I’ve got a heavy cold right now that makes me feel as if my head might pop at any moment. My nose is blocked, and I can feel the pressure behind my eyes and in my ears. I took the day off yesterday because I was sneezing all over the place, and because I had a new oven being installed. I spent the day quietly on the couch or in bed and in between working at the novel. Being crook is a nuisance, but I’m back at work today.
At the end of the night yesterday I was lying on the couch contemplating bed when instead I clicked on a movie to watch I’d recorded last week. Travelling North seems to me one of those forgotten movies. A zillion movies get made every year across the world and some will be remembered for decades to come, for the right reasons, or wrong, and most will fade into the past. A few, for reasons I can’t understand, get lost in the past. Travelling North is a worthy movie, but one of those lost movies. Who here has ever heard of it, let alone seen it?
It’s an Australian movie starring Leo McKern and Julia Blake and based on a David Williamson play. It has a solid cast and is well made and is clever. It’s not a movie that should be forgotten, which is one reason I recorded it. It came at me as a novelty. Oh yes, I thought, I remember that movie. I wonder how it plays now.
I probably wouldn’t have cared, except that I saw this movie at the cinema when it came out. I remember it very well. I went with a mate to see it at the Roseville Cinema in Sydney. For dinner before we went to a Black Stump restaurant. In retrospect it seems an unusual movie for us to have elected to watch, but we both enjoyed its modest pleasures. That was a while ago, I knew, but when I saw it was from 1987 I felt a mild flutter of wonder. I knew it was from about then, but I realised that was 30 fucking years ago. 30 years! How does that happen?
Back then when I saw it first the actual storyline would have had no direct relevance for me. It’s the story of a couple of retirement age driving up from Melbourne to a new home in the north of Queensland. They go from the hustle and bustle of the city to a laid-back lifestyle in a tropical setting. It’s a well-worn trail, with thousands of retirees making the trek from the southern states to the tropical climes to warm their bones with their working life done. I was not much more than a kid then and all of that was many years distant, if at all – and I doubt it ever crossed my mind.
That time is 30 years closer now. I’m still a way off and very much doubt that I would go north – it might be pretty, but I’d miss the conversation and the culture. Regardless, there will come a time in the next 20 years when I will need to consider what I’ll do. If not travelling north, then what?
Who can say? A lot can happen in 20 years, and I hope it does. I’ve changed in the 30 years since I saw the film. Back then everything was ahead of me. Right now a lot of it is behind me. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve lived an interesting life, and occasionally a big life. My desire is for that to continue, though it’s harder now. I still want to feel that vibrant urgency, still want to be relevant – I don’t think I can live without that.
That’s my problem with retirement. I accept that I’ve a harsh perspective on it, but that’s because I’ve observed it so much. I’ve watched retired husbands – long careers behind them, but past – trail after their wives in the supermarket. Just recently there’s been a bunch of press on retirement and aged care homes, and none of it good. But I’ve also listened in as retired couples have lauded the facilities and activities of their retirement villages. They make it sound like landlocked cruise ships with lawn bowls and cards and group activities, and so on. Perhaps that’s as it should be – but it’s not for me, and I can’t imagine a time when it will be.
If you ask me I’ll tell you I want to stay independent to the end. I want my own home and space, want to make my own decisions and live life as I choose too. The Leo McKern character in the movie is a retired civil engineer and ex-communist. He’s done things and has become a curmudgeonly old man. Well, excuse me, I think that’s exactly as it should be. Live on your terms, and fuck convention.
There will be plenty who object to my suppositions and to each his own. What it feels like to me is that to settle into a retirement home of any sort is to accept the fact of eventual death and to wait for it in comfort. I don’t accept it, and I won’t wait for it.
For me, right now, it’s simple. I’m happy to live simply. Have my home, a vegie garden, a dog, and hopefully a partner to share it with. That’s to start with. But you need more than that if you are not to become one of those lost husbands dogging their spouses heels in the supermarket because they have nothing better to do. You need something for yourself.
I know this because I have always needed that. I’ve been strident because I wanted to feel life and engage with it. It has become my nature and it won’t change just because I might retire one day. You need to do, or at least attempt to do. All your life you have contributed to society, if only modestly – why should that change now? So okay you tell me, because you’ve retired, because those days are gone, because now it’s time to rest and enjoy. Enjoy what though? The ethereal pleasures of playing bridge and going to the theatre?
I believe that you must put in as much – if not more – than what you take out. A life living as a valued member of the community builds that balance up, from which you withdraw as necessary. At retirement the deposits cease unless you make an effort otherwise. You begin to draw from that account and what fun it is to start with – but then it pales, doesn’t it? For the active mind I’m sure, it would. To take without putting back becomes a superficial existence. What meaning acquired over lifetime of rich experience evaporates in the artificial sunshine of retirement.
I want to keep putting in until the day I die. For me it means in that little house with the vegie garden I must do something more. For me that will be writing, but probably something else to. And if I could I would live like that starting tomorrow.
I can’t disengage. I can’t put things at arm’s length. This is what you have to remember. When you die you don’t come back. This is it. Why waste it? Why become irrelevant? Live all the way through I reckon.