Clippings by Karl Lindholm: The art of B.S.
I am constantly asked what I am doing in retirement.
For a long time, that question flummoxed me. It’s a hard question to answer: “What do you do?”
I do a lot of things, this and that, projects big and small (well, more like small and smaller). I spend time with my grandkids and I like that. I buy the Boston Globe every day at the Middlebury Market (now Shafer’s) and read it for an hour. I go to sporting events and lectures and concerts — and plays at the Town Hall Theater.
I was a teacher for over 40 years and still have opportunities to get back in front of a class now and then. I do a little writing. I read. Most of what I do with my time involves words, language, conversation.
So I am quite pleased with myself, as I have fashioned a new answer to this question about what I do: I tell people “I’m an artist.”
When they ask me what kind of artist, I say, “a bullshit artist.”
As a category, that’s closest thing to what I do do.
I think “B.S. Artist” befits me as a Yankee. The lexicon of our region is always inflected with irony and understatement. I’d like the term, “B.S. Artist” to be ironically colloquial (or colloquially ironic), more affectionate than disparaging. I aspire to be a kinder, gentler “B.S. artist.”
(We’re using the initials “B.S.” from now on so not to further put off those who find the s-word a vulgarity, or at best, crude.)
As a B.S. Artist, I don’t mean that I am a liar, a purveyor of nonsense, teller of tall tales (well, maybe once in a while). The definitions of B.S. are decidedly negative: “stupid,” “untrue,” “misleading,” “deceptive.”
The most neutral dictionary definition of B.S. I have found is “idle chatter.” That’s the one I’d like to see expanded into something less pejorative — you know, as in “just shooting the bull.”
“Just shooting the bull” can be a productive enterprise, even an intimate sharing among friends. When I am asked to clarify what I do as a B.S. Artist, I say, “I go to lunch with my friends.” In retirement, friends are a treasure.
I bump into people whose company I enjoy, and they occasionally say, “let’s have lunch sometime.” So I respond quickly, “Okay when? I’m free on Mondays and Tuesdays, I can move some things around on Wednesdays, and Thursdays and Fridays will also work.”
I am reminded of what former Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman, was fond of saying at opportune times, “The sun comes up, the sun goes down, and I go to lunch.”
In my job as a dean in student affairs and a teacher at Middlebury College, before retirement, I was pretty much a B.S. Artist even then and got paid for it! — though I worked hard to be a good listener too, listening in earnest to students’ issues before offering my two cents.
My daughter Jane used to spend the summers with me after her mother and I divorced. I worked many years in the Pre-Enrollment Program in August, a three-week introduction for first year students who could benefit from an early exposure to college.
I tried never to miss lunch with these students, and Jane, maybe 8-12 years old, enjoyed coming to lunch with me. We sat at a different table of students every day so I might get to know them all. Jane listened to the conversations between me and these young people newly arrived at Middlebury.
After lunch one day, she and I walked down the hill to my office and she paused and asked: “Can I ask you a question, Dad: is this what you do? For work?”
Some 25 years later, Jane is now a B.S. Artist herself, a radio journalist, a good talker, and good listener too.
Some of you no doubt remember Frank Kelley. Frank had a small farm in Cornwall, raised five kids with his wife Ann, and taught school at MUHS for 25 years (five as Principal). His last job in education was as the first Director of Residential Life at Middlebury College.
In his ten years at the College, he became much beloved by students and colleagues young and old, including me. When he retired, some 15 years before I did, I missed him, so we met once a week, Tuesday mornings early, for breakfast at Steve’s Diner.
Others found out and joined us, and before long we were combining tables and had taken over one end of the diner. Longtime Dean of Students Erica Wonnacott who had retired to Weybridge, was reluctant to join us, despite our entreaties, saying “I don’t want to just sit around and talk about the College.”
We assured her we didn’t do that — we just shot the bull, talked about our families, local affairs, whatever was on our minds. Placated, Erica joined our happy crowd, a welcome addition.
I can’t remember any B.S. better than those Tuesday mornings.
Erica died of cancer in 2002 and Frank of heart congestion in 2006. That’s what happens, eventually, after you retire — you die. But we retired folks don’t dwell on that (except in the wakeful early morning when we are alone in the dark with our thoughts and fears):
Mostly, we feel blessed for the time we have, and token moments, once taken for granted, are imbued with special meaning and timeliness. The colors of life are more striking, the emotions deeper. We despair when a contemporary dies.
Like I said, we treasure friendship, and moments of connection.
So . . . want to go out for coffee sometime, or lunch, or a late afternoon cold one, and just shoot the bull for a while?
I’ll meet you there.
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