Like many people I have known, I seem not to be understanding yet how retirement works. Lots of travel, many speaking engagements -- I've not yet experienced the decompression for which I have longed. Today I don't have to be anywhere but at home, and it is lovely. I look out the living room window: rain falls gently on the leaves of trees, each leaf trembling as it hits, so that the trees shimmer. The house is silent, my book is near at hand, supper is planned and an empty afternoon stretches invitingly before me. I need to make days like this the norm, not the exception.
But I don't do that -- instead, I accept every opportunity to work that comes my way. Even when I do decompress, I pay for it with guilty feelings, as if I didn't have the right to do nothing.
"You need to give yourself time," a friend tells me. He's been retired for ten years. "You're just getting started.You'll figure it out." His wife observes quietly that men don't seem to have the same guilt about this that we do. She may have something there. I don't think he hears her.
All I to want to do is read, it seems. Finally, THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt. It's as good as everyone says it is. Concurrently, Barbara Tuchman's A DISTANT MIRROR, because I never got to it when it came out years ago. Before that, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr -- so good I ached when it was finished. CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese, which is almost perfect. Oh, and CROW HOLLOW, by Michael Wallace, set in 17th century Massachusetts and nicely done -- no ache, though.
I wonder if it would be okay just to read books for the rest of my life. I wonder if I would really do that -- just say no to everything else and read? It feels like I would, as if I would just hibernate with my books and never come out. This is the source of my weird, out-of-place guilt: it is the suspicion that I might never again do anything useful if I were left to my own devices. Never mind that I have always said, and truly believe, that reading is the primary way one learns to write -- that, and listening carefully to the way people talk. If this is so, then my reading jag could be seen as refueling for my next book. If this is so, I will surface on my own soon, ready to rejoin the quiet army of writers. So which is it? Am I lazy and used up, or gathering strength for the next chapter?
There is only one way to find out.