We’ve been watching The Big Door Prize. The premise of the show is the appearance of a vending machine in the local grocery store which promises to tell you what your true potential is. Eventually, everyone tries the machine. Most people get something different from what they are currently doing with their lives. They start pursuing the “true potential” given to them by the machine. This, of course, upsets the routines, rituals and relationships of the small town they live in.
For most of my working life, I was an Architect. In my late 50s I pivoted to art photography, writing, cooking, and cleaning. Now in my late 60s, most people would consider me retired. I tell people I am semi-retired but really, as I see it, I am on to my second career. I spend around 40 hours a week pursuing my art photography practice, reading, and writing in two blogs, this one and another I call Notes On Attention Paid, which is an online micro post journal of what has my attention at a given moment. In addition, I spend considerable time managing our household. I do the grocery shopping, manage the finances, cook, clean, do the laundry, take yoga classes at the health club, and drive my wife, who can’t drive, where she needs to go.
I imagine my younger self going to Morphos, the machine in the grocery store, pushing my bank card into it, punching in my social security number, giving it my palm to scan, and getting a card back telling me my true potential, artist/writer/homemaker. Yup, based on where my bliss seems to lead me these days, that’s what I would get, not architect.
I am one of those few people who actually enjoys homemaking. Certainly, I am one of that even rarer species, a cisgender man who actually enjoys housework. Vacuuming and tidying up is rewarding to me because it makes order out of chaos on a weekly basis. Folding laundry is a mindfulness practice as far as I am concerned. Cooking is a spiritual practice of deep devotion, and feeding someone a profound act of love. Doing it daily is a devotional practice of love.
We didn’t have children, so I don’t know what it is to have to clean up after them, feed them, organize their schedules, etc. The life experience that leads many women of my and adjacent generations to feel that if they never had to cook another family meal for the rest of their lives, it would be just fine. I think I’d have made a good house-husband. And because my true potential may well have been house-husband, I might even have come out of it still enjoying cooking and cleaning. Who knows?
My art photography is a spiritual devotion to seeing. Daily meditative walks are the backbone of it. Insight develops over time. I am about ten years into it as one of my main creative outlets and have not grown tired of it. I have not grown tired of trodding the same sidewalks, streets, trails, and beaches over and over again. Routines are deeply satisfying to me. The god I believe in is the god of routines and daily details.
I read every day. Books and articles. For the most part, I don’t read for entertainment, even though I am certainly entertained by what I read. I read for information and enlightenment. I read books on philosophy, history, women’s issues (a big interest of mine), articles on politics, spirituality, etc.
Little of this makes me money. I made and saved some while I was an architect, but my wife is the breadwinner in our household. Her steady work as a neonatal intensive care nurse kept us stable pre retirement, and her pension is the bulk of our income post retirement.
In my current life I am as happy as I have ever been. I look forward to every day of the week. A day rarely finishes without a feeling of accomplishment. I am doing what I have wanted to do since my 20s, I just didn’t realize it back then. And even if I had, boy would that have been a tough trail to blaze. Homemaking and art? That’s woman’s work as far as my generation is concerned. Progress is being made on that front by each of the generations that are following me, but art and homemaking? That would have branded me a “pussy.” In fact, it still does with men and women closer to my generation. Being taken care of financially by a woman? Pussy!
I have learned from firsthand experience what women have known for generations. The work of my true potential is enormously undervalued. And yet, it’s important and profoundly satisfying work, at least to me.
Not long ago, a conversation was overheard in the extended family, which argued that my wife would be too busy taking care of me to take on whatever task was being discussed. Ouch. In this country, in this and contiguous generations, if you are male and not financially supporting yourself and several others, there is something wrong with you. My wife has been pretty supportive of my true potential endeavors, but she grew up in and surrounded by the same generations I did.
The truth is, my wife may take care of me financially, but in terms of the human care giving that is homemaking and home management, I take care of her. I am fine with that. I love doing it and deeply appreciate her gift to me, the income to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and provide a few non-essential but nice-to-have experiences along the way.
It amazes me how good it feels to write this. To say it out loud, yes, my true potential might well have been artist/writer/homemaker. I am so happy to come home to myself.