Confession is good for the soul

I always used to finish books even when they weren’t hitting the mark. In the last few years, however, I’ve felt freer to abandon a book, or lay it aside for another time. The first chapter or two may not grab me. I may develop a knee-jerk distaste for the characters or quality of the prose. Every reader has been there. But sometimes it’s not about any of those things—it’s about where I am, or the rest of the world is, at a point in time.

Among my friends are many very bright people who are highly serious readers. When my head-set is right, I can thoroughly enjoy something as meaty, dense, and character-driven as Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. But it can be hard to take on the angst and dysfunction of a set of fictional characters, wrapped up in their own confused heads or overwhelmed by what they can’t control, if you’re on tenterhooks yourself.

Few really fine books are on my “abandoned’ list, but it may shock you that I never finished All the Light We Cannot See or Suite Française. Both of these books are masterful, full of brilliant, heartbreaking prose and the kind of tension that keeps you reading into the wee hours. The problem for me, at the time I started these, was the depth of the agony that lay therein, coupled with the fact that a lot was going on in our own lives. I was an English major; I acknowledge the life-affirming aspect of tragedy. But because I engage so fully in what I read, there are times when I need something less gut-wrenching, less historically or socially or culturally important. Less painful. Yes, we read to learn, to grow, to empathize…  life is not a fairy tale. But sometimes, we need to read to escape, find comfort, or even [she said unabashedly] to have fun.

I value any writer’s ability to create a well-told tale that, while not devoid of worthwhile life lessons, can lift me out of almost any malaise. I love a master story-teller, who weaves a tale so skillfully that I can get to know the characters by walking with them, not by being inside their heads, soaking up all of their fears and darkness and  character flaws. Perhaps that’s because in real life, I’ve learned to judge people more by what they do than what they say—which, I can assure you, was not easy.

It’s fashionable these days to talk about “meeting people where they are.” I’ve no doubt that this expression will ultimately go the route of “low hanging fruit” and other such catch phrases that end up overused—and misused—to the point of meaninglessness. But books, well chosen, actually can meet you where you are, when you most need them to.

Comments and shares welcome. More on favorite writers in future posts!


‘Le weekend’

By the time we get to Friday, even those of us who are #HashTagRetired are ready for the promise of relief that the weekend affords. “Weekend” is a word so emblematic that the French, who used to be very zealous about protecting their language from outside influence, gave it a gender and added it to their franglais vocabulary. Le weekend is just a bit different in France, however, because the kids are typically  off school on Wednesday and Sunday but have a half-day session on Saturday.

The weekends of my childhood, and possibly yours, as well, were very special and “set apart” from the normal course of everyday life. Saturdays were spent marketing and tying up any loose ends; Sunday was truly a day of rest. Where I grew up, stores weren’t open on Sunday; our life was church, family, and Sunday dinner-centered. After dinner, we visited older family members—a gesture of respect, affection, and familial continuity. In the warm weather months, we went for a ride in the country or to the neighborhood dairy for an ice cream cone. Sometimes, we went to the movies. Once stores opened up, however, Sunday changed fundamentally—not only for shoppers, but for those who worked in retail, who could no longer spend Sundays at home. You might not think of this as a big change, but looking backward, it seems to me that it was: many people who previously were home with their families on Sunday had to give up that free time. (Of course, anyone who works in public safety, healthcare, or a service industry anywhere in the world gives it up as well—and for that, the rest of us owe them our gratitude.)

In many European countries, the Sunday pace is still slower and more family-oriented , with stores and businesses shuttered for the day even where tourism is a major economic driver. Restaurants are crowded with diners chattering away while they enjoy a leisurely  “Sunday lunch.” People of all ages gather in parks and public gardens. The net effect is a calming sensibility that everyday obligations can wait. Perhaps being #HashTagRetired gives us a chance to restore some of that calm. Why not try reinventing Sunday to incorporate some of the old-fashioned traditions?

And here’s the flip side. When you are #HashTagRetired, and much of your life was planned around a work week, it’s a little unsettling at first to realize that you don’t have to crowd all of the chores and obligations and social events into the weekend or your other days off. You can go to the movies or a show on a weeknight (or day, at a matinee price) and carouse all you want to afterward, without worrying about getting enough sleep. You can shop on Tuesday morning, when the grocery store isn’t crowded. You can watch This Is Us at 6 AM if you want to—and you’ve remembered to record it (thank you, technology). You can book flights on low volume days to reduce the airport agony. You don’t have to drive anywhere during rush hour. What’s not to like?

Photo: En route to Sunday lunch, a garden enclave in St.Remy de Provence. 





When I began writing this blog, I expected it to be about the need to create some structure in retired life. Over time, however, blogging about the stage of my life and career —I am “demi” retired—became less interesting than writing about the pleasures and occasional frustrations of everyday life in general. Another way of putting this is that while time marches on, life around you, if you allow it to, also becomes more interesting, more stimulating, and even a tad freer… and age, in fact, matters less and less. 

Take your time

See that photo? It’s a confused mess. If you try to do everything at once after you retire, your life will feel like one, too. Read on…

When you first find yourself #HashTagRetired, it’s easy to romanticize about all of the time you finally have to do all of the things you’ve been waiting all of these years to do. It’s natural to want to dive into all of the Halloween candy at once, but please don’t. If you’re continually over-compensating for 40 years of “I wish I had time for…” resentment (yes, let’s call it by its real name), you are pretty much guaranteed to end up in either a frenzy or a funk. You are #HashTagRetired now; you don’t have to pack 24 hours into every eight.

In the first few months, you’ll probably ram through a bunch of things you had on the back burner. But once you’ve started your tomatoes from seed, cleaned all the closets, digitized the old photos, and filled the freezer with whoopee pies, it’s time to go forward. I recommend that you look for one (yes, just one) new pastime to sample. Perhaps a new fitness regimen.

Personally, I’m big on endeavors that push the envelope; nothing’s better for your brain than learning something new. Keep in mind that there are many, many opportunities to learn at little or no cost these days. You’re a smart person; you know they’re out there. And while there are definite benefits to getting out among people, the breadth of ways to spend your time in cyberspace is almost beyond imagination. Google and ye shall find.

After a reasonable period of time, you can decide if you want to take on something more regular or involved, like a volunteer commitment or even a part-time job-ette. If you’re really motivated, you can take a big leap. I have several friends who, in a huge departure from their prior careers, took professional-level cooking or baking courses in retirement. I had another pal who was 62 when she went to work for H & R Block; she later became a tax accountant. Former President Bush spends his time painting, which Grandma Moses didn’t start till she was 78. The world, as they used to say, is your oyster.

The important thing—I repeat—is not to overbook. Give yourself some time to settle into your “one new thing” before adding anything else. If it turns out not to be your cup of tea, just move on. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, least of all yourself, when you are #HashTagRetired.

Other than obvious situations, such as holidays or dinner guests, there’s no contest and no rush. You’re #HashTagRetired now, so you get to call the shots.

February bliss

Irrespective of scientific concerns, and the fact that this warm spell could turn out to be a cruel tease, there aren’t enough happy adjectives to describe the joy of opening all the windows, walking Miss Pup without being wrapped up like Nanook of the North*, or sitting in our den without my Vermont Flannel blankie. In what I lovingly call our “faux New England” neighborhood, folks were socializing on their porches, the outdoor tables outside our little nano brewery were full, and the kiddies were playing raucously on the green.

Although we’ve had hardly any snow thus far, it was downright, my-face-hurts frigid before this petit gout, or little taste, of spring. The wind, at times high-powered enough to launch Elvira Gulch, has been the one constant in our weather pattern for the last year, even during the summer months. On Friday, before the 40-degree turnaround, Pup and I watched an errant plastic grocery bag soar like an eagle from one end of our ’hood to the other. That’s what happens when the big wind comes through on garbage day. (And yes, I would have retrieved and recycled it had it landed.)

On Saturday, however, we woke up to sunny, wind-free, and balmy; Sunday was warmer still. Leaving church, it felt like Easter. Pup’s walks  seemed interminable because everyone was out and about and talkative. I saw a convertible with the top down. We did a marinated flank steak on the grill. Even if you are #HashTagRetired and don’t have to go out to work in the throes of winter, this is bliss.

The temperature has dropped a bit since yesterday, but this is our third day of full sun. I didn’t feel cold when I stepped outside without a jacket. Reality check: Last year around this time, everyone was out and about, too, but dealing with more than two feet of snow. You never know, do you?

When I went out to help Hubby with a preliminary yard clean-up Sunday afternoon, I found, to my delight, that the parsley and sage had sprouted. I’ve been thrilled, but not really surprised, that the rosemary and lemon thyme over-wintered, but to have even a stem of fresh parsley or sage in February is a real treat. If the weather stays mild this week, as predicted, it’s possible, though perhaps not probable, that I would have enough parsley for meatballs and enough sage for chicken saltimbocca.

Now, if I only had fresh tomatoes and basil, too… but those, of course, will come in their in their own season, in their own good time. Remind me to appreciate that, just as I’ve appreciated this sweet little break.

*Robert J. Flannery’s pioneering 1922 documentary about an Eskimo family, a classic that was shown in virtually every intro film class when I was in college.