Thursday, March 9, 2023

Pretty Pictures, Part 2: The Struggle Behind the Smiles

Those of you who followed my blog, The Reluctant Sailor, during our cruising years may appreciate the backstory of last week's sunny adventure in Belize. 
Amid the swimming, snorkeling, island-hopping, and dining, I was struggling. 

I briefly mentioned the reason in one of my otherwise-sunny Facebook posts.

I was on a 6-day cruise with Pope, three friends, and a hired boat captain. By Day 3, I was in agony from a shoulder injury. I don't know how I got hurt. Maybe hauling luggage, carrying heavy bags of boat provisions, or peering beyond my snorkel mask to avoid swimming into a prickly coral. 

The pain was debilitating. I was miserable, unable to get comfortable, rest, or sleep.

We were snorkeling at Glover's Reef, a coral-laced atoll 50 miles east of the mainland. By Day 5, my stoicism had collapsed. I asked our captain to help me arrange a medical evacuation by speedboat, to someplace where I could get a plane or bus to the hospital in Belize City. 

We were discussing it calmly and coolly (just kidding; actually, I was moaning and sobbing) when the whole group agreed to interrupt the cruise and take me to a doctor in our own boat--a huge, inefficient catamaran with diesel engine, four bunks, and four heads (bathrooms).

The nearest doctor (perhaps the only one outside of Belize City...) was in Placencia, where we had boarded the boat. This was a 6-hour round trip at the top speed of our boat (about 6 knots). This cost us less than $100 in extra diesel fuel -- much cheaper than using a medical evacuation company. But it eliminated a full day of swimming and snorkeling for everyone else. 

The other passengers said they wouldn't enjoy themselves knowing I was suffering. Actually, I think they were grateful it wasn't them. Another passenger had serious health concerns; it just as easily could have been him that needed emergency medical attention. In fact, he later went straight to the hospital on the way home from the airport, and is still there.

Our captain raced us to Placencia in our big boat, anchored, and sped me to shore in the dinghy. The doctor's office was outside of town in a primitive-looking, rustic shack with a tin roof that appeared abandoned, in the middle of a bleak field of dirt and weeds. No other buildings, homes, or even cars around. I wish I had a photo. 

To be honest, I was filled with dread, thinking: this can't be a real doctor. Surely I'm in the wrong place! A shot of cortisone in a place like this could be deadly!

However, inside, the office was clean and decent. The doctor is a Cuban who serves the expat community. Lots of Americans, Canadians, and Brits apparently live there or have winter homes. He did some manipulations, diagnosed a pinched nerve. His fee was $45, cash only. He called a taxi and sent me down the road to the pharmacist.

While I taxied to the pharmacy, the captain returned to the boat and motored to Placencia's city harbor.

I returned to the boat there, with $135 worth of painkillers and other medical products, and a case of beer for the captain and passengers. No poisons, though, despite the pharmacist's offerings.

This was all accomplished without any cell phone service! People along the way were happy to help me figure things out.

We spent the night on the boat in Placencia harbor, then motored back to the reef and another tiny isle.

I spent the remaining days laying around, moaning gently. The pills took the edge off but the discomfort continued.

After three flights, we got home by midnight Tuesday. I visited my chiropractor Wednesday and again Thursday, and on Friday got an ultrasound and more accurate diagnosis: torn tendon inside the rotator cuff. 

My trips seem to include a lot of adventures--sometimes unpleasant ones. In fact, that's what my blog was all about when we cruised up and down the coast in our own boat from 2013 to 2020.

I look at the photos of other people's "normal" trips -- a souk in Morocco, the Eiffel Tower, a tour guide with a striped umbrella -- with envy. My trips are rarely "normal." They're soaked in adrenaline! 

The shoulder incident is shaping up to be an extended struggle. However, it came with a big dose of sun and fun and magical isles. So, in between spasms, I'm smiling.

Pretty Pictures, Part 1: The Real Story

My younger friends keep asking me, What’s it like to be retired?” Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t wait.

I know what they’re thinking: the same thing I used to think. Whenever I picked up a magazine or travel catalog, I’d see pictures of retirees enjoying the good life. 

Beautiful people. A woman in a straw hat, lounging around a pool. Couples with gray hair and white shorts, watching dolphins swim alongside their boat. Cocktails and banquets on a cruise ship.

When I used to see those pictures, I was full of zeal! I couldn’t wait!

I wish I could tell you retirement is like that. But no. Those pictures are a hoax! For the first couple of years after I stopped working, I traveled a bit. I even lived on a sailboat for a while. I set out to live the fantasy of sipping cocktails on the deck, gazing at the sunset.

But it wasn’t like that. It was hard work to maintain a boat. The leaks. The mold. The breakdowns. I certainly never wore white shorts! 

In fact, it turns out that a lot of retirement has been hard work. In particular, I've struggled with three obstacles to enjoying those glamorous activities in the photos.

1) First, the longer I’m retired, the longer the list gets of people I have to go visit regularly. An opportunity to socialize and have fun? No. Here’s the list of people I visit:

-physical therapist





-bill collector

Does that sound like fun? No. But that’s what aging is like!

Most people who are retired will confirm that in the golden years, body building gives way to body deterioratingYeah, I know what you’re thinking: what about Jane Fonda? She looks great at age 84

Well, I think those photos are a hoaxtoo. Or she had a lot of plastic surgery. I sure don’t look like Jane Fonda. I don’t feel like Jane Fonda. 

I feel like more Methuselah. Ready for a long, long nap.

2) Second, the older I get, the older my house gets. Just like me, the plumbing has developed leaks. The floor is sticky. The refrigerator is overdue for replacement. It’s a constant battle to keep up with cleaning and repairs.

This winter, we had contractors replace the mortar on a brick wall. They hammered and drilled for days. Charged us $12,000. And the plumber came by to fixing a leaky pipe. For six hours of work, he charged $1,200! 

That’s where the money goes. Not to Hilton or Marriott or Club Med.

3) Third, now that I’m staying home more, I've been noticing the critters that share the house. Every evening while I’m sitting in the living room, a little mouse, sometimes accompanied by his brother or sister, wanders in, looking for a handout.

Maybe they find my house attractive because I don’t keep it as clean as I used to. I admit I’m too tired to kneel down and mop the floor. And too stiff to get back up.

I spend hours filling holes in the cornersscrubbing kitchen counters, and repackaging food into glass jars. And now, there’s ANOTHER person I see regularly: the exterminator.

This is where the time goes in retirement.

I’m still looking for that glamorous retirement that I expected--the ones my younger friends fantasize about.

I scan the catalogs with the pictures of beautiful people, laughing and smiling, and I wonder, where did I go wrong? Why I am still only fantasizing about lounging around the pool in a straw hat

Then I remember – those pictures are a hoax. Very few people actually get to visit castles on the Rhine on a $10,000 Viking River Cruise.

Most of us are at home, cleaning and repairing, or waiting in line at the doctor’s office.

So when my friends ask me, “What’s it like to be retired?” I’m honest. I tell them, it’s not like those beautiful pictures! Believe me, you can wait!


Saturday, February 11, 2023

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: My Book Projects

When I retired, I could have stopped working. I probably should have stopped working.

But you know me! Despite my complaints about being overwhelmed, I rarely slow down. Finish one thing, start another. 

I just finished editing a fifth book. Yes, five jobs since retiring 10 years ago, from four decades in a writing career. The first three books were for pay; low pay because the authors were friends. The last two, also for friends, were the hardest -- years of consulting throughout the writing process, then months of substantive editing (and grueling negotiation), copyediting, proofreading. 

They were voluntary.

The first editing job was for my dear friend Dan Smith, who died at age 90 just as his book went to the printer. At least he knew it was actually going to be published. What a relief that must have been!

My regular blog readers have already heard about this book project. Dan hand-wrote hundreds of pages in longhand, on yellow legal pads, later typed by his wife and a hired typist. Dan and I spent hours on the patio of Busboys & Poets in Takoma Park, hashing out content, shaping the format, selecting and discarding stories and photos. He told me dozens of stories that didn't make it into the manuscript.

Then the editing began. Then the exhaustive negotiations with Dan and his "executive" editor--his wife. My own hand-written notes ran to a dozen pages.

Dan was likely the last living child of someone born into slavery during the American Civil War. His 387-page memoir, "Son of a Slave," recounts his hardships and encounters with racism, and is a heartfelt tribute to those he cared about and those who supported him during his trials and tribulations.

The second editing job was for my partner, Pope. Yes, Pope wrote a book! His second, actually. This was a memoir: entertaining stories of a life lived hard and with great risks and hair-raising adventures. His theme? How much fun one man can have without killing himself.

His title? "I Should Have Been More Careful." (I should have stopped working...)

This time, the collaboration began with Pope telling me the stories, over the past 20+ years. His friends have been hearing them for much, much longer. Finally, the stories got onto paper (actually, a computer) and after months of re-hashing and hand-wringing, and checking and re-checking, into 202 printed pages.

And me? Two more friends immediately asked me to edit their books. Although the topics are intriguing -- rock stars and Shakespeare -- alas, I must say no and take a well-deserved break. READ a book. Ride a bike. Resume blogging. Go to Italy for some pasta, prosecco, and parmigiano-reggiano.

Book-length manuscripts are considerably more demanding than the intelligence reports, newsletters, scientific papers, speeches, and other materials I wrote, edited, and produced on a moderate government salary. For a book, I think asking for $$$$ -- a few thousand dollars, perhaps? -- would not be out of line! 

Also, I admit, I've gotten a bit rusty on grammar and style. I frequently had to consult a dictionary, grammar books, and a style manual checked out of the library. This took lots of time.

It was hard work that left me exhausted.

When I retired, I could have stopped working. I probably should have stopped working. When will I ever learn? When will I slow down?