We went to see the 3:20 showing of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" on Thursday. It's a story of a man that was born physically as an old man, who then ages backward, getting younger and stronger as the years go by.
After the movie ended and we started to leave the theater, I looked around and noticed all the gray hair. As is usual at the weekday matinee, there were only about 10 other people in the theater, and they were all about 20 years our senior.
I whispered to Doug, "Look around, doesn't it kind of make you feel like Benjamin Button? We're here at the matinee with all our fellow retirees, but we're in 45-year-old bodies while they are in 60-year-old bodies."
It struck me, that now that I am retired, it does kind of feel like I'm aging backward. I get to be Benjamin Button, although in my case, just mentally, not physically.
Retirement generally feels like one big summer vacation (although it spans all weather conditions.) I hadn't realized it before, but the responsibility of a job makes you feel OLD. Not having the burden of that responsibility hasn't just made me feel less stress, it's made me feel younger!
I've reverted to the night-owl rhythm of my youth. Without the demand of being at my desk bright and early, my natural tendency is to stay up until midnight. During my working life, I thought I was doing very well to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night. Now I find I'm sleeping like a teenager, getting 8 or 9 (or even 10!) hours of deep sleep each night, not even counting the occasional nap.
When I was working, I couldn't be bothered with learning about the social networking tools of the younger generation. It's probably no coincidence that my most active Facebook friend now is 13 years old. And as I've said before, most of my working friends have no idea what Twitter is. Not only do I feel younger socializing electronically, I've reconnected with some old high-school friends, which has transported me back in time, reintroducing me to both them and the teenager I once was.
It doesn't stop with technology, I'm also enjoying old-fashioned hobbies from my younger days, knitting, sewing, reading, and even trying my hand at the piano again. I feel young when I go each week, notebook in hand, to my writing class; and when, after procrastinating all week I'm cramming my homework into the wee hours the night before class.
Even having to be more budget conscious brings me back, nostalgically, to my scrimping-and-saving days. In the early days of our marriage, Doug and I would spend whole days out working in the yard. After a full day of sunshine and exhaustion, we would relax with a glass of wine and admire our handiwork. As the years got busier, it was just easier to hire someone to do the heavy-clipping. But now that we're back to the do-it-yourself lifestyle, enjoying that glass of wine while gazing at the view we created reminds me of those early honeymoon days of our marriage.
I read an article in the New York Times about the happiness couples enjoy together when their nest is empty after all the years of raising children. While I don't have kids, I can imagine that retired couples might feel younger at this phase of life as they are transported back to the early days of their marriages, before they assumed the responsibilities of child-rearing.
You'd think that since retirement comes toward the end of your life, it would make you feel older, not younger to be retired. But instead of feeling like I'm at the end of the road, I feel just like I did at the beginning of the road, like my whole life is out in front of me. And that makes me feel like I'm younger than I was at the same time last year, just like being Benjamin Button.
I'm not one of those people that generally gets all choked up over presidential inaugurations. But I'll admit, I did watching this one. It wasn't because of the ceremony, the swearing in, or the inaugural address; although, I enjoyed all of those things.
It was because of the two million people gathered on the Mall to watch in the cold. It was because of the looks on the faces in that crowd, captured on camera. It was because of the emotion in the voices of those interviewed, as they gathered to watch.
On Monday, our then-almost president called on us to get involved in our communities. When I retired, I was advised to wait one year before making any ongoing commitments such as volunteer work. I'm coming up on the end of that year and am eager now to figure out what it is that inspires me. What cause do I feel strongly enough about to give my time to on a regular basis?
Am I also inspired by the urgings of our new president? Well yes, I am.
A couple of days ago, I was reading some comments on another blog, which ridiculed Obama's call to service. That one really struck me as odd. There are plenty of people that do not agree with Obama's policy proposals, I can understand that kind of criticism.
But who, on the planet, can really glean something negative out of people coming together to try and help our communities? For those that say, "I already volunteer my time, I don't need the president telling me to do it," good for you, but if even one more person is inspired to chip in, isn't that a GOOD thing?
"Monday, January 19 is Martin Luther King Day. And wonderfully,
instead of adding yet another shopping day to the calendar, it's being
transformed to a day of service.
If every person in the US spent an hour doing something selfless,
useful and leveraged, what would happen? What if you and your circle committed
to doing it an hour a day for a year? 300 million hours is a lot of hours for
just one day, a year of that would change everything."
No one person, not even Barack Obama, can change the world alone. But I hope, that as I do figure out how I want to contribute to my little part of the world, I am just one of many people across America that have decided that each of our little actions will add up to something huge.
I know I am not alone, because I saw something huge in the faces of those two million people that braved the frigid temperature and the onerous lines, just so that they could share an historic experience as part of a larger community.
Sorry to have to say this out loud, especially to those of you in snowy climates. While I have many topics I'm eager to blog about, it is going to be 72 degrees here today. So I will be acting retired today, reading a book in my hammock, and watching these guys frolic in their pool.
Who knew that it would take being retired to finally get to use the commuter lane? When I was working, I always commuted alone in my car, so I never was able to drive in the carpool lane. These days, we generally stay off the freeway during commute traffic if we can avoid it. But on Friday night, we were picking up dinner in the city for our friends, and were caught driving during commute hour. Alas, we finally got to take advantage of the commute lane.
Ironic, isn't it, that now that we have all the time in the world, we get to save time by riding in the carpool lane?
Just like many other things in our retired life. When you work, you have to run all your errands during your lunch hour, after work, or on the weekends. And that's exactly when everyone else in the world is running the exact same errands.
We would never think of going to the grocery store in the evening now. Nor would we step foot into a bank during lunch hour. And I never, ever go to the mall on weekends.
So those of us with the most time on our hands wind up getting to do things quicker than those that are working every day and don't really have time to waste.
We recently made the mistake of going to our almost-weekly matinee on the Friday after New Years. We never leave time for waiting in line because there never is one. In fact, there are usually so few people there at all, we frequently have the whole theater to ourselves.
So we were shocked to actually be late for the previews because we had to wait in line to see Marley and Me. In fact, we got nearly the last two seats together in the theater. We forgot it was the last day of Christmas break and that the whole world had time to go to a movie on a weekday.
Since I've been blogging lately about how little time there actually seems to be when you retire, I thought I should disclose that there are a few time-saving advantages to being retired, even if I do wind up squandering that advantage over the rest of the day.
Many recent retirees (and soon-to-be retirees) are wondering if maybe this isn't the best time to retire after all. Call me crazy, but I think retiring in a bad economy is actually easier than retiring during boom times.
Imagine your New Year's resolution is to shed a few pounds. You decide you're going to carefully watch what you eat and incorporate extreme exercise into your daily routine.
Now, imagine that all your friends are too skinny. Their doctors have told them to gain weight, so they have to eat as much as possible. They refuse your invitations to go for a hike or a bike ride, and instead ask if you would like to join them for ice cream sundaes. Are you really going to want to go out to dinner with these people? Wouldn't it be better of ALL your friends were on a diet, too?
About a year ago, when I had just been retired for a few weeks, my husband and I attended a charity dinner. I was telling my dining companions about a friend we have who recently sold his company for millions of dollars. I was explaining how much I admired his attitude about money.
Although he had come into significant wealth, he didn't embark on a life of conspicuous consumption. When he took up biking, he bought a used bike. In stark contrast to the BMW's and Mercedes dominating the parking lot at this event, he drove a Prius. Rather than spend money on the accumulation of possessions, he preferred using his money for shared experiences with friends and family.
"Sounds like white guilt to me," one of our dining companions said.
Another followed that sentiment, "I like driving a BMW and spending excessive quantities of money on stuff." Everybody laughed.
I was dining with people that were not on the same diet I was on.
Fast forward to January 2009. Everyone I know talks about saving money, spending less, and the deal they just got on whatever it was that convinced them to part with their hard-earned cash. It's hip to be frugal now; everyone is doing it.
Some of my friends have lost their jobs, others fear losing them. One found a new job, but for significantly less pay. A retired friend is considering re-entering the workforce, and another whose job is very secure is contemplating some budgetary cuts due to the hit he's taken on his investments. Everyone I know is feeling the pinch. It's not just my friends, it's the national conversation right now.
Say we had retired in the dot-com heyday. It would have been much harder to keep control of our pocketbook. A booming economy and stock market would have lulled us into thinking we also had money to burn. If we were joining our friends at lavish restaurants and drinking expensive wines, we would have busted our retirement budget at the seams.
The reality is, in order to retire, most of us have to be on a strict fiscal diet. It's just much easier to cut calories when everyone around you is on a diet too.
I have not sent out Christmas cards for over 10 years. Last year, we never got around to putting Christmas lights on the house. I haven't baked Christmas cookies for probably 20 years. Over the last 10 years I probably cooked dinner, at most, twice a month.
All these domestic deficiencies I blamed on working. I figured when I retired I would be the first on the block to put up Christmas lights, the tree, and the decorations. I thought I would bake cute little containers of cookies for everyone I knew. I thought I would send out Christmas cards. I thought I would actually enjoy cooking meals when I had more time.
I figured I'd become a regular Martha friggin' Stewart when I retired.
We barely got our tree in time for Christmas this year. I decorated the house the day before our guests arrived. We never got around to putting up the lights outside, and I STILL didn't send out cards, never mind the cookies. Christmas dinner was the first meal I have cooked in nearly six months.
Here's the thing. If you didn't make time for it before you retired, you probably didn't really like doing it in the first place. And just because you don't go to work every day, doesn't make you all of a sudden want to do all the things you really don't want to do but thought you wanted to do, if only you weren't working.
(Ditto for working out an extra 30 minutes a day, shedding five pounds, and spending quality time out in the garden with your weeds.)
It's easy to blame your job for not allowing you to do all the things you really want to do, but maybe it's just that you didn't really want to do them in the first place.
What harm could it be to at least check it out? I could always decide later whether I think it's worth the new tax on my surprisingly-scarce time.
I "followed" some fellow bloggers, put a "tweet" out there in the blogosphere (or is it Twittersphere?) asking why the heck I need this? Within minutes, Steve at BripBlap told me I don't, but predicted that I would get "sucked into the dark side." Thanks for the warning.
Turns out it's a nice break from the traditional blog addiction. Because they are so short, you can catch up quickly without really having to commit the time to read a whole blog post. And it's more causual, you don't have to write a whole post on something you're thinking about, you just throw out the thought. And it feels more intimate, like I'm peeking into the real, unedited world of my fellow bloggers.
Plus it makes me feel like one of the cool kids now.
A couple of day ago, I spent four sweaty hours cleaning my house, making up beds, moving furniture around to accommodate an air mattress, and eliminating the "ick"-factor from the nooks and crannies exposed during my toil. Then after all the New Year's Eve guests left, I spent another couple hours doing laundry and otherwise restoring the house to its former splendor, a repeat performance of the previous week's labor, only with different guests and a different holiday.
So, did I retire just to become a full time house cleaner? Was it actually a better idea to go to work each day and pay someone else to do this? Not to mention, the positive cash-flow each month which resulted from a steady paycheck--even after paying someone else to clean my house.
What have I done?
A lot of the "extra" time I gained from quitting my job is spent doing jobs I used to pay others to do. I knew the bargain I was striking in order to retire. I knew I would have to live within a budget to retire; and I knew that to live within that budget, I would have to take care of these things myself. And in exchange I would be rewarded with time, glorious time.
But where is that glorious time?
There's an hour here, two over there, but certainly nowhere near the time I thought I would have. Do I hate housework, yard work, and all those other formerly outsourced jobs more than the one I used to do for a living?
Well, yeah, kind of.
What have I gained, a couple of measly hours a day? Yes! Is that worth retiring for? Well no, it isn't!
The thing that is worth retiring for is the absence of near-constant agitation and the presence of near-constant contentment, even when I'm agitated with cleaning and not content with the state of my home.
I remember how I used to feel on Sunday nights and I appreciate never having that feeling anymore. In fact, I appreciate not even being aware which day actually is Sunday. I remember how things used to get to me at work and how that ruined even the time I spent not at work. And, I remember the constant nagging of my work to-do list, even when I wasn't at work, like when I was supposed to be sleeping.
I didn't know it at the time, but I didn't really retire to have oodles of extra time. I retired to have oodles of extra peace of mind.