A brief history of time

I was running the vacuum cleaner on Saturday when something my mother said suddenly came back to me. It was on another weekend long ago when Mom came over to find me likewise cleaning the house. “That’s what people who work do,” she told me.

Retirees, by contrast, can do their housework any day they like. Time is flexible and there’s plenty of it, when there’s no place you have to be on a daily basis.

I am retired now, or at least semi-retired, ever since losing my job six months ago. Until then I always worked—and loved it.

I started out during high school as as a proofreader for my hometown newspaper in the days when huge linotype machines spit out trays of hot type. At deadline time I would go into the press room and read the headlines backward as burly operators made up the pages, inserting lead slugs to adjust the spacing. I’ll never forget the smell—or the noise.

My last job involved working out of a home office for a technology magazine published by a Silicon Valley company. My tools were a laptop, Internet connection and sophisticated publishing software. It’s as if a mechanic started out fixing Model T’s and ended his career tweaking Teslas.

In the spring I had whooping cough, so it was a blessing not to have to drag myself to the computer to work. From summer into fall there was a lot going on, including visits and visitors as well as major home improvement projects. So I haven’t been bored.

Having free time has taught me that time is subjective. Parkinson’s Law—which holds that work expands to fill the available time—is more than a cliché. When I was working, a trip to the grocery store was something squeezed into odd moments. Now, grocery shopping might make my morning. And no, that doesn’t feel sad.

Having time to myself is a luxury. Unless I have a morning appointment, I don’t bother setting an alarm clock, because—well, it doesn’t matter when I get up, except to the cats, who want their breakfast. I have plenty of time to read, another luxury, and time to see friends too.

But I can foresee a point, somewhere past the holidays, when things will slow down and I won’t have anything much to do. How will I like not working then? Will all of this free time be too much of a good thing? We all need structure in our lives, even if our so-called schedule is merely to know that “The Big Bang Theory” runs on Thursday nights (except, of course, when they move it to Mondays during football season).

I once asked a friend who had retired how she filled her time. Turns out she takes yoga several times a week, volunteers in a literacy program and said her house was cleaner than it ever had been when she worked.

That doesn’t sound too terrible. I wonder if she vacuums on Saturdays?

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