A cynic, wrote Oscar Wilde in “Lord Darlington,” is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Which brings us to item No. 2 on our list of things to do as we move to Belize: “Sell everything.”
Here’s the problem, Oscar, we know the value of everything and the price of nothing. So that makes us, what? Stricken with emotional rigor mortis, I think.
But here’s what we are discovering: Stuff is memory. Stuff is identity. Stuff is emotional. Stuff is expression. Stuff is defining. Stuff is functional. Stuff is connective tissue. Stuff is comfort. Stuff is self. Stuff is continuity. Stuff is nostalgia.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that I still have a pension, and a six-figure one at that. And a 401K/IRA, albeit a much punier bastard sibling.
I hadn’t looked closely at the books since Wall Street took our economy down. I just didn’t have the stomach. And besides I was still working full-time as a reporter, still loving the work I was doing and still thinking that I had a real future in my profession.
I won’t get into the indignities of being made a “part-time” employee after 27 years and consequently stripped of all benefits, including medical. I had a great run, after all, and will forever be grateful for the opportunities that came my way, whether I made good use of them or not.
The fact is, my world changed. But good – no, wonderful – things came with the bad. I’d gotten married to the most incredible woman, Rose Alcantara, and we were in the midst of a dance about how we were to merge her Northern California life and mine in San Diego.
Sometimes fate intercedes, when there is no clear path.
I quit the San Diego Union-Tribune and took a temporary, full-time communications job with a terrific public agency, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). And when that assignment was up I jettisoned most of my possessions (as I have done before in my life) and moved to Northern California to be with Rose.
Why didn’t Rose move to San Diego? Many good reasons: She had an infirm mother in her 90’s to care for; she had a lovely teen daughter, Caira (to whom I’d promised very early on that she would graduate high school with her friends); she had a hard-earned and thriving business in her own Pilates studio. Rose also had a large and beautiful home with an underwater mortgage that was an anchor tied to her dreams.
I pretty quickly realized that after nearly 40 years as a full-time newspaper and newsweb writer and editor whose every job was a gift of providence, I was ill-equipped to reinvent myself. (Can you imagine? I have a box of business cards on which I define myself as a “Content Evangelist.”)
I tried. I sent out scores of resumes into an eerie void of silence; I attended various classes on job searching and resume building; I was even a member of networking groups in two towns, both called Job Club – Napa on Mondays and Fairfield on Thursdays. There were some really smart and talented people in those groups and some who you could just tell would never seriously work again. There were broken spirits and also highly motivated souls determined to create their own next breaks.
I slowly came to the conclusion that as much as I love to write, I don’t think I could do it for anyone else any more. What’s the alternative when writing is all you have done for 40 years?
Well, there is retirement.
That’s when I blew the cobwebs off the links to my pension and 401K and opened the lids. (Cue that creepy screeching noise of rusty hinges.)
Oh. My. God. I’m not broke. Well, not completely.
The bad news is our “nest egg” is pretty modest. We could never move back to San Diego, for example, unless we wanted to live in some dry-toast rural East County trailer park. Our other dream, of moving into San Francisco, is tragi-comically inaccessible. We could continue living in Fairfield but Rose was now filling her every waking hour with clients to meet her mortgage and other bills. My pension would help, but what then?
Some things began to happen. Caira graduated from high school and started college in Arizona. Last November, I got quite sick and required surgery (which wasn’t possible until April when I got enrolled in an early version of God-Bless-You-Obamacare). Both of my parents died and Rose’s mom passed away. And most recently, it appears that Rose’s house has risen above water, giving us the option of a debt-free life. Somewhere.
For reasons I have discussed before, we have opted to move to a foreign country. That would be Belize. For now, it appears that we can live comfortably, with financial room to spare, on my pension and Social Security alone. If Rose or I decide to supplement retirement with work – and we both suspect that we will – we have that option, too. We also have the option of traveling on our “surplus” income, developing a business of our own, house swapping, surfing, kayaking, reading, living…
It sort of comes down to this: Whereas before we faced an endless series of compromises and struggles living in the United States, we now face endless potential in a foreign country.
Will the reality prove us right or are we just a couple of dreamers who drank the promotional ex-pat Kool-Aid?
Well, finding out is just part of the adventure. Isn’t it?