Retirement rest, reflection, reinvention, and -of course!- reading

In a chat with one of my friends who retired several years ago after a very successful career in the Army, she told me that she planned to pursue the “3 Rs” of rest, reflection, and reinvention.  I liked that alliteration and so have adopted it for myself, adding “reading” to the list.  Now that it’s September and I’m well and truly into my retirement, I thought I would write about where I am in this process, of course weaving a few book reviews in at the end!

Rest  After returning from my adventure in the San Juan Islands, I realized how very tired I actually was!  For the last thirty years I have used my summers to do all the projects that needed doing and just couldn’t get done during the school year.  This summer I fell into the same pattern, painting the interior of my entire house being just one example.  My husband even joked with a neighbor that I seemed to be working harder in retirement than when I was “working”.  It’s only now that I’ve been able to step back and let myself relax a bit that I’ve seen how truly stressed out I really was.  The all-consuming nature of the teaching profession seems even more pronounced now that I’ve had the chance to distance myself from it, which leads to me to…

Reflection  As I was leaving for the airport to return from my wonderful week in San Juan Island and Oregon, my dear friend, Debbie, made me promise that I wouldn’t read any books about education for at least a month.  I had been talking to her about a couple of book reviews on education reform that had piqued my interest.  I still intend to read those books, just not until October.  🙂  But in the meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about one review in particular, in which it was pointed out that the average American teacher works almost twice as much as their colleagues in pretty much every other developed country in the world (in some cases, triple!)

Many of my non-teacher friends have gone to reduced hours as a prelude to their retirement.  Unfortunately, this isn’t really encouraged in public schools, and financially it just made more sense for me to outright retire.   I do think I could have made a difference for many students for at least a few more years if I had been able to teach only two or three classes, but that just wasn’t going to be an option.  And I’ve thought throughout my whole career that I would have been a truly exemplary teacher if I had just had more time, i.e., fewer classes.  We seem to have been in a hand-wringing mode in our discourse about public education pretty much since I started over thirty years ago, but of all the reforms I’ve seen floated, this is the one that I think could actually make a genuine difference in the achievement of our young people.  Unfortunately, it is also the reform that is least likely to ever be taken seriously or implemented.  It would cost money, you see, and we don’t really want to spend our money on our young people in this country, despite protests to the contrary.

At first I thought that I would like to continue teaching Spanish in some way, perhaps looking for one or two community college classes, but increasingly I’m feeling very strongly that it’s time for me to put that part of life definitively behind me.  My reflection has led me to think a lot about…

Reinvention  If I were a millionaire, I would be buying a house on San Juan Island right now.  Whenever I imagine what a new life would look like, I see yoga, hiking, sea-kayaking, tide-pooling, bicycling, reading, and then writing.  I think I’ve always believed there was a writer in me.  My favorite part of college and graduate school was researching and writing papers, and students were always asking me to write letters of recommendation for them because they heard I wrote good ones.  I’m not sure what form my writing might take in the future.  I’m not very good with criticism (a fatal flaw for a writer!), and I don’t know that I actually have anything that interesting to say.  But I’m enjoying this little blog immensely, so I guess that’s where I’ll stay for now.  Maybe my friend, Pam, will write her book about the Camino de Santiago and she’ll let me help edit it.  In the meanwhile, I’m savoring the newfound time to pursue my obsession with…

Reading  Since my last post, I’ve read three very good books.  On a Hoof and a Prayer:  Exploring Argentina at a Gallopby Polly Evans (Delta, 2008) was a thoroughly enjoyable tour of Argentina, where the author decides to take the riding lessons she’s been craving since childhood and then ride wherever possible in the country.  Her British wit is a bit less pronounced here than in her previous books, but her descriptions of the people she meets and the landscape she rides through are exquisite.  I was almost shivering with the cold when she was in Ushuaia, for example, and she perfectly conveys the personalities of the various horses she rides.  (I took a particular liking to “Floppy” for some reason.  Maybe I just really liked the name!)  My grasp of Latin American history is not as extensive as I would like it to be, and Evans does a very nice job of explaining that history in an engaging and accessible style.  Her description of the rise of Eva – “Evita” – Perón, for example, is one of the most succinct and yet informative that I’ve encountered.  In my ideal world, I guess I would like to write travel books…I just don’t know that I have that talent or voice!

After leaving Argentina, I took a completely different tack (is that a horse phrase?…) and launched into post WWII Germany in The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink (Vintage, 2008).  This is the next selection for my book group, and we’ll also be watching the movie when we meet later this week.  I liked it well enough, and found the exploration of personal responsibility to be very interesting.  The language was a bit stilted and sometimes pedantic, though I don’t know if that is because of the translation or because German is just that way.  In any event, it was one of those books I always thought I should read and had just never gotten around to.  There’s a certain current of reinvention throughout the novel, though I hope I can do better in the end than the female main character.

Finally, I’ve just finished Blue Plate Special:  An Autobiography of My Appetites, by the novelist Kate Christensen (Random House, 2013).  My husband gave it to me for our anniversary, I think because he thought it was a food and travel narrative.  It’s actually more of a memoir – with  a bit of travel and some recipes thrown in.  As I’ve been thinking about reinvention I found it very interesting to follow the trajectory of a writer who is actually a contemporary (she was born in 1962), though her life and mine could not possibly have been more different.  In truth, I didn’t always find the author to be a particularly sympathetic character, a conclusion with which I think she would probably actually agree.  Her chaotic hippie childhood in Berkeley and then Arizona, her numerous romantic involvements, her alcohol-infused New York writing career, all are vastly different from my small-town Colorado childhood and suburban adult teacher years.  We do share a memory of things like “space sticks”, “TV dinners”,  and intense homesickness during a year in Europe, which has me thinking about the incongruous ways in which even the most disparate of experiences can intersect.  As I imagine a writing life, this book has me wondering what that could look like for someone of my background and temperament.

Rest, reflection, reinvention, and reading.  Retirement, I have to say, suits me very well so far!






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