FROM MY TROPICAL DECK CHAIR
Retirement and reinvention. If we want to be happy in this, the 4th quarter of our lives, we must reinvent ourselves. Retirement without reinvention produces the nicest but dullest lost boys and girls in wrinkly old bodies. I know. I see it sometimes here in Puerto Vallarta. People who have retired and don’t know what to do with themselves. It is a pretty life, but it is like colorful plastic sushi in a dusty window.
As soon as we report our quit date to our lovers, husbands, wives, employers, shareholders, Starbucks barristas, dogs, gold fish, we can know one thing for certain: our lives are going to change. Our former habits, rituals, friends — all must be combed through for validity and meaning with the care that a CSI team spends on a roped-off crime scene.
Questions to ask: what do I want? What do I need? What (and who) do I love? Who do I want with me on the journey? Who do I have? We can tell what we really value by what we cling to. When we are ready to change, we will.
I retired a year ago this month. I sat in my garden in Santa Fe, drinking iced tea and reading books. My reinvention process had started in the 80s, when I went to proper art school. Serious painting may or not bring me riches and fame, I thought. But it will be something to do when I retire. I always worked. Did studio time in the early mornings, then work. Work work work. Armchair travel was my chief diversion.
I did go places. Finally made it to Venice, after a lifetime of wishing. I tried to see and sketch all the sights. St. Mark´s Square! Gondolas! Pink chandeliers! Peggy Guggenheim Museum! I tried to eat all the food. Scampi! Pasta carbonara! Beef liver in sauce! Gnocci! I wanted to do all the adventures. My main adventure was getting lost. I got lost, even though I stayed by one of the most famous buildings they have — the Venice Opera.
But the month I spent in my garden, now that was a vacation. Listening to the sparrows, the ravens, the wind through softly waving branches of pine trees. Smelling the sharp, delicious scent of Russian sage. Thinking about my life. Reading. Ahhh.
The basic idea of reinvention is: find out what you like to do, and do more of it. So right now, I am doing my yellow wallpaper paintings with tropical fruit in the still life part. Bananas. Mangoes. Papayas.
When I came to Puerto Vallarta, my uptight, Presbyterian work-is-salvation self melted in the ninety degree heat and wafted into the palm trees. I’ve been dreaming of palm trees ever since I was a little girl. Palm trees, warm turquoise ocean, swimming pools — I knew I had to be here.
I don’t take it easy very well. Reinvention, for me, meant slow down, you crazy child. Learn to relax. Let life flow. Let life come to you. Don’t be so grabby. Janis Joplin said, “Life is what goes by you. What you miss and what you grab. So get it while you can.” Look what happened to her, with that attitude.
So, reinvention is a personal matter. Start by getting a spiral notebook, the kind you can snap into a three-ring binder. Write three pages every morning. These are the famous “morning pages,” where you clear your mind of everything, put whatever’s going through your head on paper. Don’t worry. No one is going to see it. Figuring out who you are, factoring in who you were, finding by close examination who you want to be and what you want to be? It’s not a contest.
Then make a treasure map. Collage, on the cover of your notebook, if you want, words and pictures that represent everything you want to have and do and be in your next life. Then, quietly go about creating it. Action baby steps. Do the most difficult thing first. Do one thing every day that scares you.
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