Tuesday, June 22, 2010


My Aunt Belle once came to visit us at the farm bearing some rather expensive gifts. These consisted of two or three intricate, expensive, finely-wrought wind-up toys that I vaguely recollect were considered by the adults present to be special in some way – I think it might have been that they were imported from Europe, or were made by some renowned manufacturer. I remember one more clearly than the others; it was a model of a Ferris wheel which, when wound, rotated with its brightly painted little cars going up around and down, as Ferris wheels are meant to do. There was also, I think a carousel and possibly a third toy, which I can no longer recall or even be sure existed. Aunt Belle and my parents marveled at these fairly spectacular objects – I actually have a greater recollection of the adults’ sense of their specialness than I do of the toys themselves.

We kids were, of course, excited to receive these as we were excited to receive any toys. New toys were few and far between in the late forties and early fifties, and having these show up on a day other than Christmas or birthdays was a rare event, indeed. Even children far wealthier than we were, with parents far more indulgent than our own, did not seem to live amongst the constantly growing welter of playthings that create an almost pornographic excess in even the poorest homes I visit today. Pink, plastic and pornographic; it sounds like a magazine article, n’est-ce pas? But the problem was, once the adults had retired to talk of adult things, we were left with these expensive, seductive, colorful items with which there was nothing we could really do. One wound them up and then one just sat there watching. There was very little difference, really, between owning these toys and gazing at them in a shop window. Some instinct for survival warned us that our usual recourse with toys which no longer fascinated, either disassembling them to see what the insides looked like, or bashing one another over the head with them, were not options conducive to our continued happy co-existence with Mom.

So for a period of my youth these toys sat there giving rise in my young breast to feelings of impotence, frustration and a kind of anger. Did other, better children wind these things up by the hour and sit happily watching the wheels turn? Were other children inspired in some way by this expensive indulgence? Is it possible that other children – maybe city children or European children – actually wore these kinds of things out from constant happy playing with them? What was wrong with us (or with me at least), that we just had no idea what to do after about three wind-ups per toy?

I have no idea of what became of these toys; there will be no trip to the Antique Roadshow with happy ending for me. My clearest recollection of these toys is of the feelings of letdown they provoked; I can only vaguely visualize the Ferris wheel, and of the other(s), I cannot even recall how many there were.

I am very much afraid that Retirement is currently provoking feelings remarkably akin to those engendered by these toys. All the conditions are amazing; just now the weather is lovely, every seed I even thought about planting has sprung up, the expensive fixes I put in place just before I retired are all doing just fine – my fancy beveled glass front door, my just-in-time water heater, my flat screen TV, the new refrigerator. But I sit here amidst the luxury and I wonder, day after day, what can I do with all this? Don’t get me wrong, I would not for anything return to working. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but there just seems to be so much of it. It almost seems too precious to waste on anything I can come up with, especially on the sunnier days. I might put in a desultory hour weeding a flowerbed, but I can’t bring myself to commit to actually getting any one of the many plots into tiptop, weedless, well-mulched and fertilized perfection. I read a bit of this and a bit of that, but there are so many unread books I can’t seem to settle on one. I went for a brief canoe trip up the creek out back yesterday, and the difficulty I had untying the canoe from the tree to which it was anchored forcibly reminded me that I had not used this canoe for at least a couple of years. The rope had grown into the tree to which it was tied, (or I guess it was actually the other way around). And the canoe trip just filled an hour; even though the scenery along the creek was spectacular, like the toy Ferris wheel there was nothing I could do with it.

I have always been like this; I can travel to the most spectacular wonders, I can finally come to a castle I have read about for years, and then, well, there it is. What now? I have spent hours designing wonderful verdant bowers to which I can retreat for reading – and I have even spent some hours bring a few of these plans into a semblance of reality, but I never actually read in them and rarely even sit in them for more than a passing moment. There are mosquitoes or the stems scratch my leg, or I can’t lie down or the coffee pot is too far away and I have to keep getting up to get things, or the sun is too bright or the breeze keeps turning my pages or I just get bored, or I am not in the mood just now – mostly, the last. I get to thinking that I should replace or add some plant that I don’t have, or that I should build something that I’ll never build although there is a fifty-fifty chance I will spend a bunch of money I can’t afford to buy some or all of the necessary materials.

I am very good at purchasing for contingencies. I have not one, but two, Chinese brush painting sets. I have acrylic paints and water colors and sketch pads. I have a complete set of more than 30 wood-carving chisels which I bought in Bali, as well as some supplemental American blades, in case I should ever actually be inspired to carve or sculpt some wood. Oh – and I have the wood itself in great heaps. There is also a wall of firewood in case I ever want to build a fire, and an air compressor should I suddenly become a person who does whatever one does with those. I have a bike I rode once and a helmet I bought after the one ride in case I might want to ride again, although the latter is still wedged into the fitted cardboard construction that it came in. I have a calligraphy pen somewhere, probably more than one. I have a set of 100 bits for one of my two cordless drills, and several smaller supplementary sets of drillbits. For leisure, there is a hammock folded up in the garage.  I am fighting an urge to spend $229 on yet another course in Arabic and I will probably lose the battle sooner or later. 

I have planted a number of vegetables this year, but if history is any guide, it is very unlikely that I will cook, eat or even harvest most of them. If I do want to cook them, I have more than one set of pans, and even some canning jars, just in case I become a completely different person than I ever have been, and if, miraculously, this happens just at harvest time. What are the odds?

I am doing one positive active thing, and frankly, I am amazed at myself; I wonder how long it will continue. After I returned from Bali and found myself slogging through the Slough of Despond, during the first half of March I joined a local gym. I actually have gone three times a week (missing only once or twice) since then. I didn’t really anticipate meeting any convivial souls there – that was not my purpose – and it is well that I did not hope to do so because other than my trainer (you get a person assigned to you to start you out and to measure progress every 6 weeks or so), I haven’t met anyone. I tend to dread going to the gym as I once dreaded going to work, but it has provided a semblance of structure to my life and unquestionably has made me feel a little more energetic and I look a little better. At first it actually seemed to motivate me to come home and do stuff (hence the semi-weeded and fairly well planted gardens) – it probably provided the oomph to get back to the old blog. But lately the motivations have tailed off, and even when I do something, it has the feel of throwing a teaspoonful of dirt into a yawning bottomless hole. It filled that moment; it got that task completed or started, but nothing seems to be strung into an ongoing chain of engagement. I have looked up a number of old friends from long ago, but none of these have caught fire. I know I need desperately – especially before the onset of another winter – to engage myself in something that I care about. I have looked up a local writing group and am thinking about some form of workshop or class or the like. But my fear is that I will end up feeling like I have a series of assignments, that I will turn one of the few things that are pleasurable into work.

The trouble with me is that I have to connect with a person or with people to really enjoy anything. When travelling I will remember a friendly taxi driver long after I have forgotten what the castle or hotel or cathedral looked like. I need someone to impress, someone to please, someone to admire, someone to like. I have a horror of groupthink. I don’t feel like other people – or as I imagine other people do. If I go to Hawaii, I dread things like the arranged luau or the lei greeting. Schedules make me shudder – at 5 we meet for a preparatory drink, at 5:15 we board the bus for the Waikiki Tour. The world seems to be full of versions of those children who actually enjoyed those elaborate wind-up Ferris wheels. Whereas I don’t like people who strive to be different just to be different, I do like people who don’t mind being different. And I really don’t know where to find what I am looking for. I am not even sure what I am looking for exactly; well, yes I do: connection and passion. I want to find something that I stick with because I love it or love the people it brings in its wake, not things that make me feel scheduled or as if I have an assigned task or thinks that make me a spectator. I know that the kinds of things that I want are not all pleasure, there are always the hard parts, but I know from experience that there are things which the hard parts are leavened by the awareness of moving forward and of getting to the rewards.

My efforts to find love have bogged down and are, for the moment, abandoned. I am pretty sure that I am not one who can find a partner through writing or answering ads. People seem to like me well enough when we are engaged together on a job or activity, but I do not appeal to people in either the exchange of letters or in discussion groups. I am so impatient with common wisdom. I do not understand how highly irreverent comedy can be so popular (as in, for instance, the Seinfield show) while people are so put off by anything but the most bland platitudes in real life. Am I the only person who dwells in the area that lies between cute kittens and dead baby jokes?

I really could live, I think, without having the things I want; what is really hard to endure is not knowing what those things might be.

Oh, well, off to another damned day in Paradise.


  1. *sigh* Sometimes I think we're the same person only different. We, at a minimum, have the same outlook on many things...

  2. I tend to start and not finish multiple things, as well.. Part of my problem is I tend to forget my physical limitations.. Then, it's difficult to do something that your body simply won't do... Sometimes I think it's dementia, and sometimes just me..

  3. I can't help it--I love it when you're miserable because you write about it so well, describing that familiar mindset flawlessly. I had an especially enraging week at work, and I actually decided "I am out of here!!!!!" And decided that in Dec 2011 I am going to retire. Cunningly picked a date too far off to frighten me, but near enough to maybe calm me a bit when I'm going through some of the kind of crap that had happened that day. To just take a little break and get away from my phone and paper-stacked desk for a moment, I decided to go pick up a certified letter waiting at the post office in the hospital. It backfired and I realized too late that it was one of my miasma days when I must avoid personal interactions at all costs. Now we have to sign, print our name and address on the paper copy of the certification receipt label, and ALSO sign and print our name and address on the little computer-screen thingy they have for the same certified document. I did this although I think it is CRAP to have to do it in two different systems like that. The postal lady claimed my printed name was not legible on the computerized thingie and I needed to do it again. I did it again, embarrassed by the growing line of people waiting behind me, and annoyed at the duplication of it all. My handwriting has never been good and has deteriorated and again she said she couldn't see it on the screen, I needed to do it again. Furious now, I scribbled and pounded with the little attached pen-like object. And my little escape which was to have calmed me had turned into a public session of humiliation. I tried not to go postal in the post office but failed. I told her they needed to fix that--that double receipt crap. She said "Maam?" and paused. Then said "Have a nice day" dripping with hatred. I told her the same, with equal verbal violence. And left, refusing to look at the people in line, all of whom probably know me. And when I got back to my office I asked one of the soldiers in charge to please pick those things up from now on as I could no longer go to the post office. I've known I'm in some kind of funk because for weeks now, I haven't been to the library but instead have been re-reading old favorites but don't know what I'll do when I run out of them. I look forard to mindless gardening and house maintenance, but - it's kind of giving up, isn't it?

  4. Golly. I think I know what ails you, but not sure how to get it across in a way that may warm you to action.
    'Stuff' isn't going to do it, as you know, and so aptly put it. All the collections of tools and wood and the like will only sap your energy by sitting there........unless you do ONE thing with them. By 'one' I don't mean stop there. I mean don't start seven projects, or even three, just the one. Make something cool.
    When you were planting the garden, you felt better, right? So you'll never cook any of it. OK. Maybe take it to a neighbor? A friend? A shelter? As a last resort, just give it back to the ground, not just allowing it to rot, but on purpose, with something like gratitude. I'm not being difficult here, or don't mean to be. I know what it's like to be detatched and feeling a little (A LOT) lost.
    Here comes the hard part: your spirit is calling you, David, from way back in the back of your Heart. Listen?
    (I love you--

  5. Miz Angie - I have noticed certain similarities, but the way you like your sports team kids is a big difference and one that goes to the cridit side of your column. I kind of like your outlook, though - the parts that are not psycho, anyway.

    jeankfl - The part where we really mesh is in constantly being surprised at who we are. After all these years! You should know your limitations when you are in the store buying mountaineering gear and I should know my ass-laziness when I am in the store buying tools. But we don't do we? Do we both really shop to fantasize we are different from who we are?

    Flooz - Back atcha - your tales are funniest when you are most miserable. I feel for your sadness, but at the same time enjoy your description of it. The difference between you and me in the outcome of the post office debacle is that I would go back the next day with utterly no shame. Ah - reading the old tried and trues - this is also my refuge in the bad times. Worse, really mindless, repetitive computer games. Here's a hint: when you are in one of these funks and decide to do something like go to the post office, you are really out to reinforce it by incidents such as you describe, which, really, is not that big of a thing in the light of Eternity. Why not have a banana split - and not with lite ice cream. What the hell.

    Sarah - You are really right all down the line. The real out which removes all the worry and concern anyway, is to do something - almost ANYTHING that includes other people. And as I have written you - and also written in my next entry, I am doing somthing that invoves someone else and lovin' it! But in the long run, your advice is where it is at.