Retirement

south of Taos looking north

It isn’t all exactly bad

Behold the view from a foreclosure we saw recently. If it only cost a third less, selling the Bugatti might just get us there, except for all the water damage—probably needs a new roof, oy. Foreclosures are weird, too. In this case the seller sets a price that lasts a month, only takes bids above that, then accepts the highest after thirty days. In the absence of any bids, the price goes down another fifty (!) grand like it just did, and then you wait another month. No telling how that goes. There must be investors with offers set to kick in when these places hit a certain price point. Anyway, we dug the scenery, and there’s a couple acres fenced for raising something cool that might eat sagebrush. Nice neighborhood. (The hovel in the background has four garage bays.) I’m more a farmhouse-on-the-hilltop kinda guy, but let’s just take things as they come.

Last night before dinner I was rambling on interminably, driving she-who-loves-me half insane. I was critical of my work and how if there weren’t so much chaos in our life, I might relax enough to find my muse again. The odds were miniscule, but still. Too late I sensed a clenching of the force.

“Is this what you really want to do?”

“Um…”

Which soon devolved to money. Amazingly, she wasn’t worried. That only happens when she opens up her checkbook. The rest of the time, she thinks that running at a happy door will make it open. I am a very lucky man.

“So what’s your writing plan?”

“I don’t have one, dammit! That stuff never works with me.”

“I have this crazy thought off the top of my head: why don’t you just quit, say that you’re retired, and have a good time?”

That didn’t make me mad so much as take me by surprise.

“How can I do that?” I said. “I want to be successful. I know I have it in me. We’ve been lucky, but there’s not enough to live on and it isn’t going to last.” [Insert morbid recitation of my sins, more money rants, relocation fantasies, gratuitous insults, self-pitying excrescences, bluster, thoughts of how to make the last half hour go away…]

By now the mood was edging into grim. She was right, though. So was I. Who knows how we moved on to soup and Rachel Maddow—practice, probably—but we did.

After she went to bed, I meditated on “retirement.” I wanted to. It had a certain ring, a sense of recognition and reward. Artists never quit, of course, and that’s not what she meant. She hasn’t quit except for teaching and plays her piano many hours every week. Suggesting I “retire” was an act of love that spoke to years of beating up on myself like I’d been trained, an invitation to abandon guilt, even in the face of our uncertainty about the future. In fact, she’s never demanded I earn money. That’s all up to me. The kindness of this stance is startling, as if a mother I never knew had stroked my forehead as I lay in bed and told me to sleep in on a lazy summer morning… My real mother used to splash cold water on my face to wake me up on Saturday so I would do my chores. “Holding up your end of the family,” was how the old man put it.

And then the looming rockslide in my psyche shifted slightly. I heard the pebbles sifting down between the stones. What if I retired from my life, at least the way I’ve lived it?

What if I retired from the struggle and slipped into who I really am?

John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. with his classical pianist wife. “Possibly the only place I can get away with this,” he says. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore (Bush’s Brain) put it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • theo March 6, 2019, 7:27 AM

    It’s funny. I quit my last job in 2013. I guess that made me retired. CPP, a roommate, and selling off the last of my stocks kept me going for a bit and then OAS kicked in at 65. Owning my house outright allowed me to scrape by and still does. Had to give up drinking at the preferred rate I would normally do and I can’t go away for trips. Budgets don’t seem to go away for some reason. Most of my fits of fancy involve mailart (as you know).

    Having just turned 70, I have had a different fit of fancy. A musician I met through my old radio show has an upright piano to sell. Another musician friend teaches piano. I am in the process of acquiring the piano so at the tender age of 70 I am going to attempt to learn said instrument. Hopefully I will at least annoy my cats. I don’t bother them enough.

    I guess what I am trying to say is this: I have blundered through life the entire time and retirement (not working) seems to be working (blundering without any plan). I am sure it is just dumb luck. Maybe the gods smile on me. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps they smile on you as well, John.

    • JHF March 6, 2019, 10:55 PM

      This is great, Theo. I wish my wife and had a paid-off house, but then we’d still be back in Maryland. (Just have to get one, don’t we!) There was lots of chaos and I blamed myself, but hey, we’re in the mountains and we didn’t have to wait. Everybody wings it, even if they think they’re not. Making a plan is still an act of improvising in itself, although buying and holding Apple stock might have been a surer bet than “one day I’ll just manifest!” Boring, though. What a wonderful idea to learn piano, too. Congratulations.

      The last paragraph is best. Exactly what I’m talking about. Fear kills the happy ending, every time, and we’re already manifested!

  • Duncan March 6, 2019, 7:46 AM

    “What if I retired from the struggle and slipped into who I really am?”

    Probably the last question one needs……..in order to set off on a whole new and infinitely more vigorous discourse.
    Retire?
    Give up?
    Die?
    Just like that?

    I mean dammit, at 60 I’m not old, and I’m not ready to cash in my chips. Correction! I have no chips to cash in!!
    I need to work ’til I die.
    Sounds like the title of a once popular hit.
    But it’s the truth.

    I toiled and dreamed respectively, my whole life long.
    Dreamed because I too am an artist. In my soul only.
    Probably should have dreamed less and done more “real” stuff, but where is the satisfaction in that?
    Aren’t dreams the very basis of living?

    Everyone around me has enriched themselves on the sweat of my brow.
    I have children with degrees I can’t even spell, yet here am I, 60 and retirement is but a word.
    Strangely enough, I’m neither saddened nor embittered. Instead, I feel deeply content since I have done well as a parent. I have met my obligations toward my children with distinction.
    Yet, I face the same end as do too many of our age.
    Living alone, eating cat food.
    Is this an affliction of our generation.
    The in-between generation, the one who paid for everything the previous generation did wrong and financed the success of the next, yet gained little or nothing in return?

    Deep questions indeed.

    Yet I try to make peace with this. I try to find the beauty or the humor in every situation. Try to feel the coolness of the shade on a hot day, smell the flowers or listen to the joy of laughing children, all of which creates a healing salve for my unquiet mind.

    How will it end?

    Who knows but the Creator.
    I do hope though that He steps in in time to catch me as I fall off the precipice of hopelessness.

    • JHF March 6, 2019, 10:16 PM

      When I say “what if I retired from the struggle and slipped into who I really am,” I’m suggesting that the struggle isn’t necessary. We all have different challenges. Mine has always been to be myself and thrive. That’s it. What hurts us most, I think, is also that which leads us to the truth that we’re already whole and need no fixing.

  • Marti Fenton Koleski March 6, 2019, 11:51 AM

    You are RETIRED from the job world, you have been for a long time and that is the reason you are here in Taos taking photos, writing and learning to live. I know the feeling well. Its a superstition thing. The job world wants you as a slave like your parents. You escaped and you still feel there will be retribution if you don’t bow to the 8 to 5 gods, or at least cower in fake guilt. Get over it! I know, not so easy but that’s what getting old is all about–liberation from fake values and fake feelings.

    • JHF March 6, 2019, 3:32 PM

      Ah, but I’ve hardly ever been a member of the “job world.” The only regular paychecks I’ve received were from four years teaching at a junior college in my 20s, two years as an office manager at a county library in my 40s, and five or six years as a web editor and columnist overlapping when we moved here in ’99. I’ve always been an artist. Some of those years, I didn’t know that or believe it.

      Hinted impediments are inherited psychology. Moving on these days is spiritual warrior stuff. I know you get it. Thanks!

  • JudyinBoston March 6, 2019, 12:55 PM

    I’ve been trying to become “traditionally published” for 20+ years. Have one novel with a tiny indy publisher and two self-published. Get a deposit into my bank account every month for less than $2.00. Have sold short stories to anthologies and had poetry and a memoir piece published. Good for the ego but no serious money. Have three novels on my computer and another half-finished one. Haven’t “retired” from writing or given up yet. Indy publisher wants two of them and I still have “traditional” hopes for the third. You can be a good writer and still not appeal to mainstream publishers. I got an agent who gave up after a few rejections. It’s a hard business and beating one’s head against the wall isn’t much fun, but it’s what we do. I hope like hell you will get that cool house with a view one day.

    • JHF March 6, 2019, 3:43 PM

      I hear you, and thanks about the house. Don’t quit. I’m looking at Draft2Digital.com for self-publishing at the moment. Might want to take a look around.

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