May 26, 2006

Retirement or Phase II

What is it in our makeup that keeps us going when it seems like we're old enough to quit work and we should be trying to take it easy? Today's article in The Washington Post (here) about the failure of two Indy car racing icons to retire and stay retired seems to have currency for lots of us retired folks. Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. are back at racing again this year, having officially retired a year or so ago. As Unser put it, they just can't stay away:

"Both of us couldn't make the clean break," said Unser, who said he's giddy to be preparing for his 18th Indianapolis 500 ... I thought I could make a clean break away from it ... I'm not doing this for a living. I'm doing this because I love racing, and that's what I want to do."

When I retired from teaching linguistics, I thought I'd spend the rest of my life doing oil painting, exploring the mountains of Montana, and maybe doing some fishing. Now, ten years later, I still haven't touched the huge supply of art equipment my students gave me as a retirement gift. I quickly sold the pickup truck that I planned to drive in the mountains. And it didn't take me long to discover that I don't much like to fish. Meanwhile, it was very hard for me to get linguistics out of my system.

Like Al Unser, Jr., I couldn't make a clean break. I've also noticed this in many of my colleagues who tried to retire. Among others, Dwight Bollinger, Peter Ladefoged, and Eric Hamp easily come to mind. We love linguistics and that's what we want to keep on doing. Like them, I've failed the course, Standard Retirement 101, several times in the past ten years. I don't teach university classes any longer but I continue to consult, review tenure and promotion applications, read new stuff (and old stuff too), give lectures once in a while, evaluate grant applications and book prospectuses, see more of the world, serve on boards, and, mostly, do a lot of writing. There's a better name for "retirement" here. Let's call it "phase II."

For those of us who love what we do and whose minds are still relatively clear, retirement is probably not the time for dropping everything to sun ourselves on the beach or play shuffleboard in Florida. It's the time to reflect, synthesize, and bring together those loose ends that have nagged at us until now. It's the time to write the books and articles that we didn't seem to have time for while we worked every day in the classroom. And it's a freeing time, with no administrative tasks to interfere with our research and writing, no tenure to strive for, no annual course evaluations, no tests to grade, and no more endless university committees to serve on.

Like Unser, I'm giddy (well, happy anyway) about this phase of my life, whether it's called "retirement" or simply "phase II." And I want to report to younger scholars that there's no need to be afraid of reaching this wonderful stage of life.

Posted by Roger Shuy at May 26, 2006 01:43 PM