Imagining a Narrative

Early Spring Rhubarb at the Farm

It’s been difficult to imagine myself in a post worklife world.

When I left my last transportation job work no longer defined me. I could become something new and different. Ten years later work continues to occupy a role in my story. That’s not unusual in the United States. I also don’t think it is that good.

Mostly retired, a pensioner, I lack a forward-looking narrative. Living a life, working part time for wages, those are not worth narration. They are part of the human journey, the arc of which often seems uncertain.

So I drift… read and write. I will read and write as long as I’m able… and take care of necessities.

Framing a life in work was abandoned. The actuality of it proved harder than writing these words. If I spend time in public, outside the flickering light of lamps and screens… sunlight through the French door, I’ll want a narrative more than “I’m a pensioner.”

I like the word pensioner, yet it’s an unusual introduction. My pension is from Social Security, it is real, and it pays many of our expenses. It reflects more than 50 years of work, during which I contributed to the fund. “I am a pensioner” seems okay, but I wouldn’t lead with that because it sounds so awkward, so work-related. There is more to life than a reference to work that generated a pension.

I told a life story in my post Autobiography in 1,000 Words, which seems long for a personal narrative. I like the facts presented yet they doesn’t say who I am, who I’m trying to be. Maybe I’d better know that first.

Should I present as writer? People recognize me as such. I don’t like talking about writing projects, so no, I wouldn’t lead with that.

Should I present as a gardener? I garden and post about gardening in multiple places. Why does a personal narrative have to be about only one thing? It doesn’t.

To whom would I tell a personal narrative if developed? I think about Dunbar’s Number and the cognitive limits it suggests. If we only get 150 stable relationships because of physiological limits, why am I even worrying about a personal narrative? My 150 knows me and I know them. Isn’t that enough?

Last Saturday a group gathered at Old Brick in the county seat and discussed political advocacy. That’s where this post about personal narrative originated — I felt I needed an elevator speech as I introduced myself. We all need a brief chat about who we are when meeting people.

I am genuinely interested in meeting people and hope any conversations will be more about them rather than me. If I talk in terms of their interests, it’s because I’m curious about how people live their lives. I need to hold up my side of the conversation.

“Hi. I’m Paul, a pensioner from rural Johnson County. I spent 50 years in the work force and now I’m here talking to you. What’s your name?”

I don’t know, pretty lame. It’s a conversation starter, and could lead somewhere the way an ignition switch on an automobile begins a trip. It’s not flashy but may serve. Maybe that’s all that’s needed and I’m over thinking this. Maybe such a brief speech is enough.

The arc of life is bending toward the unknown — an opportunity to imagine what could be. Maybe that’s the narrative, at least it could be.

4 replies on “Imagining a Narrative”

Maybe this?
“Hi. I’m Paul, from rural Johnson County Iowa. I have 50 years of experience in many different fields. They have led me here with you. What’s your name?”

Your challenge is one I’ve faced, too. My career isn’t nearly as varied. But, I have a lot of experiences few in the world can claim. They make me who I am.

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When meeting people, I often mention the parts of myself that relate somehow to the current situation or to which I think they might be interested or have a connection. For example, at writing group introductions, I usually just tell what genres I write and mention having a few published stories. But, if I meet a former/current school librarian, I’ll probably mention that I’m a former teacher. If there’s someone who comes from the Midwest, I’ll bring up that I’m originally from Michigan. So, it’s kind of an “as needed” approach, you might say. There’s a big problem, I think, with us being defined by our jobs. We get so used to it, because that’s what we think and breathe, and when we retire it’s such a challenge to find where we fit. Throw in some interpersonal/marital issues that may or may not be related to retirement and things get even more complicated. Ideally, we should strive to do the things we enjoy; money is often an issue, of course. This is all wonderful fodder for writing, at least!

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If you figure out an answer about how to introduce yourself, let me know, because I’ve never figured it out. :)

Certain jobs, certain callings, seem adequate to describing oneself, others not so much. I currently have a devil of a time finding a sentence or so that describes why I spend tens of hours every week doing something for no pay.

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