Fill In With What You Do Know

I am settling into retirement as if a bull in the chute before a rodeo. All I can say is someone was a little overzealous with the flank strap. 

All I do is run in circles creating dust, bucking the system, and getting nowhere. 

Oh, and my cowboy, has been avidly vocalizing his displeasure with my inability to establish a daily routine. 

He’s become a hazer, you know the type, the guy that tries to keep the bovine running straight so she doesn’t accidentally stomp someone.  

Here’s the secret, when Larry is compelled to share his insights, I willfully purge my sarcastic attitude, and just agree. 

As I’m wiping the sweat from my brow after a thirty-minute spin class in my living room, he says, “you can’t sit around all day doing nothing (excuse me, I was writing) and then try and squeeze in everything that needs to be done in an hour.”

Cheryl says as she tries to catch her breath, “well, I just did.” 

I get the look.

He’s compelled to add, “and then blame me for not helping.”

Cheryl smiles and with the most endearing tone says, “did that too.”

He says, “I have a job, I’m not retired.” 

I tried, I really did, but I can only take so much, I spew, “you’ve mentioned that a few hundred times, and by the way, scanning for couches on Wayfair is not what I consider working.”

Well, that got him into the rodeo.

I had to remind him that I’m Swedish, not Italian, and therefore I find it impossible to insert a boring routine into my newly unfenced acres of time. As if rules, routines, and rubbing my hands with antibacterial soap while I sing Happy Birthday will make everything alright.  

Here’s the problem, COVID, and this ridiculous trend of working from home. 

It sucks.

Back in the day, pre-COVID, I used to go to work, Larry used to go to work. All was well and good. On the days we worked, we’d arrive home around the same time, we’d enjoy a glass of wine on the patio, barbeque some flesh, and watch Bosch obsess over his mother’s death, or some abnormally handsome couple restore an entire house before bed. 

I had every other day off due to the block schedule at Notre Dame, these were my writing days. I’d kiss Larry goodbye, refill my coffee, hop back into bed, open my computer, and wrestle with my thoughts for the rest of the day. Total bliss. At some point, I’d drag my butt out of bed, get dressed, and minutes before I’d hear Larry inserting his key in the front door, I’d toss the comforter over the pillows. Wallla, time for wine.

The thing about writing is you have to find that “other” space that one occupies alone, sinking into your thoughts as if arranging your head on a soft pillow, snuggling deeper into this dual sense of reality with a reverence and need only writers seem to understand. Yes, I’m being dramatic, make some popcorn, enjoy the self induced drama. We’re in the middle of a pandemic what else do you have to do?

Currently, my cowboy is now working from home, he’s the restless type A, pacing the halls, televisions on in every room, measuring tapes laying around, grumbling under his breath, conference calls blaring from the office while he scans the frig for something to eat, and then every hour or so he yells down the hall, “Cheryl, come look at this.”

I say, “Honey, I’m writing.” See how nice I can be? When what I really want to say, “Honey, put a sock in it.”

He says, “You’ve been sitting there for hours doing nothing.”

I warn, “watch out cowboy or you’ll get hung up on my horns,” and I painstakingly drag myself back to the complicated narrative playing in my head.

The truth is I’m always trying to get back to this “other” place as if an insomniac trying to find sleep. It’s elusive, especially if your roommate tends to be the disruptive type, or worse, needy. 

When I’m there I am most certainly not here. As Franz Kafka says, “Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.” Read that slowly, u.t.t.e.r. s.o.l.i.t.u.d.e!

It’s as if I get this divine glimpse into the unknown, an eternity passes, and I have no concept of time. 

It’s my passion and Larry’s nemesis. 

The problem lies with all the shenanigans required for me to get there (I’m talking about the “other” space), my normal reality is as if a troll refusing me passage to the bridge I need to cross. I sit around playing solitaire (by the way I was just crowned Master Jedi), browsing the internet, drinking gallons of coffee trying to wait him out. 

He’s a stubborn bastard.

It’s a shock, but Larry has a hard time with this metaphor, maybe he can’t visualize the whole troll under the bridge thing, but I think it has more to do with his reality-based mindset versus my imaginary one. 

So the other day out of the blue he says, “why are you writing about death?”

I say, “the shoe blog?” 

“Yeah, it’s morbid.”

“Well, we’re all going to die.”

“Hopefully not today.”

“My Mom always said why put off tomorrow what can be done today, I’m talking about decluttering, not dying.”

“Yeah, well you can start with my office.”

“What do you want me to write about?”

“Memory and how it fades as we age.”

We just relocated all the family scrapbooks to the garage and Larry spent some time lost in the pages. Every now and then he would look up and say, “I don’t remember this trip, or this event, that birthday party, or honestly I don’t remember much about our wedding. It’s a blur.”

“That’s why we have writers who sit around all day rewriting your memories, embellishing and correcting the details as needed, you’re welcome.”

What I do when I write is gather things as if a bug collection of totally unrelated species. I pin down an emotion, the color of the sky, the taste of ice cream, the texture of the rug on my bare feet, the tiny ants dragging crumbs across the hot brick, the annoying sound the refrigerator makes when you leave the door open, or the way you feel after a cool shower. This collection includes hunger, frustration, impulses, fears, joy, even some faded images from my dreams. 

I don’t know how they will fit together, but they do, it’s like solving a mystery. How dancing under the stars to the hip sounds of Knee Deep, the scent of perfume in the air, the feel of soft jeans on my thighs, sweat forming on my skin evokes powerful memories of high school dances. It’s an enigma. And by the way Larry’s dance moves are exactly the same as forty years ago.

The strange thing is all things go together as if weaving a series of prevarications to arrive at a greater truth, says Khaled Hosseini. It true, I changed the word lies to prevarications, it seemed more accurate.

I tell Larry, “I don’t let my fading memory get in the way of remembering this life. Fill in the blanks with what you do know. We laughed, we cried, we struggled, we made mistakes, we made up, we walked away, we forgave, we left it on the curb, we tried again, we had each other’s backs, we ate, we drank, we listened, we danced, we rested, we found out happily ever after is more complicated than it sounds, but most importantly we stayed. 

He looks at me and says, “let’s just see if we can agree on a couch, declutter the office, and remember to charge our cellphones.”

“That’s how they’ll get us in the end.”

“What, we’ll forget our passwords?”

“No, we’ll forget what it was like when we weren’t flank strapped by cellphones, when finding a couch meant grazing real furniture stores, and recharging our batteries was staying in bed all afternoon.”

“Oh, I remember that.”

Knee Deep Band entertaining the crowds at Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill. Click the link for future engagements.

I’m Living in the Gap, stirring up the cowboy, any advice on retirement would be greatly appreciated.

Anecdotes:

  • “A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.” Jorge Luis Borges
  • “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” Robert Cormier
  • “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Sylvia Plath
  • “Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” Albert Einstein

36 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. My wife is 9 years younger than me, so has just over 6 years to go until she can access all her pensions, and retire. In late 2018, she was made redundant from her banking job, so took a very different job at 20 hours a week over 3 days. Yet it has always been ‘my fault’ that I was able to retire at 60, and ‘do nothing’. Joking aside, it has become a real bone of contention in our marriage. She thinks I do nothing, I think she is completely unaware of what I get done when she is not around.
    Solution. All couples who want to marry should be exactly the same age.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bahaha, my husband is one month older than me and we still have our issues! I think marriage is simply complicated and it takes the dedication of both to waddle through! I’m thinking I should leave lists on the front counter with large check marks noting what I’ve accomplished each day. This includes making the bed, emptying the dishwasher, and filing my nails! Enjoy your holiday Pete, C

      Liked by 2 people

    2. ‘Well I have been to Spain. . . and I more than kinda like the Riojas
      The ladies are clearly NOT insane there,
      but they sure know how to confuse you. . .

      Well, I have been to England
      So I kinda like the Beatles
      Well, I’ve never been to heaven
      But I’ve been retired for a while now…
      and it kinda feels a little like being in heaven sometimes
      Oh, they tell me I was supposed to have been aborted,
      But I really don’t remember
      so now I protest in front of Planned Parenthood

      In California, or Arizona
      What does it matter?
      What does it matter?

      In Jamaica, they say time is the most valuable ‘ting
      So why not just keep doing your own special thing?

      You don’t abuse it
      Never gonna lose it
      I can’t refuse it, oh, oh

      Well, I’ve never been to heaven
      But I know God is there
      He tells me my soul was formed there
      But I really don’t remember

      In California or Arizona
      What does it matter?
      What does it matter?

      Hang loose neighbor and keep on ‘keepin’ on. . .;-) Have a fab Long Labor day weekend, but don’t party too much. Remember you are retired. Carrying on like a sorority gal is for younger livers! We don’t ‘party’ at this age my dear. Rather, we soirée 🙂 You now get to indulge, lounge, dine and casually imbibe fine wine in your fanciest shoes. . . Everyday!

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Hummm. . .Sorry to hear about the contention. Pete. Larry and Cheryl are the same age, as are Terrie and I (but you should know that we are ‘way’ older than Cheryl and Larry 😉
      Still though, in spite of the exact same experience of life lived at the same time?
      Contention still finds us. Go figure. . . Food for thought.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My husband has been working remotely since March 2020. In our new house, I’ve migrated to the Casita to find a way into my “other” place. It’s far, far away from his office. While I was was reading your blog, he called me once to ask a question. Minutes later, I heard his loud footsteps, he loudly pulled out a chair and sat at the small table with me and said we had to coordinate our calendars. UGH!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You crack me up Elizabeth, I could picture the scene perfectly, and by the way you’re living me hell! I love that you have a Casita to find your way into that “other” space! I tip toe from room to room with my computer and cords in the hopes he can’t find me! Alas, the house isn’t that big so I’m mostly unsuccessful! Thanks for empathizing with me, warmly, C

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I turned the formal dining room into my writing office — but it’s too close to my husband’s office. I hear him talking loudly to clients who are hard of hearing. That’s why I take my laptop to the Casita.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Phil and I still work, but both part time, so have many days at home together. He does his things- scale modelling, playing guitar, I do mine, mosaicing, photography. I cook, he washes up, we do housework haphazardly when it’s needed, kitchen for me, bedroom for him. Now and again, though rarely, one of us annoys the other, and if it’s him doing the annoying I think to myself.. at least he isn’t Larry. 🤣🤣

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bahaha, I think that could be a hash tag #at least It’s isn’t Larry! We actually do pretty good on average but my retirement/writer phase has been an adjustment! And maybe I’m easily annoyed? No, no I didn’t think so either. 🤣

      Liked by 2 people

    1. As I age, age matters less and less, it more about complimentary cohabitation! When changes occur you have to figure it out all over again. COVID has forced most of us into highly unusual situations. And private time has become cherished but elusive! Hugs, C

      Like

  4. Love the article. While I am nowhere close to having your writing skills, I can’t write when my husband is home. Like you, I need solitude and NO interruptions. It takes a lot to get my creative side working! LOL
    Good luck with finding your new life rhythm in this “retirement season”.
    Best Wishes,
    Leigh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Leigh, you are so kind. I agree, figuring out how to write in the company of husbands, children, roommates is challenging indeed. Holding onto my train of thought is more difficult as I age. We’re slowly figuring it out. Someone asked my husband what I was doing in retirement and I heard him say “she’s a writer!” Progress! Warmly, C

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the idea of writing as a main focus sounds lovely. (Truly, truly lovely). I am sure the balance will come over time. And congratulations on your retirement. Len (my husband) has always worked from home. I never had prior to the pandemic and it was truly an adjustment for us to share (previously unshared) space all day. We did find our way but I can very much relate to your post. I always enjoy reading your work and hope you get the time you crave to work on your craft. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi LaDonna, I always love your comments! I think the idea of the main focus being writing is in direct conflict with my life! The summer has been fun and fabulous but very unconducive to writing. I’m looking forward to the slower pace of the fall. So good to know I’m not the only one who struggles to share space with my husband. Awe, but if my spouse wasn’t so annoying what would I write about? He’s great material. Thanks for the kind words, soft hugs and big love to you, C

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Honey, put a sock in it.” Lol I laughed so hard at that 😂 I totally agree that Covid has ruined our alone time. My sister and I would both just go to university and get on with our lives but now we spend a lot of time together at home and it can sometimes be challenging because we’re very different people.
    I hope you get into a great routine that works for you but of course it can sometimes take a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pooja, thank you for jumping in here with me and relating to the stress of sharing previously unshared spaces with our loved ones. It’s definitely a slow process but we’re getting there. Here’s to keeping our sanity until life returns to some kind of new normal! Warmly, C

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I so love this post, Cheryl, how you describe your writing process and especially your reverence and cherishing of the aloneness that waters and feeds the work for you, and for so many writers and artists. Did you ever read May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude? I think you’d love it, and here’s the part that came to mind with your post here:

    Begin here. It is raining. I look out on the maple, where a few leaves have turned yellow, and listen to Punch, the parrot, talking to himself and to the rain ticking gently against the windows. I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone here and the house and I resume old conversations.

    As for the bull and the shoot and the flank strep, I’m thinking of that quote from a Connemara farmer, “You can’t fence anything with wings.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mary Ellen, it’s always big smiles and joy when I see your name appear in the comments. It’s a joy to know someone out there totally gets me! I just ordered a copy of May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude from Amazon. That quote is extraordinary. She is somehow able to perfectly express how I process life and the necessity of solitude. And then she clenches it with “I taste it fully only when I am alone here in the house and I resume old conversations.” That’s what I’m talking about! Love it, thank you for sharing, you are a treasure, love and hugs, C

      Like

  8. Cheryl, so happy you retired! I have no advice (sorry) but can commiserate with biting back sharp retorts to a husband who forgot I’ve been running a house for almost fifty years and don’t need lessons on boiling an egg. It makes for better harmony if you can silence the smart retort, but there does come a time when you have to stand up. It feels like I have been deprived of WiFi forever. I’ve been writing, handwriting in a journal, which is something I do anyway even when I’m blogging and writing a novel. So that kept me going. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Cynthia, as you can see retirement is not the endless weekends and long stretches of silence I was expecting! And I totally agree with you, “silencing the smart retort,” is good advice. I didn’t realize you wrote your novels longhand? That’s amazing, I would be lost without spellcheck! When does your next novel come out? This pandemic has really changed the landscape of publicizing and promoting authors. Wishing you the best of luck with your next block buster! Warmly, C

      Like

  9. Are you sure my husband isn’t related to yours? Lol I fixed everything when I retired by staying up until 2-3 am (he goes to bed at 11:30 pm) then I sleep in until 10-11 am (he gets up at 7-8 am). My problem was solved, about 3 hours alone time at night and sleeping late avoids talk! 🤣😂😂

    Like

  10. Hi!!
    Long time no chat. I apologize as I have been super busy.
    Love the opening lede to this post. What a catchy attention getter. Great pic. Killer intro. I feel a bit sorry for you if the old strap is a little tight. Trust me, it’s worse for guys.
    Love the strategic interplay/ banter you and Larry have. Now that you are retired, you may have to learn to put up with the “as the bread winner, I have critical shit to do, so you should make your self useful, or at least do the myriad of things I may have to do after I finish suffering through my tremendous workload. “ You need to set boundaries. Or at least establish that what you are doing (critical thinking?!) is at least as important but likely more important than whatever mindless work the complaining automaton is doing.
    I love your description of how writing is a labor of introspective solitude. It reminds me of how S. Coleridge wrote 95 % of the brilliant poem Kubla Khan, but when a knock at the door woke him from his opioid trance, the story line vanished from his mind forever.
    Your description of how your blog post can be a tool to remind of something from the past, and even to supplement your memory made me smile. It reminds me of how I like to blog fun trips, not because I like to write, but rather as a way to permanently store those fantastic memories, along with the thoughts and laughs of the time.
    Anyway, thanks again another great post. We miss you. Start thinking about get together options?
    The intro to this post made me think of this song (which I love.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mike, Good to hear from you! Love exploring your insights and observations and how gently you interject your ideas into a scenario, as if returning the queen bee to the nest. It takes great finesse and I say well done. I especially love, “as the breadwinner I have critical shit to do, so make yourself useful.” Oh, I’m useful alright, as useful as a pair of dull scissors but you still don’t want to run with those! Overall the adjustments has gone well (in other words, in my favor), a few conflicts of interest have arrisin but what I’m finding out is it all gets done in the end. Don’t sweat the small stuff unless your flankstrap is too tight! Larry’s actually leaning into the idea of retirement (I call it retirement envy), tossing it around, playing with the idea, maybe not the reality. We’re getting our affairs in order so when traveling does open up we’re ready to pull the trigger! Glad you enjoyed the post and BTW I loved the song! How do you always find the perfect tunes? We miss you all too, as we explore travel options in the near and far future, we’ll figure out how to make our paths cross! Larry wants me to get more involved in biking, as in bicycles, there’s a few interesting opportunities coming up in the spring in Portugal. Do you and Gail have any interest in a biking event? Might be a cool way to see the sights. I’ll send you info if we get serious about one. Still hoping to hike the El Camino sometime in 2022, if they ever let us in the country, maybe meet up in Spain? The options are endless. You might need to retire Mike! Hugs to all, Cheryl

      Like

  11. As an aside… Cheryl writes “I warn, “watch out cowboy or you’ll get hung up on my horns,” and I am thinking, from the Breakfast Club, “ You mess with the bull you’ll get the horns,” which of course triggers all those wonderful teen angst memories.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s