Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting out of busyness, again

How did I do it when I was working 60-hour weeks and trying to have a life? Over the past six weeks I got very busy—well, “very” is relative, but I did help my son roof a cabin, set up a website for the Authentic Movement Community, have houseguests, submit a manuscript to my writing group, join a dance group of differently-abled people, and do some of my own writing. All good things.

Now I’m making the transition back to “my own time.” It’s hard to describe the difference. It’s not like I do nothing, but I have the sense of doing nothing. It’s not like I have endless time, but I attempt to treat it as endless. I stop the lists running in my head (I have one on the kitchen counter for the basics). I notice that voice that keeps asking “What next?” and “What should I be doing?” “Nothing,” I answer the voice.

“Shouldn’t you check email?” “It will wait.”

“Shouldn’t you do errands?” “They can keep.”

I spend time looking out the window at the branches waving in the wind. I suddenly have ideas for three poems—now those are worth the time! I take a walk. I make tea. I write this essay. Tomorrow is a busy day but I have three days in a row after that with no fixed points. What luxury!

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Monday, September 11, 2006

free fall

(a little meditation on retirement)

as if I deserved it
the whole forest turns
gold, light enters
on a daring slant
leaves flame in the swamp
the beaver dam barely
holds back tons
of shining water

time that was never
mine, is now

in July monotonous
ranks of worker
leaves made sticky
for mother tree

one October sunrise
the work of holding on
is complete
I hold my breath
to fly between
unclasping and the
anonymous pile below

This poem was published in Peregrine XXIV, 2006

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Gift of Time

An old pseudo-folk song said, “Nothing is what you could wish it to be.”

Oh life is a toil and love is a trouble,

beauty will vanish and riches will flee.

Pleasures they dwindle and prices they double

and nothing is what you could wish it to be.

It’s true but it’s not true, and how fortunate I am—no beauty was there to dwindle and I have enough money and I have time. Who knows how much time, but while it’s here it’s mine.

The Last Gift of Time, Carolyn Heilbrun titled her quirky book about the challenges and joys of being in her 60s. She had thought she would commit suicide rather than face that decade but instead she wrote a book about the changes. Then killed herself at 77, when she was still in good health. I was angry at her, knowing her only through her writing—the high-toned murder mysteries and the essays. Why destroy herself when she was well able to negotiate the city she loved and while she still had friends and the infinite horizon of writing to be done? In The Last Gift she wrote of her friendship with May Sarton who—as Heilbrun describes her—was in her old age still feeling angry and deprived because of the recognition she didn’t receive in academic and literary circles. Only millions of actual readers, not the establishment, loved Sarton. There’s definitely a lesson there in taking what you have and being grateful.

But while it’s here, time is mine, that was the thought. My time to pick the ugly larvae off the Asian lilies, to walk in the Quabbin Reservoir wildness, to talk to the cats, to write whatever I choose, to cultivate new friendships. To learn to live in what already is.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Art and Fear

Among my indulgences is a shelf full of books on writing and creativity. A friend loaned me a wonderful little book called Art and Fear—Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

One of the major themes running through the book is that artists (including writers) are people who continue. Many people who start creative activities get discouraged, feeling they won’t ever be great or famous, or whatever they think of as achievement. If you keep going, you might or might not do something great; if you quit, for sure you won’t.

Bayles and Orland tell the story of a pottery teacher who divided his students into two groups, one to be graded on the basis of quantity, the other on quality. Those graded on quantity would have all their pots weighed at the end of semester and the weight translated into a grade. Those who were working for quality only had to produce one perfect pot to get an A. At the end of the semester, most of the really good work was done by those who worked on quantity and had the chance to learn from their work.

As Art and Fear says, no one can tell you what it takes for you to keep going. It’s different for every person, though we can learn from one another about some general patterns. So good luck to you in your creative endeavors, and keep on working!

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006


You can stop waiting.
It has arrived. Whatever
you were waiting for—
the train on Track 5,
the moment when
you can be yourself,
the answer to the question
What am I doing?
They all just landed
on your porch, wrapped
in brown paper
delivered with a thud
by the indifferent postman.
You can stop pacing,
you can stop asking
Where will I send this poem?
It’s time to stand at the end
of the walkway
scan the faces
choose your beloved
and hug. Say How are you?
How was the trip?
Are you hungry?
Can I carry your bags?
No more looking
at your watch
checking the schedule
wishing you had planned
a different reunion
with yourself.
Your life has arrived
at the station

Monday, April 10, 2006

What is life about?

Retirement opens up this question all over again, just like adolescence in some ways. For thirty-plus years of college teaching I knew my purpose was to serve students and the institution and to grow in my technical area. Now I don’t want the growth to stop, but it’s in different directions.

Joseph Campbell said these years are about enjoyment of the world. William Bridges, in Transitions, said they are about sharing our wisdom.

But I am most drawn to Jung’s expansive view of development, which he saw as continuing for the whole of a lifetime. He called it individuation—the long, slow maturation of the soul, flowering in creativity and integration of all the parts of a human, including the light and the dark, childhood and archetypes.

I guess, after about a year of retirement, that I feel this segment of life is about all three for me: enjoyment, sharing wisdom, and further integration.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunset on the Sea of Cortez, Baja

The joy of unstructured time

I haven’t blogged here for a while—in part because I’m taking my lack of responsibility seriously. I’ve been writing a lot (poetry and memoir), enjoying winter in New England. And I took a wonderful trip to Baja California with my friend Michelle, where we saw mother gray whales and calves and gorgeous scenery. In the evenings we told stories by candlelight.

Back here, I’ve settled into serious chunks of time that are all my own. It’s easy to let the days get clogged with little actions and appointments, but I’m happier when I sweep them clear and let myself drift from thing to thing. It will be interesting to see if my relationship to time shifts some more, but less than one year out from retirement, I’m zealously guarding my freedom.