This photo, which I took yesterday at dusk, captures some of what I've been feeling lately: a sense of, to use my big words, liminal plenitude. An almost paradisical fullness here, beauty and comfort abounding, nothing demanded of me, a husband who enjoys paddling to town daily to pick up groceries, is happy to prepare most meals. In the summer, quite honestly, it seems almost folly to leave this place with its beach, garden, pleasant breeze, A stack of books I want to read, a pretty little island to run around in the morning, yoga classes only a boat ride away, babies and dear little girls who come by occasionally for snuggles. . . But there's also that sense of liminality, of impending change, of threshholds at the ready. And my own rising restlessness. It's not quite boredom, but lately there's been just the hint of that along with just a breath of melancholy.
I've always believed, though, that a bit of boredom is ultimately productive, and that it perhaps need to be nurtured a bit, to be allowed to ripen. I remember feeling it, as a kid, towards the end of summer, and it made the return to school welcome each September. I did my best to keep my own four's summers free enough that they could play around within their own rhythms, find how much boredom they could tolerate, and see what they might do to alleviate it when it became uncomfortable. And my husband has always used his own restlessness as a benchmark of a good vacation, needing to reach that point of boredom so that returning to work always reminded him that his job was a happy choice.
As for me, right now, with a whole Sea of Retirement stretching out ahead of me, I'm still enjoying the option of sinking back into the teak chaise longue or the leather armchair with a book. But increasingly, I'm looking around and finding or imagining new landmarks I might want to set out for.
I know I want a bit more structure in my days, but I don't want to impose it too early. What I do want, much as I have enjoyed being able to respond freely to any and all invitations or requests from family over these last few months, is to be able to know, and to say, what makes me happy. I want to be confident I'm making my own choices rather than simply being reactive to others. I saw both my mother and my mother-in-law lose that knowledge and confidence in their last 20 years, and it put much of the responsibility for their happiness on family -- an impossible burden, really.
Early days, yet, and all kinds of time to figure this out, especially with a lovely big trip to France and Italy only several weeks out.
But I've taken some steps this week to organize space and time around me to explore what I want to do while I'm home. As wonderful and fulfilling and engaging as Travel can be, it won't work indefinitely as a solution to boredom, especially as age inevitably exerts its influence.
Five things, then, that I've been doing lately, that Make Me Happy:
1. Photography. I'm very pleased that I've already made some progress on the goal that I set when I began thinking concretely towards my retirement. This photo, for example, which I delayed my run for yesterday, darting back in the house for my camera when I spotted Nature's Botanical Sculpture in the sunlight
2. Sketching and Painting. As you know, this is a continuation of something I've been playing with, off and on, ever since I took my girlfriend's wonderful weekend course on Journal Illustration (If you're interested in following my progress, such as it's been, you might click on the subject label at the bottom of this post.)
What's new, though, is that as part of re-organizing my home office as a response to clearing out my campus one, I've taken some steps toward making my art supplies more quickly grabbable. I've also managed to draw and/or paint something in my sketchbook at least three times a week for the last while. Yesterday, I even painted a card and popped it in the mail to two-year-old Hattie with a few words for her to read someday. . . Again, something I've been meaning to do for ages and finally got to. Very satisfying.
3. Cooking and Baking. Yes, I'm working my way back into our kitchen which has mostly been in Pater's charge the last few years. Again, this has been at least partly prompted by some long delayed organization: I finally had time to sort through the pantry cupboard and have big plans to shift my baking supplies and spice drawer closer back to the way I once had them. When someone is doing almost all of the grocery-shopping and meal preparation, the one who is NOT doing those things has no right to suggest they be done in the kind of kitchen the NOT-doer prefers. And if the Not-doer hasn't time nor energy, because of her work, to maintain the kitchen her way, she learns to zip it. But now, I'm judiciously taking steps toward a sharing of joys and duties in the kitchen. Recent recipes I've put on the table have included Stuffed Squashblossoms, Beet-Chèvre Millefeuille, my favourite go-to grain-based salad, plus a blackberry pie, chocolate-chip-peanut butter-pretzel cookies, and banana bread. I'm beginning to browse my cookbooks and favourite foodie blogs again, and remembering the rhythm that's necessary to having ingredients on hand when the urge or the need for something special hits.
4. Social Activities. This has been my challenge as I seem to roll from an overly busy week into one which sees me laying low. I find it very easy to stay home for a week at a time, only going out for runs or a walk around the island: because I get up quite early (between 5 and 5:30), run 8 to 10 kilometres after playing in blogland, my desire for a bit more social stimulation doesn't generally hit until midday at which point it's hot and I'm drowsy and the idea of a nap followed by a swim appeals much more than a trip to town. But the desire for more company and conversation surfaces again late afternoon. I'm noticing a rut now, as we sit down in front of something Netflix with our dinner each evening, and I've realized that I need to take a more systematic approach here as well. So I've written a couple of yoga classes a week on our calendars and I've booked a few lunches with friends -- one this past week, two next week, all three solo outings for me, lessening any potential dependence on Pater. Watch this space to see if I'm commenting here about being fatigued again or complaining about another cold sore. Developing a rhythm that works to support a balanced lifestyle is taking me a while, but I think I'm at least beginning to see what's needed.
5. Playing the Piano Again. Last night, though, I was really tempted toward grumpiness and despondency. A third episode (Strange Empire, a great, feminist Western TV series which, sadly, didn't get renewed past his first season despite widespread critical acclaim) seemed important to resist as a tipping point toward some long downward slide, and much as I was enjoying my novel (the 2nd in Elana Ferrante's marvelous Neapolitan novels), I didn't feel like reading. I felt restless --and, truth be told, irrationally tempted to blame Pater (a particularly egregious temptation as he'd just arranged a lakeside restaurant lunch for us the day before -- and we have tickets for a house concert tonight). Fortunately, instead of giving in to my Inner Whiner (oh, she's allowed out Far Too Often, don't worry!), I decided to clean out yet another corner, this time the shelves holding a lifetime's collection of sheet music. The day before, Beth had posted a shot of some notes my fingers instantly began playing, I recognized the Gigue from one of Bach's French Suites, but couldn't find my own copy, despite recalling precisely its Peters Edition soft green cover.
Somehow, that was exactly the incentive I needed, and not only did I push past my grumpy temptation to melancholy last night, but I found the Gigue and then moved on to a Chopin Nocturne I love. My fingers are too stiff to play anything satisfactorily, but I've sorted a good stack of my once-upon-a-time repertoire and I expect I'll be whiling away some hours at my sweet old Kawai over some upcoming evenings.
It's happening, in other words. One or two or even Five Things at a time, I'm beginning to sort out a schedule that might work for me, and I'm figuring out for myself what will make and keep me happy (including, for sure, time and activities with Pater and the rest of the family). Rereading what I've written here, it seems that rhythm and balance and a modicum of organization are key. Does any of this resonate at all? Have you been rejigging your own schedule to accommodate changes of one sort or another? Have you found yourself reacting to other people's plans and emotions and activities rather than sorting out your own? Do you have a really clear sense of what activities make you happy or do you find that sense can be obscured by fatigue or depression or simply by being too caught up in responsibility? If so, how do you find your way back?
Or just ignore those questions as simply too weighty for a Friday afternoon, and I'll wish you a wonderful weekend!