Retirement/Survivor Guilt

15 Nov

So today in yoga, when I was supposed to be focusing on my breath and settling into my final resting pose (Savasana), I found myself instead thinking about how much I appreciated that class and then feeling guilty for having the opportunity to take such good care of my body. Since moving and settling into my house, I’ve turned attention to what is called “self care:” yoga, meditation and working out at the gym. I’m getting in good shape and feeling..,,guilty. The guilt (that I truly believe is a terribly unproductive emotion) has several levels or foci. For one, I keep thinking/feeling that I “ought” to be doing something other than indulging myself. Two (and this reaction is the bigger one), I feel like I’m ommmming while the world is falling apart. I can scarcely stand to read the paper or hear the news. I’m terrified of what feels like an impending apocalypse- political, environmental, social. I am scared of what current policy debates will mean for my retirement and my husband’s healthcare (he has a “pre-existing condition”); I feel like I should be using what skills and talents I have to push back, to fight, to take on the challenges that so horrify me. I should be “doing” something.  And since I live in a progressive bubble that is over-saturated with educated, concerned, active, smart and typically progressive people, finding ones volunteer/activist niche is challenging. While I’m glad I’m not speaking to an inherently hostile, dismissive or indifferent audience (something I’ve done much of over my career), speaking to the choir is also unsatisfying. That is probably another post.

The guilt though is that I don’t at the moment anyway, do much of anything about the many concerns. I stay informed, I sign petitions (I have less money to donate than I used to) and I am, little by little, exploring ways I can contribute to my new home, my local community (that is facing the challenges of rapid growth and subsequent growing inequality).  My other reaction, though, is that I’m tired…I’ve worked hard and given to others (people and organizations) often at my own psychic, monetary, emotional expense. I am not feeling sorry for myself, playing the martyr or anything–I’m just expressing some of the conflict associated with my recent retirement. It’s hard, after over 30 years, of being other-directed to say that it’s okay to focus on my own health even though I know that we can’t give to others (love, energy, anything) that we aren’t able to give to ourselves. Maybe in writing this out I’ve allowed my next Savasana to be a little quieter.

Time for a shower.

 

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Collecting people

13 Nov

So I am pretty sure that one of the big challenges for recently retired folks is creating a new network of people. Particularly challenging if one has taken the leap and (with husband) moved to a new location–in my case it was cross-country to live someplace I’ve been wanting to live for about 20 years. Great to move out here–it’s every bit as wonderful as I expected/hoped/wanted it to be. Certainly one of the things I’ve found is that one of my great fears was unfounded. Having spent my entire adult (and really all of my life) in the halls of academe (well, as a kid it was just being a student), and loving being surrounded by smart, thoughtful, well-educated, engaged people, I really did not see myself thriving outside of that environment (it’s that “runs-with-words” things in part). The city to which I’ve moved seems, however, to have a surplus, a plethora of smart, engaged educated people and I’m starting to find them through the time-honored tradition of volunteering. So much gets done here because highly educated retirees have gravitated to this city and want to contribute to what they fell in love about it. So now I’m realizing the challenge is to find the right places to volunteer and then I’m likely to engage in activities that excite and stimulate me and meet people who I want to have a second conversation with (actually, I want to have a second conversation with almost everyone I meet).

One of the things that is also becoming clear to me is that this challenge is more poignant or complicated, perhaps, for women who had climbed, struggled, worked hard to climb a professional/managerial ladder. I’ve started to meet a few of us- district managers, other full-professors, women who stepped away from a career after achieving so much that many women aren’t able to. So one conversation I want to have is why? Another thing I’m realizing is that we often have to avoid the sinkhole of traditional and highly gendered ideas about appropriate behaviors for senior women (outside of work and the academy). I’m finding a number of my peers have stepped outside of their previous biographies to adopt exactly the mantle they had to put down- they are becoming full-time caregivers to aging or sick relatives or as grandmothers (I’m just writing about other women now). By choice or obligation, they are filling their lives with what women have always been expected to fill their lives with–care-giving. So for those women, its easier now and they are not (as far as I can tell) struggling with “what to do and who to do it with.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful marriage and part of retirement is us getting to spend time we didn’t but one person cannot (I don’t think), be and do everything. There is much more to say about this issue. I’ll come back to it later.  The thing I think I’m writing about is two-fold; finding/building new relationships post-retirement and particularly doing that as a woman.  So I’m trying to collect other women whose primary activity is not care-giving and who are also exploring this new stage of life. I’ve met two so far (I’ve met a few more but I’m talking about meeting to the extent that you actually exchange contact information-a commitment to having another conversation). I’ve gone for coffee, movies and a museum. It’s fun and scary for someone who is, in many ways pretty shy. I’m learning to put myself out there and I’m discovering in the process that that is one of the things that my struggle and efforts to be successful professionally taught me. Its actually a skill I’ve honed (but just in another context). It is a great pleasure to enter into an interaction for relational rather than transactional  reasons. To simply engage because another person is interesting and I’d like to get to know them better for the possibility of pleasure in their company. That’s not really something I’ve had enough time for in the past 30 years.  Hmmm.

Shocking revelations

9 Nov

So each day is another day of shock and awe. Or not. The political nightmare (but today there was some real hope); the ongoing revelations that another priest/actor/politician/famouspowerfulmaster-of-the-universe got caught with his pants down. Hah! Every woman my age who has struggled to make it in any sphere where men hold position, power—-status—has  a story. I’m certain of it. If I told my stories, so many many men would be revealed but at the time, it was so damned normative. We didn’t have words like “sexual harassment; ” we didn’t have any of that language. Just like when we started talking about “date rape,” (we being ‘the culture’ [those are air quotes]) and I started redefining moments (in which I was certainly, by some definitions complicit) of horrible interaction as ‘date rape.’ Oh hell, no one is reading this, I can just call it rape–because that’s what it was. I can’t even begin to write about these issues –I’ll become even more parenthetical, elliptical, clause-ridden and confused (and certainly hard to follow) than I already am.  In any case, there is so much to write about and it’s not clear why I am writing. For one thing, because I have these excess words…. spilling out. So here on my invisible blog, I can spit into the digital wind and throw out some unread/unheard/unnecessary words and get a few of them out of my system. Except, what I realized after the first post is that it isn’t going to work. That was my problem as a professional. I want to talk- teach-but TALK about “it,” whatever “it” is at the time. I couldn’t even figure out what I wanted to write unless I talked about it first.  I loved my classes because they were an opportunity to talk through ideas/issues/problems/ whatever with a bunch of people, sometimes some of whom actually engaged in a conversation. Bringing data, theories, ideas and energy to bear on whatever it was at the time. Writing by myself was never as satisfying and the academy was not, for me, enough conversation (probably because I was too timid, not prolific enough, maybe not good enough for people to engage). Often when they did it was either to smash or I didn’t realize they were engaging but I’m really not interested in looking back….I’ve processed the shit out of my past, my career, myself. That’s not interesting to me or to anyone. I’m just trying to figure out how to move forward.  When I was leaving NSF and talking to another PO who had retired from the academy, she said (and oh do I wish I’d spent more time talking with her….) that the thing I would find most liberating is not doing things because I was going to be evaluated. She pointed out (correctly) that I’d spent all of my adult life knowing that everything (well, not really everything) would be evaluated and that now, my life would be absent that external judge. She was right and it is liberating and it is unmooring, untethering, odd. I don’t miss the judge and for so many years I convinced myself that I didn’t need a judge to do what I did.

I am collecting (slowly, carefully), women like me–who worked so hard in overscheduled lives that they struggled to achieve, to create who are now untethered. I am starting to find and talk to these women.  I’m not interested in talking about the terrible compromises or assaults of their past–they way they react to the daily tales of harassment and abuse that  were the norm. I’m really interested in their current unfolding. I’m not diminishing how terrible, criminal, unacceptable it was or is. I just don’t want to dwell on it. I’m glad, finally, that there may indeed be an upending of the frightening fitting of our red capes and white bonnetsthat the harasser-in-chief unleashed ;that instead resistance is not futile…I’m not diminishing the importance and enormity of that. I just don’t want to focus on that (because i can’t stop talking/writing about that particular elephant in the room can I?).

Good night.

Rubinrunswithwords

25 Oct

No cultural appropriation meant; Rubinrunswithwords is what a former, and much missed, graduate student used to call me. It was both a complement (she was not as facile or free with language and envied my ability with such) but also a gentle tease for what might already be obvious reasons and is the motivation for this post.  I am a recently retired academic; that means all sorts of things that I will probably continue to write about. The thing I wanted to write about now was the insight that came out of a difficult conversation between my husband and I last night. We were talking about some of the communication difficulties we’ve been having  and in the context of that conversation came his observation, to put it bluntly, that I often “go on and on, way after I’ve made, or he’s gotten my point.” Okay, that stung and my first thought was “Oh sh**, I really did turn into my mother;” the second was to think about how often, recently, I’ve realized or received feedback, to that effect. Now, I’ve always been a talker, but it’s only recently that my volubility has been obviously problematic. Then as I was beginning to think it, my husband made the observation that since retiring, I’ve lost all of my legitimate outlets for my words! At that moment (and now even writing), I realized how true and sad it makes me. I’ve lost the places I’ve put my words for over 30 years! I’m no longer in a classroom, no longer (often) advising the many students with whom I spent hours a week, no longer writing for journals (often, though I could, but that sort of writing has lost it’s appeal), no longer going to professional conferences and preparing talks (maybe I should rethink that? but I doubt it). As a result, all of these words about so many things have been swirling around inside with no obvious or reasonable place to put them. When given an opportunity to speak….I overdo it. That’s just pitiful.

Before I retired, people would ask me what I was going to do and I told them a variety of things that included “paint,” “yoga,” ‘travel,” and other late-middle-aged, childless former professional woman cliches. I say cliche because I’ve met so many women like that in my new wonderful hometown (I’ll write, or not, about picking up and moving cross-country at another time). The other answer I had was that I didn’t know, I’d figure it out, I’d let it emerge, something that had never been an option as I’d followed my career with reasonable focus and lots of work. I wasn’t one to let things “emerge” and felt excited by the openness this next stage of my life promised me. One person suggested that I should write my life story; not because it was necessarily interesting (though I think all life stories are) but because of what I’d learn from doing that. I started and wrote a paragraph but never returned to it.  After last night’s discussion though, I realize that what I need to do is find a place for my words. Maybe this is it? I don’t know. Quite frankly, I don’t even know where these words will go when I hit the “publish” key. Out into the electronic ether I suppose. In so many ways, my words have always been thrown out there, I’ve never really known when, where, if they landed. As did one of my advisors from graduate school, I’d check citations to see if I was there (not often enough, rarely in fact), so those words didn’t land often or well. I’d focus on my students and see some of my words had landed. The sweetest discoveries came from long ago students who would write or in some way reach out, many many years later and let me know that I had, in fact, planted some seeds, all with my words, that flowered wonderfully (and sometimes so ironically that it made me think that I might have an alternative self in another universe with whom I’d been mistaken).  So these words were bubbling around in my head this morning and I decided to commit them to electronic paper and see if they would help me figure it out.