Squawking Chickens by Angela Rieck

In Tidewater Tales, John Barth likens our reaction to death to chickens in a chicken coop at the mercy of a large black snake.  When the snake kills a chicken, the other chickens squawk and run around nervously, but they soon return to their usual routine of eating, clucking and laying eggs. This is also a fair analogy for our responses to mass shootings.  The “chickens” (us), talk, criticize and demand gun control measures; while the NRA and its congressmen, lay low (like the black snake) until we quit squawking.

Today I am one of those squawkers.

I had hoped that after Sandy Hook, where 20 first graders and 6 adults were killed in a horrific act of gun violence; we would pass legislation to protect ourselves.

But the black snake just waited us out. 

In fact, after the Sandy Hook shooting nearly every state implemented new gun laws and almost two-thirds of those laws made access to guns easier (NY Times 2013). Two states that passed gun laws encouraging gun ownership were, you guessed it, Ohio and Texas.

Then I hoped that reforms might happen after the Parkland High School shooting which left 17 dead.  Some students took off from school to go around the country advocating for gun laws to protect us.  

But the black snake just waited.

Statistics show that there is little about gun ownership that is safe.  

The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms. Over a dozen studies have found that increasing guns in homes increases homicides or violence. States with the most guns and the most favorable gun laws report the most accidental shooting deaths. Accidents made up 1.3% of the 36,247 U.S. shooting deaths in 2015.

The most recent Walmart shooting put to bed the canard that the best weapons against gun violence are “good guys” with guns. No gun owners in Texas, a strong open carry state, were able to stop the rampage. It turns out protecting yourself and protecting others using guns are two completely different skills, according to law enforcement officials.

Most of us want responsible gun controls, 57% favor a ban on assault weapons, 90% approve of background checks. The NRA’s extreme positions and recent scandal demonstrate that they do not represent the rights of responsible gun owners.

Which causes me to be frustrated and wonder why responsible gun owners (who represent the vast majority of gun owners) are not incensed by how they are being used by the NRA. The NRA today is little more than a shill for gun manufacturers.  

Despite its obvious ties to gun manufacturers, the NRA has effectively sold fear, convincing its members that there will be a “domino effect” if we pass any laws to restrict gun ownership. Some have been convinced that the “government” will swoop down and take their guns away. (It is estimated that there are almost 400 million guns in America. Have you ever seen the government in action?  Does anyone really believe that that the government could do this?)

But something must be done.  While many of the proposed solutions such as; red flag laws, background check and a ban on assault weapons, will do little to bring down the number of deaths; IT IS A START.  

Can we let common sense prevail? Gun owners are already protected by the constitution. 

Something as simple as banning assault weapons would have had a significant impact on the death toll in the Ohio shootings, where the shooter was able to kill 9 people and injure 27 others in less than a minute. He fired at least 41 times before six officers responded and killed him. And in El Paso, police responded within six minutes, by then the gunman had fled, leaving 22 people dead. The police have been able to respond very quickly and effectively to many mass shootings (the glaring exception being Parkland), but assault weapons are faster, than, well “a speeding bullet.”

There is an inconvenient truth here, the 10-year ban on assault weapons which ended in 2004 had no impact on the number of gun-related deaths.  This is because there are so many gun related deaths each year and only a tiny fraction of gun deaths are the result of mass killings.

But what if a ban on assault weapons saved the life of one innocent victim, as it would have in Ohio or Texas or Sandy Hook or the nightclub shooting in Florida…would it be worth it?  

Now back to my chicken coop analogy, the good news is that we are not chickens.  We can sign petitions; we can notify our representatives and we can write checks and keep up the pressure in the hopes that someday our lawmakers listen to the voice of the majority. 

We can find where that black snake is hiding.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Sad Times for Perennial Gardeners

I am a gardener, so I know suffering.

I am not sure who said, “nature abhors a garden” (it has been attributed to author Michael Pollan). I don’t know about that, but I do know that “nature abhors MY garden.”

By midsummer, I wonder if I should put my suffering plants out of their misery. The hot, humid summer has reduced my hydrangeas to wilted leaves, dried flower heads and rust spots.  

My lawn has dried up, some annuals have browned and even one rosebush died.  I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to stay out in this heat either.

Even the blackbirds have tired of taunting me and headed to more productive farmland.

It is just me and my spent flower heads, tired bushes, wilting hydrangea, dried up daylilies, brown loosestrife, slug-eaten hosta, suffering annuals, powdery mildew-stained coreopsis and other unhappy plants. 

My underground sprinkler system couldn’t keep up while I was away on vacation and some of my thirsty plants, like astilbe, just dried up.

My pots are annoyed as well, the caladiums, used to Florida weather, appear to believe that this climate is worse.

To be fair, some plants are doing well, crab grass, wild violets, wild grape and other weeds appear to be thriving.

Autumn gardeners may be enjoying the grasses, sedum, mums, and asters.  But my garden lacks the sun and space necessary for those plants.

So being a gardener, I know that I must continue to suffer. I go out in the early morning, dutifully weeding, watering, snipping off dead flower heads, removing dead leaves and pretending that my garden will recover.  

No, we gardeners cannot give up.  

After all, there is always next spring.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

 

My Robot by Angela Rieck

Last month I got a robotic vacuum and I am a little obsessed with it.  

If you haven’t seen one, a robotic vacuum cleaner is small, round and automatically vacuums the floors for about 2 hours. Its 2 ½” height allows it to vacuum under beds and furniture and it knows how to hug the perimeter.  When the battery gets low, it returns to its recharging station.

So why I am enamored with it (besides loving how clean my floors are)? I used to write code and I am fascinated with its programming.  In truth, my robot is not particularly intelligent, its route around my house appears to be random and it keeps getting stuck in the same places. It also takes a circuitous route when it returns to its home base for recharging.  It appears to leave virtual breadcrumbs and retraces its steps rather than go directly back to its charging station. Once I left the front door open and it followed me outside, attempting to vacuum the lawn.

In researching robots, my first question is what is the difference between a robot and an ordinary machine?  Bottom line, there is no consensus. Wikipedia defines it as “a mechanical or virtual intelligent agent that can perform tasks automatically or with guidance, typically by remote control.”

But children’s toys, drones, TVs, computers, Alexa, cars and even some everyday appliances could fit in this definition. I have chosen to define robots as moving objects that perform programmed functions that do not require continuous human monitoring.

The earliest robot in history depends on your definition of robots.  But my definition would credit the first robot to the Muslim scholars of the 8th, 9th and most famously 12th century.  

These scientists apparently learned the basics from the Greeks but moved past water clocks to automata. The Arabs were the first to use the concept of robotics to aid humans.  The most prolific scientist, Al-Jazari, used hydropower to create an automated peacock, a waitress who could serve drinks, and other interesting machines. Al-Jazari published The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, which described his work, otherwise it would have been lost. As it was, with limited communication capabilities, his work was relegated to obscurity.

It took years before it was rediscovered and European hobbyists developed automata, which were featured in the charming movie Hugo.

But the name “robot” didn’t appear until the 1920’s. A Czech playwright produced a play about a humanoid mechanical creature and called it a “robot”.  “Robot” is actually derived from a Czech word which means “forced labor”.

The invention of the transistor, sensors and computers have accelerated robotic development.  Robots are famously used in factories and self-driving cars are not far behind.  

The biggest problem with the humanoid type robots is movement.  It turns out that walking has been notoriously difficult to recreate.  While robotics is advancing quickly, we still have a way to go before we can recreate Rosie of the Jetsons.

I recently got another robotic vacuum for my other home.  I chose a different brand so that I could study its movements.  This one’s movements are flashier; it likes to spin more but it shares the same limitations as my other robot.  

There are a number of robot competitions and PBS featured one in a NOVA episode.  RoboCup and DARPA are the most prestigious competitions. Contestants are provided with a series of tasks that their robot must perform and the contestant team is free to build any kind of robot that they choose.  It is truly an International competition, usually by teams who are associated with a University. Each year DARPA changes the focus. One year, it was firefighting. This year, it will be automobiles. The DARPA contest winner is awarded $2M and it is fun to watch the “creatures” that they fabricate.  

We are on the brink of this new technology making our lives easier, self-driving cars are almost there.  I don’t fear them taking over, I welcome integrating them into my life. We have a long way to go, but it will be fun watching the journey. 

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

In Praise of Einstein by Angela Rieck

I admire Einstein, not just because of his genius, but of his willingness to put his humanity on display.

Of the many things that I admire, there are a number of things that I don’t, but he never tried to hide his weaknesses. He was a poor student in subjects that didn’t interest him. He was not a particularly good husband or father. He was not much of a mentor.

But his strengths outweigh his limitations. He was modest, confident, kind and intelligent.

There are a lot of lessons that we can learn from Dr. Einstein.

Know your worth. Einstein worked on relativity in obscurity. His paper was ignored by the scientific community until a famous scientist read it and promoted it.

Be modest. Other Princeton faculty proudly listed their awards on their office doors; Einstein merely placed a simple placard, A. Einstein.

Believe in a God or Divine Presence. When quantum mechanics became popular (to be overly simplistic, it is a series of complex equations that predict our universe well, but it is based on a to randomness of the universe), Einstein disagreed, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”. More later about how his belief in a divine wisdom served him well.

Always question and see as far as you possibly can. He would review his mathematics and question his equations continually (more about that later). Einstein also unsuccessfully tried to develop a unified theory of the universe. He never gave up.

Expand your horizon. Einstein was an accomplished musician and became involved in the peace movement.

Have a generous spirit. Einstein was gracious, funny, welcoming and usually smiling.

Admit your mistakes. Einstein acknowledged making three significant errors. One of his errors was to propose gravitational waves; unable to develop a mathematical proof, he withdrew that proposition. In what he called his biggest blunder, he inserted a term called the cosmological constant into his theory of general relativity to force the equations to predict a stationary universe.

What is not known by the general public, is that Einstein was widely regarded as irrelevant from the 70’s up until recently. Relativity was accepted, but gravity was such a small force in our universe and particle and astrophysicists were more interested in the atom (which relativity didn’t address) and the cosmos. They focused on quantum theory, string theory and events in the cosmos. But guess what! Now that we have better equipment, especially the Hubble, scientists have proven both gravitational waves and the cosmological constant. So why am I saying that his admitting his errors (that turned out not to be) is important? By leaving it out there, it remained an important event to be tested…Einstein’s blunder. By admitting an error and moving on, he acknowledged his humanity but also allowed for the equipment and scientists to catch up with his genius.

But I said there were 3. And this is my favorite. Based on Einstein’s theory, gravitation forces would bend light and this could be tested during an eclipse. Einstein calculated how much the light would be bent and researchers set out to prove or disprove the theory of relativity by measuring the curvature of light during the eclipses of 1914 and 1918. BUT, Einstein had gotten his calculations wrong, he was off by a factor of two. Had researchers successfully been able to measure light during those two eclipses, they would have disproven the Theory of Relativity and physics would have continued down its previous path. By 1918, Einstein realized his error and made corrections. So, at the 1919 solar eclipse; the Theory of Relativity was proven and history was made. Why couldn’t it be tested in the 1914 and 1918 solar eclipses? Cloud cover obscured those eclipses. See what I mean about divine intervention?

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

The Invisibility Cloak by Angela Rieck

In conversations among women of a certain age, we sometimes reveal when we became invisible, usually due to age, weight gain or the absence of time to focus on our appearance. But at some point, in every woman’s life, she will become invisible; it even has a name Invisibility Syndrome.

Women feel differently about it, but most that I have met are happy about it.

It took awhile for me to realize when I first became invisible, but it noticed it when I was walking past a construction site and was not verbally abused. It surprised me, as I learned to wear loose fitting clothing and walking authoritatively to avoid the unwelcome comments. That day, I walked past the construction site unimpeded.

It took about 5 minutes to get over the life that I had known. The life where career women balance attractiveness and being taken seriously. The life where we are programmed by social norms, fashion, glamour magazines, and peer pressure to look attractive, but in the workforce, required to dress down our sexuality. It is a delicate dance.

I have been somewhat radicalized from the sexual harassment that I suffered as a pioneer. I learned to dress modestly and keep my head down so that I wouldn’t notice the leering. I wanted to be listened to.

I have many stories, but one anecdote will help you understand my world. One scientist made it a habit of staring at women’s breasts during any discussion. A sympathetic male colleague reproached him privately about his behavior. He expressed surprise that it made women uncomfortable.

Now that I am invisible, I can be assured that people who talk to me are talking to me. Admittedly, there are a fewer young men who approach me, but I don’t mourn the deprivation.

Since my invisibility cloak is now permanently attached, I can wear a low-cut dress tonight. I can wear comfortable shoes, I can wear as much or little makeup as I desire.
See what I mean?

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Talking ‘bout my Generation by Angela Rieck

I believe that most of us are concerned about the legacy left by the baby boomers (and after baby boomers)…global warming, pollution, the national debt, polarized politics.  

But there is one legacy from my generation that I am extremely proud of.  

Equal rights.

The combination of the protest against the war in Vietnam, the “hippies” movement, civil rights, gay liberation and women’s rights inspired us to raise the national conscious to recognize that none are equal unless all are equal.  

We have made tremendous strides. 

In civil rights we went from a lynching in 1981 to a Black President 27 years later.  Despite tremendous hurdles, African Americans are an important force in politics, professional careers, and sports. In 2019 almost 8% of the students in medical school were black.

When I was in 5th grade, I announced that I wanted to become a physicist.  The entire class laughed. As one student said:

“Girls can only be housewives, teachers or nurses.”

Those barriers have been shattered.  Today over 50% of medical students are female. 

Women did not have access to safe abortions and birth control when I was young.  Today, women have full reproductive freedom.

When I was growing up, homosexual acts were illegal.  Today, gays and lesbians have the right to marry and enjoy full protection under the law.

Our society is freer and more accepting. Fifteen percent of today’s marriages are interracial. We have a Family Medical Leave Act that allows both mothers and fathers to take off from work to care for a newborn. We have eliminated barriers for the handicapped.

Asians and Indians move freely through our society. Twenty one percent of medical students are Asian.

Latinos are moving beyond manual labor jobs.  Six percent of medical students are Latino.

We offer programs such as Head Start to help children raised in less than ideal conditions.

I am exceedingly proud of our legacy.  We have given the next generation opportunities that women and people of color didn’t have when I was growing up.

But I am also fiercely protective of this legacy, with good reason.  

The backlash is always there. Black voter suppression, the 2016 election, anti-abortion state laws, the “wall” are warnings that there are those who conspire to take back our accomplishments.  

We mustn’t let them take away our legacy.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

They Is… by Angela Rieck

I have been an advocate for gay rights since my teens.  As a teenager struggling to fit in and equally uncomfortable with dating, I unconsciously sought to “date” boys who were gay.  Few admitted it at the time, but it was clear that we were each other’s “beard”.

My eyes were opened to the incredible injustice that gay men and lesbians suffered in 1969 (ironically, the same year as the Stonewall uprising). In my junior year of high school, I went to the University of Kansas to take summer classes in Spanish. There and I “dated” a gay man, who had come out to his friends but not to his family.  To help me understand his life, he took me to a secret gay bar. Hidden in a deteriorating house in a struggling neighborhood, there was no indication of the activity inside. A person guarding the door (from the inside) let me in when my date “vouched” for me. They didn’t care that I was only 17, just that I would be discrete. When I entered, I saw about 30 regular people sitting at the bar and at tables and I was struck by their ordinariness.  

“Everyone here is so NORMAL.”  I exclaimed in wonder to my date. 

Apparently, I said it loudly because the customers turned to look at me and saw an incredulous, young, naïve girl. They laughed and graciously came over to share their stories. 

I was surprised to learn that they were just like everyone else: schoolteachers, a principal, an executive, several military men, a salesman, nurses, women who worked in offices.  Some were married, others divorced, only a few had always been single. They had one thing in common. Absolute fear of being discovered.

At that time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness and was a crime in most states.  If they were discovered, they faced imprisonment, losing their jobs and humiliating their families. 

I never forgot how difficult their lives were and the injustice that they faced if they lived their truth.

As our nation has evolved, acceptance has spread to the transsexual community and to people who choose not to define themselves by gender (non-binary). “Non-binary” individuals do not wish to be defined as either male or female.  

This is where the problem occurs. The English language has never been great with indefinite pronouns. Traditionally, he or him has been the default pronoun for a person with nonspecific gender.

I have struggled with the use of the male pronoun, thinking that it was inherently (albeit unintentionally) sexist.  My solution has been to randomly interchange he/him or she/her for the indefinite pronoun. Not a particularly good solution.

The problem is solved by using “they” as a singular pronoun and “their” as the object.  Which brings us to the awkward “they is”.

Many colleges today ask incoming students to identify their pronoun: he/she/they.

Dictionaries have followed suit. Merriam-Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the American Heritage Dictionary have recently added notes supporting the use of the singular “they” for a person whose gender we don’t know. 

Some usage is easy for me.  For example:

If Lisa or John had time, I would contact them. (The correct pronoun is “him”.)

In fact, “they is” solves a lot of problems.

But it just doesn’t sound right and I stumble when I try to use it.  Over 60 years of grammatical training cannot be undone so easily.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Fear for Sale by Angela Rieck

Fear.  

Politics depends on it.  The conservative news stations sell it.  PBS and NPR give it away. Political Action Committees and Nonprofits thrive on it. Special interest groups milk it. 

It overwhelms us. It causes us to lose our ability to process rationally.

Why? 

We know that fear causes an automatic reaction by the limbic system. The thalamus, amygdala, cortex and hippocampus set up fear pathways.  Once the pathways are in place, our brain short-circuits more rational processing paths and reacts immediately. In this overactive state, we perceive and store events in biased fashion. 

Our world becomes a much scarier place. Our ability to regulate emotions, read nonverbal cues, and process information rationally is diminished. 

Continuous exposure to fear weakens our long-term memory and causes chronic feelings of anxiety; fatigue, chronic depression, accelerated aging and even premature death. 

But we don’t have to accept it. We can learn to control our response to it.  

That is not what special interest groups want, so they continue to ratchet up the fear, because it brings ratings, funding, votes.  

But what it really does is take away our humanity and makes us reactionary.

For example, I watch nature documentaries, but it seems that at the end of every show, I am bombarded with fear—extinction, elimination of environment due to climate, poachers, corrupt government.  

Ratcheting up this fear desensitizes me to the real challenges that we face. Climate change is real, there is no longer any debate about it, but it is also true that scientists are rewarded for attaching phenomena to global warming.  They are featured in documentaries, have papers published, receive necessary funding. Yet the trend to blame unusual events on global warming diminishes the very real threats that exist.  

On the conservative side, one of the most egregious simplifications is blaming immigration for the loss of jobs. It flies in the face of the facts.  Wall Street, our tax code, executive compensation, politicians, and an absence of business conscience all conspired to offshore millions and millions of jobs.  Blaming it on an easy victim doesn’t fix it, it only heightens our fear responses and prevents us from addressing root causes.

What do we do?  We have several choices. First, we can stop listening to fear-based stories, but that could cause us to ignore serious issues.  A better, more complicated option is to “feel the fear,”question the story (“is it accurate, is it an exaggeration, is it conjecture?”), search for the truth and make a plan to address it.  

For example, I am concerned about climate change.  I cannot fix it. But I can utilize the Buddhist principle that “a jug fills drop by drop.” So the little things that I CAN do both reduce my fear and help the environment. I can vote for candidates who prioritize climate change. I can turn off a light (that might not make a big difference, but what if everyone did it?). I now make weekly goals to help the environment.  This week my goal is to drive 10 miles less, turn up my thermostat, buy organic foods. Little things, yes, but imagine if everyone did them?

We cannot predict the future. But if we live in fear of it, we will not be able to address it. We will only become more polarized, less objective and continue down the dismal path that we are following.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

On Mental Illness by Angela Rieck

The New York Times recently reported that researchers were able to create some form of brain function in slaughtered pigs whose brain cells had been deprived of oxygen and nutrients for 4 hours. What type of brain activity, they don’t know. What are the implications for human brains? We don’t know.

But it highlights how little we know about the brain. Only in the past 40 years, with new scanning tools and new understanding of neurotransmitters that are critical for synaptic connection have we been able to gain some insight into our brains.  

As we learn more about the brain, it has also changed our view of mental illness and disabilities.  Which is good. When I was in graduate school in the late 70s, I chose not to become a clinical psychologist because at the time, Freudian psychotherapy was significantly flawed as a treatment model (especially for women and children) and an equally deficient operant conditioning model was gaining traction.  I saw both as seriously inadequate and, in the case of psychotherapy, dangerous.

By the early 70s psychotherapists had taken Freudian analysis to ridiculous applications with significant repercussions for women.  Mothers were blamed for most psychological and many physical ailments. Mothers were blamed for homosexuality, autism, schizophrenia and, wait for it, even autoimmune diseases such as asthma.  

I developed asthma before I was six months old, yet the belief was that my mother’s maternal care was to blame and NOT my exposure to secondhand smoke from my smoking father. (Not to blame him either, no one considered the impact of secondhand smoke at the time.)  Women who went through treatment sessions to help their mentally ill children tell horror stories of how they were blamed for their children’s conditions and desperately tried to change their mothering style, yet these “diseases” remained, and they were blamed.

The operant conditioning model promoted by Skinner and James was no better.  Especially in the case of neurotransmitter and brain malformation conditions where behavior modification has limited impact.

Fortunately, cognitive behaviorism and positive psychology have emerged and offer an effective and pragmatic tool for treating some conditions.  

More importantly, brain research has revealed that many people with mental illness (such as depression) have depressed levels of key neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.  Psychiatry provides expertise in medications that can aid in restoring the brain to normal levels. There are new treatments like TMS that utilize technology to restore brain function.

But there is still a lot we don’t know about the brain.  Mental illness impacts all of us. Almost half in the US will experience mental illness, usually depression, at some point in their lives.  46% of the homeless have some form of mental illness. Mentally ill individuals have been responsible for mass shootings. Seventy percent of youths in detention are mentally ill.  

Mental illness has been with us as long as we have recorded history. Arguably the smartest man in history, Sir Isaac Newton, is believed to have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar mental illnesses. Many famous artists and musicians, such as Handel, were believed to be bipolar; and Freud, himself, who created the culture of blaming women suffered from depression and drug addiction.  Lincoln suffered from clinical depression; Charles Darwin was an agoraphobic and perhaps, Asperger’s syndrome; Van Gogh and Zelda Fitzgerald likely suffered from schizophrenia.

Many great historical figures have been successful despite or because of their mental illness.  Handel wrote the Messiah during a two-week manic episode.

The impact of mental illness on its sufferers, caregivers and society is enormous.  

There is good news. Our approach to mental illness has improved.  We recognize that these are diseases and not deficiencies of character. We have learned not to blame the victim.  We have made a lot of progress in the treatment and understanding of mental illness, and yet we have such a long, long way to go.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Our Time by Angela Rieck

Our Time

 

It is disheartening to see the current presidential landscape. Both the Republican and Democratic front runners are senior citizens.  As a fellow senior citizen, I am disappointed.

In negotiating this thing called retirement, one of the hardest adjustments for me was giving up power.  Working gave me a financial reward, a social incentive, and, often, a major ego boost. As an executive and a board president, I found that frankly, just my showing up in a room was cause for celebration.  People listened to me, some admired me, but all respected me. I’ll admit, it was intoxicating. But throughout this time, I tried to remember that it was the position that was being respected and not necessarily the person.

Retirement, on the other hand, has proven to be a difficult adjustment, probably because it was unexpected and unplanned. (I retired to care for my late husband.) I had enjoyed my career; I couldn’t envision not having one.

I remember Bill Clinton’s lament after leaving office that his phone had stopped ringing. Retirement offers no harried schedule, no one to meet, no business trip to travel to, no conference to attend, no speech to give, no one to manage my daily activities and, no one to boss around.  

In retirement, our worth is not measured by a salary or adulation. It is measured by our ability to appreciate all that we have been given.

I believe it is critical that we retire and relinquish power to the next generation; to take time to reflect, to savor the things that we never had time to enjoy.  It is an opportunity to appreciate life, relationships and cherish them before they are taken away.

More importantly, it is our duty to give the next generation a chance to determine the world that they will live in.  They, not us, will live in a world with climate change, population growth, declining fossil fuel reserves and scarcer water resources.  They will fund social security and Medicare. They will suffer the consequences of civil and women’s rights being chipped away. And they will have to shoulder the burden of the rapidly accelerating national debt.

Our generation has the wealth, the connections, the privileges and the resources to remain in power.  But it is nobler for us to give this up, to let the next generation govern.

It is time to check our egos, step down and let the next generation determine its own fate.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

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