Ascending into Retirement

A couple of years ago, one of the vendors at the Farmers’ Market told me that on New Year’s Day she had filled a jar with 36 glass marbles. Every week when she went home from the market, she took one marble out of the jar. When the jar was empty, at the end of the summer, she was going to retire, and stop getting up early every Saturday to load corn into her truck and drive into town.

I was thinking of this last week, when a colleague asked me if I was really going through with my decision to retire. “Of course,” I replied, “I’ve put my letter in and everything.”

“But what are you going to do?”

And that’s the question everyone asks. I think that this highlights a deep gap in our lives. It seems sad to me that we have talked ourselves into identifying “work” as normal. As though there was nothing else one could, and perhaps rather would, be doing. As though our position as cog in the wheel of commerce is the only thing that could possibly take up our hours in a meaningful way.

It seems to me that I’ve done OK in the rat race we disparaged in our youth. I didn’t win, but I think I placed. I started teaching 45 years ago, in July 1974, and came to Canada 35 years ago, in 1984. This year seems a good year to move on to a new chapter of life.

I am still going to work, but just not for the university. I had a life before the academy, and I hope that I can create one after it. In a way it’s “forward to the past” – many of you know that my first life was as a teacher of art and geography. I plan to keep writing, albeit in creative as well as scholarly styles. Like many, I’ve often thought that I have a novel in me somewhere, and this will be a chance to find out if that’s true. I want to continue to build my skills in the creative arts, in painting and photography, and perhaps see if I can get good enough to exhibit my work somewhere. In my offices there are files full of research data that I haven’t really published yet, so there might still be some academic life left in me. I know I’m not quite ready to quit my development work, and after the summer will be actively looking to see if any short-term contracts are available.

Yes, that was a hint, if you know or hear of anything!

Indeed, I have lots of plans, in addition to the normal “now I can sort out all those boxes of old photographs in the basement” sort of thing. I intend to complete the structured garden at Grandview, and perhaps open it to those who would like a quiet place for contemplation. I also intend to make sure that the garden produces enough vegetables to feed us through the summer, and though canning and pickling to support us through the winter. I am looking into building a cash crop that will help make such expenses revenue-neutral, and I am aware that I’m fortunate to have a pension which should cover most other costs. I shall miss the camaraderie of colleagues but am confident that I’ll keep in touch with my many friends from the Island, from across the country, and from around the world. That is one of the glories of contemporary communication networks.

So, what am I going to do? Am I going to become one of those people who say, “retirement? I’ve no idea how I ever had time to go to work, I’ve got so much happening in my life!”? Perhaps. I know that I’m going to be busy, that there will be other deadlines and other commitments, but that’s OK.

The vendor at the Farmers’ Market still grows corn, but she sells it from a small shed in her yard, instead of driving into Charlottetown. She opens when she wants, with a sign on the road telling people if there is corn available or not. She has time to chat, now, and to make her own decisions.

I only put 26 marbles in my jar on New Year’s Day, as my new beginning will be on 1 July – Canada Day.



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