Friday, August 27, 2010

Happy and Productive

Rob isn’t a suspicious guy. He’s the most supportive husband, really. But I get the feeling lately that he’s checking up on me.

So every day I prepare a list and memorize it. It’s like “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” only it’s how I spent my Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday…) now that I’m retired.

To remain above suspicion, I am ready to recite my list at his daily prompting: “What did you do today, Honey?”

“I walked 4.3 miles,” I begin, having tracked this on my trusty pedometer. This always pleases him. I give him details of my walk to give it weight and credibility. “I went all the way to the Arsenal and up Jefferson to the Mansion.”

It pleases me too. I’m always glad to be keeping my word.

Rob’s not the only one. When I announced my retirement this spring, all manner of people began asking what I was going to do in my retirement. I think it was hard for them, and for me, to imagine how it would feel not to have the constant intense stimulation of being a high school principal. I loved the whipped up frenzy of a school day, doing important work, helping young people, making the world a better place, so I hoped.

But like most folks, I kept a list of things I’d do given the time bestowed by a big jackpot. That’s the jackpot of retirement --- time. But my dreams seemed mundane in the telling. Smiles of the well-wishers got rigid and eyes glassy when I said I wanted to learn to play the piano!

Yet when I said I would take a walk every day, people smiled. So that became my pat and only answer, unless I was talking to the kids at school. More than anyone, the kids took my retirement personally. So when they asked what I was going to do, I said, “Miss you!”

Our family developed a saying years ago. Having determined that we were happy when we were productive, we sent each other off each morning with, “Have a happy and productive day!” instead of, “Have a nice day.” It soon got shortened to simply “Happy and Productive!” This eventually morphed to the quick and cryptic, “H & P!”

It’s not a bad motto, H & P, but it does carry a burden. How to define “productive”?

When I was a principal --- never a doubt about my productivity. I helped every day. My charge and my goal was to ease pain, facilitate learning, lift up, make smile, pave the way to success for students and teachers. I was hard after it and secure in the H & P.

For Rob there’s no question. He works hard out in the world. Business attire. Commute. Office functions. Emails and flow charts. Oh yes. Capital “P,” Productive.

When he comes home, he’s a project guy. He’s not just handy; he’s skilled. He loves working on the house and the fruits of his labor are evident immediately, and at every stage. We can point to lots of things he’s done to improve our home. VP. Visibly Productive.

For me now, in my new role, if I point to a shelf of books I’ve read, am I productive too? Somehow reading gets little respect among the items of my recitation. Still I include it, resolute in its value. It feels like I’ve barely read anything for 30 years! I’m entitled.

I am learning to play the piano. Teaching myself at the moment with the help of Schaum’s Pop Piano Course and a Craig’s List digital piano. I can now play three songs with both hands well enough to perform right alongside any six-year-old. I’ll take “Instant Piano” through Benicia Parks & Recreation this fall, and real weekly lessons after that. Is that productive?

And I write. Of course, I write. A memoir. A screenplay. A blog.

You can see why I create the list, can’t you?

So I walked and I read and I practiced my chords. I wrote. I did laundry, bought groceries and more. Grew zucchini, tomatoes and spinach and dill. Tracked electric consumption and paid every bill.

There, Honey, that’s my list. That’s what I did today.

I know.

It sounds like Dr. Seuss.

I was happy.

But was I productive?