Saturday, July 21, 2012

Declaration of Independency

I thought retiring would be like falling off a log. I mean, how hard can it be to stop working? You stay up watching movies later than you have in decades, smile smugly at the alarm clock when you finally turn out the light, and wake up whenever you feel like it. In fact, you do everything when you feel like it. For the rest of your life.
I discovered, but only after a year and a half, that just moving through your retirement days is shortchanging yourself in many ways. Some downtime is needed at the onset to unwind from the stress of working; the more stressful the work, the more downtime required. But when the days begin to melt together to the point when you don’t know which day of the week it is, you might be ready for a little more structure in your life. 
Firstly, let’s get rid of the word “retirement.” It is way too sedentary. I prefer to think of it as “independency.” No longer are my husband and I dependent on a paycheck to get through life. We have reached the point in our lives where hard work and careful investments over the years have allowed us to come and go as we please, with the emphasis on “come and go.” Independency requires activity. I will retire when I am no longer active.
So a year and a half in, I came out of my independency daze long enough to remember the bucket list. Actually my sister was the one who administered the smelling salts by bringing up the children’s story I had written and never published. She discovered through her genealogy research that we are related (by marriage) to the family at the center of my historical fiction. Did I think this new angle could help me get the book published, she wondered. Published? I’d written the thing ages ago, just before I’d gone back to work full time, but I vowed then that when I retired and had more time to myself I would go back to it - or, at the very least, to writing in some form or another. As the fog cleared, I recalled the other items on my independency bucket list.
How is it that I am so busy in my independency that I don’t have time to accomplish anything on my bucket list? Well, perhaps it is the hours I spend writing long, detailed emails to my friends and family. Or paying bills as they are received. Or filling in at my volunteer job whenever they need someone. I was being reactive, not proactive, and the lack of some kind of structure was eating up my time.
Structure? In independency? The two concepts seem contradictory. I balked at the idea of scheduling my hobbies into my week, but at the same time I knew that I would never find the time to accomplish them if I didn’t make the time. So on my weekly calendar I wrote in all the things I wanted to accomplish, along with all the things, like doctor and dentist appointments, that I had to accomplish. 
It’s working like a dream. No longer do I feel like I should be sorting through insurance paperwork when I’m out on the boat, or scrubbing toilets when I’m reading. Unpaid bills go into a folder until Monday. Thursday is dedicated to boating. (And if Thursday’s weather is not conducive to boating, I can be flexible in my independency and switch things around.) Cleaning is done on Fridays. Reading is my reward after bills are paid on Mondays and I’ve checked off the at least three items on my never-ending To-do list on Wednesdays. And if I want to go to lunch with a friend, well maybe I don’t scrapbook that week. Some might think it obsessive, but I’ve never been more productive or satisfied. Or less stressed about fitting everything in. Everything in its own time.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reason #3: Slow spin in the pool

Doing a slow spin in the pool on my (neighbor's - thank you, David) most excellent raft while I listen to Chris Botti play "Time to Say Goodbye."

Living well is the best revenge

Living well is the best revenge (George Herbert)
I grew up in a game-playing family, and one of our favorites was a game called “Mille Bornes” (pronounced Meel Born). It is a unique card game that mimics a road race. Each player or team tries to be the first to accomplish 1000 miles or, in French, mille bornes. Accumulating mileage cards up to 1000 points would quickly grow monotonous if not for the extra excitement in the way of hazards a player can throw at one’s competition to slow them down, such as a red light, a speed limit, an empty gas tank, a flat tire, or a traffic accident. Corresponding safety cards are also included, only four per deck: Right-of-Way (which makes you impermeable to red lights and speed limits), Extra Tank (which ensures you never run out of gas), Puncture-proof Tire (enough said), and Driving Ace (the ultimate in defensive driving). Then, and here’s where it gets really exciting, they (those crafty game designers) added the coup fourré (pronounced coo foo-ray). 
The words alone are magic. (As an eight-year-old, I was throwing this phrase around like I spoke French fluently.) When a player draws one of these superhuman safety cards, she has the option of not playing it on the table right away. It can be played immediately to prevent ever having to deal with such a hazard in the future or, more strategically, retained in the hand until an opponent unwittingly throws the corresponding hazard on you. Not only does the owner of the safety card get to shout “Coup fourré!” and disrupt the normal flow of the game by playing out of turn, but also play the card horizontally (as opposed to the non-coup fourré way of playing it vertically), remove the offending hazard while rendering herself forever impermeable to it, AND take an extra turn. The coup fourré is the highlight of the game, and adds beaucoup de points to your score  when tallied at the end.
Originally coup fourré was a fencing term used to describe a fencer fending off an opponent’s attack AND counter-thrusting in the same maneuver - a twofer. I’m not sure if it’s a phrase commonly used in the French language today to describe any act of recovering from a blow by bestowing a bigger (or at least more satisfying) blow on your adversary, but that’s what it came to mean in Mille Bornes. Right back at ya, buddy!
My husband and I were making the thousand-mile journey (coincidence? I think not) from Connecticut, where we had just closed out one chapter of our lives, to Florida, where the next one was to begin. On the three-day journey we had lots of time to reflect on the happenings of the past year. My husband’s job had been eliminated, we chose to adjust to our new financial situation by selling our house and boat in Connecticut and moving to Florida to eliminate a mortgage and unnecessarily high property taxes, and my boss had arranged for me to move my job to Florida. I would be working out of our home. I was feeling pretty good about the turn our lives had taken, and I told my husband as much. He gave me a fist bump and said, “Good for you!” only I misunderstood him and thought he said, “Coup fourré!”, a term I hadn’t heard in years. The return of this nostalgic phrase with all its delightful connotations was as serendipitous as our new life. 
Our move to Florida was the coup fourré of a lifetime. Sometimes what seems like just an attempt to keep your head above water can be the perfect counter-thrust. Right back at ya, buddy!