Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Trio

Now for something different.

I was beginning to wonder if ever I would finish another painting.  It's been since August since my last effort.   With all the transitions -- downsizing, two moves and a retirement -- there just hasn't been time.   Also as I started to dive back into painting with the new year, I picked a subject a little over my head which made me wonder if I would ever complete it. 

We'll I don't know if it's complete but it got to the point -- referencing the da Vinci quote: "Art is never finished only abandoned"-- that I'm ready to abandon it.

What made it hard was it was triple portrait of real people in my family.  My wife captured a picture of my daughter and two granddaughters on the day the new one arrived home.  The composition and expressions in the photo capture the joy of those first moments and made me want to paint it.  (The only thing missing from the photo is the beaming dad.)  I didn't think about how hard it would be to paint a triple portrait, though.

I don't think I completely succeeded in capturing the moment, but like I said, I'm done.   Here's the result.

Note to self:  next time tackle something simple!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Retirement Finish Line -- Last Year of Work Part III

Have you ever travelled somewhere distant on a long trip and thought about what’s going on back at home?   For me, when I’m away, where I am is total reality and my normal home life just a fantasy.  That’s kind of what it feels like being three months into retirement.  Now that I’m into it, the last year of work and what was going on my head seems like a fiction.
One thing I’m noticing is, that while time seemed to be standing still last year, it’s now zipping by.   Days are full and weeks fly like days.  It’s probably because I’m learning to do what I want to do versus what I “have to” do. 
Looking back is interesting to see what the last year of employment looked and felt like.  It’s also a little boring, so I’ll try to be selective in what I post from this point out.  But I’ll finish it because I started it, and can’t help myself from my following-throughitis!
Wednesday, May 4, 2016 – 16.5 Workweeks to Go
I’m down five weeks of full time and 17 weeks of part-time work left.  All together that’s six plus months of elapsed time – which feels like a long sentence.  It feels particularly long on days like today when my calendar is clear.  I still worry about being a lame-duck with nothing to do, but, so far, that hasn’t materialized.  And with 77 workdays to go (but who’s counting), any period of lame duckdom will be short (although I’m sure it will feel long!).
Meanwhile, perhaps the best way to think about remaining work time is in work-day segments:  17 days to vacation followed by 24 full-time days and then 36 workdays on a part-time schedule.  Three segments, three countdowns – 17/24/36.  A little more palatable.  One segment at a time. 
Monday, May 9, 2016 – 15.5 Workweeks to Go
This weekend I had a thought about a work-life dynamic that, up to now, never occurred to me (or, if it did, I’ve forgotten that it did).  Here it is.
During employment there’s a need, a drive to make someone else happy.  It could be a customer but in my world it’s been a boss or bosses.  That need is the thing that keeps you on edge and not quite secure, since you can never really control how another person thinks, feels or acts and your economic fate is in the hands of others.  It fosters a low-grade (or, sometimes high-grade) existential fear.  It’s not an irrational fear but a realistic one and probably underlies most of the stress related to being employed.
As I get closer to the finish line of employment, I can let go of this need, drive and fear.  I can be more objective and philosophical about work-place decisions and projects that are going awry.  I can have distance from results and outcomes.  In short, I can be free.
That’s the attractive thing about ending employment – freedom.  Too bad I couldn’t have let it be that way for the last 50 years!  I’d be a much more relaxed and laid-back fellow.  Maybe some people are like that and can pull that off, but I’m afraid it doesn’t come naturally to me
I’ve said in the past that I can turn almost any fun thing into work.  Driven!  So now I need to work on the freedom thing -- freedom from pleasing anyone but myself. 
Here’s hoping I learn this lesson for the rest of my life!
Tuesday, May 17, 2016 – 14.5 Workweeks to Go
I’m getting close to shifting to a part-time schedule.  Although I’ll still be working, going part-time is a pretty big milestone for closing this chapter of life and opening the next one.
How do I want this next chapter to read?  I want it to be a chapter of creativity and contribution.  Creativity, first, and contribution, if it happens. 
 I’d like to learn to do this while also learning to take my foot off the gas pedal.  By nature and by nurture (if you can call the world of work nurture) I’m always fighting clock and calendar (as a former colleague of mine at this stage of life put it 20 years ago).  I’d like to learn to defuse the time-bomb of urgency and experience perpetual calmness.  The reality is that much of my time-centered stress is artificial and self-imposed.  If I can make it, I can break it.
And that’s the practice for me in these last days of employment -- to slow down – to eliminate urgency.  With less than 68 workdays left (but who’s counting), even more than I’m doing now, I need to let go of …well…everything employment-related.  
Employment is the past not the future.  To start living that way is the challenge.
Well there’s more to come but that’s enough for now!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Retirement Finish Line -- Last Year of Work, Part II

At two months and counting, I’m still working on getting the hang of being retired…guess I’m a slow learner.  It’s starting to feel real, though.  Looking back to last year at my transition from work helps.  Here’s the next instalment of this saga. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I’m still looking for the feeling of relief, for some event or milestone to signal that I’ve done my time and have been released to freedom.  I get a glimmer of a sense of peace from time to time, but nothing sustained.

The feeling may soon materialize.  I’m coming up on several milestones:

·         Thursday, 2/4:  One strike left in the baseball game
·         Friday, 2/12:  100 full-time workdays to go
·         Friday, 2/19: 30 seconds to go in the football game of my work life
·         Monday, 2/22:  ½ work-year (130 workdays) to go
·         Monday, 2/29:  998 work hours to go
·         Monday, 3/7:  17 full-time workweeks to go
·         Monday, 4/4:  100 workdays to go
With any luck one of these significant milestones will psychologically put me over the top of the hill.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 – 30 Workweeks to Go.  Still.

For the last 50 years, I’ve been learning to be ever more efficient in my use of time.  I’ve worked on that so hard that I’m usually the first to get a task done.  I can’t remember when I missed a deadline (maybe I missed one.  I just can’t remember).

The interesting thing is that all the hard-won wisdom and finely-honed habits are exactly what I don’t need for my future life.  The challenge is to change my internal wiring from achieving and meeting deadlines to experiencing and enjoying. 

There are no deadlines to improving my hobby skills.  I don’t have deliverables, due dates or specific objectives.  And that’s fine.  That’s the way it should be.   Experience and enjoy.   Life without driven-ness. 

Back to the countdown it’s at 30 weeks – 21 fulltime and 8.5 part-time workweeks.  Some key milestones are on the horizon.  I’m cresting the mountain and ready for the effortless glide to the finish line.

Almost there.  My head knows it.  Now if only my gut would! 

Thursday, February 18, 2016 – 28 Workweeks to Go

My countdown is in terms of a baseball game -- bottom of the ninth, two outs and two strikes, a football game – 30 seconds left, and, more simply, full-time workdays – 94 fulltime + 36 part-time = 130 left.

These numbers probably should produce a level of closure for me – a sense that the end is imminent.  But they don’t.  Why?

Maybe it’s because the 130 workdays stretch over nine months.  Maybe it’s because the selection process for my replacement hasn’t started.  Maybe it’s because I’m tired of the work – especially mediating conflicts.  That just doesn’t float my boat.  It makes me want to leave sooner rather than later.

So, here’s another metaphor for my career ending -- an air flight.  At some point, but not yet:

1.      Flaps down -- begin the decent
2.      Lower the landing gear
3.      Visual contact with runway
4.      Touch down
5.      Taxi to gate
6.      Deplane

When does this start.  Who knows?  But I’m guessing at some point, I’ll sense the end. 

Fasten seatbelts, flaps down!

Saturday, January 21, 2017


As part of my transition to post-employment life, Marcia and I planned two-week vacation for this month.  It was not like our typical vacations in that we had a starting point – Memphis and an ending point – Siesta Key, Florida, but nothing firm in between.  Down the Mississippi, left turn at the Gulf, right turn somewhere in Florida.  It was an adventure.  It was a 1,600-mile road-trip. It was a metaphor for this next stage of life – a starting point, an ending point with a blank expanse in between.

Here are a few things I noticed about the trip.  (If it’s details and photo documentation you want, go to my wife’s blog.)

First, we need to go back to school on the snowbird thing.  Part of the reasoning for taking the trip in January was to get away from winter weather.  As you can see from the picture of Graceland, we got this wrong.  We woke up to snow and 14 degrees our first day on the trip.  It got a little better as we went south.

Second, I was amazed to learn about the Spanish Missions in Florida – especially the one we visited in Tallahassee.  Mission San Luis was a place where two cultures – Spanish and the indigenous Apalachee Indians lived side by side for three generations from 1656 to 1704.  Read about the ball game the Apalachee Indians played.  Here’s a photo of the council house.  It could accommodate over 1,000 for meetings.

Finally, we spent a day at Wakulla Springs State Park.  The scenery and wildlife – birds and alligators – were wonderful as expected.  The unexpected thing, though was that several 1940’s Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller were filmed there.  And, even cooler, the 1954 movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed at this location.

We had many more pleasant and serendipitous discoveries. As I said, see my wife’s blog for more. 

Here’s hoping the road trip metaphor holds for this next phase of life – filled with pleasant and serendipitous discoveries.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Retirement Finish Line -- The Last Year of Work

My last post on this topic was in October 2012.  At that point, I had already been reading and thinking about the transition to post-retirement life for six years.  That makes it ten years from contemplation to execution – I retired on December 1st.

Deciding to retire is an interesting and lonely journey.  You typically retire only once and there’s no practice for it.  So, in case it’s of any use to anyone, I tried to capture my thoughts through the last year or so of my employed life and I plan to share excerpts over the next few months.

Of course, once you retire, the transition continues.  I’m fortunate to live in a community with a lot of role models – people who have been retired for decades.  But for me, with only one month of retirement under my belt, I’m still adjusting.

One thing you’ll probably pick up from the series is that I had a serious countdown calendar going for the last year or so.  I didn’t post it on my office door (as one of my colleagues did), but I kept it up to date for sure.

Here begin the excerpts. 


 Friday, June 12, 2015

…the other thing that’s eating at me is worrying the next 404 days fulltime plus 122 days planned part-time work (but who’s counting).  I’m mentally ready to be done.  Nothing I do in the day job seems that important to me.  Career has lost its meaning.  Of course this, I believe, is only natural at this stage of life.  The end of life is no longer hypothetical, so it’s hard to spend precious time doing something you’re no longer excited about.

Friday, January 1, 2016

This is it.  The final stretch of my employed life.  The transition to the rest of my life.  How do I characterize the next chapter?

First, as I look back, even though I’ve been working full-time, I think I can call it being semi-retired.  Certainly that’s true since Fall of 2011 -- last four years.  Even with a full work schedule, I’ve had the opportunity to branch out into other interests – taking classes at the community college and elsewhere.  That’s been a gift – one that, until recently, I haven’t fully recognized.

So, if I’ve already been (unknowingly) semi-retired how do I characterize this transitional year (and beyond)?  How about 2016 as the year of “conscious semi-retirement?”

If semi-retirement is a time to slow down, looking back on 2015, I’m not doing so well.  Besides the day job, I crammed in coursework and a multitude of other interests.    Doesn’t sound like going slow, does it?  Perhaps in 2016, the year conscious semi-retirement, I will actually slow down a little and give myself time to reflect. 

As I contemplate life beyond 2016, I think about what I’ll be doing with my life and time.  I sometimes think about paid-employment or setting up a business in a different field – something creative and contributing to society.  But, so far, nothing resonates.  And the prospect of having obligations to meet and a schedule to keep are real barriers to considering future employment for me.  So, the challenge and open question is “how do I want to use freedom from the requirements of paid-employment to contribute for the rest of my life?”

That’s the question to wrestle with through this transition year and beyond.  My advice to me is to leave it as an open question and not rush into anything too soon after employment ends.

In conclusion, 2016 is a year of transition.  It’s to being consciously semi-retired, -- winding down employed life and exploring what’s beyond.  That’s plenty to do. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016 -- 42 Workweeks to Go

Trapped in a salt mine.  That’s the news of the day.  Seventeen miners trapped in an elevator 800 feet below ground in a central New York salt mine.  They’re not immediate danger – nothing collapsed.  Rescuers can talk to them and send them food and blankets.  I’m sure it’s scary but probably mainly inconvenient.

At 42 workweeks to go, trapped in a salt mine is a rough metaphor for how I feel about work.    Although I’m lucky to have employment and the power to decide when to stop, it still feels a little like I’m trapped in an inconvenient circumstance.

At my boss’ request I gave my one-year notice last fall.  Since that time, I’ve let my peers and the folks that report to me know my decision and have written the requisition and job specs to hire my replacement.  I aim to craft a good ending.

Still, I feel conflicted.  I’ve spend my work-life initiating programs to make things better for my employers and my work colleagues.  It’s hard for me to turn that off and be a passenger on the bus.  On the other-hand, it just doesn’t make sense to start anything I won’t see through to the finish.  And, even if I wanted do something significant, my short tenure reduces my power to influence any change.

So I’m conflicted about engagement – mainly initiating or taking on new things, not keeping the operations running.   And I’m conflicted about ending the paycheck.  The fizzling financial markets don’t help matters as I contemplate an end to that.

All of this makes me wonder: What’s the magic number of months, weeks, days or hours for when I feel less conflicted and can begin to celebrate freedom from the salt mine of work?    Intellectually I know it’s time to hang up the spurs, but I have yet to feel the emotional release of my quest for freedom and excitement about the next act of life.

Time will tell.  Meanwhile, just plug along and do what you can. 

Like I said, I made it to the finish line and retired December 1, 2016.  More to come, though, in future posts on the last year of work.  

The posts should be more frequent now that the day job doesn’t get in the way!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Back In The Saddle Again

Late February, Marcia and I made the trivial decision  to sell the house, downsize and move into a continuing care community.  Executing that decision has taken more than a little of our time over the last few months.   The result is I have not been able to paint anything since my last effort -- an allegorical painting representing my father and two grandfathers via their occupations.

Somehow we got it all done and moved at the end of June.  My one concern with the move was where would I be able to paint in the new location?  As time went by, I wondered if I'd even remember how to paint!

After ruminating on what to paint and where to do it, Marcia suggested that I paint some favorite toys of my two-and-a-half year old granddaughter.  As to where to do this, I figured out that I could set up on the 6' x 9' balcony.

The balcony was a little tight (and hot!) but it worked.  Here's the result -- three fishies swimming in a bowl (signed by Papa -- her name for me.)

I guess the new place will work out after all.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Summer and Fall Production

Here's the rest of the production from the summer and fall:  two more landscapes and an attempt at an oil-painting portrait.

I can look at the first -- An Unnamed Tributary of Ben's Run -- and recall standing in the swamp with bugs and heat for a month of Saturday mornings.  I struggled with constantly changing shadows as the sun moved higher in the sky.  Eventually, I took a reference photo so I could preserve a moment in time and stop chasing shadows. 

Nature is dynamic!  When I started the painting below, everything was green.  When I ended it, all the leaves were gone.  Between start and finish, I was able to capture some color.  Sky and shadows look different every time you go out.  So, I realize that I'm capturing a composite scene.  The sky only looked this way once and when it did the rest of the scene looked different!

Finally, I wanted to try my hand at an oil-painting portrait.  I only had one (reluctant) human model.  So, I used a blurry photo from my daughter's wedding last year for most of this. I was able to plead with my model to pose for almost three hours (not all at once)!  Woo Whoo!

Here's how it turned out.  I told her that she'd love it in ten years.