One of the country's favorite female syndicated columnists considers the rhythms of her recent retirement.
- story by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, photography by Marc Lamkin
Days would go by without people stopping by to look at the beautiful assortment of paintings, pottery and photography. I felt tempted to write “Art Doesn’t Bite” on the sign outside but somehow refrained.
Marc seems to be sincerely feeling my pain about the closing. Few do.
I mailed back his unsold photographs that combine humor, pathos and beauty in the strangest, most delightful way. I felt like a fool. How had I failed to sell those?
And he wrote back that both of us are goal-driven, needing a project, something to work toward. “We don’t golf, sew, hunt or hike,” he said. So, he reasoned, we feel rudderless in retirement.
An architectural photographer by trade, Marc still shoots a couple of “official” jobs each year, but mostly now sits on his deck and lets the subject matter come to him. He shares a lot of pictures of sunsets, flowers, grandbabies and rainbows. They are beautiful. I find them infinitely more interesting than 99 percent of the art photos I’ve seen in coffee table books and museums.
And yet Marc admits to missing real deadlines and relentless struggle to get a job done just right. But probably not enough to leave his comfortable perch and his big loving family and take to the road again.
Therein lies the retirement conundrum. We miss the work but not enough to do anything about it. I loved the road for a long time but had rather take a beating now than drive more than 20 miles -- unless the road is in France.
I used to think nothing of writing four columns a week. Now I struggle to write one essay every other month.
My idea with the gallery was to exploit the artists and other creative folk I’d met in four decades of trolling for columns. I would have art receptions, book-signings, music events and cartoon exhibitions. I would do all of this in a town of 3,000 that has six auto part stores, 12 beauty salons, 22 churches and not much else.
The work would be different, more social than sitting at a computer by myself for hours each day while attempting to turn a phrase. I was good at my job, but I was tired of it, too.
If anything, the gallery proved lonelier. But I still can’t admit it was a stupid idea. There was, I believe, potential. Good ideas don’t always net good results. If you build it, they don’t necessarily come.
The things I worried about seem silly now. I worried about having enough inventory, and now struggle to return much of it. I worried I didn’t know enough about art to start a gallery. Turns out, I knew far too little about business to start a gallery.
Right out of college I tried to birth a weekly newspaper. After 26 weeks, the adventure was over. I swore to myself then that I’d never be in business for myself again. Until two years ago, I remembered the lesson.
Marc says I get points for trying. He charitably called me a “risk-taker,” which is a nice way of saying I threw a lot of money at a vision nobody could see but me.
Retirement makes some of us hobbyists, travelers or philosophical. Others of us still search for our retirement rhythm.
We remember our old jobs – the hard work and daily deadlines, bad food, bad roads and lonely nights -- the way Marc remembers the dreaded humidity. At the core of our beings.
And, still, we miss it.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson was one of the longest-running female columnists in the country and beloved throughout the South. Her website contains a selection of past columns and more about her books.