Interstate 75 connects my life in Ann Arbor to another, very different existence at a cherry orchard in northern Michigan. The house is 115 years old and has been touched by five generations of us. Inside and beyond, in the woods and fields, stuff and changes accumulate. Such things mark what you’ve done and what you haven’t; what things people in your gene pool accomplished with reminders to try some.
So as I found myself driving through life’s higher numbers in bumptious good health, 75 came to take on special significance. As that birthday approached, it became a sort of road sign. I had been traveling north and south on I-75. Maybe E-75, October 9, 2015, should signal highway Eisendrath leading to life beyond Wallace House. The numbers worked in the way journalists prefer in anniversaries: 40 years at the University of Michigan, 35 running the Livingston Awards, 30 directing the Fellowships.
What made me take the turn leading to retirement from all three, however, did not come until late last summer. I don’t like leaving important things undone, and until then, the Livingston Awards had been neither strongly embraced by the University, nor had it garnered endowment. At the awards lunch in New York last June, however, President Mark Schlissel told the winners “I look forward to hearing about your accomplishments and to coming back many times in the future to join in celebrating the future of journalism.” In August, a longtime donor sent the first of checks to total $1 million for endowment. Suddenly, I felt confident that the Livingstons were firmly on the way to permanence at a University I’ve loved for a long time.
Unsurprisingly, the decision to make of this revelation came at the farm, surrounded by all those reminders. That’s where such things happen.
But why leave a job I’ve been lucky enough to more-or-less design? Fair question. Again, it’s the numbers. Pride in having tried to guide journalists to as satisfying a life as I’ve had runs deep. How much could I add in a few more years? By contrast, although every job has brought enormous pleasure, Wallace House way above all, jobs have always dominated my life. The only chance to explore what I might do without one is right now. I know what I would advise Fellows in such situations.
Hence taking the exit off the big road I’ve known so well to smaller ones I think may lead to intriguing places with Julia, my lifelong road-trip navigator and the co-pilot of our lives together. Many, I hope, will lead to you.