There are certain milestones in every artist's life he or she will never forget--the first art class, the first "good" painting, the first "sold" painting, the first ribbon, the first newspaper interview--all of which serve to move that artist from student to rank amateur, to talented practitioner, and if we don't get lost along the way, eventually to the lofty designation, experienced professional. It's not often that I talk about myself when I write, but today marks one of those milestones for me. I did something today that everyone warns artist and entertainers NOT to do. Today, at 3:17 p.m. e.s.t. I quit my day job. It's official, I've got my gold wrist watch from the local teachers association to prove it. Actually, it's not quite that traumatic, though it's no less dramatic for me personally. Quitting my day job for me entails "merely" retirement, after 26 years teaching art in the public schools. I'm not going to be desperately clawing to avoid starvation. Thanks to the State Teachers Retirement System and the fact that my wife will not be retiring for something just over two more years, we will not be in the position of having to eke out a living totally from my art work.
We're making some modest changes, however. We've fired our twice-a-week cleaning lady. I'll now be doing the vacuuming, dusting, toilet bowl cleaning, and bed-changing myself in my spare moments. Severance pay and a generous retirement bonus will permit us to reduce, combine, and refinance BOTH our mortgages at today's fortuitously low interest rates. Also, I've managed to save a little and right now I've got a little greater than usual backlog of work to be done for Christmas. So even though I'm fairly young for retirement (53), I feel fairly secure. From now on all I have to do is sit back, write my daily Arty-facts, and paint whatever and whenever I feel like it until old age and death force me to slow down a little. Thanks to a good education (paid for by the GI Bill), a fear and loathing of hard, physical labor, good genes, a strong work ethic (both gifts from my parents), some patient, understanding high school principals, a stable marriage to a smart woman, a little God-given talent, and more than my share of good luck, I can look forward to retirement with a great deal of freedom and so many exciting options I get a little "giddy" just thinking about it.
On the downside, all those things I've been "putting off 'til I retire" are starting to come down on me like the torrent from Fibber McGee's closet. I have two side panels to a mural composed of retired teachers from my school to do sometime in the next few years. I've recently started drawing anniversary portraits featuring a small vignette of the couple's wedding picture in Ebony pencil above and behind their recent, fiftieth anniversary portrait in Prismacolor. I need to do a sample of one of these for the pre-Christmas shows. I also have plans to do some large-scale, fool-the-eye still-lifes and an updated portrait of our home. Today I shot photos for these plus a self-portrait still-life; and if I get all that done this week, there are leaves coming down by the bushel I can rake. I am discovering one of the biggest problems of those facing retirement--what to do with all that free time. I wish I knew.