(PORTIONS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN JUNE 2009)
of the best decisions that I ever made was to take a deep breath after
10 years in the newspaper business, some of it spent covering big
stories in exotic locales, and ponder my future. The upshot was that I
quit the business to learn something that I had long yearned to do -- be
ended up apprenticing to a fine carpenter and
over the next two years learned how to build houses (and some rather
pricey ones at that) from the foundations up, including doing hand-cut
cedar shake shingle roofs, interior trim and other finish work,
installing skylights so that they never would leak, and some of the
other more complex aspects of the nail-bending trade.
or less contemporaneous with my second career was the decision to move
to a farm where I pitched in with the milking, planting, harvesting and
While I had felt out of balance, I did not realize how cattywampus my chi
(Chinese for life force) was until I had spent a few months away from
rush-hour traffic, fluorescent lights, typewriters and the occasional
word-processor screen. (Widespread use of computers was a few years off
and the Internet well over the horizon.)
housing market collapsed in the first months of the Reagan presidency
and I went back to the newspaper business for good, but never again did I
feel as out of balance as I had. This is because I made sure that I
leavened my day-job loaf with hiking, gardening, cutting wood and
swimming -- lots of swimming. The joys of working with my hands was a wonderful lesson that was easy to learn and impossible to forget.
there was a downside, it is that when I would come home from an
especially exhausting day of handwork I seldom felt like doing anything
other than eating, drinking and screwing. But I eventually learned to
balance those primal urges and resumed book reading and writing in a journal.
I left the newspaper business six weeks before the 9/11 attacks and got a cushy job in a rare book library at a university and then re-retired for good at the end of March, enabling me to work with my hands as I had not for nearly 30 years. This includes gardening, building stuff, refinishing furniture and cooking. On a typical day I am outdoors more than indoors and in some respects I have never felt better. My blood pressure is the lowest that it has been in many years, I've lost weight because I no longer eat takeout food, and walking two 100-pound dogs helps keep me trim.
if you've spent your life sitting on your keister, it's never too late
to trade in your executive desk chair or Barcalounger for dirty
fingernails even if it's only some of the time.
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