I sit here reflecting on what retirement has meant so far as the third month slowly passes. I sit and write, I also read but I’m still on a journey, towards what, I’m not sure. These moments in life where we sit between what was and what might be are good times to take stock of what is important and what is not. Usually, when I’ve transitioned from one life event into another, I would allow the darker aspects to take root and depression would be planted. This time, I’m in a different place and although there is uncertainty, I don’t feel any anxiety or urgency just to do something. There is a certain freedom that comes when you don’t feel rushed into making a decision that may or may not be the best for that moment. Strangely, I’m okay living in this in between time. I don’t need certainty what I need is time to pray, write and reflect. Priesthood, mine in particular, had it’s moments of good and not so good which has shaped who I am. Now I have the opportunity to examine this shape, like a sculptor who examines his work once he’s chiseled away a bit of the granite. Carefully the artist takes their time to ensure that not too much is chiseled away too quickly, they also must follow the granites veins, look for what the stone is saying to them. I can examine my own life thus far in the same way, not going at it with a sledge, but carefully chiseling away at it, following the natural flow that presents itself as I work at the larger piece. There is plenty of rock to work with, it’s just knowing where to start and how much to begin working on. Writing, like any art, takes time as well as talent. Well, time I have, it’s talent that is suspect. It’s easy to read books on writing, it’s easy to get lost in the authors words of wisdom, but the real test is comes in actually writing something. Parker Palmer, author of many books filled with wisdom, said, and I paraphrase here, that writers just need to put out their stuff for all to read and see to get some idea if they have anything of worth.
All around us there are the sounds of construction. Hammers pounding away as workers put down shingles on a new roof, the beep-beep of construction trucks backing up to unload all that goes into building a house, pipes and frames and HVAC equipment, while in the almost completed homes the sounds of saws buzzing away, windows being put in and in some cases the finishing touches. Across from us are several large digs, the soil that once covered the land now in piles along the huge hole, where some have had cement poured into what will soon become the base frame. It’s a busy place, from early morning till late afternoon, the workers trudge to and fro doing their assigned jobs so that one day someone will be able to have a new home. We moved into our house a month and a half ago, brand new with more room than we ever had before. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a full, albeit, unfinished basement. Our master bedroom has this nice space, the one I’m writing in right now, an extra little sitting area where I can retreat to and allow my thoughts to flow. We have a sunroom, that will be nice once the cold winds of winter arrive and we will no longer be able to sit on the deck, then there’s that, a deck. The deck is positioned perfectly, in the late afternoon with the sun setting into the west, the deck is shaded and pleasant to sit out on while in the morning with the sun rising in the east, our porch is the one shaded, there we can enjoy our morning cup of coffee. Yes, we do have a porch, I know isn’t that awesome but we’ve never had one before. Walk-in closets, a first floor laundry room, a full two car garage although we only have one car. I was thinking, if I could only have had this back up in Massachusetts I may not have moved, but we didn’t and in fact to have a house with all of this would have cost us way more than what we are making and so, here we are living in Smyrna Delaware. It’s really not so bad although we do miss a few things like decent shopping stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s, and we definitely miss fresh, Atlantic fish, Cod, Haddock and the occasional Swordfish, all of which are hard to come by down here. There is also, how do I put this, slowness to this part of the state, a slowness in everything that is done. To drive means being behind a slower driver who may or may not signal his/her intentions. In the grocery stores you encounter them in the aisles, browsing ever so slowly, examining each package before putting it in their cart or putting it back on the shelf. Now, with so many retiring here one would think, “hey, they are old and old folks are slow,” but surprise, even the young folks are slow if not slower. There are times when I feel that I am in a tortoise vs. hare race and I’m the hare, just trying to get what I need, then get out of the store. Okay, I know I sound frustrated, but that is the way with those of us who grew up in more metropolitan areas. Growing up with traffic, with noise with the congestion that comes with it, is the cross I bear as I try to get used to this slower, measured pace. Maybe there is a lesson, one that I need to learn as a budding writer, slow down, take your time, allow your mind to wander and just write. Write with no agenda, write with no end point or even a well developed theme, just write. Maybe later, maybe in what I’ve just written there is something that will take root and grow into an essay or a story or even a poem. Sometimes I feel that I’m trying to hard to catch up and that is actually holding me back from just writing. I want the words to be perfect, I want what I say to mean something, not just to me but to someone who is reading this, now, yes you, the occasional blog browser who does a daily random search and lands on my piece to read. Maybe it’s shit, maybe it’s okay, but maybe it offers something beyond the words, hope. That if you to are a beginning writer, an older writer who feels that life and opportunity have left you behind, then maybe this missive will give you some hope and courage to write anyway. I am far from perfect, my grammar sucks, if it weren’t for spell check then I would be doomed but still I write, my imagination isn’t dead. As I look out at those workers, as they go about building these homes I am reminded that even the best of them had to learn their trade, they had to make mistakes and try again, but that is the way of life. As writers, and yes I’m addressing all of you who blog, write poetry, essay’s, fiction, nonfiction whatever, just keep at it, make mistakes, but keep at it because now more than ever we need more writers, we need deep thinkers who are willing to go into those places where few dare to tread, to mine for words of healing, words of substance. So, what are you waiting for, write.
one by one
a hazy weave
that drips through
of my own thoughts
into small pieces
each another word
born from more
a new word
the long conversation
and the soul.
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger late over wine,
those who keep trying mixed wines.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
At the last it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.
Day one of retirement, day one and looking ahead and behind while trying to remain present in the here and now. Feeling like there’s something I need to do, something not quite finished, like the final touches on a painting or that last piece of a gigantic puzzle. Retirement comes with no prepared packaging. You enter at your own peril and you make of it what you will but it can also become one’s master. Finding solace, time to write, time to read and do what I like will require some discipline. New habits need to be formed and made a part of the daily routine without turning the daily routine into a rut. Reading Morning Prayer the passage from Proverbs warns against imbiding too much on wine. We could say that imbiding on anything for too long is not good and one of the dangers of being retired and without the daily habit of work, is to get lazy, bored and possibly depressed. Unfortunately, I have been down the depression road, I have been stuck in the ruts and have needed help to claw my way out. Depression is not something we easily talk about, especially men. We tend to travel down the dark path with our chin up denying that we are indeed down in the dumps. The truth is we can’t do that and survive, not to deal more openly leads us into even darker waters, abusing booze, inappropriate sexual liaisons will only create a deeper rut. Our eyes will see strange things our minds will wander and our hearts will break but that needn’t be the only path. I’m just now testing these new waters, dipping my toe in carefully to see whether or not I’ll take the plunge. That plunge is actually trying to see if any of my babblings are worthy to be published and read by others. I have the time, I just need to get over my own fears of being ridiculed and rejected. In a way it’s not about me personally but then again it is if I take rejection personally. I guess that the idea is never to quit trying, to write, send out a query letter, explore the genres and continue to try. Anne Lamott talks about writing as taking it word by word, writing that shitty first draft then purging it later of the adjectives, adverbs and useless words, writers tend to use. Then get down to really honing the craft. So here I go, day one of retirement, my shitty first draft in need of revision, but at least I wrote and didn’t drink that wine
Much to my surprise I now have amassed over 100 followers on my blog. Now, I realize that there are other bloggers who have well over 1000 if not more, bloggers who have found that special niche producing prodigious works. I, on the other hand, have no special niche. I just write what’s been bubbling up in my head, it’s not rocket science. I started this blog a few years ago, first it was my poor attempt at some creative writing, then it became a place where I recorded my recovery from being hit by a car door, while out cycling. It was that accident and the months of being laid up that began this journey. Having time to think, I mean really think, about what is important I began to focus more and more on my writing. Now, I’m no Hemingway, I really struggle when I write trying to find the words that express my feelings and surroundings. At times I’m a bit successful at other times, not so much but I continue to write. One of the results of all this attempted writing is that I’ve been taking classes at Grub Street in Boston, a place where one can go and learn more about the craft of writing. Yes, writing is a craft, it takes time and effort just to get something written then expose it to the world and let them see what you have composed. At Grub Street, I have been given the opportunity to experiment, to explore the various genres and take risks in my writing. Right now I’m in the midst of a 10 week Creative Nonfiction class and so far I have produced one piece and am working on a second, that I hope to have finished soon. Well, finished is not the correct term, as anyone who has been writing, finishing is a movable line that sits out there on the horizon, tantalizing one into thinking they are finished. I’ve got several pieces that are in various stages of being finished with none of them even close.
That brings me back to my blog, my little musings that I throw out there. Lately, I’ve been intrigued by poetry, something that I still don’t fully understand but still try writing about. I read poetry, I love the way in which poets use words to paint pictures on the mind, taking the reader on a journey through time and space. Some are able to do so using their words economically, sparing us the effort to slog through long, rambling paragraphs. So, I try. I try to write poetry, I try to use my words to paint that picture, to convey what I see in my minds eye and write. Am I successful? That’s for the reader to decide, all I can do is write, post and let the chips fall where they may.
So, thank you to all of you who are taking a chance to follow my blog and are reading my small offerings. I appreciate the fact that you are taking time from out of your busy day to read what I have written and also to like what has been put out there. Now, I must move on, put my Creative Nonfiction hat on and continue to write for my class. What’s in my future? Who, knows. Grub Street has many other classes that I find intriguing, from doing more nonfiction, to writing fiction, essay’s, and of course, poetry. In fact, as I write this I’m thinking that this might be a good start for a Creative Nonfiction piece, about a novice out there in the blogosphere looking for his place among the giants of that world in the words he writes.
Sitting here just thinking
nothing overly productive
but just thinking
about our times
about how we have forgotten
how to have real dialogue
how to speak to one another
without all of the finger pointing
and the angry rhetoric.
I wonder what happened
to civil discourse
have we become so immune
to one another
only able to blame
rather than reach out?
So, I write a poem
trying to understand
what is going on
not in the world but in my heart
so I sit here thinking
about nothing overly productive
hoping to make sense
of a senseless world.
It’s early in the morning as I sit there in the darkened church, the only sound coming from the ceiling fans as they continuously stir the air. There, in the pew, I close my eyes concentrating on each breath that I take, a slow inhale, an even slower exhale, calming my body, as I empty myself of life’s distractions. Slowly, I feel my own heart slow down, my mind becoming less burdened by the myriad of thoughts that litter the mind scape. Here, in this place, at this early hour I am alone with God, seeking to find the words to write, the prose and poetry of my life.
I am a Priest, an Episcopal Priest, to be more accurate. Prayer, meditation, time alone, is for me, the way in which I spiritually feed the dryness of my own soul. In this postmodern, post-Christian society that we live in, this may sound a bit crazy, or at the very least, some form of mental illness. Living in a world that is constantly on the move, constantly connected with various technology, the idea of just sitting in a darkened church, praying, seems eccentric. In many ways being a priest today seems to be a bit eccentric. As parishes of all denominations slowly shrink in terms of congregants and resources, in an era of increasing secularity and of the so-called “spiritual nones” being a priest, minister, rabbi, is slightly counterintuitive. Yet, here I am, praying to God, asking for guidance, seeking to live up to my ordination vows as I navigate the dangerous waters of today’s church.
Being a priest means entering into the very earthiness of life itself. Engaging people in all of the stages of life, from birth to death and all of the messiness in between. We are dust and in the dust is life itself, the very term human comes from the root word humus, the dark, rich soil where seeds lay buried to one day spring forth into life. It’s a life of deep intimacy, where we, as priests, are invited into the most private areas of human life. I’ve held newborns, some struggling to overcome great physical obstacles, and blessed them with Holy water as I baptized, young parents standing by with tears in their eyes. I’ve held the hand of older people, as they took their last few breaths asking God to watch over their souls as they passed through the portal of death. I have learned over the years that there is a sensuality to being a priest, where not only our intellect is engaged but also all of our senses. We touch, we see, we smell the incense as it rises to the rafters, our hands breaking the bread and touching the chalice, the gifts of God. I place the small piece of bread into hands, hands that are calloused from hard work, hands that have held a baby or wiped away the young child’s tears. In that moment, our hands touch and connection is made, that piece of bread God’s conduit of grace and love, through the Body of His Son.