Retirement Comes For Us All

A good friend of mine retired today, with a little pomp and circumstance and an overly-sweet retirement cake.

Cal is my work friend. He was the director of our Science catalogs, I was his coordinator for 11 years, meaning I put his product numbers into Filemaker, proofread his catalog pages,  and generally helped keep his p’s and q’s in order.

Somewhere between the p and the q we started talking about writing. Not many people at work know I have a blog, nor do they know about all the writing I’ve done. But somehow Cal and I found a common ground outside of work and started talking about writing, then shared our stories and writings.

As you all know, it’s hard to find someone who shares your passion. Whether it’s fishing or golf or writing, not everybody is in tune to what you’re tuned into. So to find another writer within the vanilla cubicle confines of my daily abode was a gem in the making.

Like any company, mine is in flux. Growing, expanding, taking new directions. The old guard is leaving and a younger, fresher version is moving in. What worked 5, 10 years ago doesn’t work today. So the prospect of retirement is sweeter for many of us over the age of 60.

We are not getting squeezed out as much as slowing down. I am as bright, as creative, as I was 20 years ago. But I must admit that at 64 my processing computer isn’t quite as fast as it used to be. So by the time I retire I will be so glad to let corporate America pass me by.

You don’t always think about retirement — hell, until recently for me it was something that was far, far away. But since I can’t fight time, I might as well embrace it.

That’s what my friend Cal will be doing. I’m sure he’s had plenty of ups and downs in his life. But finally things are coming together and the doors have opened to his “next” career. Maybe it will be writing. Maybe he will travel and become a professional traveler.

Maybe he will just enjoy the next 30 years of his life.

In the end, that’s what we all hope will happen to us. Isn’t it? A chance to spend another quarter of our life waking up when we want to.  A chance to spoil grand kids, work in your garden, paint paintings, meet friends for lunch. Eating breakfast at noon and lunch at 5. Finally doing whatever it is you’ve always wanted to do.

Cal, I wish you open roads, low scoring golf games, and a writing career that rivals J.K. Rowlings. There’s no doubt your stories will rival those of Asimov. After all — you are the Science Guy —

Keep Your List Long

listDue to a change of plans, I am home alone for the weekend. The weather is beautiful, the sun warm, the breeze making my windchimes sing.

So far I want to drive to the gas station for flavored coffee, write a couple of chapters on my novel, move the stuff from my tiny closet to a now-spare-bedroom closet, vacuum, dust, make shrimp in red sauce, walk the magic trail behind the university, walk my own magic trail on my property, sew bling on a particular top, change the kitty litter, shorten the sleeves on a new hoodie, watch the rest of Rome, write a poem, find new artists for my SEAG, read my WordPress buddie’s blogs, ride my bike, rearrange the deck, brush out the cat, and edit another novel.

And it’s only mid-morning.

The only thing I’ve managed to do so far is go get flavored coffee.

Am I the only one who plans big and falls short? All the time?

I often wonder if I would have enough time to do it all if I were retired. Doing the job thing from 6 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. (that includes getting ready) five days a week doesn’t leave much time to fool around. You would think I would have an Architectural Digest-sort of house, lovely gardens, published novels, spiffy wardrobe, plus time to excercise/walk/ride with all the free time I have before I go to sleep at night.

We’re never home on the weekends — whose fault is that? Between visiting the kids and camping and my hubby leaving for work at 4 p.m. on Sundays, there’s not much time left for anything except doing the dishes and laundry. And maybe ONE fun, great meal. If we’re around.

I have talked to many retirees who have told me it doesn’t get better.

It gets worse.

How can that be?

They let me in on a secret. The more time they have the more they think they can do.

Of course, sitting on the deck, listening to the wind blow the windchimes, gets equal billing with mowing the lawn. Painting a picture gets just as much private time as washing and putting away laundry. And they still manage to see kids, grandkids, friends, old co-workers. They manage to get a walk in along with stopping by the farmer’s market, build things in their workshop, write poetry, rearrange furniture, watch a movie, repair the lawnmower, and dozens of other things.

Many of them say they don’t have enough time in their day, either.

I’m beginning to think that Einstein knew more than he told us. That time is relative. For one person time flies by; for others, it takes an eternity to tick out an hour.

I tell myself I’d rather have an overly-long list of “to-do”s than a short list of anything. Having too many things to do in one day assures you that there will be things to do tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. That the Reaper can’t possibly come and visit because your list is too long and he’ll just have to come back when that list is done.

Which makes me think of a few more things I’d like to add…

 

TunnelVision

xListening to some mellow middle-of-the-road music yesterday, I began feeling a little melancholy.  A little sad. But not for the reasons you — or I — would first think. A few fellow employees have retired these past few days, and I find that I’m saying goodbye, not to those who are moving into the glorious sunset of the future, but to my own last days before into that same glorious sunset.

The retiring of two more “oldies” was an inevitable step towards the future. The changing of the guard, so to speak. Stepping out the door were two more of the microfiche and typewriter world, making room for the tablet and Bluetooth generation.  And while that is the natural order of things, I found my dreams of being someone, something, more, walking out the door with them. And I didn’t like that feeling.

The working world is built for the fast, the curious, the nimble. It moves too fast for those who grew up on record players and black and white TVs. The harder I try and keep up, the further behind I fall. Which is also the nature of things.  But when I looked at the picture poster boards of those who have left, I saw young workers, bright workers, working and laughing and making the working world a better place. Forty years worth of working and laughing and making the working world a better place. And suddenly those 40 years were gone in a heartbeat; a glance backwards to that ever-growing tunnel of used-to-be.

Through their 40 years I see my own timeline. I see flashes of my kids playing soccer, or sitting on Santa’s lap, or singing in the grade school choir. I see my first job as a linofilm typist and my most exciting job working in downtown Chicago and my failed job as a bed and breakfast owner. And as the retirees walk away from the only life they’ve known for 30 or 40 years, I wonder where my own past 30 or 40 years have gone.

In the melancholy of the last few days of their structured work place, I find a lifetime’s worth of struggle and passion disappearing in a puff of smoke, replaced for a moment by a cake with too-sweet frosting and a card signed by well wishers. How can one’s life achievements be reduced to a single goodbye? To a “thanks for the memories” speech?

I want to stand in the middle of the street and scream, “I am so much more!”

Yet looking backwards it seems I never got a chance to prove it. The fog obscures my vision, 20 or 30 or 40 years looking the same as 2 or 4 or 6 months ago. The mistakes I’ve made, the choices I’ve made, may have brought me to this place, but so would other mistakes, other choices. Life is really a game of craps, throwing the dice a symbol of pretending to have a say in anything. We are our DNA; we are our chemical imbalances and out superstar achievements. So we have to work with what we’ve got.

The tears that stung and blurred my eyes were not so much for the old guard passing as they were for my own life passing. Wondering if all there is to life is 40 years and a super sweet cake. Guess I’ll just have to wait until my own super sweet cake comes along to see how I weather the foggy storm of retirement.

Suddenly the music changed. Kick Start My Heart. I cranked it up.  And all I wanted to do was smush that retirement cake into someone’s face.

Damn, I love being me.

 

 

Not Today

computer-freakout-gifI have finally started to settle down from my week in Eagle River, Wisconsin. “Great Times Come With the Territory” is the ER code. I tend to agree. I went up with my grandbaby and daughter-in-law at the beginning of the week, the Men joining us on Friday. Every day I kept saying “I could get used to this.” Sleeping in late, not much cleaning to speak of, morning walks to the lake, boat rides, naps — you get the picture.

I also found myself slowly melting into a pool of pudding. A little less motivation each day. More of an urge to sit on the deck with a drink (mostly non-alcoholic), making small talk, reading Game of Thrones Book I. Catching rays at the beach. No TV, just DVDs and VHS tapes. I had a slow Internet connection, but it was just enough to check e-mails and Facebook.

And I kept on saying, “I could get used to this.”

But I had a job and a house and two cats four hours south of the “Great Times” town that I needed to get back to. So with a sigh of resignation and a bit of Zen I returned to my ‘real’ ity.  Driving down the backroads to my office computer job this morning, I realized that maybe it was a good thing to come back when I did. Escaping for a week, forgetting after a while to check the clock, staying up late, sleeping later, really warped my reality. I found it so easy to forget about world news and office gossip and all the things that bug me. I didn’t have to compete with anyone, compare myself with anyone, nor push myself past the point of no return. I ran around morning through evening with my favorite four-year-old, screwing up my biological clock and my muscles, not caring about either.

I found myself becoming a Duh. I suppose that’s not a bad thing. If sitting and staring off the deck through the seasons became my daily fare, I imagine sooner or later my A.D.D. would kick in and I’d be rabbiting around town in no time. I’m sure I’d get back into the groove and write up a storm and maybe even put enough energy into it to get published. Or start a real live exercise routine like walking to the lake (and further) and back every morning.

Then there’s the winters up there. From November through April it’s snow boots, snow shovels, and snow flakes (both the water and people kind). Unless you are a snowmobile babe (which I definitely am not), the most action you get during the week is running to the grocery store. Writing time — maybe. Sleeping time — definitely. An easy road to Winter Duh.

So I suppose for now it’s better to be tied to a computer entering data eight hours a day, feeling overworked and under-appreciated, never having enough time to do what I need to do, less what I want to do, having problems sleeping and waking up, trying to find a way to work out my day shift with my husband’s night shift.

Better to be a frazzled, burned out Duh than a sleepy, pleasantly lethargic Duh.

At least for now.

 

Looking for the ~Pay Off~

              Sometimes I wonder where I am going with the new “freedom” in my life.  My children are finally on their own, leaving my husband and I to play together and apart, depending upon our moods and which hunting season it is.  I am pulling away from the necessity of being a “perfect” employee and actually entertain dreams of traveling through Ireland or England or at least the Smithsonian. Even though our bills are out of this rarified atmosphere, I still manage to believe that by watching TV in the dark and not turning on the air until it’s 90, I will be able to squeeze enough blood out of the turnip and put it in my savings account for a rainy day.

            I realize that the peak that I stand upon is a precarious one indeed.  Any gust of wind, any fluctuation in temperature, might turn the entire direction of my future upside down, reassuring me of a world of mountainous debt, not to mention being the oldest catalog coordinator in history.  How do those of us caught between Woodstock and Country Thunder survive?  How do we find our way through the maze of downsizing, upgrading and specialization that seems to run rampant through our lives?

            The reality of the “haves” and “have not’s” are no more marked than when I drive through downtown Chicago on my way to football games.  Living in the quiet countryside of rural Wisconsin, it’s easy to forget that there’s a dynamic, yet alternate, reality that is shared by thousands of people making millions of dollars a year or more.  Surrounded by corn and soybean farmers, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole other species that thrive in high rise condos facing the lake and drive Porches and BMWs and take a jet to work each day.  When I drive through the thriving metropolis of the nation’s second largest city, I can’t help but notice the plethora of new structures reaching toward the heavens.  If there is a recession, the area surrounding Soldier’s Field hasn’t felt it yet.  Nor have most prime property locations in any large city.  What do these people do for a living?  What do they do in their nine-to-five lives that enable them to buy designer clothes and eat at Alinea (the most expensive restaurant in Chicago) once a month?  What could they possibly do in eight hours that I can’t do?

            All right all right. First off, they are a lot smarter than the average Joe-lene…or Joe, if you prefer. Private tutors, Ivy League schools, 4.99 GPAs — who knows what extra genes float around in their DNA. Outside their intelligent, futuristic mindset, their choices were different than mine. Their callings more focused. Precise. Obsessive. Sometimes money breeds money; other times poverty does. Hence the buildup of Metropolis. But sometimes I fear this gap between “them” and “me” will burst the few bubbles I have left floating around in my head.  After all, isn’t the preverbal rainbow just around the corner?  Isn’t that pot of gold just waiting for me to discover it? I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in one of those condos on the 56th floor of a building that faced blue water 24/7?

            I want to find a purpose in all my crummy luck. I’d like to think that there will be money left in social security for me and my friends. That I will be able to afford healthcare when I’m 75.  That there will BE healthcare when I’m 75. Economics has never been one of my strengths; I have never been able to understand the Dow Jones or the trading of futures and options on exchanges. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to change my stance in life.  I want my “golden years” to have more of a twinkle of gold than the smudge of soot.  I know that the choices I made in life were the right ones for me. I know that making a little less money through the years is nothing compared to the love and devotion I get from my children and husband and our two stupid dogs.

            But there are times I wonder if I could have tweaked the decisions I made.  That I could have, should have, stayed in the same job a little longer, spent a little less on groceries, or my last trip to Las Vegas.I don’t really regret the money that has drifted through my hands through the years. I’m not sorry having popped for the Renaissance Faire or paid for gasoline that was spent on driving to and from soccer games.

          What I do wonder is how all of this baggage will affect my newfound “freedom” as a woman of the millennium.  How buying clothes for my son from American Eagle balances the wardrobe of a woman going through her mid-life crisis — again.  How I can wear the same plaid booties I saw some young, fresh college thing wearing and not look stupid?

            I naively am waiting for the big pay off.  The jackpot. The book sale that will propel me into the world of Rowling and King.  The winning lottery ticket that will pay off my debt and leave me a little extra for that trip to Ireland.  Until then, though, I will keep working and paying my bills.  After all, my kid reminds me that it will be he who chooses my nursing home.

            I’d better behave.