A time for redirection in my own life

One of my annual practices around now used to be crafting a seasonal itinerary for the coming year, one that included goals for each of the major components of my life – Writing/Creative, Quaker, Relationships, Household – that sort of thing. It was kind of like budgeting, but with a focus mostly on time and dreams.

Closely related was a consideration of what kind of schedule I wanted to follow once I retired or somehow otherwise achieved financial freedom. You know, maybe having a bestseller novel break out to fund it all.

The one thing I realized each time I attempted the planning was that there would never be sufficient time for everything I deemed important. And, as my wife pointed out, there were a lot of mundane tasks I wasn’t even considering.

Looking back, I’m rather embarrassed by what I’m seeing. One thing for sure is that little of my life since retiring is anything like what I had anticipated. I had no idea how much my stamina and self-discipline would be flagging. During the earlier thinking, blogging wasn’t even on the horizon nor was choir or daily swimming. (Well, the latter two are currently off, given Covid.) I’m still not meditating or doing hatha yoga daily, either.

Much of the time has been taken up with the self-publication and promotion of my novels as ebooks, and later, with the deep drafting and revisions of What’s Left, which in turn prompted drastic reworking and even renaming of my earlier fiction. Releasing those in both Kindle and paperbook at Amazon last summer came as a HUGE relief. In many ways, I felt I was done.

Or almost.

What I wanted to do was reshape my daily, weekly, and even annual routines. What are my goals and dreams now? What do I need to do, too, to maintain a suitable living situation? Some of it was even reexamining my self-identities and lifestyle. Well, before I retired I had hoped to take a retreat at a monastery or some such to ponder these bigger issues. Was this now the time?

Instead, I glanced at what I want to do here on WordPress in the coming year, and that prompted several months of heavy writing and scheduling of posts. You know, clear the deck, for the most part. Frankly, it’s been more time-consuming labor than I expected, no matter how much I enjoy doing it.

The thought even crossed my mind: What if I stopped blogging altogether? What would I do with the free time? (Would that leave me feeling retired?)

The latest unanticipated turn, though somehow fitting into this refocusing, has arisen in the joint decision to downsize and relocate. It just might lead to a time of isolation and retreat for me, too. We’ll see how things shake out.

Yes, indeed.

Real Maine

 

This year the Red Barn has featured a lot of photos from Downeast Maine, many of them taken about a five-hour drive from our home in coastal New Hampshire. (Driving the other direction would put us in Manhattan in the same amount of time.) It’s easy to imagine the remote coastline as idyllic, but the reality is that much is also economically challenged and impoverished. Here’s an example from downtown Eastport.

Cash in a time of Covid

Well, this used to be the start of the Christmas shopping season, and with Coronavirus I’m assuming that our Thanksgiving gatherings are smaller than usual. (Anyone sitting down to a turkey TV dinner rather than a family gathering?)

Traditionally, today is a day when we’re supposed to think about what we’re grateful for during the past year, but we’re more likely reflecting on what we really miss.

Those face-to-face times when we’re altogether, especially. (Including those casual opportunities to pass along treasures to others, too … as I’ve pondered while culling my bookshelves.)

It’s even having me admit how little cash I’ve used since March, instead putting most of my small purchases “on plastic,” the way, say, most kids have long been doing. For just a cup of coffee?

I’m wondering what else, besides cash, has been a victim of this pandemic.

High on my list would be communal worship, singing together, dancing, concerts and plays, swimming and similar exercise as well as sporting events with live crowds, study groups, parties.

For the record, I’m grateful nobody among my family or friends has come down with Covid and that none of us has been evicted. Also, for one in particular, being furloughed opened the door to an even better position. So the list of positives begins to emerge.

How about you?

Looking afresh at a personal foundation of reading

Living in the family I do, my TBR stack of books is well larded with Christmas and birthday presents – things others think I’ll like or should at least tackle, as well as volumes they’ve already enjoyed and wish to tempt me. I’m not complaining, mind you, though I can be perplexed by their choices, at least until I’m moved to open the cover and dig in.

Sometimes it takes me several years to get around to that, which was the case with The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.

The tome surveys the Inklings, a literary circle established at Oxford University by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, an affiliation that lasted their lifetimes and paralleled the more progressive Bloomsbury elite.

As I read of the budding authors’ early years and passions, my eyes were opened to how different their reading habits and expectations were from mine. They were steeped in a desire to recover a mythos of elves and other realms arising in ancient Britain but lost over time to the teachings from the Continent. There was also a fascination with invented alphabets and languages and secret communications. In contrast, apart from an early round of Tom Sawyer and English shipwrecks, my tastes ran to non-fiction – biographies, histories, and science, especially – and to visual arts and classical music. I still love to read maps, by the way. As for language, English still holds plenty of room for exploration, and Spanish and French are challenging enough.

Fiction returned to my lineup my senior year of high school via an essentially political route – Animal Farm, Brave New World, and 1984 on the leading edge. Besides, that was the time when I was finally getting serious about writing and editing, too.

In short, I read to learn things, and still do, for that matter. Rarely would I admit to reading for pleasure, as such.

But the first years after graduating brought a change, including The Lord of the Rings (which struck me as a rehashing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle material), Samuel Johnson, and Virginia Woolf before getting to Tom Wolfe, Vonnegut, and Kerouac and, after college, Brautigan.

My preference soon settled on contemporary and American, here and now, even if I have a fondness for baroque twists and long sentences.

I have to admit having little in common with the Inklings. Even our religious leanings veer in opposite directions – their thick Catholic and Anglican wrappings versus my Zen and Quaker ascetic.

~*~

At that point, while cleaning a very dusty bookshelf, I chanced upon Becky Gould Gibson’s Need-Fire, a poetry chapbook elaborating the life of Hild, a 7th century abbess who founded a monastery for men and women in Whitby, North Yorkshire but at the time Northumberland. It was a time when some women had more authority in the Catholic church than would be the case later. That, in turn, led me to learn more of the history of Britain in that period, including the reality that much of the land was openly pagan perhaps into the 9th century, much later than I’d assumed.

With another leap of thought, I realized that much of what I’ve found puzzling in the English folksongs, mummers’ plays, and the Abbots Bromley and Morris dances  I’ve encountered through Boston Revels is thinly veiled pagan tradition living on, part of the deeper culture of the land and its earlier peoples.

Well, as we say, the plot thickens.

My next question returns to these shores and an awareness of what this land means to its inhabitants. For me, that’s a blending of science, economics in the broadest sense, spiritual awareness, and the arts.

So how would you define the grounding of your own reading habits and interests? Has it changed over time?

Ten categories I’ve collected

  1. Fossils and rocks.
  2. Butterflies and beetles.
  3. Classical LPs.
  4. And then tapes and CDs.
  5. Paper clips. The colorful ones.
  6. Concert programs. Add to that theater, opera, ballet playbills.
  7. Books by the ton.
  8. Correspondence and rejection slips.
  9. Welcome brochures from visits to Quaker meetinghouses.
  10. Tearsheets and clippings … graphics.

~*~

What about you?