Grandpa Freund stopped by when I was running this morning. I don’t see him as much as I used to. We jointly reminisced about my childhood summers working together in his wood shop - him happy for the short time he lived past retirement. The specifics of his voice and laugh escape me, but I distinctly recall white hair, a smile, and lessons regarding quality craftsmanship in carpentry. I am thankful for those summers with him and Grandma, I told him, and for his patience in answering my every ‘why? before it was asked.
In 5th grade I was able to go fishing in Canada with ‘the boys.’ That year he taught me how to play pinochle - a slightly passé card game I love. A game that helped create friendships, and has brought me closer to my dad over the years. I know that there is a lot of Grandpa in my dad beyond appearance, mostly taking root behind any grill and loving his grandchildren. Sometimes I ponder how closely my adult relationship with dad mirrors dad’s relationship with Grandpa.
I remember Grandpa’s anecdote that went something like, “If I knew how much I could make doing this, I would have retired years ago.” He loved the wood-working, but disliked painting. For a long time I understood his anecdote to mean you can make plenty of money doing what makes you happy, what you are passionate about. Clearly, he lived in a much different time. Because I live in an era with stagnant income and no reliable social assurances from the government, I need a new interpretation of Grandpa’s wisdom. Perhaps if I live a simpler life more akin to his, I can find more happiness now (they raised 7 kids in a 3 bedroom house).
To build simplicity into my life, I have forced myself to consider what I have, what I ‘need,’ and the role objects play in my life. I keep learning, keep trying, but it is a process. My pursuit of greater simplicity and intentionality has lead me to this idea of cultivating a life - expanding simplicity beyond simply objects. I started this path to simplicity by sowing seeds on un-tilled land. The clutter only made for a modest harvest. Now, I am starting to hone techniques that may reap greater rewards. Of course floods and drought may uproot everything.
As I start reflecting on curating my life, I consider how life is curated for me as well. More than ever, the messages are interpreted, skewed, and modified to appeal to us - personalized. Whether it is social media, news sources, radio, or magazines - we are little more than a demographic, an audience, a consumer. The world is telling us whatever we want to hear so that we ‘stay tuned’. Time spent on Facebook or watching a certain news channel is how these companies make money. Did you hear that? Facebook's profit is based on how much of our time we give them. Our opinions are legitimized because our voice is the only one we hear, this divides our society. But more disconcerting is that we spend less time doing things we enjoy or activities that improve us intellectually or physically.
I am not saying that the external curation of our lives is not without benefit. People passionate about specific topics help us by making recommendations about the best books, articles, games, and shows. We have information about new ideas that could take a lifetime for each of us to accumulate, and we can find wisdom in this if we search for it. Seeking this wisdom is increasingly necessary because our new societal structure has limited our access or willingness to interact with the wisdom of our elders.
As I incessantly seek more knowledge in my pursuit of cultivating a life more aligned with the values I am forging, sometimes I get distracted. I love multitasking, but am starting to realize it can also create more stress in my life. I listen to podcasts while doing mundane activities that don’t need my active presence. However, this week has been stressful to me for many reasons and I recognized that multitasking just wasn’t the right thing to do. Being present for my mundane activities reduced my stress levels, quieted my mind, and helped me to be more at peace. Sometimes I have to sacrifice a little productivity for me - balance.
I doubt I will ever make enough money or have enough discipline to enjoy the happiness of early retirement. To be fair, I also have little idea of what gave him joy in retirement, and what would give me long-term joy. I do know that his joy in life ran much deeper than just his retirement vocation. A close-knit family, community, spirituality, and maybe a little competition were all there - even if I was too young to fully comprehend. But I hope that his wisdom and my intentionality can help me cultivate a life resembling the values, pace, and joy that were obvious in his laughter, smile, and purposeful retirement. Happiness today, tomorrow, and in the eventuality that I achieve retirement.