Radical Retirement

Two years into it, I’m writing a blog about my overactive retirement, in which my biggest problem, just like when I was working, is that there are never enough hours in the day. My “to do” lists never get shorter. I’m not complaining, because I haven’t been bored for a single minute in the past 23 months.

Where have those months gone? In trying to figure that out, I got out my 2010 and 2011 calendars and discovered why I’ve felt so overwhelmed. Rather than a narrative that sounds like a boring Christmas letter, I think it has more impact listed numerically:

  • 179—Child care and times spent with one or both of my grandchildren (including many, many hours in the swimming pool)
  • 93—Meetings (church, including a year on the ministerial search committee, condo board, etc.)
  • 13—doctor appointments, diagnostics or other procedures
  • 12—dentist appointments
  • 42—church choir rehearsals
  • 38—Texas Choral Consort rehearsals (plus uncountable hours rehearsing music on my own)
  • 8—concerts sung with church choir or Texas Choral Consort (not counting singing at regular church services)
  • 2—parties hosted
  • 12—dinners with guests at our house
  • 7—dinners at others’ homes
  • 17—lunches and other restaurant meals with friends (not counting twice a former coworker no-showed; third attempt is pending)
  • 42—parties attended (showers, birthday parties, holiday parties and the like)
  • 19—other events (art openings, memorial services, and other miscellany)
  • 1—murder mystery (helping my husband over two days in San Marcos)
  • 1—trip to Rockport and the coast, just the two of us
  • 3—trips to Rockport with one or both grandkids
  • 4—day trips
  • 7—out of town overnight trips (Fort Worth several times, Harlingen, West Texas, and a choir tour to South American with Texas Choral Consort; the photo is Gary and me in front of Evita’s balcony in Buenos Aires)
  • 10—concerts attended
  • 4—operas or operettas attended
  • 6—plays attended
  • 3—live touring shows (Shrek, Jersey Boys, Blue Man Group)
  • 31—poetry events (including hosting—and chauffeuring, in the rain—a visiting poet for the Austin International Poetry Festival in 2010)
  • 2—volunterring for KMFA’s pledge drive
  • 3—political or social justice rallies/events
  • 2—TV interviews (one about our composting service; the other about sex lives of people over 55. I thought when I retired as spokesperson for the Texas Medical Board my 15 minutes were over, but apparently not)
  • 1—visit from New Zealand relatives
  • 100—church services attended, including singing in at least half of them
  • 1—bedroom painted and redecorated(first month of retirement)
  • 1—all the carpets cleaned (first month of retirement)
new bedroom decor
  • 1—garage sale with our condo community, making a grand total of $30 and selling an exercise machine
  • 4—dining room chairs re-covered; dining room table replaced with an antique gaming table bought at a garage sale, old one donated to Salvation Army
  • 1—elliptical machine bought and assembled after my gym closed
  • 1—afghan knitted, 25 12×12 double squares, to match the new bedroom décor
  • 1—completed poem/painting combination

Plus, during the first couple of months, I cleaned every closet, cupboard and drawer in the house, followed by cleaning out the garage, and then taking multiple carloads of stuff to Goodwill and to my daughter to sell at garage sales or on eBay. Very little went into the trash.

The list doesn’t even address the routine minutiae that can swallow up big chunks of the days: laundry; grocery shopping; preparing, eating and cleaning up after meals; home financial management, paperwork and email; personal care, including workouts and walks, haircuts, pedicures; plant and yard care; keeping the house neat—we have cleaning service every two weeks, but a household with two adults and a frequent child visitor needs frequent tidying up (did I mention I’m a neat freak?).

And leisure! I nearly forgot leisure. We get one or two movies a week from Netflix (and occasionally go to a movie theater), and there are some TV shows I enjoy: “Jeopardy!,” “CBS Sunday Morning” (both of which I record), and NBC’s Thursday night lineup (except “Whitney”). I love to read, and keep up with the local paper every day, the New Yorker every week, the New York Times online on Sundays (especially Bill Cunningham’s “On the Street” and “Vows”), and all the publications we don’t subscribe to but get through various memberships (AAA magazine, UU World, AARP publications)—being compulsive I pretty much read everything that passes in front of my eyes. I don’t know how many books I’ve read during this time, but I managed to get through two fat ones, George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Bill Bryson’s At Home. Others I recall are Bryson’s Shakespeare bio, Jim Harrison’s autobiography, and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (highly recommended, a gripping view of poverty and homelessness amazingly relevant more than 80 years after it was written). I try to read poetry regularly, from Keat’s sonnets, Cavafy and Rilke to Billy Collins and Naomi Shihab Nye. I’m trying to work my way through Mary Kinzie’s Poet’s Guide to Poetry, but find it a tough slog.

I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to improve my piano skills and decided to practice every day. Briefly. I also tried to draw every day (and completed a couple of half-decent drawings. I have a degree in art , with seven semesters of drawing, and I love to draw).

The one thing I do try to do every day is write, but even that is not always successful. Sometimes the day just gets away from me, and I’m getting better at writing early in the day. Anne Lamott says something to the effect that once she wasn’t able to write with dishes in the sink, but now she could write with a body in the sink. It’s still hard for me to get past a messy kitchen or a full laundry basket, and being a control freak I am the one who needs to take care of it. But I’m working on it.

One of my goals when I retired at the end of 2009 was to start a freelance business doing layout and design, writing, editing and proofing. I gave this nascent business the name “Wiggins Words and Images,” getting as far as a gmail address and a business card.

I wanted to stay active and connected to my previous professional life and keep my skills sharp. A little extra income, as long as it didn’t jeopardize Social Security, wouldn’t hurt either. I think on my Social Security application I estimated about $5,000 income for the first year.

Make that $100. For my next-door neighbor’s pre-written obituary. Don is a wonderful neighbor and has had an interesting life so when he asked me to take on writing his obituary (his word), I agreed. I told him I wouldn’t charge him because he does so much for us and for our condo community.

I sat down with him and a laptop and just asked him to talk. I worked the notes from that meeting into a bio, which he and his girlfriend edited and, I presume, have put away for the time it will be needed, which I hope is far into the future.

Some time later I was in the swimming pool with my granddaughter when Don walked past my pool bag. Later, when I looked inside, there was a hundred dollar bill that I am 100 percent certain was not there before. Not wanting a battle, which I would have lost anyway, I thanked him and let it go. (I spent the money quite frivolously, which I’ll address in another posting.)

In the nearly two years I’ve been retired I haven’t earned another penny freelancing, although I have published a little of my writing: a piece about my family’s “country life” as newcomers to Austin in the 1980s, which appeared in the Austin American-Statesman’s “Tales of the City” Sunday feature; an ekphrastic poem (i.e. a poem about art), which appears on photographer Carol King’s web site. and a haiku about the Davis Mountains published in the 2012 Texas Poetry Calendar.

My passions are writing, poetry, art and music. I adore my husband, daughters, son-in-law, and grandchildren and like having a nice home. I also enjoy knitting and sewing and making things.

I was in constant conflict between domestic tasks and what I consider creative activities, until I decided that my creative life is made up of all the things I do: spending time with grandchildren; keeping a well-managed home; volunteering with church; talking to friends; watching movies and reading books; going to concerts and plays; taking walks alone or with someone; knitting; baking bread; even doing laundry or washing dishes. It’s all a worthy way to spend time.

A long-retired friend told me that it takes about five years to really settle into a rhythm of retirement. I scoffed at the idea. I would get it right, I was sure, because there was so much I wanted to do and knew I wouldn’t be bored.

But she was right. I kept saying “yes.” When I decided to volunteer for the church search committee I couldn’t have known that I would add a three-day-a-week babysitting gig for most of that year. I am incredibly grateful I could do it. From about September 2010, when the babysitting started, to September 2011, when my granddaughter started preK, was “My Chloe Year.” I will always cherish the close relationship I have had with that beautiful little girl and hope she will have wonderful memories. The day will come when she’s off in the world and busy with her life and I hope she remembers her old Gramma and Gary.

The search committee work was almost as rewarding, and I have never worked with a group of people who functioned so well together, whose skills complemented each other, and who disagreed respectfully when we disagreed. The most important thing we agreed on, the choice of minister, has also been such a success the church should benefit from her leadership for years to come. And because we were so thrilled with getting the Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a “star” in the UU universe, Gary and I decided to be co-chairs of the membership committee, which is why I still go to meetings and am still overwhelmed.

When “Good Neighbor Don” asked me to be on the condo board, I could not turn him down, since he has done us so many favors and works so hard for the complex. The board meets only quarterly, but I discovered the politics are a snake pit, and after I got sucked into the war zone called the landscaping committee, I am learning to back away, and just withdrew from the committee.

Nearing year three I am learning to say with a smile, when asked to join another committee or attend an iffy event, “It sounds like something really worth doing, but I just have too many plates spinning right now and don’t want china crashing down around me. But thanks so much for asking.”

I will sing in choirs as long as I can sing. Membership Committee will end in May. Chloe will be in kindergarten next year and she’s already showing signs of preferring  to play with her friends instead of her grandmother.

So, you ask, why start a blog with so much else going on? I apparently have a lot to say, and lists of topics I’ve wanted to write about for years. A blog is a commitment to write and provides the kick in the butt I need to keep writing, every day, preferably first thing in the morning.

Most posts won’t be this long. Please check in now and then and see what’s new in my crazy, obsessed world of radical retirement.


15 responses to “Radical Retirement”

  1. Devorah Winegarten says :

    So *that’s* what you’ve been doing with all that free time — whew, quite a list. I almost had to take a vacation after reading it. What a fun read — and a chance to get to know a little more about other sides of you that I didn’t. Now, if I can just figure out what one has to do to get invited to one of those dinner parties… after the holidays, of course!

    Mazel tov on your blog, Jill, I look forward to reading many, many, many more entries!

  2. wigginswordsandimages says :

    Thank you Deb! We sometimes do First Friday potlucks, so we should have one for our poet friends next year.

  3. Karen Franks says :

    And I thought I was too busy…not even! I’m so glad you are writing your blog, Jill, and look forward to following it!

  4. Gloria Amescua says :

    Wow, Jill, and I thought I was busy in retirement! And I am, but I just haven’t accomplished the cleaning out parts I really, really intended to do (as thoroughly as I thought I would) after I retired six years ago. I just have so many things I want to do, so many projects, my writing, etc. I couldn’t even count up everything as you did since I’m not nearly as organized. I really enjoyed your blog!

  5. stardate062594 says :

    What an inspiration you are, Jill! I’m so happy we connected during the Argentina trip. Thank you for sharing these details of a rich, wonderful life!

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