Friday, February 14, 2014

Retirement 101: Getting down to business

In 2005, when my second child left home for college, I took a yearlong certificate course in writing at the University of Washington.  I had always longed to be a writer despite the fact that my day job was as an environmental engineer.  I wanted to write fiction and non-fiction stories that went well beyond the technical writing that I did as an engineer.  Finally I thought, with my kids grown up, I might have time to begin some writing.  In my mind’s eye I saw a future “retirement” career as a writer.  At the end of the course, one of the women in my class asked me if I wanted to join a writing group.

In January 2006 – eight years ago – I joined six other women one Tuesday evening.  We formed a writing group.  While all of us wrote, at that time, none of us defined ourselves as writers.  As time passed by we bonded together and experimented with many different formats for our bi-monthly meetings.  We all published articles, we took workshops, attended conferences, wrote separately and together, critiqued each others pieces and our writing improved.  Our membership morphed and our lives changed.  Several of us lost parents, some lost partners, grandchildren were born, we were challenged by medical conditions and we retired from the professions we had trained for as younger adults. 

Over the years, three of our original members left the group – two when their priorities changed and one when she and her husband moved to Mexico.  Three of the original group stayed together.  Somewhere in there another woman joined us.  We’ve had a few other short-term members but the core of the group is the original three plus one.  We still meet twice a month -- although I of course cannot attend when I am in Brazil.  But when I am in Brazil and when any of us travel, we keep in touch via the wonders of the Internet.

The power of the group and the strength of the bonds we have formed are a tribute how important it is to have colleagues – perhaps especially when you are retired and starting a new endeavor. Three members of my group – all of us now retired from our prior careers, primarily define ourselves as writers.  The fourth member sees her writing as a priority but she has taken on new exciting responsibilities as a teacher of English as a second language.  These responsibilities limit her writing time but she is still a very active member of the group.  I take the time to explain this background since, as a retiree, I am struggling with organizing my days and weeks into a routine that allows me to be a productive writer. Being part of my writing group gives me support and help during this transition.

Perhaps you might think that such a transition is relatively easy.  What’s the problem?  Why am I having any difficulties transitioning?  I’m finally free to do what I want, when I want.  It turns out the transition from a full time career to the more solitary pursuit of being a full time writer isn’t an easy one.  I know of course that the transition into retirement is difficult for many people. 

One of the phenomena that make my transition difficult is the curiosity of time.  We all have challenges with time.  Why isn’t it more stable?  Why does it seem that sometimes it races ahead of me and other times lags far behind?  There are days when I turn around and it is already 4 pm.  Who can start anything productive at 4 pm?  My natural instinct at this time of the afternoon is to put on my kettle and make a pot of tea.  Perhaps, I think, a cup of tea will bolster me through the early evening – infuse a little caffeine and a bit of lactose into my body and urge me to be productive.  Encourage me with a soothing lifelong routine.  Sometimes this works.  But sometimes I go for a walk or begin cooking dinner and put writing off to the next day.

On other days even sitting down and writing for an hour seems like an endless and difficult task.  Time passes too slowly.  This week I had a moment like that.  I needed help. I entered a Writer's Cramp contest.  That was a good choice.  This contest gives you a scant 24 hours to write a 1000-word (or less) story on a posted subject.  The pressure was on.  I wrote like mad and came up with a decent story.  It was a great exercise in managing time and creativity.

Writing is a solitary pursuit and I am a gregarious person by nature.  I like to talk and socialize.  I like to joke around and listen to my friends' stories – sometimes it is their troblems – of course I mean their troubles and problems; sometimes it is their successes or adventures.  Often it is a mix of both.  And as a talker I like to tell my stories and share my troblems too.

But as a fledgling writer, I also need a big chunk of time each day to think, to write and to edit, research and explore whatever my writing demands.  Since I have defined myself as a writer – I find that my writing projects have already expanded well beyond what is reasonable to undertake in a given day, week or even over several months.  As in my professional career I need to prioritize.  I am learning how to do this.  It is a hard lesson since during the thirty some years I worked 8 or 9 hours every day I thought that retirement would bring buckets of time.  Well it has brought me lots more time but I still have to postpone some activities and transform or revise other activities to meet even my self-imposed deadlines. 

At my writing group meeting last week we discussed this dilemma.  While we did not solve it, I am clearly not alone in being challenged with time and expectations management!  One step at a time seems to be the adage.  It took me years to feel that I had my career as an engineer in control and even after thirty years I had many moments when there was too much going on.  Why did I expect this new life would be any different?  Perhaps I was naïve.  Either way I find that I am getting down to business with a little help from my friends.

It is more than a week since Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl.  The city is coming back down from its euphoria but I still have my flag on my front door.  Just seeing it there gives me a warm feeling.  The Seahawks brought our city together in a way that I have rarely experienced.  Twelfth man flags are still flying but we have incorporated this wonderful win into our cultural history.  Now, on Valentine’s Day, the weather is predictably wet with welcome moments of sun scattered here and there.  Of course in comparison to the rest of the country and even the rest of the world, where winter snow and freezing temperatures or drought and high heat dominate, Seattle remains temperate and very pleasant.  That's a good climate for a writer.  Better get down to business.

Happy Valentine's Day!

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE the hearts! The time and expectations management? Well that's a love and a hate relationship!