So, what have you been doing?
The question seems to me to imply that one is either missed or suspected of indolence or, worse, of mischief. In any case, only Margaret Mitchell, by the sheer force of her personality and literary stature, could get away, so majestically, with her reply: “Doing? It’s a full-time job to be the author of ‘Gone With the Wind.’”
We mere mortals definitely have to do better if we are to make a decent and credible account of ourselves, and I’m just thankful to be asked at a forgivable age: Doing? Why, seniorhood is itself a full-time job. And, if I’m not seen around much, it’s because seniorhood is a job I do mostly in domesticity.
Indeed, domesticity seems to befit seniors, and I don’t mean fellows of ours who have become immobilized or otherwise restricted indoors by illness or the advanced attrition of age; I mean seniors who can still get up and go but who, in the conducive circumstances of retirement, find that things are more easily and pleasurably done at home. These are, by the way, things not altogether new but things one has done little of or not taken up at all, however desirable, because one has been too preoccupied with life’s preseniorhood priorities, like bringing up children and earning a living.
There’s a definite downside to domesticity, though, and it lies in the great temptation to live sedentarily and horizontally, just the sort of temptation we seniors should avoid, lest our old arteries clog up and our old joints lock up. I may have inherited the genes and the predisposition of lightweight and athletic forbears, but I’m not taking any chances all the same. Three or four times a week I jog two kilometers from home to my club to warm up for an hour of tennis; then I walk back to cool down.
The irony is, just as our energy resource has dipped to residual levels, health has become something for us to work at crucially; yet the effort tends to be negated by a new technology that allows one to get a life, virtually—in the comfortable companionability of computers.
I have been taken with it myself since even before I came of vulnerable age, but I take care not to mistake virtual for real. How easy it seems, indeed, at our age to drift further and further into the realm of illusion (and possibly dementia, as study after study has warned)!
Four things apart from tennis (which gives me the classic therapeutic feeling of hitting something instead of someone) save me: reading, writing, drawing, guitar-playing. The first two I used to do mostly as part of a regular job, under pressure of making a living; the last two I took up as hobbies inserted infrequently into the crowded life of a workingman. Now I do all four on my own terms.
A dropout favored as well as terrified at age 17 by the misallotted fortune of landing a job, as a journalist, I read compulsively, driven by some sense of inadequacy—I did two books a week. More confident and relaxed now, I read as avidly as my weakened eye powers allow, and do so for discovery and enjoyment.
I guess my choices for reading have been formed by now in my subconscious, programmed out of whatever senses and perspectives I have developed through my 70 years. I read little new fiction, prefer to reread my old favorite fictionists. I inventory my books periodically, keeping what I feel worth going back to and giving away the rest, and doing so without the struggle that used to attend the prospect of parting with a sentimental possession. Also, given the tight domestic world of condominium living, I try to force myself to one or two or a few choices from the works of my favorite writers. Nonfiction (histories, biographies, essays) is my almost exclusive preference.
Writing gets the same re-appreciation as reading: I write as I please, when I please, and under no conditions other than self-imposed ones. Also, it competes unfavored with any other senior interest.
My doodling, meanwhile, has passed for drawing; it’s been raised in fact to the stature of gainful work by no less than this discerning newspaper, which now pays me for it.
No acclaim, though, seems in prospect at all for my guitar-playing. And, with fingers slowing and stiffening progressively as a matter of course, I may just have to be content playing to a household audience of two—a captive wife and a paid kasambahay. Self-taught and doing it strictly by ear, I should be pleased enough.
Anyway, anyone who yet insists I’m merely dabbling, not really doing anything, and make no plausible case of seniorhood being a job, let alone a full-time one, has no sense of senior labor at all.