On the day I retired this past July, I posted the song, “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper on my Facebook page. The 1972 song, of course, raucously celebrates the end of the school year with children screaming “Yay!” and a distorted school bell ringing at the end. A bit juvenile for me to post the song at the end of my 9-to-5 working life, but the underlying feeling is true nonetheless. It seems I’m a 12-year-old at heart.
I won’t lie—the past few weeks have been pure bliss and sloth. I feel like Sisyphus finally got that boulder over the mountain. Sunday nights now I fall asleep without anxiety clawing my stomach. In fact, that’s most nights now. I take naps. I read the New York Times AND the Washington Post all the way through. I read lesfic books to my heart’s content. I stay up late and listen to music.
But my purposeful laziness is coming to an end. I’m starting to make lists of the things I intend to do now. However, they’re fun things, and things I want to do. After 48 years of working for a paycheck, most of the time doing things I HAD to do for someone else, my time is now mine.
I’ve been reflecting on my work life. I’ve been lucky, but I also worked hard. I had part-time and summer jobs beginning when I was 14. But I was most fortunate to be hired for my first real job right after college in my field: journalism. I lived in Columbia, South Carolina, where I had graduated from the University of South Carolina J-school. The job was doing news for the state’s public radio network.
My boss sent me on my first story, to cover controversial environmental hearings at the Savannah River nuclear plant, near Augusta, Georgia. I got lost trying to find it, but eventually found my way on the map. I had done some reading up but didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect the many suspicious eyes on me as I set up the mic and tape recorder at the front of the room. I sat through the hours-long hearing, recording the whole thing.
The protestors (yay, there were protesters!) got up to speak. Three of them took to the podium, put gags over their mouths and stood there for an hour. That did not make good radio.
By the time I got back to the station, it was about 9:30 p.m. I had hours of tape to listen through. I didn’t have the right tape editing tools. I hadn’t indicated where in my notes the good quotes were. The woman running the board that night, Pontheola Mack, took pity on me and helped me at least get the right editing tape. It took me two hours to find some useable sound bites, and hours later, I wrote a couple of versions of the story so my boss could report it the next morning. The sound bites I gave him were too long; he had to stop at about a minute in. There’s school, then there’s real life. Sounds bites at that time, for public radio, should never have been longer than 30 seconds.
But I was a quick study. Eventually, the station decided to produce a half-hour live news show in the evenings following All Things Considered—and I would be its anchor. We called it Carolina 6:30.
I was promoted to statehouse reporter and anchor. I knew nothing about how the South Carolina legislature worked, but I learned as I went along—which legislation and legislators to follow, the smart ones, the blowhards, the scoundrels. Lindsay Graham was a state legislator in those days and he was an asshole then, too. South Carolina was in the process, in the early 1980s, of turning from blue to red. It all made for great radio.
That job was a great launchpad. I jumped from radio news in Columbia to working for a US Senator in DC, to Voice of America, to ABC News in New York, to speechwriting for politicians, national heads of Girl Scouts of the USA and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and various and sundry other jobs in between. My longest job was at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control—16 years as the writer and editor of Outdoor Delaware, a (now-online) magazine.
I’ve had a long and satisfying work career but now it’s time to do what I want with whatever time I have left on the planet. Yes, indeed, school’s out! ▼
Beth Shockley is a retired senior writer/editor. She lives in Dover with her wife and five furbabies.