As of a few days ago, I’ve been A Retired Wage-Earner for an entire six months. Time for another brief self-check to record what this new era in my life feels like, compared to what it felt like the day after I retired, a week later, two weeks after that, and three months ago.
My only other six-month-long hiatus from working full time was a leave of absence from work 30 years ago. (That long-ago break was a backpacking adventure in Europe with my partner at that time, who wanted to grandly celebrate his having finished grad school.) That magical interlude (apart from the freezing weather for the first half of it – we started out in the winter!) we spent amid a series of novel and therefore completely unfamiliar surroundings, and we spent most of that six months outdoors.
By contrast, I’ve spent this latest work-free six month period un-partnered, mostly (with the exception of two out-of-state trips: to Mexico in April and to California in July) in very familiar surroundings, and largely indoors, where Atlanta’s heat, humidity, and mosquitoes drive me into my air-conditioned house from about mid-June to mid-September. Plus I am 30 years older this year than I was in 1983.
One bit of retirement advice I feel completely confident to pass along is that one would be wise to be sure one likes the house and the neighborhood ones lives in, as – unless you can afford frequent trips away – you’re likely to be spending a lot of time in that house and in that neighborhood.
Precisely because I am fortunate in loving both my abode (tiny as it is) and my neighborhood, the first generalization to mention about my overall reaction to the past six months is that retirement still feels – most days – like a gloriously extended vacation, only a vacation spent at home, or at least in one’s home city. I’ve happened to have spent much of that time alone: my temporary house-mate Brad often house-sits elsewhere for extended periods. This is quite different from gallivanting around European capitals with a Beloved One.
Despite the differences in the two widely separated six month hiatuses from working during my adult life, I have begun to dimly sense that Not Working A Full Time Job has, finally become The New Norm for Calvin. Woe to anyone who might try to lure – let alone force – me back into the full-time work force – or even to a tempting job as a part-time worker!
Even after six months of it, I still find myself enjoying waking up and not knowing instantly the likely shape of that particular day. Even on the days that pass without my doing much of anything very interesting, there’s no chance that my occasional, fleeting nostalgic memories of “productive” work at the library system where I came into brief contact with so many people (colleagues and customers) are going to make me “miss” the termination of that long, long – and for the first half of it, satisfying – era of my adult years.
Shortly before I retired, I read somewhere that new retirees would be wise not to take on any major new volunteer responsibilities – and/or any part-time job – for at least six months. I decided to take that advice. My only weekly obligations these past six months were activities already undertaken before I retired in mid-March: Monday’s square dance class, Thursday’s T’ai Chi class, the Sunday silent meditation service at the local Quaker Meetinghouse. Once a month, I’ve continued to have lunch with some library colleagues, and I attend a monthly meeting of a GLBTQ archives awareness network.
Other than those five things – and decamping to the co-owned cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia approximately one (extended) weekend per month, I’ve been making up my “daily schedule” as I go along. I haven’t even managed to start planning – and therefore be able to look forward to – another out-of-state trip of some sort.
What I’ve done with much of the free time since I’ve retired (well, after the spring gardening season ended, and the bugs arrived) won’t surprise anyone who knows me or takes a glance at the record of my book reading in the sidebar of this blog: I have had my nose in a lots of books.
After looking forward for decades to having the leisure to tackle, say, a dozen different books at once, picking and choosing from multiple titles what I happened to be in the mood to read, I’ve finally been able to do just that! Still reeling from the thrill of the recently commenced Era of Reading Voraciously, I’ve even gone so far as to create a list of Books That Cal Wants to Read – gleefully adding more titles to it every week, and not caring a whit about how lengthy this list has already gotten!
These past six months of self-imposed and rather stubborn lacksidaisicality/semi-idleness seem to have elapsed rather quickly, which has only added to the at-times rather disorienting nature of this longish spell of haphazardly planning – and often lazily spending – my days. (I still keep having to remind myself on some of my Sunday nights that I will not be heading back to work on Monday morning!) And I have sensed during the final three months of my six-months so far of retirement that my deliberately indefinite/nonexistent daily routine, while wonderful in its way, isn’t perfectly suited to my (apparently vaguely production-based) temperament.
What I envision emerging sometime later this fall – besides (Allah be praised) a return, very soon, to piddling around for hours at a time in the back yard (aka my garden) – is at least one ramped-up volunteer commitment (many more hours devoted to revamping the Quaker Meetinghouse library), and experimenting with at least one newly created activity (exploring Atlanta’s bicycle paths with the used bicycle I bought the last week of August, the day after setting foot for the first time on a paved portion of the Atlanta Beltline, and shortly before taking the three-hour bus tour of the entire projected Beltline).
Perhaps because of all those years I spent in school terms that always began in September, I’ve always felt that the new year really begins every autumn instead of on January 1st. With its cooler temperatures and fewer bugs and gardening opportunities and other occasions for being outdoors, fall is certainly my favorite season, so coming up on another one is filling me up as it usually does with a general feeling of excitement and optimism. The big difference this year will be that I’ll be spending the autumn months – however I choose to spend them – already relaxed instead of handicapped by the stresses and time-constraints of full-time work.
In short, retirement, for me, at the six-month mark anyway, remains A Very Welcome and Congenial Thing. I am lucky to be physically and financially healthy enough to continue to enjoy it, and I hope I find myself resourceful enough to eventually establish a better balance between too much and too little “scheduled” time and between too much and too little time alone.
Stay tuned: I should know more about these matters a year from now.