I’ve been retired for 13 years. But I still have days when, sitting reading the paper, I think “Yeehaw and hallelujah, I don’t have to go to the office.” This is what a more sophisticated writer might call a frisson.
With Amanda at camp, Joe and I took a road trip - two days with my sister in Chapel Hill click, two with Ed and Lisa in the Smoky Mountains, and two with Sue and Max in Atlanta. Ed has been retired since June, Sue has been retired six months, Max has been retired several years. So the trip gave me a chance to, among other things, ponder the puzzle of retirement.
Many people can’t afford to retire. Others think they can only retire if they have enough to continue living in the style to which they have become accustomed, or by which they have been trapped.
Some people love their work and never want to retire; some dream of retirement all their working life. Often they have a list of all the things they want to do when they retire. My list was short. I wanted to write, garden, learn to play the piano, and get a dog. Six weeks after I retired I developed tendonitis, and couldn’t play the piano, garden, or write. I got the dog click. When the tendonitis was gone, I returned to writing and gardening and gave up on the piano.
Generally writers don’t retire, though they may write less, or change their genre. In very old age, Donald Hall switched from poetry to prose click. Alice Munro keeps announcing her retirement, and then comes out with more stories. She claimed she couldn’t write fiction anymore because of her failing memory, but several years later she had another brilliant book.
In the first few months after retirement, people fritter away the time. All our working lives we’ve dreamed of free time, and at first it’s every bit as blissful as our dreams. A friend sat on the couch each day and watched the birds in her back yard. I read old notebooks and letters.
New retirees putter. Many begin with a long-postponed house project. I cleared out my bookcases.
But thirty years of remunerated work, of dancing to someone else’s tune, leave their mark on the soul. With no schedule and lots of idle time, retirement can begin to feel empty rather than free. We lie on the couch, eating and feeling worthless.click click
Then we start making lists and plans for tasks and travel. We start, at least, an exercise program. We wonder where we might put our talents to use. For me, retirement meant giving up committees. No more collaboration and compromise. From now on, my work would be my own, no need for consultation or permission. I dusted off my No Bird to take care of all the requests that came in when people realized I had retired click. I was already part of the HOME Van, but I loved most of that work. It is an anarchic organization, and I never had to attend a staff meeting.
For a few years my retirement was what I had planned. Lots of writing, some travel, playing with friends, exercise programs that I often complied with. But as we all know, when people plan, the gods laugh. They may send illness, or death of a loved one. In my case, the goddess laughed and I found myself raising a child.
So Fortune and I filled up my time. I had a mini-retirement when the HOME Van stopped doing drive-outs click. I was bereft, and wondered how I could find another work as wonderful as that But I was surprised by how much time I gained - I realized I had been putting in at least a full day a week. So I puttered again, and postponed looking for other work, and then Arupa called and asked if I’d help with the food pantry one day a week. That is great fun - meeting people in small numbers and visiting with Arupa in between customers. And no eggs to boil or soup-makers to coordinate.
After long experience with retirement, and spells of thinking about it all, I offer the following advice to people entering retirement: Allow yourself to flounder for a while, and relish the emptiness. When you’re ready to fill it, minimize the gottas and oughtas, increase the wannas, and enjoy good health and loved ones as long as they remain.
*"Unsolicited advice is the junk mail of life." - Leah Jackson
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