Friday, July 23, 2010

The real reason I retired—more time for political activism!

The real reason I retired—more time for political activism!

I started my blog in order to write about retirement issues—the decision, the process, and the actual experience of leaving the paid work force. However, I find myself writing increasingly about politics rather than on retirement life.

When I looked at posts archived by subject I have: 22 posts for Politics/World Events; 15 posts for FEMINISM; 16 posts for Retirement LIFE; 10 posts for Retirement: the decision and process.

This blog is clearly tipping in the direction of a political blog—not my original intent at all.

I just re-read my earlier posts about my reasons for retiring. The main one was fear of burn-out. I wanted to stop teaching before I was totally burned-out, a spectral presence creeping along the hallways, the ghost of my former self. (There are already too many of them at my former work place.)

I didn’t realize how close to serious burn-out I was until I stopped teaching. One of my colleagues who has seen many of his age cohort retire told me, when you retire “all those dissatisfactions you repressed--so you could keep on going day after day--rise to the surface. When you’re no longer facing years on the same job, it’s safe to acknowledge that you’re burning out."

Aside from my fear of burn-out, I had a long list of projects I wanted to do. My pre-retirement laundry list included: writing this blog; finally finishing a research project on second wave feminism in Philadelphia; learning Spanish; doing a little traveling; staying involved in the feminist/ social justice movement; getting my garden in shape; reading all those books I want to get to before I check out; and hanging out with my wonderful husband.

So how has it worked out? I’ve been doing a lot of hanging out with my husband and good friends and doing some traveling. The blog has been great fun and I’ve made some progress on my history of second wave feminism—although I need to step up my pace if I’m going to finish this while I still have a few brain cells and eyesight left.

Sad to say my garden doesn’t seem to be in any better shape than it was in my working years. That trip to New England got in the way of fall clean-up/bulb planting. And that trip to Peru came at the very worst time for a gardener—April. Instead of trekking about Machu Picchu, I should have been fertilizing and dividing hostas.

I’ve read far fewer books than I expected and haven’t been all that serious about Spanish—although I’ve improved a little.

But I have been doing a lot more political/feminist activist stuff.

And it’s not just that I’m doing more; I’m enjoying it more. In my final working years, I was missing more and more meetings. In my last year on the job, just about the only meetings I went to were those I had to chair.

So now instead of falling asleep during meetings I’m actually enjoying them—especially the social dimension. The NOW meetings are so much more enjoyable now that I no longer have to chair them. And I can now come late and leave early just like everybody else!

I’ve always been something of a participant/observer in my activist role. I’m fascinated by the group dynamics and the motivations of political actors. Crazy as it might sound I think one of the main reasons I retired was that I could go to more political meetings. My job was getting in the way of my activist projects.

Will this continue through my later retirement years? My guess is it will now that the internet allows us to be political activists (of a sort) without ever leaving home!

Now it’s not all fun and games. Working within the Democratic Party can be seriously depressing at times. And the most depressing part is not so much when the bad guys are up to their dirty tricks but when the good guys wimp out and shrink from confronting them. A comment on my post at Daily Kos from Bill W really gave me pause:

I'm in Northern NJ, and for the first time in over a decade, I won't be on the ballot for County Committee. I've given up any hope of seeing a reform movement wrest control from the corrupt county machine. A few years back, they found a novel way of removing Committee members who were not loyal to the boss -- they forged letters of resignation from five members. This kind of crap goes on all over the place, and it's driving good people away from the party.

I worry that I'm wasting my time (and time is precious at this stage of life) on electoral politics. But for now I intend to soldier on.


  1. Karen, one thing that retirement has taught me is the value of the unexpected. I've always been someone who thought about the future and planned ahead. But when I looked back on my life as I was about to retire, I realized that the things that had meant the most to me in my professional life had been things I could never have predicted, directions I had moved in without planning. At my retirement dinner, I noted that no one who knew me in graduate school would ever have imagined that my career would develop as it had. And although I had no plans for my life after retirement, that didn't bother me. I had learned to trust in serendipity.

    I say all this because I think you're finding the same thing: that your blog, and perhaps your life, is moving in directions somewhat different from those you had anticipated. If electoral politics is what is most engaging you right now, go with it! Don't waste time second-guessing your passions. Life is too short, and passions are too much fun, to worry about whether there's something else you should be doing instead.

  2. I’ve never been one "to trust in serendipity." I’ve always been a hyper-planner and am trying to unlearn that. Old habits die hard.

    Although my priorities in retirement are not quite what I had expected, at least I have never regretted the decision to retire—not for a millisecond!

    I'll try to take you advice and not waste time second-guessing my passions

  3. It seems to me that as long as you're enjoying what you're doing, Karen, you're not wasting your time. It will be gratifying, of course, if you can see that your work is yielding some changes, but if it stops being fun or if you find yourself in Bill W's position, you'll stop. You sized up your need to retire astutely and you'll do the same for whatever aspects of your political work become stale or too Sisyphean. In the meantime, have a wonderful time! And thanks for doing this political gardening.

  4. "Political gardening!" Now that's an interesting way of thinking about this.

    Thanks for the encouragement!