Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Humor, Wit and Truth in MWW - Randy Robins

In some prior blog posts from fellow members of Group 5, I’ve been referenced as the comedian of my group.  My friend, Chuck Fink, asked me to write my own post of my experience in MWW from the perspective of my being the “class clown”.  I decided to submit this post.  It is, however, exactly BECAUSE of MWW and my participation in Group 5 that my comic voice has changed.  So any humor here will be accidental or incidental.

As has been recounted in earlier posts, our first Group V MWW meeting was mind expanding.  After two guys spoke of heart breaking personal journeys, my head was in the oven.  What am I doing here?  Why are these guys here?  If I want doom and gloom, I can just go home to the ill-fated relationship that brought me to Asheville in the first place and is kicking my ass daily.  So with nothing to lose, I just opened up and shared MY journey.  And laughter pervaded the room.  Apparently, my misery had comic appeal, especially in contrast to earlier shares.  Noticing that I had a forum for my humor, as well as my desperate need for approval, I decided to stick around.

And I’ve found riches beyond my wildest dreams.  I slowly began to forego my judgments and actually LISTEN to the sharing of my brothers.  To be sure, I mock the guy whose check-in is typically bland and boring…”all is well, we’re loving each day”; blah, blah, blah.  And what of the guys whose check-in stories take longer to share than the actual events? I’ve learned to suck it up and look for other characteristics in them to appreciate.  When one guy told of rescuing an injured duck and taking it to a vet, I resisted suggesting that for the climax of the story I expected an account of the duck dinner that evening; at least until it was my turn to share. 

The foundation of our relationship, however, is truth.  We are free to be honest and vulnerable because we have developed trust.  Tears, warmth or belly laughs might accompany it, but our common denominator is respect and honesty.  And I am proud to believe that I am valued in the group at least as much for my candor and compassion as my wit.  

I feel truly blessed by my involvement in Group 5 and MWW.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Trust Leads to Disclosure at MWW by Elliot Berv

I joined Men's Wisdom Works in early 2013 without really knowing what it was about. I had read the norms and therefore had some idea, but like many things in life, you don't really understand it until you participate, and it then becomes real.

I had just finished Leadership Asheville for Seniors when one of the men who was in my group, who I now consider a close friend, mentioned MWW to me. So we both submitted our names and attended two "tryout" sessions. We then asked to join permanently and were told that "by a narrow majority" we had been accepted. I hoped that was a joke, but wondered. And of course it was a joke, told by our resident comedian. Whew!

My initial thoughts after a few meetings could be summed up by saying that I was skeptical that it would be a good fit for me. While I definitely did not want to be in a group with people whose backgrounds were all similar to mine, the backgrounds of members of my group were so diverse that at first I couldn't understand how we would ever be able to converse in ways that were meaningful to the entire group.

Was I ever wrong. Wrong as wrong can be. The group has turned out to be very important to me in ways I never imagined possible. Our check-ins range from hilarious to deeply serious, with members sharing very personal, difficult to talk about events in their lives.

But did I do that? No, not initially. I am a deeply private person who has been burned enough over the years that asking "Who do you trust" is a regular question before I say anything personal and revealing about my inner self. 

Amazingly, over the last 18 months I find that deep trust has developed in the group, and members talk about the most personal, difficult and emotionally challenging parts of their lives. And more amazingly, I find myself opening up too - talking about things which, in several cases, I have never revealed to anyone but my closest family members. 

Trust, for us, comes from that kind of sharing, and also from doing things outside of our meeting time together. We have an annual Superbowl party and occasional gatherings with spouses at members' homes. We also do things like a recent autumn bicycle trip - doing the Virginia Creeper Trail.

We also meet every other week, when we do not have our formal meeting, to have breakfast together and joke about everything imaginable.

All of this is a mystery to me. I never expected this, but at this point it is one of the most important parts of my life in Asheville. I consider myself very fortunate to have become a member of our group, and only hope that I can contribute in a way that gives as much to others in the group as I have received from them.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Perspective from One of our Biggest Supporters, Catherine Frank, Executive Director of OLLI UNC Asheville

As director for OLLI at UNC Asheville, I experience much of our programming from the periphery.  I sample the work of committees, the programs and activities and attend to the concerns of the membership in formal and informal ways. I see my job as bringing together the right ingredients to inspire our 2200 members to thrive in life’s second half. I sometimes feel a little like a cook working with many others to prepare a huge banquet. I taste and sample to make sure that everything is well-prepared, and I see what others are preparing to make sure that we will have a balanced and well-rounded meal.  My satisfaction comes behind the scenes rather than in enjoying the feast. I help to plan the menu and create the right atmosphere, and I get to enjoy hearing the happy buzz that comes from a group of people who are warmly welcomed and well-satisfied.

One of the dishes of the OLLI feast that I enjoy on the periphery is Men’s Wisdom Works.  The groups run themselves with very little need for support. They are an important ingredient in the mix of our offerings, and they are something that you just can’t get most places. Just as the aromas from a feast can sometimes be as much of a treat as the meal itself, the effects of Men’s Wisdom Works inspire me with a sense of the ways our organization engages participants.  When I am the last person in the office, I relish the sound of a burst of laughter from one of the men’s groups meeting on the other side of the wall.  When I leave the office at the end of the day, I often encounter groups of two or three men continuing a conversation that began in Men’s Wisdom Works.  I am always greeted with a quip or a question that reminds me that although I don’t participate and didn’t create the groups, that I am part of the larger effort that encourages innovative programming to meet the unique needs of our participants. 

Sometimes someone tells me directly that Men’s Wisdom Works was a lifeline when he was struggling with loss or trying to navigate an illness or just trying to figure out what retirement should look like.  Often I hear that men gather not only when I get to hear or see them but enjoy weekly breakfasts or happy hours to continue the conversation and camaraderie. I don’t participate in the groups, but I know they are part of what makes OLLI such a treat.

Being in the presence of Men’s Wisdom Works has changed my perspective on the ways men experience the transition from work to retirement and has helped me to better understand the importance of offering a support system for men in transition. The groups have helped me to see that the right combination of ingredients can create an offering with an unexpected and delicious flavor.  Here’s to the continuing and growing success of the idea of Men’s Wisdom Works .  Bon app├ętit!

Monday, September 29, 2014

True Friendship Among Men by Buck Bragg, MWW Group III

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."

These words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have long resonated with me.   It’s not that I had people I considered “enemies.”  Rather Longfellow’s insight made me think about the people I considered “friends.”  How much of their secret lives did I know?  And how much of my secret life had I shared with them?  Frankly, not much.

Until moving to Asheville in 2010 I had carefully and quite successfully walled off my secret life.  It’s what most guys do.  I talked to friends about what I was doing, but not about what I was feeling.  I talked about my deteriorating tennis game and my misbehaving stereo speakers.  I talked about the achievements of my three sons and my upcoming vacation in the Rockies.  I talked about challenges at the office and the woeful Chicago Cubs. 

Most often, these were conversations held in very public places over a cup of coffee or a mug of beer.  If someone at the next table overheard the conversation, no big deal.  As a lawyer responsible for counseling business executives, I practiced what I preached:  “never say anything that would embarrass you if it showed up in tomorrow’s newspaper.” 

When I talked with friends and colleagues, the conversations seldom penetrated the veneer of well-honed social diplomacy.  Corporations reward employees who behave like professionals.  And as self-styled curmudgeon William Mulholland observed:  “Professional men are trained to conceal their thoughts.”  So I was proud of the fact that during my 30-year career, there were no significant embarrassments, no scandals, and no interpersonal meltdowns.  To parody Gilbert and Sullivan, I was “the very model of a modern counsel general.”

For this I was rewarded with what many would consider the trappings of corporate success.  Looking back, it’s almost comic how important things like “span of supervision,” “budget responsibility,” office size, and title seemed at the time.  When I walked out the door on my last day at the office, I had a boxful of plaques and mementos.  But I could count my close friends on one hand!

Oh, there were lots of guys with whom I socialized and participated in activities.  I had golf friends, and tennis friends, and bar association friends, and such.  But these were akin to “Facebook friends.”  I certainly enjoyed their company, but the conversations were most often quarantined to the areas of our shared activity.

When my wife and I ultimately decided to move from Illinois, I felt it was the right time to seek deeper friendships.  A few weeks after arriving in Asheville, I serendipitously found myself in a conversation with the late Larry Golden.  He told me about the men’s group he was facilitating and how much he enjoyed it.  He talked about how important the group was to him and how close the men had become in a short time. 

As we talked, I remembered Longfellow’s lament on secret lives.  I couldn’t help but think that each life has a complexity and richness that deserves exploration.  How often had I superficially assessed people after only a few minutes?  How often had people similarly assessed me?  We all do it.   We envy the wealthy stock broker who retired at 52 and seemingly has everything going for him.  But living inside that million dollar house may be a lonely guy suffering from insecurities, an unfaithful spouse, and a degenerative bone disease. 

The reality is that you’ll never “know” anyone in a meaningful sense of that word unless you are willing to invest in their story, to listen to their heartaches, and to share in their joys.  It also means you’re going to have to trust that what you say to your friends won’t appear in John Boyle’s column in tomorrow’s Citizen-Times.

But far greater than the risk of loss of trust is the risk of loss itself…deep, profound loss.  Recently, our men’s group lost one of our charter members, Murray Greenspan.  Murray was a strapping, vital, 77 year-old guy who was loved by every member of our group.  After a bike ride with his wife, he decided to go for a swim in the pool adjacent to his house.  When his wife came out to check on him, she found his body lifeless in the pool. 

This is the second member of our group who has died.  We lost Jules Resnick nearly two years ago.  It’s impossible to describe the depth of loss we suffer.  When our group gathered mere days after Murray’s passing, we shared our memories and our love of Murray.  We hugged and gave comfort to each other.  It’s what close friends do in times like these.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


When my wife and I first retired, it seemed that the biggest decisions we had to make were “What’s for dinner?” and “What do you want to watch on TV tonight?” After a short while we joined OLLI and started taking classes and I joined Men’s Wisdom Works and our retirement life-style changed. In a very short time, I began to realize that the bi-weekly meetings at the MWW group became an antidote to boredom and an energizing force in my life.

I rarely miss church on Sunday, but I never miss the MWW group meeting on Thursday. The reason is simple; after the MWW meeting I feel energized for the rest of the day. I started to wonder why that is. Why do I feel so good after those meetings? I was feeling great both physically and psychologically; there was no depression, no sadness, and no worry. In plain English I was in a great mood every Thursday!

After pondering the question “Why it is so therapeutic to go the MWW meeting?” I finally came up with some reasons for that feel-good mood. The two hours every two weeks is a sojourn back in time to the previous familiar life-style before retirement. I know you’re thinking what does that mean? Well before retirement we all worked at something, we went to work, met with associates and friends, laughed, talked about the latest world happenings and oh yeah, did some work. In other words we had personal interaction with friends and associates; we had projects, challenges and problems to solve. That all changes when one first retires and moves to another state. Many times it’s just you, your wife, and the TV set. With some people, when they retire, the community spirit they had at work is all gone and it’s very easy to slip into a bored do nothing state. However, for me, with the men’s group meetings, it’s a quick trip back to the good parts of the old life style; communication and friendship.

Over the past few years, I’ve asked myself what it is about the two hour men’s group meeting that makes me feel so energized.  It begins with the fact that my opinion is valued; members are interested in what I’m saying just like it used to be at work when I had goals and challenges.

Another positive aspect I discovered about the MWW men’s group is that there is no competition among the members. When we were young and struggling for advancement at a job there was strong competition, but now that we're retired there is no competition; it’s just a friendly gathering of men who have become personal friends. The members are from all walks of life with a treasure chest of knowledge and experience. The information we provide during our discussions is interesting, and the men are not afraid to speak from the heart because what is said in the MWW group stays within the group.

Throughout my life, I have personally noticed that, generally, men don't seem to make friends as easily as women do. I believe women make friends about 10 times faster than men. They talk to one another on the phone, and then say “Let’s do lunch or go for a walk” and get to know one another even better. Men on the other hand, I believe, have been in competition with other men so long that we have that macho mentality that holds us back from making friends with other men. However, with the MWW group the purpose is friendship and conversation so no competition is involved.

I am surprised that no matter what subject is being discussed, someone in the group has some expertise in the subject. There is a special kind of camaraderie that develops within the group. We email one another, we send one another interesting articles and funny stories, and all of this really helps with the transition to retirement. Moving from the work place to retirement is a tough transition and to be honest, without the group, I think it would be a much more difficult transition to make.

An unknown author once said that there are three kinds of friends: “Friends for a reason - Friends for a season - Friends for a lifetime.” Since we are all in the last quarter of life’s journey, I consider the men in MWW group lifetime friends with no other agenda than friendship and helping one another enjoy life for the remainder of the journey. I am continually grateful that I found them and they found me!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Less Stuff/More Friends & On the Road Again - Gene Lambirth:

Following my retirement in 2008 my wife and I were determined to focus our time on those things that were really important to the quality of our life.  We moved from a large home in the hot, humid suburbs of Houston to an apartment in downtown Asheville.   We brought with us two folding chairs, one car, an inflatable mattress, our cat, a few hobby items, and some clothes. The rest of our possessions, gathered nearly for around 40 years, we sold, gave away, or consigned to the dumpster.  Parting with a lifelong accumulation of objects was difficult at first. Ultimately, however, it became a liberating experience.

My first stab at retirement happened in 2005.  However, soon after I retired I took up a second career as a consultant -- or as my wife, Gay, likes to say, I flunked retirement.  By the end of 2008 with the onset of the economic recession, most of the consulting work went away and so I decided to try retirement for a second time.  We moved to Asheville in early 2009 and for the next two years I was busy settling into a new environment, making new friends and enjoying all the good things that Asheville has to offer.

When I was asked if I might be interested in joining a men's group at OLLI I was not sure what I thought of the idea. What was this going to be?  A discussion group?  A therapy group?  Would we lie around a campfire singing Kumbaya?  I was not sure if I was interested in any of those things but I thought in the spirit of making some changes in my life I would give it a try.  If I had any expectation that it embodied any of those elements I would go to a few meetings, find out it was not my thing, and then find a way to back out gracefully.

I've been in Men's Wisdom Works Group I for over 5 years. While there have been changes in the makeup of the group, most of the other members have been part of the group for about the same period of time.  Our group is not a "discussion group", although we have many different discussions.  Our get-togethers are not therapy sessions, although they are often therapeutic.  We have not yet sat around a campfire and sung Kumbaya--although I am now open to that possibility.  This group has become an important part of my life and I am pleased to call this group of men my friends.

I've been thinking about walking across Spain since 2005, about the same time I first retired.  My thinking came to fruition two years ago when I walked El Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied Du Port in France to de Compostela in Spain, a distance of about 500 miles.  I did it for a number of reasons; I thought I would meet interesting people, I wanted to take time to reflect on where I was headed in the next stage of life, I wanted to do it out of gratitude for all the good things that have happened in my life, I wanted to practice "living in the moment" rather than focusing on the future or the past, and as a life-long "couch potato" I thought it would be a good chance to get some exercise.

In 2011 I went to see the movie, "The Way", about a group of four strangers who meet while walking The El Camino. At that time I was about to turn 64 and I realized that if I didn't walk El Camino soon, I would probably never walk it. I began training by walking around Asheville until I worked myself to the point where I could walk 20 miles with all my gear -- which I limited to 20 lbs.  It was not until well after I began training and purchased my plane tickets that I told my friends of my plans.  At that point I was committed to going!

I began walking on August 30, 2012 and arrived at my destination in Santiago on October 5, 2012, walking every day except 2 (rest stops in Burgos and Leon) and averaging about 14 miles a day.  I don't intend to relate the entire trip on the blog, but I can say that my reaction upon completing the journey was that it was a wonderful experience, but after more than a month away from home, I was glad to be finished.  At that time I did not think I would ever walk El Camino again since I had crossed it off my "bucket list". However like many people who make the walk, six months later I began to feel the urge to do it again, or something similar, again.

I decided that, rather than walk the exact same path, I would walk one of the pilgrimage trails that feeds into The Camino.  Specifically, the Chemin Le Puy, which starts in La Puy France and ends at St Jean Pied du Port where I began my walk two years ago.  I plan to take it a bit different by walking a day or two past St Jean, crossing over the Pyrenees into Spain and completing my journey in Roncesvalles, Spain.  Last summer I mentioned this to a group of friends and two friends from my Men's Wisdom Works group decided they would join me -- one for the entire distance and the other for the first week or so.

My friends Morris Letsinger, who will join me trekking the entire nearly 500 mile distance, and Ron Scheinman, who will walk with us for the first week will commence our journey August 31, 2014.  Last week a group took a practice hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We hiked for 30 miles over two days, and spent the intervening night in the Pisgah Inn. The picture above the previous paragraph shows us as we're about to head off on the second day.  Pictured are Morris Letsinger, Richard Kark--another man from my MWW group, another friend and veteran Camino walker, and me in the not-so-fashionable shorts.

Retirement is about growing, trying new things, and testing yourself.  At least that's the way it is for me. After all, retirement is a long trek.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Previously Important Person (P.I.P.) - Steve Pohl, Group Vi

                Inspired by the idea of contributing to the MWW blog but at a loss for a theme, I consulted a friend who suggested PIP – Previously Important Person.  The idea was that, as a physician, I must have suffered a loss of esteem as a consequence of retiring.  My first reaction to this idea was negative because a change in level of importance did not seem to be an issue for me.  Also, I thought, importance is often self-assigned.  Surely I had never done that.  A week later I learned that only two people had enrolled in my course at the OLLI College for Seniors and that the course was cancelled.  The course was a vehicle for me to share what I had learned during my career, a final shot at being important.  I decided to reconsider writing about importance.

                Looking back, being important was important to me.  I am an endocrinologist, a specialist in glandular disorders, and limited my practice to treatment of diabetes.  My early career was in basic research, a clear path to importance.  I had some success and attained tenure at the University of Virginia before I got fed up with the rat race and left academia.  In 1991, I opened a solo private practice with my wife, Linda, as practice manager.  Linda and I had never considered the possibility of working together, but someone had to attend to the practical aspects of making a medical practice work.  She had the skills and experience that I lacked.  We spent the next several years building an organization that was very successful and met our needs.  We became very important people in a very small world that we created for ourselves.  The time and focus required to make this work, however, meant that there was very little else in our lives.  After sixteen years, we were ready to put this phase of life behind us and try something new.

                In 2007, we retired and spent five years figuring out what we wanted to do, selecting a place to live, building a house, and moving to a new, strange place.  Thus, by the time I got to Asheville, I had already survived much of the transition to retirement, or so I thought.  Within a few weeks of moving here I attended a newcomers event at the Reuter Center.  I remember walking past all the special interest group tables.  There was one table labeled Men’s Wisdom Works with a youngish appearing man sitting behind it.  I carefully avoided making eye contact and moved on.  Suddenly, I felt an elbow in my ribs and heard Linda say, “You need that.”  I momentarily lost concentration and it happened.  I made eye contact with MWW founder Chuck Fink.  I was a goner.  The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a classroom at the Reuter Center with ten or so male strangers reciting a slightly fictionalized autobiography.  I figured I would stick it out for a while to keep Linda off my back, and then drift away.  That was over a year ago.   Since then I don’t think I have missed any of our bimonthly meetings or occasional breakfasts.  Our MWW group has become an important part of my life.

As I think about MWW, lots of ideas rattle around in my head.  Despite lasting forty-eight years, my marriage seems to require more or less constant work.  Our sons are long since grown but still give us worries.  I am still looking for meaning in life and trying to figure out what “meaning” means.  After many hours of discussion, several body parts still ache and the end of life still looms.  I spend time examining my beliefs but get stuck on my belief that all beliefs are untrue.  The list goes on and on.  MWW doesn’t seem to be about making life’s problems go away.  On the other hand, chatting with other men helps in coping with problems as well as taking advantage of opportunities.  Women apparently do this spontaneously, men not so much.

I guess I don’t know why I am hooked on MWW.  But then I don’t know why I am hooked on lots of things I enjoy.  I do know that there are specific things about MWW that I like a lot.  The men in our group are unpretentious.  As in any group of males, there was some huff-puffery and spreading of tail feathers at the first couple of meetings, but that died out almost immediately.  I am the only physician in our group.  A hint of distrust of doctors and resentment over all the medicines and procedures we prescribe balances any esteem of my profession.  My status in the group, therefore, seems to be neutral, as is that of all members of the group.  Our discussions are mostly about the present and future rather than a lot of bragging about what we did in the past.  I also like the fact that the men are unselected.  The only thing we have in common is some connection to OLLI.  The lack of rules appeals to me.  The founder assembled our group, gave us some suggestions based on what worked well for earlier groups, and turned us loose.  We decide where and when to meet and what to talk about.  Nearly all of our original twelve have stuck it out, and we have spent a year creating a group that works for us.  We have all stumbled from time to time, but the determination to make it work is palpable. 

So here I am at age 73 and seven years post retirement.  After some reflection, I have decided that successfully completing a transition to retirement is not the right goal.  Doing so would mean moving from one rut to another.  What comes to mind is that I could have opted to spend my days driving around a gated community in a golf cart reminiscing with PLM’s – People Like Me.  I prefer to think of retirement as a time of continual change, an ongoing transition, an opportunity to sample widely from what life has to offer.  I get to try lots of things that I always wanted to do and, even better, try some things that I didn’t know I wanted to do, MWW for example.  If one thing doesn’t work out, like the course I was planning to teach, I can move on to something else.  I may not be able to articulate exactly why, but MWW is important to my new outlook on life.  MWW is a few hours a month set aside to spend time with a group of men who have no other agenda than to help ourselves get more out of life.  I leave the meetings charged up and ready for more.  Being important is no longer important, but then it probably never was.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Exceeding Expectations by Allen Brailsford

Let's just say that I was never into Men's Groups as such.  In New Jersey I was an active member and officer of a United Methodist Church and there was the United Methodist Men's Group that I did not participate in because I felt that it was just a bunch of guys getting together talking about women and telling lousy jokes.  I may have been wrong about that, but it is what I believed.  

When I was approached about joining the Men's Wisdom Works group at OLLI UNC Asheville I was a bit suspicious, but curious nonetheless.  I was approached in an effort to attract more minorities to the group.  I arranged a meeting with the director of the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council and two members of Men's Wisdom Works, MWW.  Then and there, I decided I would join because the message of MWW resonated with me.

At our first meeting we all introduced ourselves and we talked a little about why we joined MWW.  From that discussion a couple of really powerful stories emerged.  One man said that he had been given the blessing of knowing that he was terminal and had approximately 2-5 years to live.  Another man told us about his wife who requires 24/7 care due to her living in the late stages of Alzheimer's Disease.  At that point I realized this was no joke.  Then the comedian in our group told his story giving us a bit of a respite from the grim realities of the other stories.

After the depth of such a first meeting I knew this was a group I could participate in.  When we learned that each group needs to appoint its own facilitator I volunteered and I've been facilitating for nearly two years now.

Our meetings are not all somber and serious.  We enjoy some real belly laughs, but most of all we support each other for whatever issue and need come up.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Need for Male Friends--John Carpenter, Men's Wisdom Works

"If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself alone. A man should keep his friendships in good repair."

-- Samuel Johnson

I had good friends growing up-in high school, in college, and in the military. As some men do, I didn't "keep my friendships in good repair". My support structure before retiring centered on business associates, my wife and an "empty nesters" group. I had few close male friends during my business career. I knew that as a manager I couldn't be real friends with my associates. The demands of work and career left little time to cultivate genuine relationships. In retirement I realized that loneliness can creep up and lead to anxiety, declining health and loss of purpose.

I am lucky to have a close bond with my wife, who is my best friend. As solid as my relationship is with my spouse, I knew early on that it was not enough for me. I realized I need real pals--men I could hang out with and whose company I enjoyed. When I learned about Men's Wisdom Works, I wanted to join a group as soon as possible. I felt that this idea was the way to find what was missing in my life. I have not been disappointed.

Since being in MWW, I feel calmer, less anxious and much happier. Our group of men is unique. We are diverse, from various backgrounds and parts of the country. We know each other's life stories, and we're open about our thoughts and opinions. We've developed trust and openness. One aspect of our meetings that I truly enjoy is the good humor and respect we feel for each other. Yet we can discuss serious topics that affect us all, with dignity and as gentlemen.

Retirement is a journey and good friends make the trip so much more fulfilling. In the coming years I feel that our group will endure, and as we age our friendships will endure as well.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Full of Wonder by Nevin Trammell

Wonder is a word that's loaded.  There's a child-like wonder full of joyful curiosity.  Like, "Hey I wonder what that tastes like", or "I wonder what's on the other side of that hill", or "I wonder what she's like??"

Then as we age "wonder" can be packed with worry, as in "If I eat that I wonder if it will upset my digestion?", or "I wonder if I should take the stairs or the elevator?" or "I wonder if I really could sell my house, leave my adult children, friends, familiar territory where I was born and went to elementary school, high school, college and graduate school, worked, and lived practically my whole life and move to Asheville?"

When I first walked into the Men in Transition class in Spring 2012, these were the kind of wondering questions on my mind.  The worrying kind of wonder.  I had not moved to Asheville yet.  I was on an eight week exploratory adventure.  After visiting here for years, "I wondered" what it would be like to live here more than 3-4 days at a time.  Long enough to do laundry and take out the trash and pay the bills.  Not just be a tourist.  As much as I loved it here, I wrestled deeply with the prospects of moving.  The uprooting. The loss of familiarity.  The going through all the stuff.

After others in the class told their stories in the Men in Transition class the facilitator and founder of Men's Wisdom Works wrote various issues on the board.  "Retirement", "Aging", "Letting go of Roles", "Relationships".  Finally after telling my story, he summarized my issue and wrote it for all to see:  "Shit or get off the pot."

That pretty much said it.

So, here I am.

Being a poet, or what I like to call a writer of very, very short stories that often rhyme, I still have that childlike, even sly kind of wonder in me.  Sometimes, though, the worry-wonder can take over.  I'm glad I have Men's Wisdom Works to keep my sly wonder fresh and my worry-wonder in check as I build my life in Asheville. 

Here's a "very very short story" for you:

One Man's Journey to MWW

I ain't no genius and
I ain't no fool
I've pondered things
I've done some school
I've had my head in the clouds
I've had my head under
I've dodged some lightin'
And lived with thunder

It just occurred to me

I wonder

Nevin Compton Trammell

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seeking the Company of Men, Again - J.C.

I am a loner-perfectly content to sit by myself in the back corner of a room taking it all in.  Observing, critiquing, questioning, entertaining myself with my thoughts and perhaps a diversion on my phone.

I've always been this way.  Growing up in Philly, I walked the streets in my neighborhood, constantly curious, pestering street workers with incessant questions until they shooed me away with, "Go away kid, we're trying to get some work done here."

The elevated trains were perfect haunts for loners like me.  As a teenager, I would get on one end of the Frankfort-Market Street line with a bagful of hot, soft pretzels straight from the pretzel factory made all the more delicious by the black, sticky goo on their bottoms from the baking trays.  Bag in hand, I would plant myself in the back corner on one of the trains and ride, unbothered, in my world, for an hour to the other end, and then, back again as I finished the last pretzel bit.  As I got older I'd do the same with Greyhound bus rides to New York or Boston.  No sooner than I got there, I would return since I had no purpose to visit otherwise.  This was my idyll (or so I thought).

I probably had no choice about becoming a loner.  My early life was scary with a mentally ill mother and there's no doubt that made me retreat into a protective shell.  I learned to keep my own counsel, to ask and answer my own questions, to avoid feeling what I couldn't handle, and to prefer seeking answers to life's difficult issues by scouring the library reference section rather than risk the embarrassment and fear of talking to someone.  The approach seemed to work for me, or at least I convinced myself it was working.  I was finding answers and I was avoiding what was painful or scary (including my feelings).

The avoidance became extreme when, rather than socialize in college on a Saturday night, I would hide in my dorm room closet with the lights out so that no one would suspect I wasn't having a good time.  I continued this way all the way through college and 14 years of marriage until, one day, my wife left me and I felt like a rug had been pulled out from under me.

My salvation was a group of men who I worked with at a psychiatric hospital. They were familiar and comfortable with the value of talking.  So, we formed a men's group that met at my house for three years every Sunday 8:00 AM-noon (when no one else had demands on the men's time!)  Little by little, as each man shared his story, his pain, his peculiarities, his hopes, we developed the strength that not one of us need feel alone.  I am forever grateful to the men when, after I described an unhealthy choice I was considering, they grabbed me by the collar, shook me, and shouted, "Wake up and smell the coffee!"  I woke up.  I opened my eyes to my own feelings and needs that I had neglected or put secondary for the first 40 years of my life.

Now some twenty years later, I feel a similar need in my life to seek out the company of men, again.  I am happily remarried, enjoy my retirement immensely, content with my solitary hobbies of woodworking, stamp collecting, and walking.  Yet, I know that the time is right to be part of a group of men who have the same purpose as my first men's group.  We ten men in my MWW group have found the joy of sharing, companionship, teasing, playing, and comforting.

I am 65 now and never felt better or healthier.  I still enjoy the familiarity of being a loner, yet, I now know that other men know that about me, support it, and occasionally push me beyond my comfort zone to engage me.  That's what makes men's wisdom works. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Truly Rewarding Experience - J.L.

I have lived in the Asheville area since 1973 where I taught history at Mars Hill University.  I retired in 2006, and after a few years, joined OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, where I took up teaching again, this time with seniors.  I had many friends before I retired and found afterward that these connections were no longer as important to me as they once were.

I joined my men's group both out of curiosity to see what such a group was about and also to see if it were possible to make a new set of friends and particularly men of my own age.  I have learned much and greatly enjoy being part of the men's group.

As a resident of Western North Carolina, it's been fun to learn about the experiences of men who have lived in places that are very different from here and who have had careers far different than my own.  At the same time, I have learned that in spite of our differences, we had many things in common as we told our stories about growing up in the 50s and 60s and how we faced the world as adults.  It appeared to me that at this stage of our lives career choices were far less important than they once were. Hearing the stories of my colleagues told in our meeting room at The Reuter Center and at a watering hole over beer has been a truly rewarding experience.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Change of Mind S.J.

When a friend asked what I thought of the idea of organizing several Men's Wisdom Works groups through OLLI (Osher Life Long Learning Institute) at UNC Asheville, I had lunch with him to encourage his initiative but to say decisively, I'd be the last to join.  What I actually told him was, "It was a good idea but not for me."  He received a similar response to his request for me to write a blog.

Not only did I join Group #3, but now I'm an enthusiastic supporter of the concept and my group.  In fact, I don't know how I would have gotten through the last 14 months without these men.  Being with a dozen men whom I like and trust has meant so much to me.  We listen, think, respond, and support each other as much as we can.  When one of our group died we joined his family at his memorial service.

About a year ago I went through radiation and chemotherapy for terminal cancer, and I relished their personal support plus the many rides they gave me to the hospital; what a difference that made for me and my wife. So now I'm writing this blog to encourage others to consider the idea as an opportunity to open your heart to others and to broaden your circle of trusted friends.  I doubt I'll write a blog often but who knows.

Stephen Jones, MWW Group III

Monday, April 28, 2014

Grateful and No Longer Jammed Up, by F.C.

In 1970, the Vietnam War raging, there I was......a U.S. Marine sitting in a Marine Corps Cattle Car.  We were on our way to war training maneuvers......all of us wearing helmets with our M-16's between our legs, not one man saying a word......a "lean mean fighting machine".....each alone with his thoughts and feelings......we keep to ourselves......frightened, lonely, jammed up.  We were being trained to protect our way of life, our country, and our families.

In 1987, I am on a commuter bus to New York City from a New Jersey suburb with a group of men.  We are the "suits"  We are being transported to the Big Apple to do battle.  We must protect our families, feed them, keep a roof over their heads.  We traded our M-16's for leather attaches.  I feel particularly secure in my three piece suit, because the vest is snug and tight.....it protects my vital organs.  We catch each other's eyes occasionally and nod, then we hide in our newspapers (lean mean competitive machines).....each alone with his thoughts and feelings.....we keep to ourselves.....frightened, lonely, jammed up.

Suited for the Next Mission

Today is April 21, 2014.  I belong to a MWW Group.  We met this morning. There are 13 of us.  We've been meeting for a few years (and attendance has been great).  First we "check in" and then we discuss a topic.  So, what's the big deal.....right????  Yes it's a big deal and here's why it was for me today.  I came to today's meeting feeling overwhelmed.  My mother has been diagnosed with metastaic cancer,and I'm not seeing eye-to-eye with my siblings (need I say more?).  I felt alone with my thoughts and feelings, frightened, jammed up and I wanted to keep this to myself.; but that's not what we do in my MWW group.  So during "check-in" I share my problem; and after "check-in" the men devoted the rest of the two hours to sharing about the situation that I'm facing.  A situation that that they might have previously dealt with, or might soon deal with it in their own lives.  During the two hours I received incredible support and understanding.  I received wonderful wisdom. Everything that was shared with me contained forgiveness and compassion. They shared many great ideas with me.  I FELT LOVED.  After the meeting one fellow said, "Call me if you need anything".  Another said he would watch after my house when I go to my Mom's.

As I drove home my chest was no longer tight.  I did not feel alone with my problem.  I had shared it because that's what we do in MWW.  I don't know how it works, but it does.  I owe these men a debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Impact of MWW on Men and their Wives by Karen O'Hara Rubin

My husband and I moved to Asheville, NC four years ago after just one visit six weeks prior.  We were ready for a change of pace and a better quality of life.

One of our first ventures was to begin taking classes at OLLI UNC Asheville's College for Seniors to meet other like-minded people.  On our first day we checked out special interest group displays and found a few things of interest. But the most meaningful connection was made at the display table for Men's Wisdom Works.

At first my husband wasn't interested in it because he perceived it to be something akin to group therapy.  I understood it to be a men's group to address men's issues in retirement, and kept encouraging him to give it a try, which eventually he did.  I had lots of bonding opportunities through book clubs, a golf group, and AAUW; but as is typical, we had no idea there would be something like this for him.

As I sit here a few years later, I couldn't have conceived the support and true friendships made as a result of him joining this group.  He enjoyed several close connections unlike any he had made while working.  The men from this group and their families rallied around us in an unexpected time of great need, when he was diagnosed and lost his battle with cancer a year ago.  And most surprising to me, is how all the men in his group continue to be there to offer support to me.  He would be so pleased.

I'm grateful these much needed men's groups were available, especially in our time of great need. 

Below is the epitaph my husband chose for us to remember him.

When I die
Give what's left of me away
to children
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better 
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me in the people I've known
Or loved,
And if you can't give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not in your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn't die,
People do.
So, when all that's left of me
Is love,
Give me away.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Strengthening Relationships with Men, by Dave Ehlert

A friend said he was having trouble making the transition from his longtime career to retirement in Asheville; and he believed that there must be other men facing the same challenge.  He was thinking of forming a small group to help others make a more satisfying transition.  I said I wasn't having any such problem but I'd be happy to help him get such a group started.

Professionals say that in order to successfully work through transition periods one must openly disclose, network socially, and be open to change.  Several times each month our group offers an opportunity to do precisely that---for men to bond, talk with each other, speak from the heart, and be caring and honest.

When I tell others we rarely talk about sex, football, politics, or religion, what I commonly hear is, "So what do you talk about?" Having pledged to each other that whatever is said in the room stays in the room, we talk about things that are important to us and our families---aging, illness or death in the family, moving to a new city, loss of a career or job, separation from children and grandchildren, and divorce.

Today, five years later, not only have my best friends come out of this group--and the friendships formed led to more contentment in retirement, but the things I've learned have also strengthened my relationships with family, spouse and children.

If you're looking for a practical way to connect with other men---to learn how to interact with other personalities and styles, a group such as this might be just what you've been looking for, without even knowing it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Intimacy, Service and Discovery -- Bill P.

As aging men, how can we make our wisdom known in the world?  In Still Here, Ram Dass suggests we can embody it with a balanced life of service and of "our own journey toward death...and through deepening knowledge of ourselves."  While looking for a space on my bookshelf for this book, I came across Herb Goldberg's The Hazards of Being Male:  Surviving The Myth of Masculine Privilege,which I read the in 1980, the year I joined my first men's group.

Goldberg reasoned that if the gender stereotypes of women were detrimental to women, as feminism had demonstrated, then there must be a similar downside for men in spite of the privileges of masculinity.  He pointed out that our masculine role expectations did not serve to make us fully human as husbands or fathers, friends or lovers.  In fact they were detrimental to our bodies and spirit and ultimately to the culture itself.

Competition and homophobia kept us from having deep male friendships. Denial of our feelings barred us from healing our wounds and created chronic low grade depression.  We self medicated on drugs and alcohol.  Our stay strong, show no weakness mantra kept us from health care and asking for help.  We perverted the intimacy and tenderness of sex into a conquest.  We sold our souls to our work.  Much of our success proved empty and unfulfilling.  We missed the joy of our children because their care was left to women in our lives, or our jobs kept us away.  Not of all of us experienced all of these, but most of us had some of these experiences.

Since joining my first men's group in 1980 I've pursued an ongoing internal exploration, examination and transformation of who I am as a man, and how I choose to live in the world.  My men's work has been ongoing because it took awhile for me to become fully aware of my wounds for what they are, and for the pain to pierce my defenses.  In addition the term "full healthy masculinity" has changed at various stages of my life.  Competition and success were big issues in my productive years. In times around my marriage and divorce vulnerability and intimacy reigned supreme.  My diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease overwhelmed and made laughable any delusions that I should, or could be able to fix everything, and always be strong and maintain control.

I'm still working on understanding masculinity.  Slow learner?  Weak teacher? Perhaps.  And/or it demonstrates the power of the lingering stereotype to shape us, and the myriad, multifaceted ways it's reinforced within our culture and personal lives.

Men's Wisdom Works, echoing Ram Dass, emphasizes the importance of service to our community and to each other.  All of the men in my group share their skills, time and wisdom with multiple service agencies or programs.  I'm confident that if I needed help, men in my group would be there as they are supporting and encouraging me as I live with Parkinson's Disease.   Also echoing Ram Dass, we've extensively explored the endpoint of life's journey. My understanding of my life with Parkinson's has deepened considerably. The diversity of personal and professional histories expands my world view and challenges my stereotypes.  As a long term resident among newcomers my connection to Western North Carolina is unique, but no more important than that of other men.  I feel free and safe to be who I am in the group setting with these men.  Together we try to embody wisdom.

I put Goldberg back on the shelf and Ram Dass next to him.

Bill Petz

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why Men's Wisdom Works for Me by Bob Tomasulo

I joined Men's Wisdom Works a little over five years ago with minimal expectations.  I had retired a year earlier and moved to Asheville with my partner.  I was taking classes at OLLI, The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, and had made some friends but I was looking for something more.  I was intrigued by the idea of men in similar circumstances getting together to explore the issues and difficulties they faced.  But, I was concerned that an openly gay man might not be accepted in such a group.

Taking a chance I accepted the invitation to join and it has turned out to be the most fulfilling experience of my retirement.  Our group bonds very well and all of us have grown to appreciate our similarities and our differences. We laugh, we cry, and we have a heck of a good time together.

Last year I had heart surgery and the guys in the group rallied around and made sure the experience was as painless as that type of malady can be.  They gave my partner (now my husband) and me the love and support only good friends can, and I have grown to cherish their friendship.  MWW proves to me that one's sexual orientation is no barrier to forming lasting and rewarding relationships among men of a certain age.  Thanks guys!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Common Ground & Safe Dialogue - R.S.

by R.S.1/28/2014

I am an introvert by nature.  I traveled a good deal in my younger years, including studying and working in Europe and Africa for 10 years.  My pleasures have always been solitary: travel, wilderness and Outward Bound courses, earning my pilots license at age 63, listening to music, reading, and a good deal of writing-some for publication but the greater part for correspondence and keeping a journal.  The result was I formed very few close friendships, and retained even fewer as time went by.  My life outside of these elements revolved around my family and especially my work, from which I derived my satisfaction, most of my social needs, and above all the structure that comes with being part of an organization.

Despite that history I thought I was ready for retirement.  I had drawn pleasure from mentoring younger colleagues and imagined I could try this, along with my experience and interests into retirement.

But notwithstanding a few volunteer activities I soon discovered an emptiness that cried out to be filled with "projects".  Anything at all could be a project, no matter how insignificant.  If I awoke with nothing on my calendar I wouldn't feel right until I invented something to occupy my time that day.

I missed a sense of purpose and the company of steady relationships and came to realize that I was struggling with this phase of my life in a way I hadn't anticipated.  The situation grew so serious that it invaded my marriage and sent me into medication and therapy.

It was at a new member orientation at OLLI UNC Asheville that Men's Wisdom Works came to my attention.  My few long term friends at this point - indeed part of my family - included people overseas, making the quality of contact required to nurture these relationships hard to maintain.  The fact that MWW was composed of small groups of men at my stage of life gave me hope that I stumbled onto something novel and with the potential to fill my need to start figuring out what wasn't working for me.

It has become not only what I so desperately wanted it to be, but in a way it was the very thing I needed. My group has broadened my horizons, allowed me to open myself in ways I never had the occasion or willingness to do, engaged me in topics that lurked in the back of my mind as I approached and turned 70, returned some of the social structure that I missed but in a new, more meaningful and gratifying way, and even allowed me to form what I hope will be new close friendships.

Perhaps above all else is the comfort that comes from knowing there is a safe place to air my concerns, together with the knowledge that when I need support of a kind that I couldn't find in other directions, this group of men will be there for me. As I am for them.  Both kinds of support - the giving and receiving - are probably the most innovative and important gifts that Men's Wisdom Works has granted me.

link to Men's Wisdom Works

Friday, January 3, 2014

Man's Most Crucial Unfulfilled Need

Last month, Dr. Lisa Wade, a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles, published an article titled, "American Men's Hidden Crisis:  They Need More Friends".  Professor Wade touches on many aspects of the problem, complete with academic citations from a notable selection of scholars.  Her findings affirm the need for groups for men such as Men's Wisdom Works. 

She asserts that of all adults, heterosexual white men have the fewest friends.  Moreover, she states friendships these men have involve low levels of self-disclosure and trust.  In what she describes as "shoulder-to-shoulder" friendships men are more likely to engage in doing stuff than in conversing face-to-face.  More often than not a man's confidant is a woman, usually his wife or girlfriend. Yet when asked men are just as likely as women to say they want intimate friendships based on emotional support, disclosure, and having someone to care for/about them. Trouble is most men are not getting what they need.
  In our culture such intimacy is defined as "feminine".  Thus, men push away from the very thing we need.  

Dr. Wade writes that in order for men to have close friends, we must confess our insecurities, be kind, have empathy towards others, and at times sacrifice our own self interest. We're brought up to believe "real men" don't exhibit these traits.  Instead we're programmed and dutifully accept the wrong notion that just the opposite traits define manhood; self interest, competition, stoicism, and tackling our emotional needs without help.

And here's a key point.  Men must find other men willing to take the same risks.  That's a tough standard to meet because most men mask their needs.  That is exactly why Men's Wisdom Works succeeds.  The masks are off so we all reflect our authentic selves. We disclose and show vulnerability with other men because in our environment it's not only OK to do so, it's the expected norm. 

Now here's the kicker, according to Dr. Wade's article. Research shows having a friend with whom you can self disclose is a major contributor to a man's health and well being.  With close friends people are more likely to avoid colds, to reduce the chance for coronary disease, to lessen the likelihood for developing physical impairments, or even to reduce the possibility of decreased brain functioning as we age.  Also, people with friends are more likely to survive the death of a spouse without any permanent loss of vitality. Medical doctor Dean Ornish puts it this way, "I'm not aware of any other factor--not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not genetics, not drugs, not therapy--that has a greater impact on our incidence of illness, and a chance of a premature death."  As we age, friends provide the key for maintaining our daily morale.

Men's Wisdom Works was born out of a personal need. It's grown into a pathway for self-disclosure, for building truly strong friendships with other men, and serves as a prescription for a fuller, happier life for members of MWW, their significant others, and their families.  We did it.  How about other men taking the same leap of faith and forming their own groups for men.  One question remains for all of us; why didn't we do this sooner?

For more information about Men's Wisdom Works click on: mwwasheville.com