Hi. Remember me?I’m that guy who used to write columns for The Statesman. I wrote hundreds of them, on subjects from vacation and home-remodeling disasters to colorful Idaho characters to the fiascos of Idaho politicians.
It’s been a year since I retired and found that life without deadlines was sweet. Friends said I’d acquired the “post Statesman glow,” a term inspired by former co-workers who left the pressures of daily journalism and had years fall away as if by magic. My step had a new spring. People said I looked younger.
So why am I back? Good question. But first let me answer the question people have been asking since I logged off for the last time, hung up my reporters’ notebooks and entered a brave new world without deadlines.
The question: “How’s retirement?” And its corollary, “What are you doing with yourself now that you’re a loafer?”
The answer to the first question is just fine, thanks. Retirement is the ultimate liberation. Every day is Saturday. In fact, you resent Saturdays because working people are crowding the places you’ve gotten used to having to yourself.
Sleeping in is nice. Dreaming about people working while you’re sleeping in is nice. Loafing is nice. I’m highly in favor of loafing — up to a point.
There are days that are just plain made for loafing, and we owe it to ourselves to enjoy every good-for-nothing second of them. The truth, however, is that there haven’t been many of those days. The calendar for my first month of “liberation” had precisely two days without commitments: retirement parties, anniversaries, speeches, appointments, meetings, visiting relatives … It was almost enough to make me long for the peace and quiet of work.
Work, for that matter, wasn’t entirely over. The Statesman was publishing “Destination Idaho,” the latest collection of my columns, and for a book of previously published material it required a surprising amount of work. Going through 40 years of material to find the best not used in previous books was the equivalent of mining “War and Peace” for titillating nuggets. That, along with headline writing, proofreading and other chores, consumed a big part of last summer and fall.
Two other projects are in the works. The USS Boise people have asked me to take a ride on their submarine and write the copy for a video about it. And I’m working with some old friends on a video about this magical place we call Idaho. A labor of love. Tentatively titled “Idaho: the Movie,” it should be out by Christmas.
Two things you absolutely have to do when you retire. It’s standard procedure, it’s expected, practically mandatory. You have to volunteer, and you have to travel.
I volunteer a couple of times a month at a shelter. There’s nothing remotely glamorous about it. You sweep and mop. You make gallons of coffee and wash a staggering amount of dishes. You hand out food, bandages, aspirin, cold medications, plastic bags, toiletries … It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Working there has put faces on the homeless, the majority of whom are courteous and grateful for even the smallest kindness. Some are hard-working people victimized by the economy, as any of us could have been.
Readers of my early columns on travel disasters will be happy to know that my bride and I are doing our best to meet the travel obligations of retirement. We took an 1,800-mile drive through the Southwest, spent most of February in a village in Mexico and took a long-delayed train trip through America’s heartland. More on those adventures in future columns.
That brings us back to the first question: Why am I back?
The answer probably isn’t what you think. It wasn’t that I was desperate for the money or missed the actual writing process. After making my living as a writer for 40 years, it was good to give those mental muscles a rest. And not having deadlines or the endless need for new subjects — feeding-the-beast, in newsroom-speak — felt better than good.
Loafing, however, is best taken in moderation. Too much of it can be lethal. And somewhat to my surprise, I missed some things once taken for granted. One was having a voice — the ability to comment on events when they’re actually happening. The last Idaho legislative session, for example. A humor columnist’s dream.
I missed the feeling of accomplishment that comes from writing a good column. Not that all of mine were good; God knows I had my share of lemons. As the late, great San Francisco columnist Charles McCabe put it, writing a newspaper column is “like hitting for a baseball team. If you get the good wood on the ball one time in three, you’re doing well.” And when you do get the good wood on the ball, nothing feels as good in quite the same way.
Something I missed a lot was the immediate connection with readers. Though many told me they enjoyed the Best of Tim re-reruns, they were quick to add that they missed getting new columns.
So, just when you thought you were rid of me, I’m partially back. Partially in that I’m still retired, not a Statesman employee and will write columns at a stately retirement pace of one every other week.
At that rate, I’m going be playing catch-up for a while. There are things I can’t not write about that have happened in the last year. People I loved have died, I had my first experience with surgery and you’ll be pleased to know that retirement has done nothing to lessen my propensity for travel mishaps.
So, starting today, I’m back in the Life section every other Sunday. If you miss a column there, you can find it on my blog, www.woodwardblog.com. Columns will be posted there every other Monday. Extra blog posts will be added when truly important or unexpected events warrant immediate attention. The Cubs going to the World Series, for example, or Chuck Winder joining Planned Parenthood.
Wherever you read me, thanks. It’s great to be back.
Tim Woodward’s column appears in The Statesman’s Life section every other Sunday and on his blog, www.woodwardblog.com, the following Mondays. Comment on his blog, or reach him at email@example.com. © 2012 Idaho Statesman
Too much loafing isn’t as great as it sounds