By Elizabeth Lee
So what’s this thing called retirement all about? I am 68 and I retired almost a year ago from my position as a grantwriter for the largest social service agency in Santa Barbara County. Before that, I was a community mediator and director of an alternative dispute resolution program in a rural northern California county, and before that the director of a Head Start delegate agency in San Diego. I had my first summer job when I was 16. Lots of shorter jobs and volunteering in between 16 and 68 – whew! I was soooo ready to go! If I had had to write another grant proposal, I would have dissolved into a (rather resentful) puddle of green slime.
The day came! I was feted and congratulated! I basked in mornings without having to pry myself out of bed and rush to work. I still appreciate not having to rush everywhere (forget those screaming drives to the YMCA at noontime, and screaming drives back to the office!).
Then I came face to face with Medicare. It was going to cost me $435 per month for one of the medications I was taking! So I foolishly decided to take myself off it without letting my doctor know. Whammo – I dropped almost overnight into the abyss of depression. With treatment, therapy and a new source of the medicine at an affordable price, I am back on my feet again.
But still, how do I define myself now that my working identity is gone? I’m not quite ready for giant steps, but I have been taking art classes. First I took abstract painting. It was fun and freeing. Okay, I did produce some works that I was happy to paint over – like one that looked for all the world like a depiction of Pepto Bismol in the digestive system. And I had to teach my dear husband not to look quizzical or scratch his head when I brought my pictures home from “school.” I told him, “Just say wow.” He obeyed. And I began doing things I actually liked!
Now I am taking collage/mixed media. It requires much more thinking, and I spend quite a bit of time sleuthing for materials. I creep around the house opening drawers and explore the far reaches of our overstuffed garage. The one thing I have refused to do is go out and buy something to use – I rely on found materials, including those from nature. So our most recent assignment was to create an assemblage centering on the theme of birds. Pretty, pretty birdies. I found myself rebelling like an adolescent. And one day I walked into the bathroom, where I spied upon the windowsill my little rubber duckies (in a row, of course). Feeling mischievous, I decided to hang the duckies from the top of the cigar box with which we had been provided, each from a tiny noose. Voila! The title of the art piece is “Dead Ducks.” I hope its viewers are rewarded with a chuckle.
The art classes are definitely helping me to find my new identity, but there is a lot more exploration to be done. So far, retirement has been a hell of a zig zag path. It’s a big transition, after all, and one full of opportunity – but I am still learning how and what to make of it.
Elizabeth Lee is embarking upon retirement after a lifetime of working in the nonprofit sector with children, adults in conflict, family violence issues, and raising money for programs for youth and the elderly. After almost 40 years in California, she still identifies with her roots on the East Coast, in New Jersey, upstate New York and New England. She is married to frequent VOA contributor Al Rodriguez.
Editor’s note: It takes a special woman to put up with the shenanigans of my best friend, Al Rodriguez. With her sass and multitude of charms, Elizabeth is that very special woman. So happy to visit them in Santa Barbara from time to time and to welcome her as a first-time VOA contributor.
Tomorrow: Gosia Wozniacka, The memory keeper