I attended a writers’ conference two weeks ago. I’m still working (reworking) my plans for life without Rick after retirement. We had big plans for our golden years, well laid-out plans. We started our web design business in 2001 with the goal of having plenty of work that we could enjoy doing together remotely from our favorite spot in Florida half the year, and back near our family in Michigan in the warmer months.
Rick was very goal-oriented. He came up with the idea 20 years before he would be able to retire, and I thought it was a wonderful idea. He was actually able to “semi-live out” the dream. He took a buyout from his job 5 years before his official retirement age and spent those years riding his bicycle and drumming up new web clients each morning, working on the sites while I was at work in the afternoons, then cooking our dinner and chilling in the evenings. I’m so thrilled that he had those years to enjoy himself, because he died at 63 – just after the social security kicked in and a year before I would have been able to join him on those Florida trips where we’d sit by the pool working on websites instead of being holed up in the frigid Michigan winters.
So, our plan for our golden years together never came to fruition. Now I need a new plan. A “me only” plan.
My grief therapist got me started working on that about a year after Rick died. I started mulling over ideas and created a vision board for my future. She said to keep the things I enjoyed doing with him and start figuring out things that are totally “me.” What do I want to do alone after retirement? What keeps me fulfilled? I can do anything my heart desires – albeit alone.
I turned 65 last November. Retirement is just around the corner. I’m starting to fit some of those desires into my life NOW, so I can smoothly transition to them when I have those 40 extra hours at my disposal. I’m doing “retirement prep work.” So, I’m cleaning out the house in case I decide to make a move, I’m scoping out smaller homes and apartments, and I’m taking vacation days to attend virtual writing conferences so I can be more immersed in the field of writing, meet other writers, and gain inspiration for my own creative endeavors that I’ll have plenty of time to pursue in the future.
In one of the events at last month’s writers’ conference, I learned of a medium I didn’t know existed: erasure poetry. It’s creating a poem by deleting words and letters from any published text: newspaper articles, ad flyers, etc.
Instead of a news article, I decided to try my hand at erasure poetry by creating a smaller poem out of another poem. My favorite poem.
One night, when Rick and I were dating, I read him “Love Is Not All,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I had attained my degree in English the year before I met him, and the house was still filled with piles of books on literature and poetry. In fact, he told me that was one of the things that drew him to me. He was an avid reader; I think he read more books than almost anyone I’ve ever known. He said when he saw all the books I had lying around the house, he knew we were kindred spirits.
He wasn’t that familiar with poetry, so I often read my favorites to him – especially the romantic ones, since we were courting, after all. He lived in Minnesota then and flew back to Michigan every weekend. One Friday, on a late-night flight, he decided to surprise me by memorizing the poem. Needless to say, I married him. My friend recited it at our wedding – and then again, in an impromptu reading she performed at Rick’s memorial.
Erasing letters and words from the original poem was an odd experience. I didn’t have a clue how it would end until I had finished. Then, sadly, I realized the significance of what resulted. I had removed words and phrases from the love poem we shared just as I have removed (erased) Rick from my life and our plans for the future.
The resulting erasure poem is how bereft I feel without him.
Here’s the original poem followed by the new creation.
Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX)
Edna St. Vincent Millay – 1892-1950
Love is not all; it is not meat nor drink Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again; Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; Yet many a man is making friends with death Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. It well may be that in a difficult hour, Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, Or nagged by want past resolution's power, I might be driven to sell your love for peace, Or trade the memory of this night for food. It well may be. I do not think I would.