Desperate for Conversation

The closer I get to retirement, the more nervous I find myself and that surprises me because I’m usually pretty good with change. This one though — well this one is a huge change that will impact my life, for good or bad, until I die. That’s worth getting nervous about, right?

Up until a week or so ago, I was getting excited about the prospect of doing whatever I want, whenever I want – sleeping late with no alarm; eating better because when I have the time to prepare and cook, I like it because it doesn’t feel so much like working after work; giving my house a thorough cleaning at a leisurely pace; spending as much or as little time as I deem fit on my novel; upgrading my company, Scentsibility and putting in some quality marketing time; sitting out on my balcony at odd hours and watching the wildlife and the clouds; napping in the afternoons; etc.

But now? There’s a man who comes into the Starbucks I frequent who’s retired and he’s the garrulous type who’s looking for anyone that glances in his direction. Aaaaand he’s off. I find myself trying not to catch his eye as he sits eating his oatmeal, eyeing likely suspects in his vicinity. Is that going to be me one of these days? Can’t you just see my seventy or eighty-something shriveled face sidling up to a young, twenty-something in line and saying, “My aren’t those adorable jeans. Did you buy them around here?” How far do you think that’ll get me?

Elderly woman sadly looking out the window, a black-and-white phSo, that’s what got me got me to worrying about my retirement instead of looking forward to it. I took stock of how many people I’d be likely to talk to on a daily basis once my usual work buddies are gone. Um, maybe two. That scares me a little. I already talk to my cats but I don’t think that qualifies. I don’t fancy being the sad old lady who sits in the house and stares out the window all day.

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Then there was the little old man in Albertson’s who stood off to the side staring at me as I checked out the special on guacamole. I eventually decided not to buy it and meandered off. Very shortly, I heard, “Excuse me.” I turned to see the little old man following me over to the produce section. He wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten the guacamole. My instant impression was that he didn’t give a hoot why I hadn’t bought the guacamole; he just wanted to talk to someone. So I stopped. I told him it didn’t seem to have enough stuff in. He said, “What stuff? Guacamole is just guacamole.” I assured him they were all different and I actually liked to make my own with avocado, jalapeno, tomato, onion, cilantro and lime juice. He thought that over, nodded and sauntered back toward the display.

See, that could be me in a year or two – randomly stopping people in the grocery store just to hear a human voice. That scares me. I can hear you saying, “So get out and do something.” I’ve thought about that, too. I’m not accustomed to sitting around much. I’m very active (always have been) and typically have a to-do list a mile long of things I want to do and places I want to go. But then there’s the retirement budget. It’s going to be a game changer with a whole new set of rules (none of which I’ll know in advance). I doubt that I’ll have enough money for travel or to spend on trivial keep-myself-busy projects. Where does that leave me?

I’m still aiming for optimism but I find myself vacillating between ultra excited and secretly terrified.

 

Time – Fast and Slow

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Don’t you find that time is a fickle thing – snail’s pace one moment and warp speed the next? I love reading the theories about time and how it’s a manmade thing but at times, my own life teaches me how stupid the idea is that we can measure it accurately.

I remember a time when I had to audition to become a majorette in high school and the few hours I sat in the room watching everyone else’s routines almost ground to a halt. The few hours I was there in the afternoon felt like days had gone past.

Then there was the time I had my debut performance in my first Vegas show and although I wanted the experience to last forever so I could remember every detail, the show flew by in the space of a blink and I was left wishing it had lasted longer.

So why is that? And why can’t I harness it so I can slow my life? The thing is, it also applies to smaller events, I’ve noticed. I can arrive at work and if I’m not swamped with work, it feels like it goes on well beyond my shift. That scares me a little when it comes to applying it to retirement. It would seem that the trick is managing the mind but damned if I’ve figured out how to do that. I don’t want my retirement to slow to a halt to the point where I feel like I’m perpetually bored and hate it, but I also don’t want it to zoom by so I wish I’d retired sooner and had even more time to pursue interesting places and ideas and hobbies and “stuff.”

As I get closer, time is speeding up and although I want retirement and lazy days of my own making, I grow a bit more frightened of the unknown each day. Does being “off the clock” make the clock stop?

What I’m afraid I’ll do is cram everything I’ve ever wanted to do into my life in the first few months, end up crossing most of them off the list as things that aren’t really my cup of tea and that I know I’ll never finish or continue with and then end up sitting around staring out the window wishing I had someone to talk to. I often wonder if I’m the only one who feels that way but I doubt it. I think it’s probably pretty common. But it’s funny how I’ve been excited about the prospect, literally marking days off a makeshift calendar on the wall until things are getting down to the wire and suddenly not having a schedule scares me. I find myself wondering if maybe I should just keep going one more year.

No, I won’t. But the closer I get, the more anxiety I’m feeling about it. There’s that old time speeding up again, only this time, I’m not sure if I want it to slow down or keep going at the current breakneck speed.

Do Shoes Indicate a Person’s Worth?

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I once worked for a man who admitted that he judged everyone by their shoes and I found that ludicrous. Now that I’m contemplating retirement and the freedom to “dress down” permanently, I wonder if my worth will hit rock bottom? If I choose to go out in a worn pair of sneakers, am I less of a person? I suppose the best question should be, “Do I care what anyone thinks?”

Dirty sneakers

I believe the idea is that scuffed shoes mean you’re too lazy to take care of your things. I’m not sure that correlates to someone who would be a lazy employee. Maybe you’re just so damn busy living an interesting life that you haven’t found the time to buff them up or repair them. I realize I’m simplifying the issue but I dislike the premise and think he needs to find a different standard. Plus, the man that started me thinking about this many years ago was a good-looking, pompous ass that I detested because of his sense of entitlement. So, yes, I’m biased against any pronouncement he uttered. Let’s set that straight from the get-go.

The most interesting people I’ve ever met don’t follow the “standards.” And, I might ask, who exactly sets those societal standards? I personally have a hard time subscribing to this notion because, as you might well imagine, I’ve never had two cents worth of interest in having a different pair of shoes with every outfit. Like my car, they’re just things to get me from Point A to Point B without tearing up the soles of my feet. I know – heresy. But the truth is that if I could get by with wearing fluffy house slippers to work every day, I would.

I guess I’m trying inarticulately to say that the outer accoutrements don’t tell you much about the person inside. Maybe my scuffed shoes mean I’m living on social security and would rather eat than look chic. I understand that in a business environment, a conservative boss might not want me strolling in in something better suited for a night on the town, Wild shoes but I maintain that judging a person by the shoes they wear is an assumption of what they’re capable of and how smart they are and it shouldn’t be. Now you might say, “How smart can you be to show up at work in unsuitable attire?” Yes, I get it; there are unspoken standards in any workplace and there’s a comfortable middle ground that most people stick to, but my point is that the statement about being able to determine a person’s worth by the shoes they wear is not a standard for determining whether or not they can do the job you’ve hired them for. If I’m in accounting, my scuffed, beat up, out-of-date shoes don’t prevent me from adding and subtracting. Nor do they tell you that perhaps I paint like Picasso in my free time or I’ll soon be publishing a cookbook on French cuisine. Or maybe I just have a boatload of debt and can’t afford new shoes right now. You get the idea.

So here’s my question: Who does it say more about when a person is judged by his fashion sense? By this executive’s criteria, I’d have to come to the conclusion that Jesus and Gandhi were total losers.

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Friendships – Survival or Not?

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If I hadn’t had several career incarnations, I might not have realized that many of the people I commonly called “friends” really aren’t. They’re fun acquaintances that I laugh with day-to-day and maybe even meet for drinks after work occasionally. But most won’t, and didn’t, survive the career split.

I don’t begrudge that at all. I’ve heard many ex-employees bemoan the fact that the people they spent time with at the old job faded away after a few weeks or months. I had this happen as well but the truth is that if I’d really wanted to cultivate a long-term friendship I’d have tried a little harder to make sure we got together on a regular basis.

Perhaps my definition of “friend” is a bit narrow but most of the people I associate with are fun and worth a laugh or two at work but we don’t have enough in common to sustain that relationship after I’ve moved on. I think it’s normal to put your time into the establishment and learn to “fit in.” Consciously or not, that often means acting according to the group norm but not really revealing your innermost thoughts. Workplace relationships can be fickle and it only takes one disagreement or one assignment where you’re pitted against your friend to discover that it’s each one for herself.

That’s just human nature, I think. Everyone wants to succeed; everyone wants to be well thought of at work. And it’s that same survival mode that taught me to tread carefully. I’ve had plenty of friends who turned out not to be when a promotion was at stake or when the company was weighing the worthiness of each of its team members in times of financial crisis. And yes, I use the term “team” loosely because it’s really quite amazing how fast a valued team member can get thrown under the bus. I’ve watched far too many be given walking papers shortly after being told they were one of the most valued employees and would never have to worry about their position disappearing.

But I digress. Friendships. I enjoy my time with many of my fellow workers but I don’t expect that many, if any, will still be in my orbit about six months to a year after I retire. I don’t know if that will make me feel isolated and lonely or not but I tend to doubt it. I always have a gazillion things to interest me and to occupy my time. But who’s to say that I won’t enjoy all those gazillion projects for about a month and then find myself sitting around in a quiet house twiddling my thumbs, wondering who I can call in order to stop chatting with my cats and hear a voice besides my own.

I can’t actually remember a time when I’ve been lonely but that time may be coming. Who knows? I first started contemplating this possibility when I was approached one day in my local grocery store by an elderly man. I noticed him standing back staring and I thought perhaps I was in his way. However, when I moved away to another display, he came over and told me he loved the guacamole I had decided not to buy and wondered why I didn’t try it. I can’t tell you why, but I sensed that he could care less about why I didn’t pick up the guacamole. He just wanted to talk to someone. So, suddenly wondering if that would be me one of these days, I draped my arms on the shopping basket, parked my foot on the lower rung and had a lengthy conversation about what makes a good guacamole.

I measure a “friend” by someone who I’ve learned I can pour my heart out to, good and bad, and they’ll always be there for me. They are the ones that I’d entrust my cats to if I died tomorrow. They’re the ones I’d feel comfortable calling in the middle of the night if I needed something.

I think it’s harder to cultivate friendships like that as I get older, mostly because true friendships develop slowly. They require a gradual give and take of relevant information, the sharing of likes and dislikes, and the realization that this individual has passed all the little subconscious “tests” that have resulted in trust. In any case, I won’t be surprised if, in a few years from now, some of the people who swear we’ll always be in touch when I leave, one day hear my name and say, “Whatever happened to her?”

Foul-Mouthed Adult

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Here’s another advantage to approaching retirement age: you get to hang on to all the old habits you adore that everyone else abhors.

I used to be one of those youngsters that, hearing an elderly person curse or seeing him shoot the finger at someone in traffic or adamantly refuse to give an inch in a long-term family feud or get into a spitting match with a stranger over a place in line, would comment, “You’d think he’d know better than to act like that at his age.” Really? Why?

I’ve always had a bit of a sailor’s mouth. I’d like to blame it on working in backstage dressing rooms for years, but that’s not really the source. I can’t remember when it actually became my favorite way to blow off steam but distinctly remember the first time I used the “F” word in front of my mother. I was practicing a twirling routine for upcoming high school auditions and had gone over it in the back yard so many times that I’d worn a bald spot in the grass. Every day I would start from the beginning and every time I missed a trick, I’d start over until I could get through the routine three complete times. Try that in a Texas summer with the heat and the humidity. But then again, I was a teenager and much more resilient than I am now. I had finally completed three error-free sets and, with auditions coming up soon, finally called my mother out to be my audience. Right in the middle, I dropped the baton, instantaneously spit out, “F_ _ _!” and then froze.

My mother’s face was priceless – mouth agape, eyebrows damn near scraping her hairline, hands fisted at her waist. “Lisa!” was all she said. I couldn’t help it; I laughed. I knew she’d watched me torture myself for weeks and all of that afternoon and that she understood my frustration even though she might’ve objected to the way I chose to express it.

So here we are some 50-odd years later, and the “F” word is still my favorite. It’s funny how young people think age brings wisdom, certainty about everything good and right, and a gentle, placid nature, one free of all offending language. Maybe there are more people than I think who have found all the answers and nothing bothers them enough to warrant a curse word here and there, but somehow I don’t think so. Most of us never grow up.

It was another laughable moment when I used the “F” word in front of one of my younger co-workers and her facial features took on a similar look to my mother’s 50 years earlier. Horrified, she commented, “I’ve never heard you use that word.” My response was, “Are you kidding? I lived in backstage dressing rooms for much of my youth and it’s my favorite word.” I could see that I’d become a completely different person to her. I’m still not sure if that was good or bad but it struck me that I was supposed to be of an age when I resorted to strong words like “shoot” or “darn it.” All I can say is she clearly didn’t know me at all. Once a foul mouth, always a foul mouth.

So all you youngsters keep in mind that unless you work on them now, your bad habits will follow you into retirement and you’ll be annoyed to hear someone twenty, thirty or forty years younger say, “Shouldn’t she know better at her age?”

And when that happens, watch your language.

Is Modern Art Art?

Here’s an interesting thing you’ll learn as you near retirement age: You begin to voice your opinion on things you wouldn’t dream of bringing up years earlier in case it stirred controversy. Once you reach the point where your opinion isn’t likely to impact your career, you feel the freedom that comes with being able to mouth off at will (not that it really took retirement age for me to mouth off). So here I go.

Several years ago, I found myself in Chicago with some fellow employees and, although most of the rest were interested in clubbing and sleeping late, two of us were interested in taking in the Art Institute of Chicago. It was fabulous and we spent several hours perusing the different exhibitions, even tagging on to the back of a tour group to hear the guide explain all the hidden messages one Impressionist painter incorporated into his work.

But then we wandered off and eventually saw a sign indicating the entrance to the modern art wing of the museum. She indicated modern art was not her favorite and I readily agreed. She went on to say that the thing that irritated her the most was when someone included something like a big red dot in the middle of a canvas and called it art. We both laughed because, really? (and here’s me mouthing off at last) if it looks like something I could do, then it’s not art, because although I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, I’m pretty sure I could manage to get a colored circle on a canvas or sling a bunch of paint and when it looked colorful and pretty, declare it a masterpiece.

So, yes, you guessed it. We walked in to discover a giant red dot on a canvas. It was a laughable moment. Nevertheless, I am left trying to imagine an art connoisseur staring fixedly at the painting, taking in the bold use of color, the brush strokes, the nuance and declaring it a masterpiece worthy of exhibition in a museum.

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Ok, I clearly don’t understand what makes modern art art. To me, it’s art if it’s something I can identify and something I couldn’t achieve in a million years of classes or practice. Something like this –

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– something where even I, the novice, can see the bold use of color, the brush strokes, the attention to the smallest details, the beauty of the facial features, the tranquility of the scene, the snapshot of an era.

You can try to get me to understand what makes something qualify as “art,” or you can sigh, shake your head and leave me to enjoy the Impressionists, thank you. Ah, the joys of retirement age and no filter.

Revising the Dreams

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They say getting older is not for the faint of heart. It’s true. You discover that the things you dreamed about doing when you were young, things that you’ve carried over decade to decade, are suddenly no longer within your reach. So now what? Do you persist in going after them, do you give up on the dream entirely, or do you try to find a compromise so you’re still getting some of the experience even if it’s not all it was meant to be?

I find that I have a stubborn streak that holds on to the dream for months and months, reworking it in my mind a dozen times with tiny little concessions each time, so I can still pursue the basic dream. But somewhere along the line, I realize it’s time to let it go and then I start looking at ways to make some of it happen.

One of my dreams was to have a house with enough land to create a garden retreat, a place replete with trees, flowers, vines, grass, and at least one little nook where I could hang out with a good book and enjoy the view and the quiet – sort of like the picture I chose for this post.

Getting close to retirement, I refused to give up this dream and looked only at houses with spacious back yards. But little realities kept creeping in and I must say, they really annoyed me. I have a friend who pointed out that the cost alone of all the foliage would kill me. Then I’d probably have to initially employ a landscaper to till the soil and prepare the beds. Not being much of a horticulturist, I’d probably have to get professional advice on designing my perfect retreat. All of these costs are difficult, if not impossible, when living on social security.

That was my first reality. Then there’s the annoyance of old age. At 65, I’m in relatively good health but my aches and pains have increased and I notice that they do so at an accelerated pace. Perhaps that’s the problem and everyone faces it: You go for decades being in tip-top form and think it will stay that way indefinitely and then one day you discover you need back surgery for the increasing difficulty you’ve been having with what you thought were pulled muscles that were just taking longer and longer to heal, or you have a strange bout of symptoms that mimic heart problems and find you need a medication for GERD, or bounding up the stairs two at a time becomes a slower progression on a daily basis, etc. To top it off, these new issues are not things that are going to return to that 20s physique; they are permanent and likely to get worse.

I didn’t bargain for that when I was younger and, stupidly, didn’t anticipate it, either. Although aware of the possibility, when I was younger I sort of figured they always happened to someone else or that I’d see them coming and make appropriate adjustments (although what those adjustments might have been is anybody’s guess). And now, it’s too late to back up and tackle that garden with the stamina and non-creaky joints of my 20 or 30-year-old self.

So, reluctantly, I’ve realized I would never be able to keep up with the daily maintenance of a garden of that size. That acceptance, oddly, happened almost overnight. I registered the growing list of problems I might encounter but stubbornly stuck to my original plan for months. Then one day, I woke up and instead of talking about buying a house, began talking about renting a condo or townhouse with a small space off a back patio or a balcony where I could put a few potted plants. Just like that, I’d come to terms with a new reality.

And just so you know, the hardest part of this whole thing is moving forward without looking back at the things I could have done, and should have done, when I had the time, the resources and the stamina. People tell you it’s never too late, but sometimes it is, and I hate that.