SOME THOUGHTS on the first day of the rest of my life. Or the last day of the old chapter in my life and the first day of the new chapter in my life.
I have a things-to-do app on my phone that has come in pretty handy. Listed under “Today” are reminders to look at the latest chapter of my niece’s dissertation, a reminder to buy gifts for three couples who have gotten married this past year (one in June!) and a third one says, “Tacos, Tortas and Tamales,” a reminder to buy a new cookbook by Chef Robert Sontibanez.
Listed under “Tomorrow,” is this: “Start having fun.”
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but whatever it is, it has to be more fun than the last few weeks and dealing with all these major changes in my life as I prepare for that next chapter. Putting my place on the market and wondering if it would ever sell; giving notice at work and pretending that I can be a full member of the team when the reality was that I became a short timer the moment I gave notice; deciding where I want to move to and changing my mind several times; deciding when to start looking for a house in Houston; and worst of all: figuring out how I would say good-bye to my friends, at work and outside of work.
I do intend to have fun. By that I don’t mean that I will get up every morning and put on a happy face and go out to enjoy everything that life throws at me. The problem is that while I know what I don’t mean, I’m not sure I know what I do mean. Maybe what I mean is that I’ll continue to approach each day the way I have approached most days until now: with anticipation for what might be.
It’s not going to be easy because I require discipline in my life, the kind of discipline we find in the workplace. I have some immediate projects that I intend to tackle that will have their own deadlines, but what happens after that? Will I be able to force myself to sit down to write a certain number of hours each day? To stand in front of an easel and paint for x number of hours? To volunteer? To travel? To earn extra money so I can travel as much as I’d like to? Will I force myself to leave Houston for extended periods of time, to spend a month or two in San Miguel or camping in the West?
Retirement. It is a weird word, isn’t it? It brings images of going to bed, of secluding yourself in a room while other people are still roaming the house. It connotes separation. It’s not a good or accurate word at all, for while some people do move to “retirement” villages or similar locales, most people do not separate themselves – from society or family or friends. Most simply stay home, with the only difference being that they don’t go to a job every morning. I look at my six older siblings, all of whom are “retired,” and I can’t say that any one of them has withdrawn from life or society or family. Not a single one of them is bored, and most of them complain of not having enough daylight hours to do what they want to do.
In South Texas we say that a person “se retira,” which is just a bastardization of the English. “Retirar” would be the verb. Which, if you think about it, sounds awful. Tirar means to throw, to throw away. Add the re at the beginning and it means to really throw away, to get rid of. I don’t know what word the Mexicans use but my Spanish dictionary tells me that retirement is “jubilacion.” Jubilation! That sounds a lot better, but it’s also a great exaggeration. It brings visions of people at a Pentecostal service, walking around with a beatific smile on their faces and their upraised palms floating around their heads. I don’t see many older people walking around like that.
I don’t really like the phrase, “the next chapter in your life” either. Yes, it is a next chapter, if we divide our lifespans into chapters, but it’s not just another chapter. It is more than likely the last chapter, and most of us have a hard time dealing with that thought. That phrase is supposed to make us feel better, like “passing” is supposed to make us feel better when we talk about death. If we talk about death; most of us would rather not.
(As I sit here writing this, at a café near my home, I keep hearing the new-email ping on my iPhone every few seconds. It’s the IT people at API testing the this-guy-no-longer-works-here message that those who email me there will get. Pretty soon, the number of emails coming into my phone will decrease by about two-thirds. That’s a welcome thought, but also not, given that I’ve become addicted to the iPhone tone of incoming emails or text messages, to the point that I automatically reach for my iPhone whenever I hear any kind of pinging, as I did earlier this afternoon when each tone of the elevator indicating that we had reached a new parking garage level made my hand move towards my pocket.)
But I guess it doesn’t really matter what we call it, does it? What matters is what we do with it. In one way or another, we all keep on working, for life is work. It is fun and it is exciting and it is rewarding, but in order to get any of that, we have to work at it.
I intend to work at it.
Beyond that, I am very lucky that I am an artist. I paint, I write, I draw, I take pictures, I cook. I create things, and people who have creativity in their blood and in their genes are doomed to keep working until they take their last breaths. My siblings are also artists, in their own ways, although I doubt any of them would ever admit it. But they create beautiful things, in their kitchens, in their gardens, in their woodshops, and in their sewing rooms.
I guess if I have to choose one person whose life in his older years I would emulate, that would be my grandfather, Alejandro Palomo. He was a carpenter. He built his own house and built a house for each of his children. He built furniture. He never stopped working and, after he was convinced by his daughter to move to California with her, he continued working there until the moment his heart stopped beating. He was picking fruit in an orchard near San Jose.
That’s how I want to live the rest of my life: picking beautiful, juicy things from the tree of life.