Most Recent Retirement Reflections: The Third Year

Lifestyle choices.

Yikes, it snuck up on me, the three-year mark of my retirement from a 30-year career! That fact alone sort of answers one of my original retirement questions: How long will it take before retirement becomes for Cal “the new normal”?

Having recently re-read my previous annual retirement status report (and a retirement-related blogpost written six months beforehand), I am struck by how accurate three of my (projected) worries about Year Three turned out to be.

  • As predicted, I find myself still struggling with trying to balance the amount of time I spend alone with the amount of time I spend in the company of other people. This observation reminds me of a rather haunting entry in my Commonplace Book: “Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich (The Eternal Now). Year 3 of retirement included several less-than-brief instances of the “lonely” category of being alone. On the other hand, I feel fortunate that most of the time I’ve spent alone in Years 1, 2, and 3 has been in the “glorious solitude” mode. Naturally, I don’t want that to change; I also hope to eventually learn whatever I need to learn (or to be) for me to look forward rather unambivalently to the rather large chunks of time I am likely to be spending alone in the future.
  • My success with – and gratification around – continually finding additional ways to tweak my house and yard to better suit my druthers has, as predicted, noticeably waned, especially over the past few months. True, I do occasionally stumble upon ideas that are fun to adopt or to experiment with, but compared to previous post-retirement years the rate of such discoveries/experiments has slowed down. (Which of course makes total sense, and for the reason stated in the quotation of David Owen that I used in my previous retirement report: “The closer you get your house to what you think you want it to be, the less power it has to pull you forward through your life.”)
  • I have not, since March 2015, undertaken more solo travel – or decreased my hesitancy to undertake more – despite the fact that there are dozens of places on this planet I’d theoretically love to visit (or re-visit), and despite the even more remarkable fact that I could probably afford more travel than I do.

This unexpected pattern is not only ironic but verges on the inexplicable: there are few people I know who are lucky enough to be as healthy, as unencumbered by family obligations, and as travel-loving as I am. Why haven’t I planned several out-of-state trips for 2016?

If I don’t snap out of my travel-planning and travel-taking inertia fairly soon, I am going to be very disappointed in myself, as there’s no logical (or even financial) reason for my seeming to be so unwilling or unable to exploit my good fortune at being in a perfect position to travel more.

Balancing these retirement-related disappointments and puzzlements, however, is the fact that, most days, I still experience glorious moments of “retirement euphoria” – or at least “retirement gratitude.”  As I was feeling this time a year ago, I still feel, and feel often:

  • Lucky to not be working for wages every day (and still not hankering, in the least, for some part-time job somewhere).
  • Glad that my mom’s health – despite a third mild stroke – is sufficiently OK for her to continue living by herself.
  • Still excited by the approach of another spring, and specifically what I might be able to create or accomplish in the tiny garden in my back yard. (Hey, maybe Year 4 of my retirement will see some improvements in my front yard!)

Three definitely non-disappointing changes since my previous annual retirement status report:

  • I haven’t been as constantly troubled by the fact that I live alone instead of being part of a long-term committed intimate relationship. Yes, I still would prefer to be living with a Significant Other – I doubt that this sentiment of mine will ever change – but I have begun to notice the advantages of having my own space. A related worry – that I might become a hermit if I continue living alone indefinitely – has diminished, as has my fear that I am inevitably becoming more of a curmudgeon thereby. True, I do have some stubborn and less-than-totally-flexible qualities, but I have seen a few of those diminishing rather than increasing over the past few years. (Not all, but some.)
  • Another gratifying new thing since last March: a perceptible improvement in my modest skills as a calligrapher. I will always be an amateur at this delightful hobby, but weekly two-hour classes taught by a remarkably gifted and intuitive (and generously encouraging) instructor, and the additional inspiration resulting from attending a few workshops over the past year have made a detectible difference. Other than using it to address my annual Solstice cards, I’m still rather shy about sharing my calligraphy with other people but year three of retirement has brought me the confidence that one day I might venture into additional ways to use calligraphy for more than the sheer satisfaction of trying to write beautifully as a form of solitary meditation.
  • A further source of satisfaction that Year 3 of retirement has highlighted for me: the benefits of my weekly tai chi classes and my modest daily regimen of tai chi practice. True, tai chi is not a form of aerobic exercise (it’s more of a stretchy/balance/ meditative thing than a way to improve my cardiac health), but I still feel lucky to have undertaken learning tai chi all those decades ago, to have rediscovered it almost ten years ago, to have such wonderful instructors and whose studio is so conveniently located, and to have noticed how much more these days I enjoy my daily walk in the park to do the form.

I suppose the overriding reflection I have about Year 3 of retirement is how paradoxical it seems that I have reached this new plateau in my daily round. It seems only yesterday that I was working, and yet my working life now seems so distant from my daily routines. These days my memories of a full-time working life seem like they belong to some other lifetime (or somebody else’s career).

Mixed into this paradox is another one: I am still aware of – and grateful for – how luxurious it feels to be (mostly) enjoying what amounts to a never-ending vacation (albeit mostly the stay-at-home type of vacation!), but I am also often chagrined at how short the span of any human life is, and how quickly time (usually) flies for me.

I would surely benefit from flinging a bit more carpe diem energy at the tempus fugit predicament I find myself pondering sometimes, but the main joy I can report at the end of Year 3 of retirement is that I highly recommend it, and that I am so glad that I didn’t wait a minute longer to begin it. My career was interesting and fulfilling and productive, but retirement is better!

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More Retirement Reflections: The Two-Year Mark

2 year cupcake

[A self-interview about how it feels to have been retired for two years now from my 30-year career as a librarian.  I’m recording these thoughts so I can compare how I first felt about retirement to how I come to feel about it later on. I posted previous retirement-era status reports after the first week, the second week, the first three months, the first six months, and on my first-year retirement anniversary. Much of what I have to report this go-around will be familiar to readers of my most recent annual Solstice letter.]

OK, then, Mr. Cal: Your final day at work was March 12, 2013; it’s now March 12, 2015. Any major differences to report about your second year of retirement vs. your first year of it?

The short answer is No. There are a few subtle differences, perhaps, but no major ones – so far.

Meaning?

Meaning that two full years into retirement I’m still frequently delighted to realize (for the thousandth time) that the rhythm – not to mention the content – of my days is no longer dominated by having to work full-time. I’m still loving the “permanent vacation” aspect of not working…but still not used to this being the “new normal.” (My favorite retirement-themed T-shirt slogan: “I Don’t Want To, I Don’t Have To, You Can’t Make Me, I’m Retired!”)

Despite the parts of my library career that I really enjoyed, I’ve yet to experience a single twinge of nostalgia for it, and I certainly don’t hanker for the semi-predictability of a full-time work regimen that was my daily reality for over forty years.

It’s hard to believe there’s not something you miss from your library career.

It sounds crazy, but the only thing I miss every now and then is the fact that I no longer have a convenient excuse for creating library book displays! Doing those from time to time was a peripheral, rather than a crucial, part of my job as a librarian, so I’m surprised that it’s the one thing about being a librarian that I most wish I could still be doing! I thought I would miss terribly the interesting process of ordering new books, or maybe miss the satisfaction of finding ways to for the library staff to make its work more efficient, or miss interacting with library users or helping connect them with what they were looking for – but, no, what I miss most is creating book displays! Go figure.

And the “subtle differences” between how you feel in Year 2 of retirement vs. Year 1?

Within the past few months – and only within the past few months – I have begun wondering whether my current hobbies and patterns of socializing will be sufficient to sustain my contentment with all the free time that I now have.

Explain, please?

I have a lot of interests that – theoretically – could keep me engaged and happy indefinitely. For example, one thing I’ve done during the second year of my retirement was signing up for several college-level courses on topics that have long interested me. (Three of those courses – one on this history of the Hebrew scriptures, another on symmetry in nature and art, another about Soren Kierkegaard – have been online, plus I just finished, at Emory University’s continuing ed program for seniors, an in-person eight-week course about the cultural and philosophical aspects of death.) With the prospect of the many online and in-person classes I’m likely to sign up for in the future, combined with all the extra time I have now to read about whatever interests me, I can presumably look forward to decades-worth of learning about neat stuff.

Nevertheless, I can now at least dimly imagine an era in my post-retirement life when the long list of pursuing these intellectual interests, plus plunging into all the house and garden projects that I’d put off doing until after I retired, combined with devoting more time to my various hobbies, plus planning the presumably more frequent out-of-town trips that are possible with more free time, plus continuing to socialize with the network of friends I currently see fairly often – that all these things combined still might not be quite enough to keep me as content as I remember being throughout my first year of retirement.

Does that mean you might want to add a part-time job to your routine at some point?

An emphatic No to that question! My hunch is that I’d be willing to take a part-time job only at the moment I determine that I can’t afford not to. I’m still hoping I’ll be lucky enough for that day to never arrive.

A little over a year ago, an interesting-sounding part-time job did come my way, but an unexpected cut in the employer’s personnel budget caused that job to evaporate shortly after it had materialized. The profound relief I felt when I got the no-more-job news told me I really wasn’t very interested in taking on a part-time job in the first place, even though that particular job – using my home computer to order books for “opening day” library collections – was about as ideal as any part-time job is likely to be: I was getting paid for skills that I enjoy using, and I could do the computer-based work on a schedule of my own making.

So it’s probably not a time- and energy-consuming job I might need at some point to be happier with my lot than I happen to have felt a few times recently. I figure it’s something else about my circumstances that needs further tweaking if I’m to remain anywhere near as giddy and as grateful as I felt throughout my first year of retirement – and, for that matter, for the great majority of my second year.

So what do you think you need to change about how you’re navigating these earliest years of your retirement?

Most of the time, I’m content with the range of my hobbies and the extent of the relatively modest amount of socializing I do. However, because my major hobbies – reading, gardening, calligraphy – are so solitary, I do wonder if I might need to conjure up a few more ways to get myself out of the house – and out of my head – more often, doing more things with other people more often than I have these past two years. On the other hand, it’s only recently, and only occasionally, that I’ve become actually worried about this. The times when I have found myself momentarily bored – or fearful that my introverted habits could become seriously self-sabotaging – haven’t lasted very long.

Several factors are probably closely related to these recent speculations of mine about the possible nonsustainability of my current circumstances and attitudes:

• My ruminations on how ideal or unsatisfactory my time-spending habits happen to be are definitely influenced by the fact that I have not become romantically involved with anyone since Larry and I split up six years ago. My recent bouts of mild discontent have partly arisen from my not having completely adapted to living alone instead of living with someone else.

It occurred to me recently that not only did I grow up around a lot of other people (I come from a noisy family of five kids), but also for most of my adult life I’ve lived as a partner in an ongoing significant relationship – and, for most of those relationships (though not all, or all of the time), under the same roof. That’s still the way I would prefer to live, and the hopes I harbor that this will be the case again colors to some extent how happy I allow myself to feel about how I’m currently spending my time and energy. Wanting to be a part of what I consider to be the great adventure of living in partnership with someone else is apparently part of my wiring, and I haven’t been able to shift into some other paradigm that I feel suits me and my aspirations as much as the living-in-a-couple model always has.

During the six years since parting ways with Larry, I have on two occasions become involved with guys who I thought might emerge as Cal’s next Significant Other. Neither of these Potential Partners turned out to be Mr. Right. (In both cases, they figured this out before I did.) If the timing of these Intriguing Person Encounters continues, I am due to again cross paths with Someone Possibly Very Special sometime within the next twelve months! Or not. It could very well be that my partnership fantasies are a waste of energy, and constitute a barrier to my contentment. Perhaps I should reorient my fantasies away from couplehood and towards accepting and internalizing and maximizing the advantages of remaining unpartnered, but the fact is that I haven’t done so.

Something that is quite new for me on the hypothetical relationship front since I retired is being more open to the notion of embarking on a relationship with a Significant Other without assuming we would end up wanting to live together in the same house. That arrangement still doesn’t strike me as ideal (or even practical), but at least I can now imagine such a thing happening, and it happening as a way to make the next hypothetical partnership perhaps more sustainable rather than less so.

• Whether or not another intimate partnership eventually materializes for me, my post-retirement socializing patterns are, after all, still evolving, so balancing, post-retirement, my solitary vs. social pursuits is still a work-in-progress. Perhaps the various organizations I joined either long before or shortly after retiring will eventually lead to more socializing  – or even, eventually, to crossing paths with a Significant Other (if, in fact, there is going to be another such creature in my future).

• Regardless of how content or discontent I feel on any given day, my post-retirement routines and choices, two years in, are still remarkably unconstrained by factors that could suddenly and radically change. For example, at the moment I’m still financially able to dispense with the necessity of holding down a part-time job, not to mention the hideous prospect of finding another full-time one. For another example, my mom, now 87 and despite two mild strokes, is still in reasonably good health and able to live independently at home, so – unlike many of my friends and acquaintances – I currently have no care-giving obligations. These sorts of retirement-influencing factors beyond my control could change dramatically at any time, and they are always lurking around in the back of my mind.

• There’s been an unexpected lull in the number of out-of-town trips I’ve taken, or thought about taking. Traveling is something that’s always factored into my Current Contentment Quotient. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I did not travel out of town more often in Year 2 of retirement than I did in Year 1, nor am I currently contemplating more than a single potential trip out of the country later this year. Financial prudence accounts for part of this, but I also assume that I’m just not yet totally comfortable with the prospect of traveling alone. (This despite the fact that the single extended out-of-town solo trip I did make, a few years ago when – unlike now – that trip had to be a relatively short one, was a completely positive experience.)

It’s particularly ironic to me that I am not taking advantage of the supposedly enviable position I’m in of being able to afford more frequent traveling if I would just plan more solo trips. I am still hoping to visit several friends who live in various far-flung places, but I haven’t gotten around to taking – or even planning – those trips yet, and I am not sure why. Am I more of a home-body than I thought I was? Why this reluctance to simply “strike out for the territory,” now that I have the leisure (and presumably the funds) to do so?

• Some – most? –  of my recent disconcertedness about the imbalance of my social vs. nonsocial patterns has a lot to do with the weather! The cold and wet of every winter – and especially of every post-retirement winter like the two I’ve now lived through without the distractions of a full-time job – keeps me indoors more often than the other seasons do, and that fact keeps me more disgruntled more often than I generally feel during better-weather months, when I’m spending more time every day outdoors – even if “outdoors” merely means “puttering around in my tiny back yard.”

The annual bout of cabin-fever that has been building up for the past three months is something that’s likely to happen every winter, so I need to remember this when drawing conclusions or making pronouncements to others about how I’m feeling or when trying to evaluate what, or when, or how radically I need to change my habits or choices.

• I’m still spending quite a bit of the time freed up by retirement making steady progress on house-improvement projects. This pattern will doubtless continue to loom large in how I choose to spend my time and energy (and how I choose to deplete my savings), as I happen to love my house and enjoy dreaming up large and small ways to make it even more comfortable and congenial. As Francoise de la Renta once wrote, “the joy of a home is to be in it as much as possible” – and as I am at home most of the time now, I’m grateful to enjoy being here as much as I usually do.

On the proverbial Other Hand, within the last few months I’ve become aware that my enthusiastic nest-feathering activity must someday necessarily come to an end. In his book Sheetrock and Shellac, David Owen noticed that “the closer you get your house to what you think you want it to be, the less power it has to pull you forward through your life.” Owen’s remark has begun, lately, to unnerve me a bit. I’m not claiming that my to-do list – especially the list of garden (vs. interior) projects – has gotten uncomfortably short lately. On the contrary! It’s just that I doubt that I will be forever able to channel most of my non-social time and energy into nest-feathering activities.

So have you made attempts recently to “get out more”?

There are two things – and only two things – that I started during this second year of retirement specifically hoping they might enlarge my network of acquaintances and friends – in particular, my network of gay male acquaintances and friends:

• I recently joined the Wilderness Network of Georgia, a gay hiking and camping group. I’ve gone on two hikes inside the city and enjoyed doing that and meeting the guys I met on those hikes, and, as the weather improves, I look forward to doing more WNG events.

• Since the beginning of 2015, two friends of mine and I have been co-hosting a series of every-other-week spaghetti meals, rotating the location among our three houses. The idea is for us to systematically expand, in a comfortable setting, our respective networks of gay acquaintances. So far, these low-key meals have been pleasant experiences – not only because I’ve been able to meet additional interesting people, but because of the interesting process of working closely with these two friends to fine-tune our little experiment.

Any final thoughts about Year 2 vs. Year 1 of your retirement adventure?

Only that I’m still deeply grateful to have so much time to ponder the advantages and disadvantages of being retired. That I’m still (usually) optimistic that my life as a new retiree will turn out to be – interpersonally and otherwise – as interesting and as full of pleasant surprises and unexpected adventures as the wildly-different eras of my pre-retirement life were.

All things considered, retirement – partly of course because I’m reasonably healthy and solvent – has been a resoundingly wonderful thing. I will continue to strongly recommend immediate retirement to anyone who can afford to quit his/her full-time job, and who has pre-retirement interests or hobbies they are likely to pursue or expand after they suddenly come into an additional 40+ hours of time every week.

Meanwhile, this week I’ve been happy to see the weather has warming up to the point that I can finally spend time outside! It’s really something, gleefully knowing that I no longer need to check my wristwatch from time to time to see if I need to quickly put away my gardening tools so I can get everything else done around the house that needs doing so I can get to work on time! And the warmer and dryer weather also means  I can again look forward using my motor scooter to do a more of my errands. Hurray!

A Sudden Surge of Gratitude

gratitude-sunsetToday I was overtaken by another of those I- can’t-believe-I-am-lucky-enough-to-be-leading-this-life moments. These mini-epiphanies have been erupting periodically ever since I retired a year-and-a-half ago. This one came as I finished my lunch (a veggie sub unlike any other I’ve ever found anywhere else, in a restaurant conveniently located in my neighborhood).

As is my usual procedure when eating alone (which is most of the time, and at restaurants as often as at home), I had been reading while I ate.

I’d taken along to lunch with me a book I’ve been reading off and on since before Christmas. I’m often in the midst of reading several books at once, and finish reading most books within a few weeks of starting them. Apparently other books had distracted me from finishing the one I’d taken with me to lunch today. In fact, I had reluctantly picked up again this book only recently, having found the first part of it rather unsatisfying for some reason, despite the fame of its author and despite its theme – one of my perennial faves, gardening. I found the author’s style mildly annoying, and, out of habit, was forcing myself to finish her book anyway. But a few days ago, when I had plucked it again off my shelf of currently-being-read books located next to the spot on the loveseat in my living room where I normally sit to read (when I’m not reading during meals), I found the author’s prose suddenly more interesting. By lunchtime today I’d advanced to the final third of the book, and I was completely happy with her (rather idiosyncratic) style, and looking forward to reading the rest of it, even dreading its fast-approaching end.

At any rate, as I temporarily closed my book to leave the restaurant (wanting to get home before the thunderstorm I’d overheard a customer mentioning to the cashier was due in about an hour), a feeling of well-being abruptly washed over me. I am so lucky, said I to myself: here I am, again, eating in this restaurant that I’m so glad is part of my neighborhood; I can afford to eat here, and not only today, but as often as I like (and despite the fact that I’ve planned to eat out again tomorrow, elsewhere, with friends). The sandwich I ordered was as good as I’d expected (on my way to this restaurant, I’d toyed with the idea of eating instead at an Indian restaurant across the street – another lucky circumstance, having a good Indian restaurant in one’s neighborhood).

My neighborhood is a wonderful neighborhood to live in for all sorts of reasons, and I have been enjoying living in it for not just a few years now but for several decades – and cannot think of why I might ever want to leave it – something not everyone has the luxury of feeling. But usually I take for granted where I live; I forget how happy I am to be living in it, and to have always lived, as an adult, in or near it.

This recollection of my good fortune cascaded into a litany of several other reasons to feel grateful for my life, even if my life is not exactly how I’d like it to be arranged.

I then began to wonder:

  • Would I ever tire of this neighborhood, tire of finding good books to read, tire of the leisure I now have to read whenever and for as long as I like?
  • Would I tire of the several spots (besides restaurants when I’m eating alone) that I especially like to read in (the loveseat in the living room, the chair on the sun porch)?
  • Would I eventually get tired of living in the house I still love after living in it for 20 years, and still love tinkering with, striving to make it even more comfortable and congenial for me and my visitors?
  • Would I become weary of my interludes at the mountain cabin that I drive to or am driven to so often, and have been lucky enough to have spent time in almost every month for not just a few years but for fifteen springs, fifteen summers, fifteen winters, and (probably best of all) fifteen autumns?
  • Would I ever tire any or all of my hobbies other than reading: gardening, perfecting my amateur calligraphy skills, traveling?

It’s conceivable, I suppose, that the appeal of one or more of these pastimes would eventually wear thin, or at least wear thinner. But since each of them is rather self-renewing (an almost infinite number of new books, new plants, new places to explore), it seems unlikely…as long as my good health (yet another reason for gratitude) holds out.

Sometimes my feelings of gratitude are quickly followed by flashes of the “impostor syndrome,” and these thoughts crowded in on me again today:

  • Who am I to be so lucky that I can arrange most of my days to suit me, can come and go without anyone’s permission, can change my mind or my plans to suit my (mere) mood-of-the-moment?
  • Who am I to deserve a retirement income that can support what feels like an endless vacation?
  • When will The Authorities discover how unfettered and unburdened by obligations of any kind I have felt for the past 1.5 years, blithely choosing which of the various and mostly optional domestic chores I shall do (or ignore), happily walking back and forth a dozen times a day to my newish garden shed to putter around out there first with this little project, then to putter for a few more minutes – or for a few hours, perhaps – with some other chore, then abruptly deciding it’s gotten way too warm to do anything but duck back into my miraculously air-conditioned house?

Surely (goes my imagination) The Authorities will one day drag me kicking and screaming back to wage slavery, to which so many of my friends are still beholden – and many of those friends not as lucky as I was in my line of work, which I happened to have loved (though never knew, till I left that job, the toll on me my job’s less delightful aspects were taking on my energy and optimism).

Also sometimes accompanying my recurring bouts of gratitude, including today’s, comes a hesitation to exult in or express my good fortune, fearing that others not so lucky will despise me for my good fortune, or judge me to be too self-indulgent or indifferent to what I might be doing (besides being content a lot of the time) to alleviate some of the suffering in this world beyond my tediously-described enchanted doorstep. So not too often or too widely do I publicize my bliss (this blogpost being an exception to that rule). To any would-be despisers, all I can say is that, although I find much in this part of my life to be grateful for, I do not lead what one calls a charmed life. My longtime friends could tell you my life has been visited by sorrow, and I expect it to be visited by my share of sorrow again, not to mention minor termporary havocs and difficulties – and not just “First World” types of troubles, either.

But whatever I should be feeling, or might be feeling (or might be feeling or coping with tomorrow), what I am feeling today is very lucky and mostly happy:

  • Happy to have had the time this morning to sit longer than usual with my next door neighbor’s cat who (as usual) came round to visit as I was unlocking the garden shed for the day. Her visit postponed slightly (and delightfully) my morning mini-walk around the block in the aforementioned congenial neighborhood, during which I stopped briefly on the sidewalk to the tennis court in the nearby park (!) to run through the tai chi routine that my excellent instructors (at their studio also located in my neighborhood instead of somewhere clear across town) have spent four years teaching me how to do more correctly and mindfully.
  • Happy to have made, a bit later this morning, more progress clearing off the floor of the screened-in section of the garden shed the mounds of gardenish bric-a-brac I’ve been storing there, and even happier to discover perfect, permanent places for several of those items.
  • Happy to have spent the previous weekend at the cabin with four sweet gay men (only one of whom who’d been there before), and looking forward to seeing two of these guys again, here in town, later this month.
  • Happy to have friends who enjoy getting together from time to time, as we are planning to do tomorrow, to take in a (senior-discounted!) movie, preceded by lunch at yet another favorite restaurant in a neighborhood not too far from mine, one that I can get to via a scooter route pleasant to traverse.
  • Happy to have several of my friendships be of many decades’ duration, and optimistic at the prospect of meeting new friends (and happy about having had that very experience twice within the past month).
  • Happy to be able to afford so many amenities-bordering-on-miracles, such as air conditioning, an Internet connection, a mortgage I can afford on a house I love in a neighborhood I find so congenial.
  • Happy to have eyesight still good enough for lots of reading, and such great stuff to read (including, this morning, an incredibly well-written and completely convincing anti-theistic tract written by a Christian monk in 1729).
  • Fortunate enough to be able to afford not only reliable transportation for my local pursuits but also the wherewithal (financial and psychological) for occasional travel abroad.
  • Happy to be blessed with a family of loving, functional people.
  • Happy for not being sorry that I retired from my full-time job, and happy, too, that the job that I had was, for many years, a job I was happy to have.
  • Happy for what has been, thus far, a remarkably extended period of retirement unencumbered by financial or familial burdens.

Sure, I could register several complaints about my present circumstances. But to list the current imbalances or imperfections of my life seems a bit beside the point today. That exercise can wait for some other, less lucky-feeling time.

I don’t know why this feeling of gratitude chose to visit me this particular day. Perhaps it was due to my reading earlier today (via a Facebook posting) this excellently-written Momastery blogpost? Whatever the reason, I am happy these feelings came and stayed a while.

Postscript: Several hours after writing this blogpost, but while still in my glass-half-full-instead-of-half-empty mood, I hopped in my truck to come home after getting a haircut and my truck wouldn’t start. Instead of flipping instantly into a tailspin of frustraton, I remember feeling lucky that I had paid for free towing services as part of my truck insurance, and that my mechanic, to which I had my truck towed, is – like so much else – located in my neighborhood. How many people are fortunate enough to be within walking distance of not only of a park and a lot of beautiful homes and a small grocery store and several decent restaurants – and a mere scooter ride away from a post office and a health food store – but also within walking distance of their vehicle mechanic’s shop? (Then there’s the not-quite-minor additional fact that my temporarily-disabled vehicle is bought and paid for.)

Retirement: The First Year

Happy Face

[A self-interview about how it feels to have been retired from a 30-year career as a librarian. Much of this summary will be familiar to readers of my most recent annual Solstice letter and/or previous retirement era status reports posted after the first week, the second week, the first three months, and the first six months. Warning: This report is longer.]

Self: So, Cal Gough, March 12, 2013 was your final day of working as a librarian. Does your going-away party seem like it happened that long ago?

Cal: Did I retire an entire year ago? No way! Didn’t I retire just a few months ago? No, wait! My working life seems like it happened in some distant other lifetime.

And do you miss working?

No.

Be honest. Don’t you miss working just a little?

Not even a little.

Does this surprise you?

Yes.  While I never expected to miss the unpleasant or the stressful or the tedious, bureaucracy-related aspects of managing a branch library, I had expected to miss interacting with co-workers, to miss interacting with customers, to miss the intellectual and ethical challenges of being a useful librarian. But I haven’t! Sure, there have been moments when I missed certain former co-workers, certain customers, or the good feelings that come from doing the million important and even tedious things that are necessary to connect library customers with the materials or resources they need or want. But those moments have been far fewer and more fleeting than I expected.

And why is that, do you think?

What I discovered early on as a retiree is that I had seriously underestimated the extent of the toll that working every day in a chronically dysfunctional work environment was taking on me – and on everyone else I was working with. Those stresses were constantly contaminating any enjoyment I was receiving from my positive contacts with colleagues and customers, and any improvements I tried to make in my workplace.

For awhile, I’d tried to focus on the positive stuff. Only when I became convinced that the library’s infrastructure – particularly the institution’s management – wasn’t going to improve in what was left of my library career did I begin entertaining fantasies about retiring.

As anyone who’s worked (or is, alas, still working unwillingly) in a dysfunctional organization knows, it’s no picnic to feel you can no longer do your own job even half-way well because your efforts to do so are constantly being interfered with by clueless and/or deluded and/or self-aggrandizing politicians or trustees, or by administrators who are in denial about (or are  so unable to shield their subordinates from) the shenanigans of the politicians et al., and/or who are so overworked that they cannot support the work of their subordinates even if they wanted to.

Toward the end of my tenure with the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, there were just too few competent people remaining in the organization’s management, no coherent vision of (or time and energy to effectively advocate for) the organization’s priorities, no leadership – just no light of any kind at the end of the tunnel.

And that turning point happened for you a year ago?

No, my pessimism kicked in permanently probably two or even three years ago, but at that point I didn’t think I could afford to quit. It took an entire year for my financial advisor to convince me that I could afford to retire. As soon as she was able to do that, I set a date.

But it seems like you’re saying that your decision to retire was a reluctant one?

Yes it was. I had loved my (non-management) jobs in certain settings in numerous previous years, and felt lucky to have a job I loved and was good at and that my colleagues and supervisors were happy with (or at least tolerated).  I had looked forward to maybe working for another decade, as I could still get excited about specific ways I might help improve the institution’s operations. Those efforts and plans got abruptly derailed over ten years ago (long story), and even though I managed to find, post-derailment, enough about my work assignments to keep me looking forward to going to work, I eventually realized I was working in an institution that was steadily devolving instead of steadily improving. I also noticed that the rate of the institution’s downward spiral was speeding up rather than slowing down.

When I became convinced (by a series of specific administrative decisions) that I was likely to become more miserable instead of more hopeful or happier at work – and later discovered that I could, in fact, afford to quit –  I did. But I did leave somewhat reluctantly, and certainly didn’t expect my life as a retiree would be automatically more enjoyable than my life as a full-time working librarian.

So have you been keeping yourself busy or doing exotic, enjoyable things since you stopped working?

I haven’t felt busy at all. Or at least, not “productively busy.” I haven’t “accomplished” much, or invented a whole new life, or made dramatic changes in my daily routine – except, of course, for adding to my life, every week, 40 extra hours (plus another 5 hours per week that I’d spent getting to and from work).

And thereby having more energy (as well as time) to devote to activities or projects or relationships of my choosing, rather than having all that constrained by workplace-related factors. Having enough retirement income to prevent my being forced to cut back radically on my monthly expenses has had a lot to do with the contentment I’ve felt from Day 1 about being a retiree.

On the other hand, I haven’t, since retiring, been traveling more than usual, or traveling further afield, or undertaking a lot of new non-travel-related activities.

If you haven’t been “busy” or “accomplishing” anything in particular since retirement, or doing lots of new things, or traveling more, what have you been doing with all that extra time and energy on your hands every day that’s made retirement – so far, anyway – so enjoyable?

Before I answer that, I want to say that the biggest time-related contrast between working full-time and being retired is that, now that I am retired, I don’t know how I ever found the time or energy to do anything outside of working those 40 hours a week! The amount of time available to you obviously expands when you quit a fulltime job, but it also contracts somehow. Maybe that’s because you find yourself taking more time to do everything, because you (finally!) can? I’m not sure. And it may be more of an ageing thing than a retirement thing, or a combo of both of those factors.

In any case, whether it’s doing something boring like brushing my teeth or doing something enjoyable like sitting outside on a bench with the neighbor’s visiting cat in my lap and feeling the pleasant breeze on my face, or accomplishing some task I set for myself (like cleaning out a closet or sweeping off the patio), or even doing some chore for someone else, I am no longer forced to enjoy the experience or do that task in a hurry or while being distracted and depleted by a full-time work schedule or work-related worries.

Not being chronically in a hurry – or at least acting (sometimes consciously so, sometimes unconsciously) in an “efficient” manner most of the time – has, all by itself, been startlingly relaxing.

Also, approaching tasks with more options of when to do them, or deciding, on a whim, to interrupt something “productive” with something else equally “productive” or simply more enjoyable  – this sort of decision-making is, for me, the new and wonderous “normal.” As a wage-slave, I had gradually – and mistakenly – led myself to believe that being uber-efficient was the preferable route to maximum happiness or at least contentment. Being productive and efficient certainly was the default way of my doing most things for forty some-odd years. Retirees – if they’re as fortunate as I am, anyway – live what really should be the “normal” mode; it’s the wage-earners who are forced to adopt what’ s not a natural, congenial way of pacing one’s energies and expending one’s time.

The other morning I was meeting friends for a breakfast get-together, and I found myself rushing to get my shower and get to the restaurant on time. As I hurried through my ablutions, my first thought was I haven’t been in this much of a rush since last March! My second thought was This rushing around is what I used to do every frigging morning of my life! Not good! And it was never a good way to live a life. Lollygagging one’s way into and out of the shower  – or, for that matter, into and out of anything else: that’s The Better Way.

On top of the post-retirement realization that I’d become accustomed to rushing around all the time is another change in the way I live my life as a Retired Person. Nowadays, what I do from day to day, sometimes even hour to hour – is often whatever I choose to do, or am in the mood to do. However productive or unproductive or enjoyable or not so enjoyable whatever I’m doing is , nobody else is dictating how I’m using the bulk of my waking hours. Those luxuries are constant sources of intense pleasure to me, and – even after a year of it – I haven’t yet begun taking for granted this new way of living.

Of course, I realize that these past twelve months of unfettered, stress-free time (and energy) to do whatever I’ve decided to do is neither typical nor likely to remain permanent. Unlike me (at least for this past year), most retirees have family obligations of various sorts, some of them extremely stressful and/or time-consuming. And if I happened to be living with a partner, which I am not now doing, my time- and-energy-spending habits and constraints would be different. I’m just trying to make the point here that I’ve been lucky enough (so far) for retirement to have resembled more than anything else a sort of deliciously extended stay-at-home vacation.

And have I mentioned the naps I’m finally getting to take every day? Another completely normal, human thing to do (the persistence into the 21st century of the siesta in certain cultures is evidence for that), and I for one have been known to take two naps in the same day. Bliss!

But since you are spending so much more time at home, don’t you feel trapped or isolated, or at least bored?

Much to my surprise, I’ve really enjoyed being at home more often now than I could ever be at home when I was working full-time.

No, I don’t want to become a recluse, but I happen to love my house (as I’ve loved most of the places I’ve ever lived), and it’s been great to spend more time inside my house, or outside in my tiny yard, especially during the daytime. (I’ll probably enjoy hanging out inside the house even more once I get around to paying somebody to wash all my windows!)

Plus, I don’t spend every minute hanging around the house. As I did before retiring, I still spend at least one weekend a month at a cabin in the North Georgia mountains that I co-own with friends. (For some reason, however, just like the other retired cabin co-owners, I haven’t been spending more time there, or spending more weekdays there, than I did before I retired.) I’ve taken two major out-of-state vacations since last March – to Mexico and to California. And I’m planning to join some friends on another major (aka expensive-for-Cal’s-budget) overseas vacation this coming fall, so I have that to look forward to. (Merely looking forward to a planned vacation has always been for me a consolation for the fact that I travel far less frequently and far less further afield than I have the means  – and, in recent years, the energy – for.)

At any rate, I strongly advise anyone who’s considering retiring to make sure he or she is living in a congenial house (and, for that matter, in a congenial neighborhood), because – unless they are wealthier than I am or like to travel less than I do – they may end up spending a lot of time there!

The boredom issue hasn’t surfaced yet, but I do wonder sometimes that it might, once the novelty of the stay-at-home vacation eventually wanes and I’ve gotten to the bottom of my considerably lengthy list of home and garden improvement projects.

Have you gotten lonely in this house and garden you claim to like so much? Especially since you live alone?

It’s true that my house projects are solitary activities, and that my main hobby – reading – is also a solitary pursuit. There have a few fleeting moments when I wonder if I currently know – or will ever know – enough friends (especially a sufficient number of also-retired friends and/or especially close friends living in the same city as I live, and/or enough gay male friends) to balance the amount of time I spend alone, either happily or otherwise. But, so far, what hasn’t happened this first year of retirement are frequent bouts of depression or prolonged periods of anxiety due to my not socializing more often than I do.

Also, the fact that I’ve had a house-mate for the past twelve months probably has obscured how I’m likely to fare in this particular respect after he’s no longer living with me.

House-mate?

A friend whose partner lives in England has been living in my guest room since the end of last February (shortly before I retired) while he waits for the British government bureaucrats to approve his request to stay in England indefinitely. If the Brits approve his visa request, he’ll be returning to England sometime in April or early May.

That’s when the challenge of my living alone – especially for someone like me who’s lived most of his life with a Significant Other and who doesn’t make new friends quickly – will really begin. Year 2 of my retirement could conceivably be quite different from Year 1, in terms of the feeling-lonely-sometimes factor.

Your circle of friends and acquaintances hasn’t noticeably expanded since retiring?

No, I haven’t yet met a whole new subset of acquaintances and friends, like some retirees do. That could happen eventually, I suppose, although, as I mentioned, I don’t make friends quickly or put myself easily and frequently into social situations where I might meet people unknown to me who could become new friends or acquaintances.

I do know that since I stopped showing up at a workplace every day, the average number of daily interactions with other people has diminished. Of course, some of my work-related interactions were unwelcome or unpleasant, so it’s wonderful to have had those subtracted from my daily round. But there have been a few days since mid-March 2013 when I realized I hadn’t spoken to another human soul (other than my house-mate) – although on each of those days I probably emailed a few folks, or received some emails.

More surprising to me is the fact that I also haven’t been spending appreciably more time with the friends or acquaintances who I socialized with before I retired. And that may partly be because many of my long-time friends and acquaintances are still holding down full-time jobs!

So have you, since retiring, embarked on any completely new interests or commitments?

My resolve not to take up for at least six months after retiring any new major obligations (as a volunteer, say) has extended into a twelve month period of not doing that! I had initially made that decision because so many retirement advice articles and books contained that advice. And I think it was good advice, as it allowed me to more fully enjoy the vacation-like aspects of being a retiree.

For example, the volunteer task I had planned to undertake after my six-month “vacation” – ramping up the extent of my work with improving the library of the local Quaker congregation – I still haven’t undertaken. I think it’s because I’m fully aware of the immensity of that particular task and I’m afraid I might invest too much time trying to accomplish too much too soon. I still don’t know when I’ll be plunging into that daunting project.

But the Quaker meetinghouse library isn’t a “new” project – I’ve been the volunteer librarian there for many years now, spending the minimal amount of time required to keep the place operational (vs. making major improvements that will make the library more user-friendly).

My weekly tai chi classes and my weekly square dance classes are other activities I started before retiring and am continuing to do. My involvement with the local calligraphy guild is another pre-retirement interest I’m continuing to pursue (and somewhat expand). I am blogging more often now than I did when I retired (both at this personal blog and at the other one I maintain).

However, the only totally new activities I’ve embarked on since last March are two classes (in Intermediate Calligraphy and Beginner Piano) that I’ve been taking at a local senior center. These are weekly, mid-day classes I couldn’t’ve taken while I was working full-time, and I am enjoying them very much. (Well, at least the weekly calligraphy class. Practicing the piano is not yet fun at all, but the fact that I still want to learn – and can afford a teacher as excellent as the one I’m lucky enough to have gotten – is immensely satisfying.)

You mentioned that you continue to do a lot of reading. How has retirement affected your reading habits?

Although reading books remains my default way of solitarily enjoying myself, I’ve not, for reasons I haven’t quite figured out, been reading more books per week, or started reading different types of books, or reading fewer (or more) books simulaneously than I did before retirement.

What has happened is that I’ve discovered there’s a limit to the number of consecutive hours my body – especially my eyeballs – will allow me to read, no matter how absorbing the book(s) I’m reading happen(s) to be. (That limit might have escaped my notice before retirement sheerly because of the relative shortage of hours to read in!)

Something else reading-related that actually happened just before retirement was my finally surrendering to the need for  a written list of books I want to read. Even with retirement just around the corner at the time, I could no longer casually manage the onslaught of compelling candidates for what I hope to read. That list – which continues to be mostly nonfiction, which is mostly limited to approximately a half-dozen perennial reading interests, and which is organized merely alphabetically rather than being prioritized in any way  – has proven enormously helpful, especially since I started maintaining the list on my blog instead of on various scraps of paper. On the other hand, the sheer length of that list has gotten rather daunting.

A fact that continues to sadden me is the fact that there are – even for a retired person who loves to read – Too Many Books to read even a fraction of what’s worth reading.

As has always been the case (at least with nonfiction), I continue to discover most of the titles for my “To Be Read” list in the footnotes or bibliographies of previously-read books. Now that I no longer am automatically exposed to new book titles by working in a library every day, those title suggestions now also come more and more frequently via the Internet – particularly via the blogs I read and from alerts people post on Facebook.

Probably the main difference in my reading habits, though, is where I get hold of the books I’ve decided to read. Since I discovered that I can borrow items from the library at Emory University, I’ve been borrowing most of my books from Emory rather than from my local public library. And I’ve finally started reading some of the books I’ve owned in my personal library for years but for whatever reason never got around to reading.

What about your other daily routines?

Well, I’m still getting up most mornings at the same time (between 6 and 8), and, so I can do that, still going to bed around 11pm most nights. Some nights, however, I’ve noticed I’ll decide to go to bed even earlier (if I happen to get drowsy) simply because I can – that is, I can do that without sacrificing any precious reading time. I can now simply resume reading (or whatever) the next morning (i.e., without delaying whatever I want to read or do until I get home from eight hours of work). Wonderful!

For some reason that I don’t understand at all, I’m eating out less often than I did when I worked full-time. When I was earning wages, I I treated myself to lunch in a restaurant every day, and in any given week I probably ate out for supper a third to a half of the time. Presumably because I have more time to shop for and prepare food at home, and because I often regard getting in a vehicle to go out to eat as too much bother, I’m eating more often at home. And I’m eating more meat these days, although that trend started sometime before I retired.

On the other hand, what I haven’t done since retiring, food-wise, is to radically enlarge my culinary repertoire, vegetarian or otherwise. My housemate’s (non-vegetarian) cookery habits have been a good influence here: he eats in almost all his meals, and his example encourages me to try cooking (non-vegetarian) things he happens to know how to cook. Inexplicably, I’ve only managed to increase the number of new dishes I know (confidently) how to make by – what? – two things in twelve months? At this rate, I’ll never get around to teaching myself how to enjoy cooking again, and being able to fix a lot of things without resorting to risky adventures in recipe-following, and that was something I had hoped to accomplish during the first few years of retirement.

Finally, in terms of changed habits, and despite the valuable prerogative of being entitled to a senior discount on ticket prices, I see fewer movies than I used to. However, I suspect this may have less to do with retirement and more to do with a steadily widening disconnect between the movies being made these days and the kinds of movies I’m interested in watching (at least on the Big Screen). I have seen more plays than I did before I retired, which I’m happy about. (I’d be patronizing live theatre every week if I could afford it – and maybe even if I couldn’t afford it, if I knew someone equally thrilled by theater-going to share those experiences with.)

Meanwhile, I still don’t have a cable-connected television and am unlikely, even in retirement, to get one. On the other hand, I am spending no less time on the Internet than I did before retiring: just as I did when I was working,I’m still turning on the computer first thing in the morning to check my email and Facebook account. At least nowadays all the time I spend staring at a screen I’m staring at something I want to look at or read, instead of filling out some personnel form or typing up yet another list of all the serial numbers on the library’s computers!

How’s the financial end of retirement working out?

So far, so good. The goal of my financial advisor was to arrange things so that I’d draw enough down from my invested savings to pay my bills and allow for continue living the life I was accustomed to before retiring – including occasional overseas travel. My retirement savings are apparently sufficient to accomplish this – partly because I’d been a good saver throughout my working career, partly because I’d been sure to live within my means all along without resorting to borrowing money from credit card companies, partly because I don’t have any children to raise or anyone else to support financially, and partly because I long ago determined how much money I need to cover my total expenses (consistently – if still somewhat shocking – $100 to $115 per day).

For the first year of retirement, my income has been coming from various investment funds, but in a few months my Social Security income will begin, and that, along with income from another part of my financial plan, will make the way (and the amounts) I draw down each month a lot more routine and automatic than they have been so far.

In any case, I haven’t so far felt deprived or like I need to cut down on my monthly expenses, and it appears in retirement I may even be spending a bit less on some things (like restaurant meals and gasoline costs).

I’m certainly not living high on the hog, but I’ve never done that. As long as I’m fairly comfortable, relatively debt free, can afford to travel now and again, and my medical expenses remain minimal, I’m pretty satisfied with my post-retirement financial situation. Fingers crossed here that I won’t be forced, further down the road, to go back to work to make ends meet.

So how do you think Year 2 of retirement might differ from the first twelve months?

I do hope to tackle a few major long-put-off projects around the house and in the yard. For example, this time next year, I’d love to have emptied my pathetically full-to-the-brim attic, and I’d still love to replace my dilapidated gardening shed with something I’d like to spend more time in. I want to finally spend some time improving the front yard. Of course I’d like to travel abroad – and around the U.S. – more during the next twelve months than in the previous twelve. And I’d love to join forces with another guy who’s interested in joining forces with me. (If he’s the right guy, of course.)

But I actually haven’t the slightest clue about how my second year of retirement might resemble or differ from the first year. I can say that Year 1 has been so much more pleasant than I expected it to be that I’m reluctant to make any predictions at all. Which is probably a sensible way of starting out that second year.

Hunkering Down for a Long January

Bookcase Set 004

That’s me earlier this week, trying to keep warm and ignore not only the frigid weather outside (the temperature in Atlanta plunged to 5 degrees early this past week), but also trying to ignore the fact that I hadn’t yet gotten around to removing to the attic for another year the holiday festoonery adorning the house for the past few weeks. (That finally got accomplished yesterday.)

My loved ones have made certain I am attired comforably for the duration. The long-sleeve blue garment I’m wearing is the lining of a jacket my friend Harvey gave me probably ten years ago; I wear it so often that it’s almost like a second skin! The burgundy snuggly is one of my favorite gifts from a Christmas past, presented to me by my oldest sister Gayle. The purple  scarf around my neck was another Christmas present from long ago from one of my two younger sisters, Jan. (Hidden underneath the snuggly is another present of Jan’s I’m wearing, given to me on some other Christmas Day: a pair of insulated cloth booties.)

The fire in the fireplace was created by my current house-mate, Brad, whose foraging in the neighborhood for fallen limbs had supplied us with fireplace kindling for the past few week or so.

Having retired this past March, January 2014 is the first January I can remember whose inhospitable weather hasn’t been blunted by the fact of my spending most of my days at work. Things are definitely different when you spend most of your days – as well as most of your evenings – in your (sometimes drafty) house instead of in a centrally-heated office!

But I’m not complaining. For one thing, what’s not perfect about whiling away a leisurely hour – doubtless after yet another fabulously impromptu nap! – reading a good book in front of a crackling fire in one’s own fireplace? The only thing missing in this particular photo is the almost-obligatory cup of tea.

Retirement Reflections: The Six Month Mark

who-cares-im-retired-clock

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 latertwo 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.

Retirement Reflections: Three Months In

Reading Under a Tree

How calm and quiet a delight
It is alone
To read, and meditate, and write,
By none offended, and offending none;
To walk, ride, sit, or sleep at one’s own ease,
And, pleasing a man’s self, none other to displease!

– from Charles Cotton’s “The Retirement. Stanzes Irreguliers. To Mr. Isaak Walton,” in his Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1689), pp. 133-139; posted by Michael Gilleland at his blog Laudator Temporis Act

Exactly three months ago today was my final day as a full-time worker.

For years before I finally quit my day job, I’d been curious about what retirement would feel like. And I remain particularly interested in how those feelings tend to be morphing as time goes by. I hope to capture those subtle changes (so I don’t eventually forget they happened!) by writing something every now and then about how retirement is playing itself out for me. (My earlier reports are here and here.)

The clearest recent impression is that, most days, my last day at work seems like three years ago!

Apparently, sometime within the past few weeks or so, Being Retired finally became the new (psychological) norm:

  • I no longer fantasize that someone, somehow, is going to force me back into the full-time labor pool.  (This irrational notion had been, for the first month or so, a sort of free-floating background note that occasionally threatened to spoil the delightful sense of liberation I felt from being expected to Show Up somewhere every day and Do My Part to solve various (and often tedious) problems.
  • For whatever reason, I don’t miss even the enjoyable aspects of my former job. (Perhaps because those enjoyable tasks had long ago become so much less prevalent than the annoying, energy-sapping tasks?)
  • Apart from worrying from time to time about the welfare of a few individuals still working in the library system that employed me for 30 years, I seldom wonder about how things are going at that institution. (Partly because the gossip I occasionally hear about the fortunes of the library system is so depressing that I can’t tolerate for very long ruminating about the probable consequences of the latest news for those former colleagues Left Behind.)

What I continue to like best about retirement is the sustained freedom from obligations of all sorts. Freedom to choose how I want to spend my next hour – or my next day or my next week – without any regard as to how efficient my choices are (or aren’t).

Before I retired, I of course yearned for more free time. But I have been astonished at how much I have come to enjoy doing things based on my mood instead of according to a (work-dominated) schedule:

  • I finally have adequate blocks of time and energy to do both what needs to be done or – even more marvelous – what I want to do. No longer must I fit my chores or hobbies into the narrow slots of time and energy left over between stints of working.
  • I can do more things without scheduling them! There’s a lot less checking the clock or consulting my calendar before deciding when to do this, that, or the other thing. I can grocery-shop when I need to, instead of whenever I can wedge that into my work schedule. If I feel a whim to take myself outside for a bit of a walk around my pleasant neighborhood, I can do exactly that, and instantly. If I decide to ask someone to join me for lunch – or dinner, or, hey, breakfast! – there are  more choices for what day of the week that can happen and also more choices of where we can meet up.
  • I can take as long as I damn well please to do whatever it is I’ve chosen to do with my hours, my days, my weeks. I can linger over some time-consuming (even a not very essential) sub-task of, say, cleaning out a closet, as no longer am I forced to finish any task before some pre-determined/non-negotiable given moment.
  • I can now prolong particularly enjoyable moments that unexpectedly come my way. Such as spending more than a mere two minutes petting the neighbor’s cat when she happens by, or writing a letter I’ve decided to write, or surfing the Internet to find something new to post at my Atlanta Booklover’s Blog.
  • After undertaking some chore or project, I can change my mind in the middle of doing that chore or activity, and start on another one – or stop whatever I’m doing and take a nap! So far, the chore-monitoring police have not materialized, and no looming work schedule exists to constrain the timing (and/or duration) of every little decision or project.
  • There are entire days when I don’t find it necessary to get into a vehicle. How wonderful is that?
  • I can devote entire evenings – or, better, entire afternoons, or, even more unprecedented, entire mornings – to reading an absorbing book , or to making some noticeable change in my modest garden! (Reader, I have, at long last, actually made some headway with the formidable, nasty task of ridding my yard – and the brick exterior of my house – of huge swaths of invasive ivy that I stupidly planted fifteen years ago.)
  • I can take as much time as I like to pay more attention to beautiful things. What’s currently blooming in my garden, for example, or what sorts of birds happen to be fluttering this morning around the feeders outside my bedroom window.
  • Most wonderful of all: I have the luxury – for the first time since childhood – to sit on a bench in my garden or in a chair on my sunporch and indulge myself in a little zoned-out spell of doing nothing! There’s a lot to be said for being able to simply sit and stare into the middle distance for as long as I like without being burdened by a nagging feeling that I should be “accomplishing” something!

Two recent insights have helped my brain more comfortably wrap itself around my radically different daily routine:

  • Several weeks ago, a telephone conversation with a long-retired friend of mine gave me a new perspective on my uneasiness about perhaps becoming, as a Retired Person, some sort of Constant Consumer  (instead of also a Constant Contributor/Producer). What this friend said was that what actually changes with retirement is that one’s energies and attention are no longer yoked to the priorities and goals of an institution. And that, in fact, retirement gives a person the first sufficiently-spacious opportunity as an adult to figure out where  – and for whom – we want to focus our  energy and attention. And, even better, it allows that focus to shift to what and whom we actually care most about, or on projects that actually interest us (rather than our employer). The friend reminded me that the relentless and stressful distractions of any full-time job inevitably interfere with a person’s clarity about who he/she is, what he/she cares about, who he/she wants to spend time with, and how he/she wants to spend his/her precious amount of time and energy – precious because both of those resources are so woefully finite.
  • It only very recently occurred to me how silly it’s been for me to have continued to marvel – and continue feeling vaguely guilty about – being able to survive financially without working a full-time job. The retirement income I’m using these days is, after all, based on savings from my 30 years of wage slavery: it’s not like the money I’m living on is coming from someone else’s pocket! I was fortunate to earn enough while I was working that I could afford to save part of my salary, and to do that throughout my long career without feeling “deprived” of much along the way. Realizing that I’m currently using (invested) money I earned at some point in the past has supplanted the notion that I somehow don’t “deserve” to be able to financially sustain myself without working. I still feel very lucky to be retired – a lot of people can’t afford to save even a penny of their salaries, or are mired in too much debt to be able to retire – but I no longer feel guilty about being able to afford retirement.

Will the many delicious features of these early days of retirement at some point  give way to occasional bouts of boredom or restlessness or feelings of isolation? Perhaps, but, so far, those sorts of moments have been few and far between. Stay tuned!