For some time now, I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to simply live with the seasons. To develop a group of interests, and then do that which weather or circumstances allow.
It goes totally against the societal pressures forced upon me as a young adult in the 80s – when suddenly, making vast amounts of money became the end-goal – the only end goal. Because it was vast amounts of money that made a person worthy. Of anything. Ultimately, of life itself.
As the decades passed, the buzzword was [passion]. Find that one thing that you wanted to do every waking hour every single day. But there was only one catch – it only counted as a passion if it led to a treasure chest. If you didn’t recover the treasure, then you were lazy. Or uninspired. Or you didn’t buy the book of the latest self-help guru, who was going to share with you his or her secret (I’m getting rich by conning you into buying my book. Don’t you realize you already know as much about life as I do?)
Even before the hype, there were always a few individuals who had a single passion, usually discovered at an early age. Actually, most of us have such interests, but one needs the right mix of influences to nurture such callings, or they dissolve. We are sent mixed messages from those around us, and its these we carry with us for the remainder of our lives.
When you are very young, there are smiles and praise. “You have so much talent! You are so good at that!” As you get older, “Wow! That’s really cool. Enjoy it while you can.” Then, as we get older, “Something’s better than nothing.” Which translates into, “Just take anything – any job; any situation. We’re all miserable anyway.”
Interests, we’re told, only interfere with the ritualized foraging called “making a living.” So, instead of spending our days gathering food, we gather dollars to trade for food. Ironically, most of us spend the same amount of time foraging either way. Maybe those who go off-grid simply opt for the direct route.
But a funny thing happened when I turned 55. I wasn’t old enough to receive Social Security, but I wasn’t young enough to work. No employer, it seems, is enthusiastic about hiring someone over 50 – particularly a female someone.
At first, this seemed like a really bad thing. I mean, I still had to eat and pay the bills. I still had to find a way to forage, even though I’d developed a significant hole in my basket. So it was time to look for something a little less traditional.
Over time, I found work online. It was part-time, so it didn’t pay a lot. But it paid as much as the full-time shift-work I now might be considered for (provided I dumbed down my resumé).
Working at home meant less money spent on gas and car repairs. I could wear the same work-clothes every day, and these weren’t particularly expensive. Plus I didn’t lose two hours of daily unpaid commute-time as I had in the past. And my schedule was somewhat flexible.
I had free time! Only a little at first, because my new job had a steep learning curve. But more and more as I became better and more efficient at my job.
In my free time, I started reading about minimalism, which convinced me to discard remnants of hobbies that I didn’t enjoy anymore. I made room in my home and mind to develop new interests.
I bought a guitar, and started teaching myself how to play it. I’m still not good (because I don’t practice much), but I can sing and play at the same time, which is harder than it sounds.
I could spend more time studying Spanish. I’d dabbled for years, but never seemed to get anywhere. Then I discovered Duolingo, and found myself understanding bits of conversations.
I decided to make an indoor garden in my office. Found that, while I like succulents and jungle greenery, I don’t really care for air-plants (which resulted in the demise of roughly a dozen).
I had time to correspond with old friends. One seemed down, so I suggested she try some new things – no goal in mind; just see what fit.
“Hmm,” I thought, “I should do that too.”
I considered learning to dive (underwater, not through the air). I watched YouTube videos about it, but decided it wasn’t for me.
I joined a group that jammed on guitar. The people were great, but I had so much to learn. Decided I’d go back when I actually knew how to play.
I tried a women’s writing group, but their get-togethers were rather costly — $25 here; $50 there. Charging people to share their scribblings didn’t seem right somehow.
I went on an outing with the local Audubon Society. Frankly, I just wanted to see other human beings face-to-face and get outside. The group leader was friendly and knowledgeable. I had fun and loved being among the trees. So I joined them for another hike. And then another. Soon, I was striking out on my own and entering findings into ebird.
But the season has turned. Fall turned to winter, and winter turned to COVID-19.
I understood the implications all too well. My stay-at-home job was tutoring students in China – students who’d been locked indoors for the past eight weeks.
Maybe, I thought, I could continue birding during the outbreak. Last Sunday, the city parks in Jacksonville closed, but Big Talbot Island State Park was still open. I’d been there many times, and it was always quiet. But this time was different.
The parking lot was full. People were scrambling for picnic tables. Two scenes from Jaws popped into mind – the first day of summer, and the first day of the great public shark-hunt.
I managed to stay relatively secluded. But then, as I walked along the edge of a bike path, a couple peddled by. The woman was huffing and puffing, and her hot breath rained over my head. I held my breath and continued walking. It still worries me a bit. What if she was infected? I saw how easy it would be to get sick. How easy it might be to die.
It’s now impossible for me to enjoy my latest and most intoxicating hobby – birding. And just when I was feeling physically fit and powerful, I can no longer ride my kick-scooter on the bike paths. And I should be depressed about all of this, but then I think, “Live with the seasons.”
I’ve been home six days – a rarity for me. I thought I’d feel trapped. But instead I feel the calm of acceptance. With any luck at all, both the parks and myself will still be around in a few months. In the meantime, there are other things to do.
Yesterday, I gave the back porch a thorough cleaning. Now, I can sit out back in the evening and journal – without trodding the blackened bodies of earthworms who’d failed attempts to outrun cold and rain. The day before, it was the front porch. The day before that, the kitchen floor got mopped. And I had time to enjoy a movie surrounded by my pets.
Instead of mourning what I can’t do, I can enjoy this time in my life. I now have time to write. I’m not really me without a pen in hand or keyboard at fingertips. And it’s time to pick up that guitar and practice the few songs I know by heart – start learning some new ones. I’ve already resumed my Spanish, and have given my plants a haircut.
It’s time to embrace this new season and treasure every moment. The chaos of the world and daily routine will return soon enough. And if it doesn’t, I wouldn’t want my last memory of the world to be thinking what I’d missed. Rather, what I’d done.