Sunday, May 17, 2015

Back to Work - by Libby James

Retirement: It just ain’t what it used to be. A little more than two years ago, six years after I turned 70 and quit a job in Cheyenne, my life took a right turn. When the owner/publisher of a vibrant rural monthly newspaper in Northern Colorado said, “I want to hire you, but I can’t pay you much,” I said, “OK, when do I start?”

Since then I’ve worked as a part-time staff reporter. The job couldn’t be more different from the one I left. For 15 years, I helped low-income single teen parents study for GEDs and prepare themselves for the world of work, a job I loved. I miss that parade of wild and gutsy young women doing their damnedest to love and nurture their babies and fight their way toward being able to support them.

 I caught the freedom fever in 2004 when I spent a year off in Africa. I discovered how exhilarating it was to wander the streets of a Third World city, delve into the recent, raw history of a country newly emerged into independence, and produce weekly stories and photos to share with people back home. I substitute taught, tutored a few African graduate students in English, and became friends with a cadre of fascinating European ex-pats. I got a taste of what was out there if you had the luxury of free time to indulge. When I came home, I returned to my job for a year and then I quit.

I loved having time to write about my time in Africa and my experiences with teen mothers, and to revise a long stashed-away middle-grade novel.

I planted a garden, entertained more, ran, biked, did some artsy stuff and traveled to spend time with family and friends. I was never bored.

So why did I take a job? Partly on impulse. It sounded interesting. And because I know these things about myself: I like to be busy. I like to write. I like interaction with people. I like to learn new things. I want to know what makes people tick. And I was weary of longterm writing projects with dismal prospects for publication, ready to leave them alone for a while.

My first assignment was to interview and photograph the first-ever paid fire chief in Wellington. Since then, I’ve covered the discovery of a body in Lyons Park, documented a raging flood and its aftermath, and described a couple of fellows in Laporte who make award-winning wine and have no intention of ever selling any of it.

Over the last two-plus years, I’ve met dozens of wonderful people drawn to a rural lifestyle yet committed to forming strong and supportive friendships with their far-flung neighbors. Many have become my friends as well.

My “retirement” job has added fulfillment to my life. It’s challenging to make the cold call, ask the tough question, write the meaningful story. For me, and I suspect for many seniors, retirement  has taken on a new face.