Most people spend their working years looking forward to that golden chapter where they no longer have to punch a clock. They long to devote their energies to the things that bring them joy without having to squeeze everything into weekends and annual vacations. Fun stuff like painting, hiking, writing and, yes, even couch surfing. The idea of eventually being untethered enough to spend each day following our dreams is what keeps us going until our bank accounts tell us it’s safe to escape the daily grind.
While I never created what I’d call a bucket list, there certainly were specific activities I intended to do once I retired. The top two were reading and creative writing. I’ve finally gotten back into the latter, but…reading? Not so much. It’s not as though I don’t have the time. Time has become abundant. And it’s not as though I don’t have books crowding my shelves – both virtual and old school – that I’d like to sink my teeth into. Those are abundant, too.
So, what is it that’s standing between me and that next great escape? I’m embarrassed to admit that, over the past couple of years, I’ve become addicted to three of the worst timewasters out there: TV, the internet and the multitude of games on my iPad. And that’s extremely counterintuitive because I love books. The dream of one day being able to read to my heart’s content was quite the enticing carrot on a stick when I was slogging away in the office.
If you were ever a fan of The Twilight Zone, you likely will recall a particular episode starring Burgess Meredith as Henry, a nerdy little bank teller who spent every spare moment reading. When he wasn’t reading, he talked about reading. Ad nauseam. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was a book, a newspaper or a cereal box, reading was the only pastime he cared about. The problem was, real life had so many extraneous interruptions, he couldn’t spend nearly as much time reading as he would have liked.
That all changed when Henry inadvertently avoided nuclear annihilation because he was hiding away inside the bank vault with his nose stuck in a book. When he stumbled out and began wandering the remains of his town, he was at first frightened and then despondent. He realized he was the only person left alive, and he didn’t consider that a life worth living.
Henry’s miserable outlook did an about-face when he came across the rubble from his local library. There were piles and piles of books – all for the taking – and he was overjoyed at the prospect of living out his life doing what he loved more than anything else. Reading. And the best part was, there would be absolutely zero interruptions.
Of course, as with any good Twilight Zone episode, there was a twist at the end that made you cringe and throw your head back while cursing the show’s writers. As Henry sits amidst his treasured stacks of books, he leans forward and his very thick – and very necessary – eyeglasses fall from his face, shattering as they land on the concrete steps below him. He is left alone with all the time in the world, and enough unread stories to entertain him until his dying breath, yet he can do nothing more than stare out into a blurry eternity, muttering, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all.”
Since the day I retired, I’ve unwittingly emulated our practically blind Henry. Obviously, there are a few glaring differences. For one thing, my glasses are still very much intact and, for another, I’m fortunate enough not to have been thrust into some dispiriting, post-apocalyptic existence. Also, I’m not decrying my current situation as being unfair. Quite the opposite. I’m well aware that this time in a person’s life can be wonderful and freeing and loaded with possibilities. And I’m more than a little grateful for that. I just haven’t been using it the way I’d anticipated.
To put it simply…my inner vision hasn’t been much better than poor Henry’s literal vision after his glasses hit the skids. I’ve allowed other things – activities that are somewhat enjoyable, but not particularly riveting – to blind me to the very thing my heart wanted unrestricted time to do. Read.
While I’m not the least bit interested in psychoanalyzing why I haven’t been utterly drowning myself in books the last two years, I am determined to stop wasting so much time on electronic squirrels.
Those who know me know that my favorite author is Stephen King. If he writes it, I read it. That’s how it used to be anyway. I’ve had one of his more recent books downloaded to Kindle since last fall, and it still sits there…heartbreakingly neglected. I plan to begin remedying that situation today. The very thought of it already has my mental taste buds tingling. When it comes to those first appetizing paragraphs, no one prepares them better than Mr. King.
At least, that’s how I see it in my book.