Friday, December 7, 2018

Hometown in December

You lock the front door. You have left your house on a morning in December. There have been preparations because you are walking away from a lot — a basket of greeting cards, strings of lights that you made sure to unplug, a back room where wrapping paper and tape and ribbon and scissors may well have been used the night before.

Until fifteen years ago the morning in December would have been a few days before Christmas, the destination a family home — either my own or a partner’s. With 2004 and the passing of the last of the parents, with 2005 and the devastation of Katrina, the routines of the holidays began to change.

A couple of weeks ago I decided on an impulse to plan a trip back to my hometown of New Orleans. The fares I found favored what I wanted — two or three days walking through old neighborhoods with a husband who had never seen New Orleans. And then back to our own home in Boston with a few days remaining before Christmas Day.

No guidebook will be needed. I am guessing that I will have the answers to the most important questions that my husband could ask as we make our way down block after familiar block.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Before Routines

I am not ill but I am home in the middle of the day.

I could have gone out for lunch (I will tomorrow) but instead I counted on the kitchen to provide a simple this and that, a slice of bread for the toaster, a small container of refrigerated leftovers for the microwave. A glass of water.

It is a sunny October midday.

There is no noise of a television left on in another room.

An armchair in our upstairs bedroom feels like the best of home right now. The bed that I made this morning after Jim left for work has its smooth coverlet dotted by an open journal, a card with a quotation from a favorite author, a paperback book of jottings that I have read at different times over the last forty years.

A space heater is purring at a medium setting.

No part of the house is really uncomfortable but the heater is a nod to the reality of New England seasons.

There is nothing wrong.

No schedule portions out the rest of the afternoon.

Nothing has to be different in an hour’s time but likely something will be without any planning on my part.

For now, however, I can remember the housework that my mother used to get done even when one of her children was home sick from school. Her day was not bounded by the quiet of a sick room.

But I am not ill. I am older than my mother would have been while her children were still enrolled in school.

I know that there is nothing that has yet become routine in these first four months of retirement.

It is simply time to be aware.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Pen to Paper in the Boston Athenaeum

I used to have a fairly accurate sense of how long it would take me to write something worth posting.

Sometimes it depended on the time of day that I first put “pen to paper,” so to speak. If I started composing within an hour of breakfast, I could have a worthy product by ten o’clock. It did not necessarily matter what other tasks I might have had to handle within those hours. Sentences were ready whenever I got back to the laptop or desk monitor. The ways that the logic of a written piece might progress seemed to resolve themselves more quickly, the closer to day’s start I made the effort.

Sometimes the place where I made that effort had the decisive influence on how long I needed to keep working on a piece. My office at work — when I had an office and there was work to go to — was ideal; I was used to assuming a posture at my desk that was effective in keeping distractions at bay. I galloped ahead! The couch at home made certain factors in my life unavoidable; the quieter the room, the more familiar the furnishings, the harder it was not to allow myself the time it took to be honest in what I was getting “on paper.” I realized that I had to live with the kind of person my words revealed me to be.

All that needed to happen today, though, was to use the time I had and the new place I could go and hear what I might say. Would I recognize the voice? Could I own it?

I am ready to move beyond the three-month silence with which retirement has begun.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Plans for Next September

I am going to a monastery in early September.

I know this because I went online this morning and booked four days of retreat at a nearby Trappist monastery.

This is an abbey sixty miles west of Boston, and a stay at the guest house used to be notoriously difficult to arrange. It used to require a phone call no more than six months before the proposed visit. On the first of every month, the single land-line to the guest master’s office would be consistently busy during the afternoon hours when hopeful visitors were directed to call.

Luck was never with me. I subsequently resigned myself to an occasional car ride out to Spencer, Massachusetts, in time for one of the midday services that the monks chanted in their chapel.

How quiet it used to be when I would pull off the state highway and drive the several minutes to the entrance gates of the Trappist property.

A one-time student for the priesthood, I always prided myself on my readiness for these cloistered settings. I considered them natural places for me to want to spend time exploring. Long, slow, contemplative walks were a specialty of mine. How easily I could settle down with a journal and pen my reflections.

The silence over the monastery fields would take me by surprise every time, though.

I felt out of my depth.

There were men here, I felt compelled to admit, who could do something with this silence that I had not yet learned.

For the first time this coming September, I will be away from a work setting where I have been one of the people who knew best how to handle the start of a school year. Instincts trained over the past thirty-seven years of working in the same school may find it hard to quiet down.

I have chosen to take myself away. I have chosen to find something different to tackle and listen to.

Retirement for an educator needs time to figure out what it might be about.