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The ‘R’ Word—Is It a Thrilling or Chilling Prospect?

Words. There are some that have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality. There are those words that entice and frighten us at the same time. Words that are like a bad accident compelling us to look with morbid curiosity and then causes us to turn away when we actually do see more than we bargained for. There is one word that has been rolling around inside my head the way a bit of pea gravel finds a way inside your loafer.  And once it’s there, you can’t think of anything else until you deal with it—until you take your shoe off and dump the pebble out.

Retirement.  It’s a loaded word.  I work for the federal government and I hope you won’t hold that against me.  I have been a graphic designer for over 30 years (since before the advent of computers and desktop publishing).  I have met the magic combination of years of service and age (30 years at age 55).  So I am eligible for retirement.  Being eligible and being able to retire are two different stories.  My son is in the middle of his freshman year of college so I am looking at a minimum of three more years before I hand in my ID. The Class of 2016.

The other obstacle is my wife. “You’re not allowed to retire,” she says. “You’ll drive me crazy.” And in a sense she’s right.  What does retirement look like?  Does that mean sitting around the house in my underwear until noon sipping coffee and complaining about the cost of gas? Do I get a part time job wearing a blue vest where I welcome shoppers to the store? Will we travel? Volunteer? I’ll have plenty of time to write but how much time will I devote to it?  Will it be easier or harder to sit down every day and clatter out a few sentences without the constraints of a regular work week? So many questions.

On the morning bus trip yesterday, fellow commuters Steve Meitz and Wayne Truax had fun envisioning my life of leisure after 30-plus years in the workforce: they saw me in a cabin in the woods. An aging, bald guy slowly going mad from writer’s block as I amass over 100 cats thinking them a secret source of inspiration.  My wife leaves me for a ballplayer and I start swilling cheap bourbon causing my nose to blossom to the size of a Christmas ornament webbed with a roadmap of erupting, burgundy capillaries. The cabin becomes ripe with the sour smell of old age, dead skin and cat urine, but I am oblivious to it as I shuffle about, my duct-taped slippers whispering across the dusty wooden floors, trying to come up with the right words.  That reminds me of an old Steve Martin routine in which he talks about President Nixon walking on a beach “in his big old shorts with a metal detector.” It’s not a pretty picture.  Maybe my wife is right, I’m “not allowed to retire.”

another cat man
Discipline. Now there’s another one of those words that we happily run away from (as in: I’ll go to the gym tomorrow) but without structure and routine, life can spin out of control and so, thankfully, I have a different picture of retirement than Steve and Wayne do.  I can see the cabin in the woods.  Something on a few acres at a bend in a river or stream. Writing will continue to be an important part of my life with a dedicated room and time to be devoted to it daily.  Structure. Routine. Discipline. Maybe a part time job or freelance design work to help keep me busy.  Bourbon—not a lot of it—is still a part of the picture but not the cheap stuff (although I heard that Maker’s Mark is watering down their bourbon—and I bet still charging the same price).  One cat is enough and my wife is not big on sports so I don’t expect her to run off with a ballplayer.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have mixed emotions about retirement, and I can be as undisciplined as the next guy (I am a master of procrastination).  However, I think it will be a liberating and frightening change when (if?) it happens.  In fact, it already feels a bit liberating just knowing that I’m eligible, that I could up and walk out if things got unbearable at the office. The fear is there too, nibbling around the edges, but not bad enough to keep me from looking at cabins for sale on the Shenandoah River.  We aren’t, however, combing through the classified ads looking for any more cats…

Question: What are your thoughts or experiences with retirement and how do you keep yourself disciplined?

illustration by Andy Black
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7 comments on “The ‘R’ Word—Is It a Thrilling or Chilling Prospect?

  1. Oh I wish I was in the vicinity of retirement. I’ve still got 30 years until that’s even remotely possible. As for discipline? Well, it’s hit or miss on that one. Knowing I have a deadline makes staying focused easier. My self motivation when it comes to my writing can be weak at times. Unless I’m in the grip of a story that must be told, then I’m a worker bee that won’t quit.

    • There is nothing like being in the zone. Who needs discipline when the words are flowing out of you like a fire hose? The whole retirement thing is a double edged sword. Some jump in with both feet and others are dead before the first month is out. I still have some time to get used to the idea though…

  2. There are two retired people in this household…however we are both busy all the time with community work, church and family. Did i mention travel? Our last trip was to Russia. Retirement is good.
    I have time to work on my blog and I’ve started that novel…and pursue the sneaky comma. One may have gotten away from you on the following:
    {walking on a beach “in his big old shorts with a metal detector.” It’s not a pretty picture} Do think it could be funny either with or without the comma.

    • good eye. I can now picture a pair fo shorts wielding a metal detector. I’m glad to hear that retirement is something to look forward to rather than dread. I’m optimistic myself. My wife is the one who needs convincing…

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