Charles Lamb wrote to William Wordsworth a bare week after his retirement “after thirty-three years’ slavery” in London, working for the East India Company:
The incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. It was like passing from life into eternity. Every year to be as long as three, i.e. to have three times as much real time, time that is my own, in it! I wandered about thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But that tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of the gift. Holidays, even the annual month, were always uneasy joys: their conscious fugitiveness - the craving after making the most of them. Now, when all is holyday, there are no holidays. I can sit at home, in rain or shine, without a restless impulse for walkings. I am daily steadying, and shall soon find it as natural to me to be my own master, as it has been irksome to have had a master.
I am feeling guilty about griping last week and hasten to set the record straight. My life is blessed. I not only loved my job, but now I have the time to enjoy the love of my life in our (usually) quiet home; we live in a country envied by many. Best of all, I now make my own decisions how to use my time. As a good friend said, “When you retire, every night is Friday night and every day is Saturday.”
So did I experience the tumult that Charles Lamb felt? Not really. For one, I finally began to feel rested after running on empty for too long. A massive longitudinal study on sleep and its chronic lack in our society concluded that the majority of people have when the author termed a “sleep deficit” which must be paid back if the body is to remain healthy. That deficit might amount to thousands of hours, a number which astonished me. So retirement’s Job #1 was to catch up on my sleep. No problem: I LOVE sleeping.
The second unexpected bonanza was the opportunity to revel in the smorgasbord of options spread in front of me. I sampled for a year before deciding who I would be for this second half of my adult life. Choosing art was like coming home. I had never painted, but drawing and caricature have been a constant since I was a toddler. We all seek “flow,” that state of meditative peace, and painting volunteered to fit the bill; both challenging and rewarding, it absorbs me completely. Meeting a cadre of like-minded people was the icing on a very satisfactory cake. Jon finds the same peace and happiness in fly-fishing and paddling.
Lamb's "restless impulse," however, did resonate. It usually happens when I can't focus. Today I returned to the fold, forsaking make-work projects concocted to avoid painting. My ducks are back in their row, where both Lamb and I learned to keep them. I have chosen and planned the next few paintings and, yes, Aisha and Theodore will be represented, as will as a mourning dove trying unsuccessfully to cover two adolescent chicks, a riverside turquoise canoe and the fat baby robin who appears in this Friday-night grisaille.
Better get to bed; tomorrow, eternally Saturday, is fresh new holyday.