Monday, April 15, 2013

Seeking Retirement

I am a man of no hobbies. I don't collect things. I tried lots of the standard approaches to being a male hobbyist, stamps, model trains, metal cars and so forth but none of them worked for me. Boredom and a sense of pointlessness set in rapidly.

The idea of owning things for the pure sake of possession strikes me as bizarre. Partly I suppose because my life has rarely been settled in one place. My father threw out my childhood possessions when I turned 18 and he had sent me to live on my mother's side of the family in Italy, and that act of brutality set the pattern. My English childhood vanished as permanently and completely as if it had been renditioned by the CIA. Of whose excesses I was mercifully ignorant in my youth. From there on I understood completely the references in the Bible to the devastating effects of rust and moths on earthly possessions. Had the Good Book mentioned angry vengeful parents more specifically I might have applied that lesson more effectively in mine own case and saved some of the mementoes of my 1950s childhood. Photographs, text books, note books toys and souvenirs all vanished in that summer of 1975 to make room for a new wife.

So I have never collected motorcycles or stamps or fashions or even artwork, though my wife has retrained me there a little. My one weakness has been books and I have a few volumes that have followed me from pillar to post throughout my 55 years across continents and oceans. Now the kindle incorporated in this very iPad supplants the written page and as much as I struggle not to yield to electrons I see the future of books much as I see the collectible value of old bikes and land line telephones. They become art pieces, not useful daily objects.

My defense against the moths and rust of daily life, the unstoppable passage of time, has been to live as many lives as possible within one lifetime. I am fond of saying I have lived my life backwards, a grasshopper youth experiencing as much as I could, only settling into a pensionable one track career in advanced middle age. I hear my contemporaries discuss hopes for retirement, many of them dashed by the banks and their wild scandals of 2008, but many who retire fear the empty spaces formerly filled by Very Important Careers that left no room for frivolity and satisfaction of Self.

In the golden years when jobs were plentiful and change was easy I lived as many jobs as I could in as many places as I could taking time off to ride a motorcycle over the horizon or sail a sailboat out of sight. It was tremendous fun and I regret none of it. I feel sad when I hear people say they wouldn't know what to do with retirement, a statement that to me smacks of defeatism in the face of all life's possibilities.

What's the point of having the privilege of being born into the First World if you don't take advantage of it?

I don't mean by that to imply we should be predatory or bullying, but we have the privilege of standing still from time to time. We live our lives in peace despite he best efforts of Television "News" to convince us that our neighborhoods are war zones. Many of us live a life on the edge or on the margins, especially those with responsibilities for children in a country that views child rearing as a private burden, not a public joy. I am child free and have never wanted children and when people ask how I managed to live a nomadic existence, I point that choice out as the salient decision in my young life.

For many people child rearing takes precedence over all other among life's possibilities. It's a choice I can barely comprehend, but I don't argue with it, I just avoid it. On my death bed, if I get the chance for last minute reflection, I hope that I will be as assured about the choice as I have been this far in my life, but what my feelings will actually be I cannot of course say. So far, so good.

I am lucky enough I be living a moment in my life where I get time away from work to be a collector, an idler, a wanderer on the margins of life. Like Travis McGee I take my retirement in chunks, a day or two or a week at a time, here and there, during the day not often at night which is when I work long shifts listening to other people's tales of misery. In my time away from 911 I might collect ink pens or beer coasters or commemorative plates. Instead I continue to collect memories and pictures and catalogue them here.

So because I am not a collector, nor a club member nor a golfer I use my pieces of retirement to wander the streets of Key West, and the backroads of the Lower Keys to look at the monuments to humanity and the wild imaginings of Nature and sometimes to take pictures of them.

That's all. I have mixed feelings about electronic books but I have no mixed feelings about electronic web pages. Without the Web my images would have no home. Most of the paper images of our trip over two years from Santa Cruz to Key West by sailboat sit, tidily sorted in albums, never to see the light of day. What's the first thing most people rush to save when their house is threatened? Those very photo albums, irreplaceable repositories of memories, never to be thrown away, never to be renditioned.

I have the web, and picasa, and electronic clouds, mysterious and unknowable electronic repositories of memories, never further away than a click of a computer, we hope, reliant on endless flows of energy, just like life itself. When the energy ends, like life, then darkness. Till then we have pictures of our world around us.

Oh and today is tax day. Good luck. And remember: Conchscooter says paying taxes is your way of paying dues to belong to this fantastic club that is this country. Do it cheerfully and demand the same of our one percent fellow travelers who buy tax loopholes that salaried stiffs will never see.



Anonymous said...

I detect some sadness here or is it fallout from filing taxes? Thank you for this thoughtful essay....

Conchscooter said...

I am feeling the end of life closing in slowly. Options diminish, possibilities for change are fewer and more fraught, yet I feel lucky in a very First World way to be where I am as the music stopped in the game of musical chairs that was 20th century economic expansion. I have a job and a place in a decent community that I like. It could have been much worse in aworld rife with unemployment and loss of a sense of place. A lot worse.

Black Inazuma said...

Reflecting about the past can become a hard-to-break habit of some old people, particularly if like me, there is a loft of old photos just waiting to be smiled and sighed through. But this kind of reflecting pastime can wait for a moment. This reflecting on life, well for me at least, must be keep in restraint otherwise it just gets out of hand and not a little sad.

What one is doing, right now, must be more relevant. For me, I like to start my day at 5am opening the door out into the garden, getting down onto my knees, grabbing a bunch of grass in my hand, feeling the texture of each leaf between my fingers, hearing the first few birds singing a very simple song somewhere in the distance, while I breathe deep as much as I can the air in my lungs that feels fresher at this time of day and become excited once more about the whole idea of a new day of life, forgetting for just a moment the sheer idiocy of the human race which for the most part deserves to die, I include myself, for all its unnecessarily thoughtless, insensitive behaviour toward others, with its stupid breakfast-time news-reporting media with its unique ability to talk people out of feeling happy the moment they wake up and for the rest of the day.

"And what have I got? Why am I alive anyway?" Nina Simone once sang, "Got my hair. Got my head. Got my brains. Got my ears. Got my eyes. Got my nose. Got my mouth. I got my smile. I've got life, I've got my freedom. I've got life!"

This feeling of being ALIVE, right at this moment, must be what it's all about. Once you have lost that, that will to live another day and take what it gives... Well, say goodbye to the folks Gracie...

Conchscooter said...

Well Cheyenne fores me out every morning to smell the seaweed. And take a few pictures...

Conchscooter said...

Ps I think the new Suzuki 250 could be an interesting machine. I wish the TU 250 got the same attention to accessories just becaus eimlike the looks better. Nostalgia of course.

Anonymous said...

Long live Travis McGee. I loved every word of those books.
Enjoy the here and now.

Black Inazuma said...

Funny, I would have bought the TU250 last November if they were around, for the same reason as you. A classic looking and practical bike. Unfortunately, they're like gold dust over here in UK - I don't think I've seen one ad for it!

RichardM said...

About the only "hobby" I have is playing with the bike. So I guess I do have a hobby but it is also transportation. Maybe walking is a hobby but it feels more like exercise.

Very thought provoking post here. I am also closing in on retirement and sometimes wonder how I would deal with it. After all, so much effort and time is spent with my job (no longer a career).

Rob said...

I'm years away from retirement and like many 30-somethings, I have handful of hobbies. Working on broken cars, playing guitar, listening to music, mountain biking. The only one I look forward to is getting on my Mtbike and pedaling off alone into the wilderness, or what constitutes "wilderness" in San Diego County. Regardless, the alone time, crunching of soil beneath tires, the early morning smell smell of sage brush and cool crisp morning is what makes me happy, keeps me going.

bayrider said...

The best thing the wife and I have done since we stopped working was get our physical selves whipped into shape and renewed, we quit smoking, switched to a paleo style diet ( and started doing moderate but regular exercise. At age 58 and 56. We always looked fairly fit but we lived on cigarettes, booze and stress, ate and slept little. Within 3 months we became very lean, muscular and full of energy, robust. We eat about twice the amount we used to, sleep great and our mental outlook is just way more positive, almost euphoric. I now understand that this is the best thing you could ever do for yourself and it's so easy it's unbelievable. It's 80% nutrition, quit eating sugar, grains and processed foods. At 58 I've entered the phase of life where no doubt the physical trend of things is to decline and eventually be lost but I feel like I turned the clock back 20 years, actually I am 15 lbs lighter and a lot more muscular than I was 20 years ago. Now I have walked my dogs every day for the last ten years and shoveled tons of horse manure, done loads of heavy physical work on our property but none of that got me in shape like the change in nutrition. If you check out that website you will see many folks that reversed diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol etc. I have had a hell of a fun and active life but never have I felt this good on a daily basis, so I am a bit of an evangelist.

Black Inazuma, you are right on, have you read Eckhart Tolle's, The Power of Now? When I find myself drifting into regrets of the past or fretting on the future I always tell myself the old Baba Ram Dass thing, Be Here Now. I have worried all my life and none of the shit I worried about ever happened. And the media takes a little truth and turns it into a big lie.

Peace, Love, Dogs,