Friday, February 26, 2010

On retirement

A friend and previous boss is retiring today after over 30 years in service to children. I've been thinking about her a lot in the past week or so, recalling the days leading up to my own farewell to a job I loved (and hated at the same time!). Don't know what made me do it, but I checked my files and found the following that I apparently wrote the day before my own last days. Thought I'd share it with you.

On Retirement

I’m officially retiring today. In less than an hour, the Board of Education will have a brief, unscheduled meeting to consider another district matter and, thrown on the agenda at the last minute, they will find the item that asks that they approve my retirement. My retirement.
I wonder if other potential retirees have such internal conflicts about the end of their careers. I wonder how long it took them to get to this point, where the letter is submitted to their boss and word gradually begins to filter through the building that, in less than 90 days, a new person will be sitting at the desk where once they worked.
It took me months. I vacillated between wanting not to do this job anymore and never wanting to quit, knowing I owed it to my husband, my children, my grandchildren and, most of all, myself to stop working, to be available, to pursue other interests. In the end, after a lot of internal discussions (that’s what I call talking to myself), I decided life is too short to spend it working, answering an alarm clock every morning, slogging through rain, snow or ice to get to the office, balancing a plethora of projects, completing them and moving on to the next. In short, the few negatives of this job won the argument and overrode the positives that kept me coming back, year after year.
That I’m tired of some parts of the routine is a given. I find the 6 a.m. wakeup harder each day. In spite of the beautiful farmland and livestock I pass on my way to and from the office, I’m tired of the commute. I’m tired of keeping up a professional wardrobe that spans four seasons. I’m tired of night meetings and being awake for hours afterward reliving every stressful moment.
Most of all, I’m weary of the disappointment that comes every year with the apathy and indifference of the people whose children get private school educations at public school prices from a staff that is top notch and an administration that cares more about kids than about getting enough sleep or taking care of their own health.
I dread another budget cycle with its countless meetings, graphs, charts, press releases and PowerPoint presentations, all geared toward trying to justify the cost of educating tomorrow’s leaders. It wouldn’t be so frightful if parents and school district staff thought it important enough to come out and voice and opinion. But for most of the years I’ve worked in public education, I’ve watched the numbers of people … real stakeholders … get lazy and surrender to the folks with an ax to grind or an agenda to promote and the budget is defeated once again. I’m frankly sick of the people, who benefit from their schools, refusing to pick up the tab for the cost and then watching as the municipal officials, with no idea of what it takes to fund a school district, slash huge amounts from the budget, forcing cuts in programs and services that, one way or another, impact their own kids. It is exhausting, infuriating and sad.
So this year, before that scenario plays itself out again, I’m leaving. I will read about the budget battles online in the comfort of my home office. I will learn who the new Board members are from profiles in the newspaper and I will hold my breath to see how both issues will affect such a wonderful school district. Not positively, I’m afraid. How do I know this? Reading handwriting on walls has become a secondary benefit of this job and all the signs point to big trouble ahead.
What I will miss are my colleagues, the people in my office building who have huge smiles and caring hearts. I will miss the bagels and cream cheese, the hot soft pretzels and mustard, the home-baked goodies that appear every day and the mountains of cookies at holidays. I will not miss the weight gain and the constant temptation for sugar overload just outside my office door.
I will miss the people, the teachers, the kids and the staff. I’ll miss talking politics with some and skirting the issue with others. I’ll miss feeling like what I do matters for something, makes a difference in the lives of those I write about. I’ll miss having stories to tell when I get home each evening. I’ll miss the interesting interaction and the challenges of the job.
But it’s really time to go. I’ve worked for 50 years, since my teenage years, and I’m ready now to do something just for me. No guarantees I won’t look back, maybe even drop in to say hello and catch up on what’s happening, but for the most part, I will be gone. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ll be forgotten.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A friend I've never met

Can't be, can it? A friend I've never met?

I might agree, except for the many friends with whom I correspond online I've yet to meet and probably never will. In addition, there are those about whom I devour any piece of written information, long to meet but again probably never will.

Still... there's Carole Imes, one of the sweetest women I have the pleasure of knowing and how did I meet her, you ask? After about eight years of online correspondence with no hope of ever actually seeing one another! We finally met when Howard's business took him to Florida last year and I went along. Carole lives not far from Orlando, where Howard's trade show was held so I drove to her home and found this lovely lady who was everything I knew she'd be. We visited for a full day non-stop and then she and Walt joined Howard and me for dinner. It can happen.

Meg Tilly's most recent blog entry reminds me again how much I would love to get to know this delightfully talented woman. She writes about one of my favorite topics... the brilliant actor Colin Firth (Meg's ex and the dad of her son, Will). Actually, she stole the topic of what would have been my next blog post ... Colin's Best Actor win at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for his portrayal of George Falconer in "A Single Man." He's another person I would love to meet.

Sometimes I think we reveal ourselves more to online correspondents than to people we meet casually face-to-face. Our guards are down while we're chatting away at the keyboard and we don't filter our thoughts and feelings as thoroughly as we do in person.

So, thanks, Meg, for putting my admiration of Colin's work and my congratulations on his achievement in your blog. It's saved me a lot of typing and added to my strong belief that you would be a truly kindred spirit should our paths ever cross.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Those eyes!

As a movie fan since childhood, I've had one so-called matinee hero after another... Father Ralph Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain) in "The Thorn Birds," Clark Gable in "Gone with the Wind," Cary Grant in "An Affair to Remember" and now, Colin Firth in just about anything.

I first met Mr. Firth (may I call him 'Colin?')a few years ago when A&E aired its series "Pride and Prejudice" and I, like millions of women everywhere, gave their hearts to Fitzwilliam Darcy. After that, it was one film after another, each different in its own way, each owing its appeal to the brilliance of the actor. He's been Mark Darcy to Bridget Jones, Jan Vermeer to the girl with the pearl earring and a poet who is faced with the imminent demise of his father. He's wielded a sword to rescue a Roman emperor, played a cad who despoils a schoolgirl and then leaves her carrying his child and charmed a daughter he never knew he had in "What a Girl Wants." I've seen them and now own them, bought one at a time, until I've amassed a reasonably decent Colin Firth film library. What's the attraction?

Those eyes. The face that he downplays as something less than beautiful, something on which characters can be painted. I say nay, nay! I think I know beautiful. And, be honest, Colin... magazines like "Manhattan" don't give pages of gorgeous head shots to people who aren't beautiful. Still, beauty isn't everything. In the case of Colin Firth, talent trumps everything.

His movie, "A Single Man," for which he's received an Oscar nomination, simply proves my point. A 52-year-old English professor teaching in 1960s L.A., Colin's George Falconer is a textbook neurotic who covers his homosexuality (hardly acceptable in that era) with fastidiousness and reserve. He has just lost his lover of 16 years to a car accident and is struggling to get through what just might be his last day on earth. We see his suffering, his loneliness, his despair. In one scene, he and Jim are curled at opposite ends of the sofa reading with one of their fox terriers resting between them. They are good-naturedly arguing about who will get up to change the record and their ease and comfort with one another speaks volumes about their relationship. After the death of Jim and one of their dogs, George goes to the bank to empty his safe deposit box and comes upon a fox terrier in a car parked outside. He goes to the window and, ever so gently, nuzzles the dog's head, remarking to the dog's owner that "he smells like buttered toast." That little gesture tells the viewer volumes about the depth of his loss. I was the only one in the theater who was crying out loud. In fact, there were only four of us occupying the auditorium, so difficult has it been to find this lovely film playing anywhere.

This Firth performance is brilliant and moving. It is sad and devastating, even as George begins to see the beauty of things around him and perhaps think of an optimistic future. I've seen the movie twice and am about to make it a trio. I am sad that, nominations aside, Colin was passed over for the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild awards in favor of Jeff Bridges' portrayal of a has-been falling-down-drunk country singer in "Crazy Heart."

Any actor worth his salt can play that. Not many could infuse the face of George Falconer with pure grief and grip the hearts of those who come to care about his character. I'm afraid Hollywood will reward family heritage and run-of-the-mill acting while a superb performance like Colin Firth's will lose out. See the film, if you can find it. It's as beautiful as the man who stars in it.

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