Lynn says I shouldn't joke that I'm "failing at retirement." She fears it calls up images of me sitting vacantly in a rocking chair, despondently wondering what I'm going to do now. "No, no," I tell her. "I always explain it's that I'm ridiculously busy." I'm having a good time.
Josie stayed overnight on Tuesday. Lynn tells me she asked the next day (while I was on a Zoom call), "Why does Nonai have all of these conference calls?" "Well," she said. "He's got a lot of projects."
As my plans started to jell early last summer, I'd tell people I was retiring from UAB, I wasn't retiring from my life. My retirement goals were to stay involved with some of my professional projects, gradually move my exercising from 20 minutes a day to an hour, do more writing, play more guitar, do more cooking, see what happens next. I was anticipating leisure and long quiet days.
I needed to retire because my body couldn't keep up with the demands of my full-time job, even though I was working from home a couple of days each week. It took me a long time to accept that. It was reassuring, then, when at the end of December I was approved for Social Security Disability just seven weeks after applying. Some 65% of applicants are denied after the initial application and then have to wait many months (20 on average) for their appeal to wend its way through the process. That the evaluators looked at my file and took next to no time to agree, "Yes, this guy is seriously messed up," eased some of that lingering sense that maybe I should've just tried pushing harder. Huh, I thought. I guess I really am disabled.
I'm up to about 35 minutes a day of exercise now, trying to cautiously increase it. Too little and the spasticity gets worse. Too much and it's harder to ignore the aches. I keep trying to nudge that balance point further. My goal is still the hour a day. At my recent 6-month checkup my doctors said they don't need to see me again for a year (unless there are symptom changes that alarm me). I'll keep taking the baclofen to help moderate the spasticity and the various tremors & spasms. The pain I can tolerate. Beyond that it's all a matter of exercise, physical therapy, and neuroplasticity. Dr. B says, "You're motivated." Indeed I am.
Lynn and I split the cooking. I do the evening dishes, she washes the glassware. The most challenging thing about kitchen work is getting through packaging. Who knew opening all these bags and jars and boxes with all their clever seals and zips and tags and spouts depended so much on the fingers' fine motor control? Only rarely do I need to ask Lynn for help, but I know I always have to allow extra time for container wrangling.
Throughout the fall I wasn't picking up the guitar nearly as often as I thought I ought to. I remembered what it was like when I had my hands. To stand behind the microphone and sing while my fingers slid along the strings. The tactile beauty and pleasure of it. Now I struggled just to hold onto the pick. I could form many of the chords, but the stiffness kept me from moving seamlessly among them. Not enough strength for the barre chords. Not enough diaphragm strength to sing my way through a song even if I could fumble my way through the music. I knew that if I was ever going to get it back I'd have to put in the work, but it was painful and frustrating and most days I settled for running out of time doing other things, telling myself I'd do better tomorrow.
Josie was beside herself with anticipation the week before Christmas. One day when I picked her up from school I asked her what she was most looking forward to. She surprised me by saying she was excited about the present she had for me. And on that morning she gave me a little paper gift bag and inside was a plastic envelope with 20 guitar picks with her picture on them. On the back of each one it says, "Love you always! Love, Josie." Since that day, unless we've been out of town, I think I've only missed three or four days. I'm improving. I'm singing again.
And then there's the projects.
I told Katina I needed deadlines so now I'm doing a regular column for Against the Grain. She said, "Write about whatever you want." My first will be in the April issue and I just turned one in for June.
There's the committee, led by Kevin Read, that's working to develop an open data policy for the JMLA. We've just published an editorial on it and should have it mostly wrapped up before the MLA annual meeting in late May.
I turned down a consulting gig with a small independent publisher. They're doing work that I think is quite good and what they wanted from me was something I think I could've done well. I considered it, but decided I couldn't fairly commit the amount of time it would take and I didn't want to feel as obligated as I would have with somebody paying me.
Glenn asked if I'd be willing to chair the OSI Summit group, and Clare asked if I would at least run the first couple of meetings of the Metadata 2020 Definitions project. I eventually agreed to both, but only if it was clear I was doing them on an "interim" basis. I know, I know -- it's a fiction, but I like it. It makes me think I can walk away whenever it stops being fun.
So the JMLA, OSI, and Metadata 2020 projects account for the many conference calls -- typically using Zoom or WebEx combined with Google docs. Some weeks now I have more meetings than I typically had in any given week the last couple of years I was working for UAB. But now I take them from my study. Handy that the technology seems to be maturing just as I've needed it.
I wouldn't have considered retiring this soon if it hadn't been for the short circuit in my spinal cord. (Which is not to say that on the difficult days I didn't sometimes fantasize about it). I wasn't ready to "slow down." I've always felt there's still so much more for me to do. But now that it's here, now that it's been thrust upon me, it feels like a gift, despite the circumstances. My unimaginable life, mysterious and fascinating as ever.