Tag Archives: retirement

Revising

I love the process of creating, of writing something for the first time, however crappy the result. Spending hours and hours creating new worlds and filling them with people I love. And those I don’t.

On the other hand, I detest revising and I doubt the sincerity of those who claim that it is their favorite part of writing. I’m envious of those in my writing group who excel at it, accepting the group’s “constructive criticism” with aplomb then returning a few weeks later with a new (and generally improved) version. (Not certain that they love doing it, however.)

So I was excited to read an article on revising in the Sunday Boston Globe Ideas section. Craig Fehrman focuses on Hannah Sullivan’s book on the history of revision. At the very end of the article I finally got to the part I was hoping for, that revising is highly overrated and even a waste of resources (in my own words—you’ll need to read the article for your own interpretation).

Writing a blog satisfies my need to write without spending much time revising. Sort of writing in a journal, flow of consciousness, where the goal is to get my thoughts down on paper before they disappear. And before I have a chance to evaluate their quality. Edit out the emotion. The real me.

I would be happy to put the effort into revising my life however. Edit out the crappy part known as adrenal cancer. Return to the life I used to occupy, one where I went to work every day, put money for retirement into my 401(k) every paycheck, squeezed in time to write, kept busy every second of the day, and rarely got sick.

I say that but now that I’ve left that world, would I seriously want to return to it?

Relinquishing Control

Relinquishing control is hard. With the 4th of July festivities and the welcome invasion of family (this year 31 of us, 15 kids—not all in my house thankfully!) I am more or less forbidden to take charge of the food preparation and entertaining. That honor after many years of being my domain has been passed to the next generation. It’s hard to sit back and watch my daughters and nieces prepare the salad and heat up the beans while I am forced to lounge on the couch with my sister-in-law. (Turns out they took pleasure in their view from the sink of the two mothers doing nothing but chatting with each other!)

My form of relaxation until now has been to be busy, busy, busy, making sure that people have full glasses of wine, that the meat comes off the grill at the exact moment that the sides are lined up on the counter ready to go, that everyone has a plate, napkin, and a place to sit. It doesn’t mean I’m not proud that they are more than capable of doing as good a job, if not better, than I would have done. To see them work together is gratifying. It’s just that I expected this transition to happen in the somewhat distant future.

Now I am expected to take a nap in the afternoon, to look out for myself. To control my well-being instead of my guests’. Not only am I having a hard time accepting this, I actually resent having to think of myself before I think of anyone else. But one benefit is that my sister-in-law and I, both aspiring authors, have more time to talk about our writing–or rather our lack of writing. She will be here for a while after everyone leaves and that will give us even more time to continue this conversation!

Since November I’ve had to turn over control of my life to my cancer. It’s decided how I feel. What I can eat. What I can do. And especially when I can do it. There’s been a lot that I can’t do but I’m gradually getting back into things, like Pilates and yoga. And walking with Judy on her lunch break. My lunch break? Whenever I want it to be.

Deadlines

It’s three in the morning and I’m awake and on the couch.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I’m my mother after all.”

Yet I’m too young to be my mother. She takes sleeping pills to sleep through the night. I’m not ready to add another pill to my daily regimen. Yet think of all the writing that I can get done if I get up at three.  Isn’t early morning supposed to be the most creative time for true authors?

I know why I am awake. Two reasons. My nighttime cold medicine has worn off—I got five hours out of it, which is just about right for me. The other is I am stressed over how to arrange the bedrooms for family that is coming for the holiday. Wouldn’t you think that because they are family and grew up in this house they would just know where the beds are and organize themselves accordingly? But no, I had to paint the bedrooms, buy new bedding, and even buy a new bed, for the few weeks–even days for one daughter and family–that they are going to be here. When you have an open concept house the bedrooms off the living area is very important. But only when we have guests. Otherwise I am not concerned with how they look, how clean they are. I just close the doors and only I know that they are receptacles for all of the detritus of daily living that lacks a home.

We have always used family gatherings as excuses to get things done on the house: baby showers, rehearsal dinners, weddings, anniversary parties, even Christmas dinners. If it wasn’t for these events, I don’t think we would have ever done any updating to the house. But the Fourth of July? Does that really qualify as an event worthy of a remodel, even a minor one?

People said that they were concerned that I would be bored when I retired yet I am finding myself saying what all the other early retirees before me have said:

I’m so busy I don’t know how I found time to work.

Yet busy doesn’t mean productive, nor does it mean living a meaningful life, something that should be of the upmost importance to me. I have to remind myself that it’s only been six weeks now since I retired and I am still getting used to not having to go to work, to now having nine hours of free time stretch in front of me each day that normally would be committed to work. At a paying job. If I could turn those nine hours into writing hours, or at least hours focused on writing, researching, reading about writing, just think how much progress I could make on my projects. I have a deadline, however arbitrary, and unknown, at this point.

Maybe if it were a concrete one I would be motivated. And then again, maybe not.

One In A Million

photo (1)

That’s me.

No, I didn’t win the lottery.

I have Stage 2 adrenal cortical carcinoma (ACC), an ultra rare, aggressive cancer with a grim prognosis that strikes .5 to two people out of a million annually. This is one time when you don’t want to feel special. I had surgery the day before Thanksgiving 2012 to remove my right adrenal gland, kidney, a piece of my liver, and resected my inferior vena cava (what in the world is that, I wondered. It’s the artery that returns the blood from my legs to my heart. Who knew?)

Not only did I miss Thanksgiving dinner, which I would normally have hosted at my house, but a Thanksgiving day trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas with my middle daughter and her family. We did make it there the end of March 2013 and it was a wonderful trip. Funny how when I was recuperated and able to eat normal food I craved turkey dinners, whether at a local restaurant or in frozen dinners due I am certain to being deprived of a real Thanksgiving dinner. I am not certain what I did eat for Thanksgiving dinner on the day following my surgery as the day of and most of the day after have disappeared from my memory. A good thing, I am told by my family who were unlucky enough to be there with me and forced to endure their Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital cafeteria. I no longer crave the turkey dinners as my cravings change constantly—what I absolutely had to eat a short while ago I no longer desire.

Except for carbs.

For the last few years my husband and I have tried to follow the South Beach diet principles and now all I want to eat are things off limits on South Beach: all carbs, including bagels, cinnamon raisin bread, pumpernickel, pasta, even the occasional toaster streudel.

Vegetables? No thank you.

It sounds as though all that ACC has done is impacted my eating habits. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am lucky in that my cancer is stage 2, even though the prognosis is that I have a 51% chance of living five years. I had several options for treatment, one of which was to do nothing, just wait for the results of my CT scans every three months. That didn’t really thrill me.

I am used to taking action, to being in control.

A remote second opinion from the University of Michigan recommended Mitotane, a DDT derivative, taken in pill form daily for three years. Although my oncologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center did not support my decision, I went with the U of M recommendation. Rumor has it that only 20-30% of ACC patients benefit from Mitotane—how am I to know if I am one of those? Clean CT scans only prove that the cancer has not returned, not that the Mitotane has kept it from returning. Mitotane has extreme side effects, which prevents many patients (are there really many people making this decision?) from taking the drug. Because it also kills your other adrenal gland, you need to take hydrocortisone, which I have difficulty tolerating even though it does fuel my appetite and apparently my energy level.

The biggest decision of my life was to retire at the age of 58. (Sorry, Steve, marrying you wasn’t really a decision, it was a given.)

On the day I returned to work from medical leave after my surgery I gave my notice. That wasn’t part of our plan, just like cancer wasn’t. Steve was supposed to retire this year at 63 and I was to continue working until I was old enough to draw Social Security. So much for plans. But who wants to keep working, no matter how rewarding, when death looms on the horizon? Sure, we’re all going to die at some point but by the time you reach my age you assume you’ve got another 30 years ahead of you, especially when your mother is still alive and kicking—and I do mean kicking—at the age of 85. And I thought I could produce a lot of novels in those 30 years.

Now I am hoping just to finish the writings that I’ve already started.

Yes, writing is my dream and what better time to try to realize your dreams than when death is no longer just a concept but a very real possibility?

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