Monday, September 4, 2023

The Art of Retirement

In 2016, after 42 years of teaching art at The San Francisco School, my wife Karen retired. And never looked back. If asked to sub for art or come to the School Walkathon or peek in at the Halloween celebration, her immediate response was always, “No, thank you.” Even though my daughter and I were still teaching there and other teachers she enjoyed as well, she was clearly 100% into her new life as “professional retired person.”


Well, she’s never called herself that, but I believe she could write a book called The Art of Retirement. Except she’s too busy to do it. So I’ll write this short piece instead, in admiration of her life choices and accenting three qualities that could apply to all retired people.


1. Routine

2. Self care/ other care

3. Community


ROUTINE: Let’s start with routine. Rhythm is as essential to life well-lived as it is to music well-played and without the outer schedule of work, we humans tend to create our own routines and schedules. With the extra retired perk of changing them or ignoring them if we choose. 


Daily Routine: Karen often begins the day with a morning jog, followed by coffee and breakfast. While I’m in the front of the house, she’s back at the kitchen table doing maintenance e-mails or phone calls while listening to various podcasts. Often, there’s a mid-morning video Zumba or Pilates exercise class. Then either a morning or afternoon of other scheduled activities (as described next) with the hope of getting back home by 5:00 for her ritual tea and some reading. Dinner that either she cooks or cleans up from and then nightly serial TV, always while knitting. 


Weekly Routine: As described below, Karen likes to do things with small groups of friends/acquaintances. Hardly a day goes by without a meet-up.


Sunday: Bike ride with a bike group of 4-6 people that have been biking together for over 30 years. Each week a different route, ending with brunch at a cafĂ©.


Though taking a break now, Sunday afternoons she met with a postcard-writing group, sending messages to our various elected representatives.


Monday: Day off for individual activities— gardening, painting or drawing, errands.


Tuesday:  Rehearsal singing with a community choir. 


Wednesday: Volunteer work at a food bank.


Thursday: Out walking somewhere in the Bay Area with a small hiking group of friends.


Friday: Live morning exercise class with a friend in the park nearby. 


Saturday: Meet up with the San Francisco sketchers group. 


Annual Routines

Besides the big holidays we all share, Fall usually includes a visit to the grandkids in Portland and December a family get-away in Palm Springs. The last few winters have included a Yosemite trip with our daughter Talia. Almost every late Spring since retirement, Karen has gone on organized group bike trips with friends to Munich, the Danube, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands. Summers have often included one or two week art classes in Southern France, Portugal, Morocco, Maine, the California Sierras, as well as the annual retreat to the summer house on Lake Michigan. 


2. SELF CARE/ OTHER CARE: In all of the above, note the balance between continuing to pursue what she’s always enjoyed (hiking, biking, knitting, drawing/painting, gardening), re-connecting with things she used to do (singing in a choir) and doing her part to pay back to the community and be a responsible citizen (postcard writing, food bank). Alongside with maintaining bodily health through diverse exercise routines and keeping the mind active and informed through listening to podcasts and reading. 


3. COMMUNITY: In contrast to so many of my pursuits— writing, practicing piano, walking or biking alone in the park— just about everything Karen does is in a group, most with people she already knows. The bike group, the hiking group, the postcard writing group, the sketchers group and even a recently formed knitting group. Alongside established groups like the choir and the food bank. The work at school provided a ready-made community, but after retirement, it took a conscious effort to keep connected to people, not just to meet for lunch and talk, but to actively do things and create new memories together. 


And so the art of retirement. Karen’s approach is interesting only in the way it taps into the things that could refresh all people’s retired lives, regardless of what their particular interests are. Again, establishing routines that give a healthy rhythm to the day, week and year, gives each time of day or day of the week or month in the year something to look forward to, a special character that makes Tuesday different from Friday and September different from February. Balancing pursuing the things you love with some act of payback to the greater community— Karen’s food bank, my playing piano at senior centers, etc. And finally, gathering friends or making new friends through doing things together.


For those of you still in the 9 to 5 work force, tuck this away for future reference. For fellow retirees, note how the check list matches with your own life. 


Happy retirement to all!

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