Although my last official day at work was June 30, my emotional last day was over a month earlier, when I attended my last graduation ceremony as a participant. Since then, I have been on a sort of pilgrimage, traveling to various places and gathering bits of my past, present and future to craft into my next life chapter. The word "retirement" holds no meaning at all; For the foreseeable future, I plan to read, think, and write even more than I used to. It's likely I will also be talking, listening, and discussing more than I was able to -- at least, I hope that's the case. Some of it will happen on social media, some of it over coffee, beer, or a meal, some of here. This is a catch-up post that also serves as a preview of some future entries. An appetizer, I hope.
Since late May, I have traveled to Portland, Maine, New York City, Baltimore (close, but it counts), Star Island (twice), and San Francisco by way of a shirt stop in Chicago. I have read more books in eight weeks than I had time to read in my last entire school year. I have sewn -- a little, not enough. I have watched dozens of movies (most of them Indian). I've played with my 4-year-old grandson and learned of the death of my youngest aunt, who was barely in high school when I was born. I have said goodbye to close friends moving away and hello to new people in my life. I have done much, much more than that, and promise to fill in some of the blanks later. Mostly, I have been filling myself up, refueling for the next leg of the journey.
Friends have warned me about the dangers of overcommitment in retirement. Frankly, I'm not worried; my secret superpower has been the ability to say "no" for some time now. (If anything, it's my reluctance to say "yes" that can get me in trouble.) For now, my plan is to mostly think and make things while I think -- my favorite form of meditation. I will share sometimes, but not everything. Every draft does not need a reader, and not every sketch wants a critic (even a friendly one).
This blog will continue to live up to its name -- everything else -- I have posts cooking away in my brain on my cross country train trip, the latest Shah Rukh Khan film, reading and "real books", beer culture, and other random topics. Watch this space. My more focused work on gender and clothing will be posted on Gender Mystique. (Yes, I am still working on that third book!) Local friends, feel free to pull me away for a chat; but no meetings, please!
People keep asking me how it feels to be retired. So far, it just feels like most of the last 42 summers since I embarked on my academic career -- I read, I write, I daydream about projects, some of the daydreams turn into plans. The only thing missing in the pang of anxiety that came when I'd look at the calendar and realize the fall semester was closing in. Right about now, at the end of July, I'd be shifting to serious planning around my syllabus and course website, and waking up in the middle of the night to worry about something course related. I don't miss that anxiety at all.
Mostly, I have been traveling -- a week here and there, punctuated by time at home to catch up and get ready for the next trip. The last big trip starts this afternoon -- I am taking the train from DC to San Francisco for a conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love. All-in-all, seven days of travel and two days of conference. Just the way I like it, in a sleeping car, looking about the window and listening to music or a book.
Writing has taken a back seat to reading and doing research. I have jottings and notes, but nothing to share. But do watch this space. In the meantime, enjoy some of my summer adventures.
It's an very odd coincidence. The first day of my retirement will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of the elimination of the Department of Textiles and Consumer Economics at the University of Maryland. The TXCE department was my home for my first sixteen years of my career at Maryland, first as an instructor on a one-year contract, then as a graduate student, and then as permanent faculty. My last year of the department was as acting department chair, or as I think of it, captain of the Titanic. My duties for the first half of the year were to try to convince a very fractured and contentious faculty to try to preserve some part of our programs. Having failed that, my job for the second half was to negotiate new placements for my sixteen colleagues and myself, and develop a plan for making sure all of our 500 undergraduate majors and 60 graduate students would finish their degrees. As I mentioned in one of my Story-a-Day posts, I have nursed a fantasy of turning the saga into a murder mystery.
What I did write, at the time, was a newsletter article for a professional organization setting out my thoughts on the process and the question of "surviving" departmental reorganization. I found it while cleaning out my office, and thought I would share, in case anyone out there is facing a similar situation. The advice has aged pretty well. Here it is, in PDF form.
As I explained in an earlier post, part of my retirement plan is "more writing, fewer citations". Participating in the Story A Day in May challenge was part of that plan. Despite the bad timing -- spanning the last weeks of my last semester before retiring -- I somehow managed to post something every day for thirty-one days. (To see the entire collection, click here.) What am I taking away from the experience?
What will June bring? July and beyond? More writing, and also editing. Lots of editing. (Yes, I saw all the typos.)
He'd planned to write all morning, but had ended up in the emergency room instead. As he watched the pain meds drip through the IV, he reflected on the wisdom of reaching for the page the wind blew off his desk. It wasn't that great, anyway.
She had hoped for a routine commute, but "unscheduled track work" on the Red Line had already trashed that idea. Then the post-holiday rush resulted in a packed Quiet Car and an aisle instead of the right side window. So no picturesque view of the Susquehanna, the Delaware, or the Schuykill. But the biggest blow was her seat mate, who immediately plugged his laptop and his phone into the outlets just as her own phone went into low power mode. She settled in grumpily for the two-hour trip to Trenton.
Suddenly, the duffle bag on the lap of the passenger across the aisle sprouted a large pair of pointed ears and two big round eyes. She smiled, in spite of herself, at the grinning face of a small Boston Terrier.
"Hello!" She said.
The nearby Quiet Car patrons glanced at her disapprovingly.
"Hello", she heard in reply. It seemed to come from the dog.
"Who said that?" She wondered to herself, looking up and down the aisle.
"Hello!" The voice was louder this time, but again only she seemed to hear it. "Or should I say, 'Yip, yip' to get your attention?" She stared at the grinning terrier, who tilted his head and stared right back.
The dog's owner seemed oblivious to the conversation, as did the other passengers.
"Where are you off to today?" The dog asked, licking his flat nose.
"Trenton", she whispered. She wondered if the dog could hear her thoughts, as well. Feeling a bit foolish, she looked at the terrier and thought, "Where are you going?"
"All the way to New Haven". The dog licked his nose again and blinked nervously. "A long time between walkies."
"Walkies? Oh! Walkies! Yes, that must be hard for you."
"You said it. Wanna know how I cope?" She nodded, staring at the dog's earnest face.
"Naps. I sleep all the way." With a blink and a twitch of its ears, the dog tucked himself into the carrier.
Just outside of Philadelphia, she got up and used the restroom. Coming back to her seat. She saw the dog looking at her ruefully, before closing his eyes again.
"Sorry", she said in a low voice. In response, she heard a low groaning sound from the carrier.
At Trenton, she collected her things and headed for the exit, not even looking back.
Sam opened the car door. "Good trip?"
"Just the usual" she lied.
Were you my anchor,
Or were you the ship?
Discernment is needed
For this farewell.
Our home was the harbor,
And you the graceful ship,
Sails straining with the wind.
Take up the anchor of our love,
Carry it with you to new adventures.
And back, someday, to me.
Every day, a story. The month was almost over and it couldn't end too soon. At first, it had been fun; she'd wake up and check her email for the prompt, then think about it while she took a long shower. Day six was promising; a choice bit of flash fiction with a twist she was particularly proud of. But that was followed by several days of progressively weaker and more disappointing efforts. At the two week mark, the muse woke up again and graced her with an inspired plot. She rushed through her shower and threw on a pair of jeans and an old t-shirt, fired up the computer and -- vanished. The words wouldn't come, and the brilliant plot transformed into a moldy skeleton.
For the next week and a half, ideas came hard and words came harder. Stiff. Trite. Repetitive. Really, really repetitive.
On the last day, the morning routine came up empty. She showered until she was wrinkly. A long walk did nothing. The skies closed in and soon she was staring out the window at a gray, drizzly afternoon. Time for a nap.
And in that nap, she found the most amazing story.
It turned out to be a meditation, not a story.
What right have we to love
While weddings turn to funerals?
What right have we to live
While babies drown at sea?
What right have we to eat
While others starve in darkness?
What right have we to peace
While millions flee from war?
What right have we to live
If not to help our neighbors?
Sing it. Say it. Do it.
I am cheating, for now. Later on today I may post one of the stories whirling in my head, but for now, here is a placeholder from last year's writing.
My Gender Mystique blog focuses on my work on clothing, sex, and gender. That's not all I do, so this blog is about everything else.