Wednesday, May 25, 2011

QED: It pays to plan ahead!

Ten days ago I had today’s post all ready. It started like this:

With all the things to worry about a year before retiring—paycheck, benefits, isolation—the issue most occuping my mind at the moment is: What am I going to do with all the books in my office? (I think I’m worrying about things like this because that way my brain is engaged and isn’t worrying about paycheck, benefits, isolation.)

It went on from there about how I had a hard time getting rid of books even when I knew I would never read them again, and how there are boxes of books in our attic that I haven’t opened since we moved to this house 18 years ago, etc. We live in an old house with nice big windows and have a lot of art hanging on the walls, so there’s not much room for more bookcases. I had considered the space between the window and the walls in my study, but it seemed impossibly narrow. I really felt stuck.

So I knew it was counter-productive to go to the local Borders’ closeout sale last weekend, since if I bought yet more books, what would I do with them?

I went anyway, and of course I got some books. But! I also got:

Two of them! As you can see, there's a very narrow space between the wall and the window (and on the other side too) and these fit without an inch to spare. They're solid wood (except for the back; who cares), eight feet tall, $35 each! I called dibs on these two and got Greg to come over and remove them from the wall, and we transported them home very slowly, and here they are. One shelf is already full of my knitting stash and another two hold backup copies of some of my books, but the rest are just waiting for my office collection.

I don’t know that it would have occurred to me even to find out if the bookcases were for sale if I hadn’t been obsessing about stuffing the beautiful books from my offices into boxes come next May, so it turns out that a bit of worry can be a good thing. (I also queried a children's writing correspondence school to see if they need instructors; they're in a hiring freeze and will hold my application. So by writing now I'm a year ahead of the people who will apply between now and when I retire.)

And now with that worry solved, I can start thinking about paycheck, benefits, isolation.

P.S. While I had my camera out, I arranged one copy of each of my books in order of publication date and took their portrait.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Four Fears

So I combined the worry gene I got from my mother with the methodical gene I got from my father and divided my fears/concerns about retirement into four categories. What do you think?

1. Financial (the obvious): Paycheck, benefits (health insurance is the biggie), plus all those benefits you get that you don’t think of until you have to pay for them yourself. For me, the most important of these will be gym membership, discounts at various stores, consulting jobs that won’t be available to me once I’m no longer affiliated with the university.

2. Psychological: Part of my self-definition is “I’m a college professor.” Will I feel something missing when I can’t say that? Also, at all but the most abysmal jobs (and my job is far from abysmal), you get strokes. You do in writing too, but writing is also a lot about rejection—rejections from agents and editors, bad reviews, critical emails from readers. Will they hurt more when I don’t have the comfort of students saying nice things to/about me, and colleagues telling me I do a good job?

3. Social: I know that a lot of my work friendships will end when I’m no longer in daily contact with people. If you run into someone in the hall, it’s easy to go out for lunch together. Will I make the effort to call people? Will they make the effort to call me? How will I make new friends?

 4. Writing: This may sound weird, but will I actually write less? I’m never as productive over the summer as I think I’ll be. Will that be true when I’m on constant summer break? Or conversely, will I forget to give myself time off, and write all the time? Another issue is that I write for young adults. Where will I meet young adults, if not in the classroom?

Some of these overlap. For instance, financial + psychological: I’ve never been supported by anyone but my parents, and although my husband is generously and cheerfully ready to pick up anything I’m unable to pay for, I’m not ready for that.

Which of these—if any—concern you the most as you contemplate retirement? Those of you who have already done it—how did you deal with these issues, and what haven’t I thought of? What other categories should we explore together?

P.S. I plan to post every Wednesday. I already have a great bunch of guest bloggers lined up and would love more, so please let me know if you’re interested.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good-bye, day job!

One year from today I will attend commencement at Vanderbilt University, where I’ve been teaching since 1984.

This will be the end of my day job. I’ll finally be able to turn my full attention to writing and writing-associated activities: learning about new book formats, meeting with other writers, puzzling out the world of publicity, traveling to visit schools and libraries to talk about my books and about writing in general, and especially, working with the Regional Advisors of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in my position as RA Coordinator.

Sounds great in theory, but I know I’ll feel a sense of loss. I’ve loved my job—well, usually. Sometimes I’ve just tolerated it, but I’ve never hated it. I have wonderful friends there, and I know that as I lose touch with their daily lives and with the joys and frustrations of university teaching, I’ll inevitably drift away from some of them. I’ll miss the daily contact with bright and interesting young people.

Plus there’s the little matter of the paycheck and benefits.

But I’ve been doing the same job for twenty-eight (twenty-eight!) years, and it’s time to move on.

This weekly blog will chronicle the last year of my day job. I’d love to hear from people—either as guest bloggers or commenters—who have done this, whether writers or not. What did you do to plan? What do you wish you had done differently? What was some great advice you got? How did you handle the loss of a paycheck? And I want to hear from people who are contemplating the same move. What are you worried about? Excited about? What do you want to learn about? How much pre-planning are you doing?

I look forward to sharing this journey with you!