[A self-interview about how it feels to have been retired for two years now from my 30-year career as a librarian. I’m recording these thoughts so I can compare how I first felt about retirement to how I come to feel about it later on. I posted previous retirement-era status reports after the first week, the second week, the first three months, the first six months, and on my first-year retirement anniversary. Much of what I have to report this go-around will be familiar to readers of my most recent annual Solstice letter.]
OK, then, Mr. Cal: Your final day at work was March 12, 2013; it’s now March 12, 2015. Any major differences to report about your second year of retirement vs. your first year of it?
The short answer is No. There are a few subtle differences, perhaps, but no major ones – so far.
Meaning that two full years into retirement I’m still frequently delighted to realize (for the thousandth time) that the rhythm – not to mention the content – of my days is no longer dominated by having to work full-time. I’m still loving the “permanent vacation” aspect of not working…but still not used to this being the “new normal.” (My favorite retirement-themed T-shirt slogan: “I Don’t Want To, I Don’t Have To, You Can’t Make Me, I’m Retired!”)
Despite the parts of my library career that I really enjoyed, I’ve yet to experience a single twinge of nostalgia for it, and I certainly don’t hanker for the semi-predictability of a full-time work regimen that was my daily reality for over forty years.
It’s hard to believe there’s not something you miss from your library career.
It sounds crazy, but the only thing I miss every now and then is the fact that I no longer have a convenient excuse for creating library book displays! Doing those from time to time was a peripheral, rather than a crucial, part of my job as a librarian, so I’m surprised that it’s the one thing about being a librarian that I most wish I could still be doing! I thought I would miss terribly the interesting process of ordering new books, or maybe miss the satisfaction of finding ways to for the library staff to make its work more efficient, or miss interacting with library users or helping connect them with what they were looking for – but, no, what I miss most is creating book displays! Go figure.
And the “subtle differences” between how you feel in Year 2 of retirement vs. Year 1?
Within the past few months – and only within the past few months – I have begun wondering whether my current hobbies and patterns of socializing will be sufficient to sustain my contentment with all the free time that I now have.
I have a lot of interests that – theoretically – could keep me engaged and happy indefinitely. For example, one thing I’ve done during the second year of my retirement was signing up for several college-level courses on topics that have long interested me. (Three of those courses – one on this history of the Hebrew scriptures, another on symmetry in nature and art, another about Soren Kierkegaard – have been online, plus I just finished, at Emory University’s continuing ed program for seniors, an in-person eight-week course about the cultural and philosophical aspects of death.) With the prospect of the many online and in-person classes I’m likely to sign up for in the future, combined with all the extra time I have now to read about whatever interests me, I can presumably look forward to decades-worth of learning about neat stuff.
Nevertheless, I can now at least dimly imagine an era in my post-retirement life when the long list of pursuing these intellectual interests, plus plunging into all the house and garden projects that I’d put off doing until after I retired, combined with devoting more time to my various hobbies, plus planning the presumably more frequent out-of-town trips that are possible with more free time, plus continuing to socialize with the network of friends I currently see fairly often – that all these things combined still might not be quite enough to keep me as content as I remember being throughout my first year of retirement.
Does that mean you might want to add a part-time job to your routine at some point?
An emphatic No to that question! My hunch is that I’d be willing to take a part-time job only at the moment I determine that I can’t afford not to. I’m still hoping I’ll be lucky enough for that day to never arrive.
A little over a year ago, an interesting-sounding part-time job did come my way, but an unexpected cut in the employer’s personnel budget caused that job to evaporate shortly after it had materialized. The profound relief I felt when I got the no-more-job news told me I really wasn’t very interested in taking on a part-time job in the first place, even though that particular job – using my home computer to order books for “opening day” library collections – was about as ideal as any part-time job is likely to be: I was getting paid for skills that I enjoy using, and I could do the computer-based work on a schedule of my own making.
So it’s probably not a time- and energy-consuming job I might need at some point to be happier with my lot than I happen to have felt a few times recently. I figure it’s something else about my circumstances that needs further tweaking if I’m to remain anywhere near as giddy and as grateful as I felt throughout my first year of retirement – and, for that matter, for the great majority of my second year.
So what do you think you need to change about how you’re navigating these earliest years of your retirement?
Most of the time, I’m content with the range of my hobbies and the extent of the relatively modest amount of socializing I do. However, because my major hobbies – reading, gardening, calligraphy – are so solitary, I do wonder if I might need to conjure up a few more ways to get myself out of the house – and out of my head – more often, doing more things with other people more often than I have these past two years. On the other hand, it’s only recently, and only occasionally, that I’ve become actually worried about this. The times when I have found myself momentarily bored – or fearful that my introverted habits could become seriously self-sabotaging – haven’t lasted very long.
Several factors are probably closely related to these recent speculations of mine about the possible nonsustainability of my current circumstances and attitudes:
• My ruminations on how ideal or unsatisfactory my time-spending habits happen to be are definitely influenced by the fact that I have not become romantically involved with anyone since Larry and I split up six years ago. My recent bouts of mild discontent have partly arisen from my not having completely adapted to living alone instead of living with someone else.
It occurred to me recently that not only did I grow up around a lot of other people (I come from a noisy family of five kids), but also for most of my adult life I’ve lived as a partner in an ongoing significant relationship – and, for most of those relationships (though not all, or all of the time), under the same roof. That’s still the way I would prefer to live, and the hopes I harbor that this will be the case again colors to some extent how happy I allow myself to feel about how I’m currently spending my time and energy. Wanting to be a part of what I consider to be the great adventure of living in partnership with someone else is apparently part of my wiring, and I haven’t been able to shift into some other paradigm that I feel suits me and my aspirations as much as the living-in-a-couple model always has.
During the six years since parting ways with Larry, I have on two occasions become involved with guys who I thought might emerge as Cal’s next Significant Other. Neither of these Potential Partners turned out to be Mr. Right. (In both cases, they figured this out before I did.) If the timing of these Intriguing Person Encounters continues, I am due to again cross paths with Someone Possibly Very Special sometime within the next twelve months! Or not. It could very well be that my partnership fantasies are a waste of energy, and constitute a barrier to my contentment. Perhaps I should reorient my fantasies away from couplehood and towards accepting and internalizing and maximizing the advantages of remaining unpartnered, but the fact is that I haven’t done so.
Something that is quite new for me on the hypothetical relationship front since I retired is being more open to the notion of embarking on a relationship with a Significant Other without assuming we would end up wanting to live together in the same house. That arrangement still doesn’t strike me as ideal (or even practical), but at least I can now imagine such a thing happening, and it happening as a way to make the next hypothetical partnership perhaps more sustainable rather than less so.
• Whether or not another intimate partnership eventually materializes for me, my post-retirement socializing patterns are, after all, still evolving, so balancing, post-retirement, my solitary vs. social pursuits is still a work-in-progress. Perhaps the various organizations I joined either long before or shortly after retiring will eventually lead to more socializing – or even, eventually, to crossing paths with a Significant Other (if, in fact, there is going to be another such creature in my future).
• Regardless of how content or discontent I feel on any given day, my post-retirement routines and choices, two years in, are still remarkably unconstrained by factors that could suddenly and radically change. For example, at the moment I’m still financially able to dispense with the necessity of holding down a part-time job, not to mention the hideous prospect of finding another full-time one. For another example, my mom, now 87 and despite two mild strokes, is still in reasonably good health and able to live independently at home, so – unlike many of my friends and acquaintances – I currently have no care-giving obligations. These sorts of retirement-influencing factors beyond my control could change dramatically at any time, and they are always lurking around in the back of my mind.
• There’s been an unexpected lull in the number of out-of-town trips I’ve taken, or thought about taking. Traveling is something that’s always factored into my Current Contentment Quotient. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I did not travel out of town more often in Year 2 of retirement than I did in Year 1, nor am I currently contemplating more than a single potential trip out of the country later this year. Financial prudence accounts for part of this, but I also assume that I’m just not yet totally comfortable with the prospect of traveling alone. (This despite the fact that the single extended out-of-town solo trip I did make, a few years ago when – unlike now – that trip had to be a relatively short one, was a completely positive experience.)
It’s particularly ironic to me that I am not taking advantage of the supposedly enviable position I’m in of being able to afford more frequent traveling if I would just plan more solo trips. I am still hoping to visit several friends who live in various far-flung places, but I haven’t gotten around to taking – or even planning – those trips yet, and I am not sure why. Am I more of a home-body than I thought I was? Why this reluctance to simply “strike out for the territory,” now that I have the leisure (and presumably the funds) to do so?
• Some – most? – of my recent disconcertedness about the imbalance of my social vs. nonsocial patterns has a lot to do with the weather! The cold and wet of every winter – and especially of every post-retirement winter like the two I’ve now lived through without the distractions of a full-time job – keeps me indoors more often than the other seasons do, and that fact keeps me more disgruntled more often than I generally feel during better-weather months, when I’m spending more time every day outdoors – even if “outdoors” merely means “puttering around in my tiny back yard.”
The annual bout of cabin-fever that has been building up for the past three months is something that’s likely to happen every winter, so I need to remember this when drawing conclusions or making pronouncements to others about how I’m feeling or when trying to evaluate what, or when, or how radically I need to change my habits or choices.
• I’m still spending quite a bit of the time freed up by retirement making steady progress on house-improvement projects. This pattern will doubtless continue to loom large in how I choose to spend my time and energy (and how I choose to deplete my savings), as I happen to love my house and enjoy dreaming up large and small ways to make it even more comfortable and congenial. As Francoise de la Renta once wrote, “the joy of a home is to be in it as much as possible” – and as I am at home most of the time now, I’m grateful to enjoy being here as much as I usually do.
On the proverbial Other Hand, within the last few months I’ve become aware that my enthusiastic nest-feathering activity must someday necessarily come to an end. In his book Sheetrock and Shellac, David Owen noticed that “the closer you get your house to what you think you want it to be, the less power it has to pull you forward through your life.” Owen’s remark has begun, lately, to unnerve me a bit. I’m not claiming that my to-do list – especially the list of garden (vs. interior) projects – has gotten uncomfortably short lately. On the contrary! It’s just that I doubt that I will be forever able to channel most of my non-social time and energy into nest-feathering activities.
So have you made attempts recently to “get out more”?
There are two things – and only two things – that I started during this second year of retirement specifically hoping they might enlarge my network of acquaintances and friends – in particular, my network of gay male acquaintances and friends:
• I recently joined the Wilderness Network of Georgia, a gay hiking and camping group. I’ve gone on two hikes inside the city and enjoyed doing that and meeting the guys I met on those hikes, and, as the weather improves, I look forward to doing more WNG events.
• Since the beginning of 2015, two friends of mine and I have been co-hosting a series of every-other-week spaghetti meals, rotating the location among our three houses. The idea is for us to systematically expand, in a comfortable setting, our respective networks of gay acquaintances. So far, these low-key meals have been pleasant experiences – not only because I’ve been able to meet additional interesting people, but because of the interesting process of working closely with these two friends to fine-tune our little experiment.
Any final thoughts about Year 2 vs. Year 1 of your retirement adventure?
Only that I’m still deeply grateful to have so much time to ponder the advantages and disadvantages of being retired. That I’m still (usually) optimistic that my life as a new retiree will turn out to be – interpersonally and otherwise – as interesting and as full of pleasant surprises and unexpected adventures as the wildly-different eras of my pre-retirement life were.
All things considered, retirement – partly of course because I’m reasonably healthy and solvent – has been a resoundingly wonderful thing. I will continue to strongly recommend immediate retirement to anyone who can afford to quit his/her full-time job, and who has pre-retirement interests or hobbies they are likely to pursue or expand after they suddenly come into an additional 40+ hours of time every week.
Meanwhile, this week I’ve been happy to see the weather has warming up to the point that I can finally spend time outside! It’s really something, gleefully knowing that I no longer need to check my wristwatch from time to time to see if I need to quickly put away my gardening tools so I can get everything else done around the house that needs doing so I can get to work on time! And the warmer and dryer weather also means I can again look forward using my motor scooter to do a more of my errands. Hurray!