I’m Sure It Will Be Fine

I’m reading this book on creativity. It sounds personal, but it’s actually a work goal I set to read a book about being creative at work. A pervasive theme in it is that work can be your passion.

Like Robert Frost wrote in “Two Tramps in Mud Time.”

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.

In the book, the author talks about how someone he knew had a countdown to retirement even though it was an entire year away. That was supposed to be an indication that the person wasn’t enjoying his or her job. It was a real tragedy, counting down the final year of work instead of living in the moment.

Only I created a formula in excel probably a decade ago or more, where I could input my retirement age and it would tell me how many days I had until retirement. I’m still 2,686 days away.

I think a lot about retirement. I wish I had thought about it more seriously when I was younger, or that I had actually done more than create an app in excel that told me how long it would take to get there.

But I’m getting closer now, and I’m past the point where I think I will escape this working world by writing Star Trek episodes, or a screenplay or even a Kindle Single that goes viral and makes me millions (well, I actually still dream about that last one, but I’m not relying on it). I’m close enough to retirement that I can actually plan for the day when I will be a full time writer not because it makes me money, but because I don’t need the money.

But I didn’t plan early, so I’m playing catch up. I think I will be able to retire at sixty, eight years from now, or sixty-three at the latest. I’m worried that I will be too old, that I won’t have enough good years left. Because not everyone ages at the same pace and there are no guarantees, even though I’ve got some decent longevity in my family history. 

I’m sure it will be fine.

But if you can plan to retire at fifty do it. It’s a good age to retire at. I would have been retired for two years already and I can’t tell you how much fun it would have been. All you have to do is save the maximum allowed into any kind of deferred retirement plan (401k, IRA etc). Save some outside of the retirement plans for contingencies too, because you don’t know what, but something will come up. And live off of what’s left, no matter what you have to sacrifice to do it. 

You can enjoy life without a lot of shit, you might even enjoy it more. You can travel (or at least visit people, stay in hostels, etc). You can eat good food (you just might have to cook it). You have to do it the hard way, but that becomes easier with practice and in the meantime helps you collect stories of failure, which are the funniest kind, at least once you have some distance.

Trust me, it will be more fun than if you do things the expensive way.

The other advantage of learning to live off less is that you won’t need as much when you do retire. For example if you spend $120,000 every year, then it’s reasonable to think that in retirement, you’ll need the same amount every year and for the rest of your life.  If you’re fifty when you retire, that could be another fifty years. That’s $6,000,000.  And the amount you allow yourself to spend needs to grow because there can be a lot of inflation in fifty years. But if you can live off $30,000 a year (I’m just making up numbers here) you’ll only need enough in retirement to live off of $30,000 a year also!!  That’s 4,500,000 less. You might not actually need everything up front because whatever you have at retirement earns for you while you’re waiting to spend it, but you get the point, you need less. So every dollar you learn to not spend saves you a dollar now and every year in retirement.  

Another important thing to remember is that the money you save early grows for longer, and once you get to some kind of critical mass of savings, it earns for you, and your fund essentially contributes to itself.

And finally, the less you learn to live on, the more significant social security seems when you finally get it. I knew a guy, a bass player in a band I was in, who was working some shit job in I.T. support that he hated. It might have been a great job for someone, but he hated it. He probably wasn’t that good at it either, cause generally we’re not very good at jobs we hate (the book I’m reading confirms this), so his boss, some insensitive young know it all whipper snapper, no doubt, didn’t like him either. Anyway, the bass player had once done better, had a good paying job (not playing bass) but he got divorced and lost his career and had nothing for himself in the end except a modest house and this shitty job. He told me that when he was eligible for social security he was going to retire because social security would be as much as he was making working. And that ain’t much. social security really doesn’t pay much, but it pays something and it was as much as he had become used to. And he did that. He lives off of social security now (I’m guessing he had his house paid off at least) and the last time I saw him, he looked really happy. 

But he lives alone. For me, social security will help, but it won’t be enough. Because my wife likes to travel a lot, and she spends money without respect to what we have. She gets good deals on what she buys, shops for bargains, and isn’t particularly frivolous, but she still spends and doesn’t like to budget. I can expect that we will need a certain amount and maybe a little extra in case we have to adjust to the market by tightening our belts in a way that she just doesn’t do. I could have quit to write full time a long time ago, probably, if I had the freedom to stay in my “castle” by myself and eat nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Campbell’s soup and cereal. But then I’d probably have gastrointestinal problems, and I’d be lonely.

When I was twenty I drove cross country with my best friend and we were way under budget, but I didn’t eat peanut butter after that for twenty years. I was also lonely because I was missing my girlfriend at the time who I found out upon my return had already dumped me for someone else.

Hey, but I’m counting my blessings, because if I can retire at sixty, or even work part time at that point, then I am luckier than a lot of people. And time flies fast when you get old and start forgetting things. Last thing I remember my daughter was a baby, and now she’s twenty-one and I have two other kids, who I call kiddo and cupcake because I don’t know their real names. Sort of kidding. But time does seem to go by fast, and I don’t think it really does, so I must be forgetting stuff.

Bottom line, do as I say, not as I do. You won’t be sorry. It’s good advice. The best advice. I’m really good at giving advice. 

5AM

Her mom didn’t love her, what’s my excuse? I read this and it made me think about the recurring anger I have  towards my parents, yet they aren’t so bad I can actually blame them for anything. And then someone else posted about senior projects at my old school, Bard college, and I actually commented that I wish I had stayed to do a senior project, got a few likes for my failure to achieve that, and thought about how it could have been my first novel, if I had stuck it out in lit, and still I haven’t written that first novel. But at the time I thought it would have to be good. The portent of a senior project, especially with the problems I was having late in my career there choosing a major, probably contributed to my flight. Although mostly it was because the Math department only had two professors and they both left just as I was declaring my major. Was it me? And so again, I feel like a failure, and here I am, so old already, and such a failure and whose fault is it? I guess it doesn’t matter whose fault it is because the consequences are mine and that would have made it my responsibility to do something about it.

I have spent my whole life saying I want to do things and failing at them. I got to go out to LA to  pitch ideas to star trek and then i didn’t keep trying. I may have achieved some other things, I can be proud of myself, but the things I SAY I want to do, the things I have always said are important to me, what I’ve called “dreams,” I’ve failed at them all.  At 52, what am I supposed to do with that?  I’m supposed to get up at 5AM every morning and write and not stop doing that until I am dead, that’s what.  There’s only one way to prove that it’s not too late, and that’s to do it, whether I believe that’s possible or not. Achieve something or die trying. Go out fighting.   

One of the things that bothers me about finally achieving some of these things so late is that the people who saw potential in me as a child might all be dead. These are the people I want to make proud. But I suppose the people who knew me as a child aren’t the only ones I could make proud of me. My kids could be proud of me. My friends. I need to let go of that little child, that young adult, that thirty something kid, like I still want to be that person I never was. I need to stop trying to write like that, hoping people who read me can’t tell that I’m older than that. I need to own my age and write like that’s my stage in life, honestly and authentically. I have to stop being scared that people will be turned off if I admit to them that I’ve gotten this far already and have so little to show for it.

I have lost a little confidence in my ability to write a better story by spending more time on it.  Last week I put more effort into my friday blog, worked on it every day, I even goofed off at work to spend more time on rewrites and edits because I wasn’t getting up at 5AM as consistently as I wanted to. But it got worse and worse, until finally I had to fulfill my commitment to myself to post it regardless, and it was a confusing contradictory rambling mess that I have since edited down, just to make it a bit shorter, so now the food’s no good AND the portion is small. Sometimes that happens. But the truth is that it gets worse before it gets better. Because what happened is that I had started with a conclusion and a point and the more I worked on it the more I realized things about myself that contradicted my original point upending what I thought. I was in the middle of a process in which I was on a path of self-revelation that might have landed me at a conclusion opposite the one I started with, but I was in the middle when Friday came.