Retirement, four months in: it’s all a blur

I think it’s time for another stock-taking blog post. This retirement thing is complicated, and I know I have followers who are thinking of taking the same path and want to know what it looks like, although their paths may turn out to be quite different.

So, four months of retirement: what has happened so far? First, the diary hasn’t exactly been a yawning void. The first six weeks were largely occupied with being lead educator on the MOOC. However, looking at those four months as a whole, they also included:

  • a visit back to the office in order to be said goodbye to, and a meal out with my former colleagues
  • giving an invited lecture in Barcelona
  • attending a day conference (merely as an interested attender: luxury!)
  • a day at a longer conference (chaired a panel)
  • two workshops (gave a paper at one and a short intervention at the other)
  • going to two public lectures (a further luxury: it’s very pleasant to go to hear people talking on topics that interest me, even if I’m not currently writing on them)
  • accepting an invitation to give a ‘provocation’ after a conference of Byzantine music
  • speaking on my work to a local group
  • reviewing two book proposals and a journal submission
  • reading and advising on a couple of job applications
  • reading the final versions of some work for a colleague
  • online training as an Athena Swan reviewer
  • carrying out another review for the Quality Assurance Agency
  • reading work for, and holding Skype supervisions with, all three of my PhD students
  • speaking at an evening event for the general public, and at a local school’s ‘ancient and modern science’ festival.

Just listing that is therapeutic: ah, that’s why it doesn’t feel so different! It won’t go on like this; I am refusing more invitations now I’m no longer as seriously in the game. Outside the academic world, my initial retirement aim was to become a library service volunteer, taking books to housebound people, but this still hasn’t happened because the security checks etc take so long; the final stage should be in the next week or so. I’ve also offered to do a fortnightly ‘computer buddy’ session in the library, as people keep being referred to them by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau when there are forms which can only be filled in online. Over the first four months of retirement I kept up my weekly T’ai chi (including a three-hour bonus session), gave two sermons, visited nursing homes to give communion, went to two memorial services for friends (an inevitable, but very sad, part of now being of a certain age) and attended my first parish outing; that felt very odd, being able to visit an abbey and a garden on a weekday. I joined a monthly book group. I hope I’ve been able to be a better friend, as I have the time to talk, as well as to accompany people on hospital visits. I don’t think I’ve done much more in terms of my caring role for my mother, but at least I haven’t felt so stressed by trying to juggle things. I even had the leisure to spend a day in London protesting about a cause on which I feel very strongly.

And then there’s the house. I’ve been able to do more cooking, but a lot of time has been spent in the final stages of the extension going up (the way in which I used my pension lump sum), which included moving things around in the house and reorganising some of the books. And now there’s the restructuring of the garden with the remaining cash. It’s unusual to be thinking of ‘restructuring’ in this ultimately positive way rather than in the standard university sense of closing departments and making people redundant, and it’s a huge relief that my former university’s ‘Redesign’ programme is no longer my problem.

To my surprise, what isn’t on that list I’ve just given is ‘writing’. Of course, I’ve been writing – talks, sermons, blog posts – and I’ve been migrating posts from an external site to a new one of my own, as well as responding to editorial comments on things I have in press. However, I haven’t written any more of the Last Book, the one under contract for the end of 2017, but I’ve certainly been thinking about it and filing away thoughts and references. Looking at what I’ve written in this blog post, I can see why I haven’t done more of this Serious Writing. One lesson of retirement is: don’t beat yourself up over what isn’t done.

The biggest surprise to me has been in my revised attitude to emails. When I was working flat out, I would reply immediately because there were so many messages coming in that I’d soon have been buried under them if I didn’t ping back answers at once. Now, I tend to read them and think, ‘oh, interesting, must help/think about this/check the diary/say no’, followed by forgetting about them for a week or so. However, very little I receive is now urgent, so I think this is fine! Retirement for an academic is never a firm line, but always something more blurry.

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