A Question of Retirement

I suppose the reality of spending the last year in the face of a pandemic has made all of us, and especially those of us of a certain age, well aware of our mortality, and that may account for the continuing barrage of emails asking me IF I’m going to retire or WHEN I’m going to retire or if I’ve ALREADY retired? The answer to that last one is a definitive NO!

This morning we did our thirty-minute workout with our trainer, and I just now came in from my five-mile walk out in the driveway. I’ve broken that down into five-lap stints that add up to 1200 steps each. (Counting again. Maybe is should have been an accountant! No, just kidding.” And this afternoon Bill got us signed up for our Covid vaccinations, one in early March and the second toward the end of the month.

So for a seventy-five year-old broad, I’m feeling pretty chipper at the moment, in fact, downright hale and heart. (Knock wood!). I was just looking at the Silverseas catalogue for next year and wondering if and when our cruising life will resume again. Believe me, I’m ready.

But back to the question of folks wondering about my proposed retirement date. I’ve often said that at some point someone would drag my gnarled dead fingers off my computer keyboard and, at that moment, I would be over. By the way, don’t look for books “co-written” by me and someone else. I’ve always been notoriously bad at working on committees. That’s one of the reasons I flunked out of PTA at a very early age.

And don’t look for me to have a drawer full of unpublished manuscripts waiting to hit the market the moment my headstone comes up. (By the way, don’t go looking for a headstone. I’ve already requested that my ashes be scattered somewhere in the Pacific Ocean because, at that point, it won’t matter a whit that I never learned how to swim!)

All of my books but one have been written under contract, meaning they were written with a pub date and often a cover in place long before I ever completed the actual writing. And, except for this year when Covid delayed not one but two pub dates, I’ve never before had two completed manuscripts sitting in New York waiting to hit the shelves.

As for the exception to that rule? It’s a manuscript called By Reason of Insanity, currently hiding out among my papers in the archives at the University of Arizona Special Collections. It was the first thriller I wrote back in the very early eighties. Why was it never published? Because it wasn’t and still isn’t good enough to be published. For one thing, it was 1400 pages long. For another, since I wasn’t allowed in the Creative Writing program at the U of A in 1964, writing that behemoth of a book was my on-the-job training for becoming a writer. In the process of stringing together that many words—more than in three complete mysteries—I taught myself how to do pacing, plotting, expository writing, and dialogue. These were all essential ingredients to my becoming a writer, but the only way to learn how to do them was … well … to do them! That’s the only way one becomes a writer—by writing. There are NO easy buttons.

But back to the question of my eventual if currently-unscheduled retirement. This week a friend of ours sent along an article about swan songs—about artists still being creative in their later years. The sender was Sedona landscape artist, M.L. Coleman. A number of his glorious oil paintings adorn the rooms in our home, and his vivid oil paintings serve as daily reminders of places we’ve visited and loved over the years. Readers may remember that Michael and his wife Sheri made cameo appearances in Judgement Call.

But back to the article itself. Michael is a contemporary of Bill’s and mine, someone who hikes the mountainous wilderness behind their home on a daily basis. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’s sometimes asked the same question I am—as in when are you going to be over? In that regard, I found the article interesting and immensely encouraging. Here’s the link in case any of you are interested in reading it for yourselves: https://painterskeys.com/swan-song-phenomenon/

My favorite take away from the piece was Lauren Bacall’s statement at the end: “Always I’m feeling, ‘You’re never going to work again. That’s going to happen one day, but I hope I’m not alive.’”

That would be my hope, too.