On June 1, I will officially become a pensioner. Others might prefer to be called “retiree” or some other designation, but “pensioner” has an almost Dickensian flair and I think that will become my designation of choice.
My target date for retirement was always May 15, 2022. The incentive to bring it forward was the obvious – the pandemic and remote teaching. I pulled the trigger when there began to be intimations that we might continue remote teaching through the end of the year. On principle alone, I refuse to try to educate students and future artists in a manner that I feel is ineffective.
Mr. McKee, one of my neighbors, told me at the mailbox today that he was striving to be the person “who lived the longest on retirement.” “I plan to stretch it,” he said with a grin, “as far as I possibly can.” As far as I can determine, he has been retired for over thirty years now. I wish him success in his goal.
On a recent new episode of SNL, Kate McKinnon, playing the high school principal at a Zoom graduation, said, “The bad news is you’re about to pay full price for fancy colleges when they are all just University of Phoenix online with worse tech support.” That sums up my feelings exactly.
An entire generation of students, through no fault of their own, are becoming victims of home schooling and a tepid national response from a dangerous and delusional President, made worse by clueless governors desperate to jumpstart an economy regardless of the risks to citizens.
My favorite memory of actor/comedian Jerry Stiller, who passed away recently, is his enervated shrieking of “SERENITY NOW!” on a “Seinfeld” episode. Around that time, as the managing director of a beleaguered theatre, I had SERENITY NOW!!! posted at the top of my computer screen. It helped calm me, somehow. Or at least it made me laugh every morning.
A recent stream of “Hearts of Space” (https://v4.hos.com/home) – a program that is still, to my mind, the most brilliantly curated collection of contemplative music ever – was called “Deep Serenity.” I listened to it three times in one night. That helped, too.
Here’s what I did in my solitude after submitting some last-minute paperwork for the job:
This afternoon, I walked out to survey my front yard with plans to finally go to a garden center and jump start my long-delayed spring planting. As I walked back in the front door, I rang the doorbell to make sure it still works.
I made some watercress pesto. I’ve developed a pesto recipe featuring Alabama products including watercress, pecans, garlic and spring onions, peanut oil, and local goat cheese.
I saw an online headline that asked “Are you washing your sheets often enough?” and when I heard myself answer No out loud, I decided I should wash my sheets.
While my sheets were washing, I listened to American Fashion Podcasts featuring Florence, Alabama-based designers Natalie Chanin (https://omny.fm/shows/american-fashion-podcast/the-alabama-chanin-story) and Billy Reid (https://omny.fm/shows/american-fashion-podcast/229-billy-reid-an-icon-of-the-slow-fashion-movemen).
I am training myself to be satisfied with streaming movies, although I find that experience far from satisfactory. So far, I’m mostly watching documentaries. Two of my pet film festivals, Sidewalk in Birmingham (https://www.sidewalkfest.com) and the New Orleans Film Festival (https://neworleansfilmsociety.org/festival), are offering streaming films during the pandemic. When you stream one of their offerings, a portion of the fee goes back to the festival. I’m sure other film festivals are offering similar services. So far, I’ve watched documentaries about film critic Pauline Kael, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and New York Times street and fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, and a few others, but those biographic profiles stand out.
I watched photographer Matthew Beck’s “Shelter in Place” (https://http://www.newyorker.com/…/watch-neighbors-connect-in-shelter–in-place), a New Yorker documentary short. He shoots his neighbors from his apartment as they sit or stand in the windows of their own apartments and share their feelings about our current crisis. It is a loving and poignant summary of this current moment in human history.
During a large part of my adult life I have been alone but I have rarely felt lonely. As much as I want things to return to normal (and as much as I detest the phrase “new normal”!), I have been able to find peace in a stoic and patient solitude.
I suspect that I can wait this thing out without too much trauma. I hope more of us find that they can, too. The relief of being a “pensioner” is, in fact, bringing some serenity, now.