The New Day Looks a Lot Like the Old One
The chronicle of retirement has been convoluted and eventual and it is not over yet. I am still testing out the days to discover how best to use them. There is the overarching fact of my mother who shares the house with me, and from whom I will always need instruction in the basics. She is a woman who likes clean hands, swept floors, and tidy habits, along with wall art that consists mostly of flowers in vases. She is the baseline. It’s my job to adjust to her. But there is also the return to rural North Carolina, where I grew up and with which I am still familiar. We are living in the town where my mother’s friends are, and where her church is, and where people are much as I remember them from my early years.
There are probably a lot of people like me who have a vocation that does not have much to do with the job, and I feel lucky about having that, but at the same time there is unease with it. I will always write, that’s true, and I don’t feel much change in the impulse. Maybe I feel freer to do it, and the return to North Carolina is reminding me what my real material is – my truest material, I mean. Just listening to my cousins tell stories about what we all remember from the days of our grandparents opens up my head to the possibility of all that fertile stuff. It’s likely I strayed too far from the material that I really understood in the years when I was trying to figure out what publishers wanted. In my forties I wanted to stop writing about the miseries of family and poverty. But now I think that’s what I’m meant for.
So I am retired but I am not. I no longer have to teach, and at the end of the summer I will no longer be on anybody’s payroll. But every morning I will wake up with the feeling that there is something I need to do to justify my existence. What I have to be mindful of is that the writing is the point. I have no idea how much I will be able to publish in the future. Even if I were not aging and losing relevance – I just spent twenty five seconds searching for the word “relevance” – publishing is volatile and might go in so many directions after the pandemic. If, indeed, there is an “after” to all this.
The writing is the point. Keeping up a conversation with people is the point. Staying alive to see what the next thing will be. Finishing another novel, and another one, until something, some inner voice, says, okay. That’s it. You’re done with that now, too.
I’ve been employed since I was fourteen years old, as best I can recall. It’s an odd thought, no matter what I do with the writing, to think that my working, paycheck-earning life is over. It’s too large to get my head around. But I’ll adjust.