Thanks for asking. I was just thinking about that.
I started blogging because I had nothing else to do. I know other guys who retired. One became a carpenter for charity and learned Italian, another ran marathons and audited classes at UC Berkeley. I know a guy who collects art and invests in young women tennis players. And I know there are boaters out there, and woodworkers, bird rescuers, docents.
I don’t do anything like that. I used to be on various non-profit boards, which was fun except for the fund-raising, which was seriously not fun and at which I was never any good. Beyond that: My hobbies are reading, travel and television. My skills in many areas are laughable; I’m the guy from whom people snatch wrenches or corkscrews or paring knives. “Easier if I do it myself,” they say.
“Easier for me, too,” I think but do not say.
And because it was important for me to “do something,” to “stay active,” to “not sink into an inky pool of reality television, spy novels and breakfast cereal” — no one actually said that last thing, although you could tell that’s what they were thinking.
OK, I’m a blogger. Now what?
The first thing I had to do was learn blogging tools. I asked around (thank you, Nancy Friedman, Susan McCarthy, ((plus Susan McCarthy)), and Kristen Yawitz) and decided to learn WordPress, because someone said it was easy.
It was amusing to teach myself the tools. My pal Scott Underwood suggested Michelle Mizera to do stuff (including Mailchimp, a maddening program) that had too steep a learning curve. I got to play with links and photographs, trying to tell jokes and send coded messages and just play with any reader who wanted to take the time. (I have amused myself in this piece by using double quotation marks for quotations inside of quotations, and that’s not remotely OK. Except, hey, Andrea Behr ain’t nowhere round here. I can make up my own punctuation. Seriously, how cool is that?)
Pretty early on, it became obvious that Tracy should participate. I’d be collaborating with her for the first time since the late 70s. It’s sort of complicated to work with one’s spouse (because, duh), but we have talked a lot about our professions. So it could be great, although it also could go horribly wrong.
The blogging idea made me feel all tingly and useful. I could maybe think of new ways to do the blogging thing, although probably every blogging act in the conceptual universe has been tried already. On the other hand: I made my living writing in English, something that has been tried many many times before. And yet I persist in thinking I can do something new with it. If you can’t invent stuff, then it’s pretty much over.
Also, blogging is passe. The buzz passes from platform to platform, and now Instagram and Snapchat are being replaced by other sites whose names I don’t know. I just cannot care about that anymore. I will never catch up. I have a Fats Domino brain in a Beyonce world.
So then I put the blog up. The response has been lovely. Thank you, people.
There are several bits of received wisdom about retirement. One of them, referenced above, is, “You have to have a plan to do something,” which is true. But the other is, “I’m busier now than I ever was when I was working.” How can that be? I have no idea. I had hoped for long lazy afternoons on the window seat, staring at hummingbirds feasting on flowers and reading all of the far-too-many magazines we receive. Maybe we’d go to Fiji. I like Fiji.
Not a chance. Retirement is filled with stuff I really should have done five years ago. It’s filled with interesting new financial dilemmas. And it’s filled with stuff I really did want to do, like cultivating friends (generally with organic fertilizer and a wee sprinkling of Roundup), sudden trips (hello, Death Valley), and fooling around with my wife, although not in an inappropriate way (we’ve been married 35 years; nothing is inappropriate by now).
And people in retirement say, “I wonder why I didn’t do this 10 years ago,” and now I’ll say it. I loved my job, but I’m loving my non-job better. No deadlines!
But also, no deadlines. I have worked to a deadline continuously since 1966. I needed deadlines; I organized my life around deadlines. I messed around until the very last minute and then wrote like mad; now there was no last minute. I never made any promises the blog would appear every Tuesday and Friday, or every Tuesday, or every year. What would I do? Would I fuck off completely?
And what about Jon Carroll, the brand not the man? I did not know how much of my identity was tied up in being a semi-famous newspaper columnist. I did like the perks, from free theater tickets to people seeing me in public places and saying nice things. I did like being admired, because who doesn’t?
I’d been through this once before, being powerful and semi-famous and then not. I realized that a lot of “friends” would drop away; I was always surprised by which ones did, but I was prepared for the eventuality. And it happened. It’s OK. I already have the calluses. And I’m grateful to everyone who seemed to like the rather messy person I am beneath the public identity.
But could I write without me? I didn’t know. I have no other writing partner.
It’s still all up in the air. I have no idea in which direction I’ll take this. It may very well be a direction I don’t know exists. Maybe Jon Carroll Prose will be a movie, only we’ll change the name to “Hero!” or “The Dark Adventure.” Or perhaps Jon Carroll Prose will be a series of youth-oriented mini-musicals performed in areas of urban blight. Or it could go to Mars. That would be fun, except the dying in soundless space part.
Tracy and I are the beginning of our collaboration. Been fine so far — we even got to play journalists, both going off on a story, prepared to evoke and explain, so cute. And I get to figure out how to repurpose her great series of photos of West Oakland (part of a five-year-so-far project she’s doing) to my own fiendish needs.
As to being me, I dunno. Might be a good thing to reinvent myself. I used to do that almost every year, but it’s been a while. I miss being on the press lists, although a few are hanging in there. Perhaps they’ll get a mention in the prestigious Jon Carroll Prose blog, read by discerning readers of the play I want to see.
I have no idea what might happen next. I still could rule the world.
And it’s all amazing fun. That’s my message today. Are you perhaps stuck in a job you hate and not getting any younger and wondering why your neck keeps tightening up all the time and your digestion, well, let’s not go there? Or even, I dunno, a relationship? Been known to happen.
If you can make the numbers work (and you could just make Mom pay rent because God knows she has enough money —because she gives all those “gifts” to that guy Joey because he’s her “protege” or some crap), get outa Dodge. Pack up the burros and hit the dusty trail. Vamoose. Scram. Beat it. Vanish. Vanish.
Send us a message from Capetown or Cape Girardeau. There’s stuff out there to do.
Photography by Tracy Johnston
Useful help and marketing by Michelle “OK, ball’s in your court” Mizera
Note from Tracy: The bottom picture is a gold mine, not a horse ranch, which any idiot with a functioning brain stem could see.