The Long Reach of the Teacher: Remembering Mr. Shaeberle

Once again I’ve been drawn to the past as I reflect on retirement from teaching. He was my third-grade teacher at Hartley Elementary School. He was a grown-up authority figure in my eyes, but in retrospect I see a young, very green teacher, fresh out of college. More important for the third-graders that year, Mr. Shaeberle was …a man. I am sure men had taught at Hartley Elementary before Mr. Shaeberle arrived, but he was the first one I’d encountered. And even more novel for the third-graders in his class, we were in a room with students a grade ahead of us. It was an exciting year! Nothing like the previous two spent with Miss Spotts, though that’s when I learned to read and had my first traumatic experience with academic failure (I didn’t follow the directions for coloring the picture!)

I don’t know why the classes were combined the year Mr. Schaeberle joined the Hartley teaching staff, because the following year, half-way through 4th grade we were once again assigned to single-grade classrooms. Louise, my very best friend in the whole wide world, and I moved across the hall to scary, mean Mrs. Bierbower’s room. Other 4th graders went to learn from Mr. Ness…yes, we now had a 2nd male in the teaching ranks! And then, oh joy, after enduring a long year with “Mrs. Beer Bottle” once again Mr. Shaeberle was teaching my 5th grade class. Of the many teachers who left marks on my life, I think none was more influential than Mr. Schaeberle.

There was the 1956 Presidential election. Not many Democrats among my classmates, but Mr. Schaeberle made it OK to buck the crowd. Fascinated with rocks, I took “samples” to school to ask for help identifying them. I’m sure Mr. Schaeberle knew as much about geology as I did but as we discussed the stone’s properties I learned it was OK to ask for help figuring out a problem. And then there were the social studies lessons. It was the year our lessons followed a family on a road trip across the country, starting in New England and stopping to explore geography and history along the way. Why am I a historian? I am sure Mr. Schaeberle was instrumental in planting that seed as his class mapped the route from coast to coast.

Mr. Schaeberle died a few weeks ago. I had not seen him in decades, had not thought of him in many years. His obituary noted his career in educational administration and the doctorate he earned well after those first years at Hartley. I remember, in contrast, a young teacher who made me want to learn, and for his enthusiasm and encouragement I will always be grateful.

Those of us who teach should all be so fortunate if somewhere there is a former student for whom we might have been a Mr. Schaeberle.

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“Mem’ries”

“Mem’ries”…..cue Barbra Streisand…. “Light the corners of my mind.” I’ve been drawn to the past lately, and not just because I’m still teaching history to graduate students and writing about the history of childhood. As the future grows shorter (and impending retirement is surely playing a part in this observation) the past seems to have assumed a more lively role in this drama called life. More and more I catch myself recalling snippets of my past, triggered by, often I’m not sure what – a word, a tune, a smell, or just a misfiring synapse. Whatever the trigger, I’m drawn to see glimpses people, places, situations, feelings long, long buried. Sometimes the images are fleeting. They evoke no feeling and they are easily pushed back to the corner they came from. Other times….a brief snapshot is followed by a flood of emotion-laden memories. Listening to a Dolly Parton-Kenny Rogers duet was a recent trigger. Their “Old Friends” performance led to “Islands in the Stream” and that snapped me back to the 1980s and a few weeks spent with a very dear old friend in a small, very rural town in Alberta after the snow season had settled in

I cast different eyes now on the why of my escape to northern Alberta that winter. Though my understanding today is not the meaning I would have assigned three decades ago, it surely isn’t fiction. As I examine these snapshot memories I’m compressing nearly three decades of experiences into the review. My discipline teaches me that the present shapes the meanings found in the past; I recognize that my memories are both uniquely mine and not “unvarnished truths.” Instead they remind me of the connection between past and present, between who I am now and who I once was and there is a truth in that discovery.

These lighted corners don’t invite me to linger in the past. I’m always returned to here and now, walking toward and confronting whatever happens next. Perhaps the “lights” are there to help chart the road ahead, to the destination we all share but all arrive at differently.

Are these glimpses of the past a common phenomenon? It’s not an experience I associate with a younger me. I wish now that my parents had talked more about the experience of aging and their relationships with memories. Beyond, that is, telling me growing old was not for the faint of heart – their word was “sissies” (it was another generation).   I observed the changes in their lives and the memories they tried to share. But I did not understand them and never questioned them. And now I cannot. That thought is a trigger for regret. And perhaps it also opens a route for sharing with my daughter.

As I was ending this post, I pulled a book from the retirement bookshelf, just curious to see what I’d find by searching the index for “memories.” The book, Learning to be Old (2009) by Margaret Cruikshank, is one I’ve mentioned before and one whose critical stance toward the social construction of age I find quite thought provoking. Curiously, “memory” doesn’t show up in the index, though I am led to a few pages on “memoirs” and “life review.”

There Cruickshank describes the act of “re-membering” (coined by another gerontologist, Barbara Myerhoff). Re-membering, particularly through storytelling, is a process that gerontologists, like the “life review” scholar Robert Butler, believe can lead to “resolution, reconciliation, atonement, integration, and serenity” (49). Re-membering, therefore, is a deliberate choice with far greater significance than “ordinary recollection.” Are my snapshot memories easily dismissed as “ordinary recollections,” commonplace occurrences unconnected to the “re-membering” that constitutes life review? I think perhaps not. More likely they are the first stages of the research project, steps without which a “life review” will never be written.   For the moment, I’m going to enjoy occasionally discovering what’s in the lighted corner without the demands of “re-membering.” Later, when I am an old woman, I’ll “re-member.”

The Retirement Bookshelf: Two Uppers and a Downer

Approach something new and unfamiliar…my knee-jerk response is research.  Gather, read, process, and because it’s usually some aspect of history, write about it to understand it, put it in context, and file it with the familiar and known.    Retirement has kicked this approach into gear.  And I am building the retirement bookshelf – the books and articles that will help me make sense of life without the department and the office (and the paycheck).  In the past few weeks I’ve picked up three additions, each viewing retirement and aging with a different lens, but each with useful messages about managing the late years of life.

Finances, as many earlier posts attest, scare me.  So I am always on the lookout for helpful guides to 403(b)’s, Social Security, and other assorted post-paycheck income sources. (The bookshelf contains more than one “Dummies” book on the subject). How to Make Your Money Last by Jane Bryant Quinn is a godsend.  A clear explanation of finances for folks like me…with retirement savings (but definitely not wealth) and a terror of having to organize and spend it.

Quinn begins where many finance books do, with advice to make a budget and gather records of all income sources.  It’s a dose of realism…most of us will likely have to reduce some items on the budget debits list to live within our new means.  Her recommendations, however, go beyond the platitudes that tell me I will no longer need “professional clothes” and I won’t have the expense of a daily commute.  (I teach at a school where jeans can occasionally be professional attire and the commute is 2.5 miles one way.  Not likely the changes here will be cost-saving.)  And her advice does not foster the fear that bubbles up whenever someone mentions downsizing.  Instead Quinn talks about “rightsizing,” a word that captures positive changes to address myriad needs – health, family, lifestyle, and yes, the budget.  Rightsizing requires some imagination; it also asks me to prioritize needs and wants.  Rightsizing lets me entertain the idea of moving from house to smaller unit, shedding maintenance expenses and taxes.

Along with “rightsizing,” “simplify” is the second word that shapes Quinn’s approach to retirement.  Collapse, consolidate, make it easy to see where the money is in order to create a familiar paycheck-like structure for taking money from retirement funds.  Thanks to Quinn’s clear explanations words like “annuity,” “reallocation,” and “RMD” make sense. Having absorbed her discussion of “bucket” investing, for example, I think I now understand the relationship between stocks and bonds and the place of each in my “retirement portfolio.”  (You can grasp here just how truly ignorant of the finance world this near-retiree is.) Picture my retirement stash in 3 buckets – one with liquid assets for emergencies, one with stocks, one with bonds.  Her explanation of how to decide from which bucket to make annual withdrawals was for me worth the price of the book!   Given my Pennsylvania Dutch farmer ancestry, I can understand buckets.

Quinn isn’t talking off the top of her head; her advice comes from years of writing about finance (her columns appear in AARP publications among other venues) and she builds her advice on the work of other researchers. There’s much more in this book than I’ve described here, and it is likely one I will go back to often in the next few years.

My second read was recommended by an acquaintance met at a talk I gave to psychiatric personnel at the Salem Veterans Administration Hospital.  This woman, about to retire herself, told me to check out How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie J. Zelinski.  Zelinksi says his book provides “retirement wisdom that you won’t get from your financial advisor.”  And it is certainly retirement for a different perspective! His message:  retirement is the last chance I will have to “remake” myself, and deciding in advance what that identity will be is crucial to creating a retirement with a “purpose” but one that is free of the workplace-generated “need to achieve.”  The upbeat motivational approach to the “active retirement” can be a bit over the top at times, and Zelinski has aimed his advice for folks whose retirement age seems to be far younger than my own.  Nonetheless, his suggestions for list-making resonate with this academic’s approach to making order from chaos,  my need to prioritize activities and choose which activities to prioritize!  Zelinski identifies “boredom” as the number one enemy of a happy, wild, and free retirement – the retiree must not allow retirement leisure to be defined by “the couch, the TV, and the fridge.”   Not much here that can’t be found in many other guides to surviving the transition from work to retirement.

I can recommend, however, two take-aways from this one:  the “Get-a-Life Tree” and Road Scholar.  Why have I not heard of Road Scholar: Education Travel and Learning Vacations? For someone who has always said “travel and explore” would be part of retirement…and quaked at the thought of how to make it happen…this program might be a solution.   It is definitely on my list of necessary retirement information to gather sooner rather than later.  The “Get-A-Life Tree” is a mind mapping exercise to identify and draw my attention to interests that somehow got lost as I was creating the historian’s career, interests that can be rediscovered once the “career building/maintaining” demands have been put aside.   At the center of the map – a box labeled “options for retirement” with lines branching out for:  current activities I want to continue;  activities that “turned me on in the past” but haven’t had a place in my life recently; and new activities I’ve thought about doing but haven’t tried yet.   Zelinski recommends putting at least 50 leaves/activities on these three branches.   It’s an engaging exercise for my pre-retirement stage—helps to visualize (and organize!) the swirling mass of thoughts about how I want to shape living after work.   And has very much made me aware of how much I have allowed the demands of work to narrow choices and possibilities.

If Quinn and Zelinski construct “retirement” as something to pursue, something to embrace, and definitely not something to fear, Susan Jacoby provides the reality check to their optimism.  In Never Say Die; the Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age she reminds me that while retirement is a social and political construct, this stage of life is also bounded by the physical experiences of growing old.  Advertisements and commercials have created a model for “successful aging.”  Actors are vibrant, fit, active, often look far younger than the age group they supposedly represent.   It is a concept sold in many guises, and I’m guessing that includes books like Zelinski’s.  And while our “success” is dependent on a marketable product, nonetheless, these ads tell what our “senior” years will look like. As Jacoby interprets the ads and the advice, however, successful aging “means only that a person has managed to put on a happy face for the rest of the world” smiling through the physical aches and pains, hiding memory loss, and demonstrating “a consistent willingness to try anything new.” To age successfully we must never “voice any fear about future dependency,” or show too much need for companionship (just as we must never be content to be alone), and we must not display strong emotions, passion being a privilege of youth (xii-xiii).

This book shows how our emphasis on successful aging  is reinforcing an untenable image of “old age” as a single stage of life (an image equally promoted by the idea of “retirement years” I might add).  A stage that marks only the first years of being “old.”  It is preventing us, individually and as a society, from addressing directly and creatively the problems of “old” old age, or even acknowledging that they are painfully real.   “The reality” she writes, “is that we are all capable of aging successfully – until we aren’t” (xii).   There is a time between this new-style successful aging (“young” old age) and death when a retirement of independence, leisure, and a need to counter boredom will likely become a period of frailty and dependency when physical care trump other needs. “As a people,” Jacoby admonishes us, “we need to face reality and base both our individual planning and social policy on the assumption that by the time men and women reach their eighties and nineties, not the best, but the worst years of their lives generally lie ahead” (5).

As I processed Jacoby’s sobering chapters (and there’s much more to the book than recounted here), this baby-boomer, about-to-retire, still physically fit reader really needed the soothing tones struck by Quinn and Zelinski.  But wishing it weren’t so only works in fairy tales, and so as I create my 3 retirement finance buckets, and draw my “Get a Life Tree” I will remember the difficulties faced by my parents and my neighbors in “old old age,” berate myself for being less understanding than I could have been, and hope that Jacoby’s optimistic prediction has merit:  that as we grow older, we baby boomers (raised in a spirit of social activism) who are now coming into young old age will demand a political response to  the problems attending those who have reached  “old” old age, the problems that face us in the future.

The Bookshelf:

  • Jane Bryant Quinn. How to Make Your Money Last;  The Indispensable Retirement Guide.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016.
  • Ernie J. Zelinski. How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. Edmonton: Visions International Publishing, 2015.
  • Susan Jacoby. Never Say Die; the Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. New York: Vintage Books, 2012.

 

Punk Rock Granny

An NPR story about aging women and self-image made my day: “Gray-Haired Granny?  An 85-year-Old Writer Goes Punk Rock Instead.” The blue hair, the writer Anne Bernays says, was to protest “the passage of my own time here….While young people like diamonds, old folks are invisibel — except, as I discovered, if you have bright blue hair.”  So I’m thinking that perhaps dying  hair red (and green) for the Christmas holidays might be in the cards!  A defiant visible acknowledgement that many physical changes will accompany the aging body into retirement.

A few weeks ago I started working with a trainer. My goal was simple: learn how to use the nautilus machines in my community center’s fitness room so I didn’t injure myself if I wanted to play with them occasionally when walking grew tiresome. Walking has been a satisfying activity for the past two years, but it seemed time for something new. Then too, everywhere I turned, advice suggested that resistance training was a good thing for “older adults.”   Surely muscle strength would: 1) let me heft with ease that 40 lb. pails of cat litter into and out of the shopping cart; 2) help me pick up and hug the one grandchild still small enough to be picked up and hugged; 3) prepare me for the next summer’s mulching and mowing routine and make sure that if it snows I can free the car in the driveway; and 4) just keep me moving toward retirement with resolve and a semblance of control.  So, a little light exercise and someone to make sure I didn’t hurt myself along the way…a pleasant way to spend time at the gym.

Instead…I have become an addict – feeding my addiction twice a week with an hour of brutal work and a coach whose “just one more rep” refrain and insistence on increasing the weight I work with is encouraging and infuriating at the same time.   These sessions have introduced me to new aspects of my aging body. It recovers from the pain and exhaustion more quickly than I imagined. And, with my trainer’s monitoring, I begin to see new energy – physical and mental energy.

I should confess that for most of my life I’ve been guilty of the sin of …sluggity. (A word not recognized by Webster’s but surely it’s in keeping with other sins –vanity, gluttony, etc., etc., etc.) Exercise was always something I intended to do, and sometimes kept at until something happened…a muscle that hurt, a book to write, a syllabus to design.   Now, however, I find myself atoning for my years of sluggity (or is it sluggerhood?) and damn if it doesn’t feel good (as it awakens that other sin of pride).

And so, as a way to both express and contain pridefulness…I think a dye job just might be in order.   Thank you NPR for a most entertaining story, and thank you Anne Bernays, the story’s punk rock granny.

Here’s the link — you’ll enjoy the content. http://www.npr.org/2015/11/18/456349585/gray-haired-granny-an-85-year-old-writer-goes-punk-rock-instead?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2044

“Medicare and You”: A Review Essay

Disclaimer: I support government-provided health insurance and would vote for anyone committed to a single-payer system. I’ve always thought of Medicare as the doorway to a single-payer system for all.

Disillusionment: Medicare is not a “single-payer system” (and I am no longer in Kansas); it is a public/private hybrid of base and supplemental coverage premised on the participant’s ability to anticipate health needs and compare incomprehensible descriptions of private insurance plans.

Discovery: Medicare is decidedly more expensive than the health care coverage provided by the university to its employees, and navigating the costs and benefits of health care post-retirement it is unimaginably more complicated than my current insurance.

Despair: My years of training in research, critical analysis of data, deconstructing texts, and questioning arguments are woefully inadequate for the task of navigating Medicare. Sorting out health insurance options for retirement has reduced me to a level of wall-punching frustration usually reserved for reading the nth draft of a student paper (that has yet to incorporate the comments made on draft #1).

~~~

I am fortunate that my primary care doctor is also a “senior” because that’s how I learned about the need to sign up for Medicare when I turned 65. (Apparently – based on a sample [not random] of 2 friends who, if they had not been recipients of my Medicare rants, might have missed the date –this component of Medicare is not widely known.) Not signing up would have resulted in a “penalty” of higher payments. Since I have continued to work after age 65 in a job that offers employer-covered health insurance, I am only a member of/recipient of Medicare Part A. Just a toe in the insurance pool. I have not yet had to unravel the mysteries of parts B, C, and D. But, retirement looms in less than two years. So when the letter carrier dropped in my mailbox a fat booklet from medicare.gov with the promising title “Medicare and You” it seemed like a good idea to investigate my future relationship with government-supported health insurance for “seniors.” Oh, big mistake! Opening that book was like opening for the first time anything written by Foucault: Anticipation, excitement, insight, confusion, irritation, hostility, and the weighty realization that like Foucault’s influence on the historian, medicare.gov will not go away and will frame all future health care decisions. So, I will have to unpack its meanings and learn to use its framework to structure future relationships with illness and medicine.

“Original Medicare” offers participants like me some percentage of coverage (of many services) for which I will pay a monthly fee, that, I learn, will be deducted automatically from my monthly social security payment (and reduce my monthly retirement income by a bit more than $100). The fee covers Medicare’s “share” of the cost of health care (this connection is not drawn in the book…rather, “Medicare” pays a share and the Medicare-insured individual pays a share). Before Medicare pays its share, I will pay a “deductible” or set amount I pay only after which will Medicare kick in its share. Once the deductible is paid, the “sharing” begins. My share of the cost of medical care is my “coinsurance” – and for most services described in the book, the coinsurance is usually 20% of the fee Medicare has contracted to pay for the service (with a service provider who has agreed to provide services at the Medicare-determined rate). With me so far? I visit a physician; first I remit a “copay,” Medicare and You” says its usually $10 to $20/visit). The cost of the service is paid a) all by me if the “deductible” hasn’t been met; or b) 20% by me – my coinsurance share – if it has. But, good news. I don’t have to write the coinsurance check until Medicare has paid its share. This fee structure isn’t terribly different from the private health insurance plan offered through the university. The cost of any service is negotiated by Medicare, and presumably it is substantially lower than what I would be charged without insurance. This is Medicare part B – my interaction with the services provided by a physician or other medical personnel. (Part A, that’s for hospitalization and “Medicare and You” suggests I’m “fully covered” for these services.)

“Medicare and You” provides a long list of services “covered” by Medicare Part B, but in an aside (no big deal, right?) mentions that key body parts are either not covered or the “fix” isn’t covered. That would be the things likely to “go” as I age: teeth, eyes, and ears. Not part of the Medicare package: dental coverage; the hearing aid likely to be prescribed after the hearing exam; and eye exams for prescribing glasses (but one pair of glasses – per year or per lifetime? not states — seems to be partially covered? I put a question mark here because eye information is found on pages 54 and 71 and what exactly is an eye exam “for prescribing glasses”). Apparently I don’t need to chew, see, or hear well. But I can definitely get a colonoscopy, “depression screening,” and “obesity screening and counseling.” And if I “have a question or a complaint about the quality” of services covered? “Medicare and You” advises calling my “Beneficiary and Family Centered Care Quality Improvement Organization,” a number not provided in the booklet but one I can retrieve by “visiting” Medicare.gov.

But, you ask, what about all the drugs prescribed to keep the aging body going? That would be Medicare Part D; though it seems drugs are not really part of Medicare (with a very few exceptions). If I want Medicare’s level of prescription drug coverage, then, as the booklet states, I “ must join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.” Where do I get this plan? “Available only through private companies under contract with Medicare,” each of which has a “formulary,” with drugs divided into different pricing “tiers.” So I’m to understand that the state, representing all retirees, has contracted with private companies to make drug coverage ‘more affordable.” (And I’m urged, as with Medicare Part A, to join a Prescription Drug Plan as soon as I’m eligible, or risk a late enrollment penalty.) But this information is on page 83, and a quick glance tells me that later in the booklet I can read a  whole chapter on part D. Sigh….

I am now barely half-way through “Medicare and You,” and I’m floundering, but by now I’m convinced that unpredictable medical costs will drive my retirement budget. The teacher in me thinks…where’s the multiple choice exam that checks my understanding of “Original Medicare” before I tackle the rest of the booklet. Such an exam would likely be an assessment nightmare for the authors of “Medicare and You.” I suspect it would reveal high levels of confusion, misunderstanding, and definitely a failure to grasp the intricate balance between public and private medical insurance that is the cornerstone of Medicare. In lieu of an exam, readers are instructed to direct their confusion to medicare.gov or a Medicare expert at the end of Medicare helpline. Oh authors, surely you jest!

Since I do not have to make insurance decisions immediately, I am closing the booklet for the moment before tackling the authors’ discussion of Part D and Medicare Part C, the supplemental and simplified way to confront medical expenses post retirement. Since I’ve already learned from TV commercials that my Part C decision “all depends on what you need and what you want to pay,” surely there’s not much more to figure out!

“Medicare and You” promises to demystify the retiree’s health insurance structure. My review….it’s hard to imagine the authors could have written a less user-friendly guidebook. And I’m not convinced that my summary of the book’s information accurately expresses Medicare or the discussion provided by “Medicare and You.”

Should I invest in the 2015 edition of Medicare for Dummies? (Yes, Amazon.com offers this publication and several others that promise to clarify things.) Please, all of you out there who have tamed the Medicare demons and turned them into your servants, HELP! I need your reassurance that eventually the proverbial light bulb might shine, despair might pass, and Medicare, like Foucault, will become just another tool in the coping-with-retirement toolbox.

Marking Time

August 16. Preparing for the start of a new school year, sorting the desktop clutter that accumulated over the summer, filing away the .docx icons that sprout up and fill the screen no matter how careful I am about organizing files in folders. It’s an annual ritual that serves as one marker of the “beginning of the year.”   Among those files is one from May labeled “marking time.” Opening it exposes an unfinished blog entry, and as the new semester is about to begin, the questions pushed from consciousness over the summer are again jostling the psychic equilibrium.

May 16. Another semester is over. Another group of MA students have graduated. And the fall semester will bring another group to begin the cycle once again. It has been this way for me for more than two decades. Not as long as some of my colleagues who were not such academic late-bloomers, but long enough to count as one of life’s recurring patterns.   I’m struck by how ruled I am by this cycle of commencement and graduation. I plan other activities around this schedule. It’s the reason photos of visits with my grandkids are collected in albums labeled “Summer 20xx.” And so, as I ponder retirement I also ponder the years ahead not guided by such a rhythm. When I retire, when will my year begin? New Year’s Day? My birthday? The deadline for filing income tax forms? At the commencement of a knitting project? Will retirement years even have beginnings or does each month or day mark its own form of newness?   I am eager to hear how others mark time once no longer ruled by the semester system?   Does abandoning the academic cycle create a sense of freedom or a feeling of chaos? How have others navigated these waters?

September 16. Another semester, another year of teaching has begun. I continue to think about replacing in retirement the academic structure that has ruled life since age 5. I am committed to this job for two more years…and then what?

Today I am attending a Human Resources workshop on “emotional readiness for retirement.” When responding to questions about loss of structure, the workshop coordinator suggests that we make a pre-retirement plan, a to-do list that substitutes book club meetings, exercise dates, and Lifelong Learning Institute classes for the weekly teaching schedule.   Planning, she assures us, is key to an emotionally “successful” retirement.   What she means – we “pre-retirees” must search for and discover the hidden identity behind the active academic with research and teaching agendas that fill our days, weeks, and years. Once revealed, this subconscious identity (for decades it’s yearned to breathe free?) will guide retirement and generate its own sense of structure.

My mind balks at the idea – I do not want to re-experience adolescent identity angst.   And, I suspect that much like peeling away the layers of an onion only to find more onion at the center, I will find at my core only a historian. This revelation is not what the workshop coordinator has in mind. She is definite that I cannot achieve retirement “tenure” (or, a “successful” retirement) while holding on to a pre-retirement version of me. Little does she know that I am already picturing retirement emotional readiness as a tenure clock!

This planning business is going to be more complicated than expected. What I once framed in terms of financial readiness is now a psychological conundrum – the historian of psychiatry thinks perhaps she should hold on until a pill to help the retiree structure time hits the market. Big pharma should see a golden opportunity here and I’d bet the 403(b) plans would find it a profitable investment.

The Faculty Activities Report: A Retirement Guide?

A few weeks ago I submitted my annual “activities report” to the department and the college. Completing this report is the dreaded and hated and tedious chore of recording what I accomplish each year. The 2014 report, however, has led to some reflection on the difference between productivity and “satisfying work” at this stage of life/career. That book about youth suicide…it languishes in boxes of notes, inside desktop file and folder icons (dutifully color-coded by chapter numbers), and on shelves full of “essential” readings for the project. Each year the activities report reminds me how long I’ve been trying to produce a manuscript. (The electronically-generated report dutifully fills in “starting” and “end” dates for my entries!) This year the report suggests that I should think carefully about why my knitting needles seem to accomplish more than my computer keyboard! Writing is still a pleasure; writing within the confines of academic research, I’m finding less and less so. If I could pursue the joy in writing, what would I write? The activities report expects me to write for other scholars; for whom would I write if satisfaction rather than productivity guided my efforts?

When I examine the “activities” on my report, I see many entries documenting my involvement in the department’s small graduate program. Some of these activities relate to teaching and mentoring graduate students. Most, however, get recorded as “service,” and they do not count as productive output. Running a small MA program that is educating fewer than 20 students each year — when I write that line, I’m reminded that others may think the effort involved must be minimal and secretarial, not evidence of productivity. Certainly I did as recently as a few years ago. Yet as I recorded each activity from 2014 it was with an awareness of how deeply rewarding it is to provide a forum where a new generation of historians, many of whom will teach or find careers in public history, will hone their skills and graduate ready to keep alive and pass along an appreciation of the past and the value of connecting it to the present. Aiding new scholars to find joy in research and writing, helping them to turn vague ideas into meaningful words – that work is far more satisfying now than producing yet another conference paper. It deserves my time.

When and how did this change in perception happen? Perhaps when I began to create an alumni list for the graduate program and discovered where past generations of graduate students had landed? Perhaps when I found I’d rather blog than “write?” Perhaps after the deaths of my parents, as I began to think about legacy, about the footprints left behind as we journey on?

Letting go of the guilt generated by the empty boxes on my “activities report?” Letting wash over me the “evaluation” of my end-stage activities by colleagues who are not there yet? It’s a slow and painful process – but one I find I want to embrace as I “transition to retirement.”

And by the way, I’m tagging this post “superannuated professor and increasingly proud of the title.”