One of the most poignant programs I’ve ever seen is Samurai Gourmet, a series in Japanese (thank goodness for subtitles) that I saw on Netflix, about a 60-year-old dealing with his empty days as a new retiree. Unaccustomed to the lack of regular daily activity, Takeshi Kasumi goes out in search of new adventures which are almost always related to food.
I understood. Takeshi Kasumi is searching for a “high” after retirement — a combination of meaning and purpose that excites him enough to get out of bed and gives him ample sense of achievement by the time he goes to sleep at night.
Without that “high”, a retiree’s days would be empty and happiness would be elusive. There is a feeling of uselessness that eats into the heart and soul. I’ve seen it happen with people who were close to me. It starts with desolation then develops into desperation. It kills the mind and then it kills the body. It need not happen if, after retirement, one can find one or more meaningful activities that adds purpose to each day.
Finding a “high”
We all have different ideas about how we want to spend the years after the home mortgage and college tuition fees have been paid, and our children have spread their wings.
I have a friend who took up Zumba after retirement. Another is into ornamental gardening. There are quite a few who have long lunches with other moms back-to-back with their gym schedules several times a week. Habitual shopping makes many of my friends happy. My mother read novels and collected jewelry before she retired as a trial judge, and she read novels and collected jewelry full time after she retired.
I just don’t see myself doing any of that. I especially cannot see myself crocheting or knitting in a rocking chair day in and day out. I still want to cook and eat good food, take photos and write. But, this time, I want to do all that based on experiences not just from my own kitchen but from different parts of the world too.
Traveling in my 50s is like chasing new “highs”
About a year before deciding that I wanted to travel several times a year and write about it, I was looking at how I would spend the next ten years from a totally different perspective.
Still thinking that there was a way to feel “high” just cooking, photographing our meals and writing recipes, a second food blog was born. More focused and with a streamlined topic. All about stir frying using only one steel carbon wok. That blog lasted about a month after my family started asking how long we would be eating stir fries everyday.
So, I took another direction. I’m a cinephile and a bibliophile, and I thought I could just write about the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read. I gathered all the intermittent posts I’ve published about movies, books, theater and the occasional art exhibit, and put them all in a new blog. Then, I published new posts as often as I could. I tried. For a year.
But I wasn’t happy being a couch potato. And writing reviews is reactionary rather than proactive. It was good, though limited, mental “exercise” but there was no “high”. Besides, how many good movies and books come out every week? That was when I started re-evaluating my plans. I’m still food-obsessed and photo-obsessed, so, why not augment all the writing I’ve done for the last decade and half with a new angle? Travel seemed like the ideal choice.
Getting real about traveling in my 50s
Unlike younger travel bloggers who stay abroad for long stretches of time (months or even years), I am not traveling to “find myself.” Like I mentioned earlier, I’m just out to find a new “high”. I don’t intend to join the competition about who has visited the most countries. I’m not taking part in any contest about who stayed away from home the longest.
I’m traveling to discover new cuisines and taste food that I’ve never experienced before. I just want to keep learning and gain new perspectives with every trip. That is my “high”. But I want to come home after each trip, tell stories about it, try to recreate dishes I enjoyed while traveling and write about them too.
But isn’t travel physically demanding for a 55-year-old? Won’t it be more physically challenging in five to ten years’ time?
Travel would be physically demanding if my travel plans included activities meant for people in their 20s and 30s. I’m not looking at mountain climbing or skydiving as appropriate travel activities. I am fully aware of my age and I know my limitations. My idea of travel does not include anything that requires physical training for several months prior to each trip. Oh, no, no, no. I want to travel, not compete in the Olympics.
Travel PLUS writing keep the mind active and alert
While most people my age go on a panic about their health, taking out gym memberships and undergoing medical tests regularly to make sure that all their muscles, external and internal, are working properly, I am more concerned about another muscle. My brain. The brain is a muscle. If you think that your heart, biceps, triceps and abs need a regular workout, so does your brain.
I’m scared shitless of dementia. Although no one really knows what causes it, it has been established that genetics and depression are factors. I don’t know anyone among my ancestors who had dementia so I can rule out genetics.
Well, that’s just it. I don’t want to suffer from depression. But if I spend day after day and night after night at home cooking, watching movies, reading books, and just writing about them on auto mode, I think that, eventually, I will be a candidate for depression. If I can prevent that from happening, I will.
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