Watch the Dung Beetle

Watch the Dung Beetle

Why I keep rolling forward to a sweet new career

I am haunted by dreams of going back to college, at my current age, no less, and with a full head of gray hair. I am living with an assortment of strange young people in dorms or apartments with filthy kitchens, sinks piled with dirty dishes, and no drawers or closet space. The only restaurant in any of the many hallucinatory towns I come upon in sleep has thin soup, mashed something or other and saltine crackers. There is only one book for four classes or four books for one class, but in none of these towns does the college bookstore have any of the texts I need. I am never registered for the semester until I’ve missed too many classes to obtain credit for attending. I show up anyway, once I search forever to find my schedule and the right classrooms, and then I sit there wondering how I will ever pass the exams. These dreams are not made of such terror as to be classified nightmares, but I am more than relieved when I wake up to find myself back in my bed in Placitas.

I am wondering if all people preparing for retirement have these dreams. I almost consider waiting for all of my patients to retire before I do in order to find out if it is the case. I guess I don’t want to know all that badly. And having spent so many years helping people to interpret their dreams, I do not need too much help with these. Nonetheless, they can be disquieting. But it is true that my working life has been most satisfying to me. Even in this countdown to closing my office, I look forward to seeing the lovely folks I refer to as “my patients,” only because I was trained to do so and now it is

But it is true that my working life has been most satisfying to me. Even in this countdown to closing my office, I look forward to seeing the lovely folks I refer to as “my patients,” only because I was trained to do so and now it is habit. They are in fact, amazing people who come in and have conversations with me, some of whom I have been speaking with for going on 16 years of my life here in New Mexico.

I once had a patient harp at me, in a rage at my perceived incompetence (which might have been true on that particular day), “Your work is so easy. You just sit here all day and listen to people. I wish I had your job.” In fact, folks, it’s not at all that simple and has challenged me to no end for all the years I worked in New York and all of the years I’ve worked here in New Mexico. People are not any less complex in New Mexico than they are in New York. This work has meant endless study and endless consultation, all of which has enriched my life and helped me to continue to grow as a human being. So why would I ever retire? Friends, colleagues and patients did not believe I would. For years I never thought I would.

This may come as a shock to those of you who know me well, but I am not going to live forever. And clearly, from the content of my dreams, I have no desire to return to the trials and tribulations of my youth. My mother-in-law used to say, “Aging isn’t for sissies,” and she was right. But life seems to become so much easier and less self-conscious as the years go by. When it comes to lots in life, I am more than a satisfied customer. Take the dung beetle, for example. He just keeps on rolling that dung forward until he has a nest full of hatched dung beetles. And bless his poor little soul, in the process, he gets rid of a whole lot of dung!

I never planned on another career. During the 30 years I worked on my memoir, I would laugh whenever I said, “It’s something I’m working on.” I never thought I’d ever finish the thing, never mind see it published. And a novel? Please. Too many pages, too little time.

But what I have discovered is that changing careers can be a bit like falling in love. The first time is a lot of hard work — and the second time … is a lot of hard work. There is no getting around the inevitable disappointment, disillusionment, failures and ah, such sweet but rare successes. And success usually comes as we feel burnt to a crisp and have abandoned all hope.

So why do I not choose to sit in a lounge chair in Mexico or some such place for the remainder of my days, eating bonbons, and reading fiction instead of working my butt off to write it? That’s the very question I ask myself whenever I’m burnt to a crisp and have abandoned all hope. Watch the dung beetle. Even he has to pause in the road.

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