The Portland Phoenix

A View from the Hill: Thoughts on retirement

I’m pretty sure that I’m addressing the wrong demographic with this column topic, but since the AARP magazine hasn’t offered me a gig, this will have to do.

Retirement. Such an odd word. First, the “re” part at the beginning suggests that this is something that is being done again, as in resurface or retread or resurrect. But I had never retired before I retired, so why is it re-anything?

There are many suggestions on the Internet for a more appropriate word than retirement. Like “transitions,” which sounds a little too Hallmarky. “Arrivement” maybe? “Maturation,” although that sounds a little too much like something else. “Encore?” Maybe.

I encored in 2014 from teaching journalism at a university. One semester, I just didn’t go back. I stayed at home and someone else did my job. I was 63 years old.

Suddenly, there were whole patches of nothing in my life. It was not an easy time. I was used to working 50 or so hours a week, especially when I was in newspapers. That was 50 hours that I didn’t have to plan for. The paper had to get out and that was that. So most of my waking hours were spoken for.

Then, when I stopped working, they weren’t.

But things started to creep in. Grandchildren, for example. Later, a great grandchild. Volunteer work. Exercise routines. Cooking. Shopping. Visiting. This column.

Doctors. Dentists. Gardening. Reading. Cleaning. Projects. Taking the car in for service. Visiting. Laundry. Putting the trash out. Yelling at Spectrum.

Kid crises. Boating. Fishing. Walking 10,000 steps a day. Some nonprofit board work. Making the bed. Pickle ball. New friends.

Those 50 hours of work? Before long, they were all again spoken for.

So maybe instead of retirement it should be called “deconstruction,” which would be followed by a new phase —  “reconstruction.”

A time when we rebuild our lives into something different and far more dense and not to be wasted.

After all, the concept of “retirement” is dated, an artifact constructed in 1935 when Social Security first came to be, a time when most people died by the time they were 61 before even tapping into Social Security.

Now we live until about 80. I know many people who have lived into their ‘90s and still drive and cook and create and bike and climb mountains. Who wants to sit around for 20 or 30 years doing nothing?

Not me nor anyone I know.

In fact, many are having none of it.

According to Forbes, many of the more than two million-plus people who retired during in the first 18 months of the pandemic “now appear to be heading back to work in what might best be described as ‘quiet returning.’’’

While many of them are working for financial reasons, many were simply bored and lonely.

Joblist CEO Kevin Harrington told Forbes, “Many people struggle with how to spend their time after they retire and miss the social connection that work provides.”

Sometimes I envy younger people I see heading home from work. Usually, I loved the end of the work day — turning off the office lights and heading home to my family. I envy their structured work day, though I know those hours may be a misery of tyrant bosses and tiresome co-workers and customers.

It’s a dichotomy — we seek structure, yet we resent structure being imposed upon us.

And that is the magic of “retirement,” or “encoring, or “reconstruction.”

Yes, many hours of the day are filled with things I need to do, but I can do them on my own terms and if I do them tomorrow…so what?

And now I can cross something off the index card on which I structured this day:

“Write column for Phoenix.”

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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