Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 879 Working with our hands

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery. 

Winston Churchill built a stone wall. Jimmy and Rosslyn Carter built houses. Brenda and I built a new entryway and porch on our house. Then we built a dining room with the consultation of a real carpenter. We then built a tricky deck off the dining room. We then moved inside with a couple of beds, an end table, hall table, stool for the hallway, and topped everything off with a round, walnut dining table that can expand to seat eight. There is something about working with the hands. Retirement gives us a chance to do something different with our lives. 

My wife and I taught school for over 20 years. I remember preparing and trying as hard as I could to do a good job. But at the end of the day the classroom was empty and I was never sure if anything stuck. Of course, I like to think the students were learning something that would help them navigate the world but I was never sure. 

That’s the thing about working with your hands. When you finish the job you can run your hand along a smooth surface, take a picture of it, sit on it or put things in the drawers. And once again the next day you can appraise your work with renewed consideration. You can even show it to other people and bask in momentary praise. It’s real.

Retirement offers lots of possibilities and working with our hands seems to be a favorite of a lot of us that used to do mind work. It isn’t for everyone but it certainly has its fans. My brother started getting tools and building furniture. He loves it. A friend in South Dakota started working with wood and is scheduled to take a fine woodworking class this fall. He wants just a week or two of instruction from a pro. 

I have another friend who sponsors this site who was trained as a geophysicist. He worked for an oil company in San Francisco for a short time. Threw it all away and moved from being a park ranger in Canyon du Che and Yellowstone to bike shop owner in Missoula, to fine woodworker in Bellingham. He tells me he is retired now though he works every day. He loves working with his hands. He also teaches woodworking on a very individualized basis in one or two week sessions. He is the one who guided Brenda and I in our furniture building venture. It pays to have good advice and good tools. He let us use his workshop. 

Art seems to be a favorite field of activity for retired folks. I have a good friend that started taking pottery classes at age 65. He took every class they offered in the art department at the local college. He lived into his 90s and was still throwing pots just before he died. Brenda took to water colors and she paints on a regular schedule. It is a flexible schedule but yet she tries to paint a couple of hours a day when life is going along in a normal fashion. While she does that I play the classical guitar. My hands are busy. I’ve been taking lessons off and on for over thirty years. I have a great teacher who has the patients of Job. Of course playing the guitar involves the mind as much as the hands. It is a good combination. 

The pursuit of music provides one of those paths of continuous movement. That’s where Spinoza thought happiness lies. Just a little improvement each day that is open ended. He pursued that avenue in the study of philosophy. It worked for him. I taught that stuff for 18 years and it worked for me at the time. But then I wanted to try something different.  Nowadays I’d rather use my hands as well as my mind in trying to pick out a beautiful sound. 

Constructing geodesic domes was the favorite activity of another of my friends. He loved the mathematics involved and the intricacies of designing the pieces, cutting them and assembling them. He constantly amazed me with a new dome of one size or another. He built them for his yard, he built them for his grandchildren. He built models and then turned them into bigger domes that sat on the floor, the yard or up in a tree. One hangs from a tree branch just outside my window right now.

I have another friend who is a potter. And I mean a professional potter. He has made his living by spinning the wheel and  bringing into being a beautiful new creation with his hands. He has been doing this since his college days. Now he continues each and every day. His retirement consists of continuous work with his hands. There is something about working with the hands that brings so much pleasure.

I always admired Winston Churchill’s effort to build a stone wall. I especially liked it because I understood that it did not wall anything in or anything out. It was just a stone wall that started and stopped without rhyme or reason. Spinoza would have approved. Building the wall provided movement. And evidently it was working with his hands that brought some sort of happiness near the end of life.


This is retirement talk.






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