Today is the afternoon of a whole day rostered off from work. Tomorrow and the next day will be the same, already maturing into golden globules of exciting possibilities of things to do. Today was warm and moist, with the sun shining through big fluffy clouds most of the time and a brief afternoon thunder-shower, which passed as lightly and as pleasantly as it began.
I have decided to leave the career that has caused so much dissatisfaction and frustration, that has wrung so much exhausting patience from me. Sometimes my forbearance has fortuitously uncovered strengths I did not know of. At other times, I have cracked under the strain, only to get back up and stagger on again.
In its entirety, for more than 20 years, this career has been like a man I have never loved (not to be confused with my actual partner, whom I do love). I am sick to the death of counting the hours down to the minutes and watching them slowly erode by, every time I get to work. ‘That’s my life!’ I have screamed inwardly so many times, and then silently endured this wasting of the hours that could have been spent on doing something more creative.
In two more months, I will be free to focus on going in a different direction. I have some plans in place. But still, the enormity of uprooting 20-something years of being in a secure, well-paid job is slapping me with its fear of the unknown, like a wet branch as if I head through a rain-lashed bush-track in the dark to the brink of a steep cliff. What of failure, of making mistakes, of happiness, of doing the responsible thing?
Then I read Tim Lott’s article in The Guardian, about his reflections on reaching the age of 60. Tim is measured and sober and mellow. He sits in a large, discreetly modish, blue plush chair in his lounge room in which brown wood panelling predominates, set off by a glimpse of red persian carpet. There is a fireplace, a bookcase and a glass show cabinet, some colourful ceramics on the mantelpiece, a nice art-work on the wall and the kind of modern but comfortable-looking upholstered chairs my lean, spare, intellectually- minded grandfather would have felt quite at home in.
Tim is a nondescript and harmless looking man, the chief feature of his visage being a pair of glasses, which he wears like a mole in the sunlight, looking perkily upwards towards the viewer. Tim wears a brown jacket over a dark mauve shirt and a pair of loose, daggy indigo blue jeans that have shifted with his sitting cross-legged to somewhat above his ankle, revealing stripy though muted socks and one nice, shiny brown brogue.
There were conflicting views from the commenters on those brown brogues:
Never wear Brown brogues with jeans and take your shoes off inside the house, it’s time you grew up.
‘Unfussed informality and traditional style’. Some people like it, some people don’t. But that seems to describe Tim Lott, or at least his piece of writing. He has defined himself as a serene and comfortable man on the cusp of old age. He feels the sum of his life becomes him and he is at peace with that. He is not afraid of being defined, having long recognised his face in the dressing-room mirror. He wrote the books he wanted to write, he is happy with his partner, his children, his family and his relatively well-to-do way of life.
‘Sixty, in my mind’ says Lott ‘represents the beginning of the third act of the human drama, what I, as a teacher of fiction, have learned to call “falling action” – after the climax has been reached, the princess has been won or lost, and the quest has succeeded or failed.’
In his mind. Not far off sixty myself, I look back on a terrifyingly long time-line of chaos, of stuff-ups, despair and of things I still want to do. Some months after beginning this article, I have embarked on my leave from the job I never really loved. Next week I will hand in notice of my intention to retire with a month’s notice. So indeed I am conscious of that move being the beginning of the next act of my life.
But where is the ‘falling action’? Googling the benefits of early retirement, there are hardly any articles that do not talk about money. Not even health seems as important. Everybody warns of the dire need to save enough money for retirement. But notwithstanding the practical considerations of keeping the bills paid, what is enough to quench the soul-deadening desire for absolute certainty?
So I jump. And in doing so feel a strange sense of exultation and an enormous hunger for books to read, worlds to explore, things to teach myself and give to others. I know on a physical dimension that this is the beginning of the end, but my mind seems ascendant like an eagle still rising. I could die in mid-flight, or fall and die a slow, suffering, broken end. But that doesn’t matter any more. It reminds me of a poem I wrote some years back…
Twilight softly deepening
light swish of cars passing
Summer has been cool
Flat is silent
I am alone, wrestling with the inevitable assignment
John & Veronique with Mum & Dad
Mum unable to shake her cold.
Almost for first time realise how frail she is
And how old I am
And how good times do not last
And I am not immortal
Though my eagle of immortal consciousness still swoops
High in the sky
What Sun does shine on me?
If I could gather all knowledge
together to make a realisation
That there is nothing that I have to do
except where I will go
And all my obsessions fall like dusty ruins,
Fall like the false veil of want
Before my eyes
– Megan Payne