Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Retired but not really

"I stand on the rooftops, I look down on my story, and it swallows me."

At the end of this month I will celebrate 5 years of retirement.

Technically I could say that I'm not really retired. I run my own little bead business, which from time to time demands 40 hours or so of work on my part.

But that's a choice I make. The income is nice to have but I pour a lot of it right back into the business. Of what doesn't go back in, the government gets almost half, thanks to the married-filing-jointly bottom line.

Whatever's left goes toward my share of the household expenses plus my own care and feeding. The shoes, the clothes, the accessories, the hair, the nails, the monthly massage that keeps the pain in my hard-working hands, arms and neck more manageable.

Since sales have been slow (again) I'm not really making ends meet. I continue to draw down the lump of cash I got when I departed the corporate world.

Because my life is charmed, I left my salaried job at the perfect time. My severance was paid out in a lump sum and I was able to immediately collect unemployment benefits, which temporarily had been extended to 18 months rather than the standard 6 months. That shored up my little nest egg.

It's dwindling now. After Neil retires, sometime this year, I'll be able to think about starting my social security benefits, next year or the year after, depending on which tax year his payout falls into. I'm hoping to generate enough bead income to avoid dipping into my savings. And I'm determined to wait to take any distributions from my 401K plans until they become required.

Now all I have to do is wave a magic wand and a dedicated market of eager bead buyers will materialize.

Where's that life charm I've come to depend on?

I just had a new thought about why I'm frustrated with the lack of sales. You know, on top of the money thing, and the validation thing, and the bemusement thing, because I really do think my beads are pretty, well-priced and just as nice as many I see that do sell.

I'm awash in beads. I have trays full of beads. I have plenty of inventory, enough for months at the rate I'm selling of late, one or two sets a day.

And I still want to make beads. I still want to dip mandrels and go out in the hot garage and poke through my shelves full of bins full of glass colors in an infinite rainbow of hues, shades and tones. I still want to ramp up the kiln, crank up the oxygen concentrator, turn on the propane tank, light the torch and melt glass.

Because the nerve pain in my hands and especially my right arm nags me chronically, I've been mostly making small beads, gravity shaped round beads, mostly with dot designs, because dots are my thing. Winding on larger amounts of glass for focals, spinning more glass on the mandrel, decorating the bead for more sustained amounts of time without a respite hurts my appendages more. Plus focals don't sell as well as sets for me.

Soon I'll have tubs full of round beads with lots of dots, in pairs because customers like pairs for earrings. Eventually I may have crates full, a bathtub full even.

And I can't help thinking it's wasteful, taking all that beautiful raw material, powering all that equipment, to make more beads that just are going to accumulate and add to the burden I already bear of having too freaking much stuff.

Can I change my attitude? Can I think of making beads just as having fun, doing what I love? Does everything have to have some more measurable sort of return?

Where would we be if Vincent Van Gogh stopped painting simply because his work wasn't selling? The world would certainly have less beauty. We need all the beauty we can get, especially in these days of snipings and massacres and trigger-happy loose canons running amok with guns.

And wouldn't it be wonderful if someday my beads were worth, well, whatever they are worth, something, more than nothing?

If I stop making them, we'll never know, will we?

Some of my crazy cache of dot bead pairs. Full disclosure, about half are sold.

You turn a blue eye to me and you look right through me
You said define what you think freedom means... if you want freedom
We can wake up this lullaby town
Burn through every red light I found
Lift a dust cloud
Break the speed of sound
You could break free

I stand on the rooftops, I look down on my story
And it swallows me
Beyond the horizon, the taillights, the glories,
Will you follow me?
(Freedom) I need to know who I am
(Freedom) I'm like a moth in your hand
(Sweet freedom) Do I fly or stand?
Or fall on my knees?

If you want to run I'll pack my suitcase
If you want to stay I'll make a front door key
And if you need space... to fly... free
Take all the sky you need.

(Ellis Paul)

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