Friday, June 21, 2019

Tobi Alfier - In the Old Days

I started in the Retirement Planning business over forty years ago, the week I turned twenty. It was my goal to give everyone in the world a good retirement, with enough savings to buy their own island, with a Starbucks and WiFi. Now that I’m not working, I still want everyone to have enough savings to buy their own island (or house in Joshua Tree), with a Starbucks and WiFi, AND bookshelves for all their books and contributor copies!!

Writing about work is a bit like writing a memoir. You either have to wait until everyone dies, disguise your writing, or, to quote Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” While I agree with her a million percent, I also did NOT want to be part of the politics of work. The title of my second chapbook was “Hostage Negotiation in Negative-Land” It was not fun. It was not poetic. It wasn’t all about work. If you’re a coward like I am, disguise it (and don’t print it here. Print another poem)!!

            A Passion for Citrus

Sixty-seven years ago
Dave married into this citrus family.
Just he, his new brother,
a two-man trailer in a dirt clearing
and an old percolator from the house
still kept immaculate by his wife.

Plaid was meant for mornings like this—
hand-knit gloves pull a thermometer
close to his eyes
that blink with decision
about smudge pots—

Dave loves to pick an early-morning fruit,
the sound as it snaps off the branch
and the leaves brush around the wound.
He peels, watches the spray refract
prisms in the rising sun,
the scent of grapefruit full in his chest,
fingers ridged with oils.

How many more frosted winters
will chronicle this family’s heritage?
They are tired: 87, 85, no insurance,
all their kids through school—
the youngest manages everyone’s money,
says they’ve all done well enough.
He presses the fruit to his lips.
Maybe it’s time.

(previously published in The Galway Review)

I loved my clients. I loved my advisors, and I loved my work. The people who should have behaved better? They’re not worth writing about.

When I was working, I used to write a “Story of the Month” for a few years. It was focused on Advisors, and how they could add value to their clients. I loved writing it. I loved the visibility it gave our firm, and the help I was able to give. Kind of like being a “good literary citizen of the retirement plan world”. 

I have a writer friend who makes jewelry and markets her jewelry and collectables. She rarely posts anything on her social media pages but she hired an IT person to build her a website. Anyone know what a “mitzvah” is? According to Wikipedia, “the term mitzvah has also come to express an individual act of human kindness.” This IT person was practically paralyzed by anything involving human contact. By helping my friend with her website, he became so excited about the best ways to show her work, price her work and write about it (even though she’s a writer), he became a new person. I don’t think he even knows it. I felt the same way about my monthly stories.

As writers, at some point you are going to have to do some marketing of yourselves. It may be accepting feature readings and bringing books with you to sell. It may be posting your book cover on social media. Whatever is comfortable for you. Maybe whatever is a little uncomfortable as well. I heard a rumor there will be a ton of local Joshua Tree happenings between now and the end of the year. You may be asked to help. You may volunteer to help. Every single thing you do brings visibility to yourself. And it will be a mitzvah to someone else (in this sense it is NOT a religious term, it is a kind, human term).

I loved most of the old days, but I love the new days as well. Be thinking about kindnesses you can do for yourself. Don’t be the person who should have behaved better. And you don’t have to buy an island. Just take good care. I’ll miss you otherwise.

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. For sure, Owen takes after you.

  2. That's the best compliment I can get. I'm not sure he'd feel the same though xoxo

  3. Wonderful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing.


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