People ask me "How's retirement?" as if I have I've determined some definitive answer. I got some thoughts, but it's still early in the game. It may take a year. Besides, we now live out of town on a farm, critters for neighbors, a major change that requires its own adjustments; and the plain fact of the matter is, since retirement, I suffered a stroke. I'm better, I think, but strokes are notorious for hoodwinking.
Today, a trip back to town requires planning, as does a day's calendar. At breakfast, we ask ourselves just what's coming up, and do so with real seriousness, even though, in reality, there's less on the page than there ever was. I spend more time trying to remember exactly what's coming up--but then, I'm an old fart.
Take September. I don't remember ever in my life spending as much time as I have trying to determine when I'm going to be where and where I'd like to be when, next month, because for the last forty years I've spent every September up front of a class. When I'm going to do what, has never been a question. Soon after eight, I'm at school. No more. For the first time in 35 years, this year I'll celebrate a holiday the rest of the country calls Labor Day. What the heck are we going to do?
Yesterday, on a quick trip back to the college where I taught, I walked down a familiar hallway, when there appeared from the men's room an old colleague, who didn't see me, which was fine--I take no particular joy in answering the same question time after time. Anyway, there he was. He turned away from me, returning to his office, and honestly--I'm not kidding--I said, under my breath, "You poor old soak."
That's when I knew that so far--it's early, but I think I can say it--I rather like it. Retirement, that is.
Right now, I'm not getting antsy about teaching, not worrying about syllabi, not wondering whether American Lit is going be a dream or a dog, and not missing the usual "Rats-where-did-the-dang-summer-go?" psychic emptiness. Not at all. Not one bit.
Besides, retirement affords time to giggle, for instance at this morning's Writers Almanac poem, as darlingly frivolous as anything John Donne--naughty Jack--ever penned to the woman he wanted on the pillow beside him.
Unification by Ramon Montaigne
The Mississippi at its mouth
Joins the Gulf of Mexico,
The west wind mixes with the south,
High pressure with the low.
Nothing in nature stands apart,
All things rendezvous--
I'd like to mingle with you.
This is what I have in mind.
I just feel a sudden urge
All that seriousness at the outset--the geography, the meteorology--all that high falutin' stuff is nothing more than a gimmick to get her between the sheets. "The sudden urge/To merge." Don't I wish I'd written that.
The compound that is chlorophyll
Formed as the light increases
Makes every little flower thrill
The morning glory mingles
With the honeysuckle vine,
Come wrap your little tendrils around mine.
Second verse, same as the first. Admit it--photosynthesis is not the first word that comes up when you think of love poetry; and "Wrap your little tendrils around mine" is pure human delight. Maybe impure, come to think of it. But if you don't smile at that line, you need serious therapy--or a good stout roll in the hay.
I've been lonely as a cloud,
Drifting miserable and proud,
Goodnight, he brings Wordsworth into this seduction. Where on earth is he going now?
Lonely as a limestone butte--
Handsome, noble, destitute,
A "limestone butte"? Is he crazy? What on earth could be less "poetic"--in a love poem, no less--than calling yourself a limestone butte? But then--
But I need you, I confess
Just about takes your breath away, doesn't it?--"let's coalesce." He's sabotaged any usage of that word in my mind for a long, long time.
Really, it's the same old bottom line--same old sweet human desire delightfully uncorked. Same old, same old. It's all about is sex. Well, love too--but sex. Go on, stifle that giggle, if you can.
So how do I like retirement? Not bad, really.
There's time for poetry.