Well, sort of.
The first check has landed; the gap years are over. As of Feb. 1, nearly seven years after I left the building, I am technically, officially retired from The New York Times, according to the Newspaper Guild. On Jan. 25, I turned old enough to receive a pension — an early one — and “retirement” begins on the first of the month after that magical birthday. Except for my digital subscription courtesy of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, my 27-year love-hate relationship with The Times is over. We are as divorced as J.P Morgan Chase and I, except that The Times now pays me alimony.
“Are you doing anything, or are you having a good time?” asked Ray Cormier, a member of the Times buyout class of 2014 whom I hadn’t seen for some time, when I stopped by in December for his and others’ farewell. “Yes!” I answered, and meant it. I am doing something — lots of things — and, mostly, I am having a good time.
In the parlance of my British and Australian friends, I am now an OAP — old-age pensioner — even though I don’t feel all that old. (Does this qualify me for the concession fare on the Sydney Harbor cruise?) But everyone I know in my approximate generation who’s “retired” is busier than ever. I expect to be no exception: in the last seven years, I’ve found myself juggling as many as six freelance “jobs” at a time. This being the 100th post on this blog, started when I left for China five years ago, it seems a good place to take stock.
I’m now in my sixth semester as coach to the international students at the CUNY J-school, where I write the English for Journalists blog. In January I signed a contract with CUNY Journalism Press to write a book tentatively titled “American English for International Journalists” (suggestions welcome), due in September for publication in 2016. In tandem with the book, I intend to continue developing my online course on the same subject, in the hope it might eventually be added to the J-school’s online offerings.
I have about 10 private students in English and writing in New York, Poland and Japan (via Skype and e-mail). A decade ago, when I started training to teach English to speakers of other languages, people said, “You can do that when you’re 90 in your wheelchair!” They may have been right. (Witness Maggie Smith in the 2014 film “My Old Lady.”)
Besides “American English,” I’m continuing to work with Bonnie Robson on “The Leap: From Dancer to Director 21st-Century Ballet.” After a promising peer review by a major publisher in 2013, pending revisions, we’ve interviewed more directors — around 40 to date — from more parts of the world. (In the last year, I’ve met with the directors of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the National Ballet of China.) I still freelance articles spasmodically, as a Boston Globe alum might say — though not to The Times. My last two freelance experiences there simply reminded me of all the reasons I left.
After a year spent chained to various desks, with only a few trips to Long Island beaches, I fervently hope to resume serious traveling. To dip my toe in the water, both figuratively and literally, I’ve booked a quick week in Puerto Rico in March. After that, anything’s possible. A seventh trip to Poland to offer a package of English courses in advance of Wroclaw’s year as a European City of Culture? A return to China for a new international journalism program taught in English? Travel to parts as yet unknown as a Fulbright senior specialist? (I was named to the roster last fall.) Or, as is becoming more and more attractive, a real retirement abroad.
Then there’s my career in showbiz. As a substitute usher, I’ve now worked well over 700 performances of Broadway shows including “War Horse,” “Act One,” “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” “Beautiful” and, until Feb. 8, “The River.” Once, I volunteered at nonprofit arts venues; then I turned pro to help pay the bills. Now that I’m “retired,” I plan to usher not for the money (which will go into something I haven’t seen in a while: a savings account), but for the sheer fun of spending most nights in the theater. Thank you, Mim Pollock and Georgia Keghlian, for helping keep me afloat in the meantime.
So what’s “retirement” going to change? Probably not all that much. But there will be far less pushing myself, far less subway time and far more time in front of my laptop as I write “American English,” The Leap” and the travel books that have been sitting on the back burner for some time. And maybe blog posts more than twice a year.
Watch this space.