April 29, 2015 by Jean
During my work years, I managed time and competing demands for that time through systematic (and often rigid) scheduling. In my life, there was a time for everything and every task was kept in its allotted slot. People who lived along my walking route to work knew they could set their watches by my passage.
This approach made it possible for me to get things done without making myself crazy with stress, but it didn’t leave much room for spontaneity. Hobbies, social events, and personal time were all scheduled. Changes to that schedule were so disruptive that I often declined last-minute invitations for activities I would have enjoyed.
One of the gifts of retirement has been the opportunity to let go of rigid scheduling and be more spontaneous. So, when I received the email announcement of the Portland Public Library’s creative aging singing workshop, I took advantage of the opportunity for spontaneity and signed up immediately. Singing was not on my radar screen when I imagined how I would spend my time in retirement, but choral singing had been an important part of my early life. I joined the children’s choir at my church when I was nine, sang in glee club and performed in musical theatre productions in high school, and belonged to both the chorus and a smaller vocal ensemble when I was in college. After college, I continued to enjoy hymn singing in church, and I sang along with the radio and with favorite record albums at home and in the car. But, for the most part, I no longer sang formally or for an audience. When I moved to Maine in my thirties, I was aware of a local community chorus to which several people I knew belonged, but I was working 80-100 hours per week as a new college professor, and there was no room in my schedule for singing. As I got older, my vocal skills deteriorated from lack of discipline and direction, and I no longer thought of choral singing as something for me. But the announcement from the library made it clear that those with rusty vocal skills were part of the target audience for this workshop, which prompted me to take a spontaneous risk.
This winter, I realized that I need to develop my capacity for spontaneity (see Cabin Fever and Social Isolation). The singing workshop has helped me to follow through on that resolution. It’s not just that signing up was a rare act of spontaneity on my part. In addition, the rewards I am reaping have provided positive reinforcement. And the way Deborah Gordon runs the workshop requires spontaneous responses – from making up a song to introduce ourselves musically the first week to pairing up with another member of the group to sing a show tune last week.
I am never going to be a totally spontaneous free spirit; it’s just not in my character. I like structure, and I don’t see myself giving up scheduling as a way to structure my days and weeks. But as I get weekly practice in spontaneity, I am learning to loosen up and be more flexible with my schedules. My first spontaneous jump into a new activity has brought the joys of choral singing back into my life, introduced me to some new friends, and helped me to recover long-forgotten skills (like reading music). Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? For this old dog, retirement is proving to be a time of growth and learning.