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A new kind of quest
Over time, I’ve given my friends more than one opportunity to ask, “Why are you doing this?” The question usually involves my leaving. Leaving a town, a state, or a relationship. Why would I uproot myself, why move from one coast to another, why leave my husband or lover, why put so much distance between me and my friends? “You know you’re going to miss us.” Yes, I confess, I am certain I will. And then I leave. I have just done it again.
I occupy a particular position in the social web connecting me to friends and family. I’m now 67. I haven’t had a partner in decades and am quite content about that. I haven’t lived with anyone in just about as long. I am a free agent in comparison to my friends and family. Quite a few of my friends feel to me like selected family. With few exceptions, my friends are married or partnered. The majority have grown children. As empty nesters, in principle, they have more flexibility than they did before their kids left home, but now the couples face the discrepancies between what one partner wants to do with their time and the desires of the other. A number of them want to stay home. Others want to see the world.
Occasionally, I feel judged for not sharing a life of compromises. A few seem to think that the sum of the compromises couples make for each other is virtuous in a way that my life is not. It’s true, in an abstract sense, I suppose. The only compromise I have to make in deciding what to do is in relation to my budget. I only have to negotiate with myself when I feel conflicted about acting, making a decision. There is no question about it: I lead a pretty privileged life. I always keep that in mind.
Privileged as it is, I plan to change it for what I consider to be a better way of life. My decision to retire and travel has nothing to do with reinventing myself or finding a new identity. Even if I can’t distill it into a couple of paragraphs, I have a good sense of who I am. Instead, my challenge is to learn how to inhabit daily life without the pressures of a job. How do I fill the 16 hours a day that I’m awake? More specifically, can I stop myself from frittering away the rest of my life? Can I impose some discipline on those hours in order to write on a schedule, exercise more, read more, and travel to see friends and explore new places? I have to. I feel it in my gut that I have to keep moving in order to bring that new order of existing into being.
As a thought experiment, I tried to think of a scenario in which I would want to stay home. I imagined a house with at least 2 baths and 3 bedrooms in the Peak District of England, the Cornish coast near Penzance, the Cairngorms of Scotland, outside of Bologna in the Emilia Romagna, or the Atlantic coast of France or northern Spain, the latter two regions with spectacular oysters. I’m not fussy about weather except to prefer cool, rainy weather, in a climate warm enough for a garden. Walking and hiking are my preferred form of exercise, so the property would be near coastal hills or mountains. If my house were on the coast of France, I’d have a gîte, maybe two, on the property, for extended visits by friends. If in Great Britain, I’d buy a farm with a cottage and convert an old barn into a guest house. The point would be to live on a property with a main house and one or more guest houses for a thin but steady stream of visitors throughout the year. Really, though, how much time would pass before I felt burdened by the garden work, wanting company, wanting everyone to go away, sick of cleaning up after myself and my guests? I could hire a housekeeper, a gardener, and schedule my visitors reasonably across the months, but I’m pretty sure I’d be looking into long-term Airbnb rentals in Trömso within a year. A change of scenery would once again look very appealing.
The two traits I possess that will help me most in the years ahead are contentment with my own company and friendliness. They complement each other. Alone, I will write and read for myself, not for my job, as I have wanted to do for a long time. With friends and strangers I meet casually, I am always open to laughing and chatting (except on airplanes). As a result, I am rarely lonely when I travel alone.
In my experience, looking people in the eye and nodding hello as we pass each other on the street leads to a smile more often than not, as desperately corny as that sounds. Nonetheless, that’s my experience.
So, I have rented an apartment in the small town of Hudson, NY for fall of 2023, sandwiching in a five-week visit to Spain in September. My maltipoo Billie Holiday is my reluctant travel companion. We’ll be gone from northern California for nearly 6 months in all. Friends will join me for part of the time in Spain at various points. I’ll live in Hudson by myself. On July 12, I set off down CA Highway 99 South with Billie to cross the country in my Toyota RAV4 , which was packed to the roof. My adventure in retirement began.
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