8. How To Retire

Retirement, from day one was not what I expected. Usually retirement suggests feelings of loss and disconnection from routine and friends. The parameters of your life do change; for a lot of people they narrow or close down. Mine didn’t. Mine opened up suddenly and vastly like a Montana sky at sunrise.

I didn’t miss my job; instead I felt an immediate across-the-board elation and a surge of energy. I am free! I have almost always done more than one thing – my day job, and on the side, some other things I loved to do that were not practical, but gave me a lot of simple joy and a place to express.

Surprisingly, I didn’t miss the one thing I thought I would miss the most – my friends. The best of them are still with me, in person or via internet and e-mail. Now I can see that many of the others were simply temporary, conditional, or circumstantial friends. They came with the job and they went with the job.

The only real thing missing from my life now is the relentless, ever-increasing pressure and stress of the job. And that, as my granny Vaughn used to say, is “a good miss.” Releasing the position that had defined and confined me for 20+ years felt just like when you lift the lid off a boiling pot, and the pressure beneath it evaporates effortlessly into thin air.

It feels like waking up one day to discover that you’ve been sleeping underneath the mattress, and finding yourself on top of it instead. The whole experience was that of a heavy solid weight that had held me pressed down, from head to foot, for years, being suddenly and surprisingly totally removed. I could move and breathe like I did in my teens.

All of the waking-up into “retirement” was a surprise, but the most surprising part: I expected a period of depression or transition. It never happened. What happened instead was a flood of strange flowing immersing warm happiness. And I say strange because it had no one definable cause or object. There was simply no reason not to be. I kept catching myself with a silly little smile on my face.

I had been neatly set free from: a whole complex of artificial constraints, a number of rules I did not always agree with ethically, the chain of command of managers and coworkers, the requirements of playing a certain semi-artificial role that was not really myself, to smile no matter what, to accept any injustice or abuse no matter what, to play the game even when the game became something else, or something ugly. All of that vanished in a day.

I own myself again. Lock, stock, and barrel. I own my own life. I won’t have as much money, but the trade-off is the deal of the century. “100% off.” The new life that’s completely mine. Suddenly I’m as free as I was in my 20s, but wiser, and better financed. In my 20s I lived on nearly nothing. Today my modest income is a rock to build on.

The first thing I did was take two weeks to relax, and to do whatever I chose to do in a totally un-rushed and un-pressured way. No multi-tasking. No to-do-list. I took short camping trips and hikes in state parks. I rode my bicycle. I cut my hair. I conversed with rivers.  I gazed at stars and remembered the names of constellations – Look – there’s Orion!   I had long leisurely lunches chatting with friends. I wrote in my journal.

Eventually I cleared my desk, caught up on correspondence, filed that pile of stuff on my desk in the bulging “to-file” folder, then started calmly and unhurriedly working through the formerly dreaded “to-do” folder. (Some of the to-dos had been there for years.) After all, I still have two small businesses to run, book orders to process and ship, another book to write, my art and printmaking to pursue and explore now more deeply, the monthly essay to write for my internet column, and occasional entries like this in my personal blog.

The days roll by seamlessly, pleasurably, in unseasonably blissful warm and sunny weather for January in Northern California. I wake up to simple pleasures every day. I don’t have to change clothes, personalities, or lives and go to my part-time career in Emergency Medical care any more. I don’t have to put myself into an environment that is infectious, toxic, and dangerous physically and spiritually. ER is behind me now; it is done, completely and well. I and my friends and colleagues have made significant and meaningful contributions to each other, to the professions, and to humankind. Now my team goes on with new blood, new players, and new challenges. Now I take up my new chosen role as artist, writer, publisher, and teacher. There is a Chapbook of poetry and short prose also in the works. I have plenty to do.

How to retire? I have no idea. I’m making it up as I go along. I would suggest that it’s good to have something on the side, already going on, that you can move to the Center  when you let go of the railings of your day job. If you are fortunate enough to be reasonably healthy and agile, a whole new world is going to open up before you. You may find that the experience is as if you have spent most of your life inside an enclosed space, through the years staying close to some course that seemed worthwhile, opening door after door, and moving through them to more hallways and doors. Then suddenly one day you open this door, and find yourself outside.

And shocked to discover that it’s not fearful or empty, at all. It’s alive with wind and sun and brilliant colors. There are real people there, and crazy possibilities. Something else, something different, maybe something more. Unknown adventures are wide open to you –and calling. Start anywhere. Start where you are, and dream big. Nobody can tell you who to be anymore; nobody can devalue you for not being just exactly what they expected you to be. You own yourself. You are free. Your heart floats like a sparrow in crystal morning air, and the sky is NOT the limit.

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