Sunday, October 21, 2007

Freedom's Just Another Word

Retirement is very strange. For the first time in my life, I have absolute freedom to choose what I want to do. If I want to sit in the backyard and read trash novels all afternoon, I can. I can do other things I used to have to fight to have time for: exercise at the gym; rehearse music; blog; do genealogical research; shop. And what is the result of all this? You've got it: I can't decide what I want to do...

Oh, I'm not really that unfocused. I have my List of volunteer opportunities, that I thought I might like to do; I'm actually doing one of them (I'm now a special director, and the webmistress, of the Oakland Symphony Chorus). Another of them was to volunteer with a group that teaches financial literacy: I tried them, and they were such disorganized flakes that I decided my choices were not to deal with them at all, or take them over and run them. I opted to walk away. Also, I've accumulated a couple of unpaid "I could work on that" projects.

But none of this feels real yet. I'm trying to learn Joomla, the open source content management system, with the object of becoming a pro bono web designer for non-profits. I've gotten far enough to realize this means I also have to learn JavaScript, PHP, and XML...

Also, to be honest, one of the things I liked about working was all the people that were around. Yeah, I can do serious technical study by myself in the house; but I don't have anybody to TALK to. I need people to talk to, I'm beginning to realize. So maybe I need to go back to the list and check out something that would put me in a group of people.

I read one "what to do in retirement" article that suggested making no major decisions for at least a year after retiring. Maybe that makes sense. But it's odd how intimidating is the prospect of absolute freedom.


  1. I'm not sure I ever seriously considered the concept of "retirement." In my teens and twenties, I imagined an academic career for myself, as a professor of English. Later, it was to be a writer. As I was swept up into the workaday world, it became all those "other" avocations--things I was going to do whenever I could free myself from the obligations of family and duty (landscape architect, flyfishing equipment craftsperson, photographer). Ultimately, I fell into the rare book trade, a role that seems to have been ideally tailored for me. When I "retired" from the government after 27 years, my book business had already been going for a few years (part-time), and the transition was seamless.

    Now, I believe I will never retire. They'll have to carry me out. Brett Weston started photographing with his father Edward when he was 11, and he kept doing that until he died at age 82--active and fascinated until his last day. How wonderful!

    The other side of the coin is that I don't think I'll ever have enough income to breeze away. Getting and spending--sometimes it sounds quite awful, especially when you're trapped in a dead-end job and most of your mail is just bills--but the active life makes so much more sense.

    What IS retirement, anyway? Not making money? Not having to take orders? Not having a structured life? Being too tired or disabled to get around and accomplish anything? Sounds kind of bleak.

    No, no retirement for me. I'm still in the race and intend to stay there.

  2. Oh, I'm still "in the race" in the sense that I'm still involved and will take on projects if they seem interesting. But for me, "retirement" means I now participate based on interest, and not on the fact that I'm being paid to do what they tell me whether it's interesting or not. Fortunately in the 21 years of my second marriage, we both made enough money that we could sock away a much higher percentage than many people do, and we think we now have enough to live on as long as we may need to. I still worry a little about whether we are right about that.