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Columnist Valerie Schultz

It’s official: I am old.

I know this because I am keeping a list of words I have been unable to remember during a normal conversation. The list so far: philanthropist, co-ed, aphrodisiac, eccentric. (As this list grows, I may learn more about myself.)

I know this because when I try to get out of the car after an hour or more of driving, a groaning noise that arises from the depths of my being must emanate from my mouth before my muscles will actually move to a standing position outside the car. I have no control over this process.

I also know this because I am due to receive my first retirement check this month. My years of working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have ended. The library I reported to each morning is functioning well without me, and a new chapter in my life has opened. The title of the chapter so far: “Aging with More Grace than Grunting.”

As we baby boomers retire, we are, of course, rethinking everything our parents ever told us about retirement. That’s because we have rethought every milestone of life since we graduated from high school. We pride ourselves on rediscovering and redefining things that actually may not need it. We are dedicated to the discussion and dissection of major transitional events. We reflect on and pick at our experiences in the hope of deciphering the Meaning of Life. It’s how we roll. As far as we are concerned, every turn we take pitches us into uncharted territory. You would think that, before us, no one ever went to college or got married or gave birth or raised children or took on a mortgage or battled high cholesterol or had a midlife crisis or hit menopause or cared for an aging parent or lost a parent or got laid off or lived in an empty nest. Or retired.

So I am told by my peers that, just like 50 was the new 30, retirement is the new work. I am told I will be busier in retirement than I was while working at a full-time job. So far I am not. But I am new at this. On the first morning after I retired, I felt a little panicky. I thought about all those projects I have listed, when asked, that I plan to do in retirement, and wondered: Do I have to do them all today? Can’t I just take a day and catch up on "Madam Secretary"? Do I have to show immediate proof of my diligence at being retired?

I find that I want to be worthy of retirement. I don’t want to waste any of this precious free time. I want to make every moment count. Is it possible to fail at retirement? Because I worry that I will, just as I have worried about being a failure at any job I have ever had. “Just don’t become a recluse,” my still-working husband cautioned. So now I worry about becoming a recluse. But I’m not. I visit my children. I walk the dog. I do the shopping on weekday mornings, when stores are user-friendly. I spend hours at my desk, rejoicing in words, fretting over words, typing and spilling and welcoming words.

Maybe I am a recluse.

There are rules for retirement: Get enough sleep, but don’t get too much sleep. Step away from Facebook. Answer your phone. Hug more. Flaunt your eligibility for the senior discount. Honor your health. Do the crossword puzzle. Listen to young people. Live each day like it’s your last, because one of them is definitely going to be (although this guideline is almost impossible to follow). I am trying to abide by the rules, which I prefer to think of as suggestions. The crossover from work to retirement is proving a little trickier to navigate than I anticipated. I am stepping slowly and carefully through the running stream. So far, I am keeping my shoes dry.

I realize I have retired at the right moment when, after spending so much time in prison, I catch myself thinking of my newfound freedom as parole. But here’s a shout-out to the inmates who frequent my old library: I miss you. I don’t miss the long hours or the daily commute or the red tape or the giant aggravations, but I do miss you guys. I pray for you daily, prayer being something I have time for. Hope to see you on the outside.

Meanwhile, I’ll add to the list of words that escape the clutches of my brain. And try not to groan so audibly. Right, and pin down that slippery Meaning of Life.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at vschultz22@gmail.com; the views expressed are her own.

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