Everything is Different

As I await my editor’s comments on the manuscript of Jane in St. Pete, my website and my life are undergoing some renovations. Life has a way of moving smooth and slow for a long time and then all at once everything is different. It’s kind of that way on the blog now. And for sure that way with Al in retirement. We are still getting alongs swimmingly here on the sunny and warm Gulf Coast. I have some great people helping me make this website more reflective of where I’m at in life now. I am determined to do the messy work of cleaning up my archives and slimming down my categories! I’m excited for all the changes, although there are bound to be some behind-the-scenes growing pains. I will do my best to be totally upfront with the trials of this complete life makeover. In the meantime, if you can’t find me here for a week or two due to the dust, I’ll still be posting to all my other usual social media: Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. ❤

Inner Critic

The number one thing people told me we needed to do when Al retired was have two television sets. I immediately saw the wisdom in this. Al loves sports and I do not. So by Big Game day, we were all set. Not only had we purchased a new television for Al, but a new recliner, too.

So Al reclined in comfort while I watched Sanditon, Taylor Swift’s documentary, and two Grace and Frankie episodes in the guest room. Perfect. Al seems to really be enjoying his retirement and I get a kick out of this new laid back husband. Everything would be perfect if only my inner critic would shut up.

Most writers have some acquaintance with the inner critic. I used to shut mine up with chocolate, but now I have to watch my sugar. So, I need a new coping mechanism. Meanwhile, my inner critic laughs in glee, remarking that writing about retirement is not quite the riveting subject I had stupidly presumed would provide fodder for many a post to come.

I have a writer’s group here in Florida. I don’t say much about them because we have all agreed not to discuss anything said in the library where we meet. I am going to bend that rule a little bit because I don’t know how else to say what comes next. One woman wrote in present tense. It turned out really well, we all loved it, but then we all love everything she writes.

I was having one of those rare moments of hubris when I proclaimed “I don’t know what I’ll write next week, but whatever it is, I will write it in present tense!” That was three days ago and I have not been able to stop thinking about it and trying out sentences. My inner critic hates every single one of them. I even tried to write this post in present tense. How hard could it be?

Very. So while retirement continues to flow harmoniously, the writing has hit a speed bump. It’s not like I’m blocked. I can always write. But never have I ever had to use the backspace like I’ve done this morning. That’s fine. I love a challenge. I thought Al’s retirement would be a challenge, but no, it’s wonderful in every possible way.

I can feel myself about to do something reckless here. I’m not only going to write the group pages in present tense, I am going to post them here one week from today. And that is how to shut the inner critic up. For now.

The Startle Reflex

It happens at least once a day. Al creeps upon me unawares and I startle and scream. It’s embarrassing. I worry my neighbors will think he’s abusing me. This is not a new thing, I’ve had a strong startle response my entire life. People startle me in the grocery store. But it’s gotten worse since Al retired. At first, I thought, okay, well, I’ll get used to him being around and it will calm down. Also, he is doing things to help me now like walking a little louder or making some kind of noise to alert me to his presence before he’s right behind me. As of yesterday, it was not getting better.

I finally looked “startle response” up online yesterday, pretty sure this was going to be just another weird something I have to live with. As it turns out, some of us are born with stronger startle reflexes than others, and, with it, eventually, comes anxiety. Not sure why this surprised me. When I was teaching, I’d be alone after class, erasing the board and someone would stop by the door to say hi, and I’d be so taken aback the eraser would fly from my hand.

Turtles sunning themselves on the bayou

I still don’t have any good answers about what to do with this increasingly annoying reaction of mine, although Al is trying to help by being a little louder when approaching me from behind. I’m trying to be more mindful, meditate more, and I’m practicing yoga. Also, I’m taking my meds.

I got the mindfulness idea from an article in Psychology Today. Mindfulness is just being in the moment, having a single focus. I tried, yesterday on our walk around the bayou, to keep my mind from wandering. Mindfulness is exhausting! And I’m not sure how it helps calm a crazy amygdala. (The place mid-brain where the fight or flight response resides.) I think if I was totally tuned in to simply taking one step then the next, I’d be even more startled by an alligator crossing my path.

Baby Snapper sunning in the bayou

Our alligators have their favorite spots to bask in the sun, but they are mostly well away from people. We did see an alligator on our walk yesterday. It stayed in the water, only eyes and snout on view as it floated along like a peaceful log. I call the huge resident alligator here on the bayou Big Snapper. Now, there’s a Baby Snapper, too. Al told me the one in the water next to us yesterday was Baby Snapper. He showed me a photo of Baby Snapper sunning he took last year. She’s bigger now.

Last year, I gave up nature walks entirely. I was just too fearful of ticks and also Big Snapper, despite it never getting near anyone in our large community. But yesterday, I was not afraid of the alligator in the bayou. Maybe because it was Baby Snapper. Maybe, could it possibly be, because I’d been practicing mindfulness? For whatever reason, I had a lovely walk in nature with my dear understanding husband. We even stopped awhile to observe the leisurely progress of Baby Snapper floating down the bayou.

Careful What You Wish For

Friends gave me lots of advice before Al’s retirement. The thing I heard most often was the need for two television sets. That makes sense because I dislike sports and Al can’t conquer the English accent. He likes fast action stories and I prefer PBS style romance. But we often read at night instead of watching television, except when the “big game” is on. There’s always a big game. So we bought a second television. Done.

Many women chuckled and offered variations on “It’s an adjustment.” My more frank friends said “You will wish you had more time alone.” It’s only been 20 days, and while it’s been an adjustment, it’s not been difficult. We figured out how to divide chores the first week. In a very tangible way, this is my retirement, too. Cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping…he’s doing half of everything. And without and fuss. Or, not much.

As for fun and relaxing activities, Al is not one to sit around and…write books. He says he’s going to read some of my books, though. I won’t hold him to it. He is a non-fiction guy. That’s okay. He goes to the gym three times a week, golfs regularly and even played shuffleboard this week. He says it’s like pool. I didn’t inquire further.

I have never liked team sports: watching them or playing them. I prefer to read, and it’s true I have not had as much time to read since Al retired, but that’s fine. I enjoy doing things with Al like walking on the beach or just having a coffee together in the morning. We have been grocery shopping together and that’s more fun than you’d think. I had so many chores and rote routines, mixing it up energizes my chi.

I like line dancing though it’s not actually a sport. Well, I guess it can be, but I do it for fun. I love to dance. And I like yoga, too. It’s true I have not yet found the time to actually go to line dancing or yoga class since Al retired, but I plan to do both this week. The one thing I’ve done on my own consistently is go to the writer’s group. No surprise there. Writers are my tribe.

Most of my married life, I’ve not had a companion. Now I do. It’s what I always wished for and my dream has come true at last. It’s lovely. Sure, we’re still in our honeymoon phase of retirement. We have some tough decisions and hard work ahead, but I’m certain we’ll manage it all. Together.

Retirement Diaries

Day 13 of Al’s retirement. Was not sure I’d ever write that sentence. But it happened and I finished my book, too. Sent to my editor and she replied that I can expect her notes end of March. So six weeks to relax and feel good. If the first two weeks are anything to go by, it will be a walk on the beach. Literally.

I didn’t know what to expect when Al retired. He’d been driving to the same building, stuck in the same rush hour, working for the same company, clocking seven days a week much of the time, for 47 years. I don’t know how he did it, but then, he had me to take care of everything else, so he could focus on one goal: work hard to retire in comfort. Job done!

So far, things have been really good. Friends warned me that it would be an adjustment. So far, it means adjusting to having a companion on beach walks and a special someone to talk to at coffee every morning. It means Al helps around the house. He made dinner last night and did the dishes! It’s all good. I expect the retirement road won’t always be smooth, but for now, it’s super nice.

Al is happy and relaxed. There are lots of things he wants to do, like finish the basement in Michigan, and some things I want him to do, like paint our Florida galley kitchen a very light blush pink. But these projects can wait while he just enjoys and adjusts to his new life. He keeps busy following the stock market, hitting the gym, and golfing. Plus walks on the beach with me. He even goes grocery shopping with me! Our house in Florida is a second floor condo, so it’s nice to have him haul the groceries upstairs.

This is the guy I married in 1985. Laid back, mellow, happy just to be alive in the moment. It’s a wonderful thing to see him relax again. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to, he’s been working so hard for so long, but turns out he’s really good at it.

As for me, I met with my Florida writing group last Friday. This group is very different from my Michigan groups. We don’t critique. We support. And we write a page or so from a weekly prompt to share at next meeting. Simple. Easy. Relaxed. I’m also thinking about a new design for the blog. Something that feels like Florida, since that’s where the upcoming book is set. I’ll keep you posted.