Please Don’t Call me Retired

Carol - San Francisco, California
Entered on July 9, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

According to one definition, the word “retirement” means “a state of being withdrawn from the rest of the world or a former busy life.” Could someone please invent a new word?

I ended my full-time career in the environmental field a few years ago, and although I still work from time to time, most people would consider me retired. I reluctantly check the “retirement” box when filling out forms asking my occupation. I want to write in “none of your business,” but realize that’s a rather defensive stance. Instead, I recently decided on another approach. The last time I confronted such a query, I drew ia question mark.

Our working life provides an instant identity. To the question inevitably asked when talking with someone new – “What do you do?” – I never hesitated with my answer. “I’m an environmental planner,” I would proudly say, or “I work in the conservation field.” “Oh, that’s interesting,” was the usual response. But now, when I say, “I’m retired,” at worst I get a polite smile, or at best, a “Gee, it must be great to sleep in.”

The fact is that I am indeed occupied, but at what is hard to describe. I do many things, most of them new. I’m like my Golden Retriever, turning up my nose at one thing, rolling with gusto in the next. I hold my muzzle to the wind to catch the direction of things. This may lead somewhere, or, it may not.

So far, these are some of the piles to which my nose has directed me:

Beethoven. My goal is to play Moonlight Sonata all the way through without stopping. I cancelled my lessons, though, when I found myself telling my teacher that my dog ate my music.

Vintage Airstream Trailers. We bought one on e-Bay, replaced everything, and enjoy nothing more than tooling down Nevada’s Loneliest Road in America while belting out camp songs.

Rickshaw Drivers in Calcutta. I have taken pictures for years, but have never pursued it seriously. Now, after two months in India, I have a pile of fabulous faces to print. I peruse them on my computer and dream of the day they will hang in MOMA.

Anasazi Ruins. Just around the next bend, I tell myself, I will stumble upon the perfectly preserved 1000 year-old pot. This keeps me moving down the trails of Southern Utah at quite a clip.

Maybe I should concentrate on one of these things so I have something to say when asked about my occupation. But I don’t want to. Like my dog, I don’t believe in an absolute best pile to roll in.

But I do believe in a new word for retirement. The baby boomers are just behind me and, knowing many of them, I’m certain they won’t settle for “withdrawal from the rest of the world” to define their new stage of life either. The elephant is in the aging pipeline and it’s almost here. The linguists better get to work.