Stuck in a rut

The last two years of hibernation have taken their toll on everyone’s life. This forced change came at a time when lifestyle was going to change for me anyway, with another looming milestone: retirement.

My concept of retirement was of “active retirement” – a lifestyle I had promoted to seniors ahead of me in the queue, at the time when I wanted their money to fuel the travel and leisure businesses I owned: holidays, golf, hikes, entertainment, dining out, travel, reading good books, writing some, social gatherings with interesting people – go for it, man, I said. But when it has come to my turn now, those words have evaporated on me.

I still read good books, but have no material to write new ones, for the stimulus of people, places, and experiences have dried up. I play a lot of golf (in warmer weather) and hike, but social gatherings, dining out, entertainment, holidays, and travel are either severely circumscribed or have vanished completely. I feel short-changed as the years of “active senior” begin to count down and creep away from me.

Now, the thought of getting on an airplane with the myriad of new regulations to comply with and pay for, the thought that facilities and movement at the other end could be severely limited and subject to change, and the fact that a two-week vacation could end up stretching to four, or more, if some bug crept into our internal luggage systems, makes it not worth the hassle. Besides, if medical treatment is required while travelling, what facilities would be available in foreign countries from already strained resources? The “trip from hell” that was said to occur once in a hundred times seems now to have far better odds of happening.

Despite the lure of bigger screens and lounge seats, trips to the cinemas also happen only for blockbuster movies (think the latest James Bond or West Side Story) that are not available on the streaming services (yet), so the chance of that kind of outing is extremely rare, and then too, most likely for a matinee when the theatre would be nearly empty.

Forget parties, dances, and ball games. I have already forgotten how to hug and kiss, and I’m sure to be classified as a rude fellow when this is all over.

Talking of “over” – when will it be over? I look back at the time when all this “tunneling” and “bubbling” had never even occurred to us in our lives and when we moved about freely on plains, trains, and automobiles, gathered in crowded places, and were free. As the Big P (I dare not use the word, for I swore not to write about it in my last article) stretches into the third calendar year, that old life seems to have happened in another incarnation. I realize now how those who lived through WWII must have felt when that little skirmish across the British Channel didn’t end after Dunkirk and kept dragging on… and on.

What does a fiction writer write about today? Every writer has already written their “pandemic novel” by now, I’m sure, replete with ICUs, vaccines, conspiracies, honking truckers, barricaded bridges, and people dying in droves. I’ve written mine too, but will not publish it until the flood of Big P writing has washed over us and until my novel has a fair chance of not drowning in the flood. I even published a journal of Big P writing in 2021, a collection from thirty-three writers who were recording their thoughts during 2020. Looking at that assortment of scribbling from a distance today, it resembles a bunch of garbled thoughts better left in a time capsule for our descendants, perhaps five or more generations removed, who may want to discover the paranoia and hope of our time. Any writing set in a pre-pandemic era, even in 2019, will now be considered historical fiction, just like the telephone booth scene or the smoking-cigarette-in-an-office-cubicle scene would be categorized — anachronistic. And post-pandemic writing cannot even be imagined at this stage, for we aren’t out of this…this thing…yet, so anything we write about the “after” would be classified as fantasy.

Then I tried to console myself by thinking of others who had been less fortunate than me: those who lived in previous centuries and died before reaching half my age either through war, pestilence, or famine, because science had been at an earlier stage of evolution, or because might had been right; those suppressed writers in totalitarian regimes: Solzhenitsyn, Gordimer, Rushdie; even writers banned in our so-called liberal west: Nabokov, Lawrence, and Rowling; those whose movements were restricted when the sirens rang out during the Blitzkrieg over Britain; those whose homes and livelihoods were wiped out when the waters rose along the three dams area in China or during the South Asian tsunami of 2004 and the flooding in British Columbia in 2021.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?  Sometimes, doing nothing is also doing something, traversing the valley in order to get to the mountain, enduring the darkest hour of night before dawn breaks. So, we will continue to experience the journey, record impressions, and wait. That is all we can do. Wait.

As for my own retirement, I shouldn’t have fallen for my own sales pitch.

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