What is it about Retiring…?

From the New Yorker April 21, 2018

Immanuel Kant noted a connection between the sublime and terror. When I think of retiring I can relate to exactly that. I’m a former psychiatric nurse currently working in a medical center as a utilization review nurse, reviewing charts for insurance purposes and writing appeal letters for insurance denials of care. Eight hours a day, four days a week on the computer in a small office with two other nurses doing much the same thing. The work is tedious, the company enjoyable–there are four of us who’ve been together for about fifteen years, all most likely retiring within the next year.

My co-workers are psyched for retiring–counting down the months, weeks, days. I am too–sometimes–and other times I’m fraught with an inexplicable fear–a hollowness in my gut, an unrelenting voice in my head warning that I’ll be alone with nothing to do 24/7. I’m single, an introvert, and although I have plenty of friends and lots of interests, I also have a history of addiction (bulimia, which I’ve thankfully been free from for over ten years thanks to Twelve Step programs) and I worry that too much time to languish and obsess could just do me in.

Unlike the sun, my current job is not life supporting in any way. He dutifully, and I hope, proudly, keeps us warm, helps us mark the passage of time, and brightens our days. I am easily replaceable, don’t even like my job that much, and when I allow myself that clarity, I know it’s time to retire. Except that I do like the twice monthly paycheck and the daily banter with my co-workers. So it’s a constant back and forth.

A year or so ago I decided I’d become a dance gypsy in retirement–finding workshops taught by my favorite dance teachers around the world and taking myself to those places to indulge in one of my greatest pleasures. I still find that a compelling idea, but I need other things. Writing, sewing, art-making could be other regular activities, maybe even another book, but I have to regularly convince myself that making art of all types is a worthy endeavor. I’m certain it is and I even embrace it, but at these times when I think about letting go of my day job–the one I’ve brainwashed myself to believe is the ‘real’ work–my certainty is suddenly on shaky ground. And what about the pleasure of being free of schedules and responsibilities? Is there ever really such a thing?

Happy I wrote about this today, and I hope sharing it will take the dilemma out of the dark recesses of my private sphere and expose it to the light of the early rising Mr. Sun. I’ll end with another New Yorker cartoon…

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New Beginnings and Ongoing Delights

Happy New Year to you all! I hoped to get around to posting something in early January, but my early new year adventure on Vashon Island, with my long-time dance friend Karen Nelson, side-lined that hope in a most wonderful way. Hanna Barn, where Karen led the first two, of six, weeks of Dance Sensoria (explomov.weebly.com), teaching Contact Improvisation and Tuning Score skills, had no wi-fi access. Fortunately, it’s an unbelievably beautiful studio with heated dance floor, sleeping cubicles on the level above (I have my own secluded corner of the studio space for sleeping since stairs and wheelchairs do not make for an ease-ful duet), has unlimited access to the beach, the wild and wonderful woods, and a well-apportioned, yet rustic, kitchen perfect for community prepared and shared meals. I was immersed in movement and play and never missed the wi-fi–except when I gently pummeled myself for not posting earlier in this new year.

The dancing and community living were both, simultaneously, new beginnings and ongoing delights. I’d spent seven years dancing, communing, and playing with Karen and many others in the 1990s at Camp Stealth, where Karen hosted Diverse Dance inviting the mixed abilities dance community, which includes dancers with and without disabilities, to participate in an experiment in communal living and dancing. And I’d since shared in several of her twice yearly retreats at Hanna Barn. Dance Sensoria was yet another incarnation of new and ongoing adventures, this time with a core group of four, expanding up to eight on some of the ten days we indulged in the joyful, challenging, and at times, frustrating and mind-boggling delights of improvisational movement. Delights are like that–not always delightful, but always delighting in the ways they can open our minds to new challenges both in living with our inner idiosyncrasies, and in communing with the idiosyncrasies of others. We spent six hours each day learning and practicing Steve Paxton’s Material for the Spine, various Feldenkrais techniques, Qi Gong, the basics of Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores, and various other of the million or so scores for improvisation that Karen seems to hold somewhere inside her strong, complex body and mind. Our three-hour morning and afternoon sessions would begin with a structured exercise only to erupt into the unstructured structure of improvisational dancing, which almost always morphs into the delight of play for me. I find my poetic voice, words come from someplace other than my mind, and my body finds fun ways to play and dance, solo and with others, in what seem to be ever new ways, in ever new environments. We practiced Contemplative Dance twice each week, inviting the Vashon community to join us. In this form, we sit in meditation for the first chunk of time, then move to personal warm-up, and finally to open space, each section separated by a ring of the gong and a bow, to honor the privilege it is to share in meditation and movement with ourselves and others. Maybe because of the prayerful structure or the safe space held by all who participate, this form seems to welcome the most sacred, and the silliest, silliness, the irreverent reverence that comes when things align with something much bigger then we are, and allow us to let go of the seriousness we often find ourselves caught up in as humans.

In the course of all of this dancing and living, I found myself at various times noticing irritations and annoyances, struggling with not perfectly executing the physical exercises, wanting to bow out of things that poked at my vulnerable places, stuck in not knowing how to move in the best, most creative way, wanting to challenge rules and structures, on and on. More, though, I would notice my thought-free rolling across the warm blonde-wood floor, colliding with welcoming bodies along the way and stopping to explore soft, sensitive, or rough, physical interaction. I had the chance to scream at the universe, cataloging all my dissatisfaction in gibberish, offer blessings to those in need of support, and create silly words to a spontaneous song about dreaming of peace that popped up out of nowhere one afternoon. I ate lovingly prepared, humble meals with other improvisational beings, and fell asleep to the roars and rumbles of the ocean.

All in all, I’d say a fantastic start to the wide open spaces of this new year. I plan to celebrate life as it comes and goes, and will try to heed the advice of a recent Yogi tea tag:

“Let things come to you.”