I am at my ten month mark of retirement. This is no cause for celebration, nor am I marking any special moment by mentioning it. I am, however, taking time to observe that unfortunately I still act and move about my world as a man who has very little time or patience for life’s daily interactions. Intellectually I am fully aware that I retired, no longer have a job, and my only responsibilities now are to myself and my wife. Yet, today I noticed that I still have this strut of self-urgency as I go about my business walking into grocery or drug stores. I carry an air of having places to be, things to do, and important decisions that need to be made. And this would indeed be true if you agree that the task of deciding between Angel Soft or Cottonelle toilet paper is important.
There is a part of my brain that still thinks I’m getting away with something by “taking off” so long from work. I’ve even had a dream or two in which my old boss asks why assignments of mine are being neglected. Statistics are long overdue, a spending deadline is coming up fast, and I’ve missed several conference calls (okay, let’s be thankful for that one at least). Subconsciously I have these things waiting for me to do, and I need to return to them soon. It’s no wonder that I’m running at full speed still — I’m haunted by deadlines! If Jacob Marley appears at the foot of my bed soon, I’m going to have to dispense with that second martini in the evening.
Yesterday Gorgeous and I visited the art museum in our local beachside community. We incorrectly read the hours of operation on their website, and chose to visit on a day when they were actually closed. But luckily this in fact turned into a bit of good fortune. A woman in the business office saw us standing at the front door, invited us in, and then sat us down to explain the benefits of the museum’s membership. Without any distractions, this woman had a captive audience as she explained all the programs that go on there during the year. We heard about art classes, classic films, a lecture series, fall jazz concerts, and oh yes — actual art exhibits. After about 20 minutes we were eager and excited enough to invest in a membership for the two of us. Nothing speaks of committing to a place more than belonging to its cultural institutions.
Pleased and happy, I announced that we’d return later this week when they were open so that we could see the exhibits. However, the good woman was still ramped up to tell us more, and Gorgeous was in full-listening mode along with what turned out to be a hefty list of follow-up questions for her. Standing there with my credit card in my hand to complete the transaction, both women stopped for a moment to stare at me, and then without skipping a beat proceeded to train their attentions on each other again for information to flow back and forth. It was now a two-person conversation with me being the impatient one. Dumbfounded, I stood there wondering why this was taking so freakin’ long. I had places to go, things to do, committee work to complete, statistics to submit, monthly reports to finalize… or perhaps just a need to stop at Walgreens on the way home.
This was a light bulb moment. Ten months since I retired, and I’ve still not completely disengaged with the long-held, programmatic stigma that I should be more productive, ambitious, and activity conscious. Instead of just enjoying a wonderful moment of cultural opportunity, I’m fretting that someone is going to snag that last container of Purex detergent currently on sale. Visions of Joni Mitchell’s lament to obsessive routine and consumerism come at me full steam as a wake up call:
While you still have the time
You could get away and find
A better life you know the grind is so ungrateful
Racing cars whiskey bars
No one cares who you really are
You’re the keeper of the cards…
My mother used to watch me when I was younger with my leg going up/down as I sat thinking or working out a problem. She used to say to me, “Martin, your motor’s running.” My motor is apparently still running. I’ve left the daily grind, but the habit and inclination is still dancing around in my head with no place to go because it hasn’t yet found the exit. I don’t want to kill motivation or savvy, but at the same time it would be nice to slow that engine down a bit. An art museum lecture is but one remedy for the impatient man. A drive to Key West is probably another. Road trip, anyone?
My all time favorite retirement story is from a friend whose father retired after a long career as a high-powered executive. The man had a Type A personality and a take-charge style of management. Of all the people who needed to retire with a definite plan going forward, this guy for some reason did not. His entire life had been business, the pursuit of more business, and the restless knowledge that there was always more of it out there. Unlike your humble blogger, this was not someone who was content with waiting for inspiration while watching Perry, Della, and Paul solve a courtroom mystery. This man needed to be on the move constantly. According to my friend, on his father’s very first Monday morning after he retired, he waited until my friend’s mother left the house to go shopping, and he then promptly pulled down the draperies from the front living room window and left them strewn on the couch. When his wife returned home later that day to find her living room in disarray, she confronted him and demanded to know just what the hell he thought he was doing. By that point he was in the backyard stripping varnish from the kitchen table, which was yet another spontaneous decision. “Drapes?,” he asked. “What drapes?” Within three months he formed a partnership with an old colleague and was back at work. The man was not simply not ready to hang it up.
I am indeed the keeper of the cards. But more than anything, stopping to smell the roses should be more than simply an expression. Conversations with people shouldn’t be arduous exercises in which one suffers through in order to get to the next thing.
Tomorrow we’re headed back to that museum, and I plan on taking in everything that I see in as deliberative a manner as possible. It’s a lot easier than removing drapes; we have blinds anyway, and those are a lot more work to remove.