Up until now, I have been preoccupied with planning for retirement, and taking the actual practical steps to make it happen. In my case, the practical steps have included making sure that my financial situation is secure, deciding on the date, negotiating exit conditions, telling people, and beginning to prepare to put our house on the market and then to move.
I also have been caught up in the emotional work of determining whether and accepting that I am ready to leave the paid workforce. I have enjoyed my career, and I have a satisfying and well-paying job. For so many years I have been striving upwards on the career ladder, and so deciding to retire has meant coming to terms with the idea that this is as far as I am going in this career. It has meant, to a certain extent, grieving what I will lose by stepping away from my job and career, and knowing that I will have to address the big chasm of empty time in front of me once I no longer have the excuse of a busy schedule to distract me from the question of who I am apart from work.
I have been letting it be, letting that question gradually form, and making empty time for the gestation of the self that I will become in retirement. It goes beyond the question of how I will fill my time. Sometimes I get a fleeting sense of a possible future. For a great read, look at Karen Hume's post on this topic.
Last Friday morning, I puttered about doing little tasks around home. I said to Rob, "I am thinking of doing either X or Y this afternoon," with X being a tedious and time-consuming household task and Y being a trip to the art studio.
"Oh, go to the studio!" he said. And after diddling around a little longer (my typical creativity avoidance procrastination*), I did.
I signed myself into the 2D studio of the amazing community arts building that recently opened in our city. I was the only artist in the studio space that afternoon. I set up an easel and laid out my oil paints on a table with the big north-facing windows behind me. Then I went to the storage area and retrieved my current painting. I had not worked on it for a month.
I started the way I always start -- by setting it up on the easel and contemplating it for ten or fifteen minutes. And then I set to work.
It was a wonderful couple of hours. I was totally focused on the work at hand. The studio was quiet. From time to time, I would wander over to the windows and look out over the cityscape, and then turn back to my painting. At the end of my painting session, I felt a sense of deep peace.
Throughout most of my life, I have had to struggle to make time for painting or any other creative work. These last four years, I have participated in a Thursday night painting class. To get there, I had to leave work by 5:30, much earlier than usual, race home, gobble down supper, change, grab my gear, then drive downtown. I was typically half an hour late, stressed, and exhausted from the week at work. Often I was unable to attend because of evening work events or work-related travel.
How different Friday's painting session was! I wandered in at a time of my own choosing and had full access to the beautiful space. I stayed as long as I wanted. I felt like a kid in a candy shop!
I am working on a composition that involves figures. This is a departure for me; I usually paint landscapes. For me, the human body presents a great challenge.
This is my painting in progress. On Friday, I laid in the background.
I also have challenged myself creatively in another way. I recently started taking an art class in something new to me. I am taking a line and wash class. It involves working with watercolour and ink. It is something that I have come to with great trepidation. You see, one of the other consequences of having little personal time for creative pursuits throughout my adult life is that I have devoted the tiny bits of art time that I have to a genre and medium that I already feel fairly comfortable with -- landscapes and oil paints. So this has been another aspect of the shutting down of my creative life; I have not had the courage or the energy to explore and branch out.
After frowning my way through my first line and wash class ("Why is she spending so much time talking about basics like the colour wheel? Why are we just making marks instead of producing something?"), I have settled into the class and am greatly enjoying it. It turns out that it is tremendously liberating to just explore the new materials and techniques without the expectation that I should instantly be able to produce a credible painting. It's fun!
So, back to Rob. What kind of amazing person encourages his wife to go to the studio instead of doing the tedious overdue household task? Well, a creative person who is comfortable with himself and retirement.
Rob's creativity manifests itself in a completely different realm than mine. He is an audiophile who designs and builds audio speakers. He currently is working on building a tall narrow set out of bamboo plywood.
Here he is working in his shop, sanding.
In his previous project before this one, he designed and built a pair of speakers that he calls "The Octopi." They currently are in our living room and they produce beautiful sound.
So you can see why Rob is an inspiration to me. Seeing him full of enthusiasm about a new project and working down in his shop putting in many hours to realize his vision reminds me that retirement is going to be okay. And also, by the way, it is time for me to get down to the studio, or to sit down at my computer and write.
*If you have ever struggled with procrastination (and most artists and writers do), I highly recommend reading Tim Urban's Wait But Why blog. His posts on procrastination are funny, insightful, and actually kind of painful. But don't read it right now if you are doing so to procrastinate from your creative project; just bookmark it for later.