From the home office in Coronado, CA
One year ago today, I went to my place of employment—which I hadn’t been to in 11 months, due to the pandemic—signed a few forms, handed in my work-provided laptop, and, after almost 21 years of working there, retired. I apologized to the human resources assistant who was called in at the last minute on her day off to deal with this, because the head of the HR department had a family emergency (although she did eventually make an appearance via Zoom). The assistant’s response: “It’s okay. Teamwork makes the dream work!”, a phrase so corny and hackneyed that it immediately washed away any ill feelings I had about retiring.
A few months earlier, when I told my fellow workmates my plan to retire during a weekly Zoom senior staff meeting, one of them asked in a quavering voice, “But … but what will you do?” To which I answered “Anything I want.”
It’s true. I’ve now had a whole year of—pretty much, within reason—anything I want. And while it hasn’t been idyllic in the sense of a hammock stretched between two palm trees on the beach (sort of shown above, albeit minus the palms and sand), it’s been quiet, calm, and relaxing. I don’t for a second miss work. I don’t miss getting up to multiple emails and Slack messages and having to answer to someone—or multiple someones—who either were my actual bosses or those that thought they were. 21 years with one company is a long time, a gold watch or giant, staff-signed card, or congratulatory dinner kind of time (none of which I got, by the way … but then again, it was the middle of the pandemic), and I surprised myself by just walking away. I miss some aspects of it: The print work I did—writing, editing and designing books—and some of the people, but I’m also still in touch with a few of them. Let’s put it this way: Recently I was asked to do something work-related, something I would have jumped at in the past, a thing that I feel was an honor to be asked, and I had no problems saying no to it. I’m so used to doing my own thing each day, at my own speed, without the endless Zoom meetings this would entail, that it would have just been too much for me at this point in time. Jerry Seinfeld once said that when you’re in your 60s, you get to just say no. No explanation, no reason, just no. (And when you’re in your 70s, you don’t even answer, so I have that to look forward to in a few years, I suppose …)
2020 was an awful time for all of us because of the pandemic. But my problems in that year began earlier when I took on an additional position at work that adversely affected my health, both mentally and physically. I guess I had a bit of a mini-breakdown, right before the pandemic, and it’s something I still think about. In a way, this new job was my only failure in my two-decade career at this place, the one time I didn’t step up to the plate and do my best. That still haunts me a little.
But the pandemic taught me how to structure my days, how to get used to being alone all the time and what to do with that time. Not being a very social person, work for me was a very social event, where I talked and interacted with people on a daily basis, as all of us do. I had friends outside of work who I did things with: dinners, movies, etc., but work pretty much fulfilled my daily quota of people interaction. So the pandemic helped me in a sense—along with a year’s worth of cognitive therapy—on how to be alone and to heal. It also helped me learn to focus on what I needed to do to prepare for retirement, financially, logistically, and personally. And I thank my lucky stars that I moved to Coronado a few years ago and found the place I wanted to retire in.
So a year ago, when I signed those forms in an almost-empty office, I was ready. I have always prided myself on knowing when it was the right time to push away ffom the table. I left on my terms, not anyone else’s, and for a variety of reasons, it was the absolute perfect time for me to do so. The stars aligned.
So what DO I do each day? I get up at the same time. I watch a little TV news, making sure the world didn’t end overnight. I play on the computer a little each morning. I go for a walk and grab some lunch. I may watch a show on TV while eating, something short, a YouTube thing or a series episode. There may be a nap. When the sun is positioned right and the temperature is warm, I sit on the balcony and read. Most afternoons there’s a second walk, a shorter one, usually just to top off my 10,000-steps per day FitBit goal. Then there’s dinner and a little more news-watching, followed by a movie or a few episodes of whatever I’m currently binging. Some days, there’s a phone call to my friend in Portland or my friend in upstate New York or my last remaining family member—my brother—back in Pennsylvania. There’s some trip-planning (I hope to go to the UK this fall, a hope that has been dashed the past two years, but it’s very important to have something to look forward to and I LOVE planning trips), some blogging (like this increasingly-rambling post), and some little creative things here and there, like photography and Instagram, or even bookshelf rearrangement. There are little pauses for games on my phone or iPad, like crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, or my current passion, Wordle (I don’t know why this simple little word game gives me so much satisfaction, but I arise in the dead of night to play it; my success rate is near 90%). And, as mentioned, there’s lots and lots of reading: mysteries, comics and graphic novels, comics history magazines and books, England travel guides, movie history and star biographies. I long ago cut cable TV out of my life, all of it is streaming for me, and it’s more than enough. There’s also movies in theaters, although that’s a bit quiet right now due to Omicron; I dearly miss the demise of ArcLight here in San Diego, too (I just read it’s about to become an AMC, so that’s good, I guess … it’s a great space, but I’ll still miss the days of 2-3 previews instead of 8 or 9). There’s my weekly trip to my local comic book shop, and my twice-monthly Target runs, and an occasional bookstore jaunt. If it all sounds a bit mundane and boring, it is. But not having to answer to someone after almost 45 years of having a boss and having to be somewhere most mornings is both liberating and enabling.
There’s always something to do. I’m amazed at how quickly the day passes, and it’s difficult to fathom that a whole year has gone by so quickly, a quiet, fulfilling, marvelous year that included some trips to some of my favorite cities: Seattle, Portland, New York and Los Angeles. Those that know me well, know that “happy” is not a word that describes me; I don’t know that I’ve ever been happy … or ever will be. But right now, I’m content. And that’s all I could ask for at this point in my life.
Happy first year of retirement to me.
Congratulations on retiring, really enjoying reading your blog!
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Gary, Delightful and poignant, that’s how I think of you. I retired July 1st, your description is spot on. The clarity to say no, walking into contentment, day by day. Congratulations to you!
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