The Year in Review

It’s been a year since my retirement after nearly thirty years of classroom teaching and school administration. While this last weekend in June may not be New Year’s Day, it is nonetheless time for taking stock and setting goals for the coming year. Nearly all of my friends and acquaintances advised me to take a year off, to just chill out, before setting big goals and expecting to chip away at my bucket list, but I didn’t believe them. I think the karma gods figured out right away that I was now available for all sorts of unplanned speed bumps on the road to a new life phase; let’s just say that it’s been an eventful year. Let the record show that those who warned me were right and I was wrong!

So what have I learned?

1) Just because I don’t have to get up at o’dark thirty to go to work doesn’t mean my animals think I should sleep in, even though I don’t go to bed at 9:30 anymore.

2) It’s a lot easier to eat well and to exercise well and often without the daily grind of working full time.

3) As an introvert, I sometimes have to remember to get outside of my own head and interact with people other than my partner, and then I have to do something about it, which I mostly have, but there is room for improvement.

4) I don’t seem to have much in common with a lot of the people my own age. I am the oldest person in most of the new adventures I’m involved with, and that’s just fine.

5) While I miss the actual act of teaching — interacting with kids, thinking up new ways to present material, mentoring students and younger colleagues — there are big parts of being a K-12 teacher that became more and more onerous in recent years. I am delighted to never again have to:

o   Write another report card comment

o   Explain in person or on some idiotic online form that no one ever reads “how I’ve developed myself professionally this year”

o   Sit through another faculty meeting

o   Post an assignment in yet another format on yet another piece of crap software

o   Endure being told that I am blunt and intimidating because I have decades of experience and am not afraid to say what I think

6) Maybe I just need some space, but the book I wanted to write about the state of contemporary American education is the furthest thing from my mind right now.

7) Finally, having the time to deal with all the junk I’ve accumulated — both physical and virtual — doesn’t mean it’s actually any fun to sift through it and, as they say, “deaccession” (except for most of the work clothes, which went to Goodwill immediately).

So what have been the best things to happen during this first year?

1) Traveling, from planning a trip to actually doing it, has enriched my life and my relationship beyond measure. Mr. D and I have spent months away from home, visiting the West Coast, Asia, New York and Rehoboth. We’ve become a well-oiled partnership on the road, and it has brought us closer. We’ve met some seriously inspirational new people on our travels, almost all of them adventurous and younger than we are, because we don’t ever stay in impersonal and/or expensive places. We’ve had quality time with friends and family during times other than school vacations, and we’ve been able to take leisurely trips to places known and unknown rather than freaking out over how many days we have until we go back to work. I know, most people think, “teachers have all summer off, what’s the problem,” but let me tell you, I used to work my butt off during the summer catching up on household chores, planning for new courses and making “old” ones fresh.

2) I’ve taken two classes that have seriously changed my life. Getting started on learning to really use my DSLR camera enabled me to see the world anew. I wish it weren’t such a pain to transfer these photos in real time to Instagram! Even more importantly, the short story semester class I took with the renowned author and professor Mary Gordon gave me the jumpstart I needed for my own writing. The reading list was challenging, her lectures were riveting, and the comments I received on the five papers I had to write for the course renewed my confidence in my ability. I nearly cried tears of joy when she wrote that she was “blown away” by the “depth and elegance” of my thought and prose. I really needed that as I began to get serious about committing to the next step in my intellectual life.

3) Serendipity brought me a forum to test my authorial wings, and also gave me the opportunity to share with three women who have become my writing touchstone. Kate and I met at the first meeting of an author’s group at our local library, but decided independently that the group just wasn’t for us. She took the initiative to start a group and before we knew it we had four committed women ranging in age from twenties to sixties and several others who came and went sporadically. We meet every two weeks to share work with no restrictions as to genre. Pieces must not exceed 1200 words and must include a word drawn at random the previous session. After one school year so far (not including vacations) we have by my count met sixteen times. The support and critical acuity of my co-members has emboldened me to write deep from the gut, enabled me to hone pieces after receiving excellent criticism, and given me a sense of community and grounding in what can be a lonely or overly narcissistic endeavor.

What have been the biggest challenges of this first year of retirement?

1) Without question, health issues have been major stressors, even though none of them have been my own:

o   My father’s wife’s death after an arduous battle with ovarian cancer

o   My father’s own frailty and ultimate health crisis and recovery

o   Mr. D’s very unexpected pacemaker implantation

o   My brother’s bout with colon cancer

o   My sweet elder dog Sydney’s cancer recurrence and consequent euthanasia

o   My feisty middle aged terrier’s thyroid cancer surgery

Can I tell you how much I loathe cancer?

2) It’s taken a long time to let go of the goals I set for the first year (blogging on two separate blogs every week, accomplishing a number of home improvements, consolidating and perhaps getting rid of all of my electronic and physical teaching materials, becoming a better person, blah blah blah). I’m now choosing to focus on how much I have really accomplished rather than how much is still left to do.

3) It was very hard to adjust to not earning money. This was not so much a financial hardship as a change of self-definition. I continued to do some tutoring, but in effect was, for the first time in decades, not receiving a paycheck per se. I’ve gone from being not just employed but also having at least one freelance situation on the side to being retired. I have no plans or desires to return to the workforce and feel fine now, but those first few months were anxiety producing.

So what’s next?

I’m much less future oriented and much more present in the now than I used to be. My goals are simpler. I want to

o   Be able to hold a handstand in the middle of the room by my birthday

o   Work through the tutorials on the photography program Lightroom5

o   Spend quality time with my remaining terrier now that I have a sense of her mortality

o   Freeze fresh sweet corn and can fresh tomatoes

o   Post on my blogs at least once every two weeks

o   Clean out the garage and the carriage house

o   Get the tile and floor jobs done, preferably by paying someone else to do them

o   Read more

This past year has been one of the best of my life, even though the challenges have been many. I’m looking forward to each day as it comes, and I can honestly say that retiring when I did was one of the best decisions I have ever made!

“Deaccessioning”

I’m moving in a new direction, and you can tell by my newly reorganized and not yet overflowing bookcase.

These books will go to a former colleague.

These books will go to a former colleague.

These books will go to the neighborhood kids.

These books will go to the neighborhood kids.

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These are women’s history books from graduate school!

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Ditto!

These books will go to Goodwill.

These books will go to Goodwill.

It took an afternoon, but more than that it took almost thirty years to get to the place of being able to let go of books that were so much a part of my scholarly and leisure time life. I made the decision that only the classics and books I hadn’t yet read would stay. I have books in almost every room of my house, and several more bookcases to cull, but this was a big one. It was bittersweet, because handling the books reminded me of times gone by, passions now dimmed, colleagues long since out of my address book.

But it is liberating as well. I am reading voraciously now, but not in the same vein. I am writing more than I have in many years, but not in the same genre. This purge cleared the way for this new phase of my intellectual life.

What Does It Mean to Be a Writer?

I’m taking an online course exclusively for alumnae of my college, taught by an eminent professor of literature who is also a well known writer. The two works for this assignment were Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Marguerite Duras’ The Lover.  In each novel, a central theme concerns the source of a writer’s inspiration and the motivation for becoming a writer.  Not to trivialize these great works by comparing them to my own paltry efforts, tonight’s webinar made me think about the NaBloPoMo challenge that I have taken up for November. Apparently, and I am paraphrasing here, Samuel Beckett posited that writers need to fail, fail again, and then fail better.  My esteemed professor elaborated on that notion suggesting that all writers feel like failures because the vision one has in one’s mind is never perfectly translated into words.  Where does the desire to write come from? Is it merely a narcissistic act of self-discovery or self-promotion? Is it an ode to some platonic ideal of the perfect form? She suggested that talent is inborn, but the discipline to fail, fail again and then fail better is an attribute to be cultivated through practice, practice, practice.  So,  perhaps the point of NaBloPoMo is just to begin to fail, to fail again, and then to fail better.

Challenge!!

I’ve decided to enter NaBloPoMo for November.  If you don’t know what that is, it is National Blog Posting Month — a sort of virtual blog writers group, encouraging bloggers and sharing work. While I have been writing consistently since retiring from teaching in June, Farmhouse has been silent.  As ongoing posts will no doubt detail, life has been hectic with family issues, travel and general adjustment to the life of a retiree. I’ve always been a great one for meeting deadlines and it just seems appropriate to jump start this blog with a daily deadline.  Ambitious after my on again off again blogging?  Yes. I hope you will join me, if only to see if I fall flat on my face!