Friday, September 12, 2014

"So How Are You Liking Retirement?"

This is what everyone keeps asking me. "So how is it, being retired?"

My first impulse is to shriek, "I'm not retired! I didn't retire! I quit my day job to follow my dream of being a full-time children's book writer!"

But I can see how other people would think I'm retired. After all, I took an early retirement package from the university; as a benefit of retirement, the university still pays for my health insurance until I'm eligible for Medicare; and they gave me a lovely retirement sendoff and gift.

Moreover, I have to admit that since I've been "retired" or "transitioned" or "become a full-time writer," I really haven't gotten appreciably more writing done than I did when I was on my hour-a-day system that structured my entire thirty-year, fifty-book writing career and that gave this blog its name. I'm still having a lot of trouble figuring out what to do with the rest of my time, once I write my early morning hour and take my early morning walk. And what I have been doing looks a lot like what retired people do: have lunch with friends, go see the Chihuly glass exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens for a second time, read a lot more books (currently I'm adoring Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed of Wild fame), and log thousands of additional steps on my new Fitbit (over 20,000 a day sometimes).

But I want my new post-professorial life to be more than that. What I want it to be, of course, is amazing, stuffed full every day with creative joy, with artistic bliss, and in a pinch, creative suffering and artistic angst will do. I want to feel that I left my job to fill my life more fully with something else, not just do the same kinds of things I did before, but minus my salary (though also minus certain inescapable irritations that come from any workplace and most recently came from my workplace). I want to live my new life in bigger, brighter colors. Not have it dinge to drabness.

So how am I liking "retirement"? The answer is that I'm still trying to figure out how to make "it" -- whatever "it" is -- work for me. I have two trips coming up, one to Indiana to visit my sister and dear DePauw friends and one a week of school visits in Texas. Both of these are things I would have had a hard time doing during the term if I were teaching. I've been trying very hard, and recently with some success, to write for TWO hours a day, which means doubling my lifelong rate, a not insignificant increase in both input and output.

Basically, now, I would say that Act III of my life is a work in progress. I'm not ready to open this show on Broadway yet. I'm trying in out in New Haven first. No, I'm trying it out in community theater, with an amateur cast consisting chiefly of me.

But that's okay. It's a lovely challenge, to have the time and space to figure out how one wants to live one's life. It's a beautiful gift that I've given myself, to have this conundrum before me.

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