Sneaker Wave

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I’ve been spending most of my winter break on the Oregon Coast, mentally preparing for my retirement. On New Year’s Day, I sharpened this resolve by submitting a Service Retirement Application to CalSTRS. I feel too young to be heading through such a passage, though when I was in my 30s, I watched several coworkers (in their 50s) come to this same decision. At that time, early retirement did not seem unreasonable—my coworkers did not seem too young. Now it feels like I’m getting away with something.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin driving south to face my final semester and tie up loose ends in the San Diego region, before beginning my next chapter, which will probably play out on the Oregon Coast. I woke up to several inches of snow, snow that even fell on the beach. This pristine surface made the world more beautiful and unsafe at the same time. Hazardous conditions already seem to be easing, though I have dropped my earlier plan to drive over the Siskiyou Summit—where chains are no doubt required—in favor of a trip along the Coastal Highway.

I do need to learn how to become more spontaneous, to view change as an adventure. Snow brought joy to my morning. I ended up meandering to breakfast through the white stuff, enjoying gorgeous winter tableaus along the way. In the restaurant, I found myself the only diner, with the exception of a couple of retirees who were discussing upcoming trips to Hawaii and Cabo San Lucas. I’m not upset I’m taking scenic route back to San Diego, though it will eat up more time. I’m already becoming less ambitious about driving for hours on end to get somewhere.

Though I’ll be a young retiree, I have been in the workforce since I was eighteen. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, I took a work study job, shelving books at the Eugene Public Library. Three months later, my grant ran out, and the library put me on the city payroll. I ended up staying with the Eugene Public Library for almost eight years. This early work experience eventually prompted me to begin a fulfilling career in library science, one that has taken me into two large metropolitan areas and one small town. Needless to say, the role of working woman is pretty much intertwined with my identity, if not my self-esteem.

I doubt I’m done working. Tentatively, I’m scheduled to do some part-time work at my college in two and a half years. CalSTRS even allows one to come out of retirement, should another appealing job offer surface. But my recent health scare has prompted me to move in some new directions for a while. I’d like to break down psychological patterns that may have had a hand in tripping up my physical health. I’m keeping an eye on my aging mother. Perhaps not knowing exactly where I’m going will be edifying.

Not knowing isn’t easy for me. I like to plan everything. I read about people who fly by the seat of their pants, people who revel in it, and I wonder why I’m not like that unless I’m knocked upside the head. When something hits one like a sneaker wave, one is forced to do what is often suggested by sages, “Go with the flow.” During my chemo treatments, I spent a lot of time trying to remember what it was like to feel healthy—to live normally. A sense of well-being can be wiped out in a flash. Now that I have it back, I want to cherish everything. I hope this feeling lasts.

In a few weeks, I’ll be pitching a novel to three agents at the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference. It is the second novel I have finished, though it’s the first one I started. Both books are set in Oregon. I’m not planning to spend more time in Oregon because of these novels, though it will probably good for me to be up here, should either be accepted. Maybe I’ll eventually become a rainbird. That way I can head down to the desert after too many inches have fallen. Alas, I’m already starting to make new plans.

Waiting for More Time

I used to doodle too much. A Pee-Chee folder was my favorite canvas, but I drew plenty of curlicues and diamond patterns in the margins of lined notebook paper (around all of the insightful notes I was supposed to be taking). Let’s just say… when a lecture went into overtime, I found ways to trump the slowly ticking clock. Yes, I took that clock personally. In school I was known to glare at the minute hand as it made its incremental jumps around its very own face. For some reason, certain activities – class periods, swim team practice, chores – were never over fast enough. I was always thinking, if only it were over.

Time isn’t really the problem. It’s the waiting. Right now I’m waiting to hear if my work has been accepted. I’m waiting to find out if I’ve gotten into a workshop. I’m waiting to learn if I I’ll become a grant recipient. There are times when it feels like all I’m doing is waiting. Like waiting for retirement. I have a few years to go, but I’m being encouraged to attend a workshop so that I can enter a bunch of numbers into a calculator in order to figure out how much time I have.

I should know better. I’ve actually spent time trying to learn how to rest in the moment without feeling like I’m waiting for something else. Those are the moments pregnant with meaning, perhaps even joy. Those are the moments that really aren’t moments at all. The rest of the time – when time kicks in – I’m thinking about what will happen when the wait is over.

It’s easy to fight the mundane—another day of slogging through chores, work, exercise, driving to the grocery store. This is going on and on. I hate this. It’s not easy to feel fulfilled during these routine tasks.

I was once asked why I wanted to sing. The suggestion between the lines implied I wanted it for the wrong reason. Perhaps I believed singing would make me happier when there was really something else to address. Self-expression does seem more satisfying than sitting at the reference desk. It certainly feels more dramatic. But is it more really more fulfilling? It can seem that way to the person who feels joy when she sings and boredom when she is waiting for the next question.

It is said Zen masters are fulfilled in their beingness no matter what is going on. Yet most of us have strong preferences. Most of us are drawn to certain activities—repelled by others. And sometimes we have to stick with an undertaking we don’t like, because it is the only way to keep things together. During those times, we may not have the luxury of enjoying what we truly love to do.

On the flip side, it might be important to think about the best use of one’s time. From a Zen point of view it is impossible to waste time (there’s no time to waste); yet most of us are better at some things than others. Most of us have specific gifts to share—unique to our talents and personalities. When we are thwarted from sharing them, then indeed something valuable is wasted.

If we do try to pursue “the best use of our time,” there’s bound to be a wait. Doodling in the margins might get us through the stagnant periods when nothing seems to be happening on the surface. Or there’s my current habit: obsessively checking my cell phone, particularly for rejections. Learning how to live fully in the “not so interesting” becomes a different sort of challenge.