Tag Archives: viewpoints

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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Beyond Belief

It may not help us cope with the bizarre political fuck-up in which we find ourselves, but Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History explains how we got here better than any other book I’ve read. Andersen follows the path to Fantasyland from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century all the way down the rabbit hole to the election of “a pure Fantasyland being,” a “creature of the fantasy-industrial complex” who is (as are many of his followers) “driven by resentment of the Establishment” and who has no use for experts “because they interfere with his right as an American to believe or pretend that fictions are facts.”

The frontier of Fantasyland is found in the willingness of many Americans to believe things simply because they want to believe them, regardless of truth or reality. For example:

Two-thirds of Americans believe that “angels and demons are active in the world.” At least half are absolutely certain Heaven exists, ruled over by a personal God—not some vague force or universal spirit but a guy. More than a third of us believe not only that global warming is no big deal but that it’s a hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of scientists, government, and journalists.

Fewer than half of us are “more or less reality-based,” but it is not merely a willingness to believe in the untrue that characterizes Fantasyland. Rather, it is the distinctly American glorification of individualism, the inalienable right to believe any falsehood: “If I think it’s true, no matter why or how I think it’s true, then it’s true, and nobody can tell me otherwise.”

The belief in the right to believe anything can have grave, even deadly, consequences. The danger lies not in harmless fantasy but in a more serious derangement and malfunction of our politics. Calling it “Fantasyland” is an appellation too benign for our dangerous haywiredness. We now reside in “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” a more sinister domain and closer to the mark (I learned of the place, I suspect, from my father, but we owe its coinage to Aristophanes).

Echoing in rhyme throughout our history is a tendency to define reality based not on truth but on what one chooses to believe. Underlying the Civil War were “pernicious and complicated fantasies” of white supremacy that remain alive today: “After our Civil War, the fever never entirely broke, because the losing side in its heart and mind never entirely surrendered. The North forgave, but the South didn’t, and neither side completely forgot.” In 1915, the epic film The Birth of a Nation revived fantasies of the “mythical Old South” and the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan and nostalgia for “unquestioned white supremacy,” and by the early 1920s “probably 5 percent of white American men were in the KKK.”

In our times, movies, television, video games and advertising have become “a powerful and unprecedented solvent of the mental barriers between real and unreal.” The 1960s and 70s, revered by many of my generation for countercultural notions of awareness and engagement, liberated the full ideological spectrum. The era of “anything goes” meant “anything went” and that included “extreme Christianity, full-blown conspiracism, libertarianism, unembarrassed greed and more.” Do your own thing, Andersen observes, has a lot in common with every man for himself.

The legacy of the Age of Aquarius is the perpetuation of the perceived right to believe whatever you want. It is “a notion of individualism…as old as America itself, liberty and the pursuit of happiness unbound: Believe the dream, mistrust authority, do your own thing, find your own truth.” And ironically, this “believe-anything-you-want ethos…has powered the political right more than the left.”

The Internet and especially so-called social media have fueled our national flight from reality. In the online world, “cockamamie ideas and outright falsehoods” spread fast and wild, so rampantly that it has become difficult for “reason and reasonableness” to compete, much less to prevail. Exciting falsehoods fare better than dull and often complicated true facts in a world where each click pushes any assertion—true or not—into self-validating prominence. Andersen laments:

…way too many Americans now bother with reason hardly at all, give themselves over too much to the deliria of crazy imaginations, believe too many untrue and impossible things, and are losing the ability and the will to distinguish between real and unreal.

It is now possible, Andersen writes, to “imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into disarray and decline.” Or are we at an inflection point where those of us still capable of distinguishing truth and reality can find a way to alter the course? Although we have entered a “winter of foolishness,” our situation is not hopeless, and “we in reality-based America must try to keep our zone as large and robust and attractive as possible for ourselves and the next generations.”

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