A few months ago, I decided to follow the path of several successful local professionals I had interviewed for an article in Island Scene magazine, published by HMSA, my former employer. These mavericks have embraced their second acts, a growing trend among “mature professionals” (like me) to choose “refirement” over retirement.
Somehow, the idea of trading tension for a pension has never appealed to me. Ernest Hemingway’s description of retirement as the ugliest word in the English language says it all. Not only does it sound like something a mechanic does to a busted tire, it strongly suggests a retirement from life, not work.
A retired friend once told me he thought of retirement as the world’s longest coffee break. Yikes! The reason a coffee break is so invigorating is because of its brevity, which seems to encourage spontaneous, uncensored exchanges of irreverent observations that sometimes turn into dynamite stories. To me, doing nothing for an extensive period of time is actually more suited to the definition of death. (Malcolm Forbes says retirement kills more people than hard work ever does.)
A few years ago, I attended a career-changing workshop in Taos, N.M. given by Natalie Goldberg, whose groundbreaking book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, has sold millions of copies in dozens of languages since it was published in 1986.
Goldberg, a Zen Buddhist, reminded us of one of Jack Kerouac’s essentials of prose: “Be in love with your life.” Adopting “an attitude of gratitude” has led me to novel experiences that follow Kerouac’s maxim.
Several years ago, I began teaching a three-credit magazine writing course at the University of Hawaii. Working with young writers is a joy, especially when I later see their bylines in local publications.
In 2000, I was offered a one-year contract to work as a “polisher” (copyeditor) at the China Daily, an English language newspaper in Beijing. The editor asked me for a response within 48 hours. After making a list of all the reasons why it wasn’t possible, I ran across these words by Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” The editor received my job acceptance via email the next day.
The most exciting journalism experience of my career took place in Shanghai the day after 9/11. As I walked to work at the Shanghai Star, I was surrounded by street vendors curious about the tragedy that occurred in New York City the previous day. It was surreal and frightening to turn on the newsroom’s TV and watch clips of my fellow Americans plunging to their death.
As fate would have it, the director of the journalism department at Stanford University was visiting Shanghai, his birthplace, and agreed to help the Chinese journalists use Western-style reporting techniques to cover the story. He spent the next 16 hours teaching the young reporters how to gather all the news possible for our weekly edition.
Within 24 hours, the Shanghai Star published a 12-page paper filled with stories about the world’s biggest news event of the century. It was the only paper in China to give so much coverage to the calamity, which I later learned was frowned upon by government officials who preferred to downplay the story.
I was deeply touched by the urgency and importance of our mission; and the absurdity of a U.S, journalist like me helping to publish the story from a Chinese newsroom. Although I hope to never have to cover a similar disaster, the experience left me with a new respect for journalists throughout the world.
I am now eager to begin my role as editor of the Honolulu Weekly, an alternative newspaper that I read from cover to cover for its opinionated reviews and columns, investigations into edgy topics, and magazine-style feature stories highlighting local people and culture. I know it will be another experience allowing me to be in love with my life.