“Together” is a word that best describes our friendship. Nanette and I went to elementary school, high school and college together. We shared the same little corner of the world for many years and did a lot of happy and sometimes painful growing-up together. We have been in opposite parts of the world for over 40 years now – she in Singapore and I in New York. But we seem to be tightly wound together in a cocoon that serves as a warm protective covering for our friendship. I decided to retire from academia last year and Nanette is planning to retire as a High School Literature teacher this year. Her recent emails to me have been filled with anxiety, of wanting to be assured that life in retirement will be fulfilling, that she will be able to reinvent herself and that there will be tantalizing possibilities to look forward to. This post captures some of our email exchanges.
Part 1 of 3: In response to Nanette’s “I did not expect the last quarter of this school year would be this busy! Right now I am undergoing a lot of stress.”
Dear Nanette, I am finally over my jet-lag after one month of traipsing around Asia. I was living in slow-motion for a while but I
am starting to get back to the thick of things. You seem to assume that I am very busy. Not really, if I do not want to be. Remember that the Spanish word for retirement is jubilacion, which is evocative of a feeling of great joy or celebration. Whatever I do now is what I choose to do, whatever gives me joy.
It looks like you will join me as a jubilado come July. You seem to be doing too much in your last year as a teacher. You call it la muerte. Is it really like dying? You have to take it easy. Two months before retiring, I suffered shortness of breath, from stress I guess, and this scared me a lot. My last year working as Vice Dean was very demanding since personnel and administrative problems landed on my desk everyday, many of them unexpected. There was always a crisis happening that had to be solved right away, which I did in the best possible way I could. The temptation was so great to simply decompress right after the long goodbye. I did not succumb. And you should not. My suggestion is that you and Jim engage yourself in activities you really enjoy immediately after retirement rather than decompressing and chilling out at home, so to speak. I found that being active and seizing opportunities to do something different allowed me to move on without looking back.
Part 2 of 3: In response to Nanette’s “Tell me how your year was.”
Dear Nanette, How was my first year of jubilacion? It certainly was not la muerte. What we did first was travel to Poland for two weeks. So, the New York visit and the Danube cruise with us this July will really be the right move for you. In August, I visited Machrina in Bussard Meadows and attended a writers’ workshop with her which was truly an eye-opener. I discovered that I enjoy writing personal essays — a difficult but exhilarating exercise for me. Having found something I really liked, I followed that up with a writing workshop at Hunter College with the essayist/author Nancy Davidoff Kelton.
I prepared for my speaking engagement in Rome in September — for the Filipino Diaspora Conference which completely impressed me because of the unbelievable passion, intelligence, and eloquence of most of the Filipino attendees — that made the Filipino in me very proud. I took a risk of accepting a topic I never spoke on or written about before — on living with cultural diversity. What is my business talking about this when all I have done in my whole career is teach, talk and write about finance? I have been living with cultural diversity all these 42 years in America — that’s what!
Another out of the box activity I did was join a Gregorian Chant workshop and, boy, was I out of my league. There were conductors, professional singers, and composers of all ages in the workshop. Although completely overwhelmed, I enjoyed every minute of it and learned a lot about music theory. I even had the audacity of inviting friends to attend the Gregorian Chant concert we gave in church. I then traveled with girlfriends to the Christmas markets of Germany, France and Austria — the soft snowfall everyday and being surrounded by the spirit of Christmas everywhere were truly a blessing. We ended the year with a quiet Christmas family holiday in Florida. That was followed by a trip to Hawaii, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam – a mix of breathtaking sceneries, chaotic street life, majestic structures and culinary adventure. In short, it was a sightseeing and eating feast! All the international traveling we do will be diminishing in the future. We have traveled to about 40 countries through the years. It is time to visit more parts of this beautiful and vast America.
We are enjoying city life. I joined a second book club, this one on the Great Classics. I am still a member of my old book club in Long Island. I am also in a walking group called the “loopers” — we walk around the Central Park reservoir every weekend. I try to visit museums with Ferdie, with friends or alone. I find myself cooking more, would you believe?
My volunteer work continues. One thing I know is that I will always be a teacher, this time I hope to be a volunteer mentor to young people in the community. I am still serving as board director for 3 non-profit organizations, and serving as the Board Chairperson of the premier think tank on women’s policy research. Don’t think I have no free time — I do. In fact, I have a lot of free time. I found that not having to do research and write those academic papers to the wee hours have freed me from tons of paper work and journal reading. I submitted my last academic finance article last September so I have one more publication coming out, then I am truly done with that aspect of my life. I am trying to do more blogging now, but the discipline of writing has not come back to me.
Part 3 of 3: In response to Nanette’s “I hope I could start throwing out things and selling stuff for our June departure. Any suggestions for how to do this efficiently?”
The biggest change we did after retirement was to sell our house and move to an apartment in the city. What did we do
with all our material possessions when we moved? We gave or donated over 80% of what we owned to family, friends, our church, libraries, non-profits, and fund-raising events. We kept only one set of things we thought we would need in our new life — after all, how many tablecloths, pots and pans, dinnerware, flatware do we really need? It was liberating to finally rid ourselves of things we did not really use nor need. I remember the homily on the Sunday before our move. One of my favorite Jesuit priests said the Mass and the first sentence of his homily was “Get rid of all the stuff, hold on to the memories.” God talking to us? Ferdie and I looked at each other and knew we were
doing the right thing. So, hold on to the memories. And start exploring all the possibilities with jubilation.
How do I even get to write these long rambling emails to you? I told you — I have a lot of free time. And the gentle snowfall outside is very conducive to quiet writing to a dear friend.