“sometimes i sits and thinks…”

Musings of releasing oneself from the need to be productive.

I had a poster when I was a teen with this quote: “sometimes i sits and thinks and sometimes i just sits” 
― Satchel Paige or A.A. Milne, depending on your source of information.

I ponder now why that saying intrigued me at the time. I am guessing I thought it was about being a thinker, a deep thinker. Perhaps a philosopher. What I know is it what very different from what was expected of me. I have vivid memories of several incidents of my parents yelling at me and my sibs when they came into the house from the morning milking and finding us not working, thus being lazy. They had gone to the barn at 5:30 am, so the affront was we were still in bed, after 9 a.m., or sitting around the house in our PJs. One morning, Dad berated me for playing solitaire, while still in my PJs. So perhaps the poster’s declaration, the permission, of the activity of non-activity, was a unique thought for me. (After becoming a parent, I realized my parents didn’t tell us their expectations of us, gave us no direction about chores or behavior they wanted. Maybe if they had given us some guidance we would have behaved differently? Who knows.)

When I was a child, my mother shared a hurt of hers, that a relative told her father that her then-fiance was lazy. My mother cared deeply what other people thought, and spent a fair amount of her farm life aiming to disprove any laziness existed on our farm. Overtly doing nothing useful did not further her goal.

My mother never had idle hands. After we bought a TV, when she watched in the evening, her hands were busy darning socks, knitting or crocheting her latest creations. She taught me to knit and crochet (not how to darn socks though!) so I soon had busy hands while watching TV.

I enjoyed the sitting and thinking part of life, especially as a student. I loved pondering ideas teachers introduced. Two of my favorite classes at college were Ethics and Philosophy. My friends grew so tired of me repeating my newfound information and revelations from Philosophy class they banned me from postulating at mealtimes. After college, I enjoyed Bible studies, professional workshops; any form of information dissemination and discussion. I savored the passage in the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof:

” And I’d discuss the learned books with the holy men
Seven hours every day
That would be the sweetest thing of all “

I too, dreamed of sitting around and pondering those learned books. That aspect of seminary was one I relished when I thought of attending seminary. (I wanted to attend seminary since I was a kid. I didn’t end up going but held on to it as a potential for decades.) I did attend graduate school for a master’s in social work and thoroughly enjoyed the classroom again. I even took another ethics class!

As I grew up I followed my parents’ example of ceaseless work. But not by living on a farm! I avoided getting serious with any guy, even those handsome ones, who were becoming farmers. I had no interest in the consuming life of a farmer’s wife. It sounded limiting to live in one place, and there was a whole world out there. I also observed that my parents were not happy when they lived on the farm and left when I was a teenager. Their contentment seemed more apparent when they were no longer dairy farmers.

After my first job out of college, as a church youth worker, the rest of the jobs I pursued were Monday-Friday, with weekends off. But I filled those weekends with avid church involvement, then later added marriage and children. When I started working in the school district and had ten weeks off in the summer, I saw that as an enormous amount of time. I immediately signed my five-year-old daughter up for four sessions of swim lessons, as I had no idea how to have that much unstructured time with my child. I even volunteered to pick up a friend of hers, which added at least an hour to the summer-long swim lesson venture.

I kept up this frenetic pace, working full time, having two children, and certainly not slowing down when being a single parent. I remember one weeknight: the children were in bed, it was nine p.m, and I was thinking of the tasks I felt I needed to complete before allowing myself to turn in. I paused, took stock, and realized I was exhausted. It struck me in some cultures, some parts of the world, when people are tired, they go to bed. I realized that was a reasonable response to being tired, but I don’t think I allowed myself to go to bed. And now I read articles supporting the benefits of a good night’s sleep, such as this one.

All of my life, however, I have stopped to observe a sunrise, a sunset or a rainbow. Usually with exclamations of appreciation and encouragement of those around me to enjoy it as well. If we move, my husband and I both want a clear view of at least the sunrise or sunset from our new abode. And a place that delivers the sunsets we get in Kansas. Sweet stuff!

Sunset at Baker Wetlands, Lawrence, KS

Gradually, my buy-in to the busyness of life started shifting. I heard the term, “be a human being, not a human doing”. That intrigued me and hearkened me back to my lovely poster. I no longer wanted to live by my parents’ perceptions of laziness. I didn’t need to face their demons or live according to their fears. Several things happened: I left my small church, where I volunteered for a variety of responsibilities, and joined a big church where less was needed of me, and anonymity was possible. I married someone who does not enjoy attending a multitude of activities, especially where a lot of people are gathered. I started getting more selective of outings, especially on weeknights. And I realized I appreciated the spaces between activities, even started craving the downtime.

When retirement was imminent, I was often asked what I would be doing. I boldly and emphatically replied, “Nothing!” Even though I gave myself permission to do nothing, a lifetime of inculcation to be a productive human being did not evaporate with retirement. It reminded me of a passage in the popular 1970 romance novel “Love Story”. Oliver and Jenny, the main characters, have fallen madly in love, and marry. They had sex prior to their marriage but felt guilty about it. After they marry, Oliver observes that the act of marrying did not automatically turn off the guilt associated with having sex. I am thinking this is true for me with retirement: it has been a process to turn off the expectation that it is necessary to be productive, to be that human doing. Instead of feeding that notion of productivity through working a job, I have now translated to being productive in our home and it’s upkeep. I haven’t thrown myself into it, so it is my current focus of guilty thoughts. I am hoping to find an equilibrium, less dissonance, between my personal expectations and my actions. Winter is an easier time to reduce the nagging thoughts, as there is little yard work to be done.

Last year, a friend introduced me to a series of books I am finding absolutely delightful. I had been reading a ton of murder mysteries series and had commented to Ken I would prefer reading a mystery book sans someone being murdered. The series my friend recommended is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. The protagonist, Precious Ramotswe, lives in Botswana. With her father’s inheritance, she starts a detective agency. I have read 15 books, and so far, no one’s been murdered. Sometimes the interactions or the characters’ behaviors in the books feel trite, but then there are jewels like this, from The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, #14): “There was no reason why one should always be on the move. That was half the trouble with the world, she [Precious Ramotswe] thought: not enough people took the time to sit down for a few minutes and look up at the sky or at whatever it was that was before you—a herd of cattle, perhaps, or a stretch of bush dotted with acacia trees, or the sinking of the evening sun into the Kalahari. “

Each book has similar sentiments, which I am eagerly reading to help flip that switch in my brain that productivity is the only operative way to live. In this series, Mma Ramotswe pairs her thinking time with her red bush tea, which I had not heard of. When I investigated, I found it is called Rooibos tea by the transplanted Europeans and is from a particular bush in South Africa. Here’s more information for tea lovers. I easily found the tea locally and was delighted when I enjoyed the taste immensely. It’s my cue now, to brew a cup of Rooibos and contemplate the ease of just sitting and being. I have not released all of the work ethic inculcations of my childhood, but I am eager to continue to “work” at it.

Pokémon Go Revisited

In February I posted this blog about playing the mobile game Pokémon Go.  My point was that I played the game in a compulsive manner, concerned I was approaching an addictive place with it.  I had abstained in January, to assess and basically get a grip on what was going on for me.  I started playing again in February, with some detachment in place.  I am now playing daily again.

So what’s changed about my playing? 

In February I posted this blog about playing the mobile game Pokémon Go.  My point was that I played the game in a compulsive manner, concerned I was approaching an addictive place with it.  I had abstained in January, to assess and basically get a grip on what was going on for me.  I started playing again in February, with some detachment in place.  I am now playing daily again.

So what’s changed about my playing?  Several things:

The statement I made in February that I had times of playing while driving and this is distracted driving, stayed with me.  I am aware now.  I am surprised how a public statement has helped me change my own behavior. (I may keep this in mind when I am ready to change other unwanted behaviors!)

This is a fun game my husband and I enjoy playing together.  I understand I can take this to an obsessive place.  To monitor myself, I am pacing my playing more closely with my husband’s.  This is working for me.

Here are some facets of the game that have increased the gaming fun:

1. My husband and I, in May, finally played a part of the game both of us had been avoiding. We played in raids which involved playing with other Pokémon Go players!  It was quite accidental.  We had been doing raids just the two of us could raid successfully.  There are many more raids that take more than two players, so we were limiting our playing. One day while on our walk, we tried a raid at a park and were unsuccessful at winning that raid.  A young couple drove up, asked if we were doing this raid, and we explained we had tried and been defeated.  They offered to help.  First, the woman looked at our particular set of Pokémon and told us which ones to use.  This was a very helpful gesture and made us more informed players.  They then helped us win a raid and invited us to another raid at another Pokémon Gym in town. We went with them and were able to join a raid for a type of Pokemon that we couldn’t duo, called a Legendary Pokémon. We had so much fun meeting people who were actively involved in enjoying all aspects of the game.  We didn’t exchange contact information but saw this couple and many other players through a well-established gaming website called Discord.   For the most part, people who post on this site use the name of their Pokémon trainer instead of their given names.  As we have met up with people at raids, we are beginning to learn their names and a little more about them. We have raided with people in political offices, young adults I knew through my work, and a variety of folks from all walks of life.  We are definitely some of the oldest people playing locally.

What is different for me is I am not obsessively going out and joining raids, as I might have in the past.  I pace myself with my husband, as his interest waxes and wanes.

2. Pokémon Go has added new features that encourage meeting other trainers (people who play Pokémon Go).  Since January, once a month there is an event called Community Day.  For three hours, a specific Pokemon is released, with a shiny version of it as well. (Shiny Pokémon gained popularity in the card games and the Nintendo games.  There are many Pokémon Go players who have played these, so shiny Pokémon has an established allure.)

The left Charizard is the typical one, the right Charizard is a shiny one.

It usually has a new move that it has not had before, which makes it an improved Pokémon.   We learned the best place to participate in Community Day is at our wonderful downtown. It is dense in PokeStops, which means many Pokémon are spawning there as well.  We have participated since February, and are now recognizing people and chat about how many shiny Pokemon we have caught.  We also talk to people we don’t know because we can tell if they are playing Pokémon Go.

The local Pokémon Go Discord group organized a gathering for these Community Days. We get a ticket for a raffle for every canned good we bring for a local food pantry.  Our local paper wrote a story about it.

Pokémon Go has offered monthly Raid Days this past summer, where a legendary Pokémon was the only raid option in all of the gyms for three hours. The local Pokémon Go community quickly organized this as well.  At the beginning of the event, we gather at the South Park gazebo and split into teams.  There have probably been around sixty people who show up. There are three teams in the game, and there are advantages to raid with team members.  The groups can be as small as four, depending on the players’ trainer’s strength in the game.  The last two times I have volunteered to be a leader of a group.  It is an absolute riot to do this.  We walk together to a gym site, like the county courthouse, do the raid which can take 5-10 minutes, then move to the next gym site.  I help create a private raid group, make sure we are all ready, and then decide when to move as a group to the next raid site.  I have my limits as a leader; some of the leaders are more savvy about techniques of raiding than I am.  But it takes me back to my work days when I took students on field trips to local colleges.  My work skills have come in handy!

There are players who want to raid quickly as their goal is to do as many raids as possible.  We are not in that category.  The last raid group I lead was comprised of family members and new players.  I love being in raids with children who are so expressive about their thrill of catching their Pokémon.  And seeing grandparents, parents and children playing together.  It’s just adorable.

To an onlooker, we look, um, interesting, as we move in groups of around a dozen people, clump around a certain spot for a bit, tapping our mobile devices, then moving on. (We do need to work on our sharing-the-sidewalk skills.) What an onlooker may miss is the amount of interacting we are doing while tapping our phones.  I have met people in these raid events, and have become friends in the Pokémon Go game.  On our morning walk, Ken and I ran into one of the people we had met on a raid and got to know each other better.  We found out he is a retired local police officer.  How cool!

Non-players hanging out in downtown Lawrence are starting to figure us out.  One time we walked past several panhandlers, who, when we said “Hi”, said, “You’re playing Pokémon Go, right?”  They know the look too.

My first EX Raid
I was so excited about this opportunity, I asked the other EX Raid invitees if I could take a group picture. I am now friends with several of them, within the game.

Another feature is the EX Raid, that certain gyms in which we raid are eligible for the EX Raid pass.  When we raid at these gyms, it can result in being invited to a raid for a legendary Pokémon only attainable through the EX Raid.  These raids are at a set time, with no option to change that time.  Which wasn’t too hard for my retired self, but more of a challenge for people with, you know, jobs. I managed to get invited six times, and attended four of them.   I missed two of them as I was out of town for friend or family commitments.

Becoming friends is a new feature of the game.  I am not sure “friends” is an accurate word for this, as I don’t have to know these people to become friends.  We are given a “trainer code” and exchange each other’s codes.  We build our “friendships” by interacting in a couple of ways in the game.  If we interact daily, our friendship level can increase at a daily pace as well.  They have extra perks for reaching the highest level of friendship; best friends. (Since I don’t have to know these people to become friends, I think it is wise that we do not have a direct messaging system, as this could lead to exploitation.  Pokémon Go is intended to be a family game, so it should stay kid-friendly and kid-safe.)

3.  When Pokémon Go first came out, it exploded worldwide with players.  After several months, the number of players dramatically declined, although it still was stayed at the top of mobile games played.  My adult children and extended family were in that mass exodus. With these new features, there has been renewed interest in the game, including my adult children and my extended family.  We have now raided together, become friends in the game and talk about the latest news.  I send them screenshots when I catch something interesting, and sometimes they send me something too.  I pretty much love this added interaction with them.

I know I play Pokémon Go more often than some folks and not as much as others we have met these last few months.  It is a fun activity for my husband and me.  My parents square-danced together, Ken and I play Pokemon Go together.  I’m going to continue to get out there and play.  I just don’t need to “catch ’em all” anymore.

We are so cute!

My husband and I found each other in our 50’s, and appreciate what a gift it is to be together. Between the two of us, we have a string of what society refers to as failed marriages and relationships. We see them as experiences that brought us where we are today, which is with each other. We do not regret our paths, indeed we can look on them with wonderment about how those bumps got us where we are today. One big aspect of our current relationship is we take responsibility for our own feelings; we don’t blame each other for what we feel. This saves a lot of time, energy and conversations and frees us up to enjoy each other. I have been familiar with this concept for decades but actually practice it now. The payoff for taking responsibility for myself is more time for unmitigated joy.
Ken and I take walks together every day the weather is agreeable to us. Shortly after the tree fell on our house last October, we were walking in our neighborhood. A neighbor saw us and ran over to introduce himself and inquire about our house and our welfare. We got to talking and at one point he commented he had seen us on our walks, and how cute we were.
When the weather isn’t agreeable, we sometimes mall walk. We don’t have a local mall, so we walk in box stores. While walking the perimeters of one, on our second lap we passed the same staff person stocking on a ladder and she smiled endearingly at us. My husband said, “She thinks we’re cute”. We talked about these two incidents. Both people were being complimentary, but it also felt dismissive, like we were being patted on the head, and not taken seriously.

I Googled “Cute Older Couples” and found a Pinterest category! Cute Older Couples  It has pictures of couples who appear a decade or so older than Ken and me. I studied the pictures to see what qualified them for this cute category. Besides the fact they were noticeably elderly,  they were visibly engaged with each other, either by touching, actively doing something together, or looking at each other. A lot of them were smiling. I decided I would rather categorize these pictures as “Loving Couples”. I am obviously wanting to be rid of the word “cute”. It occurred to me elderly loving couples may appear cute because they are an anomaly. I hope I am wrong. It seems, though, I see a fair amount of couples who are together but don’t seem to be engaged with each other. I think about the developmental stage used to describe toddlers who engage in parallel play. They are in proximity to each other, but playing separately. I know the busyness of life together can easily result in being in parallel play mode, and not engaged with each other. I think it’s a reason some couples dread retirement; they have forgotten why they played together in the first place. Maybe the elderly couples who look cute have kept that gift of enjoying each other.

My husband and I walk in the world, hand in hand and are smiled upon. It may be dismissive, but that will only last until they get to know us. Then they will find two people who have walked around the block several times, have fallen down, picked ourselves up, and learned that there is plenty in life to be happy about. They will learn we look cute because we are ridiculously happy, individually and as a couple. We relish our time together, and now that we are unfettered with jobs, we delight even more in our activities, recognizing this time together as the gift that it is.