In Praise of Downtime

I wake with the morning light, without the jangle of an alarm, to begin a new day in which I am happily, gratefully, and luxuriously free. I’ve begun to call this last stretch of my life my “downtime” – a time to relax and enjoy each day, after having been a miniscule part in the vast, cold (and I might add, soulless) machinery of U.S. industry and commerce for roughly five decades.

No more stress (Will the new management fire me?), no more anxiety (Will the car start in this freezing weather? Will I be late for work?), no more nerve-jangling predawn alarms. In my view, retirement – especially for those of us who have retired outside of the U.S. — is bliss. An earthly form of paradise.

And this freer time, I’m finding, now that I’m nearly five years into it, is the furthest thing from idle. Especially here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, there is always almost too much to choose from to do: classes, lectures, concerts, plays, exhibits, literary events, movies, tours, to say nothing of countless world-class restaurants.

For myself, a diehard homebody on a tighter budget than most other gringos, I cherish the time to stay home and read more books than I ever had time to read before, to write as my muse dictates to me, to pay closer attention to the news and world events and make better informed decisions, to walk miles in the Mexican sunshine each day, to meet with a friend for lunch once a week, and to think more deeply about everything.

I read, on average now, a book a week (four times more than I ever did before), and these brilliant books take me, giddily, to other places and to other times in history, to walk in others’ shoes. The book I’m reading now is a biography by Ronald McNair Scott of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland in the early 14th century. Physically, I’m reading this book in my cozy bed here in Mexico; but spiritually, I’m swept back in time to the land of my ancestors, rooting for this brave warrior-king against all odds.

Last night, for example, I read that 426 years before America wrote its Declaration of Independence from England, the Scots drew up a comparable document known as the Declaration of Arbroath, declaring Robert Bruce the king who would “defend our liberties [against England] … for it is not glory, it is not riches, neither is it honour, but it is freedom alone that we fight and contend for …” Ah, freedom, I thought; priceless.

This freer time in life is also a time to give back, I strongly believe. Almost everyone I know here in San Miguel is involved in one or another of the many volunteer opportunities helping out the NGOs that aid the people.

Among those I’m most familiar with because I have at times participated in their efforts are: Hats and Scarves Campokids (www.hatsandscarves.sma@gmail.com ), Ojala Niños (www.ojala-ninos.org ), Feed the Hungry San Miguel (www.feedthehungrysma.org ), and So Others May Eat (www.soothersmayeat.org ). (SMA Friends: Please feel free to add links to your own list in the Comments section below.)

And downtime is a time, too, to have fun — to allow the long-suppressed child inside to play freely. I like to combine this impulse with my volunteer teaching once a week at an afterschool program, where I teach English. This semester the kids are in their early teens, but I was happy to discover they’re not too old to enjoy my puppets’ performances. To date, I’ve made ten puppets, who come to class (one by one) to teach the kids their “specialty.”

The week before last, for instance, my puppet Zorba the Zebra told them about Africa and his wild animal friends there. And this past week Phil the Fish gave a brief lecture on nutrition, comparing what fish eat with what people eat:

One side of Phil’s worksheet
The kids completing Phil’s worksheet

I don’t know yet which puppet will accompany me to my next Wednesday-afternoon class or what she or he will teach the kids in English. I’m not worried about it. I have some time.

22 thoughts on “In Praise of Downtime”

  1. What a wonderful blog! As a not-yet-quite-retired person, I’ll be moving to San Miguel some time this year (with luck). The links to volunteer opportunities are much appreciated. In a few years, I hope to spend more time reading as well – something I adore. Weren’t you part of the San Miguel Quilters? What happened to that group?

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Frederika, and I know you’ll love your retirement in San Miguel. I attended the San Miguel Quilters once — to give a presentation about my book HOW TO MAKE AN AFRICAN QUILT, which is about my experience teaching quilting to a women’s sewing group in Mali, West Africa — but I haven’t been back to SMQ since. I believe they’re still going strong! 🙂

  2. When you retired, you were very sure that you did not want to keep teaching or editing or catering or anything else you were so good at that might make you some money. But time is SO MUCH MORE VALUABLE than money, isn’t it? You’ll have to introduce me to Zorba and Phil when I get there in JUST A COUPLE OF WEEKS!

  3. Dear Bon,

    What a wonderful thing it is to read at leisure for one’s own pleasure, but I fear it is becoming a lost art. As always, your puppets are adorable. and you are a lovely puppetmaster.

    Love,
    Paul

    1. I seem to be eating good books like candy bars — and loving every bite! Must use these eyes until they give out. Thank you for your sweet words, Paul dear. You seem to be the Pres. of my fan club (the position my Mom used to hold). — LU2, BB xx

  4. Bonnie, when I first saw the title, I equated “downtime” with what I’ve been doing this year. As an artist I’m not photographing. But I have been thinking, watching tutorials, trying new processing techniques, and looking at art. Now I find myself with new thoughts and waking up during the night with plans so that when I get up in the morning I am ready to rush to the studio. So far it has meant a lot of figuring out how to do what I thought about doing the night. Full trash baskets, Lots of first drafts, Pages of notes of ideas. All I can say is that my definition of “downtime” might be a little different than yours, but I agree with you, “downtime” is a good thing!

    1. Thanks so much, Billie, for your thoughts and experience. Yes, this week the word “downtime” has had a whole, new, positive meaning for me, too, which is why I needed to write about it.

  5. You pretty much describe my life now as well. When I visit the US everyone is rushing around doing “something”, even my retired friends. And I’m like “Wait, isn’t it nap time now?”

    We are truly blessed. <3

  6. Buenos Dias Bonnie, your writing is always beautiful. This blog so well expresses my own sentiments about living in this beautiful city. I am so grateful almost every day for the blessing of living in a place where the weather is absolutely perfect 89% of the time, and the views so pleasing.

  7. Your comments about the freedom of waking when our body is ready, and doing what I want to do, rather than the dictates of a job, are exactly my sentiments, although you expressed them so much better. I love an expression I once heard, “I only wake up at 5a to go to Paris!” My sentiments exactly!

  8. You covered it all, Bonnie! I, too, am grateful every day. It’s worth the hassle of giving up all my possessions and moving

Leave a Comment