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Beatle Birthday

This weekend is my Beatle Birthday.

I had my “LP” Birthday in 1992, my “Single” Birthday in 2003—and if you’re old enough to get those references, I see you—but they went by relatively (or completely) unnoticed, unmarked, unremembered. (My “78” Birthday, in 2036, might be the same, and I hope I’m lucky enough to reach it.)

Since 1967, though, I’ve thought fondly of this coming milestone, despite the fact that I was convinced I’d never reach such an “advanced” age. The song pretty much nailed what I looked forward to in my elder years (sans grandkids, of course; never wanted kids, much less grandkids), with its images of puttering in the gardens, fixing things about the house, taking a month at the seaside in summertime.

I mentioned last time that my retirement is finally visible on the horizon, and this birthday, routinely imagined for the past 55 years, is a time to stop, look around, and evaluate.

Some of my friends have already retired. Some have put their all into new ventures. Some hopped on a plane on Day One and began (or continued) to travel the world. Some, sadly, took ill, beginning entirely unplanned journeys. I admit, I compared the image in my head with how they began their Third Act, and felt the old report card put-down of “Not performing up to his potential.”

It’s not as though I plan never to travel. It’s not as though I plan not to try new things, learn new things. It’s not as though I plan to spend my entire retirement digging the weeds and fixing fuses. It’s just that, in my heart, after decades of pushing, learning, wrangling, fretting, struggling, planning, pacing, saving, working, I merely want to slow down and enjoy the ticking of the clock, the crackle of the fire, perhaps the crash of waves on the shore, and the settling of ice in a dram of whisky.

And, of course, I hope that she will still need me, that she will still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.

k

500 Days

In 500 days, I will retire. In more ways than one.

I will retire, as in leave the job I have held for lo these decades past.
I will also, for a time, retire, as in go to bed and sleep (I hope) for more than 5 hours at a shot.
I may also retire, in that I may allow my naturally reticent nature may be more the norm.

Either way, in 500 days I will have, for the first time ever, a long stretch of time where I do not have a day job.

I began working in my teens. During my college years I had to hold down a job. Even when I was studying in Jerusalem, I cleaned flats and played in the symphony for extra cash. After I dropped out and returned home, at age 21 or so, I began to work full-time. Vacations, if I had them, for the first decade or so were at most one week long. In the late 90s, I had enough seniority to afford my first two-week vacation and, in the early “oughts,” I had my first  three-week vacation (I’ve only had one other, in the mid-2010s). I’ve had a full-time job for over forty years, and have been at my current company for over three decades.

I’ve been lucky. I lucked into a good profession for which I had no schooling at a time when learning “on the job” was still a thing and aptitude combined with hard work carried enough weight to balance out the lack of a degree. I got lucky with a spouse who is good with money, contented more by daily kindnesses than by flashy acquisitions, and who truly is a life partner in every sense. As a result of these lucky breaks (and my perseverance), I can retire in my mid-60s, rather than having to work until I’m in my mid-70s.

Advice on making the transition from work-a-day-monkey-boy to curmudgeonly-semi-hermit is plentiful (although perhaps not that specifically tailored to my expectations). I have friends and relatives who’ve made the transition, have seen a shift in my news- and article-feeds toward the topic, and am in contact with professional advisors on how to handle the various mechanical and financial aspects of it.

More to the point, though, I’ve begun to mentally prepare. Work takes up a large chunk of my waking life (and a not insubstantial chunk of my sleep). What time that’s left over is usually spent with chores, errands, time with my spouse, with slivers left over to spend with friends, books, and this blog (really my only writing outlet, these days). When I get back that chunk of work-time, I know I will have to apply a level of discipline to my schedule that is currently handled by my desire to receive a paycheck. Not everything will change, but a lot will, and knowing that ahead of time seems crucial to a smooth phase-shift.

But there are some questions that cannot be answered before I reach the promised land. Currently, I am a morning person, but this is primarily because at 4AM, my brain often clicks into gear in order to prepare for the work-day. Absent that impetus, will I still be a morning person? Or will I join my wife in her night-owlishness? And what of reading time? I’m not a fast reader, but part of that is because my mind is distracted and focus is often difficult to achieve. Will that change when I don’t have on-call duties or inter-office politics niggling at my attention span?

Naturally, one thing I plan on doing more of is writing, but what shall I write? A while ago I turned my hand to a mainstream/literary novel, but it’s been a struggle; is that what I really want to write? I have other ideas for series and sequels in genre fiction, and I think they might be fun to write. I have also been enjoying experiments in poetry (though the drive to create them comes and goes like a tide). So, will I finish the work-in-progress, or just move on to other projects?

I feel that it must be better to recognize these “known unknowns” than to get blindsided by them. I’m sure there are plenty of “unknown unknowns” out there, lying in wait like tigers in the bush. Best to have my head in the game.

I’ll be spending these next 500 days in preparation: downsizing expenses; selling off the unused, unneeded, unnecessary aspects of our life; learning about what needs to be done, and by when. I’ll be listening to my friends who’ve “gone before,” and reading those dry-as-dust articles about asset allocation and required minimum distribution strategies. All exciting stuff, to be sure (not).

Onward.

k

Out of Many

we are
eight billion quilts
fashioned of threadbare cloth
stitched by blind hands
in a darkened room
uniquely alike
consistently different

or

are we
eight billion pieces
of patchwork pain
and remnant joy
a masterwork revealed
only when we see
not the threads of our lives
but the pattern of our existence

 

In late 2019, I felt my mental acuity begin to falter. I would lose track of days, couldn’t always remember whether an event was yesterday or a few days before, failed to recall conversations, and so forth. I didn’t think it was dementia (though that is one of my big fears), but rather, I felt it was a function of a stressful decade that had been filled with deaths, turmoil, and a job with a team I loathed. In short, I had a lot on my mind and I was having trouble keeping things organized.

To help with this—or at least help with keeping the days straight in my memory—I purchased a Five-Year Journal. You might have seen them; each page is dedicated to a single calendar date, but divided into five sections, one for each of five years. So, Page One is January 1st, and holds an entry for 2020, 2021, 2022, etc.

Throughout my life, I have never been a reliable journalist. Generally, I’d start a journal during difficult times—breakups, relocations, end of semester panics—using an empty composition book or something similarly cheap and utilitarian. I’d fill page after page until the crisis began to abate, and then the rest of the book would remain blank. But with this Five-Year Journal, I figured I could keep it going because (primarily) the entry slots were small, just six lines that I could fill in a couple of minutes at the end of each day. In addition, it had the added attraction of allowing me to see what happened on a single date, year after year.

I’m three years into it, now, and it has helped my memory and recall. Days have a definite division, now, as the act of summarizing them each evening sort of “cements” them in my mind. And it is a very well-crafted book: sturdy, medium-weight paper, nothing fancy or unnecessary.

However . . . an issue has arisen.

The entry slots have become too damned small.

When I started, six lines was often more than enough room to hold the mundanity of my life. When I started to write more, though—here, and elsewhere—even when using a needle-thin ballpoint and my tiny, tiny scrawl, my entries regularly began to curl up into the margins in order to finish a thought.

To fix this, armed with my nearly three years’ habit of regular journal-keeping, I went in search of a larger format. One day. One page. I wouldn’t have to fill each page (some days, six lines is still more than enough), but if I wanted to, it’d be there, ready to capture every last, tedious detail of my suburban life.

There were many to choose from. I discarded “planners” right away; I do not (thankfully) have a life that requires planning. I also decided against the “page-a-day” journals that have the hours printed down the margin because, to be honest, if I have two things to do in a single day, that’s a full day, and an hour-by-hour breakdown is serious overkill.

No, what I wanted was just one page for each day, lined, with no extraneous frippery like icons for the weather, mood indicators, or “visioning” pages. Optimally, it also needed to have paper thick enough to handle my fountain pen, had to lie flat when making a mid-year entry, and it needed to be either hardbound or sturdily paperbound. Marker ribbons would be nice, too.

It took a while (the struggle is real), but eventually I found one that ticked almost every box, including the “not stupidly expensive” box.

I present to you, the Wykeham’s Executive 2023 Daily Journal.

Don’t be off-put by the “Executive” appellation, as it is surprisingly void of any “strategic” thought pages, address books, tabs, and such. In fact, the only thing it has that even smells of the Executive are pages for tracking expenses (one per month, all up at the front and easy to ignore).

In the front sections, it has an “at-a-glance” calendar, the aforementioned expense pages, a “by month” calendar (two facing pages for each month, large enough to list birthdays and vacation schedules, but not enough to track the kids’ soccer games and doctor appointments), and then a full set of clean, lined, 5.5 x 8 inch (14 x 20 cm) pages, one for each calendar day. It’s bound in hard(ish) boards covered with faux leather, has a marker ribbon, an elastic band to keep it closed, and opens flat on every day of the year.

And, at less than $25, it won’t break the bank.

For me, it is the perfect choice. If it wasn’t already November, I would have bought one for the remainder of 2022. Looking ahead, I’d buy a 2023 edition for every journal writer as a holiday gift, but I don’t have a lot of them on my list, at least not who share my tastes and requirements.

However, if you have such a person on your list, check it out. (It comes in black as well as this English tan color, and ships in a nice hard box for easy gift wrapping.) Of course, the Five-Year Journal would work for many, too.

While I won’t have the chance to see what happened on March 2nd, five years running, I think the elbow room the larger space provides will outweigh that lack.

Especially now that “writing” is playing a greater role in my life.

k

Scheduling

she’s a night owl
and I rise before dawn
which gives us both
a few hours alone
to miss each other

 

My Sword is Bright

My sword is bright
it lights the path ahead
through treacherous times
shining

My sword is sharp
it cuts to the heart
the dissemblers’ lies
seeking

My sword is strong
it survives unfazed
the illogic tide
standing

My sword is my vote
it points the way forward
for right and for rights
singing

——

k

 

Of Bushels and Lamps

“Has John read your books?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean? You guys talk about books all the time.”

“Well, sure. But not about my books.”

The above snippet of dialogue is verbatim from this past weekend, and it is Exhibit A in the case of Why I Absolutely Suck at Marketing.

In general, I do not know which of my friends have read any of my books. Yes, there are some exceptions to this—beta readers for a certainty, those who’ve expressed an opinion about a title—but if pressed, I know of only eight people who have definitely read one (or more) of my titles. And two of them are dead, so I’m really down to only six. That small list gets longer if I include people who I know have bought my books; but have they read them? One acquaintance told me flat out that she bought my books but did not read any of them, so I don’t take equate purchases with readers. 

Why am I so in the dark on this topic? Because it is how I was raised. And it’s also my nature.

A big lesson of my youth was, “Don’t show off.” My father was insistent about this. “You have talents,” he would tell me, “but don’t get cocky, don’t show off, because there’s always going to be someone out there who’s richer or smarter or more talented than you are.” The subtext, coming from the grandson of a charcoal burner (yeah, it’s a real occupation), was essentially “Pride goeth before a fall.” Humility, my dad felt, consistently won over more people than braggadocio. 

This fit well with my introverted mien. I have absolutely zero desire to “show off” and put myself in the spotlight (this blog notwithstanding), so self-deprecation and “hiding my lamp under a bushel” aren’t second nature; they’re first nature.

As a result, there are people who know me who don’t know that I’ve written nine novels (and counting). I don’t introduce myself, saying, “Hi, I’m Kurt. I’ve written nine novels. Heard of me? Want to read one?” In this age of self-publishing, being an accomplished novelist isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. Folks who learn of my bibliography might smile and nod, but the look in their eye betrays their unspoken reservations about the probable quality of my work.

None of this is to say I’m not proud of my books—I am—but there are just too many variables to the “Hi, I’m a writer” gambit. Nearly 20% of Americans didn’t read any books in the past year (print, e-book, or audiobook), and about half of the population has read fewer than six titles (and which ones do you think they’re going to buy? Mine?). Then there’s genre-preference, with “historical”-anything being at the low end of the popularity scale (and my stuff all being “historical”-something or other). Taken as a whole, there is absolutely no reason for me to expect that anyone I know is going to enjoy my books; the odds are simply against it.

Marketing is essentially nothing but “Look at me!” show-offery, and that is totally antithetical both to my attitude and to my nature. So, I suck at it.

However, this whole cover redux journey I recently began is nothing but marketing. Sort of. So, I’m a little conflicted. And a little anxious about the whole idea.

Still gonna do it, though.

k

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