|Stephen Greene's "Light of Memory #3"*|
Since April 7, I have written no blog posts, no further short story drafts, no poems, no morning pages. I have written several letters of recommendation, a personal statement for my college class's fortieth reunion report that's scheduled to come out next fall, and a fundraising appeal--and I've designed one flyer and one draft web site home page. If I were going to rewrite a Gershwin song to convey my situation, its first line would be, "I'm writing lots of stuff, but not for me."
This wasn't feeling okay to me, though all of it seemed to be the right and responsible thing to be doing. How'd I get to the point of doing so much for others that there was no time and energy left for me, I wondered? I began to have nostalgia for the first phases of my retirement, particularly for the time I spent writing this blog and walking near my local salt marsh that, in its obliviousness to me, seems to put things right so easily.
|Drawing by Scott Ketcham|
I got the insight I needed into this problem when I went to submit my college reunion statement online: "semi-retired" was one of the options in a drop-down menu related to employment status. "Oh, that's what I am," I thought. My accountant had told me the same thing: "You're Harvard-employed, not self-employed," he'd said. "You're getting a W-2, not a W-9."
"Semi-retired" makes for meaning and purpose--but also for constraints and obligations. When perfect storms form and rage, constraints and obligations to others often trample and sometimes even obliterate personal meanings and purposes. Imperfect storms are a different story: they make for some sighing, some contrary-to-fact "if only" musings--and remind us of how actively committed we need to be to giving our dreams the time and space that they and we need, deserve, and really can have. When downpours, rumbles of thunder, and high winds seize the hour, we need to keep that umbrella at hand, so the minute things let up we're ready to get moving again--for the sake of our dreams and ourselves.
That's what I'm doing this afternoon, getting moving. I'd thought I'd be "busy doing" this afternoon, but I wasn't. So I sat down and began writing, though all I could do was write about writing and not writing.
So, as I've already made clear, I haven't been writing. But I've needed words and images to weather the storm--and the writing drought at the center of it. So I've been reading. And looking at art.
Thanks to other writers, I've time traveled to and from Shanghai and Macao aboard a Baltimore-built opium-filled ship called the Frolic**; learned about daily life atop Stung Meanchey, a huge waste dump in Cambodia***; followed the beautifully recounted globe-trotting journeys of a novel and the people determined to find it and claim it****; and thought about what it means to be a feminist in America, in Nigeria, and everywhere.*****
|This Kiefer painting is wall height.|
This is all to say that if it hadn't been for other people's visions and imaginations, for the visual and literary art I embraced, I think I might have dried up on the vine in the last couple of months. I mean it when I say that I needed not just to be reminded that people and nature are awesome (in the traditional sense of that word), but to feel it in the wordless part of me.
|by Marsden Hartley|
My personal mid-spring perfect storm seems to be over, and that, combined with the customary rhythms of the calendar and the "usual give" of semi-retirement, is making me feel the first hints of a wind at my back. After a hiatus, I'm back, I think. In the weeks and months ahead, I intend to write the blog posts to prove it.
** The Voyage of the 'Frolic': New England Merchants and the Opium Trade by Thomas N. Layton. American greed has deep roots.
*** The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.
**** The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.
***** We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Adichie: can be read in less than thirty minutes, since it was originally delivered as a TED talk.
****** I traveled to New York City as part of the Massasoit Community College Art Department's field trip.
******* Couldn't resist: another much smaller, very beautiful, very different Anselm Kiefer from the same Gagosian Gallery show.