Retirement. How old was I when I started to think about it? How many years into my career? Early on, I had great imaginings about what it would be like. “I’ll travel the world!” I thought, unraveling a mental montage. Standing in front of St. Mark’s in Venice. Strolling a dusty open market in India. Playing on the beaches of Cambodia. Revisiting The Tate, MOMA, Palazzo Borgese. Walking the Camino de Santiago…at least part of it.
I’d get in shape, take myself out into the woods for local hikes at least once a week. I’d walk. Join a gym with a pool. Oh, I’d be so busy taking care of myself. Each day a new adventure.
But the moon has two sides. The dark side of the moon returned echoes from an endless cavern. Will I have enough? Will I be able to keep my house? Will I be healthy? Will I be alone? Will I die within a year or so like my dad? I’ve always thought that the health problem that took him was a symptom of a man who was just so tired of it all. Would I be like that when I retire? Tired of it all?
Those were good questions. But there are others I’ve identified now that I’m about 9 months into retirement. For example, I had not anticipated what an emotional roller coaster it would be.
- The corner turned away from having a generous paycheck and benefit package to relying on Social Security and Medicare.
- About a year before I retired, I started learning to make jewelry. Beaded. Silver. Copper. I began taking classes in silver smithing and transformed my carriage house into an art studio.
- I opened an official business for my jewelry.
- Worried about what to do with my 401k.
With the 401k, I went from:
Never touch it unless it’s an emergency. New water heater. New car. A medical expense. Emergency dental treatment. Leave it for that purpose alone. Don’t touch it unless you have to.
If I pay myself X a month, the 401k funds will last for X years. That will give me just enough breathing room to cover my expenses, if I’m careful. And, surely, my business will begin to kick in a little.
It’s taken nine months, but I’m finally quasi-comfortable with the financial side of things. I’m going to be okay. I have adequately provided for myself. I just can’t live like I was when I was bringing in a couple of paychecks every month, each having been more than my one monthly Social Security allotment.
Dealing with Social Security and Medicare intimidates me. They are both, at once, extremely efficient and inefficient at the same time. When they do something wrong, it takes hours of maneuvering around the bureaucracy to speak to someone who can address the problem. Their rules seem random and incomprehensible.
The details are boring and typical big bureaucracy balderdash. But I realize now that I haven’t dealt with this kind of bureaucracy since I was in college. Maybe that’s another thing college taught me. How to go with the flow of a nasty, rule-ridden, system.
My memories of the University bureaucracy are of a place where each person behind a desk only holds his one piece of the puzzle. No one within the bureaucracy can see the whole machine. So, rather than turning its gears, the student is the one spinning, spinning, gone. It takes fortitude, courage and a little bit of being the one who goes where angels fear to tread.
Thank god that isn’t the whole of it. Making jewelry has become a passion. I do bead work inside the house and silver and copper work out in the shop… or the Nan Cave, as I like to think of it.
Yes. I am alone. But I’ve settled into my aloneness to a place where I am never lonely. I enjoy my solitude. I frequently go into a creative zone, where I have so many things to turn to. Writing. Just sitting and reading a book. Working on a challenging bead project. Going out to the shop and losing myself in the tools and materials I’ve put together. Sometimes I come out of the zone to realize that it’s after 9PM, darkness dropped on top of me, and I’m famished. I enjoy long, hot bubble baths and time with my kitties. I love cooking myself interesting meals. I’m never bored and am surprised to find that I am usually quite happy.
A few months ago, I started selling stuff on eBay. I buy stuff from garage sales and thrift stores. Then resell it. I’m still getting the hang of it. I buy figurines, vases, trinket dishes. I look for things that make me wonder why someone left this object behind. I’ve found some wonderful stuff. I haven’t made much money yet. I’ve sold a few items, and it always surprises me to see what sells. But I have a lot to learn about how the world of online retail can serve me. In the meantime, it’s great fun. I’ve become a prowler of thrift stores. I have a pile of stuff acquired but not yet sold, and I refuse to believe that I may be becoming a hoarder. I will NOT become a hoarder. NOT. So, I enjoy some of these things for a while. Then I let them go.
So, I have a couple of activities that fulfill two purposes. These activities are designed to be fun and to bring in a little bit of money. And, between these two activities, jewelry making and eBay haunting, I am quite busy.
My social life has gotten a little busier, too. I’m such a recluse. I resist anything that gets me around people. But I recognize that I must get out of here a few times a week to be around other people. I go to one of my two favorite restaurants, places where everyone knows me, where I don’t need to see the menu. Even when there is little conversation, I feel comforted being in these familiar public places.
I’ve also done a couple of craft fairs. Those have been really fun and get me out and around lots of people. Craft fairs are so good for me.
Immediately after I retired, I went to that familiar panicky survival mode. How does one not work? In the past, I’ve had a lot of lean times when I was between jobs. Finding a new job was a horror show of putting myself out there, investigating what came back. Singing back to middle-managers my enthusiasm for being part of a team, solving problems, elevating the structure, when inside feeling like garbage, feeling hopeless, being so full of fear that nothing would come along until it was too late. When I retired, that’s where I went and stayed for about 2 months.
Then it slowly dawned on me that this was not the same situation I’d been in many times before. No. Retirement was something entirely different, and the plunge into survival mode fear and despair was not warranted here. If I wasn’t careful, I might start having thoughts about being tired of it all. I backed myself out of that groove and started off in a new direction. And I’m so glad I did, because this road is beautiful and full of surprises.