"BRILLIANT DISGUISE" A man looks into the camera and sings…
I think I have attended only a handful of meetings in my life that were worth the time.
I’m not talking about the informal meetings with a co-worker on almost a daily basis about the nuts and bolts of the job — I am talking about formal meetings with the boss and many others. One looks across the conference table or around the room and nobody wants to be there at this meeting, and they are wondering when it can end and everyone can get back to work. There are those few who like to hear themselves talk. The boss announces what he is expected to say by his own superiors. Nobody says what they really think. Time is wasted.
My mantra about this is from George Will who claimed the following: “Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” Bravo, Mr. Will! Amen! But maybe it is more that, as an introvert, I shy away from group meetings. I am temperamentally unsuited for them. It is one of the reasons I never wanted to be a school administrator and would have been unsuited for the job. I never wanted to be in charge. Meetings!
I have loved to be a teacher in that I can talk about the world of ideas with students and interact with them. I generally have enjoyed being in the classroom. I have much less enjoyed being an educator who is part of a system that “seeks to ensure an educated populace.” The public education system is designed for stability and security. It is not designed for excellence. This is plain enough. Why waste hours talking on and on about it in the larger education world? The question fails to interest me, and it has been this way for years. But somewhere right now people are having a meeting about it.
I have managed to avoid being a department head (and hence, more meetings) for almost two decades — my other mantra, from William Tecumseh Sherman, has summed up my avoiding this responsibility: “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.” Hopefully, I can keep this up. I hope to keep my nose down, enjoy my days in the classroom, and attend as few meetings as possible.
But I am not all that far away from retirement. I am on the down-slope of my career.
What would I want to do next?
I have always disapproved of the stereotypical “company man” who works late into his life and then withers like a dying flower and expires soon after retiring. It shows a lack of imagination about the world when one has little in life outside of work. To allow the job to so take over the life?
But once I stop working as a teacher, what would I do with my days?
I will have some twenty years of life left in me after retirement. My daughters will then be in college. They will be starting their adult lives outside of the house. But if I don’t want to work as I do now forever, how would I spend my time?
As an introvert, my primary desideratum is to have more quiet time with my thoughts. I have had little of it these past two decades. I find myself fantasizing about moving to the desert. I have always been attracted to the peace and stillness of the desert. It is not for no reason that mystics and prophets go to the desert to be alone with their thoughts and to come back renewed. That is my fantasy. The minimalism of the place appeals to me. However, actually being in the California desert, in my direct experience, often means I just about melt from the extreme heat (at least in the summer). And Maria hates the desert.
So what then?
My father retired at 55 years of age and has often claimed that this move has added years to his life. I look around at many of my friends and notice I am almost the only one with a pension! Will most Americans without pensions or huge 401k plans be able to afford to retire? Will many work until they die? Or until they are physically unable to work?
I most probably will be able to retire, thank God. Working until one keels over and dies is overrated, in my opinion.
But at my age I am more confirmed in the activities I don’t want to do than otherwise. I don’t want to attend meetings. I don’t want to do sales. I don’t want to look at spreadsheets and crunch numbers. I don’t want to work with “at risk” youth. I don’t want to spend all day hunched over a desk staring into a computer screen. And at that age I won’t want to work too hard either. But what do I want to do?
That is harder to answer.
I want to remain physically active and get a good workout everyday. I want to have enough time to read, write, reflect, and think. I would like to take care of the house and do all the shopping and cooking for Maria until she retires, too.
But then we could move. We could work part-time. We could be international teachers. We could sell our house and use the cash to live somewhere without a mortgage. We should have enough money to live.
The world is wide and wonderful. There are many options.
We could move to where our daughters choose to live.
I need to think more on this. It shows perhaps a lack of imagination to have no plan for the next stage in life. I have an aunt who complains of boredom after her retirement after thirty-five years in the classroom. She does not have much that gives direction and purpose to her days as an elderly woman and, therefore, she is “bored.” One day leads to the next. They are all much the same. Ennui.
One hopes to avoid that trap.
For some reason, all this reminds me of the summer of 1988 when I was painfully enmeshed in the crucible of early manhood. I was struggling with what it meant to be a man in love, with physical intimacy, with heartbreak, with commitment. The soundtrack of this stage in my life was Bruce Springstein’s “Tunnel of Love.” I thought and felt deeply about who I was, what kind of man I wanted to be. It was an essential time.
I will need to have such a summer again — or maybe many such summers. I will need to slow down so I can live more intensely. I will need to be less “busy” and absorbed by the distractions of the world. I will need to be more mindful of the beauty of the never-ending present — the spectacle and the wonder of merely being alive. The answers are not out and around but deep down inside.
Time to look for them?
Maybe I should do this before I retire.
Or even do it now?
The eighth studio album, Tunnel of Love, uncovers Bruce Springsteen’s “inner life and unresolved feelings.”
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