Tales of Retirement
Elementary School Teacher
Practising Retirement – July 2016 to September 2017
Mark’s previous article: Practising retirement, and my cover story
I had a great idea – I would begin writing this article on the first day of my sabbatical year. There was a certain pleasing symmetry to doing so. Kind of a karmic inevitability.
I didn’t, though. I suppose I refrained from starting it out of some form of procrastination, or resentfulness or laziness. I prefer, however, not to examine the cause too closely. I prefer to think that there was simply something more playful and more interesting. Instead of writing, I finished a gardening project. Now that was fun!
Letting my days unfold, carefully avoiding any plans
It has actually been over two months since I last worked, and it is just under twelve months before I go back to the classroom. I suppose I should not be surprised that everyone who hears I have this time asks “Have you made any plans?” (I think they are hoping to hear about something grand.) I am constantly fascinated by the reactions I observe when I respond that I have carefully avoided making any plans. Some people are aghast (but studiously avoid appearing so) and others understanding. But whatever their reaction, people are really applying their own dreams and values to what they see as my golden opportunity.
I want my year to be an exploration – a journey through some of the ideas that have bounced around in my head for 61 years (giving myself some credit for being inquisitive as an infant). I have no objection to travel, but I am more interested in what is all around me at home. Before this year the most difficult workdays were the beautiful ones – I wanted nothing more than to just sit and watch the day unfold (we live on 50 acres at the end of the road and quite a distance from the travelled portion of a very seldom-used crossroad). Now I am enjoying just letting my day move from one small task to another – to the little things I have never had time for.
Creative impulses – a flash here and a wiggle there
What is the nature of creativity? As my partner and I moseyed our way through summer and I worked off and on at our bathroom renewal project, allowing professionals to do the plumbing, I gradually got comfortable with the idea that my reluctance to develop expertise at handyman jobs arises not so much out of laziness as out of an interest in other creative activities. The ability to solve the problems of the homeowner variety requires a creativity I have always admired greatly, and have always felt required to develop. But this time away from work is moving my impulses in different directions.
I love the idea of creating for myself. Not a selfish impulse – I am not trying to exclude anyone; I just don’t feel impelled to undertake a grand work. The garden space I found in a long-neglected load of rocks is a delight I hope many will enjoy, but if none do, it will be there nonetheless. The trees I am trying to form into a forest (arrogant presumption!) are beautiful whether anyone is there to see or not. Our path through the cedars is our place of sanctity and delivers us a moment of joy every time we traverse it.
I am casting gently into some of those lying-in-the-weeds ideas, but I am allowing myself to come at them sideways, so as not to frighten them back into deeper waters. A flash here and a wiggle there. A play with music in the works. Getting ready to do some woodworking – bowl-turning especially. I am thinking about rock as art form. I am starting to read some of the books that have been beckoning me for far too long.
I am working slowly on some of the things that have long twitted me, but the play I am writing is for the students at my school and will not work for a broader audience. The art I create is intentionally impermanent but deeply satisfying. The volunteer work I do has come to an end. I am content to let others carry it forward.
The joy of temporary freedom
So where am I in the process – what have I learned? The joy is in the freedom and, when the period of freedom is limited as it is for me during this year, there is no obligation to have a long-term plan – I do not need to find purpose other than living day-to-day. When I retire for real, I know I will have an impulse to formulate a plan, but will it be right to do so? Perhaps my impulses will aggregate and a grand work will emerge. Or perhaps they won’t. I look forward to the journey.