On Retirement

George’s Diner

I’ve been retired now for seven months.

Long enough to lose that Sunday evening dip, a precursor to the Monday morning blues. Those went a lot quicker — without Mondays to reinforce them.

I had a lot of expectations about what would happen. I imagined I’d be out with my cameras on all sorts of projects. I imagined I would fill each day with activities. In short, I imagined I would carry the way I approached work right out with me into the new era.

This hasn’t happened at all.

What has happened has surprised me. Instead of photography expeditions, I find myself writing. A lot. But not here. Nor anywhere on the internet. Or even on a computer.

No, I write as I used to write. With a pen and into a white paper lined journal book.

I write what comes into my head. Thoughts about the political situation, finances, memories, family, feelings, fears, loves, retirement itself. I’ll most often write in a coffee shop, sometimes the one in the St. Louis Art Museum, sometimes Shaw’s Coffee on The Hill, sometimes even in a Starbucks. Usually I fill about four to eight pages. Mostly with a black ball point pen but lately with a blue one.

These words remain in the book. I don’t transcribe them onto my computer, I don’t post them on a site such as this.

Why am I doing this?

And why now?

It’s a difficult question to answer — and especially so here. After months of writing in a small notebook, every word I put out here seems naked and exposed. Perhaps that in itself is part of the answer. By denying my thoughts to any other reader, they return to that comforting and sheltered zone that is one’s own self. There’s no need to think of others, so there’s no need or desire to allow any of those emotions we apply to social interaction to influence them.

After many years of writing for the internet, this return to a more personal area has been liberating. It has also radically reduced my interaction with social media, bringing it down to an almost incidental level. I still use the internet a lot, but now for gathering news or researching areas of interest. Socially interactive sites are falling by the wayside. Not only the obvious suspects like Facebook and Twitter, but also Wordpress and Medium and even my photography sharing sites. I simply feel no desire to engage with any of them on any sort of regular basis.

It’s becoming clear that much of what I did was driven by social expectation. And one of the most potent drivers of social expectation is work. We all have to conform to a certain way of doing things. Remove that, and a lot else lifts away alongside. Anxiety, for one thing. Obligation is another.

It’s this freedom that has been the greatest surprise and joy of retiring. No longer defined in any sense by what I do, I am able simply to be. On Friday, I was at a memorial gathering for my friend Mary given by the Washington University Dept. of Classics. Afterwards, there was the usual chitchat between attendants. Some of whom I knew, and a few not met for a very long time. As is so often the case in these brief encounters, the primary topic of conversation was how was work was going. I listened to the typical litanies of complaints or achievements — and, with enormous pleasure, realized that none of it had any meaning for me whatsoever anymore. When I rejoined that I was retired, there was that slightly glazed look I often get from those still working. One I interpret as a sense of dislocation; the removal of familiar frames of reference and familiar ways of judging one’s place in this world.

For some, those whose identities are closely bound to what they do, retirement probably looms as thing to be feared more than celebrated. I never had any doubt that I would enjoy retiring. What has astonished me is just how I enjoy retirement. Until you walk a path, you never know just what you will find.

And what a path it is.