Retirement 101: The First Year

Just before I walked out the door for the last time

A year ago, give or take a couple of weeks, I took a photo of my emptied classroom and walked out the door for the last time. I posted that photo on Facebook recently as part of the “Photo-A-Day” project (the day’s topic was “empty”), and a friend asked me how “retirement 101” has been, which of course got me thinking, and so here is my testament to the year. It’s a bit ironic that I still seem to measure out the year in terms of the school year rather than the “traditional” calendar. Maybe that’s just the way it will always be, but I’m OK with that!

I was eager, in June, to start this new phase of my life, and my husband and I had big plans marked on the calendar for the first few months. We were not quite finished with some home renovations, and in July we began our 2011 Great Adventure, a cross-country road trip that took us 11,000 miles and nearly three months away from home. We returned to New Hampshire in late October, just a few days ahead of twenty inches of snow that had us wishing for the southern warmth we had so recently left behind. We finished our house project just before Christmas, and then the winter settled in.

I’ve never been fond of winter. I don’t like the dark or the cold, and I normally get the “winter blues” right after Christmas. But this year, since I was retired and home most of the time, it seemed to be darker and colder.  I did a LOT of reading. While we were on our Great Adventure, I had joined Goodreads, a social networking site based on reading — it’s a great site and I recommend it if you like to read. I entered many books I had previously read, and then started logging my current reads and even occasionally writing some reviews, something I had always wanted to do but never was able to keep up. Tally so far in my retirement: 44 books!

Being able to get away when it’s not a school vacation week is a wondrous thing! I flew to Florida to spend a few days with my sister, and to South Dakota to spend a few days with my son and his family. In April, we drove to Virginia to visit with good friends there. A couple of times, different friends “from away” came to spend a few days with us; one of the great things about our home renovation is that we now have space for guests to sleep. Yay!

In January I self-published a small volume of my poetry. The really exciting part about this is that people actually bought copies of it, and some even asked me to sign their books! (If you’ve been meaning to get one, here’s the link: All Stories Have a Beginning, Middle, and End.)

One of the biggest changes in our household this year has been my return to the kitchen. My husband retired a number of years ago, and he willingly and cheerfully took over the cooking so that I wouldn’t have to when I came home from work. (Lucky me!) But now it was my turn, and not only have I done that, but I’ve also learned how to cook differently. We eat more fresh foods, more organic, less meat, and virtually nothing processed. I’ve also learned to bake bread. Buying all that fresh food has been expensive, though, and we’ve decided to grow our own veggies this summer for the first time in many years. Not sure how all the rain we’ve been getting is going to impact the results, but our investment has been small and hopefully it won’t be a total disaster. A friend is organizing a community market for our town this summer, and I’m looking forward to having that as a great resource, too.

Creative pursuits have continued. In January I launched a “poem a day” project. Today is the 155th day of the year, and I have written 158 poems so far. There are many days when I don’t write, but there are other days when I pen more than one, so that goal is being met. The quality of the writing is another whole matter, and I’m not sure that the daily drill is worth it in the long run. The best poems were written in January and February, when I was not only motivated but had fewer distractions (because it was winter) and was able to spend time reading published works and thinking poetically (yes, it’s a mindset). Once the warmer weather arrived (starting with a crazy and unprecedented week in March), I’ve spent much time outside working in the yard, and less time thinking about writing poems. I tell myself that even bad writing can give me material to revise later, but the sheer quantity of work might make that impractical. I shall continue with the project, but it likely will be modified in years to come. I do want to maintain the regular practice of writing poetry, but I think a more flexible regimen will be more practical and will raise the bar of excellence. Maybe the daily practice can be modified to include reading (I can log what I read) as well as writing.

I love the “super zoom” on this camera; it’s equivalent to an 800 mm lens, and it’s great for the wildlife shots I like to take.

My interest in creative photography has expanded. I was able to purchase a new camera this winter, and with the arrival of birds and flowers I am having a lot of fun with it. Over the years, and especially as I posted photos of our 2011 Great Adventure, I’ve considered setting up a small business, selling my pictures. At first I envisioned doing this at craft shows, but watching my dear friend become a slave to that process turned me away from that idea. Another friend then steered me toward online selling and I am almost ready to launch my new photo gallery! I’ll definitely be writing more about that in the next few days and weeks.

Now that I look back on the year, it is clear that I have not been a slug after all!  I know I am hard on myself, and I continue to struggle with a need to accomplish something purposeful every day. I think my goal for the second year of retirement (see, there I go again, having to set another goal) will be to lighten up and enjoy myself. Sounds like I need to plan to be spontaneous . . . I think I can, I think I can!

Life is good, and I am truly grateful.

Creative Every Day

When I take myself too seriously, I think about my visit to the Spam Museum. It's impossible to take yourself seriously when you go there!

I’ve written a bit this year about my project to write a poem every day, something I had always wanted to do but knew I couldn’t. Until this year, that is. One of the perks of retirement is having time to do things one has always wanted to do. I am really excited to announce that I have written 118 poems so far this year, and today, as I write this article, it is the 113th day of the year, so I’m ahead of the game.

I decided early on that I was not going to obsess about this project, and if a day here or there went by with no poem written, then I would write more than one on other days. I also decided to turn off my inner critic. It’s not about writing my very best work every day, which could be terribly time-consuming – it’s about the process. So even when I know I’m writing badly, I’m OK with that. I can always go back and revise. On the other hand, I’ve been thrilled when I have written well; there are quite a few poems that I’m really happy with, and it’s always a good day when that happens.

Today I made a fun discovery that melds nicely with my poem-a-day project. Creative Every Day is a WordPress blog that encourages creativity in whatever form it might take. Its author, Leah Piken Kolidas, also offers two different creative challenges: Creative Every Day, which she started in 2008, and Art Every Day Month, which runs each year in November.

I like a few things about her challenges. Creativity doesn’t have to be only art, or photography, or any one thing; it can be anything, including playing with your kids! She includes monthly themes to help participants “deal with the dry spells” (which I wrote about in my last post!), and she encourages people to break the rules. One’s creativity doesn’t have to take the same form all the time; the suggested themes are only suggestions; to “prove” one’s daily creativity, one might post on a blog, or on Twitter, or on flickr, or even in weekly emails to her. Having fun and being creative are at the heart of the projects, and I think it doesn’t get any better than that when it comes to encouraging one’s originality/imagination/inspiration/art.

Because I’m excited about this, I have embedded the Creative Every Day button in my sidebar, and while it isn’t a link to the blog, I did include a link in the sidebar blogroll. (If you have arrived on this page as a separate link from my home page, the sidebar won’t show. To see it, just click on the Harleywoman Writes header at the top of the page.) Please visit Leah’s blog, and think about joining the challenge! Just for the fun of it!

P.S.  As I write this post, I am realizing that I have been taking myself much too seriously lately, so today’s discovery is already making me smile. Whenever I take myself too seriously I try to remember to think about my 2002 visit to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, with my friends Lorna and Rachael and that ALWAYS makes me smile. Maybe I’ll write a poem about that . . .

Life is good.

Dealing With the Dry Spells

This photo helped me out of a writing slump. What works for you?

I’ve been in a writing slump for a few weeks. The hardest part about being in a writing slump is recognizing it for what it is. I feel slow, like I’m walking through jell-o all day. I have a constant sense that something is wrong, but I don’t know what. My emotions become flat – no great joys and also no deep sorrows. It’s tough, when this happens. Sometimes I even have the realization that if I would just write something, I would feel better. But the writing doesn’t come easily and it’s lousy writing and I start to beat myself up.

Then something happens that turns the switch in my brain back on, and the “aha” moment of realization lights the light, and I’m back.

This time, a few simultaneous things ignited the fire. As I write this, we are away from home, visiting dear friends, and Kathy reminded me yesterday that I need to keep writing no matter what. There was also some new activity on this blog that brought me back to the site and to some new blogs I hadn’t seen before. (Thank you, poetart!) And yesterday some new inspiration enabled me to write a poem that was much improved over recent mediocre lines.

It’s weird how inspiration arrives, sometimes. Yesterday it was a quick glance at one of my laptop’s desktop photos. I have a bunch of pictures that rotate every minute; they are all from our “Great Adventure” travels of last summer, so there’s nothing new there. But this one shot of Capitol Reef National Park suddenly put a poem in my head and I wrote it out quickly.

Perhaps the next time I’m drowning in a writing slump, I’ll recognize the signs for what they really are, and I’ll remember what I need to do in order to pull myself up over the edge:

  • Be patient — don’t beat myself up
  • Read favorite poems
  • Read favorite poets
  • Read my own blog
  • Read other blogs about writing and poetry
  • Remember that I need to write as much as I need to breathe

Here’s a question for other writers: What do YOU do to pull yourself out of a dry spell?

Life is good.

It’s All a Frame of Mind

My lack of blogging in recent weeks and months has weighed heavily on my mind, and I’ve been trying to figure out why it is now so darn hard for me to come up with ideas of what to write about. During the last school year it was practically magical how each week, there would be a great idea, just hanging there in my brain. Now? It’s just not happening that way.

I fear that now, since I spend most of my waking hours at home, my brain isn’t being offered those glimpses into situations and conversations that were the fodder for my blogging. And it is true that my activities now are more inwardly focused, quiet. It’s a big lifestyle change! I have a lot to learn about how to “be” retired, but  I’m not just hanging here like a lump, really! I traveled to Florida a week or so ago to spend a few days with my sister — the 80 degrees and sunshine did much to help my fight against the New Hampshire winter blues that I inevitably feel come February. Next week my dear friend from Canada is coming to visit for a few days, and when she leaves, I’ll fly to South Dakota for a delightful visit with family (and grandchildren)! Wow — I’ve been busier than I realized.

It’s all a frame of mind, I think. During the last year that I taught, I held blogging at the front of my brain, and so going through the days my brain would land on a situation or experience and “bookmark” it as a good topic to write about. I’ve not continued to do that, especially now that I’m concentrating on writing a poem every day, which is a much more introverted and personal mindset.

And so I shall share a recent poem with you. I drove to Massachusetts to visit my brother this past Monday (gosh, do I ever stay home?) and as I returned to New Hampshire it was dusk. Here’s what happened:

Soaring 

This evening as I traveled home,
a living haiku
danced before my eyes. 

There must have been a hundred geese
flying north
                  in a collection of chaos
that included a couple of loose strings,
halves of a V,
each disconnected from its partner.

Then, from the back, one goose flew
fast and strong,
faster and stronger than all the others
until he was at the very front of the pack
with some distance between him and the next in line.

My road curved away from this sight
and I lost the view.
Turned a corner and saw them again:
           Five large formations
       undulating, north bound geese
         round the bright full moon
 Life is good.
photo from flickr.com: sunset geese by Scorpions and Centaurs