For many years, the Medalists — a group of female friends who’ve been together for about thirty-five years — hosted dinners around a theme: purple food, round food, things stuffed in other things, even the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. (The latter was the only theme that didn’t work. It led to a limited menu of asparagus representing fallen trees and ice cream for the volcano) “Why don’t we do these dinners again?” I asked. “No time,” was the answer.
We used to play mail art games, stamped mysterious messages on postcards and sent them to each other to figure out the meaning. We even wrote stories. “Shall we do this again?” “No.”
We submitted entries to the Bulwer-Lytton contest, which awards a prize for writing the worst opening sentence of a novel. Here are two doozies: “In a fury of bits, bytes and RAMS, she slipped her disk as he tried to interface with her bottom line across the spreadsheet.” Or. “Kathleen directed her gaze down the length of the conveyor belt, looked with envy at the young women chattering away about their boyfriends, parties and new clothes, looked with affection at the older women talking softly about grandchildren and retirement dreams, or lost in reveries and not talking at all, then sealed a large, dirty fingernail in the can of tuna fish and thought, My coffee break can’t come soon enough.” “Shall we try this another time?” I say. “No. We don’t have time.”
The above was part of a recent conversation as we looked at photos and stacks of creative projects we’d completed over the years. Sadly, one member of our group passed away last fall (the second Medalist to leave us). She was the archivist of the various projects, which, along with memories, we are now sorting through.
How can we have no time? I wondered. We were holding down full-time jobs when we made these meals, created this mail art, and wrote these stories.
Everyone shrugged. But what does “no time” mean when you’re retired, or semi-retired as two members of the group are? When I was working fifty-hour weeks, I still managed to entertain on weekends and even cleaned my house. Now I have no time for either, well, a little time for the former but none for the latter.
One possibility is that we’re aware that the time left to us is limited; our lives no longer stretch as far as the horizon, like they did when we were kids. This can makes us feel rushed to complete unfinished business. Also, some people create long lists of faraway places to visit while they’re physically and mentally able and hurry around the world to check off the countries on their lists. Some retirees become obsessed with projects that fill as much or more of their days than work did earlier. I’d put myself in that category. Writing two novels is more than a full-time job.
Speaking for myself, things take longer these days…on purpose. Before retirement, I got up early every morning. Now I might wake up about the time I would have been at my desk starting my workday. Before retirement, I read the morning paper while I drank my cup of tea standing at the kitchen counter. Now I sit on the couch with the cat purring on my lap, drink two cups of tea, and read at my leisure. I meet friends for lunch more often, ones who aren’t looking at their watches or smartphones while we eat.
Even if I start my day slowly, by the end of the day I still feel the time crunch. Then I remind myself that I’m the one controlling my time. My friends and I have made choices about how we spend our lives and if we feel we have no time, we’ve done it to ourselves. By the way, if I were honest, I’d admit that I probably have time to clean my house. I just don’t want to do it. Maybe with a little more time…