- Diary of a Retirement
Social construction is most evident in…situational definitions of emotionrelevant meanings.—Steven Gordon (qtd. in Gullette, 1997)
Look what’s on the AMC cable channel: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. How many times have I seen this classic during the course of my life? Half a dozen? It proves to be as easy to see yet another time as to digest the rice and soy sausage that I’ve had for lunch. Of course I could go upstairs and resume writing. Or go out and do a few trivial errands. But what the hell, I say to myself: I’m retired! If you can’t just relax and enjoy an afternoon movie when you’re retired, when can you?
Interestingly, the question comes up at one point, sort of, when the three principals fall to talking about what they’ll do once they cash in their gold. Dobbs (Bogart) opts for booze, women, excitement. Curtin (Tim Holt) mentions just buying a ranch somewhere and settling down. Howard (Walter Houston), the old prospector, doesn’t have any particular dream, as long as he has “enough to last me out.” Of course the overt theme of the movie is, how much money does a man need in order to retire?
The best answer? Enough not to worry about it anymore. Dobbs of course would never have enough, so he dies a victim of his own greed. Curtin just shrugs at the end, having started with nothing and now at least left with no less than he had. Howard, on the other hand, as a deity figure among the Indians has been transposed out of the monetary economy entirely—and so he is free to guffaw at the discovery that the precious gold treasure has simply blown away. Back in the Indian village, he has no worries. No need to consider television. No way to be tempted by cable. [End Page 229]
My wife is currently working harder than she ever has in her life. In addition to being chair of her small Languages department—and dealing every day with such minor horrors as credits of graduating seniors or problems of confused adjuncts—she is virtually by herself conducting a search for a tenured position, involving telephone interviews during the past three weeks and soon on-campus visits. Now a new, major horror: the Business School has suddenly dropped its foreign language requirement (thereby costing her department 40 percent of its students). How to deal with this? How many letters of protest to write? To whom, and to what effect?
I was a professor myself but never a chair. I conducted my own career well away from the institutional politics in which she’s embroiled. We talk about her search every day. We talk about everything every day. I laugh when a howler has happened; I weep when there’s a horror. I’m as “sympathetic” (feeble word!) as I can be, and Eva appreciates it, all the more when the colleague to whom she’s closest mentions the other day to her that she’s lucky to have a husband who was an academic, since the friend just had a fight with her own husband, who doesn’t understand her job. He’s a waiter.
After coming home late again, resting after dinner, and then reflecting further on the day and its travails, Eva suddenly said something that moved me: “You know, there’s a part of me that finds joy in all this. It’s good to be able to face problems and to try to solve them.” Of course, I thought of retirement. It too has its problems and its solutions. But the phone call to the doctor or the errand to the home improvement store: these things lack drama, and you usually face them alone. Tasks are not travails. Tasks are too routine. Put another way: although there is satisfaction in performing them, there’s seldom joy. The lack of that joy is one thing—implacable, remorseless, unyielding—that retirement is.
During the seven years since I’ve retired, I’ve done a number of things...