I’ve been retired almost four months now. I have been asked “How’s retirement?” dozens of times. In a way it’s a bit of a pointless question. If it sucked I’d be unretired.
Last night this exchange happened several times at a holiday party I attended. I gave a flippant response until I found Klarence.
As readers of this blog may recall, Klarence is a pseudonym for a friend of mine who “fixed” me two and a half years ago. After dealing with depression for months and months, I sat down with Klarence for a drink after work. (Klarence had no idea that I was troubled.) It led to a four hour, brutally honest, one-on-one encounter session. Along the way, Klarence made me laugh and nearly brought me to tears. When we parted, I felt like she had lifted an enormous burden from me. I don’t think she had intentions of doing this; she was just being her true self. I walked away flabbergasted by my good fortune. And forever grateful to her.
We met three years ago at the same holiday gathering. So I made it a point to look for her last night. I almost walked right past her until she called my name. (Ironically, it was also Klarence who told me about my malfunctioning fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that deals with facial recognition.)
We hugged our usual fierce hug (because that’s what you do with somebody who saves you from months of absolute misery) and then she asked with a serious look on her face:
It hit my mind like a club. It staggered me. I was tongue tied.
I don’t even remember what I said in response.
From day one, Klarence has had an effect on me. Her bluntness and honesty somehow compel me to ponder her words.
And I pondered.
Suppose you asked a kid “How’s childhood?” He’d say “Okay, I guess.” In a sense, retirement is like childhood; it is what it is. It’s an endless stream of Saturdays. You can read the paper in the morning. You can sleep in. You can do what you want, when you want. You can wear your jammies all day long. All of this is pretty damned sweet.
Of course, my earnings dropped by 70 percent but you can’t have everything – especially now! This aspect is a little unsettling, but I live a very modest life.
There is a sense that asking someone “How’s retirement?” is a bit like asking a Ph. D. student, “How’s the thesis?” Or a 21-year old, “So what are you going to do with your life?”
It brings on a sort of performance anxiety. Especially for someone like me who has lived with imposter syndrome his whole life.
I have another friend who used to give me unease because she seemed to want to fill every second of every day mindfully accomplishing something that would bring her happiness and be somehow meaningful for humanity. I don’t socialize with her anymore. She was stressing me out.
So here’s an answer that maybe is a little more honest than the inarticulate response I gave to Klarence last night.
Retirement is being free of working on projects that suck your soul.
Retirement is not having to work to arbitrary deadlines that shift with the wind.
Retirement is not having to ride to work when it’s dark and rainy and 33 degrees with a 15 mile per hour headwind. (Yes, this happened a few times every year.)
Retirement is setting your own schedule. Answering to your own inner boss. Filling your day with things you find personally fulfilling and that are true to who you are like:
- Riding my bike in the daylight.
- Taking care of my aging carcass by lifting weights.
- Taking care of my mental health by meditating for 20 or 30 (or, like today, 45) minutes and not feeling guilty.
- Trying rather comically to learn a little guitar (and avoiding tennis elbow in the process).
- Reading books without interruption. (Current book: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins)
- Spending two days in court to lend moral support to some friends – who introduced me to Klarence three years ago. (This is called paying it backward, I think.)
- Volunteering and attending bicycling advocacy events.
- Planning the next big thing. (How hard is it to ride to the Pacific anyways?)
Where does this all lead? Does it accomplish a big thing? Does it make my life worthwhile? Will I make a big ego-boosting mark on the world so my life will be one big selfie? Is it okay not to give a flying fuck?
For now, I am content and truly grateful to abide by the words of John Lennon:
I’m just sittin’ here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll.
And to say, once again, thank you, Klarence.