Monday, April 14, 2014

Comfort: Part Two

For 2014, as a  talisman, as a focus, I had chosen the word “comfort,” in the belief that I needed to become comfortable with this intense new life of teaching and grad school.  I mean, really, I had retired! And though it is often said that one is busier in retirement than ever before and that it is a happier-busy and all that was true — I loved what I was doing — still I was seeking a balance, a way of comfortably inhabiting this new life, of not running on the edge of exhaustion, dodging and  spinning between planning classes, grading coursework, conducting classes, attending classes, writing my own essays, grading student essays. I would remind myself, often, that I had chosen to do all this.

Comfort as in ease, as in gentle on myself, as in feeling good, as in equilibrium.

It’s a good word and I will stick with it, even though comfort itself has been elusive and scant, even absent, from Day One of the New Year.

New Year’s Eve itself had been comfortable. We try to avoid driving on that particular night, so we had walked the  few blocks into downtown to have dinner at Fourth and "C" Food (yep, fish and chips) , then another block or so over to the old Carnegie Library, now the Petaluma Historical Museum, for a chamber music concert of classical music, all strings.  A different sort of New Year's. Low-key. It was nippy enough to make it feel like December, offering us an excuse to wear winter coats and mufflers, albeit no snow, of course, here in Sonoma County. The musicians were excellent, on a reprieve from the San Francisco Symphony and the Big Gala in the City. It was so -- well, grown-up.  Comfortable.

Cory and her Grandmom Marilyn. 
The next day, New Year’s Day, we took a walk to visit Marilyn, my mother-in-law, at the Rehab Center barely three blocks up the hill from our house where she was recovering from heart surgery. Sunny, barely a breeze. Pleasant. I brought some knitting  (a very late Christmas present) and we hung out for almost two hours, relaxed and chatting, only leaving when she was called to her physical therapy appointment.  We walked down the hill to the local market to get fixin's for a small New Year’s Day dinner; I had thought we could make soup and bring her some later that evening or the next day, but she had brushed that offer aside. Didn't really have an appetite, she'd said.

We weren’t home from our travels but thirty minutes before we got a call from the Rehab Center; Marilyn had cut the PT session short saying she felt tired and out of sorts. They took her back to her room where she lay down to rest. When they went back in fifteen minutes later to check her vitals, she was gone. She had died in her nap.

Our shock was both stunned and loud. We knew in the abstract (as everyone knows) that death is the future for all of us. We knew that given her age and the recent episodes of heart trouble, that death was technically closer for her rather than farther.

She had been so alive. Perhaps not vibrant, but not in rapid decline. New Year's Day we had been cracking jokes; she had admonished us for working too hard, for not taking the time to enjoy living. Yes, she used a walker; yes, we were in the process of installing a stair-lift on her stairs so she could get up to her bedroom; yes, she had said several times that she didn’t think she would “end up like this.”  But the focus, at least for me, had been her continued presence in our life. She would get back to her house; there'd be more holidays and birthdays; more cake, more of her famous Cranberry Jello salad.

And so the idea of comfort – well, we needed the comfort all right; we appreciated every drop of it we received; we offered it freely to family and friends, but it wasn’t the cure we craved. 

Today, 4/14/2014,  would have been her 79th birthday.  Her good cheer, her welcoming smile will always be missed in the tangible plane; will always guide the direction of our hearts.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Comfort for 2014, Part One

COMFORT was the word I had chosen for 2014, a New Year’s ritual I had adopted from Molly Fisk a while back. "Comfort," as in becoming comfortable with the new roles 2013 had brought me. The word for 2013 had been TURN – and though I knew I was turning the corner into retirement from my office job, I had no clue how sharp the turn would be or where it would take me. Absolutely. No. Clue.

A year ago in March, almost to the day, I completed my retirement paperwork online and hit SEND, officially notifying CalPers of my intention to head out the door. The online system had only just been instituted and I was glad to give it a whirl; I was up for new things.

As with any retirement process, mine had been in the works for some time. Years, in fact, when you include the first glimmer of possibility and then the planning and the dreaming, the charting of vacation days and months of service days versus future income.  It’s like casting a horoscope, seeking the most auspicious day when the service credit and the start date are maximized, tilted against my own impatience to be free of the place and get on with my life. But by the end of 2012, all the ducks were lined up, waiting for send off: I’d retire on July 14th, 2013, Bastille Day (fittingly enough, right?) and my last day, with time off for good behavior and un-used vacations, would be July 3rd  - going out with a bang. Yeah. Pretty much everyone got tired of those jokes. 

I just had to wait to send in the paperwork about 90 days in advance, that is, sometime in March. 

That moment of "send." An auspicious moment. An agreement with the universe. Or so it seemed, because the next morning, the very next morning, what popped up in my email but an enquiry: would I be interested in teaching a summer course in English at Napa Valley College?  Whoo, mama! Would I? You bet your sweet bippy, yes, yes, yes!

For that had been the master plan: retire from the office and scout for jobs teaching at one of the nearby colleges. It would be a change in the course of my life, a gentle turn, I had figured, a different tack with a different set of winds, new sails, perhaps a new boat.  It would take at least a semester, maybe two, before such an opportunity would tun up: after all, the job market for teachers, and college English instructors in particular, had pretty much crashed and burned over the past few years.

But at that moment, at the end of March 2013, my life took radical 90+ degree turn: the rest of the year I’d be bursting out of the old skin of Biology Office Administrative Coordinator and learning to inhabit the skin of Instructor in English at a community college. I had managed to align myself with some fabulous stars.

There were twists, there were more turns. My mother-in-law, Marilyn Guerr, was in and out of the hospital with heart troubles. I was wrapping up my gig in the Biology Office even as the first week of my summer course started. Eager to be gardening again, in June, I had pulled that tiny little muscle in the hip that causes the greatest amount of grief and began my college career teaching leaning on a "walking stick," as if I had just hiked in from St Helena. I wrote a lot of nature essays, I told me students and tried to leave it at that.

Needless to say, I was busy enough that I neglected my blog, my writing,  my family, myself, as I created a college course for an intense 8-week summer program, ran the Fiction side of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, then taught two courses for fall semester, while taking a graduate level course at SSU in order to complete my second masters (more about that, umm, later). Yeah. More than cray cray. Wackadoodle-ding-dong.

But it turned out for the good in the long run, even if it didn't seem so in the short.