Retirement, Death, and Art

I’m retiring. In one manner of speaking. What does that mean to me, and in today’s world? The main reason I can say I’m retiring is that I am leaving my academic job and drawing the pension that comes with it. And—thanks to the New Deal—I can go on Social Security. I’m sixty-two, old enough to leave the world of work, and what…
Many folks would now say “follow my dreams.” But that doesn’t apply to me. At the age of 21, I walked out of the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston missing a lung and a chunk of my thorax. I almost died, an experience that changed my perspective then and there. I followed my dreams. I dropped out of graduate school, went to San Francisco, studied Zen and massage, and became a writer. I worked as little as possible until I was thirty, squeezing out an inheritance from my grandfather like toothpaste from a parsimonious tube, and lived on ramen noodles.
In Santa Fe, I started to work. I taught in the community, I freelanced for every publication I could network both local and national, and I did some odd slightly off mission things—writing for a seed catalogue, teaching technical writing on line. I started teaching community college as an adjunct, went to half time, full time, three quarters time. I wrote lots of books.
I practiced seeing my work life as integrated with my creative writing—which was mostly true. I followed my dream of engaging creatively with as many people as possible.
Now—something has changed. But it is difficult to pinpoint what.

Here is what I DON’T NEED:

1. More time to write. No thank you! I’m already writing as much as I can. Sure, my novel revision needs focus, but not years of it as a sole priority. I’m not that kind of writer and I have a short attention span.

2. More time to relax. My average day already contains a nap, a movie, a book, embroidery, and cooking an eggplant. Or gardening, the opera, family, and hanging around.

And here is what I DON’T WANT TO DO:

1. Go back to the freelance life, which with luck and management I won’t have to.

2.Home repair. Yup, we still need new cabinets, flagstone, and window insulation. Is it going to be a high priority? I doubt it!

So…what’s up?

Here is what I’m planning. (Yes yes, I know they say in Yiddish—Man proposes, God laughs. But I love to plan. And it clarifies things for me).

1. Continue what is already working. I’m going to teach creative writing on line for SFCC—still. I’m going to stick to the writing regime that has been so rewarding for 40 years—still. I’m still an editor at Tres Chicas books. I’ll still be on the gig doing workshops and readings. All together, this is my literary life, and I love it.

2. Expand the hot spot. Probably the most exciting thing I’ve done in the past few years is collaborate with a young multi-talented artist—who happens to be my daughter Isabel Winson-Sagan. We’ve traveled, done residencies, created books, written grants, and she’s taught me suminagashi, photography, and mono printing. We’re committing to 2017 as our year of collaboration (there may be more) and are tentatively thinking of test driving or prototyping or at least trying all of the many ideas we’ve generated so far.

3. Working with hospice. Ever since I walked out of the B.I. I’ve been pretty obsessed with death. I read an article recently that said that teenagers and very young adults who have clinical near death experiences have the hardest time integrating what happened. No wonder, I was barely formed as a person. The article also noted a huge contradiction that has run much of my own life:

A. A romantic attraction to death as a vast eternity that pulls on the psyche
B. A lot of joie de vivre and a tendency to live for the moment and gather ye rosebuds.

For better or worse, that’s me. Since thinking about death has long been my hobby or obsession—and since I’ve worked off and on since 1984 with the dying—I’m going to plunge in here.Become an official volunteer with local hospice. Do at least one module of a chaplaincy program to investigate. I want to study religion. I want to…we’ll see.

Sure I’ve got bucket list stuff—to see live opera at the NY Met, to get a residency in Japan, to create a public poetry garden. I’m guessing I’ll proceed the way I usually do—lie around mostly in the bathtub and let the visions sort themselves out.

Then plunge in.

9 thoughts on “Retirement, Death, and Art

  1. Glorious Miriam…welcome to your wonderful life all over again With ears and eyes perked and swivelling I an’t wait to read, hear, see, walk it all with you. love from an admiring fan, Katherine Shelton!

  2. Sounds fantastic, Miriam! I don’t know if you remember me, but I studied writing with you for a couple of years on and off at SFCC in the 90’s…so long ago! I’ve put a lot of what you taught into practice and even taught an ‘Art and Mindfulness Movement’ class for a while. Thanks for everything! Be well!

  3. As someone who has always valued you as a college teacher, I am sorry to see you go. As someone that values YOU, Bon Voyage, dear lady!

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