Life begins at retirement for those who are lucky, for those who learned life’s lessons, for those who had a hobby or a passion. I had all of those but never realized I was preparing for the long haul. What young person is thinking 60 years down the road when they deliver newspapers at 5 a.m. from a Harley-Davidson?
I loved to read. Not that I was good at it, I almost failed fourth grade. Summer school and science fiction saved the day and reading led to writing. Writing did not come easy either, I almost failed sixth grade because I could not spell. How is that for lacking an essential skill necessary for a future career in law and literature?
But I persevered. Some teachers, in science for example, graded me on subject matter rather than the niceties of “i before e except after c” and whether Christmas had more than one “s” at the end. Later in life, computers, spellcheck, and Bill Gates ensured that someday I might actually be published.
Another roadblock I had to overcome was left-brain, right-brain thinking. Technology, math, and engineering came easy compared to my struggles with the written word. Those subjects were logical, at least for me, and I loved them. Formulas made sense, spelled out, in a shorthanded way, how to solve problems, and the letters and symbols related to function. It was a logical process and opened the door to computers, coding, do-while loops, least squares, the U.S. Naval Academy, and Michigan State.
I excelled in the field that had chosen me, but I still loved to read. Like some right/left-handed balancing act, translating printed pages through eyeballs, retina, and nerves to the short-term/long-term storage areas of the brain made my reading very slow.
A methodical reading rate made choosing which books to read an onerous chore, a project, although I had a good memory of the storyline. Occasionally I chose wrong and picked a book that was not well written, had a weak storyline, or finished with deus ex machina, a weak ending, or a contrived solution to an insoluble problem. I knew I could do better.
Writing a novel proved to be an excellent excuse to buy a computer when they were relativity rare and a novelty in most households. When the children went to bed, I wrote a page a day. The next day, after a quick review and revision of yesterday’s writing, it was easy to continue the storyline with another page. At lunch it was shut the door, eat a sandwich, and write another page. Thank God for law school and William & Mary.
Love of the law and a background in science and an unexpected invitation to intern at the Langley Research Center turned me in another direction. I was not only licensed to practice law but also registered as a patent agent. Philip Morris, Cooper Industries, and Kodak gave me a chance to practice both.
Nothing is easy, but passion helps. When retirement came, it was time, and my company and the totality of my experience made the transition easy. Science, plus law, plus writing led to novels (Ishmael’s Son, The Taking of the King), screenplays based on the novels, poems, essays (Prologue to Retirement), movies (Turnabout), and more. Each category tells a story, a book, a screenplay, a movie (based on a book or a short story), poem (based on a conversation), or a song (which sets a poem to music).
The last, a song called “Embers,” was my biggest surprise. It combined the guitar, which I learned to play in high school because band members got a lot of attention from girls, with poetry, which I loved and learned to write along the way. Best of all, “Embers” is now streaming on Spotify and other sites, and I often find an excuse to send a link to high school classmate or college friends. It is true that everything that goes around comes around; who knew that a platitude could be so true.
Late in life, I realized that every barrier I encountered was an opportunity to learn a new skill which led me where I needed to be. Preparing for retirement need not be a course or a seminar or a how-to book, it may be as simple as finding something you have liked doing all of your life and now have the opportunity to pursue full-time. Be the best of all you have been all of your life and look forward to doing something, not for the money, but for love.
Nelson Adrian Blish is a lawyer, writer, composer, inventor, and retired Navy captain living in western New York. He is the author of Ishmael’s Son and The Taking of the King; writer and director of Turnabout, a short movie; co-producer of Like the Spider, a feature length film; and composer of “Embers,” a song streaming on Spotify. He is also a distinguished Kodak inventor and was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal.