The opposite of retirement

“Your daddy is retiring.”

My mother said those words about 45 years ago, right after my first real job had begun. The picture
that appeared in my head was my father streteched out on a fainting couch, smoking a cigarette in a
holder. Sort of like Cary Grant would retire for an evening.

The problem: As Daddy neither smoked nor owned a dressing gown and my parents had no fainting couches,
the image faded away. My bigger problem: I had no good picture of what retirement looked like.

And what about my mom? Would she retire too? No. She had not worked the same way he had. Oh, she
had worked, the kind of work performed by many women younger and older than Mom–the tasks for
which you are paid in warm moments instead of cold cash and health plans. When Daddy retired, she
continued doing what she had done all her life. Being wife, mother and homemaker, with all of its
assorted duties, and taking the occasional hourly job for extra money.

So no clear picture there, either, of what retirement looked like.

That word “retirement” has occupied my thoughts a lot, and brought my thinking around to this:

1. For me, seeing a 13-year-old book through to publication is not possible without focusing more
on that project.

2. The only way to focus on that project is to take the spotlight off the freelance writing and
editing work that I’ve done since 2002.

But what to call this change from one kind of work to another? Retirement, with its blurry image?
No fainting couches in my home, either, although I saw a pretty nifty red leather one some years
ago. Still, no one in my circle faints much, and the red fainting couch looked more decorative than
functional. We have no dressing gowns, either–Only t-shirts, jeans, baggy shorts, sandals, and an assortment
of nightgowns, including one decorated with B. Kliban cats.

There is the memory of what one ex-colleague emailed me all those years ago at the end of my
newspaper career: “So, are you sitting at home eating bon-bons today?” (She was a good enough
friend that she could ask that question and not get on my list.)

Back to the question of a retirement model. Perhaps one of the best ways to summon a picture of
doing work differently is to look at what others have done in retirement:

Teacher, editor, Navy man and best-selling author James Michener continued to tell stories almost
until his death at about 90. Near the end of his life, he said, “I live as if I had stayed on my
job and retired on a small pension and some savings and security.”

Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who died recently at 76, didn’t draw back from singing until shortly
before she died.

And Daddy? The day he died at age 84, he was still tinkering with a lawnmower.

I can work with that.

Mom and Dad, presumably pre-retirement