Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Why Putting My House in Order is not Procrastinating

For years, nay decades, I’ve said that I can’t wait to retire because then I write full time. I’ll stop working two jobs (writing and teaching) and go to just one. I’ve planned my future daily schedule in my head so many times, I know it by heart. Get up between 6:30 and 7:00 A.M., check my emails, play my online games (4 each day – takes between 5 and 20 minutes), go brush my teeth, get dressed and write for the next hour. Have breakfast, write more. Take a mid-morning break to do something mindless (dust, laundry, etc.), write more. Lunch. Edit in the afternoons. Or do promo, write a blog post, read the loops...something business related but not actual writing, since I’m not usually at my creative best in the afternoons.

I officially retired as of seventeen days ago. So why, after spending years planning for this, have I spent only four of them actually writing?

Because I’m putting my house in order.

Tony Morrison once said, “I don’t wait to be struck by lightning and don’t need certain slants of light to write.” And I don’t either.

But I do need a clean house.

I started with the upstairs, since that’s where my study is. I’ve dusted shelves, culled through our book collection to make way for new books I’ve gotten from the closing out of three households, vacuumed, straightened and rearranged. I have also created a guest room out of my son’s old room (he now has his own apartment), washed the woodwork in all the upstairs rooms and found the floor in our bedroom. The upstairs bathroom is sparkling and the clutter is gone.

And it feels good.

So good that I’ve started on the attic. It’s been a niggling thought in my head for the past few years. When we started bringing things home from my Mom and Dad’s place in December, I declared a zero-sum policy. If something went into the attic, something had to come out.

That worked for a while. My son had only a few bins stored up there, so when he left, a little more space became available. Then the weather turned hot and the three window air conditioners stored in the attic came down as well. Of course, it was too hot to work up there, but we’ve had a run of lower temperatures yesterday and today, so....

How much junk is up there? Well, there is so much junk up there – that, between yesterday and today, I’ve brought down six boxes, four of which are going to the recycling center on Saturday. What was in them? Receipts, NYSEG bills, telephone bills, bank statements, old paystubs...from the 1980’s.

Yep. Thirty-year-old statements when they only need to be kept for seven.

Going through them, however, has been a kick. Remember long-distance charges? My husband found a paystub from a night watchman job he held for several months...for which he was paid $3.60 an hour. Good money, since minimum wage was $3.35/hr. I also found notes and business plans for theatre companies we started (or tried to start – one was successful, the other two attempts, not so much).

But some not-so-pleasant memories as well. Reminder notices of bills not paid, bank balances alarmingly low, and paystubs from a job I hated. Shredding all those, however, has made my load lighter. In a way, its destroying the evidence and now, if I don’t want to remember that job (selling furniture on commission. I was – am – a lousy salesman. Closing the deal just isn’t in my nature), I don’t have to remember it.

That’s why cleaning house isn’t procrastinating. It’s a mental state. I am literally putting my house in order in order to allow my mind the room it needs for creativity. I will no longer have that annoying thought in the back of my head, “You know, that room needs cleaning...those boxes need to be sorted...that junk needs to be thrown away.” And because that voice will be silent, I can settle into a good story and write my heart out.

Now if I could just ignore the basement...

Play safe!


Sunday, July 06, 2014

On Retirement

July 1st, I became my own woman. I no longer “owe my soul to the company store” and I couldn’t be happier. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my time as a high school English teacher. Not every day and not every class, but that’s true with any job. There are always good days and bad and as long as there are more of the former than the latter, everything’s fine.

The list of positives for leaving that life, however, is long. No more getting up at 5:45, leaving the house at 6:25 A.M. for a forty-minute commute on sunny mornings, a hour and a half on snowy ones. In fact, no more driving through snowstorms to reach the only open district in two counties! I won’t have to step between two teenagers, each bent on knocking the socks of the other. No more papers to grade, egos to soothe (mostly those of the parents), or state hoops to jump through.

There are some pieces of the job, however, that I will miss. The metaphorical talk around the watercooler – the interaction with my colleagues that might, or might not, have anything to do with school. The serendipitous meeting in the hallway, the social conversations...catching up on everyone's outside life as well as venting about the latest State Ed. regulation. Being home now, I won’t have anyone other than family and the occasional bumping into someone in the grocery store. I begin to understand why my mother would end up talking with her former co-workers for an hour when those random meetings occurred. Not only lots to catch up on, but a hunger for conversation with someone other than family.

Believe it or not, I’ll actually miss the ride to and from school. Yes, it was long, but I did a lot of thinking during that time. On my way up, I often planned out lessons, rehearsed questions and tried to think of all the answers students might come up with during discussion so I would be ready with follow-ups. On the way home, my thoughts often shifted to my current work-in-progress and I’d spend the time drafting a scene, playing around with a plot point or even coming up with brand new stories. So I will miss the thinking time the drive gave me.

And I will miss the kids. Don’t tell them that, but I will. They kept me young. I know the latest crazes, the current heartthrobs, the best video games on the market, because of the conversations we had before class started and in those one or two minutes at the end before the bell rang (which didn’t happen often, but I took full advantage when it did). They kept me on my feet (often literally) and my brain active. Who will keep me young now? I’m not ready to grow old and out of touch.

People keep asking me if I miss school yet. I don’t. For one, I’ve only been retired for a week. For another, this is still just summer vacation to me. Of course, it’s a summer vacation without lesson plans to write, books to read for class, or workshops to attend (all the normal activities I do every summer). In that sense, things feel a little weird. I’ll see an article online or in the newspaper and think, “That’ll be a good one to use in my English 11 class when we read The Crucible” and then remember, I’ll never teach The Crucible and all the issues that surround it, again. And it doesn’t feel sad and I don’t rejoice. It just feels...odd.

Other teachers, those who have retired from the stress of the classroom, tell me I won’t really feel the oddity until September. When everyone else goes back to school – and I don’t. My husband’s already warned me not to get in the way of his September routine. He’s an instructor at Finger Lakes Community College. He also directs several high school shows throughout the school year (three of them – two straight shows and a musical). AND he paints – his art is currently in several galleries around western New York. This is the reverse of the stereotypical male now being home and getting in the wife’s way. :)

Of course, for me, the word “retirement”  is a misnomer. I won’t be teaching in the New York State public education system, true. But I’ll be writing full-time and that’s very exciting to me. Figuring out my new schedule – one I’ve been dreaming about for years now – is an entirely new adventure. Where other people see this rite of passage as an ending of a career, I see it more as the beginning of a new one. Or rather, the logical extension of a part-time career into the full-time arena.

The past six months have been full. Closing up three established homes and dealing with the remains, closing up a classroom and saying goodbye to a life that I’ve lead for thirty-three suddenly be unfettered and free? I cannot describe the exhilaration, the joy, the sense of relief.

So look for more writing from me, both non-fic and fiction. I hope to become prolific as my schedule settles out and routine kicks in. I might even write a few more books under my own name (C.F. Duprey) as well as more by Diana Hunter, Mystic Shade and Diana Allandale. I want to redesign my website, develop more writing workshops, and be more active in writing communities. And I’ll have the time!

Play safe, everyone!

The newly-retired, much more relaxed,