The art of adjustment

Adjustment is a great word and an even better concept.  From the Oxford dictionary:

noun

  • a small alteration or movement made to achieve a desired fit, appearance, or result:I’ve made a few adjustments to my diet only slight adjustments to the boat are necessary

  • the process of adapting or becoming used to a new situation:for many couples there may need to be a period of adjustment

There is something languorous about adjusting.  To adjust is to move at a slower pace, to stretch a little at a time.  As if one has awoken from a long night’s sleep, is in no hurry, and arises bit by bit to a full upright position. 

It’s my preferred method when it comes to retirement, and to judge by others’ standards, a less than acceptable one.  As I move into semi-retirement (not even the full-fledged version) of working 4 out of 12 months per year, people–and by that I mean everyone–ask the same question:  What are you going to DO?

I don’t know.  I say so.  They look puzzled.  I begin my advocacy of the concept of adjustment.  It goes like this:  I don’t know for sure.  I want to spend more time on my French.  My husband and I want to travel.  I want to eat lunch with my friends more often.  And, I am doing some writing.  I have a small personal blog.  I want to  stay up late reading and then sleep in.  We’ll see.

As near as I can tell, few understand or like my answer.  Some ask further.  They want to know exactly what I am going to do about my French, where and when my husband and I will travel, whether or not I have friends who are available for lunch, what kind of writing, what blog, and whether I will be reading history or the next Scott Turow novel.  And then, I say again, with a sigh, I don’t know. 

I don’t have, as they say, retirement plans. My life thus far, both personal and professional, has been a jumble of calculated moves and serendipity, and it has all turned out well.  (cue John Lennon:  life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, or better, whoever it was who said Man plans, God laughs.)  My husband and I have spent the better part of two years preparing for the financial part of retirement; I spent another year negotiating a buyout and an altered faculty status with my employer.  Can I just quit planning now?  Can I just join that less frantic world of adjustment?

In a recent conversation with a friend, she was talking about the need to be gentle with oneself.  After life’s big changes, she said, we beat ourselves up if we are not standing at attention immediately.  Becoming a caregiver or experiencing the death of an elderly parent, changing jobs, moving, and yes, retiring, even the semi- kind, those are changes writ large.  Must we snap to, get on with it with no time to assess, regroup, ponder, adjust?

I am moving bit by bit.  I am scouting, ever so languidly, more opportunities for speaking French.  I signed up for a workshop on how to write op-eds more effectively.  I grabbed an opportunity to guest blog on a new blog devoted to gender.  I sent a personal essay–not quite as good as I had hoped–to a creative non-fiction magazine called Creative Nonfiction because the deadline sneaked up on me.  I lunch whenever I can.  We are going to either London, Rome, Florence, Florida, the American Southwest, Montreal and Quebec, back to see family in western Pennsylvania, or maybe Oregon (and always Paris), or some combination of the above, in the next year or two.  I don’t know if Scott Turow even has a new novel.  Because I don’t intend to spend my retirement as I have spent my decades of work.  I plan to sleep in and practice the art–and yes, I hope it raises itself to an artistic endeavor–of adjustment.