Time and space bear the weight of projects, and projects occupy them both. A project, of course, requires time and gradually claims its space — which stand as a matter of historical record of completion or, in some cases, a testament to failure or bungling or abandonment. Projects give shape, sometimes persisting — if only as memories (as with, for example, a musical performance). This Second Act project is an example of such a project. I suppose this Second Act is also a symptom, a bit of evidence of the kind of person I have been and likely will be.
I like to do stuff.
That’s a basic desire. People build upon directed actions that look, more or less, like “projects.” People fish for the experience and they tell their stories about the ones that got away, and they have pictures of the ones that didn’t. Fishing has its own embedded rituals and decisions: the prepping of the boat, the care of the poles and lines, the debates about bait — live or not, the directions while backing up on the landing. These are repeated for the fisherman or fisherwoman to fill out the project: a day on the lake or stream. Time and space are used and shaped into a narrative and they acquire meaning.
I’m sure that people might think some of my projects are unusual: in particular my “current indiscretions” — old cars that arrived in my Garage Mahal in disrepair, one a certifiable “basket case” that took more than a decade to get back on the road. While I won’t deny that the pleasure of their shapes and mechanics of the things are important, the real value of the old cars has been the problems they have posed. I can wrestle with matters that confound: parts that are “unobtainium,” to use the term that car restorers use for parts that no longer are available; ways to maneuver obscure processes of dismantlement and renewal. (Doors on old Jaguar E-types, for example, have a mechanical sequence for repair that I have yet to understand fully.)
Projects enliven me, and in working life they constantly presented themselves, usually in the package of human desires and whims tied with vexing scholarly and scientific tasks. The project of my work, for the most part, was a matter of shaping resources at hand to problems that vexed, and the result — after application of numerous intellectual and practical shims, perhaps — pretty much got things moving forward. The projects were not matters of victory and conquest; they were matters of process and movement. The distinction between conquest and progress, unfortunately, eluded some of the people I worked with. Progress can feel like a defeat, if conquest was the expectation.
But projects must be protracted, if they are valuable, and in that working life shines. Here lurks the absence that retirement poses: Projects one pursues after chilling out in retirement can seem not to matter: ephemera or, worse, “hobbies.” Working life tilts gauges of importance and relevance in its direction. Retirement is, in its measure, mere dotage. And that, I am convinced, is wrong.
What projects are worthy of binding time with space? And, more importantly, why? Do measures of working life matter, and perhaps they never should have mattered?