family and friends via video. With isolation and loneliness being such a tremendous problems for older adults, this tool is life changing.

Virtual reality technology allows seniors to revisit destinations they remember fondly and experience new places they always wanted to visit but are physically unable to experience any other way. Finally, a worthwhile use of VR capability other than gaming.

What’s most encouraging about this entire trend is that inventors are cutting through the geeky side of technology to make it so much easier for the elderly to access the benefits. Tricky interfaces and passwords are out and voice recognition is in. Much like automobile multimedia interfaces, you can request a service, function or communication device with a voice command. Consider the capability of Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant Alexa to see where this is going. Calling up entertainment options and being able to interface with home automation functions such as lighting and HVAC will supplant many standard caregiver functions.

This is big. We are about to experience a level of technology that changes the way we’re going to age. While it’s true that the age of social media sometimes dulls actual human interaction, an older population with limited mobility and resources will most likely be very grateful for any kind of connectedness that reduces their sense of isolation.

How far can all of this technology go? Most experts believe that in the next five years we will have robots that pick up objects, do the laundry, wash the dishes and provide basic housecleaning.

I would take that now, thank you very much.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Who You Calling a Sociopath?

Can you really label an entire generation a bunch of sociopaths? You can if you write a book with the title A Generation of Sociopaths, but that doesn’t make it so.

Antisocial, lacking empathy, impulsive, egotistical, shameless, manipulative, deceitful….are these words that describe you or your fellow boomers? Maybe a few words match up with a few friends or acquaintances, but an entire generation? I don’t think so.

The author cites the usual suspects for his claim. Permissive parenting, too much television and prosperous times made us who we are. Massive debt, unemployment and environmental degradation are all down to us. Somehow, one generation (albeit a big one) has been able to ruin the world for everyone. The author won’t even give baby boomers credit for doing anything worthwhile. No credit for equal rights or anti-war movements, no pat on the back for efforts to promote clean water and protect the environment. We just greedily looked out for our own wellbeing and to hell with everyone else. All for one and all for one.

Slandering an entire generation with massively scaled generalizations seems so unfair, but when you’re part of what was then the largest generation ever, you come to expect that there’s a target on your back. Honestly, don’t you think our influence on everything from culture to politics is a little overrated? Every generation is responsible for a variety of trends but bell bottom pants and platform shoes did not really change the world.

Isn’t there a little bit of irony to the fact that the millennial author of the book is a venture capitalist. He was an early investor in Pay Pal and Facebook and that qualifies him to generalize about our lack of empathy? I’m thinking that banking on the internet to produce the next big thing to make a pile of money has a sociopathic ring to it.

Too bad we won’t be around in 40 years or so when someone writes a book titled “Millennials: The Next Generation of Sociopaths.”

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Feng Shui Trails

If you’re not looking down when hiking, you either have super powers or you fall a lot. The point is you’re constantly thinking about where you are going in order to plant the next step and the step after that, and the step after that. The trail could be rocky, muddy, sandy or covered in pine needles (my favorite), but you need to be looking down and making hundreds (maybe thousands) of split second decisions about where to plant your feet.

With all that concentration focused on remaining upright, it can be easy to miss nature’s feng shui efforts along the trail. You will encounter a log or root that crosses the trail at an angle with pine cones or rocks placed strategically in just the right position. You might see a natural step carved from a rock ledge that traverses the path. Even treefalls that block the trail have a natural symmetry that is unmistakably nature’s handiwork.

When viewed on a map, the entire trail can be an example of feng shui in that it conforms to the slope and topography of the land. Hiking trails were usually constructed with a nod towards finding the easiest line or axis. Given feng shui’s history as a forerunner of the magnetic compass, it makes perfect sense that there’s a real astronomical connection between the trail and the stars.

The English translation of feng shui is “wind-water” and both of these elements have a significant impact on the appearance of a hiking trail. Drainage erosion has created new trails and rerouted old trails, while wind blown sand covers up the path or forces the hiker to find a new line or route.

Is feng shui science or mystical pseudoscience? It doesn’t matter to the hiker who just wants to take the correct line or the right steps. Humans may create the trails but nature, and by extension feng shui, performs most of the upkeep. All we can do is try to take the right steps and be on the lookout for millions of feng shui examples one might see on any given hike.

It shouldn’t be that hard to see them. You are looking down at your feet for most of the hike.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Recliner Generation

Great news! Baby boomers are getting face lifts in record numbers, but even better than that, they have spurred a revolution in recliner chair design. That’s right, recliner chairs have gotten their own face lift.

Out of fashion are the big and bulky recliners your parents might have favored. They never fit in with your sleek d├ęcor anyway. But now that baby boomers are ready to recline, they want something more aesthetically pleasing and the furniture industry has responded.

A little history might be helpful here. La-Z-Boy (there’s something so perfect about that name) introduced the recliner in 1928. Apparently it was an immediate and long lasting hit with lazy men, and since they were often bought in pairs, there must have been a decent number of lazy women conjoined with their lazy mates.

The new and sleeker recliners not only have a smaller footprint, some are equipped with device charging stations and beverage coolers. They have even begun to motorize them so that the recliner will stand us up when we’re ready to get out of the chair (but why would we want to get up?). It’s not hard to imagine recliners that come with IV drips and other hospital-like features so that aging boomers never have to get up out of their chairs.

Four out of 10 recliners sold in 2014 were sold to baby boomers. Face it. Our generation is ready to get off its feet and stay off. But we want to do it in style. No more hiding the recliner. We want it out in the open for all to see and it has to look attractive. As usual, whatever boomers want, boomers get, as manufacturers clamor to please us.

Still, the old boxy recliner models are not going away. La-Z-Boy representatives say that they will never stop making the traditional recliner. So if you’re not jumping on the latest “sleek recliner” trend, La-Z-Boy can still accommodate your lack of fashion sense.

Either way, boomers appear ready to take this all lying down.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Camus to You Too

I ran into Albert Camus the other day. (it’s my fiction, I can meet up with anyone I want).

We were in front of Starbucks.

Quoi de neuf? I hailed.

“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”

Jesus, you go dark all the time. Lighten up, I replied.

“To know oneself, one should assert oneself.”

Come on Al. It doesn’t have to be like that. Are you working on anything new?

“Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre.”

Oy, you’re killing me with these quotes. You’re like a one-liner factory. Just tell me if you’re working on a new book.

“Charm is a way of getting the answer ‘Yes’ without asking a clear question.”

See, this is why everyone thinks of you as an existentialist.

“We are all special cases.”

Enough! Are you seeing anyone?

“It is necessary to fall in love… if only to provide an alibi for all the random despair you are going to feel anyway.”

Can’t you ever be rational?

“Stupidity has a knack of getting its way.”

Totally! I have always admired the way you are in touch with your inner self.

“If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there.”

That’s what I’m talking about. And you know what you like.

“I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”

That’s absurd. But then you’re absurd. Has anyone ever told you that?

“I draw from the Absurd three consequences: my revolt, my liberty, my passion.”

Right, right. Not like you’re some kind of fame whore or anything like that.

“To be famous, in fact, one has only to kill one’s landlady.”

Seriously? You’re going there?

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

Yeah, okay. Listen Al, it was great seeing you again. I know you’re still not speaking to Sartre but you know he thinks the world of you. Maybe it’s time you guys patched things up.

“Every man, and for stronger reasons, every artist, wants to be recognized. So do I.”

Okey dokey. Good seeing you again. You take it easy. Or take it any way you can get it.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hugging for Life

Around ten years ago I wrote an essay for this blog about not being much of a hugger. I theorized then that hugging is a learned response and no one in my family seemed to be enthusiastic about hugging. Who knows what went on behind parents’ closed doors but that’s another day on someone’s couch.

Only recently has hugging become important to me and what a revelation that was. Chalk it up to age or life changes or whatever, the point is that I now have come to understand the value of a hug. Now I know that it’s a vital connection that tells someone that they are important to you, and if the hug is reciprocally enthusiastic, you know that you are important to them. And that’s what hugging has always been about – I just didn’t know it.

I still have a problem hugging a tall person. Getting up close and personal with a sternum is not my idea of a good time or a good hug. But it’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things, especially when hugs are loaded with health benefits. Yes, when you feel close and connected to people you care about, studies have shown that this enhanced social support can mean you’re less likely to catch a cold.

Then there’s the fact that hugging can release oxytocin (also known as the bonding hormone) and that in turn reduces stress. Receptors under your skin can increase vagal activity that helps to put you in a relaxed state. The calming effect of a hug has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.

I’m not confident that our current state of polarization could be ameliorated by increasing hugging, but it might not be a bad place to start. It’s hard to yell insults at someone when you’re in a close embrace.

So I’ve come late to the party but that beats not being invited, or worse, not knowing there was a party. I no longer shrink from the hug. Quite the opposite. I’ve embraced the embrace. Don’t you think I even sound calmer?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Up In Smoke

Put down that bong or that doobie and listen up. According to the Addiction Journal (your read that right, there’s a journal for addiction. Once you start reading it, you can’t stop) there has been a 71% increase in marijuana use for people over 50 from 2006 to 2013.

Let that sink in for a minute. So maybe a fair number of baby boomers are smoking pot for medical reasons. Look at any alternative newspaper and the back pages are filled with ads for medical marijuana dispensaries (if that’s legal in your state). Boomers suffering with pain, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, nausea or loss of appetite have all benefited from medical marijuana, but what about the rest of you stoners?

Some baby boomers never stopped smoking pot. From their teen years until now, they have been getting high the same way others have a cocktail every night at 5pm. Then there are the newcomers who have taken to smoking pot because they are lucky enough to live in a state where it’s legal or they live in a state where it’s illegal but everyone can get their hands on it anyway. Marijuana does not have the scare power that it used to.

Study researchers see no particular harm in this increased usage by older citizens, as they assume that these pot smokers are experienced users who know their limits. The risk of falls was cited as one possible adverse effect, however you would have to think that baby boomers who are really high are also not in the mood to stand up. So there’s that.

Researchers believe more studies should be done to see there can be any actual harm to older Americans from continued use of cannabis. As they say in New York, fuhgettaboutit. Even for a publication called Addiction Journal, it’s a little crazy to waste any effort studying the effect of pot smoking on baby boomers.

My mother said it best. “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I’ll Give You A Driveway Moment

You want a driveway moment? I’ll give you a driveway moment. No, it’s not some sad, uplifting, or enlightening story I’m listening to on NPR. And it’s not a favorite golden oldie on WWAM. Nor am I out here in the car contemplating the theory of relativity.

I’m sitting in the car that is parked in my driveway because I don’t want to go inside my house – at least not yet. Because when I walk through that door I have to be an adult who worries about my spouse (who thinks I take our marriage for granted), about my grown children (who won’t leave home), and about my parents (who may soon need to go into a home), and about planning for retirement (a train that has long since left the station).

Driving home from work I was able to find respite from all these wonderful topics, but now that I’m in the driveway, the only thing between me and the boogey man is the sanctity of my car. It may be old and have over 150,000 miles on it, but the seats still smell leathery and I am comfortable behind the wheel. I know everything about this car. The new tires on the back, each of the disc brake rotors I’ve had replaced, the new radiator hoses, it’s all documented in my mind. Really, when I think about it, I realize I have replaced 50-60% of the car by now. But the sound system is still A-1 so I can listen to some soothing classical music while working up the courage to leave the comfort of my “cabin.” Might as well put the seat in the reclining position to see if that will lessen the throbbing sensation in my frontal lobe. That’s working. I can already feel my heart rate slowing down, my hands have stopped clenching, and the damp brow is drying off.

I feel transported to a better place – a place where no demands are made of me. When I’m hungry, food appears. When I’m drowsy, a soft bed is there for me. Everyone speaks softly and we are gentle with one another. The sense is that everyone is solicitous without verging on obsequious. This is good – very good.

A loud rapping noise on my window shatters the reverie into a thousand tiny pieces. My son is staring at me through the fogged up window and mouthing some words. I’m confused – I don’t know what he’s trying to tell me. He makes a motion that I should lower the window, and I comply.

“Can you move your car so I can get mine out?”

No hello. No how are you. Doesn’t ask if I’m okay. Just stands there looking idiotic wearing a backward ballcap, waiting for me to move on, so that he can move on.

Fine. Until tomorrow then. This driveway moment is over.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I Know Right?

Not really sure how to punctuate that title but I do know that it seems to be the millennial phrase of the moment. And it won’t last long, so you better catch it while you can.

I first noticed the phrase being used profusely by wait staff in restaurants. You would order a particular dish and when the waiter asked you if you enjoyed your meal you might respond that it was very good and spicy. To which the waiter would respond, “I know right?” I find this response very endearing, because the intent is right there on the surface. She is agreeing with you that it’s spicy and not in a condescending way, as though you’re an idiot baby boomer and you just figured out the green chile is going to be hot. Rather, the objective is to convey camaraderie. She has eaten the same dish and also thought it was very spicy. You two are now simpatico.

I’m not suggesting that millennials are intentionally using this phrase to establish a connection with customers or older adults. At least the different speakers that I’ve heard using it come across as very genuine. I put a question mark at the end of the phrase and no comma after the word “know” because there is no pause but there is a slight upward inflection at the end of the sentence (technically known as HRT….high-rise terminals). It’s also called “uptalk” and is generally popular with teenagers and millennials, but I’ve heard uptalkers all my life, so it’s been around a long time. I find that it conveys a shyness or unassertiveness, but some people think it conveys a lack of conviction. The speaker is agreeing with you but the upward inflection gives them a way out if you don’t agree.

Too technical? OK, that was a real question. The answer is maybe, but baby boomers better get used to millennial speech patterns because they are going to be talking to us everywhere we go for many more years to come. Linguists suggest that younger speakers will grow out of uptalk over time.

To which I say, I know right?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Standard Equipment

Many baby boomers are reaching that place in their lives when they know that they are probably at the three-quarter mark. I know that it says “your whole life’s in front of you” at the top of your screen, but that just means you still have plenty of time to go places and do things. It doesn’t mean you get to start over.

All the more reason to get the most out of your life NOW! What’s past is past. Regrets and failures do not matter any more. If you have 15, 20 or 25 good years left, why not make the most of that time. Wipe the whiteboard clean and start thinking about what makes you happy. Does this sound like something a typical baby boomer would say? Yes. Do baby boomers often think of themselves above all else? Yes (most of the time). Do I care that it sounds selfish? No.

What we should care about now is packing in as much life experience as we can. Stretch the boundaries of your comfort level. I’m not talking about bungee jumping. I’m talking about having an open mind when it comes to new experiences and not automatically ruling out things you never used to do (or thought you wouldn’t like).

It’s actually somewhat exhilarating to put some of your preconceived notions behind you and try something new. Foods you’ve never eaten before. Travel destinations that were never on your list. Physical activities that you thought were beyond your capability. Book genres you never tried. Social interactions that you typically avoided.

What could go wrong? Failure to launch? So what. You can argue about who said “it’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all” but the truthiness contained in that phrase is irrefutable. The only thing stopping us more often than not is our own inhibitions, and with our limited remaining years, should we allow them to prevent us from finding contentment?

So here’s a car metaphor mantra for going forward: Happiness is not an option. It really should be standard equipment.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.