I’ve noticed that Island shops carry greeting cards for retirement. Most of the messages inside simply read “Congratulations!” So, I’m thinking of starting my own line. The message inside would simply say “Are you sure?”
Are you really ready to retire on the Vineyard? You have to be very creative and persistent to find the time and place to have some solitude and actually retire here. It seems there is always something to do here and always someone asking you to do it. As soon as someone discovers you have a special interest, a particular knowledge or a healthy Rolodex, he or she is at your doorbell. So, to catch a few more winks and thoughts before jumping into the post-retirement fray, I did the obvious thing — I removed our doorbell.
Retirement, as I understand it, means leaving your day job without looking for anymore jobs. It means coming to terms with the “oy” in employment and extracting yourself. It means counting your money, projecting future budgets, trying to plan for the unplannable and deciding you have enough of a cushion to sit out the dance for the continually mobile — at least until proven wrong, which is hopefully never.
The question is, are you ready to say goodbye to a previous identity and do what you think you’ve always wanted to do? Is that thought as comfortable as squashing your toes in beach sand or as scary as sticking your feet in quicksand?
Retirement gives you a choice — refocus or unfocus. Some folks settle here to get as far away from their expertise as possible, and learn to unwind and eventually learn some other expertise. For example, they’d like to go from rat race to still lifes, put down the PowerPoint laser cue and pick up a paint brush, or turn to words, music, clay, metal, wood, plants, recipes, yoga, meditation or spiritual revitalization. Or maybe just sailing.
This is, after all, an Island of reinvention where the right side of the brain is allowed to take over and wax creative while the left side wanes and gets a tan.
Or, if you’re up for it, the Vineyard can also be a veritable paradise for people who love to network, an activity that does not have to be stopped by retirement. I’m talking about people who like to keep using the skills honed during their careers, like to make things happen by connecting people with Tab A to people with Slot B. This is why, compared with, say, Washington, D.C., so much actually gets accomplished around here.
Yet some fear retirement. Probably the same folks who ask me, “You live on the Vineyard? What do you do all winter?” Some people prefer weapons of mass distraction to sessions of solitude, creativity or networking. They feel engaged and alive only when using their thumbs to text, to connect, to explore, to do anything but think or sift through the earthiness of their souls.
A headline on the front page of the July 3 Boston Globe got my attention: “People prefer electric shocks to time alone with thoughts.” A University of Virginia study of how people deal with quiet time, published in the journal Science, found that many people chose painful zaps to contemplation. This self-administered punishment apparently removed the deadly boredom of trying to spend a few minutes without navigating a device or communicating outside your body. The researchers were startled.
Perhaps such masochism explains the political chaos we seem to thrive in.
Then again, you’d like to know who exactly participated in this study. Members of the NRA? Members of the NSA? I can’t believe any artists were included. And one researcher mentioned that next time they would like to include people who meditate.
Such reactions are akin to the Type A fear that if you stop working you’ll die. Such worker bees probably tremble at the recent story of extreme meditation circulating the web.
His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, one of India’s wealthiest spiritual leaders, was pronounced clinically dead by physicians, police, his wife and son this past January, following a heart attack. His followers insist he is in a state of deep meditation, having achieved a transcendent state called samadhi, where he is at one with the universe. They are keeping him “alive” in a commercial freezer in his ashram. The Punjab High Court is set to decide the status of his state as well as his $170 million estate. Has anyone tried an electric shock?
Personally, every time I meditate, I fall asleep. Next time, I must remember to check my pulse. Meanwhile, I am truly ready to consider all the ways to relish retirement here. One thing you have to admit — the concept of retirement does free up your time. How else could my wife and I watch a marathon of 13 episodes of House of Cards just so we don’t feel like idiots at the next cocktail reception?
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.