All the King’s Horses, All the King’s Men

Sometimes I feel like Humpty Dumpty, fragmented into a thousand pieces, and I don’t know how to put myself back together again. As of today, I have been retired for five years, and I still cannot grasp what I’m supposed to do with myself. My life made sense when I was working. Monday through Friday I got up at 5:30, showered, dressed in business attire, made breakfast and packed lunches for my husband, George, and me, and left the house at 6:45 to get to my office by 7:10. If traffic was heavy and I didn’t arrive until 7:20, I was uneasy because my schedule had a wrinkle in it. On weekends we did housework, errands, laundry, and yard work, and with luck, we even managed to have Saturday nights for dinner out and a movie. At the end of each month, I received a very nice paycheck. It was all very ordered, very neat, very tidy.

Now my life lacks a strict structure. Yes, I do have some sort of schedule: volunteer work at church on Monday mornings, yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunchtime, tutoring on Tuesday mornings, and visits from my neighbor’s children throughout the week. They each want their own special time with me, so the three-year-old visits on Monday afternoons to play cars, the seven-year-old comes on Tuesday afternoons for chess, and the five-year-old likes to color with me on Thursday afternoons. Other than that, I fill my time reading, walking, playing my musical instruments, and trying to decide what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life.

If it sounds as if I am just bored with my life, I assure you that is not the case. The truth is, I have so many choices of things I want to do, it paralyzes me. I can’t pick one thing and stick with it. I feel guilty if all I want to do one day is play music or read, or write. And I still want to learn new things. I want to learn to improvise on the piano, I want to write another novel, this time one that isn’t 50,000 words of pure schlock like the last one. I want to take a photography class, I want to take up knitting again and knit a sweater, or at least a hat or mittens. I want to learn to play the mandolin and the concertina.   And yet, none of these things seems valuable to me. They seem as much the pure schlock of life as that novel of mine is. Funny how a paycheck can give so much importance to what you do.

I thought the longer I was retired, the easier it would get, but I find the opposite is true. I feel a growing desperation to figure out my purpose. It used to make sense. A lifetime of raising children, teaching, and helping educators was my clear purpose. Now, as I sit here outside and listen to the wind and watch the thick grey clouds drift by, I know there is value in the quietness, in the peace that these days can bring. I wish I could learn to live in that quietness and be satisfied.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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56 Responses to All the King’s Horses, All the King’s Men

  1. pattisj says:

    Well, Humpty-Dumpty, I’ve got my glue stick.

  2. dorannrule says:

    Think of all this flexibility as your own gift to you! You will find your way. I personally guarantee it. 🙂

  3. oldereyes says:

    Your list of things you waant to do in retirement sounds like mine and Muri’s, as does your schedule of things to do. And I understand completely the sense that none of it’s important. I think for me, it wasn’t so much getting paid for what I did that made it feel important but knowing that other people thought it was important, too. As much s I enjoy writing (blogging), people sometimes give me and odd look when I say I spend 2-4 yours a day on it, as if to say, “Why?” And when I write a post I love and no one comments (whine, whine, whine), I wonder myself. My guitar waits patiently in my office and our piano sits unloved in the living room. My art supplies sigh quietly under the chair in my office. And periodically, I get some “real work” which starts the cycle again. Oh, yeah, i know just what you mean. Perhaps it’s the price of wanting a fulfilling retirement.

  4. Angeline M says:

    I will be retiring in 3 weeks. The very word “structure” came up in conversation with a friend yesterday…my everyday now is so structured, and I have never not had that first with school, then family and working. I have a lot of “want to do” things, but no actual structure to that, and it makes me a little nervous. But….let the days come and I hope to figure it out……

    • Coming East says:

      Don’t get me wrong, Angeline. I really do love retirement. I just want to get the most out of it, and I don’t think I am yet. My advice to you is to just sit back and enjoy that first month you are retired because you deserve it. But then figure out what you want to do with your time that will make you feel like you are still contributing. And do things you’ve always wanted to have more time for. Good luck to you!

  5. I think this must be a ‘universal phenomenon’ among women ‘of a certain age’. I have been retired for 3 years; when I left work, I planned to fulfill a life-long dream of writing full time. I do write a lot (all day some days, not so much on others) but I still feel oddly out of sorts most of the time – as if there is something ‘important’ I’m supposed to be doing but I can’t quite figure out what it is. Like you, I do volunteer work, and have lots of hobbies and interests (and many things I ‘want’ to do or ‘should’ do but can’t seem to find the motivation to start) but I don’t feel ‘fulfilled’. Maybe it is, as you say, that lack of structure we depended on for 40+ years, or maybe it’s that our kids don’t ‘need’ us anymore (I know exactly what you mean by that), or maybe it’s just that we haven’t figured out (as my husband says) how to just ‘be still’ and enjoy our well deserved ‘me time’!

    • Coming East says:

      Great comment, Margo. I can tell we have so many of the same feelings. Read Huffy Girl’s comment because I think that is another layer to the problem.

      • “So much to do, so little time”. Very interesting viewpoint and something I hadn’t thought of. I do worry about not leaving anything ‘undone’, yet never quite find the time to do it all. Something to think about …

      • Coming East says:

        I have no patience with people who say they are bored. I find life to be just the opposite. I wish there were more hours in the day or I needed less sleep so I could fit more in.

  6. Huffygirl says:

    I speculate that you might be feeling that desperation of making choices because you know you are on the downside of life and time is running out. I don’t mean to make this sound as morbid as it seems, but when one is 20 and making life choices, you know you probably have another 60 years to figure it out. But when the reverse is true, we feel an urgency to do all the things we haven’t done yet, and knowing we can’t do them all makes us feel an even more urgent need to choose wisely. I am not retired but at close to 60, I’ve been feeling the same way – that there is not enough time left to do all the things I want. I am trying, only partly successfully, to go with what I enjoy and try to stop wasting time, which I’ve been really good at lately. I am trying to do something that makes me happy every day, and hope that will help me work out the rest.

    • Coming East says:

      Wow, HG, you hit the nail on the head! No, your comment wasn’t morbid at all. I do feel a rising desperation that time is running out to do everything I want to do because I love doing so many things and want to do even more. I waste a ton of time, too, and I want to stop squandering it because it is getting more and more precious. If music makes me so happy, then I need to spend more time on it each day and not feel guilty, and try to become the best musician I can. And if writing is important to me, then I need to spend more time doing that as well. If I concentrate in those two things, maybe that is all I need. Thanks for your insight!

      • Huffygirl says:

        You are welcome. It took a bike accident, surgery, and recovery for me to come to this realization. I am thankful to share the insight so others do not have to go through so much to come to the same conclusion. Probably people who have had cancer or other long illnesses and recover come to the same realization. Now my problem is trying to balance the fun and happy stuff with the stuff I still have to do – work, housework, etc. I think the key is to cut out the time wasters – silly phone app games, unnecessary TV and so on – maybe even blogging, though I have not cut that chord yet. Good luck on your musical adventures.

      • Coming East says:

        I have thought of you often, HG, and wondered how you are recuperating. I think blogging is still worthwhile for me because it is creative and makes me our my thoughts into words, something which gets harder and harder for me these days.

      • Huffygirl says:

        Yes, that is why I do it too, although I feel I’m not a good at it as I was an enthusiastic newbie.

        I have been recovering and am back to work, but still have a lot of frustration at the slow return of my face. I may or may not have more surgery in the future – I have to give things some time to settle and then see. I feel a lot of loss and regret for getting on my bike that day, as I’m sure anyone does who has ever been in an accident.

      • Coming East says:

        I pray that as time goes by, it will ease that sense of loss and regret. You had so many wonderful years on that bike. As for blogging, I agree with you that the freshness is not there anymore. I’ve been at this for over three years now, but I don’t want to just quit. I’m pledging myself to putting more effort into it this month.

      • Huffygirl says:

        Thanks Susan. I hope it will.

        Part of my recent frustration with blogging is a sense of lack of support from WP, and lots of Chinese spam lately. I don’t know if the lack of support is real or just my perception..

      • Coming East says:

        OMG, the Chinese spam is ridiculous! I have to empty my spam folder most daily. What kind of support are you asking for that you aren’t getting? I’m not having any trouble because I don’t even know what kind of support to ask for. Haha.

      • Huffygirl says:

        Glad to hear I’m not the only one being spammed by the Chinese. I have to empty several every day too.

        I’m not really asking WP for any support – I just feel like I’ve had a couple posts that would have been worthy of being Freshly Pressed, but they seem to only be concentrating on newer blogs or certain kinds of blogs. Of course, I know there are thousands of posts daily, and to expect mine to be noticed out of thousands is perhaps expecting too much, so maybe I don’t really have a cause for complaint there. So, I guess I’m just whining 🙂

      • Coming East says:

        Perfectly okay to whine. I do think they tend to concentrate on newer blogs to give them exposure, and I’ve seen some FP’d that are full of errors and mot inspiring, so who knows how they get chosen.

  7. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to visit but good to see you are still doing the blog! I recommend either write down all the stuff you do/want to do and and then timetable your week to do a little bit of each every week (this is how I work personally) or – create an online business! Perhaps you could offer your services as a writing tutor or proofreading? No one cares less about age when you’re online and it could give a little more meaning to your retirement (not to say spare cash!)
    Or do both! 😉

    • Coming East says:

      Good thoughts, Ken. I have found that when I write in my journal in the morning all the things I want to accomplish, I am much more focused and waste less time. I need to do a better job of doing that each morning because I do feel better at the end of the day. I like the idea of an online business proofreading and editing. I have no idea how to do that, but I will talk to my very smart daughter, and I bet we could figure it out.

  8. Amy says:

    I agree with Patti! I read your older blogs before, you have contributed so much to so many people… I want to read them all over again! You have always been a high achiever, Susan. Btw, your working schedule (before you retired) is exactly mine (6:45 am, 7:10 or 7:15am) 🙂

    • Coming East says:

      But you are still doing that, yes, Amy? I certainly don’t miss the stress of the job I had, and I do enjoy my life now. I just want to continue to be relevant and make a difference. George is a lot more relaxed since I retired, and that makes me happy. He comes home to a relaxed wife and a good meal, and because I’m not working, we can visit the kids more. All good things.

      • Amy says:

        Yeah, I’m still doing that… Love all the good things you talk about. I do believe you are still relevant and making difference for other people. I think the contributions may not be as concrete as in the workplace.
        I took a long walk along the Riverwalk today. It got warmer after 11 pm at around 75 degrees 🙂

      • Coming East says:

        I miss the Riverwalk, but at least I get to walk along the ocean. Can’t stop in and get the guac at Boudro’s, though.

  9. Mark says:

    What you need is to go to an Irish pub, babysit for an 8-month little boy, go shopping and see a movie, and have homemade lamb stew. Oh wait, you already plan to do that.

  10. Dianna says:

    Wow – another blogger that I read (not sure if you follow her: Mama’s Empty Nest), has basically been sharing the same feelings as you recently.
    I must be the odd duck here: I LOVE being semi-retired and having lots of free time. I have a few scheduled things in my weeks, but after so many years of punching a time clock, I cherish the flexibility of not HAVING to be somewhere at a certain time!

  11. The Guat says:

    Learning to live in quietness needs some getting used to I’m no where near retirement but when ever I’m without my two kids most of the time the quiet is great! But then there are times when there is too much quiet and I wonder what they are doing.

    • Coming East says:

      Haha. Yes, not hearing anything when you have kids is not always a good thing! I remember those days when I would have loved some peace and quiet. Now I have too much of it. We are never satisfied.

  12. Al says:

    I think you should become a professional Banana-grams player.

  13. Oh, I relate! I have struggled with feeling unimportant and doing things that make no difference in anyone’s life… and not getting paid is really a downer…. Even my girls don’t need me as much and that is hard also. Hubby corrected me a few weeks ago when I was feeling unneeded by my girls. He asked who raised them to be strong independent women…. and I had to confess that I did. He then asked what the problem was since that is what they are…. I hope you find purpose for your heart. Anything that you attempt will be a wonderful adventure, it’s finding the joy in the adventure again. I will be thinking of you. DAF

  14. Rebekah says:

    Have you considered teaching private piano or another instrument? And I don’t mean for free . . . you could earn a nice paycheck 🙂

    • Coming East says:

      As a piano teacher, you know there is much more to teaching an instrument than playing it. I don’t think I could teach well enough to charge anyone. Now, if a parent came to me and asked me to teach their child how to write an essay, I could and would do that and feel good about earning that money.

  15. I hear you, CE. Although I am not retired yet, I recently became one of the unemployed. Whoo boy…kind of knocked me for a loop even though it was not a full-time job. Like you, I’m not bored by any means but after over a month of not working, I’m more distracted than ever and can’t seem to stick to anything long enough to accomplish it. I recently wrote a post about how I feel like I’m just in a holding pattern and keep circling and circling but haven’t figured out yet where to land.

    • Coming East says:

      I need to go back and find that post you wrote, Mama. I have been a bad person and haven’t been reading my blogging buddies posts lately. In a funk, I guess. I am officially pulling myself out of it, as of today. I hope.

  16. Patti Ross says:

    I commiserate with your trouble finding a way to revalue the great contributions you make to the world. Maybe those neighbor kids who play with you every week–oh, what a great contribution that is to the world on your part!–should pay you–a check that is never cashed, a promise to pay it forward when they are adults and can make a difference in the life of a child, a picture of money you can see build up in a drawer somewhere. I know how tough it is to just value ourselves for who we are and what we do without the external acknowledgement like a paycheck. I have no thoughts on how to change that perception–but I do wish you luck. Your blogging community values your insights and sharing as well–you can take that to the bank too!

    • Coming East says:

      What a sweet, sweet comment, Robin. I think I should be paying those kids, though, for what they bring to my life. They do help me feel valued. And, of course, my family does, too. But you know what I mean.

  17. Robin says:

    oh, I do relate. I’m not retired, but in that spot where I’m parenting but trying to figure out what to do with myself once he doesn’t need me so much. Days do go quick and they are happy, but that’s the scary part because it’s so easy to just hang out status quo and then the years go by and you wonder where they went! Love to hear all your interests–the hardest part is what is an interest, and what is the one thing you eventually want to make your calling in life…so hard to decide when there are so many options out there!

    • Coming East says:

      I loved that time of parenting. That was my calling back then. The career was an afterthought. We needed another paycheck, and teaching seemed to fit with child rearing. So I know what you are feeling because I, too, felt that ache.

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