JJ after retirement

“No make-up, no rush, no hour one”

“The minute I retired, the list was in my head, and I don’t know where it came from,” said former Minnehaha English teacher, Janet Johnson. Johnson explained that this list of “things she has to do to justify her existence as a retired person” can some days border on torture. “I should be volunteering, I should be making meals for the homeless, I should be having my family over for full dinners twice a week, I should be volunteering at a dog shelter, I should be reorganizing every closet in the house and it goes on and on,” said Johnson.

Trying to push away this list can some days border on torture, she said, and sometimes all she really wants to do is sit in front of the television.

“I guess one day I did do that,” she said. “I stayed in pajammies all day and ate crackers and drank Diet Cokes and watched the Home and Garden Channel.”

Johnson has kept busy by spending more time doing some of her favorite hobbies. Upon retiring and purchasing  a new digital camera,  Johnson’s love for photography has grown.

“I am interested in candids, even when the person that I’m photographing thinks that the result is unflattering,” she said. “For example, catching my sister with a mouthful of mashed potatoes. For me, that’s a great photo. For her, she’s momentarily annoyed, but then she likes it.”

Johnson expressed how she has become increasingly irritated and appalled by how viewers accept low-quality images in important publications.

“An entire photo might have faces out of focus,” she said, “and the comments are, ‘Great photo, I want to order 25 copies.’ I just find it unacceptable. For me, sharp focus is paramount.”

Johnson also continues her love for editing, as she is currently editing a memoir of a former colleague.

“He asked me to read his memoir and to tell him, with frankness, if I thought there was anything to it,” she explained. “I said yes. As a test drive, I edited one of the chapters for him to see if I would be the right editor for him, and he said, ‘You have the job if you want it,’ and it went from there.”

She expressed how difficult the job turned out to be in having tested her knowledge of language, formatting and writing voice. The author of the memoir has permitted his name to be revealed; however, because they are only in the editing stages, Johnson has decided not to do so. After completing the memoir editing, Johnson would like to write her own non-fiction.

Johnson’s dream job is to write a column or monthly blog about the ordinary things and times in life.

“The more mundane, the better,” said Johnson, who cited the example of visiting her 99-year-old father-in-law and deciding to make a meal for him that was a typical dish his wife would have made the family 30 to 50 years ago.

As Johnson was noisily searching for the right pan to use, her father-in-law asked, with slight irritation, what she was looking for. “You know,” Johnson asked him, “that big roasting pan that Phyllis always used for pot roast?” That simple comment triggered unexpected emotions. “He went quiet,” she said. “He was literally crying, and he said, ‘I haven’t seen that pan in 19 years.’ All I had to do was take out the pan and I could have stopped right there, because the pan meant Phyllis and that meant family and that meant delicious meals around the kitchen table.”

Johnson had initially shown interest in writing about how the internet has affected culture and language. In fact, while substituting this school year, Johnson brought back her famous “Minutia Monday,” a fun snippet of information she would tell her class in order to get them thinking, and it had to do with how the internet has changed the meanings of certain words.

“I don’t know if in the end that I would write about it, because I think a gazillion are writing about it already,” she said, “but who’s writing about pans?”

After the long day of substituting, Johnson said that she could really feel the change in pace. She was nostalgic when reminded of the noise, movement and “yeehaws” that came at her all day long when teaching. Johnson explained that at the end of a long day of working she felt exhausted in a good way, while being retired, she feels tired in an unhappy way.

“It’s because I’m in this creative adjustment, which is mourning the loss of my classroom teaching career, mourning the day-to-day interactions with colleagues who are so funny, so savvy, so wise, so dear to me, that I have a kind of solitude that is not always a welcome,” she said. “It really is a 180. I’m not a person that adjusts well to change, so this seems to be hitting all of the molecules in my thinking and in my body.”

However, Johnson clarified that it was the right time for her to retire and she does not regret doing so.

“Most days I am home during the day, alone, all day,” she said. “Still, many of my close friends are still working full time jobs. However, if I had unlimited income, we’d be talking something different. I would already have landed in London, let me tell you.”

During her final graduation walk last spring, Johnson felt a sense of pride in that she had given her greatest effort to one school for so many years. As she walked to the beat of the music, goosebumps rose on her arms and tears welled inside of her.

“I’m good friends with Mrs. Hallberg [band and orchestra teacher], so walking in step to the music that was being conducted under her direction and expertise meant the world to me,” said Johnson. “To me it seemed as if this is the natural order of events, this is the natural conclusion to my career, this is how it should be. I will walk with good posture, I will not trip, and I will be thankful.”

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About Katerina Misa

Katerina is the Editor-in-Chief of the Talon and a senior staff writer.

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