Back to School
Like many boomers, I am retired, well, not exactly by choice, but that is another story. Crafting a new life is hard, takes time and effort: trying to fill the empty hours when I used to feel vital, useful, and worthy of my institutions’ praise and rewards. From the workplace to????, now looking to fill hours and avoid boredom, seeking a kind of therapy for mind and body.
Usually for my generation, after leaving their profession, we maintain, at least, some physical exercise, now that can be enacted during the daytime hours instead of crushed into the end of a bruising day, once misplacing suppertime so that bounces or stretches or “step “ can prolong flexibility and result in less damage to the body that sits rather than moves at a work station
But when those productive years have ended, then what?
For some, there is a discovery of so-called hobbies, pursuits that will continue to stimulate the mind or provide some kind of camaraderie with those who like you have unexpectedly grown older, wrinkled and whose children are now themselves in smart professions. On Monday at lunch, a friend, a former stock broker related that her husband has become her area of preoccupation along with renovating the bathrooms in her condo in Naples. On Tuesday, another friend a former speech therapist was searching for bereavement circles but dismayed at the educational pedigree of the leaders: one who had met a second husband at such a group; and the second was schooled in dream analysis and phrenology. My husband not retired but obviously a boomer with an ( over?)active mind is taking guitar lesson, waiting patiently beside 8 year olds on the bench outside the class on Sundays. He’s deliriously happy understanding how Leonard Cohen’s Hallejuah’s chords work with the words: something our son has been shouting at him for months. But the penny finally dropped.
Yesterday back at school myself , I choose art as my therapy, to help put aside the burdens of my heart for several hours. Starting to set up my easel and arrange my side table, my middle finger is slammed in the frame of the side table’s frame and it swells to two sizes larger, bright blue. Asked to bring ourselves closer to the model, I find the damn thing collapses again and I am surrounded by a buzz of helpful others. I wonder if they think I’m just an incompetent oldster in need of help or are they kind souls who would come to the aid of any one incapable of arranging her space. In any case, the class begins and I am focused on the lesson by a talented teacher, much my own age.
But it is only after lunch when we are asked to introduce that I notice ( big surprise) that the rest of the group except for two young’ums are my vintage, no longer employed, one fresh from 24 years in the tech world. When it’s my turn I mumble a tiny bio and then explain that if I don’t respond to others, it’s because my hearing aids don’t really function very well. They must be thinking, not only un-co-ordinated but hard of hearing too. Actually I feel no judgment in their stares, as their eyes pass over me as you might observe a bug on the mat. Fortunately the teacher’s voice is sufficiently loud so I do pick up about 70% of his instruction, and some of the knowledge is a refresher, but some is new. Besides I know from experience to perch close to his lectern.
But what prompted to write about this experience was the very end of the class when we were asked to display our drawings. In spite of the teacher’s praise to the entire group, thankfully not the oft congratulatory expression” Good Job!”, ( and who knows, we may have some fledgling Leonardos in the group), I note that many of the drawings might have been accomplished by my grandsons, for the technique or artistry displayed.
This comment is not to be critical. Should I have chosen to learn Mandarin or music, my results would have been at the same level of embarrassment. But these brave souls are obviously not chagrined as they turn their easels outwards to form a circle. But to my mind, they are suggestive of Cimabue’s Byzantine art, or the rudimentary offerings that signify Piaget’s first levels: a circle of commencement.
For me, this is the problem: often I know more than others, but not enough to be accomplished. I am aware that every class offers new information and I suppose it is satisfying to be in the top of the group, rather than be floundering or even setting out . I commend my other art students for their bravery that has encouraged them to follow a brand new path, particularly at our advanced age of life. Maybe they know Grandma Moses found for her simple works at 78.
Still for me, it is a strange place to be at: in my head. Perhaps this introductory class was badly chosen, but time, date, location and reputation all played into my decision: which incidentally I do not regret.And often most classes are comprised of a wide range of ability and desire. However, maybe for me, it is not the actual space of sharing the instruction this morning, it is the mind space.
For me, art has always formed part of who I am, even when all day work did not permit my performance of it. It was not a pasttime to be explored because work had fallen away. Perhaps because I did not overhear art discussions at break time , only murmurs about being retired that I feel out of place, a certain conceit. And maybe for ( good) reason people feel art provides a respite, a new endeavour to attempt,, rather than a way to see , for they have suddenly decided to explore their visual world, not having continuously been in that mode their entire lives. Yes, I commend them, , but I still feel set apart- especially from those who have commandeered both sides of their brain to work in finance, with numbers –in their previous lives: none of which I could do. Art has been a temple for me, not just theoretical but practical and physical: the brain translating what I see, feel and experience on to paper, my fingers an extension chord from the neurons that had refused to bounced successfully to arrive at correct math solutions or untangle chronologies of invading hoards or not make everything on my computer screen vanish.
Again it is not disparagement towards my classmates, but for me, that the class makes me realize, yet again, I do not belong.
This is the problem with the Boomers. We in our love beads and swinging braids never believed we would grow old. We would always move rhythmically, sit at the feet of Siddartha and retain the glow of youth. Yet standing at my easel yesterday, knees aching, straining to hear, I knew I was past the label on the package” best before” but best before what?