Ta-DA! The winner of the draw for "Annunciation" is Mary. (Hail, Mary!) Mary, please use my e-mail in the Welcome section in the right sidebar to send me your postal address. The publisher will send your copy at the end of the month. Thank you so much, all who entered; I was heartened by your generous support for this book.
I recently read an article titled something like "Seven Mistakes to Avoid in Retirement". The list was what you'd expect: failing to track your budget; overspending on adult kids and travel (tip: travel off-peak); failing to downsize one's home; not attending to one's estate and end of life wishes; and several financial errors related to pensions or tax. Check, check, sigh and check.
But the list was written by a financial planner, so it omitted some of the less-tangible mistakes, which I would not call "mistakes" so much as pitfalls. We can do them unconsciously and I have fallen into every one—and I didn't need to retire, either; some crept in as I passed 50 or 55.
So, my expansion of his list is below, and most do not pertain solely to retirement.
1. Letting appearance slide, without noticing
The parched cuticles, shoes that could use a polish, glasses that need adjustment (either that, or my head's on crooked), a smudged tote bag that I'm carrying till I can find another I really like: the lack of attention to such details forms my Schlubby Senior persona. (Stay-at-home moms and home-based workers report the same tendency, if that's any comfort.)
Deja Pseu wrote a typically well-illustrated post about the importance of creating "a cohesive and and pleasing whole", titled "Dress up, everyday". That's easy for me when everything's in good nick, but it's psychologically harder to spend money having my backpack zipper replaced than buying a new pair of cashmere wristwarmers. But I remind myself that the maintenance is important. And, at 67, I cannot wear "distressed" anything, it just looks like neglect.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and say, Come on, make an effort. I remember boxing my mother's effects after her death at 99; among the last clothes she wore, I found a lipstick in a jacket pocket.
I realize how much work kept me pulled together, and how living without that scrutiny leads to unwitting inattention. Does it matter? I definitely feel more cheerful and energetic when groomed.
2. "I know what I like and I like what I know."
A 60-ish acquaintance said this recently, as she screwed up her nose drinking her first espresso when visiting us. (Does not live on Mars, just central Florida.) As we age, I notice that when we close off the world, we lose touch with life's nuance and richness. Another friend nailed just what I'd noticed when she called someone "incurious".
In an online age, there's no excuse for this narrowing. We can expose ourselves to new ideas, broader cultures, different perspectives, without leaving our homes.
On the other end of that continuum, I recently met a delightful reader who asked if I'd like to have coffee while she was in Montréal; she was en route to interviewing a jewelry designer, for a prospective newspaper article. She's dipping her toe into a new career, full of brio and slightly stunned that a chance encounter had yielded the interview. At the very least, she will have fun and rekindle skills she has not used for a time. She had pranced over the pitfall.
3. Getting weird about money
There will always be help that your kids, niece or neighbours can use, causes which you support, the bike or car that needs new brakes. But the price of a pedi when your feet feel like they've been stuccoed is not going to wreck your old-age security. Permit yourself. Then you can do some good and not be a martyr about it.
(Why don't they offer Pay It Forward at nail salons? Plenty of women coping with hard times could use an eyebrow shaping or manicure.)
A friend lost his sister. He immediately bought a new car, booked a huge trip to Asia, and contracted for a major reno to his home. His girlfriend realized his spending was a grief reaction, and gently initiated several talks about what was going on. Yes, he has the means, but she was worried about the frenzied approach.
Between grim self-denial and a YOLO spree, there's ample, satisfying middle ground; the art is settling into that place while the insistent drumbeat of consumption threatens to drown out discernment.
As I've said in other posts, the financial picture for older women is often dire, especially for those on their own. I hope each of us who cares draws inspiration from Gloria Steinem, who at 80 is still deeply engaged in her work for equality. (I recommend Jane Kramer's recent New Yorker profile of Steinem, "Road Warrior", published here.) Glory to Gloria, who changed my life when I idly picked up that copy of a new magazine.
4. Post-work perfectionism
You would think, once we leave the workplace, we could drop the perfectionism that so often is fanned by the belief that "a woman must work harder and better". But if a woman has spent forty or more years making sure every aspect of her work was done to the highest standard (hers), the trait is hard to shed.
That tendency can transfer from work to many other aspects of life: how your kids should rear their children, keep house, deal with their careers. How your town or country is governed, how other people behave in restaurants (I'm still piqued by cameras going off in my face, dammit), and how the dentist's office should really be run.
Hangover perfectionism is a major contributor to carping, and nothing truncates new friendships and tests old ones like an aura of permanent dissatisfaction.
Another post explored the difference between the image and reality thus far, almost five years into retirement. Though some plans slid off the cracker, plenty has happened: I moved cities, worked on a political campaign, edited a book, made new friends, helped several small businesses grow, earned a stack of French class certificates, and reduced my blood pressure dramatically. I've become a both a broader and more discerning reader (even if I don't remember the content so readily).
The financial planner is right, a woman must mind her financial affairs, retired or not. And at the same time, other aspects of life demand late-life attention—not just mistakes to avoid, but opportunities to seize.
I'll be intrigued to hear your additions!