25 April 2010

Another First Day

This is my last week at Friendship Shelter. Possibly my last week as an employee anywhere, which technically I haven’t been for a while [read: contractor] but operated as such – to the office almost every day with a full load of responsibilities and expectations, and a boss. And although I made this decision months ago, it comes now as a bit of a surprise. Here I go again: that first day of the rest of my life.

At nearly 62, one might say I’ve had over 22 thousand first days. Although, in truth, some of those days were decidedly last days and many were in-the-thick-of-it days. Still, thousands and thousands of opportunities to begin again. I’ve always gone in and out of the work-for-someone-else world. Plenty of full-time jobs, and an equal number of part-time jobs [which I have found to be simply full-time jobs squeezed into fewer hours, but one makes a choice.]

There are great pleasures to be found in the workplace – the pleasure of the collegial environment, the sense of shared purpose, support staff, resources. Then there are the obligations – showing up at the same time no matter what your bio-rhythms, the repetition, endless meetings. the frustration of inefficiencies, the occasional watching of the clock… anyone who has worked all their lives, as I have, knows this well. I’ve taken my share of risks over the years. I’ve been able to finagle flexible schedules or cultivated clients in order to live the freelance life, which is what I will do going forward, although not with the same energy or aggression as in the past – I no longer need or wish to work that hard nor do I, thankfully, need to make so much money. The girls are grown and flown. Good investments permit me a pension of sorts [contingent of course on the markets] and social security is within my grasp [thank you Rusty.]

Thankfully as well, I have a lifetime of skill and experience, and four years into my CA life, a network. Thus, a new client in Laguna Beach. The CT client more committed to marketing $ this year. A little bit of writing at very little pay, but this will satisfy the journalism itch. I begin the new life with roughly 15 – 20 hours a week of work to do and money coming in. Nearly perfect, for now.

Of course I will miss my colleagues. I will miss the comforts of regularity. I will find myself at some point before long hustling again for the next project. I will watch my checkbook a little too closely and worry about whether I can support my travel and entertainment habits. I will frustrate my financial advisor with pestering about how I might live this semi-retired life comfortably and die broke – the kids don’t need my money and I don’t wish to have to make more than I absolutely need to. Been there, done that. Still, a delicate balancing act.

And then there’s the question of how I will structure my days. There will be many where I will awaken, shower, dress and go to work, albeit at the kitchen table. However, I might choose to walk before I work. Or read. Now and then I will watch an old movie before I dress, the guiltiest of pleasures. The last time I was freelance, I read five pages of Proust every morning, and this is more than enough to stimulate creative juices. Enough to write a book, which I will. One more. Maybe two. Perhaps teach another class? Ah, the pleasures of starting over. An endless stream of possibilities, if one only looks forward. Yes, each day is a chance to begin again. And every time I do, I see the opportunities ahead. Mostly. A gamble worth taking.

11 April 2010

A Life History

Google Maps I am writing a highly abbreviated life history. Not a memoir, nor an autobio, and definitely not a psycho-analytic revelation. Rather the hightlights of my life. I am writing this for my daughters. Sometimes they ask. Someday they will want to know more. As my parents are long gone, no siblings, no husband, and only a couple of friends who have travelled a long but still partial way on this journey, I thought it would be a gift to my girls to know more about me than they know now.

My mother, who had a heightened sense of her mortality for 14 long years, ntil the cancer claimed her, left me just a few pages of her thoughts. I wish she had written much more. I treasure those few fading pages, not only for the message, but for the oppotunity to remember her, in her words and her handwriting, as I have so little memory now. And when I visit my 94 year old Aunt, I pound her with questions, which she answers with remarkable long-term memory, happy to be asked, as we all wish to be known, and over time, whatever witnesses we have, lose memory or voice.

15 pages later I am just graduating college. I will of course go back and edit. But the joy of this is in the recollection. I am remembering the stories of my own life that have been long forgotten. Dancing in a sudden summer storm at Jones Beach with my cousins while my delighted grandfather watched from the cover of a beach umbrella. The first and only dog. The first kiss. The pleasures of a lead role in camp musical. And the jobs, the many jobs that informed a working life.

The first real job [babysitting didn't count] at just 14, administrative work for a small travel agency owned by Polish immigrant neighbors with wanderlust. Two afternoons after school and all day Saturday, I sat at a small desk in the back, the only light the glare of an old green glass desk lamp, and carefully clipped together matching travel agendas and billings and typed invoices in triplicate [remember those days?] that were then mailed or filed carefully as stipulated by my lovely employers. Ah, the sublime sense of order, I learned that lesson well.

Perhaps my favorite, albeit intensely unsatisfying job, as stock transfer typist in Wall Street - the 5PM to midnight shift. A second job in my early twenties. If you got there by 4:45PM you got free dinner in the cafeteria, but then only two 15 minute breaks during the night, and no conversation, just the drone of electric typwriters and the collective tapping as we typed the names of people on to stock certificates to be held in the vault for the next transfer. Obviously pre-cyberspace. The best part: the long bus ride uptown, through the quiet streets of the Bowery and lower east side up to my apartment on 1st Avenue and 21st Street. I liked the quiet of that part of the city late at night, and the utter silence of my tiny studio at that hour where I had a snack, played the old piano that nearly filled the space and read for a while until the morning city sounds invaded slumber. Only 6 or 8 months of that work, until enough saved to pay for something, not sure what that was, but a means to an end. Another lesson learned - nothing lasts forever, nor does it need to, but satisfying in the accomplishment, however menial.

Of course even my own memory is in question, but, as it is my story, my memory of it will have to suffice. There is great pleasure in looking back, in this way - neither regret, remorse, retribution or healing, but for the remembering of one's own life, the only life we've got. And the pleasure of writing only for yourself and the two people that matter most, the very best part of a life history.