Age + Experience = No Job


I do not consider myself old.

I do, however, consider myself elderly. My joints creak and hurt sometimes. My hair and beard are a nice shade of white. I occasionally forget things (like walking from one room to another and not recalling why I made that move).

But all of those things were happening to me by the time I was 35.

My hair greyed, and eventually turned white, very early in life; it happened a lot on my mother’s side of the family so I pretty much expected it would happen to me. Shortly after I turned 23, I developed a spot of white hair near the forefront of my head. By 30 I was turning grey, and by 35 I was pretty well on my way to being a white-haired man. My mother’s hair turned white fairly early, as did her uncle’s, her grandfather’s. I suspect that if her parents had lived beyond 40, they would have seen heads of white hair. Thankfully, I dod have a reasonably thick head of hair — it’s just white.

The joints in my body, especially my legs and feet, ache; but that was anticipated since I ran thousands of miles while participating in cross country and track in high school and college. In high school, I averaged 50-75 miles of more training and racing a week. By the time I was running in college, my mileage was higher than that and I was running marathons and ultra-marathons. In college, I ran the entire season of cross country, my freshman year, with a hairline fracture in my ankle. After that season, a doctor told me, after examining the ankle shortly after I’d spent 8 weeks in a cast, “You’re going to pay for all the miles on these legs.” I am … and paying dearly.

I know I am not alone with being occasionally forgetful. It’s not so much that humans are forgetful as they simply don’t focus and listen very well. Even when the old, “A man walked into a room — and forgot why he was there,” thing happens to me when I am all alone. We’ve all done it.

I am 61 years old. As a youngster, I would have categorized someone that age as “old.” Aging has never bothered me, as far as my attitude is concerned. Adding a year to our age every 365 days is just a part of life. I truly believe each person in this world is “only as old as you feel.” Some days I feel really old. Some days I feel pretty young. Most days, I feel 61.

But in this past year, I felt more and more “older” — but in a way different than standard aging.

In January 2014, I sold the two weekly newspapers I’d owned and operated for 37 years. I’d gotten married a couple months prior to the sale, and moved in with my new wife in a town new to me. My initial intent was to be semi-retired. I was only 60 at the time I made the move, too young to actually retire, so I decided I would substitute teach as a means of income. I thought about doing some freelance writing, too. But I wasn’t planning on working full-time.

Well …. I got bored.

The substitute teaching kept me marginally busy. I picked up a few freelance writing gigs, but to be honest, my heart wasn’t into writing. I needed some time away from journalism, so I pretty much stopped writing except for an occasional blog.

Last summer, I picked up a seasonal job as a grounds maintenance person at a research farm near my new home town. I enjoyed working at the farm. I did a lot of mowing, trimming, and tree pruning, but I also did a decent amount of general farm work. I learned a tremendous amount about farming and experimental farming.

In the fall of 2014, I went back to the substitute teaching gig, opening the school year with a long-term sub job for the first eight weeks of the school year. Once that was done, I returned to the farm for a month to help with the harvest. Once that job ended, I got another long-term sub job that took me until the end of the first semester.

But from mid-spring 2014 to the present, I was and have been applying for full-time jobs. Not just any jobs, mind you, but jobs I felt were in my field of expertise — writing, editing, marketing, public relations, and photography. I should mention, in the 1980s and 90s, while operating my newspapers, I took on other full-time jobs. For five years I was the sports editor for an area daily newspaper, then for six years, I worked for a local hospital in their public relations and marketing department. So when I say I have experience and expertise in areas mentioned above, I speak the truth.

To date, I have applied for 30 jobs. Some of the jobs I admit were perhaps a bit of a reach when talking about my “fit” for the position, but in each case, I felt I had the ability and/or experience to do the job. And to date, I have been called in for one interview; and that was for a job I was probably the least qualified. And I got TWO interviews for that job before being told they were “going in another direction.” Well actually, they never contacted me after the second interview (rather tacky if you ask me).

Now I can’t say my age has worked against me — I have no proof. Perhaps some of those potential employers looked at my resume and felt I was either over-qualified, or my vast experience would place me in a salary range too high for their budgets. I have no proof I was discriminated against either because of my age or experience.

But I was never invited to come in to discuss the jobs!

In one situation, a marketing job for a winery that was opening an office in a second location, the job description nearly screamed my name. They wanted good writing and editing skills. Journalism or English degree was preferred, not to mention experience in advertising and/or marketing. Didn’t even get an email back telling me they were or weren’t interested. Nothing. I did, however, see a Facebook post a couple months later (I had “liked” their Facebook site because I was familiar with their wine, and liked it), with a photo of a group of people with the caption, “Meet our new (office location) staff.” No one in the photo was over the age of 30. I’m no rocket scientist, but the photo told me I had been too old to be considered.

With each letter or email rejecting my candidacy for a job that I felt I was qualified to do, my self-esteem slipped a notch. Sometimes I got no reply at all (that just seems tacky to me; at the very least tell me you’ve dropped me from consideration). I try not to let it bother me; the degree of “bother” is usually affixed to my desire/interest in the job. Sometimes I feel I am quite qualified for the job, or it seems like it would be a position I would really enjoy; those hurt the most.

My wife keeps saying one of two things: (1) “If they would just visit with you, they would see what kind of person you are,” and (2) “Don’t worry, something is going to pop up.”

The thing is, if they would call me in for an interview, I would have the chance not only to show them my outgoing, friendly personality, but I could allay whatever fears they might have that I am either looking for a monstrous salary or will retire in 3-5 years, or both. I could tell them my plans, which include working until my wife reaches retirement age (8-9 years from now) and that, while I don’t want to devalue myself nor literally give my skills away, I am willing to work for a reasonable salary, one that would allow me to pay household bills and pad my retirement savings.

I feel I am quite reasonable in both my years of work and pay desire.

But without an interview, I have no opportunity to address those concerns.

The last two job applications I submitted, I decided to throw caution to the wind. I included a paragraph in my letter of application, telling about my work plans and my salary desires. I figured what have I got to lose; perhaps that paragraph will inspire an interview. We’ll see; those letters went out in the last week.

However, while I have no way of proving my suspicions have any validity, it seems rather obvious that potential employers are ignoring my skills in favor of hiring younger candidates whom they can pay less money or who is, unlike me, not under 61 and doesn’t have a bevy of experience.

In school, my forte was not math. But I am pretty sure I know what age + experience adds up to. Nothing.


One-Way Trip. Would You Go?

It’s a one-way trip to death.

Well, death is not the true destination. The one-way ticket will have “Mars” stamped on it.

The Mars One project, a brainchild of exploration/entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, of the Netherlands. A few years ago, he announced the Mars One project, and began taking applications from people around the world who’d be interested and willing to climb aboard a spaceship and take off for Mars. The idea of the project is to begin colonization of the “red planet.” Mars is our closest neighbor in the solar system, and it has always held a certain mystique regarding whether or not it could (or does) sustain life.

After getting over 202,000 applications from would-be space pioneers, Lansdorp and his Mars One team pared the list down. The group was quickly reduced to just over 1,000 in the first round of cuts, then to 660, and now the third round. The latest list of finalists includes 50 men and 50 women (39 from the Americas (including 33 from the US), plus 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, and 7 from Oceania). One of the finalists is a 38-year-old Polish man who goes by the name “M1-K0.” He claims to be a Martian sent to Earth who says he would be happy to help us explore his home planet.

The 100 finalists are going to begin training and testing as Mars One officials trim those candidates down to the final 24; those who would actually go. The selected space adventurers will be broken into six crews of four. The first quartet will take off for Mars in 2024, and the remaining groups will be launched every two years until all 24 are on Mars, getting a colony going.

I first read about the Mars One project a few months ago in Popular Science magazine. In that article, a number of the 100 finalists were interviewed. The article pieced together a variety of statements made by the potential space explorers; answers from all kinds of questions, such as: “Why go?” “Won’t you miss life on Earth?” “Do you truly understand the risk?” The Mars One website ( has a large list of frequently asked questions, with answers. It’s interesting to peruse the site and learn about their plans.

Obviously every one of the finalists understand the risks involved in the trip. But from the statements made by the various members of the 100-finalists group, they are looking beyond the risk. They are focused on what the success of the project could mean for humankind. They appreciate the greater good over their mortality. But as one potential Mars explorer stated, “We are all going to die, but it’s important what you do before you die.”

Could you make that trip?

I couldn’t.

May as well be honest about it. Don’t misunderstand, I have always been adventurous. Growing up, my parents taught us there is something wonderful beyond the horizon. They took us places and allowed us to explore; to ask questions; to always wonder about this world we live in (not to mention the worlds that lie well beyond us, in the sky). While I know there were times our “adventures” filled my parents with fear for our safety, they rarely quelled our exploratory spirit.

And that part of me would let me go in a heartbeat. It sounds exciting! Yes, I know I would die sometime within the confines of the trip. The spaceship could explode during launch. It might not hold together through the journey (the Mars One website says it will take roughly seven to eight months to travel from Earth to Mars; precise lengths of time for each trek will vary depending on the positions of Mars and Earth in their orbits). The ship may crash on Mars. Once landed, the planet may not have an inkling of capacity to sustain life. Or if everything goes well, I would die from old age (unless the Mars atmosphere holds some life-lengthening chemistry). But no question about it, once aboard the spaceship, those explorers will definitely die at some point during the project.

A view of the Mars surface from then Curiosity rover.

A view of the Mars surface from then Curiosity rover.

My application to the Mars One project was never filled out (okay, I confess, I didn’t learn about the project until after the application time was well underway), simply because I love my family too much to leave them forever. It doesn’t embarrass me to confess this. I’d guess a whopping percentage of people on Earth would turn down the chance to participate for the same reason. I know, it’s a rather blasé reason for not going, but it’s honest. It’s truthful. It’s real.

I do think the idea of being a space traveler is exciting, and I hope I am not only alive by the time the first ship launches, but I hope technology has advanced so we can keep in constant contact with the explorers. It will be one of the most exciting times in the history of our world. I see myself, if technology were so advanced, following their progress daily.

It is purely hypothetical, but if you were given the opportunity to make such a trek, would you go? Of course, since it is a hypothetical question, people won’t take an honest, realistic look at it, so they’d give unrealistic answers. But think about it. Be honest with yourself.

Would you take that one-way trip?


Birthday Bummer

I have a love-hate relationship with my birthday.

Don’t take that the wrong way. I don’t mind that each year, on a specified date, my age gets bumped up by 1. Getting older doesn’t bother me. I feel pretty good for my age. I have all my basic faculties. I have pretty much everything a man could want. So no, I am not opposed to getting older.

What I do not like about my birthday is the perception that it needs to be special. Again, don’t take that wrong. I am more than glad I was born. I am overjoyed my parents took the steps necessary to produce me. I have no reason to wish I had not been born. What I dislike about my birthday is the perception forwarded by others that it is “special.”

That perception was perpetuated and heightened throughout my younger days by birthday parties. I am a parent, and quick to point out I spent many years — still do it — making my children, and now grandchildren, feel special on their birthdays. But children, by the fact that they are held up in the spotlight on their birthdays, grow up with the idea that their birthday is a very special moment in their lives. And in all honesty, I see no reason to consider it anything other but that.

The birth of all three of my children, and all four of my grandchildren, have all been special and will continue to be so forever.

But once I reached adulthood, especially after the first time I was married, I began to feel uncomfortable about celebrating my birthday. I suppose it’s partly due to the fact that the woman I initially married celebrated her birthday the day after mine. That wasn’t her fault — we met, liked each other, fell in love, and got married. It just happened that her birthday was the day after mine. I never complained … after all, it was a sure-fire guarantee I’d never forget her birthday. But because our birthdays were back-to-back, we usually combined the celebrations. And more times than not, those combo-celebrations were held on her special day simply because of my nature to want to make others’ birthdays feel special.

So I think as time went on, my view of my birthday began to erode. Again, not her’s or anyone else’s fault; it’s just what got into my head and stuck.

Contributing to my idea that my birthday is not special is the fact that, even though I can be a “performer” who likes drawing attention to myself, the attention I get because of my birthday actually embarrasses me. I truly hate it when someone points out my birthday.

“Hey, we’ve got a person with a birthday among us!”

“It’s Kevin’s birthday … ‘Happy birthday to you ….'”

“Hey there birthday boy!”

I just want to holler, “Let’s not!”

It’s not really a matter of not wanting to have it known it’s my birthday, but more of a desire to observe it rather than celebrate it. And I really want that observance to be quiet and private. I smile big when my current wife wakes me with a kiss and a singsongy, “Happy Birthday!” And I do enjoy the “Happy Birthday” texts from my children and stepchildren. And there’s no better feeling than hearing a young grandchild babbling into the phone their unique and unintelligible version of “Happy Birthday, Grandpa.” I really like that. Family gatherings to celebrate birthdays are truly wonderful. Quiet, intimate dinners with my wife are delightful. I’m even okay with Facebook birthday greetings, although I do cringe at the first few because then I know the cascade of well-wishes will come flooding onto my page as my “friends” read those birthday posts and follow suit (I do not list my birthday on my page).

I tolerate familial recognition of my birthday because, well, fair is fair. I make a big deal about their birthdays, so if they feel inclined, I should allow them reciprocation.

I’m sure psychologists would have a field day analyzing and ripping to shreds my birthday attitude. I suppose they would find all sorts of deep-seeded reasons for my disdain of my birthday. Honestly, I couldn’t care less what they’d think. I fully take ownership of my negative attitude concerning my birthday. Whatever reasons they decide upon, it won’t matter to me. In fact, I have tried figuring out why it is I have such a negative attitude — and have come up with some interesting, and quite possibly close-to-the-truth theories.

Maybe as I progress into the twilight years of my life, my attitude will change. Perhaps the proximity to the end of my life will give me pause to reflect and make a shift in my attitude. But for now, I will continue with a love-hate relationship with my birthday. And that’s the way it will be. To quote the song line, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”KevinCake2-13-15

My Well-Being … One Letter at a Time

I recently read an article about how to improve one’s well-being.

Among the tips the article mentioned was that one should spend time each day writing; creating a personal reflection of one’s day, one’s feelings, one’s activities; basically a reflection on one’s life. As I read that tip (I did read all the others, but that writing/reflecting tip stood out), I immediately reflected on a couple things: (1) my recent writing activities would be termed as “glacial,” and (2) I need to get back to doing more writing.

I am not a New Year’s Resolution maker, mostly because (1) I rarely keep them, and (2) I feel such “changes” in our lives need not be imprisoned by a specified date, but should be free-ranging with no time constraints. For example, five years ago, after a rather disastrous medical checkup in which my doctor suggested I lose weight, eat better, and exercise, I decided I would take her recommendations to heart. It was March, not January 1, but I resolved to improve my health. And I did it. Ninety days later, I weighed 45 pounds less, was running every day, and eating better.

So even though it is early February, I am going to work hard to write on a more regular basis. I will spend more time in personal reflection, but not limit my writing to introspection of me. If I feel a story welling within me, I will write it. If I am feeling funny, I will humor me with humor. If I feel a need to “get it all out,” I will ventilate.

I just need to write.

Referring back to that time in my life when I took steps to improve my health, the reason I chose running as my form of exercise was because I have always enjoyed running. It wasn’t easy to do five years ago. My body was different. Though I had been a marathon and ultra-marathon runner in my youth, I hadn’t run for many, many years. I found a program that eased me back into running, and eventually, I was not just running, but taking part in road races (mostly to compete against myself but to bond with other runners).

But in the last couple years, I have not run due to injuries. Sadly, I reverted back to a rather sedentary lifestyle. But recently, thanks to my wife wanting to add exercise to her lifestyle, I have begun walking (or biking) to my daily regiment of activities. Well, maybe not so “daily,” more like regular; we don’t get out everyday but we’re getting there.

Like running, I have always enjoyed writing. But that, too, I had allowed to slide into a crevice of apathy. I started this blog over a year ago with an intention of creating an outlet whereby I would write regularly. And when inspiration tickled my brain with an idea, I sat down and wrote. I edited and revised things I’d done. But eventually, those moments of inspiration faded.

Life got in the way.

That’s not exactly true. I let life get in the way. I chose to ignore openings in my schedule when I could have sat down and written something. I shoved inspiration into the backseat of my brain, telling myself I would sit down and “write that out” in a day or two. Oh sure, my life, which is certainly not all that complicated or full, throws those curveballs at me when there seems like I need 27 hours to finish a day. And there’s no shame in setting a daily exercise aside for that one day; keep it from becoming a habit, the norm.

Just like I need to revamp my priorities and get back to regular daily exercise, I need to make time for writing. Again, I will not call this a resolution. Won’t say it’s a promise, or a vow, or even a mandate. It is, however, a choice. I can choose to write, or I can choose to not write. The question I need to ask myself is this: Which choice will be better for me?

Feeding Birds And People


Thanks to my father and youngest brother, I have taken a keener interest in birds.

I say “keener” because I have always enjoyed watching birds. I was fortunate to grow up and live in a region of America that has an abundance of wild birds. I suspect any region of America has an abundance of wild birds, and most likely, an amount equal or more than the number of species living in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska. But since my bird-watching hobby has developed in that part of middle America, it’s the only personal contact I have had with birds.

I grew up in southeast South Dakota, and then after a couple years out of the area, I relocated across the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska. It truly is a wildlife heaven. There are all kinds of birds — from the usual collection of “neighborhood” birds, like robins, wrens, cardinals, and bluebirds, to larger birds, such as eagles, hawks, turkeys, turkey vultures, and pheasants.

I have lived nearly all my life in towns. The populations of the two main cities where I lived were 13,000 and 750. My parents lived on 100 acres near a Missouri River reservoir, and my brother lived in a development nearby. While my “urban” dwelling allowed me to see a nice collection of birds: sparrows, robins, wrens, and finches mostly, my parents and brother saw a monster multiplicity of birds.

So when I moved to another town about six months ago, I wanted to attract birds. My new wife and I set up feeders and a birdbath. We hung a hummingbird feeder. And then we sat back and waited for the birds to come flying in.

They didn’t.

At least not in the droves of species I have hoped for. We get sparrows, wrens, finches (yellow and purple/red), robins, and starlings for the most part. We occasionally see a cardinal couple, a bluejay.

But this spring, after watching my father and brother have up to 15 orioles show up at feeders filled with grape jelly and halved oranges, I decided to see if I could attract those beautifully-orange, sweet-toothed birds.

I placed a small ceramic bowl with a healthy dollop of grape jelly on a table on our deck. Within 12 hours, we had a brightly-hued male dipping his beak into the purple sweetness. I was ecstatic! I was elated … excited … encouraged.


In visiting with my father and brother about their bevy of orioles, it was surmised that this huge collection was among the many of the species that were migrating. As the orioles make their way north, some drop off along the flight path, and decide to take up residence at stops along their flight path. The rest continue on. Within a week, the busy feeders at Dad’s and my brother’s had seen a substantial dropoff of orange. It appeared the majority of their oriole visitors had moved on.

My father, in the previous 3-4 years, has had orioles make their unique teardrop nests in a tree just outside his picture window. He gets to watch them come and go while building the nest, and then come and go while tending the young inhabitants of that nest. This year, the tree that had held those previous oriole nests had to be cut down, the victim of disease and age. So he has not seen where the orioles that remained in his area, and still come to feed on jelly and oranges, now reside.

As for my oriole efforts, a day after that male had showed up, a female (I am assuming his partner) made some tentative approaches before eventually skittishly settling on the edge of the bowl and grabbing beakfuls of jelly. Though they are very cautious in their efforts of get their fill of jelly, the pair eventually felt safe and made countless trips to the deck to partake in the sweet feast.

Within a week, I began seeing other orioles at the bowl. My high-water moment came when I had one eating and four others perched on deck furniture waiting for their turn at the trough. I have enjoyed these newcomers, and the original pair, often over the last few days.

And I have noticed, the birds in this collection of orioles are very much like the human race — diverse and very different.

Just as we humans are born with physical features that sets us apart from others of our species, these orioles have physical features that enable me to recognized them immediately. Whereas mankind breaks down by races and ethnicities, these orioles are all the same species … Baltimore Orioles. Though there are also Bullocks Orioles and American Orioles, what I have at my jelly bowl is most certainly Baltimore Orioles.

They are varied in color depth and brilliance, as well as differences between the male and female of the species. But what I have noticed is that each one of those birds, in its own unique and individual makeup, is beautiful and fun to watch. Bright orange, duller orange, bright yellow, or mustard-hued yellow — they are all magnificent creatures.


And this got me thinking … as respectful that I am of each oriole that has stopped by my jelly bowl, do I offer similar respect to all humans with whom I come in contact? How about the humans I see on the TV news and sports? Or those I read about in newspaper and magazine articles?

I hope so. I like to think I demonstrate an equal amount of respect to each and every human being I see or meet. It is, after all, a truly basic characteristic of being human. Right? Love your neighbor as you love yourself … the basis upon which the Bible was created so many years ago.

I have always felt it shouldn’t take a book to explain how we should live among our fellow man. To me, within each of us should exist the basic tenant that we should care for all humans. I don’t mean to place myself on some moralistic pedestal. I admit, it took me at the very least, half of my time on Earth to come to this conclusion. But I did arrive at it, and I try to live my life with that being the foundation of my existence.

I love watching my oriole friends (I consider them friends since they come and visit often). And I love watching, and encountering, my fellow man. My children will attest, I consider no one a stranger. I will strike up a conversation with anyone. If they choose not to engage, I graciously back off, but if they decide to carry on the conversation, well, I have met someone new, and that someone has added to the depth of my life.

I don’t really know why I drew this correlation. But as I sat on my couch this morning, sipping coffee and watching the orioles grab multiple bites of purple breakfast, I was struck by the similarity — the relationship I have with those brilliant-but-skittish birds. I had offered my friendship, via food, and they had accepted.

I do the same with people … errr, not always with food, though. But maybe what I offer them is something akin to food. Perhaps it is food for their souls. By being accepting of them, respecting them, and offering that respect, I might very well be feeding their souls. And when I do that, I can consider each one my friend.

It doesn’t have to be a lifetime friendship — even a brief exchange while waiting in line, or filling up our car, or even passing in a hallway — it is a friendship. It is feeding their souls. It is, as I have done with the orioles, showing respect and acceptance of all.


Old Man and a Three

If you ever want to feel old … teach math.

Actually, substitute teach for a math instructor. No wait! Substitute teach for a middle school math instructor. And to make it a totally fun experience, hope that “middle school” includes sixth graders.

Nothing wrong with sixth graders. I just completed a two-day stint doing the above, and I had two sections of sixth graders. In fact, I had two sections of seventh graders, and two sections of eighth graders. To be totally truthful, I enjoyed every single one of those emerging teenagers.

But trying to teach math made me feel old. Not because those youngsters ran me ragged, but because in one small instance, I was “schooled” on the fact that math education has passed me by.

Before I explain, let me give you some background. I was not a real go-getter in junior and senior high school. I wasn’t dumb. Hardly. In fact, I was actually pretty smart. Oh yeah, smart enough to know how to (a) use the system to get by, and (b) get grades that were good enough for me to move from grade to grade and eventually graduate with the rest of my class.

In truth, I didn’t mind going to school. There was a certain social element I enjoyed about school, and, by going to school, I could participate in athletics. However, while going to school to learn wasn’t my highest priority, I did like some subjects: history, music, reading, English, social studies, art, and science.

Notice … not one mention of math. Nor did you see algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, physics, or any of those other numerical subjects in that above “fave” list. I did not like working with numbers. I did not understand numbers. I didn’t want to understand numbers, nor their uses. I, pure and simple, hated math.

And thus, I did not try very hard in math classes. In fact, that was where I utilized the (a) I spoke of above — I worked the system to get by. And believe me, I barely got by.

But karma never fails to come rollin’ around. So when I had children of my own, I found myself having to help with homework on occasion, as they made their way through 12 grades of education. And some form of math haunted me for years.

But the ironic thing was, as I helped my three children with their math homework, wisps of my past lessons began curling through my brain. I began to remember formulas, basic rules of arithmetic, and even schematics of such things as long division and fractions. But once they reached algebra and geometry, my help was non-existent. I barely crawled my way to passing grades when I took those classes. I paid so little attention in those classes, nothing came back to me when my children needed help with their math homework.

But somehow, my children got through school with passing math grades. And math was essentially forgotten. Oh sure, I needed basic math skills to do the bookwork of my businesses. I needed to know addition and subtraction. Even the ability to count change back to people, that I learned in a college job, was a true help. But for me, most of my adult-life math was done by a calculator and computer.

Flash ahead about 20 years. Homework assignments have long faded into the far reaches of my memory. I sold my business. And other than keeping track of my checking account, I use math very little. Oh sure, on occasion I have to do some basic, as Jethro from the “Beverly Hillbillies” called it, cipherin’ — but overall, I rarely needed my meager math talents.

But I signed up to be a substitute teacher with my local school district. I said I was willing to sub in senior high and middle school classes. I okayed middle schoolers, even though I didn’t really want to and figured I could always cop out with a lame, “I’m busy,” excuse if called to spend a day with that age group of students. And in the first few months, I subbed in a variety of high school classrooms — from P.E. to home ec (errr, excuse me, “Family & Consumer Science” otherwise known as ‘FACS’), even agriculture and tech ed classes (“shop” to those from my era).

But then the dreaded call came. “Would you be able to sub for our middle school math teacher?” the principal inquired at a cheery 6:30 in the morning. My mind obviously had not engaged because despite the double whammy of middle school AND math subbing, I muttered, “Sure. No problem.”

Yeah … “no problem” cuz this fella won’t know the answers to those math problems!

The sick teacher had graciously emailed notes for each of her day’s classes. My first instinct was to bring on an acute case of stomach flu (I even wondered if I might be able to mentally cause myself to vomit). Sick sub goin’ home! Yep, there’s more than one way to avoid math and middle schoolers.

But I “mathed up” and made my way to the middle school office where I as presented with the teacher’s notes. First period: 7th grade math. Second period: 7th grade math. What the heck! Open the day with TWO classes of seventh graders?!?!? Aw c’mon! This is not happening.

Then the rest. Third period: 8th grade math. Fourth period: 8th grade Algebra 1. Fifth period: Lunch and planning period — thank goodness a 90-minute break, with which I could regroup my sanity, collect my marbles, and regain what was certainly going to be a total loss of my dignity. And it continued. Sixth period: study hall (8th graders). Seventh and eighth periods: 6th grade math — God help me …. two classes of sixth graders at the end of the day.

But something quite marvelous took place. Those seventh graders were calm, and they went right to work on the assignments I doled out via the teacher’s notes. Nary a question was asked, and not one time did I have to reprimand somebody for a smart remark or acting like a … a … a seventh grader. Both classes were really fun to be with.

The eighth graders were much the same. I’d experienced some eighth graders while subbing in FACS and an animal science class. A few individuals had tested my patience, but after a little verbal sparring, I’d managed to create in them a sense of responsibility and a reasonable level of quiet. So when most of those same eighth graders walked into the math room and saw me, well, I think they resigned themselves to maintaining a reasonable level of calm, rather than go another round with me.

They were … umm … active. Yeah, that’s a good word. They were an active bunch. But my three periods with them (study hall, remember?) went nicely. Honest! “Nicely” is a good word to use.

That brought me to the sixth grade classes. Here we were, stuck together in a room, mid-afternoon on a Monday, and we had to get through math. Each class had a couple “challenges” with which I had to deal. In each period, the students who’d deemed themselves up to the task of trying to take out the sub, were steadfast in their actions, loud, and had just a small dose of ADHD (or maybe it was sugar) to cause me heartburn and headache.

But I weathered the two classes. A short drive home, two aspirin, and my feet up in the recliner, and recognition that the day was finally over warmed me to my core. I reveled in a sense of pride, knowing I had survived a day of math and middle schoolers. Yeah! I did it and probably wouldn’t have to do it again.

6:15. Tuesday morning. Phone rings. “Hey, the math teacher is still sick, any chance you can sub today?”

I fought off the instinct to scream, “Are you kidding me?!?! You stuck me in a room full of middle schoolers yesterday. With math. The fact that we all came out alive should be declared a school holiday. And you want me to do it all over again today? Oh dude ….” Instead, I said, “You bet!”

But folks, as I sit here at my computer, recalling the second day of math and middle schoolers, I am pleased to report it went without incident, except …. except for those sixth graders.

I mean, the seventh and eighth graders were a bit more active. But it was a subdued active. The day seemed to fly by. Class after class just rolled along. Everyone understood what they were doing, got down to the task, and stayed on task. But I made that mistake any sub should never make.

I looked to the end of the day. Why oh why did I answer the swell of confidence and check the sheet that told what times those two final periods ended? Why did it enter my mind that I was nearly home free? Why didn’t the cold slap of reality that I still had two classes of sixth graders AND long division paint a red blemish on my cheek and brain?

I nearly broke into tears when reality teasingly kissed my temple and said, “You’re not done.”

But something completely unexpected happened. Those groups of sixth graders were happy. No, they were jovial. They accepted their assignment with no fanfare, and took to the task. They even pulled me into a lighter mood (not that I am a dark and damning person in the classroom, but I can project a certain level of seriousness).

The teacher’s instructions said the students had to do 20 problems of long (ie: ‘big numbers) division. And, she instructed, “Please do problems 13, 14 and 15 for them.” Huh! ME? Do long division? These problems had decimal points. You want Mr. Iwon’teverneedmathsoIwon’tbothertolearnit to show these students how to do division … with decimal points?

I opened what I was certain would be a weak effort, one that was certain to expose my lack of mathematical skills, by saying, “Well, this is how I would do it.” And added, “And I wasn’t all that good at math.” Yeah, and the Titanic wasn’t all that good with ice.

I proceeded to do the problem. Correctly, I might add. And I did a second problem … correctly. In fact, I was so darn proud of myself, I quit while I was ahead and told the students to tackle the rest of the assignment. I must have divided with an air of Vince Lombardi at Super Bowl 1 — those students excitedly tore into that set of problems with vim and vigor.

But they eventually their enthusiasm stalled out. Their spindly little arms began to raise, and questioning looks appeared on their faces. Instead of panicking, I waded into the bulwark of desks and began helping students divide. And conquer! I explained how to equal the decimal playing field. I showed how many times 16 goes into 108. I urged them into forging ahead, “Even when greeted with, “I don’t know how to do this.”

I convinced them they could divide! And divide they did.

After about 20 minutes of dashing from one end of the classroom to the other and back, helping dozens of stymied students, one little guy raised his hand and asked, “Are you coming back tomorrow?”

“I’ll bet your teacher will be okay. She’ll be back,” I answered.

And quick as you can find the answer to 18 divided by 3, that little Einstein muttered dejectedly, “Darn! I want you to teach us.”

My heart swelled. I just wanted to gather the whole bunch of them and hug them tightly. They want me! They really want me … to teach them division.

In a few quick minutes, the bell rang bringing a close to that glorious period of sixth grade math. As the students for my final class of the day — more sixth graders and more division — wandered in, my confidence continued to soar. I could teach, I told myself. I CAN teach!

After telling them of the assignment, I attacked my demonstration problems (since I had already done them once, my expertise and performance was flawless). I was rolling through the second problem, showing them how to do 8,482 divided by 19, confidently scrawling a 4 atop the line and then blasting into the multiplication of 4 times 19, when a tiny voice amongst my rapt and attentive group asked, “Why did you put that 3 above the 1 of 19”?

“Well, when I multiplied 4 time 9, I got 36, so I wrote the 6 down here under the 4 of 8,482, and then carry the 3. I wrote the 3 up by the 1 (of 19) so I would remember to add it to what I get when I multiple 4 times 1,” I deftly noted.

“We don’t do it that way,” the voice replied.

And that’s when I realized that all those years I was passing on math, math was passing me by. Suddenly I was haunted by things like “estimating” and other math terms my children had brought home as they worked to master “new” math their schools were teaching. It struck me that in the 50-plus years that had transpired since I had sat looking at a page full of long division problems thinking I could never grasp the concept, the methods of teaching math had moved forward, and changed. Probably changed often.

And that’s when I felt old. As I stood there staring at that lost and lonely 3, I felt age thrust itself deep into my bones. My mind began to dull. That swell of pride I’d just felt in my teaching abilities had become a monster wave of impotency.

Slowly I turned toward the class and confessed my sin, “Well that’s the way I did it, a long, long time ago, when I was your age. Tomorrow, just tell your teacher that some old guy showed you how to divide — she might understand.” In my heart I knew she wouldn’t. She’d probably curse me for trying to teach long division. She’d probably march into the principal’s office and demand I never be allowed to darken her classroom doors again.

The bell rang, and I dragged my worn out old body, and equally worn out old way of doing math, and went home. I sat for a spell and thought about the day, and said out loud to no one (since no one was home), “You have to carry the 3.” Yep … an old man … and a 3.

Moving Forward Without Looking Back

It is time for me to move forward.

My life has seen a number of dramatic, and some would say, “big” changes in the last 12 months. I confess, meeting someone very special, falling in love, and committing myself to her for the rest of my life, would certainly fall under the category of “big.” And perhaps “big” might be used to describe moving from a location that has been my home for the previous 37 years. And just as easily placed in the “big” column could be terminating ownership of businesses I have owned and operated for 37 years.

But I suspect the biggest change is the fact that my life, after 39 years, is without a daily or weekly deadline.

For the first time since 1976, well technically since 1975, my final year of college, I have been involved in the newspaper business. With the exception of seven years working for daily newspapers, my deadlines have been weekly. Again technically, five of those years I worked for a daily newspaper AND helped to run my weekly newspapers, which presented me with daily AND weekly deadlines.

But since mid-January 2014, when the sale of my two weekly newspapers was finalized, I have been without the weekly commitment. Oh there have been minor deadlines I needed to meet, but that is a basic part of living a life. It’s the knowing that people were expecting to see their hometown newspaper each and every week, and it being my responsibility to meet the deadline so each week’s issue would show up in their mailboxes every week — that kind of deadline is much different from life’s usual deadlines.

During the last few issues of the newspapers I was responsible for, I began to look forward to not having to do all that was necessary to make deadline. I even allowed myself to daydream a bit. Over the last 37 years, I also confess, there were times I wondered if I would ever have a life without a weekly deadline. And beyond that, what would that life be like? I saw myself doing all kinds of activities, going all kinds of places, and enjoying a deadlineless life.

So now, with a few weeks of “no deadline” under my belt, I have one more confession: I don’t really know what to do without a deadline. After all those daydreams of a life with no specific thing to do, I am finding it’s not quite as glamorous as I envisioned.

For now.

What I am realizing, is I need to change my thinking. I need to start learning to live without a weekly deadline. I must embrace a life that is not controlled by the confines of a specified frame of time needed to complete a task.

Most importantly, I need to move forward. Furthermore, I must move forward without looking back. My life no longer is fashioned around newspaper deadlines. I need to start living like there are no weekly deadlines.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have deadlines. There are still bills to be paid, appointments to be made, and various other “deadlineish” things to complete.

I have found I still need to employ routine as I live each day. Within the parameters of the weekly newspaper deadlines, I established a routine. While I am somewhat good at a freestyle manner of living life, I find I function best if I establish and maintain a routine. But even getting a routine routed requires retaining rational radial symmetry.

I need to believe I have the ability to live a life without a weekly deadline hanging over every set of plans. I must wrap my mind around the idea that I do not need to first consider that weekly deadline before making a move.

Forward ho! Backward no.