Last weekend, when I left Reedville for five more irksome days in Smallville, there was a single pink peony half-opened by the corner of my house. Yesterday I returned to find hundreds of blooms. I have them everywhere – they line the back of my driveway, appear on all four sides of my house in one place or another. Some are the hugest I have ever seen. This place is a little Eden and, to make certain that I see more of it in the near future, I am meeting this morning with a rep from the reverse mortgage people to go over some papers. It would be dishonest to say that I don’t have a host of second thoughts in the wee hours about both getting a reverse mortgage and about retiring. I am unused to not having money left over at the end of each pay period. I buy whatever I want, and a lot of stuff I don’t. A whole new idea must rear its ugly head in the near future – discipline.
That is a virtue that heretofore I have only encountered in dictionaries or novels involving mysterious deaths at service academies. I subscribe to the untested thesis that I mostly spend to alleviate the vast tide of boredom that is my current situation. This touching faith in my inner contentment waiting to break out and warm itself in the sun of my retirement flies in the face of all past experience and requires a determined effort to ignore the evidence of the past 66 years. What is true though is that I really can’t go on as I have been doing. One lesson I seem to have to learn anew each time it is needed is that just as bad money is said to drive out the good, so to do time-killing activities drive out the energy to do what really matters, unsatisfactory relationships preclude the opportunity for real intimacy and so on. The people I want to spend time with and the things I want to do cannot be squeezed into whatever time is left over here and there after the aimless and unsatisfying activities in which I engage these days.
People with whom it is worth spending time are busy and popular. You cannot expect them to make time for someone who is merely a new acquaintance when that someone is unhappy with his lot and trails all kinds of baggage, none of it of an interesting or intriguing nature. Things that are worth doing demand time and commitment. I find, for instance, that I cannot write when I have other things scheduled. This is why, with rare exceptions, I blog only on days off. However good or bad my efforts may be, they require sitting down with an open-ended amount of time and going where my thoughts take me. I admire people who squeeze in their hobbies in moments snatched here and there. So many terrific writers and other doers of worthwhile tasks can do this, but I cannot. I must immerse myself, and I cannot do this when an arbitrary endpoint is looming. It is like waking just before the alarm goes off and trying to go back to sleep with that damn bell all set to ring. In addition, doing things I dislike (like my job) exhaust me far beyond what the effort involved would lead one to suspect. I just cannot summon either will or energy after work. I am lucky if I bother to eat.
Another more insidious thought also holds me back from getting involved in something I care about while I am still among the employed. If I were to do that which I loved, how could I ever go back to work again? I think on some level I keep myself from getting too involved, from loving anything or anyone too much, for fear I just could not draw back when it was time for work or other pointless activities. When you are with a thing, or a person that you love, the time flies. I often think of the character in Catch 22 who strove to make his life as boring as possible with the aim of making it seem to last longer. I have wondered if I may be unconsciously doing that. The college years, the surfing years, the years with Tumwell, the years in Saudi went so fast. Like Prufrock’s women they have come and gone, and perhaps like Prufrock, my courage has failed. The last 14 years, since all of those people and activities have been absent, has been an eternity. I wonder if, on some level, I feel that a life of real commitment will feel like a running jump into the grave.
What I must do is find out. Will I replace work with something real, or with just more pointless obligations that seem like work? I don’t really know; I am amazingly good at formulating vast plans that never quite get implemented. Based on past experience, I will have a fallow period lasting a month or two and then I’ll go somewhere or do something. I need some time to actually believe that freedom is real; that the shackles of servitude have finally been struck from my wrists and ankles and I am free. They say that people who have been confined for a long period of time tend to continue to live circumscribed lives for sometime after; even forever in some cases. I have heard often that men released from prison will stop and wait at closed doors afterward, because they are so used to doors being locked, requiring someone else to open them. I expect I shall be like that for a bit. I have let a life lived in default go on so long that I am too unsure of how to seize freedom right off the bat.
Later that day.
My man has come and gone, leaving behind a sheaf of papers that could account for half the trees felled this year in the Pacific Northwest. This reverse mortgage program is a federal thing, or at least a federally regulated thing, and now that I have been thru an hour and a half of preliminary paper rustling, nothing can be done until I have had legally mandated counseling. Apparently this is mainly for an independent party to ensure that I am not senile, a charge that I have not been entirely free of risk having leveled at me since I was about five. Once this has been completed I must get an appraiser to evaluate my house – hopefully he wil be impressed with my new super-insulated beveled glass front door that cost me, after installation, $4,600 all told. And the deck my brother Luke built, and the new roof and the tankless water heater et al. Certainly the man here today (who has nothing to say in the evaluation/appraisal process,) was blown away by the beauty of my surroundings. That is a good sign at least.
Around one my old high school friend and fellow altar boy from the years just after the discovery of fire, dropped by. He is visiting from Chicago where he has lived and taught school since 1971. He was saying that he thought that ours was the luckiest generation in history. Our parents fought the big war and worked their butts off to give us enormous opportunity, which we of course have screwed up so incredibly that our heirs will never know it’s like to live as we did. I’d pretty much agree with that – in fact it was I who added that last bit to the conversation. Happily we boomers (or more accurately in our case war babies) have done our damnedest with two presidents who never got beyond adolescence and have passed the torch, along with ruins of our educational system, the shell of a manufacturing dynamo that is a faint memory and a lot of faux religious blather, onward to a genuine adult to try to reassemble. Good luck to him. We will of course, demand that even billionaires get their full entitlement of social security so that no penny which can possibly be spent on us will be overlooked. I imagine our little grandchildren looking up at us and asking, “Grandpa, what’s money?” If I know the boomers, they will say, “Oh, it is just some Chinese custom,” without any thought of explaining why it is their custom and not ours. And certainly not the faintest idea that this, or anything else, is our fault. Ya gotta love us.
The man today estimated that the cash should be in my hand by July 1. I can’t even really imagine anything that could feel as good as that moment, except the moment sometime after that (but not MUCH time after) when I say to my boss, “Can I talk to you for a minute...?”