Paradoxes and Temporal Displacements
By Gene Wilburn
“Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind” ~ Dan Siegel, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human
“Seems like only yesterday I left my mind behind” ~ Bob Dylan
Like Autolicus, I too was littered under Mercury and am likewise a snapper up of unconsidered trifles. I don’t believe in astrology, of course, but I can’t help noting that I’m Geminian as hell. Sun, Moon, Mercury, Uranus in Gemini (with Mercury and Uranus in conjunction in the 11th house and Sun and Moon in conjunction as well). Life loves paradoxes. I’m not only Geminian, but an aging Gemini, embarked, as I write this, on my seventh decade of life.
Ah life. “Don’t talk to me about life,” quipped Marvin, the depressed robot, but I have no choice. It’s a Geminian imperative to talk, write, think, and otherwise communicate about things like “life, the universe and everything.” Or sometimes nothing at all. “Nothing will come of nothing,” spake Lear, but I’ve noticed it’s ofttimes the little nothings that add up to something.
So let’s set the scene: I’m an aging writer, photographer, and amateur folksinger, and I have a final goal: to convey some of what it’s like to be old and getting older, living in an aging mind, and to present this in a way that may solicit from you, as reader, a sense of camaraderie. Not that I expect us to get all Three-Musketeery—“One for all and all for one”—but I hope my thoughts will elicit some resonance in you as a fellow traveller on the road of life. We’re like the travellers in Canterbury Tales, each with a story or more to tell as we pass the scenery of time. These essays are some of my stories.
Time itself (“What is time? Does it really exist?”) plays a role in these stories. Especially temporal displacement. As I age I find that past and present often merge in startling, sometimes bizarre, ways. The news tells of the launch of a new communications satellite, and I remember the day Sputnik I was launched. I read about the American Civil War, and recall a current newspaper picture showing the last four Civil War veterans riding in an open limousine in a Southern U.S. Fourth of July parade. We experience an electrical outage and I’m suddenly back living in a farmhouse with no electricity or indoor plumbing. I once sat on Hopalong Cassidy’s lap to have my picture taken. In a post-television era, I still sprawl on the floor with my buddies watching the test pattern on our neighbour’s TV, waiting for the Howdy Doody Show. Things get mixed together and jumbled. Not yet in a failing brain kind of way but in an enriched tapestry of tales in which time doesn’t exist. In the present.
So, you say, what does this have to do with squirrels, and why “Retired Squirrel” anyway?
I’ll come back to my buddies, the local grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), from time to time. They live in three large leaf nests, or “dreys,” in the trees overlooking our back yard–an oak, a birch, and a pine tree. I feed them roasted peanuts in the shell, tossing them to the base of a large maple tree, then watch and study them from the kitchen window as I eat breakfast. They’ve become my totem animal. I identify with their greed for peanuts, their alert perkiness, their bushy tails, and their three-dimensional acrobatics. They’re as at home in the trees as I am in my thoughts, and as they leap from branch to branch, I find in this a metaphor for connectedness and alternate pathways. They don’t obey property borders in the same way I don’t always respect intellectual borders. Also, I’ve been a longtime fan of Rocky, the Flying Squirrel and his pal Bullwinkle, and that’s sufficient to warp anyone’s mind.
I’ve now been retired for over a decade, yet am only just beginning to get the hang of it. It’s a mental whammy to have led a life based on the delivery deadlines of computing services suddenly to find yourself free, dead stop. Freedom may be liberating, but it’s also frightening. Your support infrastructure is gone and you have to create one to take its place. But what should it be? Old habits from work days spill over into retirement, such as a ceaseless need to keep up with technology and tame it to serve current projects. Then you realize, slowly and gradually, that you don’t have to do this anymore—unless your really want to. But do you?
And that’s where it gets existential. What you make of retirement is partly based on your health, and partly on what you can create from your free time. I once considered signing up for the shuffleboard period at our local senior centre, in order to expand my now-depleted social life, but I came to my senses. So I’ve turned to other ways of connecting with people, such as photo-buddy lunches, outings with good friends, song circles, and, not least, social media. Facebook owns me, but only because I allow it to. I’ll come back to Facebook from time to time as well.
And so, as I age, I have learned to concentrate on those things that bring me the greatest joy and creativity: reading, writing, photography, and music. And on my friends and relatives, for we never know when any of us will disappear from the fabric of life.
This is the saddest part of aging—the deaths of those around us and of the cultural icons we grew up with. Think Leonard Cohen as a single example. And my dear Uncle Cliff who took me fishing on Lake of the Woods. Life is emptier now and will continue to get more empty. That’s the end cycle of life. As I face my own demise, life gets more synoptic. I have been granted the luxury to contemplate my life as a whole, in the way I watch the squirrels bound from limb to limb, and it is in this spirit that I begin this series of essays.
What about religion? Does it have any place in my thoughts? All the time. I’ve thought hard about religion since I was a child. Organized name-brand religion is something I outgrew, but the religious spirit, the longing to be part of a whole, to resonate with the whole, stripped of the supernatural, is something that has stayed with me. I’m scientifically an atheist with a Jungian religious awe of the universe and all that is in it. Life loves paradoxes.
If you think you’d be interested in following this series, which I hope to write with some regularity, do me a favour and add yourself to the notification list so you receive an email alerting you to each posted essay. If you’d like to start a dialogue on any of these topics, feel free to do so. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, but know in advance I may not be able to keep up with you. I’m moderately bright, but am more poet than pundit (though not opposed to puns), and I’ll probably fail to respond as intellectually as you’d like. But that’s okay. Even Geminis have their merits, though, as I say, I don’t believe in astrology.