Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A message from Philippa Kafka: There are some amazing older women out there!

I received a message from Philippa Kafka one of the contributors to Women Confronting Retirement: A Non-traditional Guide.

Philippa is really impressive. She is still restoring houses and doing something called kickbox and zumba. There are some amazing older women out there! From Philippa:

Your comment made my day! Thanks so much. I am now 76, my husband, 62 (he retired with me) and we have been retired ca 10 years.

My last publication was in 2005, but I seem to have lost my desire for scholarship. I am working on my memoir in a most desultory fashion. I began editing, reviewing, judging submissions for a feminist journal in 1998, before retirement. I love it.

Yes, we are still restoring/upgrading houses, my husband, seven days a week, myself only a few hours at a time.

I kickbox twice a week, the oldest woman, by far, in the class. My husband is generally the only male in the class every time. I also do zumba twice a week, but a few older woman are in these classes because women love to dance and jump around at any age. Again, my husband is generally the only male in the class. I believe that the older we get the more we should be physically active. I jump into the air more and higher with every "high" call than the teacher even in order to attempt not to limp slowly like the majority of my age cohorts and younger. My legs feel like steel rods.

Your garden is lovely. Our last iris here in the CA project just wilted, but our roses here are beautiful, and the roses in NV(our primary home) were spectacular when we left.
Here's some pix. The rose garden pictured is in our NV home.
Enjoy your retirement to the fullest!!!!!

Best, Phillipa

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Read this book: Women Confronting Retirement: A Non-traditional Guide

I recently recently discovered Women Confronting Retirement: A Non-traditional Guide, a collection edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh. The book has helped me think through my approach to my retirement years.

The contributors are mostly white, middle class professional women. For the most part, these are women who can afford to finance (at the least) a modest retirement. They all write well and their stories are sometimes gripping.

No surprise, I was most interested in accounts of retired teachers. They confirmed my belief that teachers are especially well equipped to deal with the unstructured time of retirement. We have invested a lifetime in reading, writing, learning--self-directed pursuits which can be engaged in independent of institutional affiliation.

Also since we’ve had so much time off, we’ve had a lot of practice for retirement. One of my more cynical colleagues said to me: "Why are you retiring? You have a 3 day schedule for 28 weeks of the year. That leaves plenty of time for all the things you want to do. Why give up the paycheck?"

Well, my answer is similar to Phillipa Kafka's, in her essay, “Afterthoughts:”

Rather than subject my students to what I had observed some of my older colleagues doing after they had “lost it”—teaching only for their paycheck and to have some place to hang out every day, I determined to retire as soon as possible.(p.234)

It’s not so easy to stay engaged for decades and I was struck by how many of the former teachers felt the job had changed since the early days when they were in love with their work. Susan Radner focuses on changes in her relationship with her students:

As I entered my fifties and sixties, I had to change my approach in the classroom and make political connections for them. Although most students seemed eager to learn about the feminist literature I was teaching in all my classes, they were very passive, in glaring contrast to the activist students of previous generations. (p.222)

And it’s not just the students who have changed. Susan Radosh’s describes younger faculty as less politically engaged:

Individual career paths replaced concern for those without power—students, support staff, junior faculty. Feminism became an adornment rather than a life-motivating force. Smartly dressed young women fought for the goodies—courses, promotions—while at the same time mouthing feminist ideas by now cliché….In a sign that my life had come full circle, I again found myself isolated in committee meetings and group discussions. I just didn’t see things the way the others did. Thus in ways big and small, I came to feel that I had outlived my usefulness.(p.223)

Others, such as Lanie Melamed focus on the institutional changes which drove them to retire:

In the early nineties, class sizes escalated, faculty ranks and student-centered programs were downsized, and computers were marking student papers. Excellence in teaching became a fading objective as universities hungered for research monies to replenish disappearing funds. Soon after I retired, my colleagues were facing classes of 65 to 140 students. This was anathema to my views of effective teaching and learning, requiring performance-style lecturing with little opportunity for small group work and interactive class discussion. (p.297-8)

For those like me who have spent most of their teaching career in one institution, a powerful motivator was the desire to do something different in the time they have left. Diane Horwitz who spent 30 years as a community college sociology teacher writes:

I spent two hours of the work day driving, often through snowy Chicago winters. Five, sometimes six classes each semester produced hundreds of papers to grade; after the first ten, I would grow weary. The college offered just two or three different sociology courses, so I often repeated Introduction to Sociology four times a day. While each class presented new challenges, I ached for variety.(p. 166)

As I read these essays, I was struck by how temperament (more than anything else) seemed to color the writers’ feelings about retirement. Some clearly have those sunny, resilient temperaments I’ve always admired and envied. It’s what my husband refers to as the Aunt Sally temperament. We visited my husband’s Aunt Sally in her nursing home when she was in her mid-nineties. She greeted us as cheerfully as always and said, “Well, I don’t know who you are but I feel like I should know you. But that’s okay; I’m so happy you stopped by. Isn’t it a lovely day?”

Chances are if you were an Aunt Sally when you were young, you’ll be one when you’re old. Some of the writers, like Dorothy Kapstein Hammer have Aunt Sally’s upbeat disposition:

Any remorse? Yes, there are always some do-overs in our heads and hearts, but at this stage I try to replace them with what is doable and gives me pleasure. I celebrate what I have done and seen, what I can still do, and what I look forward to doing. So what is this thing called retirement”? It can be a joy or a bugaboo, depending on how you view it. I believe I’ve retired to more free time to do the things I love without stress and although I am clearly slowing down, I’ve tailored myself a work-and-play ethic that is rich and rewarding. It truly makes for retirement without regrets. (p.310)

Similarly, Ida Henderson writes:

To those already retired, I say, “It’s a big world, follow your passion and seize every moment. Come on in, the water’s fine. Can’t swim? Don’t worry; there’s always someone willing to coach you.” In conclusion, I have to say I have been truly blessed with good health, a loving family and an abundance of sincere and caring friends.
I am always ready to seize the day and follow my passion! (p.316)

Others have a melancholic streak which I suspect they’ve always had. Carol Gamin writes:

I know, upon reflection, that the imminence of death colors the choices and activities of later life, just as surely as does frailty or illness. What I want to do is not let it take over. I want to benefit from the shadows by appreciating light and color and beauty and sound and love more. I want my physical senses and my spiritual appetites to be whetted by the approach of death.(p.310)

I’ve had similar thoughts but never expressed them so well. For me, keeping the melancholic streak at bay is my major challenge in retirement. I do not fear unstructured time. I’ve always been the busy little beaver, developing new course, new projects, and building new organizations. There are more activist projects/writing projects than I’ll ever have time to complete. There are so many books to read, languages to learn, friends to re-connect with—-not to mention all my garden projects.

I am not worried about too much time on my hands. I am worried about thoughts of the future—aging, illness, loss, death-intruding on present happiness. Aunt Sally would never have let that happen. So I am trying to cultivate whatever inner Aunt Sally I might have.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My husband and I celebrated his 68th(!!!) birthday in NYC last week

My husband and I celebrated his 68th birthday in NYC last week and saw the magical new production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Luckily we got our tickets before the Obamas went and had great seats. My husband thought the first act was too diffuse and needed editing. Maybe so, but I loved every minute of it.

My husband and I are both kind of shell-shocked by these numbers: 68 for him and 65 for me in September.

This appears to be a common reaction. I have never heard anyone say: “Well, I’m 65 but I feel like 85; the time has passed so slowly.” It's much more likely to be: “Well, I’m 65 but I feel like 35; the time has passed so quickly.”

How to slow down the time? I’ve noticed when we have spent 3 weeks on a vacation to a foreign country it often seems like much more than 3 weeks. When I am at home during the summer, doing nothing in particular, 2 weeks can disappear in a flash. I think there’s a lesson here.

Of course we can’t afford to be traveling around the globe most of our time! But we are thinking of ways to stretch our resources to get to NYC more often.

My husband loves New York and if we could afford it, he would want to retire to the isle of Manhattan. I always feel more alive when I’m in NYC, but I wouldn't want to live there--too frenetic for me. My beloved Philly is just about my speed.

But good as Philly theater is, it’s not Broadway . We usually go to NYC about 4 times a year and need to figure out ways to do it more often (and thus more economically). Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Last Iris

Well I will have to wait another year to see my Iris and my peonies again. My irises were finished last week and my last peony bit the dust yesterday.

I am madly in love with bearded irises and always feel very sad when the last Bearded iris fades away (I usually have some Siberian iris for another week, but it’s not the same.)

Beard Iris have that indescribable fragrance that I cannot get enough of. True, there are re-bloomers that sometimes come back in the Fall but that’s not when I want that intoxicating Iris fragrance.

My first bearded iris appeared in the first week of May and the last one to bloom, Beverly Sills, departed my garden on June 3. This has got to be one if the most beautiful irises of all time-–a pale peach color with a fragrance to die for. I’ve often wondered if the real Beverly Sills appreciated the magnificent iris named for her.

How many more years will I see Beverly return? I try to banish those stupid, morbid thoughts. For me, one of the challenges of the retirement years is to stop thinking like this. Such thoughts sure don’t buy us any more time.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I finished cleaning out my office on Thursday. Now I can finally relax and smell the roses.

I handed in my keys and finished cleaning out my office on Thursday. Now I can finally relax and smell the roses.

I managed to reduce the contents of my office to 2 boxes and the last box was removed on Thursday. When I first began sorting and sifting, I thought a lot about what I would throw away. Yesterday I stopped agonizing and threw most of the stuff in the trash.

I finally finished all the retirement paperwork-—running around to various offices getting signatures attesting that I don’t have any college library books, audio-visual equipment, computers etc. in my possession. So it is finally all over.

I never expected the process of retiring to be so much work!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Next year I will have time to smell the lilacs

The busiest time of the year for gardeners is the busiest time for a teacher. My semester ends the beginning of May, so I have had little time for gardening in April.

Usually by the time I have gotten through final exams, collapsed from absolute and total exhaustion for a few days, it’s mid-May. The weeds are already out of control and it’s too late for all those hostas I wanted to divide, all those perennials I wanted to move around.

This happens again in the Fall as I desperately try to divide perennials, cruise the garden centers for fall planting bargains, plant bulbs, at the same time as I have all these classes to teach—-not to mention my volunteer projects.

It became clear that some thing had to go: my job, my garden, my volunteer work. Since I get most satisfaction from the garden and the volunteer projects (more about that later), it was clear that the job had to go. Too bad the pay check has to go as well, but at this stage in my life time is so much more valuable than money.

Well, back to weeding. It sure beats grading papers.