Freedom and Structure: Retirement Realities

When I retired, I thought, I’d be free to travel when I wanted to.

Wrong. Here I am, wanting to take a trip this fall, and realizing that I really don’t have time when I can schedule anything — not for a while. Maybe in November, if I can manage.

True, I’m not working anymore, so theoretically I have all of this free time. Yet I find that I have committed myself to a few things that mean I need to be around here. A writing project of about 100 pages due in November, a couple of short editing jobs, and 3-week program to conduct at a local library. In addition, I’m trying to get some improvements finished in my kitchen.

Now these are things I’m happy to do, things I want to do — the long writing project in particular is a step in the direction of establishing a writing and editing business that I’ve set up; the shorter projects are also part of that. While the smaller projects can be done from anywhere, the long one needs to be done near here, so that I can consult when needed. The library program is something that I love doing — I get to lead discussions with a group of people who want to read and participate. These programs are part of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities series called RELIC — and I’ve participated in them since the late 1980s.

Really what I’m adjusting to is the reality of my retirement. I enjoy some level of commitment to some things. Perhaps that will change, but for now such participation is fun for me and keeps me intellectually stimulated.

Just recently I took two workshops working with precious metal clay. A couple of years ago I started making jewelry using sterling silver wire, semi-precious gems, and sterling silver findings. In reading, I became interested in PMC, and even began buying materials and tools. But the two workshops really got me excited, and I’m now part of a small number of women here who are also interested in it. So we’ve formed a group that will meet once a month with an experienced instructor/artist from Lafayette. I’ll probably join the state group as well and hope to take more workshops not only in precious metal clay but in other jewelry-making techniques. Such a commitment might seem contradictory if I want to be free, but it’s actually a reflection of a long-held interest in art and in crafting. Only now, in retirement, can I indulge myself to this level.

Only as recently as last spring I was looking online for classes that I could find in Texas or Louisiana, classes related to making jewelry. And four weeks ago, the perfect opportunity happened, right here, and it has led to new possibilities that beckon.

Clearly, “freedom” has evolved in its meanings for my life. Freedom not only applies to the time for travel. It also means freedom to explore the many artistic interests I’ve had little time for during a career I loved. If I want to take a workshop — or a series of them in another town where I have to stay for a few days or a week — then I can.

“Freedom” also lets me get up and meet friends for coffee, only to linger for hours as other friends drop by the same place between classes or for lunch. That’s what happened today. I meant to be at McDonald’s for only a hour or so, but ended up staying for six hours! By the time I left, I’d made some earrings, started practicing wire-wrapping a stone, and had great conversations with friends. Though some days I have obligations that set my agenda for the day, this morning I only had one set-in-stone obligation (bloodwork before my doctor’s appointment next week) and thus I could let my day unfold as it would. That’s a luxury.

Other days the freedom is to stay up all night if I want to do so — whether reading or writing or working on jewelry or watching television. If I want to do that, and then go to sleep at 4 or even 5 a.m. and then sleep late, I can do that.

Certainly there are some things that create a structure in my life. There’s one day a week when my friend Patty comes to help me at the house, cleaning and working on organizing and straightening. Some days I stay and work with her on a project. Some days I stay but work in the office. Other days I take off and run errands or meet people.

Structure has an entirely different meaning for me now. For years, the dominant structure revolved around university — the semester itself, my teaching schedule, and grading and preparing. Simultaneously, my dad’s needs structured my time. Summers were for a long time the only long-term period of time that I could carve out as mine, the time when I traveled to Greece for two to three months.

Maybe I’m still feeling my way here in this new life. I know I’m still having to adjust my expectations about all sorts of things. Most obviously for me is my adjustments to the timeframe in which household projects and renovations can be completed. Earlier in the year, I anticipated that two major projects would be done by the end of the year. Now I’m not certain of that. The kitchen project advances slowly, since my handyman works here in between his other job.

Some days I’d like to take off and head to the beach but can’t if he can be here working on the kitchen for a few days. I have to adapt.

Right now, I’m hoping he’ll be able to work here again soon — it’s been almost a week now since he worked. And then it was one day in a week. Though I’m frustrated, I’m learning to shrug it off. The kitchen will be finished. I just no longer am certain when that will be.

The other major project, having sheetrock installed in my living room, might happen. I’m looking now for a quote on that. If I can afford it, I hope to have that done. If I get someone other than my handyman to do that, then he can finish the kitchen and perhaps in November put insulation in my attic.

Fingers crossed.

Freedom to travel was perhaps the only real notion of my retirement goals. Now that I’m actually retired, though, travel is one of the many goals that are emerging.

Fortunately I’ve always been adaptable. For years now I’ve said that my “f” word was flexible. Indeed, I had to be flexible, given the competing responsibilities of caring for my dad, working, and trying to have my own life. Now I still must be flexible, able to quickly adapt expectations. My friend Charles says to remember this: “I’m a willow. I can bend.” And that’s true.

Freedom? It doesn’t mean a life without structure or commitments. It does mean, though, a life where the structures and commitments are those that I choose.

Today I was free to take hours to visit with friends, to work on some jewelry, and then to come home and try out the small kiln for my precious metal clay work. I fired three pieces. Tomorrow I’ll take them out of the kiln (they’re done and it’s off), clean them, and see how the kiln worked. I’ll move the kiln back to the office area (it’s on a cart). I’ll put up the folding table I was working on in the living room since it isn’t really solid enough for a secure, stable workspace.

And I can do that at my own pace, while Patty and I work around the house. Then I’ll meet Myra again to work on wire-wrapping the stones. Maybe I’ll branch out and try a cabochon.

I don’t have to decide that now.

That’s freedom.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Freedom and Structure: Retirement Realities

  1. Can’t help myself, Cheryl! “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

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