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Wednesday, 05 August 2020


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This may be presumptuous of me, but from my distant perch, you seem to check a lot of the boxes for what is currently labelled as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and was formerly known as Asperger's Syndrome, and still relevant, as a group, we just call ourselves Aspies.

Mike, I am also single. I don't really like it one bit. When I was younger (and better looking), it seemed like there were endless opportunities that I didn't take advantage of. Now, to be honest, it seems hopeless. So I expect to be alone the rest of my life.

I am commenting because I do have some advice for you. As you say, life is complex and it is difficult to make hard decisions especially by yourself. But, even if you are single, you don't have to be by yourself. I have two sons. I also raised them myself from a young age. I live where I live because it is where they live. They are by far my greatest source of happiness even though they are all grown with families of their own. And, they have given me 6 grandchildren.

So, if you want to cut through all the white noise and make the best decision of your life, the simple answer is to get close to your son and grow old with him. I know how much you and your son care for each other. Proximity is important. Texting, calling, and Facetime can't take you out to dinner or give you a hug. Bring your son to NY or move near him and begin a life dedicated to family and you will never be alone.

Dear Mike,
The honesty of your words and willingness to be this vulnerable takes immense courage. Thank you for your integrity.
Kind regards,
Keith Trumbo

I don't take my wife for granted, and I feel appreciated by her. Got together in 1987 in our early twenties after I sort of "stole" her away from a friend who had designs but less luck. We come from a fairly similar class background, and I think that helps (not much money, poor savers, few assets). But we also have a similar intellectual outlook and general curiosity and political compatibility. She's way more professionally ambitious and successful, and I'm way better at handling our books. Probably the biggest difference is that she is Native American and Asian, and I'm white as can be. It's not always perfect, but it's usually very good. So let me say that your words convey well your ache for companionship, and I hope you still find it.

I agree, with one caveat - they have to be the right two heads. I've tried it both ways, and the wrong two heads can make life decidedly worse than it is with one head. Happily I've been enjoying the right two-headed life for 22+ years now.

It's not always easy having to compromise with, or see things from the perspective of another head. But the love, joy, laughter and 4 hands (now 8) far outweigh the rare clouds that occasionally 'lour' upon our house.

Recently a family member accused some other family members of a grievous wrong. We were all asked to sit in on a reconciliation process. After the second session of the process, I was feeling like the process was bullshit and didn't address any of the issues. I told my wife my concerns expecting her to call me an insensitive clod and to shut up. To my amazement she agreed with my assessment and said I wasn't being an ass to call BS on the process. I was thankful for the second head instead of having to stew in my discomfort.

For what it's worth I always wondered how you did it all alone, raising your son and running a magazine. Then I had kids, and you've always been a benchmark of what's possible, for some people, I still have no idea how you did it. As my kids have gotten older, older than your son when he was at the camera store, I've always just wanted my kids to be as good of kids as yours. I'm not saying either you or your son are perfect, just that you did a pretty damn good job from what I've seen.

Mike, I feel for your struggles but, everyone struggles, everyone has their own demons. I really would advise looking for counseling. It sure helped me and I have been happily married for 43 years - albeit with many a bump - some serious. I still cherish every day. I think maybe you're taking daily things too seriously. Overthinking things and worrying too much about the small stuff - which can inflate in one's brain into big stuff. It isn't all small stuff, of course.
It is difficult to learn to really relax. Really relax. Music is good and walks in the countryside are better. Play with the dog! I'm older than you are and I can't begin to imagine what starting anew with a new partner would be like but maybe that is something you should consider. Two heads are way better than one - when they are linked.


Having just one special friend (even if you have not met and just an email pal) helps to walk alongside you in life's joys and struggles and decisions.

You have a lot to choose from in your following of readers. However, being good in photography is not necessarily good in the wisdom and visions of life.

Dan K.

I'm on the "downward arc". Over 65, had to get social security early because no one would hire someone my age: if you are in media, forget it. Because I had older parents, I basically had to put whatever career I had on hold while dealing with very aging parents when I was only in my late 40's and early 50's. Very little income while that was going on, and very little opportunity to work on after it was over.

Never been married. I think there are many people that have wonderful married relationships for a number of year, maybe forever, and as somewhat a romantic, I think that's lovely. BUT, not open to many people, nor was it open to me. The U.S. doesn't have a 50+ percent divorce rate because people are making smart decisions.

It's almost impossible for a decent middle class income to pay for a decent house, it takes two incomes; and it's been like that for over 40 years. That "house drive" is responsible for more bad marriages that you can shake a stick at! Whether it's been where I lived, or my sociological situation; I wouldn't have had a successful marriage with 99.5% of any of the women that have been available to me! Every place in the world, and America, is "different", so there's been places where I far more appreciated the women I've met, than the mid-west fly-over I live in now. As long as I'm here...impossible...

People often ask me, especially the women, if I'm "lonely" or "sad". I always say I'm no where near as sad and lonely as I would have been if I had gotten married to almost any woman that I have known; there's only a few that were special enough to be the right one, and... extenuating circumstances...

People say that you could be successfully married to 4 people within five square miles of where you are right now, and I say...poppycock! I've lived in cities where the majority of the population doesn't think like me at all, or have a clue, or at least MY clue!

I'm living in a tiny apartment on very little social security, I have a storage space that needs to be sold off; all this in the mid-west. When I can get out from this, I will move to one of the areas of the country where I have a better sociologically chance of meeting people and having decent conversations , places I've lived in before. Since I was a freelance for years, I know how to live "small", and that will happen going forward.

What I want to do is spend the rest of my life on earth with smart people and hopefully not work with some of the people and situations I've been involved with in the past!

You really should write that book, it is an amazing story and it deserves to be told. You did an heroic thing, that changed his life, and yours.
You did it at great personal cost, you jumped into the abyss without knowing what that cost would be. You signed a blank check to save your son. I'm sure the rewards have been worth it, many time over, but that doesn't mean those costs have not taken a toll.
You did what you did, because you knew it was right.
Pure and simple.
At this point in your life, you no longer need to take care of him, but perhaps you both need to take care of each other by being present in each others lives. It was you and him against the world for a long time, being closer to him seems like it completes the story.
I have four grown and married children, and it is the greatest gift of my life that we are all near each other. It is the completion of a perfect circle. I wish the same for you.

This will be counter intuitive. But. Step 1. Move. Move to somewhere with the most sunny days and the lowest crime rate. Sunny days nurture your mental health (and photography) and low crime is indicative of economic stability and job opportunities. Step 2. Once there, lay down roots. Volunteer. Step outside Mikes zone of comfort.

And finally step 3. Be infinitely patient. It gives immediate results.

May I suggest you make a formal partnership with your son.
Turns out adult sons are quite willing to be a second heads, and usually good ones.

This is the best thing I've read on the Internet today.

Thank you for an honest walk through your current state-of-mind, and for the Playboy After Dark clip. I'll take to heart your advice to appreciate my partner; you are right. As someone facing retirement and the myriad decisions that go with it, I sympathize. So many possibilities! Move somewhere warm, stay where I am, sell the house / rent the house, buy an RV... What to choose? I better figure it out fast, I tell myself; no room for errors, because tick tock, you're not 25.

But the choosing keeps us in the game, doesn't it? That, and good music. Keep singing! Rage on.

Mike -- two points:

1. My wife died when our son was 22 months old. It was more than two years later before I remarried, so I have some knowledge of what you went through, but I did not have to begin with a newborn infant. I have told you before, and tell you again how greatly I respect you for keeping and raising your son. I hope he brings you increasing joy as the years go by.

2. About indecisiveness: You might consider adopting my motto: "Indecisiveness is the key to flexibility." That's my motto, and I live up to it every day.

[Wow, Dave. You have shared that with me before. What a hardship to go through grief being responsible for a small child...my hat's really off to you. --Mike]

I have occasionally read this blog for a few years. One theme I hear repeated when you are lonely or depressed is your need for a woman. Needing a woman and being in a loving relationship with a woman are totally different relationships. Admit whatever you have done or did not do that has put you squarely where you are at and live with it. A woman is not going to magically appear and fix your hurts. My guess is you are a difficult personality type or have had unrealistic expectations and find yourself alone at retirement age. Some men in your shoes find what they are looking for in the Philippines. There are YouTube videos created by American men explaining their journey finding a Filipino wife. Some say they went this route because they are retired, alone and broke. Poor planning is another way of looking at it in my view, but I understand why some came to this choice, and I also understand why a woman with financial independence chooses male friends and not an old geezer she has to put up with. BTW, most women at retirement age are not looking to be a nurse or purse to anyone except the man she may have fathered children with or has spent years with in a loving relationship.

Kudos for having the courage to not only recognize what is going on but to openly discuss it.
A 'geographical cure' is always tempting but we know how those moves usually turn out.
Your group may not be functioning in this COVID environment [mine is but I think it is too risky to go] but this the sort of scene where a sponsor is useful.

My hat’s off to you, Mike. I think you had it harder than I did.

I knew the song from the Bette Midler cover. Didn't know Joni Mitchel had done it.

On a lighter note, the headline for this piece brought Zaphod Beeblebrox to mind. The two heads thing seemed to work out just fine for him.

You may want to look into the relationship between low testosterone and inability to make decisions. Weird, right? As a fellow procrastinator, last minute decisions are my specialty (except when the decision is made for me by circumstances because I failed to act). I am looking into this testosterone thing and it could be one of the reasons why weight lifting makes me feel "action oriented". I don't know enough about this topic yet, so "look into it" is as much advice as I can give.

I am the least proactive person in the world. I have had to make major decisions, sometimes courageous ones, but they have almost always been responses to circumstances, specific challenges or dilemmas. Where a decision does not have to be made *now*. it tends not to be made. Which is why I am the worst financial manager, leaving my savings for years in bank accounts paying virtually no interest ... When I do make a decision, the euphoria is real. I'm no fan of Nike, but they got one thing right: 'Just do it'. You'll feel better afterwards.
PS: Do as I say, not as I do.

Remember, there is a very thin border between someone helping you to make decisions and someone making decisions for you. Or as my wife once told me (and I keep reminding her) - "Your problem in life is that you don't do what I tell you"

Hi Mike,

what worked for me for making decisions - make a plan, work the plan as things change. In that process, strive for perfection on things you fully control ( like framing a shot ) and accept that most things are those which you cannot control and they will be not be perfect, but likely "good enough". Then i can let go of the anxiety about making my decisions.

This may be completely off the mark. From the publications you read, the fact that you read them I mean and not their political slant which is a minor issue, it seems that you take seriously what happens to others in your society. At this moment, that is not a happy place and it could be that whatever personal struggles with decision-making you might be having, exposing yourself to that high a level of political bullshit (sorry, there is no other word) is not helping you. It's not right to turn a blind eye to it, but you should ration how much you injest, it takes energy.
One other commenter suggested volunteering in your community. That could work on many levels. Aside from forcing you to meet other people and solving different problems from your own, it might be fun. Doesn't have to be caring for the sick and needy, could be something like sound stage management at a community theatre. Write a column for a local community newspaper. Teach photography criticism at a local high school. Just thinking out loud here, volunteering need not mean ladling out soup to the homeless, but it could mean that of course.
That's my two cents, but it's not like I'm any good at things like things myself.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but when it came to making one of the most momentous decisions of your life (taking custody of your infant son), you acted within a matter of days. As I recall, you were similarly purposeful in your decision to move from Wisconsin to upstate New York. It's the smaller, less consequential decisions you seem to have the most trouble with. These aren't answers to the problem, of course; just observations. Are they reasonably accurate? If so, what do you make of them?

Could it be that we, your readership and respondents, are your alt-significant others in which we offer many heads of advice?

Mike, I only discovered your site today. This has been one of the most moving threads I have read for a long time. thank you for sparking off the conversation. For my two pen'noth (short for twopenny-worth of wisdom) I would say those of you with partners - tell them you love them, and tell them often. Those with children, be sure to treasure every moment.

You never know when the good times may get snatched away.

Hopefully you are all of the 'cup half full' mindest. In other words, when you are asked how are you today, you can say 'I am blessed'.

Not making a decision is still making a decision.

Michael J. Perini above has put into words almost all that I've wanted to say. I think many of us have weathered difficult situations and times, and probably don't talk about them much. I won't attempt to offer any advice. It's your life to live, and what the hell do I know about it?

Ooh, life-coaching for someone we all care about. Count me in!

My two assumptions:

1. You should keep doing TOP for as long as you’re interested in doing so. Don’t you see, Mike, that THIS is your “10,000 hours”? (More, of course.) Malcolm Gladwell’s principle of expertise isn’t just for violinists and tennis players: if you’re one of the best in the English-speaking world at what you do, why not stay with it? You were smart enough or lucky enough to choose a career that relies not on youth and athleticism but on experience, wisdom, and perspective, so why abandon it when you’re in your prime?

2. You need a change of scenery. Well, you need a change of something or you wouldn’t be musing publicly about it, and if #1 is a given then something else has to change. So I’ll go with something you can control, “scenery,” because it'll be good for both your soul and for what you write.

My thoughts:

A. You’re younger than you think (a lot of your readers would love to be as young as you are). So don’t start drawing the curtains, or it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and you’ll age faster than you otherwise would.

B. I get the thing about Zander, but it seems too early to build your life around him and some hypothetical grandchildren (unless he’s more planted and rooted than I’m aware of). Someday, perhaps, but not yet? Maybe simply being closer to a major airport would address that need for now.

C. Never, ever assume that you won’t find a female life partner. I have spent many hours in the past decade working with older adults, and I can say from extensive observation that men older than you often have it very good. It’s just a matter of finding situations in which to make in-person (not online) connections.

D. You’ve alluded to some level of Seasonal Affective Disorder or the like, so you probably shouldn’t resettle too far north, where winters can be long. But you also seem to appreciate some change of seasons, so I don’t see you in Florida, Arizona, or anywhere else that the only two seasons are “hot” and “very hot.”

E. I think you appreciate having easy access to natural beauty, albeit perhaps in a more varied landscape than you had in the Upper Midwest.

F. You also seem to value exposure to intellectualism, culture, and history more than through your computer screen.

G. Thus I’d vote for being in or near a mid-sized city, maybe with a university or two nearby to provide additional intellectual/musical/cultural stimulation (and continuing ed classes; see "C" above). Having access to a good train system into the city would be excellent if you live outside of town.

H. It would be great if you chose an area that was easy for others to get to. I still would like to see you facilitate some photographic roundtables, to which a small group of TOP’ers could fly in, stay in a B&B, and spend a couple of days talking about photography and life. Maybe not [only] comparing each other’s photos as in a traditional workshop, but focusing on one or two famous photographers’ work with perhaps discussions centered on a single book or two that everyone would have read.

J. When looking for a new home, focus not just on the region/climate/city but on the specific block. Seriously; this is crucial. Do you need a car to get anywhere interesting or can you walk to shops, to the library, to the grocery store, maybe to church? (You'd definitely benefit from more friendly "Hello's" from fellow townspeople than you're getting now.) Quite importantly, how close is the nearest good medical center? And can you find a residence where you don’t personally have to do all the maintenance but the homeowner-association fees aren’t cripplingly high?

K. Keep those monthly expenses as low as possible. Every dollar you can save will multiply as you get older.

L. I’m thinking somewhere in the eastern US, perhaps somewhere in North Carolina. (No, I’ve never lived there, I have no idea about tax rates, etc etc. It just seems like it has a lot of the right stuff.)

M. And finally, watch “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” [again] if you haven’t seen it [lately]. India isn’t my own cup of tea, but the transformation in liveliness from the gray mood of the opening scenes to the colorful spirit of the closing scenes should be inspiring to anyone pondering their golden years.

Good luck!

This would make a good book!

I had the pleasure of seeing Annie Ross sing "Twisted" at Brooklyn Reading Works' Tribute" Court and Spark turns 40" at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn, produced by my wife Louise Crawford
There is a longish funny story about how Annie found out about the evening and insisted that she sing her song. That evening it was a sort of "no green room? I'll wait in my car" thing, but as you can see in the performance she gave it her all.
Afterward, the donations didn't quite add up to her fee and I had to run across the street to the bodega to get a couple hundred dollars extra.
An article about the event https://jonimitchell.com/library/view.cfm?id=2736 and Jonie's commentary (it's really funny) https://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=67

Another parallel, part of the story of the autobiographical "Court and Spark" was that Join Mitchel wrote it in part to deal with her depression from giving up a child for adoption.

I could throw in the parallels to my situation with my wife, but it's too, well, you know.

Annie Ross died last week on July 21, a really cool lady.

Greetings Mike:

Thanks for sharing - many middle-aged men often keep too much inside ,until things happen, then it may by too late to recover.

I have some thoughts on this but contact me at chris.beloin@att.net. Thanks - Chris in Wisconsin.

Regarding that Cambridge XXX sitting in the box. You better hurry: I let a voice recorder unpacked for 3 weeks, then discovered it had to be returned within 30 days! (P.S. It is still in the box.)
I had the same problem when I got out of the army. After 2 years of not having to decide what to cook, what to wear, when to get up, etc. I couldn't plan some 3 days ahead. If somebody invited me to dinner in 2 weeks, I had to put a big note on the floor which I would step over each day. The best suggestion I have: don't get too close to anyone who carries an overstuffed daily planner wherever they go.

annie ross passed away last week

I can totally relate Mike. I lost my wife of 41 years to cancer in 2012 and I still miss her like crazy. When you are alone there is a tendency to think too much. You dwell on what might be instead of making the best of the moment. The present Covid situation shows how we cannot see the future. You are very much appreciated by your readers and are doing something that you love. What could be better than that? Although your son lives many miles away I am sure that when you find yourself in crisis he will be there for you, as you were for him.

Great post Mike, thank you.

Given your age & finances the area you live in seems potentially impractical as you get older. Commenter MM has given most of the reasons in his/her points “E through L”.

Lovely post Mike. I’m familiar with the difficulties of making those kinds of big decisions. The difficulty even has a name, Fredkin’s Paradox: “ The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them – no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.”


As interesting as this is, unfortunately I haven’t found that knowing this makes the decision-making any easier.

My wife is sick at the moment - been out cold for the last day with a migraine. So I'm back to being the decision maker, for both of us.

@ John Camp: in what sense does the Pioneer Press not exist any more? Many (most?) companies evolve and bear little resemblance to their form from several decades ago. I'm curious, would love to understand.

@DB -- Individual papers survive, but in greatly attenuated form. But I was referring to the corporate owners, Knight-Ridder Corp., once the leading publisher by circulation and second by revenues. It disappeared in 2006. Now the chain that bought out the remnants of KNR (McClatchy) has in the last week been sold to a hedge fund.

Thank you @ John Camp

Hey Mike,

We've touched on this before, but as I was coming out of a 30 year marriage--I needed to decide if I was gonna live 'alone' with the dogs (and remaining kids), or attempt to find someone to love. I was pretty hesitant about doing the latter--lots of self-doubt about the process as well as being out of the game for so long.

What helped me to take the plunge was a beautifully written blog column by this Mike Johnston guy right here... I wish I could find the post, but you illustrated how important it was for you to get out in the world, state your intentions, and allow the community to help you where they could. I'm forever grateful to you for that post (and the rest of your writings too... even the pool stuff). Taking that advice to heart and allowing lightning to strike (or God to work, as this Catholic boy would say), it worked out ridiculously well for me.

I wish you all the best, and hope that what you're looking for finds you!

[I'm happy about that. I remember that post and it's a consolation to me that it worked out well for you. Didn't for me; but them's the breaks and there's no point crying about it. Maybe the post was for you, not me! --Mike]

Who can plan in the middle (is it the middle, or just the beginning?) of a pandemic like this one? So much disruption, so much uncertainty. I ain't planning nothin' right now. A day at a time. And if anyone asks me anything that involves any sort of prediction or assumption about the future my default response is "Pharquenoes" and a shrug.

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