It’s been a year since my first surgery to correct a fistula (hole connecting urinary track with colon), a result of tissue damaged in proton radiation when I was treated for prostrate cancer. The surgery failed. I had additional surgery to make a colostomy and urostomy permanate. Before that could happen I had triple bypass heart surgery. From September 2015 to June 2016, I spent weeks in the Pennsylvania Hospital. Months later I have a fistula that still leaks (docs want to wait and see), nerve damage in left hand (result of heart surgery, should heal they say). I’m weak, get tired quickly and I’m limited in what I can do.
Not complaining; just assessing. This is retirement, year 3. The good life. How good? We did go to Cape Cod for two weeks with Jen and family. Drove to Ann Arbor for the wedding of best friends, Paglione’s daughter. Spent a week in Maine with friends, Sears. Next leave for Seattle, two weeks with sister, Marylee. That sounds pretty good.
But I wonder. Will I feel whole again? Will I have the energy to ride a bike? Or to put the kayak on the car for an explore. Decided not to go to Portland OR on our Seattle trip because I can’t walk all day. An urban environment probably requires too much. We will spend the days in a coastal B and B.
Some discomfort is physical. Some is mental. It takes me a lot longer to do things from taking a bath, dressing, climbing or descending steps. I try to bend to pick something off the floor (therapy gave me pick up stick). I try to exercise. I try to tell myself that moving slower is OK. Some might say better. I try. But I’m anxious.
I believe each day (or week, month) should include (1) some work — being retired it’s house cleaning, repairs, gardening, yard work, cleaning out, getting rid of stuff; (2) there should be some creative academic activity — reading, writing, carpentry, volunteering and finally (3) some learning-exploration — field trips, to a farm, a museum, a back road, a cooking class, trip to Cape Cod, Maine or China. This is particularly important in retirement when we don’t spend eight hours or more a day at a job.
Year one of retirement was great, and followed the plan. All three areas mentioned above were addressed. It was obviously much harder if not impossible last year. Now it’s five months into year three. Can I can back into the rhythm? Anxious but trying.
There are so many questions. The biggest is what do I want from the years remaining? Hopefully a couple of decades, maybe just one, maybe just a few years. We usually don’t get an advance timetable.
I know I want to spend time with family. So, this week I bought tickets for McCarter Theatre’s Christmas Carol for the Kwaits. Eli and Viv are ready for this great show. We’re headed to visit my sister in Olympia, WA. I totally enjoy most of the time (we have some rough moments) Diane and I spend together — trip to a local farm, lunch in a new restaurant, watching a movie, an exhibit at the Mitchener. There is so much we can enjoy together — 49 years this August anniversary.
I want to stay in contact with friends and relatives. Recent trips to Ann Arbor (Pagliones) and Maine (Sears) play into this. Maybe a November visit to Cousin Ellen in D.C. Then there was the recent crab dinner with Taylor’s at Lovin Oven in Frenchtown. Or Vault beers with Kathy Posey, Matt Jordan, Trish O’Connor and other remains of the HGP friday club. We had dinner, Mexican, recently with Edna and Dave Ramirez, Tony Fig, and Father Chris. It’s a lot less personal but I enjoy Facebook contact. Some are people I’ve seen recently; others are “ghosts” from the past
I want to travel. Following the mix of the familiar and new explores. Some travel is just local field trips. Diane and I do a lot of drives in Bucks and NJ. We could expand this to more counties in PA. During year one, I was committed to a day in Philadelphia — train explores, urban adventures. In year two, Philadelphia was all doctor appointments and time in the hospital. A limited perspective. Need to return to City trips probably in the Spring and add monthly New York City trips.
Travel is also longer trips. On a recent DC trip, I bought a new journal at the Library of Congress. It was to be a record of what many call a “bucket list.” Notes on places I think about visiting. Again the familiar — I want to return to Europe. Have a dream of spending months — maybe in Italy, Ireland could also work. Then there are Eastern European countries? Something new.
It would be fun to return to Mexico and Nicaragua — important trips in my life. And there are other southern places I’ve considered — spent some time looking at Carribean islands — not sure which is right for us. Costa Rica has a draw.
Then there is Africa and Asia. When Diane and I went into the Peace Corps, we wanted sub-Saharan Africa — safari country. Maybe Kenya, Tanzania. Instead we drew Libya and then the Gaddafi coup kept us from going. I thought we would go in retirement. Then there are so many possibilities in Asia — each offering a different culture and experience — Japan, China, Vietnam, India (to name some obvious choices). Can I travel to places like this with my medical baggage. I know the answer is yes. But it makes it harder. I’m still a bit scared.
New England, New York, and the Chesapeake has been and will continue to be a regular destination for us but there are many other places in the US that we’ve talked about. A trip to the southwest — New Mexico, Arixonia. The western national parks. Our friends, Alonzos, have bought a travel trailer. We’ve looked at one but . . . I have reservations. We also thought that we should explore the South more. We liked Charleston and Savannah and some aspects of Florida are inviting but that’s ben it so far for our experience.
Since we’re slowly getting back to traveling, I must get that bucket list dream journal and prioritize where we would like to go (I mix “I” and “We” — most travel Diane and I plan and do together, although personal trips aren’t out of the question). I believe reading, dreaming, writing is part of making it happen.
I like to be engaged in some creative activity. Thought maybe I’d do some carpentry in retirement, following in my father’s footsteps. Although I have some of his tools (others mysteriously disappeared), I don’t think I will create much from wood. As much as I admire someone like Dave Sears who began to seriously paint, that’s not me. Certainly not music.
But as I decided in the 1970s, photography could again be my art. I helped organize a Yardley Photography club (meets monthly at the Continental) when I discovered some very talented local photographers sharing on Facebook. Haven’t made a meet since surgery. I’ve also had plans to buy new Nikon equipment rather that buy Canon lenses for the Rebel I use. That hasn’t happened yet. I have been re-reading-looking at my 100 plus photography books (before selling them). Trying to use the review to recapture my photographic vision (if I had one). What do I want to photograph and why? I have been shooting a bit more than family photos which is nearly all I did for quite a few years.
I need to organize. We’ve been in this house over 35 years. I am a collector (you name it) and a hoarder. The number of photographs I have is amazing. There is a double closet full of yellow Kodak boxes containing trays of 80 or 140 slides. Digitize or destroy. I have Over ten feet feet of print albums — these have been recently organized. Then on the computer I have thousands of images. Unfortunately I am confused — folders in “Pictures” I-Photo Library, and now the new “Photos Library,” I even bought Lightroom. Trying to see the relationship between programs and how to organize. Some of it is computer programs’s ability to provide too much.
There are other collections. I sold two boxes of proof coins but have kept the main coin collection. What do I do with stamps, post cards, buttons, all kinds of teaching realia, hundreds of LPs — vinyl is making a come back, I know, sell, sell, sell, not to mention tapes and CDs. I have hundreds of DVDs (teaching, particular the film course) and several boxes of VHS (throw them out but I pulled out a Nearing tape last week and watched it; wouldn’t be easy to get it any other place).
Then there are books — thousands. I’ve sold about 35 boxes to a Princeton bookstore (about $500). Am getting ready to sell the photo books, then children’s books, and on with other collections. But my plan with organization (understandably too slow for Diane) is to review, maybe reread, rewatch, relisten, consider is it something for Eli or Viv. Then sell, give away, or trash. We also need to have a garage-yard sale. Lots of useless, unused stuff, in the basement, in storage, boxed and sometimes forgotten.
Finally there is home maintenance. This ranges from cooking and baking, tending the garden, fixing or replacing things that are broken, repairing and painting in the house. Some of this is fun — I really enjoy baking bread, making apple butter, grilling vegetables or fish. Much of gardening, buying, planting, harvesting, even preserving excess is fun. Prepping, mulching, watering, weeding is less fun. It’s the same with home repairs. Satisfying when accomplished if not fun, but it’s increasingly difficult. We’ve paid someone for exterior painting and may need to do the same for interior work.
All of this ramble is related to reviewing my life, where I’ve been, why I think, why I believe, who am I? And then, where am I going. I know I want it to involve family and friends, travel, creative activity, organization and home maintenance. Many more specifics need to be filled in.
My last thought is more difficult. When I taught I felt I was doing something worthwhile. How do I continue the worthwhile. I thought about volunteering. At several historic sites we’ve visited recently, I met retired teachers who were docents or guides. Some were even paid. I thought Independence Historic Park would be perfect for me. I also thought about the Mercer Museum. Then one day Jenny emailed me asking, was I going to do something socially significant, socially worthwhile, contributing to a better community, a better world. There are so many ways. There are medical issues, with Eli we’ve been drawn to childhood cancer. And maybe annually supporting the Parkway and Lemon runs isn’t enough.
For years I volunteered on Yardley Borough Council and a variety of local community groups. It’s all stopped years ago; should some start again? There are so many opportunities to volunteer, what is right for me? I’m not looking for fireworks. Just “value” in how I spend some of my time. This takes some thought and commitment; and I’m not too satisfied with not having acted on this. It’s probably the most important thing on this to-do list.