My So-called Retirement
I don’t know where you are in this retirement experience – enjoying it, dreading it, denying you’re in it, can’t wait for it? But if you’re like me you definitely find it puzzling. Which is what I’ll be writing about from time to time in My So-Called Retirement.
I hope you weigh in because as always, when it comes to change and challenge, we need each other’s help.
I used to sympathize with my friends who didn’t work but stayed home and raised kids and who dreaded the “What do you do?” question at parties. Their answer “I’m a mom,” would get them little but a polite smile from others who would then turn to scan the crowd for someone more interesting.
I could argue on behalf of those women that anyone who didn’t respect the hard job of being a mother wasn’t worth talking to. I, too, was a mother, and I was on their side.
But I was on the other side, too. I didn’t have to avoid the question at parties. I, in fact, looked forward to it. I had a better answer. And did that make me feel a little bit superior? Sure.
“I’m a newspaper reporter,” I said and later, down the road, I could add the even sexier, “I’m a columnist.” That usually got their attention. If a person recognized my name they might try to be flattering and mention something I’d written. Or they might become a little antagonistic, like the guy who said he liked my writing except for when I sounded like a feminist. Sometimes a person would use me as their chance to rant about the media. But they never just turned away.
I was advised by a friend to never answer “retired” when asked what I did.
When I first left my regular newspaper job more than a year ago, I was advised by a friend to never answer “retired” when asked what I did. “Tell them you do something,” she said. “It makes you seem young.”
That’s part of it, isn’t it? To say you’re retired creates an image attached to an age (old), a lifestyle (sedentary) and value (past). People envy retired people their time, but not their standing.
My generation of women (the Boomer vanguard) was the first to swarm into the workplace in a big way. We were educated women, trained for careers that came with a business card and status. Then, after 30 or 40 years of it, we stopped doing it. Maybe we had no choice because someone said it’s time to go. Or maybe, like for me, we chose to go. The newspaper business was in a downward dive when I left. It had stopped being fun, and to tell you the truth I wanted to exit before someone decided to take away my column and force me to write cops and robbers or spend weekends covering some NASCAR race.
When people ask me what I do now, I say “writer.” And if they say, “I thought you retired,” I start explaining that just because I no longer go into a newsroom every day and just because I get a pension doesn’t mean I’m actually retired. At least not in the classic sense. I’m doing it my way and I’ll tell them more once I figure it out.
People envy retired people their time, but not their standing.
I was at the beach with my dog and spotted a woman I had once interviewed for the paper. She had been a college instructor and I asked her how it was going and she said she’s never been happier since retiring. And what, I inquired, does she answer when people ask what she’s doing now. “I say I’m just being,” she said.
Now, this woman is at a point where I am not. She looked regal, her long silver blonde hair twisting in the sea breeze, a black poncho wrapped around her tall lean frame. When she and her elegant dog trotted off down the beach I pulled my dog off a rotting seagull and thought, well, there’s a role model. I never thought about “just being.”
To catch up on all stories under the My So-Called Retirement heading, go HERE.
Susan Swartz is an author and journalist in Sebastopol, Ca. You can also read her at www.juicytomatoes.com and hear her Another Voice commentary on KRCB-FM radio on Fridays. Email is email@example.com