Retire. Relax. Take the time to wander around town and watch the world go by. If I did too much of that I’d gain too much weight and lose too much money. We talk about slowing down our frenetic society, but there’s little in place to let it rest.
Yesterday I made a calendar mistake. I did a few chores around the house but soon left to meet a friend for lunch, head off to a lesson, and run a string of errands before ending the evening by dancing. It was going to be a full day of disassociated events well scheduled and arranged. It turned out to be a practice run and an exercise because I got the day right but the week wrong. Most of that was scheduled for next week, which left me feeling sheepish and looking for something to make of the day.
I could’ve returned home after having a rare solo lunch date, but the sun was burning away the clouds and I found myself in a warming spring day. It looked like it might even creep up to air that felt almost like April. Most of my small household chores were done. The lawn was mowed. There was nothing I could do to suddenly make the garden grow. The rest of the chores were too big for just an afternoon, especially if I was going to end up dancing. I decided to act the part of a retired person, or maybe a weekday tourist. That should be easy on Whidbey. The island’s demographic is graying and tourism is a major industry. It should be easy to kick back.
Kicking back does work, but for the most part a place to comfortably and simply sit usually takes money, calories, or outdoor attire. I’d just had lunch, which was fine, but diners want diners to eat it and run. Free up the table for the next person, unless you want to have a dessert or two. The winter watched me gain enough weight to backslide a notch on the belt. I didn’t want dessert and I didn’t need something else to drink. I wondered around town for a while. Langley is a good town for that. It’s why tourists visit. Langley is small enough to walk around, but big enough to have plenty to see and do – unless it is a Tuesday before the main tourist season. In that case, many of my friends have picked the same quiet mid-week day to close their shops so they can rest up before the main sweep of business.
Sitting in some quiet bistro sounds quaint and relaxing, but again, I didn’t want anything to eat or drink. I could’ve bought something anyway and let it sit there on the table, effectively renting a spot for the price of a pint or a macaroon, but I don’t like wasting money or food. The library was open, but I tend to fall asleep there, they might not like that, and I don’t like to snore and drool in public. Beside, it probably wouldn’t be quiet. Libraries are no longer the sanctuaries of silence I remember from childhood. It isn’t worse, it’s just different, but I don’t feel relaxed listening to multiple halves of cell phone conversations, even if they are sotto whispered. (I’m sorry to hear about your father going into the hospital, and it’s good that you care, but I’ll be leaving now because I don’t need to hear the details of his surgery.) I suppose I could’ve dropped by a church, but I see them as places for worship for their parishioners, not for loitering by strangers.
We talk about slowing down the pace of life, yet we have laws against it. I was effectively trying to loiter. The laws may be there to combat hooliganism or as leverage to use for moving along homeless people, but the consequences have also worked against a more relaxed society. I sat in the park for a while on a hard bench, shivered a bit and saw the dilemma. If the park seating was more comfortable and sheltered from the wind and rain, it was be so attractive that it would be lived in. As much as I wanted a place to temporarily simply and comfortably sit, such a place would already be occupied or over-used.
If it feels like you are only really comfortable at home, in your car, or maybe even in your office with the door shut (for those few who actually have real offices), you might be right. The most comfortable place for me without going home was to go sit in my car. The seat was cushioned and the weather held away. It was even warm if I parked it in the sun.
This isn’t just a problem on Whidbey. I witnessed the same dilemma when I lived in suburbia, but there the issue was complicated by “No Parking” signs. Where do I put myself and my car in that environment? Oddly enough there is a place. It’s called the mall. No wonder so many seniors and kids wander about in the closed and comfortable confines of a suburban shopping mall.
Many talk about building community, yet there are few places where we’ve actually built structures that support it. Langley is working more towards that. It has a Commons. A local bookstore and coffeeshop that is aiming to be a community living room is run by students, so the energy is higher; and it’s well-designed and equipped, so it can be quite comfortable. They even hold events there, including some of my talks and slideshows.
Such places are rare. I bow to those who saw the need and contributed the resources that made it happen. It works in this small town environment, and is one example of what I like here that I don’t expect to find anywhere more urban. Larger places are more expensive and someone has to pay for it. A small town is more likely to find a passionate and understanding local philanthropist.
One solution is community based person-to-person interaction, the original P2P, which only requires two Ps, two people, who have the same time and interest in visiting with and talking with each other. Simply visiting friends fills the need. It’s probably the biggest challenge I’ve encountered by retiring early. Almost everyone else I know with a similar age and background is still at work. Almost everyone I know who is at home is either raising a family or is a senior citizen. My situation is under my own control, and I’ve found ways to stitch together community. Usually it works, buts somedays, maybe with just the slipped glance at the calendar, gaps form in the net. Then it is easy to see some of the unresolved disconnects and conflicts within my life and our society.
There are bigger problems to fix: global climate change, social injustice, unsustainable civilizations. I wonder though, how many resources are consumed, how much discontent is created, because we’ve yet to find a way to build and sustain simple places, and simple societies, within which we can rest.
Personally, it’s time now for me to slide into my comfy chair at home and watch the whales go by, whether they’re there or not.