Retirement was a mixed blessing, as all major life transitions tend to be. She’d been studying fungi and teaching biology for so many years, her whole life had been organized around the familiar routine of lesson plans, faculty meetings, departmental crises, grant-writing, research, grading, and of course the mentoring of students that provided her fuel for everything else. She’d been smart to stay physically active since grade school, when track and field meets surprised her with the pull to run and jump faster and farther than anyone else. The travel bug had kept her explorations of the world expansive, challenged to fit in all the new discoveries she dreamed of into a few short vacation weeks each summer.

But now, everything was up for an overhaul. Time to free her already relatively free spirit into a future unbounded by anyone else’s schedule, or tenure requirements, or grant deadlines.

A chocolate éclair seemed like a really good idea.

Instead, she went out and bought new art supplies. A blank sketchpad, acrylics, brushes, rollerball pens with glittery ink. Stars appeared on the paper, vivid blue stars outlined in silver; spiky orange stars with tulip buds in their centers; gently sloping emerald green stars that dripped lavender tears. She got up from her new art table, disbelieving the clock that told her three hours had passed.

Three hours! But… holy heavens, I have a lifetime ahead of me, what …? How … ? I can’t … ?

A nap seemed like a really good idea.

Instead, she sat back down to her art table. Vines appeared on the paper. Deep purple vines with bones woven through them, whale vertebrae and the toe bones of mole rats, an armadillo shell, some bear claws. The vines grew on the page and in her dreaming. The bones of her ancestors came alive as her head bent down to the desktop and her eyes closed. Her tears mingled with the acrylic colors and splayed across the page, bones dancing and vines twisting in pirouettes of memory, possibility, passion, terror, hope and bottomless grief.

Screaming seemed like a really good idea.

When she awoke the vines on the page had eaten up the bones and soaked up the colors. She was clothed in a gown made from the forest and graced with the songs of unseen beings. She took hold of the clasp made of pewter that held her shawl in place, gently pressing the hook away so the shawl fell to the ground and her woodland garb flowed free.

Retirement seemed like a really good idea.

Cover photo by Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash

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  1. Beautiful, lyrical images.
    Part of me deeply longs for the open space of actual retirement, and the other part likes that my life choices make retirement impossible. It’s an interesting balancing act.

    1. Tom and I often ask each other, How did we ever manage 8- or 9-hour workdays? There’s so much else to do! Retirement is a real eye-opener.

  2. Hi Janina,
    Looks and sounds like you have been busy. I have enjoyed reading your stories. I look back and wonder how I worked for so long. First you need to enjoy what you are doing and the time flies. Now , I appreciate the time for myself but I know the journey to get here was also well spent. I hope to talk with you soon and laugh about the parts of the journey we shared.

    1. Thanks Sandy! So glad you’re enjoying the stories! Tom and I often wonder how on earth we managed full-time jobs when there’s so much else to do in life! Very happy to be on the other side of that part of adulting (heh).

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