Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Retirement II

Thinking about retirement again, what I thought would happen vs. what has happened so far:
I write more, but not enough (see November 21, 2011 post).
I read more books, (cf. 11/21/11), at the expense of newspapers and magazines. On December 28, 2011, Terry Gross (Fresh Air) reran her October interview with David Carr, who writes for the New York Times. By the time Fresh Air comes on in the evening I am fatigued with a day of words and in need of music, but Carr is an interesting man, so I listened, and what I took from him was that if you work in media you can’t just “put it out,” you have to “consume” it, too. Those were his words, "put out," and "consume." I dislike calling people consumers, but I know what he means: in essence, if you write, you have to read. Everything.
A wise poet pointed out years ago that I was making a futile attempt to live the entire spectrum of my life each individual day: writing, work, exercise, reading, music, friends, etc. Yup, that’s me, decades later the only change is to add "dog" to the list. (The poet mostly wrote, taught to earn a living, ignored family, never exercised, and became a household name.)
Third on my Retirement Concepts list was freelance editing. Planning my retirement from Bard College, I knew I would need some live income, and I do, but I had no idea how often, and how completely, freelance editing could and would take over my life. I have been pretty successful on this front, to the detriment of my writing. 
What to do? I am extremely fortunate that a handful of businesses and institutions want me to help them with their written materials. Note handful; if I were truly supporting myself with freelance work, I would be dining on chicken broth and falling behind on my property taxes. 
I know freelancers who live just this side of welfare. I earn enough to live comfortably in Hudson, N.Y. I don’t earn enough to travel a lot, but that’s OK, I didn’t retire to travel, I retired not to go to work every day. 
But I do go to work, almost every day. I have deadlines, which make me nervous. When the alarm rings at 5:30 a.m. I may worry about how much I have to do that day. 
Still, I work at home now, which is a huge benefit, and I get outdoors more, which makes me happy. I noticed that immediately, the first weeks after I left Bard, when I did voter canvassing in Hudson. The November days were overcast, cold, and blustery; I walked around with the election materials for hours at a time, seldom encountering anyone who was glad to see me, and I was so happy
What a life!
Then came December, and January, with so much snow that my kind young neighbor put himself and his single-digit daughters to work helping me clear my twelve-foot “driveway.” But I didn’t have to worry about it, about clearing snow and getting to work on time, and I was so happy. If I were to do a “best of” my months of retirement so far, it would be January 2011, when most days I wrote my blog and then went snowshoeing. What a life!
These days, I am unable to turn down almost all work that is offered to me. 
It’s the fear of scarcity. I am a team of one. Make a mistake and there’s no Dan to roll his eyes and pay off the credit card, no Mom to make a quick loan. Yes, I have savings, but that’s toward a new car, or to tide me over during ill health. 
Next: “You’re retired. You should love what you do.”


  1. "I didn’t retire to travel, I retired not to go to work every day." Now them's words of wisdom.
    David Carr is by far the most interesting character in last year's documentary on The New York TIMES.

  2. I love reading your blog. I can relate! Retirement is a mixed blessing! :)


  3. The key words in this post are "so happy"--that's about as unmixed as a blessing ever gets!
    And, p.s., I now know what you mean.
    love this!

  4. One thing that has loomed large in my retirement time-management is what I call Dembinski's Law (quoting a grizzled NASA machinist): "There's no such thing as a small job." My interpretation is: "If you haven't done a task before, or haven't done it recently, you're going to be surprised by how much longer it takes than you thought it should."
    This is closely related to the Thaddeus Time Recalibration Algorithm, which is: "Take your boss's estimate of how long a task should take, double it, and convert to the next larger unit of measure." (E.g. 1 hour => 2 days; 1 day => 2 weeks; 1 PhD => 8 years)

  5. I am so happy that you are so happy in retirement! What a terrific thing that is.

    I never formally retired. I just got smaller and smaller part-time jobs which eventually dribbled out altogether. When I was still occasionally looking for work I would say with some truth, nobody wants to pay me to work, but everybody wants me to work for them. Another more or less obnoxious thing I say about my life now is that I should get a job so I can relax.

    But here's the real truth I think, assuming we are not in subsistence living, we are as happy as we will allow ourselves to be.