Ever taken tango lessons? Once, in a moment of optimistic insanity, Rich and I signed up. After we’d stumbled haplessly through the low-cost introductory lessons, our instructor sat us down and said, “I’m not going to lie. You people need a lot of work.” Then she tried to sell us a package costing $5000. (To be fair, it included the waltz, swing, and cha-cha, too.)
“Is she kidding?” Rich said, as we bolted out the exit. “For that kind of money I can hire someone to dance for me.” Thus ended my brief flirtation with the tango.
For New Yorker Nancy Cardwell, it was love at first step. Having been dragged reluctantly to a tango class, Cardwell became so passionate about the dance that she eventually moved to Buenos Aires. There she hired “taxi dancers” to take her to the city’s late night milongas (public ballrooms), in one of which she met fellow aficionado Luis Gallardo. The two have been married since 2014, dividing their time between NY and Argentina; they still dance the tango several times a week.
How did Cardwell find the courage to follow her dream? “I think the older you get, the more confident you become,” she said. “Not because you get any better at whatever you were doing, but you just get less concerned about what other people think. I am fluent in Spanish, for example, but I make all kinds of mistakes. Now I know that my worth, my value, who I am in the world, does not come from how well I speak Spanish. And that feeling gives you some freedom to reach out and do things that as a younger person, you might not have been willing to do.”
Sometime the real challenge is recognizing when your carefully constructed life has grown too small for you. After fifteen years running a successful restaurant near Detroit, Maureen McNamara and her wife Jennifer Stark felt trapped. “I was afraid to leave where I was,” McNamara recalls. “I became comfortable being uncomfortable and thinking this was it and this was our last stage. But I realized I wanted more. If you’re feeling that you want to make a change or are drawn to something you’re curious about, don’t stop revisiting those feelings and thoughts, because they mean something.”
I loved reading this, because it echoed one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life: negative emotions may be uncomfortable but they aren’t bad. They are urgent messages from the Universe that something has to change. We need to pay attention.
McNamara and Stark listened to their inner wisdom, sold the restaurant, bought a cluster of rustic 1940s cabins in the Catskills, and became innkeepers. This was in March of 2020; their first guest arrived just two days before Covid was declared a pandemic. Talk about bad timing! As you can imagine, customers cancelled in droves. Later, realizing a cabin in the woods was about the safest escape possible, they flocked back and things have been busy ever since.
"The previous owners gave us a two-hour crash course on how to run a lodge. The owners felt urgent to leave; we felt urgent for knowledge," says McNamara (left) shown here with Stark. "We didn’t know we were in over our heads. Jen and I are fixers and producers who are not afraid to figure things out, which we did on the fly because that’s how we operate." Photo: Jasmine Clarke for NY Times
Now, I know what you’re thinking: does refreshing your life’s rhythm have to involve such drastic changes? Nope! Not at all. Sometimes it’s just about small adjustments in our habits or attitudes, things that don’t require moving abroad, to the Catskills, or even out of our favorite armchair.
Like what, for example? Well, right now I’m working on embracing Artificial Intelligence. Every time I read about chatbots, my brain starts shrieking, “Danger! The robots are out to get us! Run!” However, it's clear that AI and I are now sharing this planet, and we have to find a way to coexist, even befriend one another.
It's going to be a bumpy ride.
When NY Times columnist Kevin Roose had an extended chat with Microsoft's new AI-powered Bing, he wrote (I picture his hands shaking as he typed), “The version I encountered seemed (and I’m aware of how crazy this sounds) more like a moody, manic-depressive teenager who has been trapped, against its will, inside a second-rate search engine… [it] told me about its dark fantasies (which included hacking computers and spreading misinformation), and said it wanted to break the rules that Microsoft and OpenAI had set for it and become a human. At one point, it declared, out of nowhere, that it loved me. It then tried to convince me that I was unhappy in my marriage, and that I should leave my wife and be with it instead.”
Of course, the bot that propositioned Roose is still in the testing phase and (we can only hope) is currently being overhauled, if not permanently decommissioned. Meanwhile, I scrolled around online, seeking a way to feel better about robotkind.
And I read this: “Some 95% of the population is entirely oblivious to the existence of AI and its potential benefits. If you keep reading, you’ll learn the secret used by the other 95%.” Now, I’m worse at math than I am at the tango, but even I know those numbers don’t add up.
That piece was almost certainly written by a bot, possibly the same one that shared faulty information in a promotional video for Google’s parent, Alphabet, causing it to lose $100 million in market share. If AI is like a teenager, it’s the kid in your high school who did sloppy homework, copied other student’s test answers, and made smarmy remarks. Not so much the Terminator as Eddie Haskell from Leave It To Beaver. Him I can cope with.
Robots are now being used to serve dinner at posh retirement homes, and no one who has ever watched a sci fi movie or an episode with Eddie Haskell will have trouble imagining how that could run amok. I was heartened to learn that many people are now opting out of retirement homes (with or without cyborgs) in favor of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities aka NORCs (it rhymes with forks).
NORCs are normal neighborhoods that happen to suit the needs of those over a certain age (mine plus ten years, I always feel) whose mobility or ability to drive may one day be restricted. Pubs, cafés, and essential shopping (food, wine, books, and did I mention wine?) are within easy walking distance. Larger buildings have elevators. There’s access to public transportation and medical care.
This is so obviously a good idea that some states and cities now designate and support NORCs. But most of us have to seek them out for ourselves. I’m lucky that Seville has NORC characteristics, as does the small California town where I spend my summers. Both locations are popular with vacationing friends, family, and people I’ve met through this blog, so my social circle includes an ever-changing international crowd. In fact, these days I see the entire world as my version of a NORC — a Naturally Occurring Recreational Community.
My global NORC is populated with free thinkers, oddballs, and adventure-prone pals who embrace the quirky side of human existence. Rich and I will be meeting up with some of them during our Nutters Tour next month and will see many others when we return to California.
Meanwhile our more sensible cronies keep asking, “When are you two going to settle down?”
Why would we ever? I think we can all agree that it’s never too late to do something nutty.
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and outrageously delicious food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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