There’s a poem by Philip Larkin that I used to reflect upon often during my early retirement days (Entitled, as luck would have it, “Days”!)
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
I used to muse over this in my mind when the days turned colder and I’d find myself on a Tuesday afternoon, standing at the radiator in my kitchen watching a sleety rain patter against the windows. I’d have already been to the gym that day, walking there and back wrapped up against the cold. The freezer would be bulging with dishes I’d cooked up to fill previous hours, and the Monday shop in Lidl had already been done. I’d not be in the mood to read books. I pretty much have never watched much telly, so I certainly wasn’t going to sit down in front of Loose Women. I’d be alone in the house and conscious that my wife would soon be coming in from work and looking for her “me time” – the last thing she’d be looking for would be my hangdog company. I’d slurp my tenth cup of tea in the day and try to resist the temptation to have another biscuit. What to do with the rest of the day? And what if the rest of the week was going to be similar?
I can already sense some readers swooning with the thought of having a day like this. Or more than one. Really? “Be careful what you wish for”, is what I say, and I’ve been there and got the T-shirt. My old dad used to tell me not to wish retirement on because “It will be there soon enough”. I used to think that what he meant was that “old age”, being 65, left you wondering where the time had flown to, but I was starting to wonder? Was he bored with it? His big hobbies were the garden and the golf, not exactly British winter pursuits. Were his retirement days stretching out? Was he finding them a bit repetitive? Was he missing his work? I was young and just starting out on the employment ladder and I looked on his comments in the same way as when he told me “School days were the happiest days of your life”. Yeah, right Pop. If retirement was all I thought it was cracked up to be, then he must mean something else. Perhaps it was going too quick for him, or maybe it was ushering the Grim Reaper in a bit too quickly. But surely he couldn’t be bored?
You can’t associate boredom with retirement, can you? It’s not allowed. “Only boring bastards would get bored with retirement”, as one of my mates said, when I told him I was having trouble filling my days. I agreed, and fretted about my inability to find something fulfilling to fulfil myself with. If it wasn’t Philip Larkin haranguing me in my mind, it was Bruce Springsteen:
Stay on the streets of this town
and they’ll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight
I’m dying for some action
I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book…..
I’m not really sure what The Boss was referring to when “Dancing in the Dark” but some retirement days it felt like this summed up how I was feeling. I wanted some “action” too, you know, but for me (given I was beginning to suspect I was really beginning to annoy my working wife) this would be a project, an objective that was set outside of myself. Something that involved other people, working with them, persuading them, cajoling them, or even doing what they were asking me to. Taking direction, following a leader. The kind of challenges my work used to supply on a daily basis.
Setting goals and objectives for yourself is all very well, as is having hobbies, pastimes and all the hours in the day to pursue them. Ermine waxed lyrically, as ever, over this subject on his blog this week, and posted examples of how you might fill your day in retirement. Yes, okay, but once you’ve considered all of them, and more, and found you’re just not in the mood or in the position to tackle any of them, what else are you going to do? Read another book? Go another walk? Build a radio set? Surf more FIRE websites telling you to follow your dreams? Well, what if your dreams merely taunt you about your inability to take steps toward them? For a time, I thought my dream job would be to be a writer. Seemingly it’s a lot of people’s fantasy job. There’s a cure for it: take a week off work; sit at your desk at a time of your choosing and write. Oh, and “Just write anything!” as the books and blogs advise. See how long it takes you to (1) become seriously bored (2) run out of things to write about (3) find yourself weeping at the sheer crap you’re producing (4) if you think it’s quite good, wonder how you can commercialise what you have written and then wonder if that’s not, like, a job? (5) Get up every day and repeat the process.
Listlessness affects everyone, and there’s something about having every day to fill – that’s every day – that seems to make you more prone to it. I seriously underestimated how little I could achieve between the hours of seven in the morning and eleven at night and often wondered where they’d gone and what I’d done with them? I knew I wasn’t alone. In his book “Fit, Fifty and Fired Up”, Nigel Marsh wrote:
I knew all too well the dangers of sitting at home with not enough to do. It’s easy to become soft and directionless without a focus – a “park bencher” as one of my friends calls it. You can even find yourself reading junk mail or writing To-Do lists comprising of things like “Clean teeth”. I remember an occasion during a previous hiatus from work when I’d only one thing to do in the day – buy pork chops for dinner. As I ran to the butcher in my pyjamas at 5pm before he closed, I was thinking “I haven’t got time for all these jobs! I mean I’ve got to clean my teeth and then there’s the pork chops!”
Well, Nigel wrote a few books about his experiences and hats off to him for that. But, make no mistake, writing a book must be one of the hardest things you can do – unless you find that it’s one of the easiest. I suspect there’s not much of a middle ground. If it’s the former, I suspect you might want to be paid for it and…wait… isn’t that a priest or a doctor, in a long coat, running over a field toward me?