Transitions, or “Light Under Control”

by Cynn Chadwick

There’s this commercial on TV for Transition eyeglasses. The song, by Parov Stelar, “Light Under Control,” scores a number of these videos, and immediately caught my attention—the tune is catchy. In each thirty-second spot, happy young people are seen prancing around the globe appearing in colorful market places, hiking mountain passes, and wandering tropical forests, all the while sporting fashionable glasses that turn from clear to dark depending upon the light.

Initially, I became so enamored of the song that I did what most do—I Googled it. Here, I discovered many incarnations of this eyewear commercial all featuring young folks bopping along to the song I love whose lyrics I do not understand. I don’t care. Sometimes, I just like to play each little ad to see those free spirits sliding in and out of sun-lit spots with this soundtrack to their pretty lives. I sometimes wonder how these novice adults can afford exotic trips and expensive eyeglasses, but I put that away to escape along with them. It’s really more about the song—“Light Under Control.”

When asked to write this piece about Transitions as I retire from my teaching job of twenty-three years, this song popped into my head, even though the only words I understood were: “I’m a traveler…” la, hum, la la hum….

For all I knew, the song might’ve gone something like I’m a traveler/Sun glasses make my day; completely inappropriate to the theme Transitions=retirement, bucket list, end of the road, last chapter, final act, sen-ior-liv-ing….ugh.

So, once again, I searched, this time looking for the lyrics to the song—words—that might inspire a guiding metaphor about transitioning from a life of work and schedules to a life of—No work? No schedule? Was that even possible? I try to imagine myself like the kids in the commercial skipping along a palm-treed beach to the soundtrack of my life—I’m a traveler, la hum, la la hum, and immediately become disoriented. Even when I imagine my own free time, this is not how I imagine spending it.

I imagine it—mostly—like different work, different schedules. I imagine doing more: writing more, painting more, more projects, more time for lunch with friends, dinner with family, for sure, but no work? No schedule? No doing? Are there really people who just wake and do or don’t do stuff with no thought of what tomorrow will bring or how yesterday turned out? Is it me? Is retirement about how much more time I will have to do or not do? Depending upon the light? This seems to be the top-most burning question when asked about retirement: What will you do in the next phase of your life?

Except this is not my burning question. I haven’t been wondering what to do in retirement. I’ve got plenty to do; sometimes I worry I’ll run out of life before I run out of things to do; that’s not at issue. No, my real reflection about this transition is actually about how to be in its ever-shifting flow of time and space in order to become my most pure creative self.

Soon into my Google-search, I find the lyrics to “Light Under Control” along with the original artist’s music video. I’m relieved to see that no line of verse contains the word sunglasses. While I like the song and its cool artsy clip, I did not connect to any deeper meaning of transitioning as I’d hoped, at least not my kind of transitioning; perhaps, because I am not, nor ever was a sporty, exotic, wealthy young person with endless resources and untethered time to roam Planet Earth. Or, perhaps I didn’t connect because most of the catchy verse I la la-hum to myself goes:

I’m gonna tell my momma, I’m a traveler, I’m gonna follow the sun

which is certainly relevant to those kids in the commercial, but come on, I’m sixty, my mother’s eighty-three—she and I both know I’m not gonna follow the sun, any time soon.

However, these lines of verse, the first in fact, did strike me:

Hop back to my heart/the only place I feel alone.

There’s a truth in those words for me. Not so much for the retired-professor I’ll be, nor the novelist and painter I’ve become, but this hop back strikes to the heart of the creative being I have always been. As an only child, reliant on imagination to muse and amuse, I believe my creative newborn soul was on fire—before writing, before painting, before understanding that these doings were not everyone’s normal way of being, but my own.

I once pictured my “retirement” much like that of the poet May Sarton’s. I’d heard that Sarton would sit on the porch of her seaside cottage, with her cats, and welcome young writers with a cup of tea whilst offering sage writerly advice. That would be me, I’d imagined, on my mountainside porch, with my dogs, welcoming young writers with tea and, hopefully, offering sage writerly advice. While I’d never be so presumptuous to compare my work, literary impact, or insight to Sarton’s, I can say for sure that she has inspired each of my own; whether executed or not, her words linger and rise within me. But now, I’m not so sure that this bestowing of writerly advice is what I’ll do in retirement.

As I reflect on this life in transition, it is easy to see why we run to the poets in song and verse, looking for big meaning in the smallest line.

My favorite Sarton poem is The O’s of November, which I love for all its wintery allusions and round assonance: The O’s of November….Bring the snows of December. However, I did not find that big meaning in any small line of this favored piece, where transitions abound in all their clichéd seasonal imagery; instead, I stumbled upon Sarton’s The Work of Happiness, in which these small opening lines touched that big meaning within me:

I thought of happiness, how it is woven out of the silence….
woven out of the peace of hours…
the timeless sense of time…

And, these last two:

The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind

These words of Sarton’s remind me of the way our lives actually Transition—in silence, in time, in peace (and sometimes not), but the transitions and their blessings do surround us. Those last lines I feel belong to me. Each day from within my own kind walls, I look out on mountains feeling the charge of blessings in the air.

I’ve come to notice that transitions are rarely sudden, mostly not a surprise, and something we go through rather than prepare for, no matter how many retirement seminars we attend. This next transition of mine does not begin on April 28th when I teach my last class, or May 11th when I walk my last commencement, or even June 30th when I receive my last pay check; in fact, this particular transition has been re-envisioning and revising inside of me for a very long time.

A few years ago, I asked a wise poet friend for an image of a boundary—something protective and allowing, I clarified, flexible, not like a wall. My friend offered, “A moving river whose banks are wide and winding.”

I’ve held tight to that image, those fluid boundaries whose reedy banks hold deep pools of creativity, which flood over when they can no longer be contained by the unbending levies of my compartmentalized life.

“Now that the shift has happened, how do you want to be in it?” a confidante once asked in the midst of a long ago heartbreak. Afterwards, this probing query repeated in my mind as my heart recovered from its disappointing shift.

How do you want to be in today, Cynn?” is my daily mantra. Very rarely do I answer: "I want to be miserable, angry, or sad." My answer is usually something like: "I want to be happy, appreciative, loving." Sometimes my demons fight me on this, but mostly my better angels win out.

Over these last couple of years, this question began inspiring surprising answers like: I want to be interested, excited, awed, inspired, challenged— I want to be creative….again.

That’s what is different about this transition, unlike those with identifiably tangible goals and outcomes: education, marriage, work, kids, retirement, travel, all things to imagine and do, but none like the transition that begs:

Hop back to my heart/the one place I feel alone

because it is this nagging part of me in need of that one place to feel alone in order to Hop Back to my heart. I have not, for a long time, felt that desire to be in the spirit and soul of my own ingenuity. Sometimes, that’s what can happen while nurturing the creative in others; you forget about your own.

So, while considering this transition, something within me is once again aflame, a new desire, a creative burst that is intrigued, energized and beckoning. As I depart from teaching, there are lots of exciting things to look forward to; foremost, is the release of my new novel, Things That Women Do and all the fun that comes along with that event. Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to being in the happiness of all my creative doings.

This Hop back to my heart is the big meaning, my transition, reflected in these small lines I’ve cobbled together from the poetry of Sarton and the lyrics of Stelar:

is woven out of the silence
out of the peace of hours’

and a
‘timeless sense of time’

Through which
‘Windows look out on mountains’
‘ air is charged with blessings’

And where
‘Light is Under Control.’
(Sarton, Stelar, Chadwick)

Cynn Chadwick is the author of seven novels, including Cat Rising, Girls with Hammers, and Angels and Manners, which have garnered recognition from Lambda Literary, Stonewall, and Bywater Book Awards. She has been invited as guest reader to the Authors' Arena at BookExpo America in Chicago, Saints and Sinners Festival in New Orleans, and The Human Rights Campaign Headquarters in DC. She holds both an MA in literature and an MFA in fiction from Goddard College. For the last twenty-five years, she has taught a range of courses from academic composition, creative writing, poetry, fiction workshop, and has guided a number of undergraduate and graduate thesis projects. She has taught creative writing workshops through the Buncombe County Schools, Road Scholar (formerly Elder-hostel), The Great Smokies Writing Program, Vermont College, and in maximum security prison for men. Cynn lives with her wife Elenna and their most amazing springer spaniel, Andy, in the bowl of a spoon-shaped valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. She is a soon-to-be-retired Senior Lecturer in the English Department and Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina Asheville.