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© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2002
What do you mean, "nothing?"
That's the second question people ask after they ask me what I am going to do when I retire.
Since the Hindus or the Babylonians or the Maya, depending on whose public relations releases you believe, invented zero more than a thousand years ago, you wouldn't think the concept would be so difficult to grasp.
"Gonna write a book?" they ask.
Probably not. Writing is work. I have always looked at retirement as a cessation of work, although many of my retired friends see it differently. Besides, I've been involved in a couple of book efforts, both of them bad. I love my fellow readers too much to foist another one off on them. (And if I do, I'm sure some future reviewer will find this online and use it -- with my blessings.)
"Gonna play a lot of golf?"
I've never played golf. I swing a golf club and a baseball bat, for some reason, left-handed, although I do other things right-handed, and none of my friends has ever had left-handed clubs to teach me to play.
The only times I have been on a golf course, other than to write about it, occurred during my misspent youth when vandalism was the object. (Not real vandalism, just swiping the occasional flag or writing obscene suggestions on the ball-washer.)
Besides, I have an addictive personality. If anyone ever gets me on the golf course, I might never get off. It took me five years to kick the Pac-Man habit. (Readers younger than 30, please ask your parents or grandparents about Pac-Man and Pong.)
Nope. Yardwork was punishment when I was a kid. I now sign checks to the yard guy as punishment.
I am going to travel as much as my budget will allow (Budget. Who am I kidding? As far as my credit cards will stretch.) But one of the things I like about traveling is that it gives you a lot of opportunities to do nothing in pleasant and interesting surroundings.
I didn't come by my dedication to doing nothing lightly. I noticed years ago that retired friends in this area were always the hardest to reach. They were always "doing something." I discovered early on that I couldn't keep up with them and decided right then to begin preparing myself for the future.
My fellow Zen Buddhists have no difficulty with the concept of nothing. Much of our religious philosophy is built around nothingness and its potential and the transitory nature of existence.
When I meditate, I sit and concentrate on nothing.
(Pause here for fellow workers and managers to shrug and say, "What's new.")
When I retire, I will do, for the most part, nothing.
(Pause here for managers to say, "What's new.")
It's still a year and a half in the future, but I have always believed that one must approach the concept of doing nothing with careful preparation and readiness.
I have selected a place in Colorado where I plan on studying Zen Buddhism, and its relationship to what we call the Void.
I have selected another place where I will sit in a hot spring and do nothing, except maybe read.
Okay, you caught me. I'll be reading, which to most people is doing something.
But to most people, reading is doing nothing. That's why they feel comfortable in interrupting you while you are doing it to inform you of things like full litter boxes, the fact that meals are prepared, that the house is on fire or that your column was due to be filed an hour ago.
But I know the truth.
I spent a major part of many childhood evenings reading under the covers with a flashlight and, adult promises to the contrary, it didn't ruin my eyes. (Something else did that, maybe too many years of looking at computer terminals) but when I was asked, after a sharp rap on the door, what I was doing, I knew the right answer.