Category Archives: Guest Corner

Publishing Julia, Better Late Than Never

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In Memory of

Julia Lerner Field

1944 – 2016

I met Julia in the mid-70s in the Quaker Commune on Glenwood Road in Brooklyn, New York. She had already been living there when I sought and happily took refuge in that big, old, rambling, gorgeous house still enjoying its heydays on a wide, tree-lined street. At the time, I didn’t know where or how I fit into that magical amalgam of Quaker, Jewish, intellectual, leftist, anti-war activist, gay, theatrical, zany, and other non-generic characters, but somehow, they all cobbled themselves into something we all kind of needed: not quite a family and not quite not a family.

After the Quaker Commune disbanded, Julia and another member of the Quaker Commune, Debbie Friedman, continued their friendship, sharing an apartment, and eventually getting separate apartments in the same building. They were great friends, but more like sisters, to each other. Every pilgrimage I made back to Brooklyn usually included getting together with both of them.

Julia was charming, cosmopolitan, so well-spoken and so well-read. She was funny and entertaining, and so much of what she said was punctuated with a something that bordered on a giggle. The dictionary definition of a “gamine” describes her perfectly: a slim, boyish, elegant young woman who is, or is perceived to be, mischievous, teasing or appealing. I don’t think I ever met anyone who wasn’t taken with her.

Julia was a natural-born writer, with the gift of gab, a keen eye for observation and a passion for language. After I started my blog a few years ago, I kept encouraging her to start her own blog and to publish her writing. She sent me a short piece she’d written on retiring, and I loved it so much that I begged her to let me put it on my blog in my Guest Corner. Although the idea appealed to her, she was uncomfortable with the vulnerability that comes from exposing one’s writing. I also know, however, that she would have loved being acknowledged for this wonderful talent that otherwise might not see the light of day.

As a writer, I feel that a writer’s voice transcends their death, and in spite of Julia’s reluctance to publish her work, both Debbie and I can think of no better way to honor her memory than sharing her voice and her humor with her friends, family, acquaintances, and even new readers.

We love you, Julia. And consider yourself published, because here it is:

 

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Julia and Frabjous

QUITTING TIME

By Julia Field

I decided to retire when I was 64. Although I had always planned on working ‘til 70, early retirement suddenly seemed a better choice than premature death.

An increased risk of premature death is what doctors, psychologists and other health professionals calculate for every extra cigarette you smoke, every extra pat of butter you spread on your (white) toast, every extra hour of TV (even PBS!) you watch plunked on the sofa. In my case it was every budget that had to be modified twice and thrice a quarter for the same government contract, every deadline marked “Yesterday, B.C.,” every extra hour of restorative slumber forfeited to the roar of the fire-breathing, dream-snatching clock radio.

A year or so before I made the big decision, my best friend Nina gave me a fat, illustrated, spiral-bound workbook about how to decide if you’re ready to retire. It had chapters on all the relevant emotional and economic issues, including worksheets on which to calculate formulas using your personal data. Figuring out how to retire was too much like work! I didn’t know how to assume the return on all my different asset classes; I didn’t know for sure if I could find a part-time job, to what degree I might be restless or bored or lonely, what kind of volunteer work I might like to do. My head was left spinning with those Excel logical functions I’d once tried, and failed, to master: IF this equals that, then TRUE; IF this does not equal that, then FALSE; IF THIS doesn’t know that it is not THAT, then WHAT???

Clearly, any book that tries to get you to predict your future is about as helpful as a storefront psychic. It didn’t matter if my asset allocations were aligned with Jupiter; neither I nor anyone else knew that the financial meltdown was on its way, and that all the boomers who had financial plans, and maybe even financial planners, were going to go bust.

Why then, in the spring of 2009, after the financial meltdown, when the DOW was 7,000-something, did I take the plunge? Contrary to my cynical, pessimistic, depressive nature, I decided to look on the bright side. I figured that because I was 64½, not 70, my 401(k) would have those extra years to recover. Time is money, right?

Even though I regrettably didn’t have a pension, I proudly didn’t have any debt. I live in a rent-stabilized apartment and am a devout homebody. Besides, I thought, once you retire, you don’t have to save! You only have to strike a balance between spending and conserving. I was sure I could do it. I prayed I could do it. I knelt at the side of my beloved bed, and thanked God and FDR for Social Security, and the Devil for Medicare Part D.

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The first few weeks of freedom were liberating and paralyzing. It was May, so taking walks along the park and spending afternoons at a sidewalk café were delightful. But something was lurking in my lizard brain: my former preoccupation with how long I could bear to work changed into the existential question of how long I could afford to live. I kept following the market, dividing my stash by a number that was an average of all my deceased ancestors’ life spans. I had become my own retirement workbook! IF TRUE: you will become a bag lady by your 77th birthday, IF FALSE: you will have to find a sugar daddy by your 76th.

What balanced these spells of anxiety was how well rested I became. Protracted Traumatic Sleep Deprivation was a thing of the past. Almost every day was a snow day. I could have breakfast at noon, I could fume and curse over the Times Crossword until I finished it with my third cup of coffee. I took up knitting and writing, started reading novels again, saw friends and movies in the afternoon. I even got a job, two days a week, through Nina. It was her way of making up for giving me that workbook.

I was smart enough, however, not to join a gym. Jumping jacks are overkill for a heart aerobically stimulated by regular doses of sticker shock.

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“Shoeshine”

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“Frabjous”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I support two handsome, solipsistic cats and, per month, their kitty litter costs far more than a big family’s supply of toilet paper. So I started nickel-and-diming myself: I walked an extra six blocks downhill (and back, carrying the bags, uphill) to a supermarket where I could save 30 cents here, 50 cents there. I tried several brands of supermarket coffee (I know, that’s almost an oxymoron) and got used to asking for my senior discount at the stores that offered them. No Kindle for me – you had to feed it. I got myself a library card, my first in decades. I put off certain purchases to push them past my credit card closing date. (Yes, I know the monthly closing date on my only credit card.) I spend carefully so I don’t have to reduce my nest egg too often. But then I think, if I keep putting things off, I’ll have less time to enjoy them. The Money/Mortality Trade Off lives forever, it seems.

It’s a rare day that I don’t deal with some issue that poses a question of time, values, death, and/or desire. I do not have the answers, but neither does Pope Benedict, who on the issue of early retirement alone I consider a kindred spirit. But I offer this advice to every sleep-deprived sixty-something working stiff desperate to call it quits:

Be prepared to take as many months as necessary to sleep your super-annuated ass off. Even though you can’t earn money while you’re sleeping, you can’t spend it either.

(Written sometime in 2013)

Note from Debbie about Julia’s cats:  Frabjous is now residing under his new nom-de-chat of “Pierre” at my friend Seth’s where he’s keeping an old kitty company. Shoeshine has been with me since the end of July. Myrna (one of Debbie’s cats) beats him up every day 😿 but then Smudge (the other one of Debbie’s cats) gives him a kiss😻

Note from Gloria on behalf of our sweet Julia: Thank you, Debbie and Seth, for keeping both Shoeshine and Frabjous (a/k/a “Pierre”) out of Kitty Heaven!

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Debbie Friedman, including this one:

Julia and Debbie, BFFs

Julia and Debbie, BFFs, 1982 at 180 Berkeley Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn

 

 

 

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Wars: The Star Kind and Those Less Noble, by Doreen Smith Goodwin

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Star Wars is back and not a minute too soon. The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise, will open in December. With it comes familiar faces, heart-stopping special effects, and a storyline that unfolds amidst a war almost biblical in its length and breadth.

My excitement doesn’t stem from a belief that the The Force Awakens will live up to the tremendous hype surrounding it. On the contrary. After a string of disappointing Star Wars movies, I expect very little from this latest iteration. Nonetheless on opening day or soon after, I’ll add this Star Wars saga to all of the others I’ve seen. You see, I am bound by a creed and it dictates that I must see the movie. Loosely translated, my creed states that “all sci-fi is good sci-fi” so I have little choice in the matter. Most recently, I actually saw the universally panned movie Jupiter Ascending and during my lifetime, I’ve willingly sat through a host of “sci-fi gems” along with other movies that were too awful to recount.

I hadn’t adopted my creed in 1977, the year A New Hope, the first Star Wars installment was released. Like most young women just stepping into adulthood, my sights were set on adventure, romance, and fortune. Without a guiding star or a map instructing me how to obtain my heart’s desires, I flitted from one experience to another; eyes open, forever hopeful. When A New Hope made its debut, sci-fi had yet to capture my attention. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure sci-fi with its ubiquitous hostile aliens was something weird and not worthy of serious attention. Star Wars changed all of that for me.

Much has been written about Star Wars as a game changer–how it transformed the movie industry and moviegoers forever but my Star Wars story occurred in a movie ticket line in a suburb far, far away (actually it was just outside of Chicago). My mother and I decided to see the movie on a whim. Naturally we knew about the movie and the hype surrounding it but on that particular day shopping topped our agenda. We were eating lunch at a trendy restaurant when Red and I decided to find out what all the hoopla was about. I can still remember briskly walking towards our destination, turning the corner of a building blocks away from the theater and running smack into a wall made of people all waiting their turn for a piece of cinematic magic.

Always game for an adventure, my shock soon dissipated and I quickly caught the excitement of the people around me. We were in for something spectacular and historic — and everyone in line on the opening day of Star Wars felt the magic permeating the air. Two hours later, the line had only moved about one block and a bit of the magic was wearing off. That’s when my mother declared there was no way that we were going to stand in line all day. “Follow me,” she commanded, and like the dutiful daughter I was, I followed knowing that no good would come of this.

Nicknamed Red, as much for her fiery personality as her auburn hair, my mother had a long and abiding distrust for laws and authority figures. Red never missed an opportunity to point out the injustices of the world to her four children or more appropriately, subjects. Whether it was the police, hypocritical preachers or teachers, no one in authority was to be trusted. Always a quick study, I soon learned that there were societal laws, the kind I learned in school, and Red’s laws and there was no doubt in my young mind that survival depended on how well I followed the later. So there I was, on that fateful afternoon, following my mother into a possible blood bath, certain humiliation, police arrest or worse.

Time stood still for me as I contemplated the circumstances that found us in the front of the line surrounded by an angry mob. The response from the crowd had been predictably swift and savage. “Who do you think you are? You can’t cut in line.” “Somebody get the police!” My mother, on the other hand, was in her element taking on each opponent one insult at a time. All I could do was maintain what I hoped was a steely composure, unreadable and therefore potentially dangerous.

These strangers were standing up to my mother and actually shouting at her, I thought. Was it possible that this defiant mob could accomplish what no one else had been able to do? Was the magic of Star Wars operating outside of the theater? This “force” the movie trailers talked about; could it make her concede her mistake, listen to reason, walk away to fight another day? A large, red-faced man was the self-appointed mob leader. He stood directly in front of Red pointing his finger in her face demanding that we leave now or else. Like a badger facing a much larger foe, his anger only fueled hers and Red leaned into his face making it clear that she would not budge other than to proceed towards the ticket booth. The situation was beginning to spiral out of control. Just then, the line miraculously started to move. Apparently, the theater employees sensed a riot was brewing and wisely decided to open more doors to accommodate ticket buyers.

The carnival atmosphere quickly returned as the mob’s attention switched from us to the beckoning lights of the theater lobby. I breathed a deep sigh of relief as we silently made our way inside of the theater, the magic slowing returning….

storiesinmypurse.blogspot.com

Video Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHfLyMAHrQE

 

 

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