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  IDEAS & IDEALS

An Excuse for Writing Less

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“And miles to go before I sleep,    
 And miles to go before I sleep.”

                                  - by Robert Frost


           The other day I met one of my old friends who knew I had retired recently. He said jokingly, "You must be happier now than ever, because you have so much time to spend on writing."  Before I made any reply, he added nonchalantly, "Are you not retiring from your writing?’’ He has been one of the few good readers of my essays for many years since I started to write. "Why? Should I?’’ I responded. "No. I was just curious. I have never heard of the retirement of writers. Writers never quit writing. As far as I know, they keep on writing until they die.’’
    
     On my way home on the bus I pondered on the topic broached out casually by my friend. In fact his remark stung my conscience considerably because I remembered having complained to him about the agony of writing so many times in the past, and about my intention of closing my column soon.
    
     Frankly speaking, however, I have to confess  now that I am far from retiring from writing, mentally as well as psychologically. On the contrary, I find myself clinging to it more tightly than ever. Writing has been one of the most important preoccupations besides my teaching profession until now. Now in retirement, I will be given more time, nay, too much time to handle, and I can use it very effectively and usefully for writing more pieces. I feel secretly happy and even ambitious.
    
     To tell the truth, I always wanted to write more often, but I could not do so simply because I had no time to write, I thought. As a breadwinner in a family I had to use most of my time and energy on the work my job required me to do first. With my retirement, I expect me to be completely freed from all the cumbersome duties that have consumed most of my time and energy, and I can devote myself entirely as well as exclusively to writing only. What a blessing!

     But I was wrong and innocent in the thinking and expectation that I could write more if only I were given more time. Three months have passed since my retirement, and definitely I am blessed with much more leisure than ever, but the crop of my writings, I find, remains far below my wishes and expectations. With much effort I have produced only two pieces since my retirement, and I struggled to finish one more piece before the end of May, but May is already over, and I am dragging this unprofitable and futile work well into June.

     I have been puzzling over the matter for weeks. How can I explain the poor results of my writing with so much time on my hands? Have I grown too old to write? Have I exhausted all my resources? Do I have to retire from writing, as my friend hinted the other day? I feel sad, impatient, and even angry with myself.

     I tried to find out some excuse or justification for my disappointing as well as frustrating performance in writing, and I arrived at an absurd conclusion: I had no time to write. Now I don't have any particular or regular job that occupies me from morning to evening as I did, but there was always something to be done by me at home. I can hardly imagine how I could have devoted myself wholly to the tasks at the office without caring a bit about the goings on at home. Where have all the office hours that I had spent away from home gone? With my office work gone, I feel myself busier than ever before.

     But I know I am lying. I am not busy. I just want to look more important than I really am. I just pretend to be busy before friends and colleagues who are still working, even before my wife and married children whenever they ask me how I am doing in retirement. I feel somewhat ashamed and awkward to admit that I have no work to do and nowhere to go, and that I am always available to anyone. I hate to be regarded as a man who leads a very idle and boring life.

     By now, however, the monotony of daily life has taken deep root in me, and I come to savor and appreciate it day by day. There is virtually nothing new, interesting or exciting happening to me. Now I do not regret a whole day spent sitting in my armchair remembering the past. I can look out at the trees swaying to and fro in the wind through the open window for hours without boredom. I love the silence of my house. The ringing of the telephone bell is the sole breaker of the silence, and I welcome it. Solitude is my best companion now.

     In short, I am in the ideal conditions for writing. This is the very atmosphere I had anxiously yearned for so much and for so long before I retired. Nothing is untoward for my writing. Everything is auspicious as well as favorable for it. But, aye, there’s the rub. I have been worrying over this piece for more than a month, and still I am stuck on it.

     In retrospect, this is not the first time I have ever come to an impasse in writing. I have been through this quandary many times before in the past, whenever I started to write a piece. None has ever progressed so smoothly to the end. It has always halted, jolted, balked, and stopped on the way once or twice without exception. I have often lost my way and wandered through the woods of confusion, doubt and disappointment with the topic I had chosen. An enormous amount of precious time and energy was wasted in the meantime, and often I thought of giving up in the middle for fear that I would never be able to finish the piece for good. Often I regretted having started to write it at all.

     Fortunately or unfortunately there is no mandatory age limit to writing, nor any other standard procedures for writers to observe concerning the termination of their work. But I know it is not far from me. Writing familiar or personal essays, like mine, is a continuous process of exhausting oneself - all his or her resources little by little. I wish I could stay as long as possible in the arena of writing, but I know I am a man of small resources, and I have already exhausted much of what I had, and there is nothing much left in me. I don't have many miles to go before I cease writing.             
    (June12, 2006)

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