I’d just finished my morning coffee, sitting on the seat outside my back door on a golden October morning in south Co Galway. The day was mine and it stretched out into eternity – almost. My son, Julian, would be home from school in about 4 hours, but until 3.15 the day belonged to me. All I had to do now was choose how to spend the next few hours. Go for a walk, do some gardening, read, write, do nothing? Paint? I was just getting into the new project this term in our Rockforest class: The Art of a Good Saturday. Jole had handed the choice of theme for the term over to each of us. I was in the driving seat, but like so many Sunday drivers, I wasn’t at all sure where I was going.

I had pulled two titles from the jar on the previous Saturday: The Yellow House and Memory but was still looking for inspiration. Should I select just one of them, should I simply toss a coin and let ‘luck’ decide, or maybe connect both of them? Playing around with the theme of The Yellow House had already pulled me back into my childhood: the pebble-dashed farmhouse in the midlands of the 1960s and 70s. My initial drawing of a Yellow House from the previous class needed a setting and before I knew it, I had cleared the kitchen table and started to sketch it into a rural Irish landscape of patchwork fields, farm-gates, haysheds, stone walls, hedges and country lanes. This term’s project would be about memory I realized as I started getting out my paints and brushes. It was still only 11.30, so that left me almost three hours before I had to clean up and get lunch ready. Three whole delicious hours to spend on my art project, smack in the middle of an ordinary working day! And I wasn’t on a day’s annual leave, nor was I on sick leave. I was a statistic: one of the thousands of civil servants who’d opted for early retirement, in my case twelve years early.

When the decision to leave my lecturing job became official, I was bombarded with well-meaning colleagues congratulating me and telling me how much they would just love to do what I was doing. THEY, however, had mortgages, young children, and other responsibilities that left them with no choice about whether to stay or leave. When I told my brother that I had finally signed up for retirement, his immediate response was: “Are you f***ing mad or what?” followed by all the ‘W’ questions that had been my nocturnal chants for years.

I had wanted to leave my job for over ten years and the offer of early retirement seems like the opportunity I had been waiting for. My vagabond youth, which lasted well into my 30s, however, now stood between a decent pension and me. This glaring financial shortfall fanned the flames of doubt and worry about walking away from a secure job and a way of living woven into it. And those flames burned fiercely through many a sleepless night, often flaring into panic attacks in the early hours. Staring into the face of impending poverty scared me, but the lurking abyss of the unknown really terrified me. I had explored a few interests over the years, but all the courses and workshops hadn’t provided any new career directions to bridge that looming chasm. If I left my job, I was heading straight for Armageddon. But deep inside I also knew that I had long ago outgrown my job, and if I didn’t leave, I would still end up there, only drained and exhausted by the inner conflict along the way.

From the day I decided to leave, my sleep improved, the worry diminished and the panic attacks disappeared. I hadn’t won the lottery, nor had I found a wonderful new career. I had simply made a choice: between my fear and my wellbeing. Almost immediately small, but significant synchronicities started to occur. I was asked to work on an hourly basis in my job until the summer, which meant I had a 4-month transition period – with an income.

A friend, now unemployed, offered to do necessary repair work in my house for free, saving me a substantial amount of money. I had been helping my brother with a community project he was coordinating and ONE week after my income stopped, he rang me up to say he had received a grant totally out of the blue and wanted to ‘pay’ me for my help! New people came into my life who actively encouraged me to trust my decision and allow the universe to deliver what I needed. It was getting easier to switch off the inner voice that still wanted to butt in: “And when exactly will it deliver?” and “Will it deliver enough to pay the bills?”

When I looked up from the kitchen table Julian was standing in the doorway, schoolbag at his feet, looking accusingly at the ‘mess’ in the kitchen. The overflow of paint-splattered newspapers from the table now covered half the floor. The worktop was taken over with my materials – pastels, oil, brushes, crayons and much more. This is what our kitchen looked like when HE was painting. It was now my turn to play and even if I was a slow learner, I was getting the hang of escaping the obligations of linear time and letting the flow of the game structure my day. Over the last few months Julian has gotten used to expecting the ‘unexpected’ in the afternoon and learning to create his own space in our new life. Watching me grapple with a collection of photos of childhood landscapes on the computer, he willingly appointed himself technical assistant on a slide show I was putting together.

Carmel getting a new taste of life

This new photographic project is entitled… Memory, spawned by the Memoir Writing class I joined in my local village, which in turn is an offspring of my art project in Rock Forest. It’s those synchronicities again! They just seem to be everywhere these days!

I spend my days doing things I’ve always wanted to do – but have never had the space, the time or the commitment to do. I’m meeting new people who are also creating a whole new way of living, and in a very short space of time a wonderful mutual support group has effortlessly evolved around me. My life has never been richer since I let go of financial security. And the future? I’ve stopped thinking about it. Instead I’m just feeling my way into it – one playful moment at a time!

Memory – The Farmhouse Gate