Sunday, 26 July 2020

Pondering the pandemic

Masked up at BernArt Be aMAZEd 
We're into our fifth month of living with coronavirus here on the east coast of Canada. In some ways, life feels remarkably normal. Husband and I are amongst the lucky minority who are retired and have enough resources to deal with the economic fallout of all this - so far anyway.

For the first two months, when coronavirus cases were still on the rise, we rarely went farther than our local grocery store to pick up supplies for the week, and visited with family and friends only via telephone and videoconference. Our various volunteer commitments moved online as well. 

Over the past two months, as cases have declined to almost none locally, we've gradually made our way back out into the world in careful and limited ways. There have been a few dinners on restaurant patios, a handful of outside gatherings with trusted friends and family, and occasional day trips to local beaches. One day a couple of weeks ago, we ventured as far as Halifax (an hour away) to pick up a couple of items we needed for an upcoming kitchen renovation and two weeks ago I attended my first (physically distanced) board meeting at a local fire hall. This week, I went on a photography field trip with a small group of photography friends to a fabulous local attraction, BernArt Be aMAZEd, where the photos accompanying this post were taken.

On the one hand, I like being able to interact with other people more normally again. Attending so many meetings and other events online was exhausting. On the other, this new stage is just as tiring in a different way. There's so much to negotiate. Do the people with whom I want to interact take the pandemic seriously? Are they comfortable meeting in person? What risks will I take being in close contact with them? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? What if we can't meet outside? Is our preferred venue big enough and does it have windows that open?

In mid-summer, it's usually possible to settle on a plan that works for everyone, but I already dread the challenges colder weather will bring - particularly, if the predicted "second wave" arrives. Personally, I plan to avoid "in person" indoor meetings when/if case numbers rise again but I expect there'll be pressure to attend them from people whose risk assessment is different from mine - either because they don't feel personally at risk, or because they hate virtual meetings enough to take more risks.  

Of course, there's no point worrying about that yet. Lots could change in the next few months, and - if and when push comes to shove - I mostly have the luxury of choosing which risks I'll take. It's just hard to hold my ground sometimes in the face of others' disapproval - even when I feel it's the right thing to do. 

I've thought a lot lately about the ways in which the pandemic has disrupted our lives - economically, socially, personally - and the thing that worries me most at the moment is the growing generational divide. Is our society cohesive enough to keep people of different generations pulling in the same direction, even when their interests would otherwise take them in very different ones? Bluntly put, how long will younger, less vulnerable people be willing to sacrifice their own interests to protect those who are older and more vulnerable? If a vaccines or effective treatments aren't available within a reasonably short period of time, how might things change? Will older, more vulnerable people find themselves living in isolation indefinitely while younger people return to business as usual? And what are the long term effects of that divide likely to be? 

I suppose it's possible one outcome will be to disempower the baby boomers enough that the concerns and interests of younger generations finally get the attention they deserve from public policy-makers, marketing directors, etc. However, it seems to me unlikely boomers will let that happen without a fight. After all, they've spent their whole lives being the centre of their universe so they're bound to resist playing second fiddle, even for the sake of their kids and grandkids. 

For the moment, all we can do is take it one day at a time, support one another to the extent we can, and hope for the best. We human beings can be remarkably innovative, compassionate and resilient when we have to be, and a worldwide pandemic is as good a reason as any. 

Here are a few more favourite shots from our photo outing this week. 

Monday, 9 March 2020

Mondays writings: Learning to say no

One of the things I was determined to do when I retired was set aside quality for writing and other creative pursuits so, soon after I left work, I firmly announced that I was blocking Mondays for writing. So much for good intentions. As it turned out, I only managed to carve out time for writing on two or three Mondays at most over the past year.

This past weekend, there was a writing workshop I was interested in attending but opted not to go because I've written so little lately. What was the point, I thought?

The point was and is that I still want to write. Or, at least, I think I do. So yesterday I recommitted to "Monday writings".

Now here it is Monday morning, and I've managed to get myself to sit down in front of the computer, with hot coffee and Irish jigs to inspire. It doesn't feel comfortable, but that's hardly surprising, given how little I've done this lately.

The next question is what do I want to write about? There's been lots on my mind lately - the climate crisis, the ongoing mistreatment of indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere, the difficulty of building and maintaining strong, healthy communities when so much in our culture fosters selfishness and narcissism, the challenges of aging...

But the thing I want most to write about today is the thing I'm struggling most with these days, which is learning to say "no". No to roles, responsibilities and commitments that don't interest me. No to spending time with people who consistently drain my energy. No to useless distractions on social media and elsewhere. No to being silent because the things I want and need to say make some people uncomfortable. No to living my life the way others expect me to.

I hear other women my age talk about how much freer they feel to be themselves - to say what they think, follow their dreams, etc. That hasn't been my experience.  Certainly, I'm more forthright about my political views now that I'm retired, but saying no to expectation, disappointing people who request my help, angering people I care about, and minimizing interaction with social media are still real challenging most days.

On the one hand, I think, so what? I'm retired after all. Why not just go with the flow? To some extent, I needed to do just that for the first year or so of retirement, while I recovered from working all those years and contemplated what I wanted to with the next phase of my life. Thirteen months in, it feels like time to make choices, which means screwing up the courage to say no much more often than I have been to create space for the things that matter most.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

It's all true!

Over the years, I lot of retired friends told me they were busier after they retired than when they were working. They also told me I'd wonder how I ever had time for work. I confess I was skeptical, but it turns out everything they said was true. I am busier now - at least in some ways - than when I was still schlepping into an office every day.

I think it's because, as soon as I left my job, all the projects I'd put on the back burner were once again front and centre, demanding my attention. Added to which, I live with a man who never stops puttering, and whose many projects often require my input.

A case in point is our recent attic renovation. Over the past six months, we gutted the attic and installed new windows, new wiring, foam insulation, drywall and flooring. Husband did much of the work himself with help from an excellent contractor and electrician, which I very much appreciated, but that doesn't mean I wasn't implicated. My contributions were to take on a larger share of the cooking and other chores, review plans, and make dozens of necessary decisions. Add to which, there was the emotional and psychological toll of living with stacks of boxes and furniture temporarily relocated to the living room, dining room and den.

The payoff was a bright, warm studio/office space for me - which I love! - an extra bed for visitors and less cluttered storage space. That's the hope anyway. We still have some way to go dealing with all the clutter.

Truth be told, living with so many of our belongings crammed into the main part of the house for several months was an eye-opener. It forced me to really see just how much stuff we'd accumulated over the years, which was sobering to say the least - especially now, when we're doing our damnedest to walk more lightly on the planet.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much stuff you own? If not, here's a fun exercise: The next time you're seated on the toilet, count the number of items in your bathroom. I did that recently and gave up after 200. Two hundred. Don't believe me? Think about it. Towels, face clothes, toiletries, medications, shower curtain, bath mat, bath scale, decorative items... It doesn't take long to reach 200, and that's just the bathroom.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a room we refer to as the den, though I store my clothes in here as well. There's a corner cabinet housing the printer, computer and various supplies, a sofa bed, two small side tables, a bookcase, a filing cabinet, lamps, several pieces of art, a dresser and a closet - oh, and a pile of boxes that were stored in the attic. I shudder to think how many individual items there are - thousands, I suppose. How on earth did we accumulate so much stuff?

If you're imagining we've got serious hoarding issues, don't. Aside from four overstuffed bookcases, we have fewer possessions than most people we know. With things in their proper places, you'd be surprised how tidy and uncluttered it all looks. But that's part of the problem. We put a lot of effort into storing our stuff to avoid being overwhelmed by it, when the better option would be to dispose of much of it.

I've gone down a rabbit hole here, but I guess that's the point. A year ago, as I was saying farewell to friends and colleagues at work, I expected that in retirement I'd feel as though I had plenty of time to do all the things I dreamed of doing. Instead, I often feel hemmed in by the many personal projects and belongings that have quietly accumulated around us for years, and spend much less time on creative and volunteer pursuits than I hoped and expected.

Fortunately, I have been able to carve out some time to join a local choir and photo club - both of which feed my soul. I also do occasional volunteer work, which enables me to connect with interesting new people. Now that the attic's done, the theory is I'll have more time and space to tackle other projects but, of course, much depends on how well I avoid unwelcome distractions. Here's hoping I do a better job of juggling demands on my time in Year 2.

What about you, dear reader? Are you retired? If so, did you also find you had less time in retirement than you expected? What tips would you offer fellow retirees for managing their time wisely? I'd love to read your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Searching for light

The last few weeks have been challenging. Attic renovations were in full swing, the sink in our main bathroom sprung a leak (several actually), a short-term consulting contract consumed more time than expected, after two months of drought our wells are painfully low on water, and we attended three funerals, including two for close family members.

Add to those challenges more grim news about the state of our environment, a looming recession, and worries about the upcoming federal election, and it's hard to be cheerful.

I felt particularly low after a long day of driving to Tatamagouche and back to attend a dear aunt's funeral. Though it was joyful spending time with family, celebrating Aunt Helen's long and productive life, and revisiting childhood memories, I was physically and emotionally drained by the time we arrived home that evening. The next day I finished chores early, then spent the afternoon resting and reading on the back deck. I'd been trying to finish a book Husband recommended, Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh, which - though well-written - was a bit of a slog because it's set in such a miserably dystopian future. 

Fortunately, during one of my forays into the kitchen for snacks, I noticed the sunflowers we'd purchased at the market in the morning, glowing in the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window - a powerful reminder of the light and beauty that remains in the world.

There's hope too - in the love and caring of family, the determination and commitment of Greta Thumburg and the thousands answering her call to action,

Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images

...and in the complexity and resilience of the natural world.

To close, some powerful quotes about searching for light in dark times. 

“I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

“But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela 

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
Barack Obama

Sunday, 30 June 2019

With the pause button turned off

The most surprising about retirement so far is how darn busy I feel. My retired friends and family always told me their lives were busier than when they worked but, to be frank, I never truly believed them. I assumed they'd simply slowed down to the point that they felt busier.

Now that I've joined their ranks, I have to admit they may have been telling the truth. Admittedly, I've slowed down a bit, but I'm also far busier in many ways. For years, I put a whole slew of projects on pause, while waiting until I had more time to tackle them. Now that the time is here and I've hit "play" on so many of them, my days and weeks are filled to the brim.

The garden is a perfect example. Husband and I have owned our home for 9 years, but we've only ever done minimal gardening because, until I retired, we were mostly here only on weekends  and didn't want to spend all our time working. Now that I'm retired, I no longer have an excuse to ignore the overgrown bushes and crowded perennials, so spent many hours this spring weeding, mulching, and moving plants around. I'm also making a more serious effort to establish a vegetable and herb garden.

The summer has been damp and cool so far so it's taking a while for the veggies to get going but yesterday I harvested my first radish and a few leaves of fresh arugula, and I'm optimistic we'll have plenty of fresh greens in the next few weeks. The beans and potatoes are up and growing nicely too, and the garlic we planted last fall looks wonderfully lush so I'm hopeful the bulbs are maturing nicely under their seaweed blanket. I'm hoping to finally get some tomatoes planted in the next day or two.

Seeing to the perennials mostly involves cutting things back and dividing and rehoming the irises and mounding geraniums I planted five or six years ago but I treated myself to a few new plants as well. My goal is to get most of the hard work done in the next week or two so that I can relax when the really hot weather arrives - if it ever does.

When I'm not gardening, I'm cooking and baking lots, doing a bit of volunteer work, planning renovations, disposing of stuff we no longer need, researching our family geneology, training the dog, spending time with family, catching up on my reading, and working out. All of which means, the days fly by surprisingly quickly - so quickly that I rarely have time for photography, though I hope to get back to it soon! Here are a few pics I took around our garden in recent weeks.

Are you retired? If so, have you found you're busier than ever too? How do you decide what you'll spend time on now that your time is your own?

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Time shifting

One of the first things that shifts when you retire is your sense of time. Weekends no longer mean very much, schedules are more flexible, appointments mostly contingent. If the weather, your mood, or your priorities change, so do your plans for the day.

Today was a good example of that. We'd intended to head for Cape Breton to visit with old friends first thing this morning but awoke to several inches of snow on the ground and decided to postpone until tomorrow once we realized how slippery the roads were. It was a good call. It's been snowing all day, and driving 4.5 hours on snowy roads would have been no fun at all - even with good winter tires.

Three weeks into this new phase of my life, I still it hard to "go with the flow'. My inclination is to make plans and stick with them, even when they no longer make sense. I need to get over that. Being free to be flexible is one of the best things about retirement.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Repurposing lists

I've always loved lists. They help me organize my thoughts, keep me focused, and give me a sense of accomplishment. But they can be overwhelming too - when they're too long, or when the items on them remain undone.

Since beginning my repurposed life, I've made a concerted effort to keep my daily "to do" lists modest, and commit to tackling only one significant item over and above my day-to-day chores. But somehow I'm still not managing to do everything I plan to.

I'm not entirely sure why. Partly, I think it's because I'm so distracted by my husband and dog. But it may also be because some part of me resents the lists - or, rather, resents feeling I have to justify my existence (to myself? to others?) by accomplishing something every day.

An old friend reminded me last week that it's really okay to "just be" sometimes - to sit and watch the sunset, or hang out by the fireplace with the dog snoozing in my lap, or nap when the mood strikes.  She's right of course. There's no point making lists if I never stop to savour the here and now.

So, here's the plan:  I'm going to set aside some "do as I please" time every day - an hour or two when I give myself permission to do whatever feels right and refrain from criticizing myself for "wasting" time. If I use the hours "productively", great. If not, that's fine too. The point is to create a little more space to simply breathe and let my thoughts (when I have any) wander in whatever direction they choose. My hope is the exercise will help me rediscover what really interests me, so that I can begin repurposing my lists to include more of the things I genuinely care about, and fewer of the things I do only because I feel I should.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

A New Chapter, A New Blog

I recently retired - and by "recently", I mean a week ago - so retirement is still pretty new to me, and I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.

I decided shortly before I finished my job that I'd prefer to refer to my new status as "repurposed"  because what I have in mind for my future doesn't seem to align with most people's idead of retirement. For instance, I don't intend to stop working - just (mostly) stop being paid for work - and I won't be traveling much for the next while. 

A few of my friends and family have asked me whether I feel like I'm on vacation. I don't really. I'm too darn busy doing chores left undone over the past few months. What I do feel is a tremendous sense of spaciousness - of finally being free to tackle tasks that require more time and attention than I've had to devote to them.

So far, what I'm enjoying most is being able to spend more time with my husband and dog. Getting up early because I want to and not because I have to is pretty terrific too. And I look forward to  becoming more engaged in my community over the next year.

But first things first. My job took a lot out of me in the past couple of years, so I need to spend a little time recovering physically and emotionally before I take on a lot of new responsibilities. Given that, I don't plan to make any long-term volunteer or work commitments for at least six months. I care deeply about lots of issues - including climate change, social justice, and electoral reform - but am not yet sure how I want to contribute to addressing them. In any case, I'm determined to set aside plenty of time for family and friends, gardening, exercise, and creative activities. The tricky bit will be finding the right balance.

Given all that, I've decided to keep my short-term goals simple. I'll try to spend a few hours each day seeing to chores and exercising, and the rest of my time hanging out with people I care about, doing various creative activities, reading, and "following my nose" to see where it takes me.

My hope is that this blog will help me reflect on what I'm learning along the way so that over time I will begin to focus more of my energy and attention on the things that matter most. Stayed tuned.