Friday, July 6, 2007

The journey from there to here

Summary: How I wound up blogging and living the simple life

On May 25, I retired from 30 years worth of work at The Rocky Mountain News, 27 of them as the paper's film critic. I hadn't planned on calling it quits, but a surprise buyout arrived with the suddenness of an ambush, thus forcing the issue.

I'm 64, and, and leaning toward the end of my career – if that’s what it was.

So I took the money, and walked. I sauntered away from The Rocky Mountain News, a Denver newspaper that’s part of a joint operating agreement with its arch rival, The Denver Post.

I won’t bore you with insider talk about the newspaper business. Business stinks. Uncertainty reigns. Many editors seem to be acting out of desperation and fear. The mantra: We can’t keep doing things in the old way. What’s the new way? No one’s entirely sure.

But enough about that. I’m more interested in talking to fellow and would-be retirees, those bold souls who have forsaken the comforting routines of work. If nothing else, most jobs keep you numb, which – all things considered - isn’t always a bad thing.

First things first: It’s vitally important to come up with an acceptable answer for the one question you'll be asked more than any other: “What are you going to do?”

No matter what happens, don’t tell the truth. No one wants to hear that you’ve traded the boredom and obscurity of working for the boredom and obscurity of not working. Generally, though, I prefer boredom without bosses. I have several projects in mind, and have begun a few, but I also believe work, even when self-generated, can become a crutch for those who don't know how to put indolence to proper use.

Still, I figured that I'd need some way of measuring my lack of accomplishment. How many of the great novels would I be willing to read or re-read? What about all the fabulous music I previously had no time to appreciate? Why not learn another language?

Thinking about all these enriching possibilities made me want to lie down, so I moved in a slightly different direction. I wouldn't measure my life in coffee spoons, but I'd find other ways to mark my newfound inertia. I vowed to think small.

I decided that my first goal would be one of economy. I’d use everything in my medicine chest before I bought anything else. This meant finishing every stick of deodorant (I had multiples), every can of shaving cream (more multiples) and all the over-the-counter drugs that I purchased to battle the cold and flu-like symptoms that had plagued me over the years. You say you’ve got congestion? See me. I definitely can hook you up.

As part of this on-going project, I was astonished to discover that I owned no less than eight hairbrushes, although my hair always has resisted the brisk encouragements of just about any bristle. I owned a small collection of tooth brushes that I hadn't used since I went electric. The dentist offered. I accepted. Who knows when a prolonged power failure might strike?

Enough about the bathroom.

I'm not compulsive enough to keep actuarial account of the products I'm using, but I'm making progress. I'm down to two sticks of deodorant, and if you don't mind my saying so, I think I smell great, every bit as good as when I was working.

Another way of marking time involves reading. I decided to make a separate pile of all the books I've read since leaving the News. I read Michael Chabon's, "The Yiddish Policeman's Union," Don DiLillo's "Falling Man" and Ian McEwan's "On Chesil Beach."

I expect the pile to grow substantially, but I promised myself that I wouldn't spend every waking moment reading. I would face the boredom head on, maybe even embrace it. What looks like a vacant stare to you might be a moment of meditative concentration for me.

I've also developed an extreme (some would say "heightened") sensitivity to weather, as well as to the various smells that waft through open windows from the outdoors, the sweet aroma of foliage after a rain, for example. I’m also quite keen on the sudden arrival of cloud covers on otherwise sun-drenched days. Thunder? I love it when it thunders. You can spend hours listening to the sky rumbling overhead. I especially enjoy deep, throaty thunder that sounds like distant cannons firing on a nearby suburb.

My mother-in-law keeps asking me when I'm going to start looking for a job. I tell her that I don't think I could find a job even if I wanted one. Who hires 64-year-old guys who've spent the better part of their lives watching stupid movies for a living? Many “serious” people do not regard such an endeavor as an adult occupation. In the view of those who wield corporate power, I've probably squandered a life sitting at the children’s table. So what if I can name every movie Sylvester Stallone ever made? And I can’t imagine impressing the average biz-whiz by discoursing on spirituality in the work of the late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.

"So you've seen all 10 films in 'The Decalog?' Welcome aboard, Bob.”

No, I'm not fooling myself. The economy will have to march on without me and all the others who hope life will turn into a veritable smorgasbord of early-bird specials, senior discounts and buoyant equity markets. I’m sticking to my plan, which is to avoid making a plan, and I'd like to tell you more about it, but I think I hear the mailman at the door. What? You have something more valuable to do, like finish that report on market share?

You see, mine has become a life full of non-moves and small gestures. Each day I awaken eager to meet a new absence of challenges. I’d tell you to eat your heart out, but I’m sure you’re far too busy to make time for lunch.

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