The Trouble With Retirement

(Spoiler alert/warning: This essay contains no data, no references, no numbers or official documentation of any kind. It merely contains my own experience and observations. In no way does it represent any experience other than my own.)

Over the past several weeks, I have watched with detached bemusement at the French protest the proposed increase in retirement age from 62 to 64. Their President, Emanuel Macron, and his cronies have determined that the raise will safeguard the country’s pension structure. I have not done a deep dive into the math of this proposal, but I am not terribly surprised by it. We have widespread pension issues of our own here in the US, of varying causes, partly because of the economy, and interest rates, and partly because of the population demographics. What surprises me more is the idea that retiring at 62 was ever a good idea. 

Right now, retirement is a subject near and dear to my heart.

I personally retired at 62, or rather just short of my 62nd birthday. And I did so not because I was ready to quit working, but because I moved to be with my partner, and my skills and career proved to be not terribly portable (potable?) to the area and circumstances and time in which I relocated. (I left my job 6 weeks before Covid started.) Which in itself is a long and complicated and not terribly interesting story, but suffice it to say, I was ready to give up my job, but I wasn’t ready to quit working. And I did not have a pension. I will tell the story regardless.

The job had worn me out, both physically and emotionally. For six months after my so-called retirement at the end of January, 2020, I slept 12 hours a night, trying to recover. But instead of recovering, I had a series of accidents that resulted in a broken arm, a frozen shoulder, a chronic knee injury, and aggravated other issues (bad feet from wearing clogs for 35 years). And then, beginning in July, we welcomed three new grandchildren in three different states. So we were busy. I had moved from Chicago to Michigan with a four month layover in Florida. My partner sold his home of 25 years. There was a lot of packing, unpacking, repacking, storing, donating, and driving. And cooking. I was decorating our new home remotely, which was not without difficulties. The logistical challenges of pulling from his and my existing furnishings in our previous homes (a vintage condo and a sprawling suburban home), plus purchasing the missing pieces for our new Birmingham MI 4-story townhome during Covid while being unable to see anything in person was almost laughably complex. During our actual move-in, my daughter went into labor, a full month ahead of her due date. In North Carolina.

So that was my first year of retirement.

Despite the busyness, I knew I had to do something. Earn a living. Do something.  So I decided to become an interior designer. If I could handle this level of complexity for myself, I could handle anything for anybody.

My real interest, though, is in art collecting, which I’ve been doing and studying for decades. I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago when I studied creative writing, and if I learned a particular skill, it was editing. And good design is really about the edit. I am definitely a less is more person, transitional more than traditional or MCM, and a number of friends in the design business have encouraged me over the years. I love art. And ceramics. And textiles. And antiques. I love finding and displaying interesting things that don’t cost a fortune. I love a bargain! I love the mix of old and new. I love style that stands the test of time. So I thought, why not?

Here’s why not. It’s the same reason I am not selling the two books I’ve written. It’s the same reason I couldn’t sell nylons at Neiman Marcus when I worked there during college. Because I can’t sell anything. And in particular, I cannot sell myself. 

I can sell people on ideas. On concepts. On the reasons we should give money to certain causes, get into therapy, promote technology initiatives for the IDD community, or why you should have a shingles vaccine or take your statin. But if it’s about me, forget it.

I don’t know how to build a business that is just me doing something I love. I have no idea how to take the leap outside my own home and encourage someone to take a chance on hiring me. In the meantime, I’ve taught myself Sketchup. Which is no small feat. Now if I could just figure out this f**ing website.

Can I Ask You A Question?

November 15, 2022

After Hilary Clinton lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump, I attended a discussion at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, hosted by David Axelrod, where he interviewed the esteemed pollster Joel Berenson about why the polls were so wrong at predicting the outcome of that election. Mr. Berenson seemed embarrassingly at a loss to explain what had happened. He hemmed and hawed, and nothing much came out that was worth repeating.

A couple of weeks later, I attended a dinner party where I sat next to a woman who was the head of the DNC in Illinois. I asked why the polls had been so wrong, and she said that there was nothing wrong with the polls. I asked if perhaps the wrong questions had been asked. She said no. I asked what the value of them had been. She found someone more interesting to talk to.

In 2020, the polls predicted Biden would win, generally by about 8-10 points. The margin by which Biden actually won was only 4% of the popular vote, significantly less than the polling indicated. It isn’t clear what portion of the population ignored or didn’t believe the results – which has not, to my knowledge, been the subject of a poll, but that would be telling if you could ever get at the number.

This week’s midterm election once again suggested that the Republicans would gain control of both houses of Congress. Instead, they didn’t get control of the Senate, and seem barely to have gotten ahold of the House. This was despite weeks of predictions that showed strong Democratic then strong Republican waves, neither of which turned out to be exactly true. Truth, as is always and inconveniently the case, proves to be much more complicated than we want it to be. And that is where the limitations of polls, pollsters, demographics, and predictions based on a dozen questions answered on a cell phone app come into play.

My own experience is telling. It might not reflect anyone else’s, but I will share it because maybe I’m not the only one who has had this happen.

I never was asked to participate in a poll until this election. It started out with a phone call about a local state house race in Michigan. I answered honestly. There was a human being on the other end of the call, and we had a conversation. That can happen in local politics.  Then I received a text requesting that I respond to a poll about the governor’s race, which I did. And after that, there were probably another 20 requests. So here’s my question: if I had answered each poll, would I have been considered a separate person/respondent each time? Or do people who respond get inundated because they’re known responders? If so, what good are the results?

Which begs the question, what good are the results?

I would suggest that they are no good at all.

It’s hard not to pay attention to the polls, because the news organizations have them front and center in their coverage. But they are basically horse pucky. And like everything else in our political system, if there’s money to be had, money to be made, it is here to stay. That horse has left the barn. Only the pucky remains.

Welcome MēMo Designs

August 21, 2021

So much has changed since I blogged last.

I have a new home in a new state. A new career. A new everything.  

It’s funny - when you think it’s time for a change. Be careful. You can go overboard.

People talk about reinventing themselves. Personally, I think that is not a thing.

Wherever we go and whatever we do, we take ourselves along. Reinvention of self is rare if not impossible.  

But we can do new things. And that’s great.

Bringing our old selves along to new projects makes new projects so much more interesting.

But actual reinvention?

I don’t think so.

Personal change is possible though, and it is healthy.  Adaptation means we’re evolving.  

Since I left my parents’ home in Elmhurst IL, after high school in 1976, I have rented or owned sixteen separate abodes, not including dorm rooms.

Kudos to Meyers’ Movers, who assisted in the bulk of those moves.

After 61 years residing in the Chicago area, I moved (in 2020) to a town just outside Detroit.  

Seriously. I moved to Michigan. Which is maybe Pure.  But maybe not.  I do know that I went from a zone 5 to a zone 6, from a gardener’s standpoint.  

Which means a few more things can grow here. Hopefully I’m one of them.  

Why, oh why, you may ask, would I make such a drastic change, moving two states away, so late in life, away from friends, away from family?

A man was the reason, as is often the case for seemingly nonsensical actions. I’ll call him G.  

I met G, or re-met G, in 2019. He lived in Bloomingham, Michigan (town name made up). He convinced me to throw caution to the wind, to join him in MI.

I’m not really a caution-tossing type, but a guy like him doesn’t come into one’s life often, and neither of my daughters were living in Chicago. So I retired.  I was ready.  

Or so I thought.  I put in my resignation, bought a plane ticket to join G in Florida for the winter and placed my condo on the market.

In the short interval of time between flying to Florida but before worldwide hell broke loose, my condo sold.  And then the world shut down.

I couldn’t get home to clean out my stuff. And because of the pandemic, there was no place to give it away to.  This is where it got really complicated.  

Luckily my niece Claire helped me accomplish this Herculean task by packing up my stuff while I rode my bike mile after mile around Naples, Florida.  

My furniture went into storage, a few things got dropped off at various places, and everything else got stuffed into unlabeled boxes.

Six months later we moved into a new townhouse in Birmingham, MI.  

2020 was remarkable for more than just the pandemic, a fortuitous retirement, and not knowing where I’d left my Instant Pot.

Over the summer, G and I were fortunate to welcome three new grandchildren in the space of twelve weeks. We did a lot of driving and Covid testing.

Winifred, Graham, and Gabriel are all healthy and adorable.

But by November of 2020, I wanted to unretire.  

In February of 2021, I opened MēMo Designs LLC. Incorporated. Created a website. Had my first client in the spring.  

What is MēMo Designs?

Simply, it is an interior design firm which specializes in helping clients procure and display art for their homes. And I am MēMo.

I hope to bring all 63 years of my weird and varied assortment of skills, knowledge and obsessions to bear on this new undertaking.  

One of my greatest skills is that of editor, which I believe is most useful in designing interiors and in curating an art collection.

It isn’t a skill that’s limited to the written page. It’s also a visual skill.

You may say to yourself, wait, what?

To which I respond, Yes. I’ve been doing it for 30 years for friends and family. Time to do it for real.  

Any questions, just email.


Cooking for a Quadrennium

October 29, 2020

As we approach the 4th anniversary of when I stopped writing and started cooking (also known as the election of Donald J. Trump), I would like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts about life in the kitchen.

To be clear, I did not stop writing entirely during these past four long years. I wrote birthday cards. I sent emails. I wrote extensive grocery lists, created inventories of spices and kitchen appliances (must-haves, wish-list items, never-used, extraneous space-occupiers, and if-my-ship-comes-in items), and I sent an awful lot of sympathy cards to friends and family members. But I did not do any writing of the sort that I considered my own, neither of the fiction or the non-fiction variety that has kept me sane over the past three decades and resulted in two published books and a handful of articles. I obsessively read the work of others though, marveling at their ability to keep churning it out, to sometimes turn trauma into content, to tap into their angst and rage. I was not one of those people. Instead, I cooked.

There are times in life when a behavior simply takes over, when you find yourself doing an activity which gets you through a difficult period, and you go with it, knowing better than to question said behavior, that somehow the body knows better than the mind how to pass a quadrennium.

That is what happened to me in November, 2016. I took to the kitchen.

First came the ziti. Why ziti?

The Sopranos had aired in 1997, and I’d watched the first and every episode thereafter. Carmella’s voice became second nature to me. “Ant-on-eee…” I can hear her even now, shrill and annoying, pinging in my ears. For some strange reason, I related deeply to Carmela Soprano. And when a friend or relative died, Carmella made baked ziti. I can only assume that in the Italian American culture of New Jersey in the late 1990’s, nothing said comfort food like baked ziti. I am not Italian, nor do I live in New Jersey. But a cheesy, baked pasta dish is pure comfort food and I craved comfort more than anything. My body knew what to do. On November 9, 2016, I made the ziti. By inauguration day, 2017, I had made six different varieties of ziti. I had also gained 5 pounds. I am not a ziti purist; the best (most comforting) has sausage, and the best sausage is pork. But after the 5 pound gain, I often opted for chicken sausage instead.

Next came the cutlet. I had never before made a cutlet, but soon there wasn’t a cutlet I hadn’t attempted, and multiple times. Pork, chicken, even veal (and I gave up veal decades ago!). I switched up the cuts of meat, the purveyors, the methods of pounding, instruments for pounding, flour vs. no flour, panko vs. any other breadcrumb, egg whites vs. whole eggs. I served them on a bed of arugula, I served them with mozzarella and parmesan and spaghetti. I never tired of the simple cutlet, its outcome depending entirely on my own restraint.

I boosted my skills with fancy new kitchen tools. The sous vide machine proved invaluable and changed tough meat preparation permanently, while the Instant Pot felt more like a 21st century version of a Stone Soup tureen, generating millions of unreadable, ad-laden blog posts and perhaps four worthy recipes. (Food blogs are a pet peeve of mine.) The Instant Pot does a decent chicken curry and an outstanding pulled pork, but takes up an enormous amount of space and stinks up the house. Overall, the irony of figuring out where to store both my pressure cooker and my slow cooker does not escape me. The immersion blender remains a personal favorite, but my first one died young and required immediate replacement. The good ones are pricey.

I learned to flip an egg last year. During Covid. I’m not a flipper by nature. The act involved a few mishaps and a lot of cleaning, and I would not say that I’m a pro, by any means. But I like that I proved to be more open-minded than I ever knew. So many years settling for sunny side up or scrambled, when I wanted over-easy. Was it my own fear? Or simple complacency?

If we’re in for another quadrennium of this administration, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I suspect cooking alone might not get me through. I remember that my therapist’s therapist couldn’t get out of bed for a month after the election in 2016, so I like to think my coping/cooking was relatively resourceful and effective. The 5 pounds eventually turned into 10, but it didn’t turn into 50. One thing I know now is how to imagine the worst.

The next project could be: cookbook for the apocalypse. But hopefully not.

Turning 60 in Good Company

May 6, 2018

It's been a hard year so far. I turned 60 in April, and have had a

bit of a miserable time with it.

No one, it turns out, is sympathetic. Well, no one except for other people who are also turning 60 and who are equally freaked out by it.

Major life milestones have the advantage of not sneaking up on us. We know they're coming. They give us time to prepare. And yet that very prep time also provides us with a certain relentlessness, or inevitability, that intensifies the meanness of the whole experience. You can't just go to sleep and wake up to find it's over. You can't sleep for six months. That had been my preferred method of dealing with birthdays in the past.Friends and family asked if I wanted a party.

I most certainly did not.

Instead, I decided to use my accumulated American miles on free tickets to travel hither and yon, and visit those friends and family members who live out of town, who I don't see often enough. I wanted to find out how they were dealing with life in the seventh decade.

I found a variety of experiences, a group of people mostly retired, often beset by a variety of medical issues (some minor, others not), showing their age to a greater or lesser extent. And Lordy, it was a wake-up call I wasn't particularly hoping to hear, but I heard it nonetheless.

I realized that I have to take better care of myself going forward, because this next ten years is critical. But I'm not entirely sure I know what that means. I'm only beginning the process of figuring it out, beyond the usual...getting enough rest, eating right, exercising, etc. It seems to me that to "take better care of myself" has become fraught today. Everyone offers advice. Infrequently do I want it.

I suspect this is too much to explore in a single blog post, because I have an awful lot to say about the subject. But I want to share something I saw this morning that inspired me.There is a retrospective now at the MOMA of an artist named Adrian Piper, whose work explores themes of race, gender, philosophy, and abstraction. She paints and draws and does performance pieces, as well as teaching in university settings. Embedded in this article from Alyson Walsh (It's Not My Age blog) is a performance piece that Piper did in the Alexanderplatz in Berlin at the age of 60(!).

This is the most inspiration I've found in ages.(I'd been looking for inspiration. And not finding much.Which is one of the issues with this whole stinkin aging thing.)

Suddenly, I don't feel quite so bad about being 60.