Everyone else’s year may start in January and end in December, but mine begins in September and ends in August. I still run on the school calendar, which is why I am now reflecting on the past year and planning for the next one instead of waiting for New Year’s Day. Public schools will open in just over a week.
Retirement has its own routines, just like working does. It’s easy to look back and say to yourself, Another year just like the previous one has passed. And in some ways that’s true. Still, I can point to a few differences between last year and the previous ones, differences that matter to me.
I walked more. One month I charted eighty miles. I’ve cut back since, but exercise still ranks high as a priority. My husband and I have gone hiking this summer for the first time in many years. I had forgotten how nourishing it was to get out into the woods, inhale the scents of cedars, firs, cottonwoods, and maples (not that I can distinguish among them by odor, only that collectively they prompt deep breathing and reinforce my idea of smell as the defining characteristic of a forest); step over fallen logs, rivulets and decaying plants; and climb until my heart beats so hard I think it will erupt from my chest.
Also this year, I’ve had to pump out a column twice a month for the local paper. Having deadlines should feel like I’m back on the job, but it doesn’t. My biggest challenge and personal victory has come from going to school to learn how to write a novel. I’ve completed the third draft of seventy-plus pages, which I’m calling Act I. It’s true that an editor is likely to tell me to shift the main action of the story closer to the beginning, cut this and change that, but it doesn’t alter the fact that what I’ve written is more accomplished than any fiction writing I’ve ever done before. A year after an agent asked me, “Why would anyone in Ohio care?” about the idea I pitched, I can answer the question. Not only that, I can write dialogue, describe a setting, build tension into every scene — while still making readers laugh — and create believable and quirky characters. It’s been a long time since I’ve learned so much in such a short time. It’s rewarding to know that learning doesn’t have to stop as I age and that I can master new skills. I won’t have to reach far for the coming school year’s goals: just apply the same learning to writing the next two hundred thirty pages.
For all my life the calendar has been based around the school year. My father was a professor and director of the elementary school I attended (another story), I was a full-time student for at least eighteen of my seventy-three years and a part-time student for most of the rest of them, and a teacher for thirty-four. Even fifteen years into retirement it’s hard to imagine the year starting any time except September.
From the time I perused my dad’s school catalogs when I was four until the present, I have always loved the accoutrements of school – the paper, pencils, notebooks of various sorts, colored markers, post-it notes. And the gadgets, too – compasses, rulers, globes, microscopes. As a teacher I pored over school supply ads and bought up items in bulk to use in class. But I hated seeing those “back to school” ads start appearing, seemingly right after school was out for the summer. I still buy school supplies, just so I always have just the right pen or paper on hand. And, well, just because. But I no longer fear the sales because they are not the threat they once symbolized, the dreaded end of vacation.
I still long for the purchase of the back to school dress and shoes! This year is the 60th since graduation from Bellevue High School and my friends and I are still talking about the good old days. Everything took on a new focus when September rolled around at the school district headquarters with lots of energy and quick steps.
My best friends are those with whom I attended school in the forties/fifties; worked with at Bellevue School District in the seventies/eighties/nineties. Quite honestly, my New Year’s celebration, Jan. 1, is secondary to each year’s Spokane School District’s first day! 🙂