When I turned in my Maymester grades on Friday along with my Philosophy Department office keys, I pulled down the curtain on what I'm calling Act II of my life.
Act I was my first thirty years: being an intense, passionate young person in elementary school, middle school, and high school, heading off to college and graduate school, falling in love with philosophy, falling out of love with philosophy, falling in love with various boyfriends, falling out of love with them (or, more often than not, having them fall out of love with me). I dropped out of graduate school at Princeton to take a job at Four Winds Press/ Scholastic in NYC, where I published my first children's book. I left that job to take an editorial position at the Institute for Philosophy and Policy at the University of Maryland. As my thirties ended, I had met the man I was about to marry (though along the way we broke up and then got back together again, as that seems to be one of the tropes of my story).
Act II was the next thirty years of my life. I married and gave birth to my two boys and helped them grow up. I fell back in love with philosophy, defended my dissertation, and was hired as a professor by the University of Colorado, where I taught for 22 years, earning tenure and publishing a respectable but not brilliant number of articles in the field of ethics. I earned a master's degree in library science along the way, which introduced me to the scholarly study of children's literature; I ended up publishing more articles in children's literature journals than I ever had in philosophy ones. I had a "crisis in my mental history" (to borrow John Stuart Mill's famous phrase) occasioned by a crisis in my family life and emerged a stronger, kinder person, more willing to accept the advice of my beloved Epictetus to focus my energies on what is up to me rather than what isn't. I published my fiftieth children's book this past spring. This past spring I also held my first grandchild in my arms. And two days ago I irrevocably surrendered my university tenure to pursue a career as a full-time children's book writer.
Now Act III awaits, which everyone knows is the best act of all, in which multiple plot lines converge in a stunning climax in which all is revealed and made right.
(Unless it's a tragedy, of course. But I'm not going to let myself think in those terms.)
First, though, comes intermission. I'm not planning to raise Act III's curtain until my 60th birthday, August 21. During intermission, I'm going to be scurrying around backstage to get the scene set for the final act of the play.
I'm going to use intermission to focus on getting myself into physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual shape for Act III, starting with the area that needs most attention: the physical, embodied dimension of my life. My broken foot last March was a wake-up call. So between now and August 21, I'm going to lose 10 pounds (and then try not to regain them, as I've lost those same 10 pounds twice before). I'm going to develop a fitness program (in addition to my daily hour-long walks) of a whole - gasp! - TEN MINUTES A DAY! I dragged out the two-pound dumbbells I purchased a few decades ago. I had some gorgeously fit church friends show me how to do lunges and squats after worship on Sunday. I did some situps for the first time in as long as I can remember. I have satisfying aches already to show how much I've accomplished in just two days.
So that is the plan. I wish I hadn't let myself slide into such chubby, flabby, sloppy physical decline, but oh, well. To quote the title of my favorite inspirational Barbara Sher book, It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now.
I've started. Intermission will run for June, July, and the first three weeks in August.
Then the lights in the lobby will flicker to signal that the best act of all is about to begin.