In January, 2022, I bade adieu to my colleagues and, after 40+ years raising funds for a host of non-profit organizations, I walked out the door. Was I worried about how I’d fill my days without a schedule or meetings or people to gossip with? Not I.
I was the poster child for a fulfilling post-work life. I enjoyed a number of hobbies, the two most consuming being writing and knitting. I exercised regularly, relished a robust social life with dear friends, and participated in cultural activities.
I told friends that I would begin my retirement with a somewhat fixed schedule. I imagined that I’d sign on for a volunteer project of some kind that would necessitate my leaving my home at least twice a week for a meaningful and pleasurable activity among a collegial group of folks. I was certain that, on my first Monday morning after exiting the work force, I’d need to know that at least a part of my week would be spoken for, giving me a sense of purpose and something to look forward to.
A friend wiser than I listened to my plan, and pointed out that I really had no clue as to what would spark my interest right away, and that I’d be much better off leaving my days open to explore the myriad opportunities available to someone like me in the city of Boston. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became of her wisdom.
So now I had an open non-plan and I could explore and test my options. The one rule I’d made for myself and determined to keep was that I’d participate in no activity that involved attending a meeting, ever. That meant I’d have to refuse the invitations to join non-profit boards that came my way (which I’d already begun to do); it felt liberating, especially since I’d had the unhappy experience of attending some meetings that were absolutely excruciating in their endless examination of the most arcane and irrelevant minutiae.
And then Parkinson’s struck just a short time before my scheduled final day at work, surprising me with symptoms both physical and psychic. Even my non-plan plan overwhelmed me, especially since my chief complaint was fatigue. I wasn’t sure if my need for two naps a day was a result of my medication cocktail (22 pills a day) or the disease itself. In any case, my new reality forced me to toss my agenda out the window and do something that was a foreign experience to me. I would “wing it.”
Spontaneous is not my middle name. Nor is it my first, last or fourth. I recall a line in one of my favorite films, Goodbye Columbus, in which Richard Benjamin’s character tells Ali McGraw’s “I’m not a planner, I’m a liver” to which she replies “I’m a pancreas.” Well, I am much more planner than liver. I’ve gotten better at spur-of-the-moment; if you call me at six and invite me to go out to dinner right now, I just may say yes. Unless I feel like crap due to my illness, but that’s an entirely different story.
Here are some of the ways that my new reality has fallen short – or more accurately different – from expectations.
Plan: Read New York Times cover to cover every day.
Reality: Lucky if I hit all the headlines on any given day.
Plan: Submit my novel to every appropriate literary agent on the planet.
Reality: Recognize that the novel isn’t worth the time; I suspect it’s not very good.
Plan: Start writing novel about dysfunctional New England Jewish family.
Reality: Start writing blog instead.
Plan: Take advantage of multifarious cultural activities in Boston.
Reality: Take at least one and frequently two naps per day.
Plan: Spend at least half an hour a day reading a foreign book in the original language (I’m proficient in French, Italian and Spanish). Yes, I really thought I’d do this.
Reality: Get excited if I read an entire chapter of some thriller in English that doesn’t excessively tax my shrinking brain.
Plan: Learn to play pickle ball.
Reality: I was all set to tackle this one when I fell and broke my hip. Yup, life’s a bitch.
Plan: No meetings. Ever.
Reality: Joined the executive committee to help plan my (gulp) fiftieth college reunion. Lots of meetings, albeit by Zoom, and I’m enjoying every minute of them.
There you have it. I guess it’s possible for a planner to become a liver. To become flexible at the age of 70. Trigger warning, cliche ahead: to make lemonade from lemons, the juiciest lemon being my blog, where I can sound off on any subject that strikes my fancy and no one can tell me it’s not appropriate, or entertaining, or whatever it is I wish it to be. Correction: people can tell me whatever they want, but I need not pay them the slightest attention.
Okay, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and, despite no morning nap, I’m feeling more energetic than usual. My stationery bike awaits. As do my knitting and the semi-cheesy chick-lit I’m reading. Au revoir, ciao, and adios.
Goodbye Columbus movie and book
This frequently-overlooked movie winningly captures the Jewish-American experience in the 1950’s- 60’s. It made me both smile and cringe, which is probably why I love it. It’s real.
21 thoughts on “You call this retirement?”
Love your writing, wit, and spirit.
Thank you Linda!
The best laid plans of mice and men… thank you Robert Burns- we all have them, Andi. But you did get a huge one. Knowing you, however, you’ll continue to do what you can when you can. Keep the blogs coming. Love reading them, old friend!
Thank you Judy!
Your writing and thinking are always inspiring, and help point me in the “right” direction (whatever that may be). Wishing you continued strength to accomplish what’s on your list, and to keep on being a liver.
Thank you, Richard! Wishing you the best too!
Thank you Richard! Wishing you all the best too!
Cute! The icky weather doesn’t help, but let’s look forward to summer at which time we’ll feel better–all of us–and more energetic! Love you!
Hey, thanks Clinti! Hope you have some soup in the house and that Clementine doesn’t mind going out too much.
Once again, your observations and conclusions surpass their applicability to PD and wisely reflect a lot of what it means to get older. For all of us who’ve worked 30-40 years, retirement is a blessing and has come to mean we can do what we want when we want, and anything fixed by custom in the past, can become unfixed, very easily and gladly. Enjoy your chosen activities at your desired pace.
Thank you for your observant and thoughtful comments.
ahhh, Judaism and sex – all the good stuff !
gotta love Portnoy
13 years into “retirement” I am involved with four different organizations plus my extended Family in several States.
The key has been to place bounds and limits on each type of involvement to prevent “Retirement Burnout”. I too am currently deeply involved in my 50th College Reunion…guess my 50th High School Reunion set that stage. But I keep each issue in its box…and adjust along the way as life changes require. I am happy doing what i do…but have learned not to over commit, to say NO when necessary, and to adjust the plan as life changes require…
…live and enjoy every day to the fullest…..art c
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All good advice, Art
I enjoy reading all of your postings…but this one really hit home… I had adopted many of your pointers over the years..but only after I had fallen (no jumped!) into the tar pit a few times..finding the right balance is key….art c
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Love Goodbye Columbus too!
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Yea!!! And not surprised tho I love it despite a gaping hole at the center of the movie, who’s initials are AM.
SHE is the gaping hole!!!!! Her wooden performance!
The way I see it, it’s been a win win situation for you (and hopefully for the rest of us too)…planning the plan gave you pleasure and now, as the liver you are finding pleasure in going with your flow. Great writing!
The only thing i have to add is “expect the unexpected.”
Well andi, at the risk of being thought of as an old poop I will have to take issue with those who wrote about retirement in general, and compared getting older in general to those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease shortly before or after retirement. It is definitely not the same ballgame. I was diagnosed three years after I retired, but had symptoms five years before I retired. I thought I was so fatigued from work, and that I would feel better when I retired. I describe the feeling as “I feel like I went to sleep one night and woke up the next day 10 years older“. Yes, aging take its toll, but it is not remotely the same as having Parkinson’s disease which is an all encompassing condition that changes your life dramatically and requires constant attention and adjustment. I too thought I would do wonderful things in retirement. And yes, I agree with the need to make lemonade from lemons. And do the best you can with what you have. But it is hardly a matter choosing to heavily schedule yourself or keep an open schedule because in many ways, you have no choice. So I am not trying to be an old poop or maybe I am. I am not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings or be rude, but I would like to educate all the people who compare their symptoms of aging to the complicated multi symptoms (those you can see and those you cannot see) to Parkinson’s disease. It’s just a mistake to do that. And Andi, your post is my story too. It hits the nail on the head for many of us. Thanks.
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