Three Colleagues Commentary

To begin at the end, I’m not going to be Terry. I never wanted to change the world. I like teaching and after decades of practice, I’m good at it, but I got into it to support a research habit. It seems unlikely that I’ll suddenly develop a social conscience and want to devote myself to good works after I retire. At least I haven’t managed to irritate the people I’ve worked with enough to make them want to ease me out (or maybe my skin is thick enough that I haven’t noticed their efforts).

Jerry is my pathetic example, the person I absolutely do not want to be. When I retire, I plan to leave very permanently: no coming back to teach one course at a time, even online, no hanging around the edges. It helps that I don’t live in LRU-ville; my social life, such as it is, takes place elsewhere. While I do expect to keep doing research, I’ll have books delivered to a library near me, rather than going to LRU for them, and I’ll see people at conferences, not on campus.

I have long admired Merry’s approach, and hoped to emulate it. The problem is, I don’t know what plays the role of British theatre in my life! At one time, I thought I might want simply to go “home,” that is, to where I grew up. To do that would require time travel. That place has changed significantly; it doesn’t draw me as forcefully as it once did. I can imagine moving to the UK, not to London, but somewhere smaller with both a castle and a cathedral, and training to be a docent at both. That way I could spend the rest of my life in the Middle Ages. But I don’t feel like that’s something I must do, just that it would be fun (and I recognize that it’s hard to move to a new country, even one where you speak the language).

Merry, so far as I know, was single (maybe there was someone in London, but I was not privy to that information). I have a husband to consider. He’s from Here, and likes it here. His mother is still alive, and needs more assistance from her children these days. I completely support Sir John’s interest in staying near his mother through her lifetime; it’s hard enough for me being across the country from my now-very-elderly father that I don’t want to pull him away from family just because I think it would be fun to live somewhere else.

If my “Thing” ever hits me over the head, I’ll file my retirement papers and go do it. But as I said last summer, the things people do in retirement are mostly things I already do as much as I want to. I suppose I could try to completely reinvent myself: sign up for wood-working lessons and workshops on miniatures, build doll-houses and their furniture. Or take golf and bridge lessons, turn myself into my step-grandmother. Or become (yet another) style blogger for the over-50 set (certainly there are a lot of potential friends in that set!). None of those things appeals to me as much as continuing to do the things I enjoy and do well. At some point, I’ll have to make a change. I’m trying to be open to possibilities, to see if I run across an activity that sparks enough joy that I’d want lots more time for it.

Three colleagues

Three modes of retirement. I’ll give them names, a la Ms Mentor, to help keep them straight. Commentary will come later.

Merry specialized in modern British drama. She put in 30 years, the point at which full benefits kicked in, and retired at sixty. She sold her house, sold or gave away her furniture, books, and most other belongings, and moved to London, where she lived in a bed-sit and went to the theater five times a week. When I last checked, over a decade ago, this was still her life.

Jerry, more or less a contemporary (he and Merry both were full professors when I was hired), delayed retiring. He loved teaching, and kept at it for forty years. Then he moved sideways into directing a student-focused organization on campus, until eventually it became clear that they really needed a professional director, and he was eased out of that position. Even now, he hangs around the office as a volunteer, muttering about how the mighty have fallen.

Terry, younger than either, spent their career building up an interdisciplinary program dear to their heart, then bowed out of working with that program due to conflicts with colleagues in other disciplines, and retired a couple of years later. Terry always wanted to change the world, and started feeling that they weren’t making much progress at that while teaching for LRU. Terry now volunteers for a couple of good causes, with considerable responsibility for organizing and fund-raising for one of them; this is stressful, but also shows direct world-changing effects, so it’s rewarding enough to keep Terry happy, at least for now. It’s also mainly remote work, so could continue after Terry’s partner retires, at which point they might move.

For the moment, I’m leaving aside examples of people who have retired due to health problems (their own or a spouse’s), and those who immediately moved to be near their children and grandchildren. I could wind up in the former group, but the latter is not applicable.

Six on (last) Saturday

Last week I took pictures but didn’t get around to posting them. So I scheduled a post for this Saturday, instead, with the garden’s last gasp. The sprinkles we got around noon last Saturday turned to snow showers by sunset, with more snow through the week, including snow showers today. The ground is still too warm for it to last, but it is a harbinger of the coming winter, as are the fat squirrels coming round for handouts:

This is Loretta, one of the fox squirrels. Her mate is JoJo. They got their names because they are so bold that we are always having to tell them “Get back!”

#2 is Short Tail, a female grey squirrel. We also have at least three grey squirrels with full tails. I believe one of them (at least) is Short Tail’s daughter, as we have seen them grooming each other.

#3 is a final brave bloom from the coneflower cultivar by the front steps. Squirrels beheaded most of its flowers/seed heads weeks ago, but then we got a burst of warm days and it put out another flower.

Similarly, #4 is one last flower from Annabelle the hydrangea. I’ve been admiring the bushy brown heads from inside, and when I went out to take a picture, spotted this white one in the middle of the bunch.

Similarly, Honorine Joubert is holding on, though the purple asters have given up.

Finally, #6 is that sedum that I so often use as a gauge of the seasons’ progress.

Six on Saturday is now hosted by Jim at Garden Ruminations. Check out posts there to find lots more blogging gardeners.

One quotation

From Sue Grafton’s X, an elderly librarian speaking about the possibility of retiring:

“I’m not one for needlework, and you can only read so many books before your eyesight fails. Someone suggested volunteer work, but that’s out of the question. I’m accustomed to being paid, and the idea of giving away my time and my skills is an affront. Braver women than I fought decades for equal compensation in the workplace, so why would I undo their accomplishments?”

Three remarks

A couple of weeks ago, in my grad class, we were discussing the Riverside Chaucer. One of my students, inspecting the publication information, said “That’s the year before I was born!”

I refrained from mentioning that the book came out the year I started graduate school. The students can probably work that out for themselves, if they look me up.

The same week, I unexpectedly saw a colleague in the parking lot, someone who used to be in a writing group with me, but whom I haven’t seen in years. I hailed this person; the first words out of their mouth were “I thought you’d already be retired!”

Sir John says this is sort of like saying “I thought you’d be dead by now.” I didn’t take it that badly, perhaps because in our writing group days I observed that things this person says are much more likely to be about them than about the person they’re talking to. Sure enough, conversation revealed that they’d like to retire but can’t do it yet.

When Sir John and I opened a new joint checking account last year, at the bank he’s used for decades, the woman helping us asked if I’d like to consult with a personal banker: “You might be able to retire sooner than you thought!”

“But I don’t want to retire,” I said, so quietly that Sir John (who knows me well) thought I was angry. Not that. More sad, I think.

I’m supposed to want to retire, but I don’t. I didn’t expect this. When I was approaching the age at which I could retire early, and had a department chair I didn’t like, it was a comfort to think that soon I’d be able to tender my resignation if it all got to be too much. Now that that time, and another couple of chairs, have come and gone, I’m happy with my current life. I’d like things to stay the way they are for awhile longer.

Kitchen table piles

Do these happen in everyone’s houses, or just in the places I live?

My dad always had huge heaps of papers on the kitchen table, gradually encroaching on his place from the unused places, and then spreading further till my mother would make him remove some of the junk. So maybe it’s just that I’m used to it, and it doesn’t really occur to me to move my stuff or ask Sir John to remove his, because in my mind that’s what tables are for.

After my mother died, my father’s piles spread to encompass the whole house. He brought in new surfaces to put stuff on. He’s still piling things up on the bedside table in his nursing home.

I once mentioned, casually, to a colleague that my father was a hoarder. She said, horrified, “Did you know?”

How could we not?

I had the impression she thought his kids should “do something,” but there’s really nothing to do. Cleaning up would just make him mad, and then he’d need to collect more stuff, so we would have damaged the relationship with nothing much to show for the effort.

At any rate, here in the Hull house we can still eat on the table. There’s sort of a steady-state equilibrium of stuff coming in, sitting for awhile, and then going out again. So I think we’re okay.

But I do sometimes wonder if other people do better at keeping surfaces clear.