It’s the question I came to dread: “So… what’d you do today?”
The intent was innocent. My wife comes home after a hard day’s work, and she wants to know how my day was. She wants to forget the meetings she sat through and the hassles she endured, and hear about the serene life of her retired husband. She’s retiring in a few months herself, and wants to hear how wonderful it is, to help her hang in there a few more months.
If I had a specific goal for that day – clean out the garage, for example, or go to Costco – I was okay. As long as I accomplished the goal, of course. And as long as I could make it sound like it was a significant task, one that had an impact on the life of the family. “Finally made it to Costco. I don’t know what it is about Costco, it seems like such a major ordeal. My legs are killing me. But now we have enough coffee… and celery… and Scotch… to last for a while. How was your day?”
But there are some days – okay, many days… actually, to be honest, most days – when I don’t have a specific task identified. That’s when I have to improvise. That’s when I feel the guilt.
For this newly retired guy, there are several things to feel guilty about.
After almost 50 years of working tirelessly to earn a living, I’m suddenly not working tirelessly, not earning a living, and not producing or doing anything of value. And because the last 20 of those years were spent as a self-employed writer, I realize that my boss – I – did not provide much of a retirement program for his only employee – me. (My primary retirement program is called “Social Security.” You may have heard of it. It’s that thing that’s going bankrupt.) So the only person bringing home the bacon in this family is my young wife. I just provide creative ways to cook that bacon.
You know what else? I’m intellectually and socially dormant. If I were intellectually curious or socially committed, I’d be spending my newly acquired free time pursuing cultural or humanitarian goals. I’d organize a retired men’s book group. Or go to art appreciation classes to learn about post-deconstructivist impressionism, or how to blow glass. I’d be learning Italian. Or volunteering in hospitals or tutoring programs, knocking on doors campaigning for the candidate who’s going to return the power in this country back to the 99%.
Not only am I not producing income, I’m also not growing as a human being, not helping those less fortunate, and not saving the world.
At the end of most days, I have no activity to report. Maybe I paid the bills, or cut the grass. Or worked on this blog. And then, after all of that was finished (phew!), I had to rest. So I sat and stared out the window. And listened to music. (classical in the morning, jazz in the afternoon) And read New Yorker.
Okay, I have my first post-retirement goal: do something besides retire. Maybe a volunteer job, something that gives structure to my week and meaning to my existence. Something that accomplishes something. And gets me out of the house. Something that helps me feel the difference between Tuesdays and Wednesdays and weekends.
Until that happens, I’ll just continue to dread that question when she walks through the door. And I’ll continue to respond: “Not much, babe. How was your day?”