A calming scent reaches up my nostrils as I cross the quaint little bridge in Hoi An to reach the peninsula. I look up to see where the lovely scent is coming from. A lady is standing at the end of the bow. Her body is completely still. She is holding up incense sticks smelling like Jasmine flowers in bloom. I breathe in deeply and exhale, while I keep on biking towards today’s destination….
Rays of sun touch my face through the trees. Life is good! I think to myself smiling, as I feel the warm breeze stroking my hair. As soon as I exit the main road, I decide to semi stand on the paddles. It’s easier to bike this way, now that the road has changed from steady asphalt to a sandy lane with loose rocks and holes everywhere.
The chains of my rental bike are rusty, giving me quite the exercise. Especially in this heat. It keeps me on edge, ‘cause I never know what to expect. One minute I’m paddling like a maniac, and almost pulling to a halt the next. People probably think I’m a crazy person the way I laugh every time the bike spins.
Excitement rushes through my body while I head to this place called ‘Randy’s Book Xchange.’
Last night I kept on reading until I finished my book. I swapped it at a hostel in Halong. Today I’m hoping to exchange it for a different one.
Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer actual paperbacks. Even though, electronic books are way lighter and more convenient.
“You have reached your destination” the female voice from Google maps informs me, pulling me back to the present. Good, good!
There’s a sign attached to the fence outside, confirming I’m right where I want to be. The place looks a bit deserted. A small path with overgrown greens leads up to a wooden deck. Hesitantly, I turn the knob of the large door and step inside. A bell rings. It’s one of those old bells on a thread that pulls back following the movement of the door. Love it already! I stand still for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the dimly lit room. “Hello?”
I question if anybody’s there.
“I’ll be right with you.” A man’s voice goes. “Go ahead and look around.” he continues.
I shrug. Cool.
Randy has a lot of books. “I don’t even know how many I have” he tells me later on. I roam around downstairs and spot many Swedish, German, French and Dutch books. God do I love this atmosphere. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by the wondrous world of everything books related. The smell and feel of the old ones. When I’m around them I totally drift off and get lost in the era of when they were written. I imagine myself there and it’s beautiful.
“The books that you’re looking for are upstairs.” A six-foot-tall man with a short trimmed grey beard appears from what seems to be the living room. He casually leans his arm on the wooden beam. I give him a faint smile. He’s referring to my accent and, like most people, seems to think I’m American. “You must be Randy!” I walk towards him and compliment him on his store. His eyes light up. Randy tells me that he doesn’t keep track of his books, when I ask him how many he has. “But I know each and every one that is in this store. It’s my passion.”
We head upstairs and it doesn’t take long before I find several of my favorite authors. I feel that excitement again and foresee a wonderful dilemma. So many choices. A few seconds later the short lived high turns into a slight disappointment. The exchange in the name of the store is not really what it promises. “I’ll buy your book and you can use that amount as store credit.” Of course, these two amounts are relatively far apart from one another, which doesn’t make it worthwhile for me. I let the disillusion sink in and decide to enjoy my surroundings regardless. It’ll be fun scouting for a different place to exchange my book. I tell myself.
Randy loves to talk and quickly distracts me from my thoughts. “Exactly 12 years ago today, I bought this building.” He shares. “I’m 70 years old now. I have a literary club, I write scenes and have been editing books.” “I wrote for Pathfinder.” He continues. “I got asked to review hotels and what not.” “Right now I’m writing scenes about my drug days. I’ve been through a lot. Back then I was living in Bali. It was crazy.” He caries on. He explains how either him, or a friend of his almost got caught and how they all had each other’s backs in the drug scene. The flood of words keeps coming. I’m taking it all with a grain of salt and listen to him amused.
“I was asked to write for a magazine, but I don’t want those deadlines anymore. I’m retired. I want to do things I like. I’m too old to do things because I have to.” He scoffs. “These people were surprised that I didn’t want to write for them.” They had written him a rude e-mail back in reply to his decline; ‘He should count himself lucky that he gets to write for them.’ Randy’s feelings on the matter are clear. “But I don’t care” he rants on “All I want to do is enjoy my retirement and do what I love.”
He points at the stairs and tells me the story of the lady who painted them. “She used to be a lawyer” he explains. “But she wanted to travel. So she quit her job and met a very rich guy. They got married and now they are traveling the world together.” A bit self-conscious Randy admits that he resents her somewhat. “I hate her for being so good at everything. She picks up a guitar and she’s amazing at it.” He stares into the distance, and doesn’t really seem to be talking to me anymore. “I wish I could too”. I look him in the eye to see if he’s listening. “You could be, if you wanted to!” He waves his hand dismissively “Nah, I’m too lazy.” “Well, then there you go. It’s your choice.”
I truly believe that. If you really want something, you’ll do it. If you don’t really want it, that’s fine too. Nobody is forcing you. Be honest with yourself first. Admit that you don’t really want it for yourself, but that the need to do it could possibly come from an attempt to please society or someone other than yourself. Next, accept that you don’t want it and let go by focussing on the things you dó really want.
We chat a bit more about the scenes that he’s writing. “They might end up being a novel. They might not. There’s no time pressure, I just write when I feel like it.” That totally resonates with me. It’s exactly how I go about my writing too. I enjoy the process. That’s my primary goal right now. The secondary achievement will follow. The most important thing is to keep loving what I do.
After I leave the store I go to the river and think about some of the things he said. How he talked about the woman and being envious of the way she approaches learning new things. “She has dabbled in many different things and seems to be good at everything she does, making it a success.” I hear him say and wonder; Is a person good at something because they love it, or do they love it because they are good at it? My conclusion is that they go hand in hand and build upon one another. The first step is to try, and to let go of the fear of failing. Going for what you love beats fear…when you’re brave enough : )
Another thing that Randy said, got me thinking. He mentioned that he believes he’s not a writer. “Only when you wake up and all you want to do is write, that’s when you can call yourself a writer.” he said. I don’t agree. I think you can be anything you want to be. It doesn’t have to be one thing or the other, it can be and/and. I feel that putting labels on oneself limits the options and closes a person off to many wonderful possibilities. If you’re too afraid to dream of a certain life, because it seems so far out of your reach, then that is how it’ll be. The reverse is also true. If you believe you can do anything, you’ll figure out a way within your capacity, and it’ll happen. Other people might feel the need to label you or whatever it is that you do, and that’s fine. That is their problem they are mirroring, not yours. As long as you’re happy and are doing the things you love. Whether it is drawing, practicing a sport, playing a musical instrument, it doesn’t need to be perfect. It just has to feel like fun.
So I ask you: Should we all be like Randy and wait for our retirement to do what we love? Is it only then that we can find our peace of mind to settle into what we really want from life? Is it that only then we feel like we deserve to live that way because we’ve been working hard all our life? I say live it now. Today! Retirement may never come….