Tag Archives: aging

Anticipation Rewind

In this blog’s early life, I was preoccupied with the notion that retirement was not a static condition but rather a process of transition consisting of distinct phases.  The concept of retirement phases was proposed by noted gerontologist Robert Atchley.  It seemed to me a useful framework to think of retirement in this way although the demarcation and description of each phase are imprecise and open to variations on a theme.  Atchley died recently in November 2018 at age 79.

As I look back now at my earlier blog postings, however, I am struck by the feeling that my own experience of retirement does not seem to fit well with the phases described by Atchley and others.  It may be that I am uncomfortable with the idea that my retirement could segment itself into categories of any kind devised by others, having long thought of myself as an oddball or, more honestly, as uniquely myself.

By now, according to Atchley’s formulation, I should have reached the “Stability” phase of my retirement, having passed through a series of transitional phases—the Honeymoon, Disenchantment and Reorientation—but these phases do not seem familiar to me.

To review: the Honeymoon phase is, in theory, a kind of post-career euphoria over liberation from work.  Euphoria is seldom if ever more than temporary, and following the initial phase of excitement about retirement comes Disenchantment.  Characteristic of the Disenchantment phase are feelings of emptiness, disappointment and uncertainty.  The next phase—Reorientation—kicks in as a coping mechanism.  If you are feeling empty and disappointed about retirement, what you need is an attitude adjustment.  You need to “reorient” or recalibrate your expectations.

I must have missed the Honeymoon phase, because work-liberation euphoria was not part of my retirement experience.  Consequently, because I didn’t experience the euphoria, I didn’t feel the phase of Disenchantment let-down either, nor the need for a great deal of Reorientation. 

It could be, as I wrote in an earlier post, that the retirement phases might not be distinct and sequential.  For some people, the phases of transition might be blended and experienced simultaneously.  Anyway, I think it must have been that way for me, each day seasoned with a just a spritz of euphoria and a pinch of disenchantment along with a dollop of reorientation and well-stirred.

According to the phase theory of retirement, eventually you find a nice balance between expectation and reality.  You are okay with the way things are.  Life is, after all, not so empty.  Come to think of it, retirement is kind of fun.  You have reached the Stability phase.

If retirement is indeed a transition, then Stability is the destination, the ultimate goal for retirement “success.”  Stability is nothing more than the ability to settle into a comfy niche.  It is a hygge-ish state of mind in which your general purpose for yourself may be simply to create more hygge.

But this definition of retirement success is grossly inadequate.  It leaves me nothing to aspire to.  There may be a comfy niche in disengagement from the world.  There may be stability under a rock.  Success in retirement requires more. 

Success is not a destination.  It is not a reward or a solution.  If to succeed is to find stability, then it is a kind of dynamic stability that embraces engagement more than retreat.  It is found in the choosing to struggle and strive and to find balance, even if only momentary.

It is as though I am standing with eyes closed, surrounded by the cacophony of my life, aware through some form of proprioception of a multitude of force fields some real and some imagined though as vivid and therefore indistinguishable.  Success is keeping my balance often without knowing how.

Success is found in continuing to strive for balance, and it must be earned in each moment.  Balance is an exploration.  It is always a quest, whether for light or truth or love or beauty.

The ground is always shifting beneath our feet, or as James Baldwin put it more poetically and with more insight than I possess, “the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing” and “nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever.”

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Old Age

I am handling old age pretty well. Yes, I know that some people would say that sixty-eight is “not old.” Some would tell me with reassuring certainty “age is just a number.” Like hell. At sixty-eight, I am not a young man, that’s for sure, and I am pretty sure that I no longer qualify for the category “middle-aged,” though possibly some might quibble.

I feel that I have entered the terminal bracket of “old age.” I don’t know when that happened, exactly. I’ve had a creeping suspicion for the last year or so, at least, that I was getting there. Well, I think I’m there now, and I’m doing okay.

Someone asked me recently whether I was enjoying retirement. Yes. What do you like most about it? How do you spend your time? I can never think of an impressive answer.

I know that old age is not the same thing as retirement and that some people who haven’t retired find themselves in the old age category. I chose to retire five years ago, and old age happened more recently, but that is a technicality. When people ask me now how I am enjoying retirement they might as well be asking how I am enjoying old age. What do I like most about old age? How do I spend my old-age time?

Well, I am enjoying old age so much I don’t want it to end.

I have been taking a mental inventory of the things that I do these days. It is not an impressive list, and I doubt that anyone would feel inspired by my example. Still, I feel that I am doing pretty well. To some extent, old age offers liberation from the desire to impress.

Exposing how I spend my time may serve some educational purpose for those in or near the “old age” category who want to feel they are doing pretty well. To that end, the less impressive what I do with my time the better for others, who may be doing more interesting things by comparison.

This inventory is no doubt incomplete, but it accounts for most of my old age time:

  • I have acquired the habit of taking a walk every day, unless the weather is crappy with rain. I walk about two miles. It is my primary form of physical exercise, along with a morning jaunt on the treadmill and a weekly yoga class. In summer, I go on bike rides.
  • I have more time to read books in my old age. Detective novels are a favorite (James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin, Walter Mosley, Karin Slaughter, Liza Marklund, John Harvey and Tony Hillerman, to name a few favorite authors). I also have read several epic biographies (Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin) and other books about history.
  • I read the local newspaper (old-fashioned print version) every morning. I also follow the news on NPR and PBS—on television and online—and other news programs, such as Meet the Press. Sometimes I search the Internet for more information, and I have written posts for this blog on political issues that I care about. (See the “tag cloud” in the left side-bar for links.)
  • I have been teaching myself Spanish for the last nine years or so, and I spend time every day practicing the language. From time to time on this blog, I post translations into Spanish of earlier English language posts. (See posts in the “Later, in Spanish” category.)
  • Aging in place—in my case, in the house where my wife and I have lived for more than two decades—means time spent cleaning, shopping, handling bills and bank accounts, doing yard work, making minor repairs and so forth. We have done several home remodeling projects (this year we are remodeling a bathroom), and we do a lot of the work ourselves.
  • We take turns cooking dinner, but there is time in my old age to take my turn more often.
  • We watch an hour or so of television on most nights. Because American network television programming is so dreadful, we use streaming services (Hulu, PBS and Acorn TV) and DVDs from Netflix (now DVD.com). We have particularly enjoyed several excellent Swedish drama series (The Bridge, Beck, Rebecka Martinsson).
  • I volunteer some of my time each week in various activities at a community theater and at the local Unitarian Universalist Church. I have been involved with the theater for thirty years and with the church for about five. Two years ago on this blog, I wrote about my most recent acting role at the theater in a post titled Becoming Neil.
  • We have traveled a little bit in the last five years. I have written about our travels on this blog: Savannah, New Orleans, Costa Rica and the American West.

I suppose the point here is that there is comfort in the humdrum. For me, if not for others of old age, doing well does not require doing a lot. But this is not to suggest that the key to old-age happiness is retreat, disengagement and idleness. Old age can be a time of quiet but heightened awareness. It is a time to strip away the need to figure things out so much.

My yoga teacher has a phrase that she uses to guide the class into savasana—the final pose of rest at the end of the class. The purpose of savasana—also inauspiciously but misleadingly called “corpse pose”—is to relax the body and the mind after a series of more challenging positions. The idea is not to go to sleep, but rather to remain fully conscious but completely relaxed, to allow thoughts to flow in and out of your mind while becoming aware of the quiet conscious moments between thoughts. As our teacher says, it is a time when you have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and absolutely no one you have to be.

It is, I think, an apt metaphor for old age.

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