Monday, November 21, 2011

On Retirement I

A year ago I retired from the Publications Office at Bard College. C, a retired teacher, says she dislikes the word, with its dictionary definition of withdraw, retreat, recede, and I know what she means; my retiree friends and I have, rather, transitioned into a new life, one we looked forward to and planned for, a life at least as busy as the previous one. 
By using retire I am trying to face up to the word, as I tried to face up to the word widow. I guess I could say I left Bard College, but that’s vague, did I drive away or stick out my thumb? Or that I quit Bard, or resigned, but to me those words imply at least a huff, if not anger. I wasn’t angry, even though the punch line of my retirement was: 
If you ask me to choose between my job and my dog, I’m going to choose the dog. 
Obviously, not everyone has that option; I was, and am, extremely fortunate. 
Lulu Salarygirl
For years I was encouraged to bring the dog to work; then the college policy changed and dogs were forbidden on campus.  Bringing Lulu to work had allowed me to keep her. If, when Dan died, I had been employed almost anywhere else in the world, where you couldn’t bring your dog to work, I would have found her another home. Basenjis need a lot of exercise, and Lulu was particularly lively puppyhead. 
Lulu was helpful at the office, carrying my mittens 
Now it was too late for that. We were sidekicks. Banned from the office, she howled when I left in the morning. We managed that summer with a loyal midday dog sitter and long evening walks, but I couldn’t face coming home every night through the long dark winter to a wired dog.
That is, I had been planning to retire from Bard in June 2011 in any case, so I crunched the numbers yet again to see if I could bow out early. I typed up a list of my assets, which barely filled one page, and walked down the street to the office of my financial adviser (see "A New List," November 4, 2011). 
Again, R’s consideration of my financial status was practical and to the point. He looked at the one sheet of paper and said, OK, you can do it, with neither wild enthusiasm nor dark despair. What about the annuity TIAA-CREF was pitching? I asked. Should I do that? He looked at the ceiling for about four seconds and then said, No, don’t bother, you don’t have enough. With nothing more to discuss, we shook hands and I skipped home.
I have a friend who assesses her life annually, on New Year's Day. She and other friends consider each move carefully, as Dan did, basing it on hours of research. More often I make a decision based on gut feeling and then run with it, hurtling along without a lot of time to think. I’m going to try to develop here, before your eyes, and review and assess the last year.
Preparing for retirement, I made two lists, Concepts and Niggling Matters. I’ll start with Concepts:
Write. I do write more. I should write even more, and so I resolve, but even when I lived on nothing years ago, and wrote for three hours a day, I never felt like I had done enough. Still, I have a novel started . . .
Read books. This meant “don’t get so bogged down with newspapers and magazines,” read books. I am doing that, at the expense of magazines, and, less so, newspapers. Time is finite, I’m healthy, the chores are all mine. In fact, I came up with a way to read while I walk Lulu; more on that later. 
There are three more concepts—freelance editing, Literacy Connections, and yard work—but I’ll close this post here. I don’t ask you to read more than 700 words at a time, and I have a lot more to say.

Images: Ta-Da !!!! by Mary Engelbreit,
             Lulu Salarygirl by Jamie Ficker

Friday, November 4, 2011

A New List?

“I like your blog,” said A, “even though I never comment on it. If I were to make a list,” she added, it would be ‘10 Dumb Things I Have Done since My Husband Died,’” and then, generously, “you can have that idea.” 
I love this idea as a follow-up to 10 Scary Things I Have Done since My Husband died (see various posts, starting with January 14, 2011). Perhaps this list could be more interactive, since it’s not one I’ve been keeping, and A didn’t give me any specific items. 
To start I’ll say that so far, I’ve been fortunate: my Dumb Things have been relatively minor, or at least not life-altering. This is because I have received extremely good advice. Twice this advice has come from Dan, shouting down from heaven, mostly about real estate, as in:
Are you crazy?! You can’t afford to take three loans! 
This while I was on the phone with a mortgage broker who was pitching three loans so that I could buy a new home before selling the one I lived in. Dan doubtless saved me from some foreclosure debacle.
And again, a few months later while I was looking at houses, I could hear Dan: DON’T buy a house if the one next door is a wreck and the one across the street is falling down! I could have paid cash for the house with those views, but I didn’t, instead taking a small mortgage for a house surrounded by sturdy homes and wonderful neighbors. Today, the wreck house looks much better and the falling-down one is closer to the ground. 
I’ll start the list. Really, we don’t have to keep it to ten, if we find a hundred dumb things, so it goes. 
Stopped reading the mail from TIAA-CREF because it makes me too nervous. Because I didn’t open the TIAA-CREF mail for months, I missed a payment check of several hundred dollars. By the time I remembered it, more than 90 days had passed, so I had to call TIAA-CREF and ask that it be reissued. I know they have my age on their computers, and the stripling who took my call probably thought, boy, she’s slipping fast.
Real estate and money—probably the best opportunities for dumb moves. I’m fortunate to have been well advised about money, too. It started when an officemate said, Are you trying to do that all by yourself? as I sought to untangle some financial matter with unproductive phone calls. You need a financial adviser, she said. 
So I e-mailed the wealthiest person I knew who would answer my e-mail and asked her for a recommendation. She replied promptly with two names. One of them was even wealthier than she, a self-made man whose wife went to my church. 
I can tell you everything I know in an hour, he said, which seemed reasonable. In fact, he needed only 45 minutes to reorganize entirely my minuscule estate, for which service he charged me a pittance (friend, wife, church). I went off to start saving, really saving, money, real money, toward my retirement. 
Now I would never make an important money move without consulting him first. When I wanted to retire early and he said you can’t, you don’t have enough, I sucked up my tears and found ways to save more. When I went back to him two years later we both had survived the crash and he said OK, OK, you have enough (he loves his work, doesn’t understand why anyone wants to retire), and only then did I go ahead.
But, enough about me. Got any dumb moves you want to share? Ideally, put them in the Comments. below, and we’ll take it from there, but if you’d rather send me an e-mail, then do that.