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May 30, 2013


I'm sorry you are feeling so much angst.

I'm nearing sixty, but sort of retired. I quit my profession and got an easier job. I like my job (caring for disabled people). I do not miss my profession at all.

My main angst about my age is wuite simply, I am closer to death than ever before and mush more aware of it.

I don't feel that I have wasted my life or anything like that. I have no major regrets. I just don't want it to be over soon and it will be. The next fifteen years will go by in a heartbeat,like the last fifteen did. Heck we are half way through 2013 already!

So that's the nature of my angst.

A lot to say about this, but I'm on a train to Nagoya right now, going to a conference where a large number of us are just before the place you describe. But all this sounds very very very familiar.

Laura's hit on an important point, which was in an earlier (mental) draft of this post, but got lost in transition.

My life until retirement was marked, at least semi-consciously, by "milestones" that could be anticipated, sometimes years in advance. Graduation from HS, college, grad school. Marriage, children. Job(s), promotion(s), eventually retirement. Some of these closer, some more distant; some highly desired, others more indifferent; but always a sense that there was a Next Station up the line a little.

Suddenly, there's no next station except death. It may be years away (at my age the expectancy is around 20, I believe), and it's not necessarily to be feared, but there are no other real stations on the line. Sure, there's what happens to children (marriage, jobs?) and maybe even grandchildren, but that's their life, not yours. There may be travel, but it's not as if I have a great Bucket List, and in any event our health doesn't allow the virtual vagabonding of decades ago.

One could construct artificial "goals" - cf. the protagonist of The Big C trying to learn to play "The Entertainer" before she dies [couldn't find clip, alas] - but I've never been good at convincing myself that artificial goals actually matter.

The only other "station" that's visible down the line is a series of potential losses of health - for myself and my wife - that may have to be endured along the way. Which it does not do to dwell upon.

It's not, as noted, that I particularly fear death (Timor mortis conturbat me), which I regard as probably just extinction. It's just thinking of what needs doing before that inevitability.

Your Mileage May Vary

I've been thinking about this a lot. In fact, one way or the other, awareness of death is the theme behind the short stories I wrote.

My dad had what I called a "near death" crisis. He had it at about the time his adult female children were all going through menopause. He suddenly decamped to Guatemala and did volunteer work in a mountain village. He loved the experience so much that the next year he went back and did it again.

But he was going blind, so he didn't go back a third time.

I'm trying not to be depressed about it, because what's the point? Everybody dies. I'm not special. And I don't want to spend the next fifteen years depressed.

But I do feel a need for some mileposts other than First Sign of Macular Degeneration, First Sign of My Hip Joints Giving Out, and First Gray Hair.

I feel a need to keep exploring, to find out what I can do. Stealing a dog was part of that, of course, as was writing stories. I have alwasy been a productive artist and have always switched media or mixed and matched media, so that's not new. There needs to be something else.

It isn't travel. I've done that, and, while I enjoy it, in a way travel is running away. Whatever milestone I need to establish, needs to be set up on my deck with the azaleas and hydrangeas.

It isn't my job. My job is very satisfying sometimes, but mostly it's a matter of trying to stay awake. With intervals of strange activities.

So what is it? What is the milestone?

Maybe I will become enlightened. I've never had the self discipline to meditate. I get bored. I'm joking about being enlightened, but think that the next milestone might be something along the lines of learning to be less restless and more appreciative, less bored and more selfless.

I was practicing this the other day in a shack up a dirt road in the woods. Some cats were abandonned up there and I go out to feed them twicde a week. This involves climbing through the window into an interior suffused with catshit odor, so dense it;s like mustard gas.
But I tell myself that I will only be there for a few minutes and the cats have to live there. Besides it's getting better because I do a little cleaning each visit. The cats are feral, but they come to me now because I bring them canned catfood.
If it ever stops raining, I'll open the fron door and do a big sweep of the interior.
It isn't really a milestone, but I would like to be able to look back and think of accomplishments like helping the cats.

It's an old observation that, for a lot of men, their identity is wrapped up in their work. Note that, when talking about someone new, a typical early question is "What does he do?" When retirement was only going to last a couple of years, the lack of a job wasn't much of a problem -- you can "vacation" that long without too much trouble. But when it will last a couple of decades (or more) an on-going identity crisis is rather predictable.

I think the solution, for a lot of men, is to come up with a hobby. Some sort of focus for "what do I do?", even if it is only part of the time. Because without it, we will go into decline. (I wonder if a significant part of why women live longer than men might not be that the household tasks, which they typically do the bulk of, aren't something that you can retire from. Hmmmm....)

Wasn't it the diabolical Iago's plan that Othello "retire" by giving up his command (of hearth and kingdom), but I'd have to go back and re-read?

Also see Tea Party definitions of "chocolate messiah", "Obama's retirement", and the Iago-like command and manipulation of the language and the news cycle by any old Iago you care to mention -- Frank Luntz, Roger Ailes, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and a cast of thousands of elected Republican officeholders who explain smoothly that they have the "social welfare" of the Nation at heart.

Of course, like Iago, some of the players speak directly to the audience, seeking yet more willing co-conspirators, as they soliloquize their true and base motives.

The next fifteen years will go by in a heartbeat,like the last fifteen did.

Ain't that the truth.

In the immortal words of Warren Zevon, you have to enjoy every sandwich. The challenge of aging is doing so with the spectre of "no more sandwiches for you" hanging over your head.

At some point in the last few years it occurred to me that the work of the first half of your life is to build and acquire (not necessarily things, although things if that's what you want), and the work of the second half of your life is letting go of whatever it is you've built or acquired.

The second half seems harder, somehow.

Laura, this is one of the greatest paragraphs I've ever read on the Interhum.

"My dad had what I called a "near death" crisis. He had it at about the time his adult female children were all going through menopause. He suddenly decamped to Guatemala and did volunteer work in a mountain village. He loved the experience so much that the next year he went back and did it again."

Since Shakespeare is in the air, one could mistake your Dad for Lear, adult female children going through menopause as Lear's daughters, and decamping to Guatemala as raging on the heath.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but some cases of female menopause can cause a guy to gibber at the inclement weather surrounding him.

Male menopause is a hard case too for the witnesses.

I've been through it seven times.

It's my hobby in my "retirement" and approaching senescence, and believe me, it fills the hours.

"In the immortal words of Warren Zevon, you have to enjoy every sandwich. The challenge of aging is doing so with the spectre of "no more sandwiches for you" hanging over your head."

In the documentary of the dying, morphine-marinated Zevon's last painful, cancer-ridden last days, many of which were spent recording his final album, his producer leans into the studio intercom and asks Warren "please, can you do one more vocal take here", and Warren stared at him for a steely few moments and said, just barely keeping control, and I paraphrase:

"Hey, $%#@!*&()!!, I'm $%#@(&+ dying here. I'm going to be %@!$@!& dead in a matter of weeks and you want me to do a another m*()%$f%$#@& vocal take!"

Of course, from the little I know about Zevon, that's the way he answered every request for another take, even 40 years ago when he still had plenty of sandwiches left in the picnic basket.

I understand that it's when they take the soup away (no soup for you) that it's time to designate the beneficiaries.

Dr. Ngo wrote:

'(Mickey Mantle is supposed to have said, “If I had known I'd live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself.” '

To which Casey Stengel answered, beforehand, like Shakespeare:

"Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It's staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in."

I love Mickey Mantle, the baseball player.

He was a lout in his personal life as his wife and sons will testify, but I thought his last days were very brave as he confessed the truth of the matter, not that that was much solace to his sons.

Mantle's father, grandfather, and an uncle or two died of Huntington's disease, a congenital disease, thus his lifelong existential surrender to an early, terrible fate.

His home runs were monumental to the fans, but they were just as unbelievable to Whitey Ford and Billy Martin, who had witnessed the volume of alcohol Mantle had finished consuming, oh maybe five/six hours before the 1:00 pm afternoon game.

Stengel also said: ""Look at him (Bobby Richardson) - he doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't chew, he doesn't stay out late, and he still can't hit .250."

The secret to managerial success, in sports, business and governance:

""The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."

And, to Dr. Ngo's point:

"They told me my services were no longer desired because they wanted to put in a youth program as an advance way of keeping the club going. I'll never make the mistake of being seventy again."

Screw it, I'm going to go have a sandwich.

By the way, wasn't the OTHER Wrigley Field a minor league park in LA?

Dear Count: Right, up to a point. Wrigley Field was the home of the AAA Los Angeles Angels - a Cub farm team at the time (hence the name) - prior to the coming of the Dodgers in 1958, which killed minor league ball in LA. But when the AL expanded in 1961, with a new franchise, also called the Angels, in Los Angeles, they had no better ballpark to play in for the first couple of years than the old Wrigley Field, which is where I saw the Yankees pound them behind at least one home run by Moose Skowron.

A few years later the LAA moved to the Big A in Anaheim (Orange County) and became for a while the California Angels, until Anaheim said "we're your home, you should include Anaheim [which, interestingly, means 'a new home'] in your name," so the Angels agreed, and got whatever benefits came with that, then turned around and said "We're now the 'Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim'," which was a kick in the teeth to the city of Anaheim, so they sued and lost, so "LAA of A" it officially remains, which is a damn shame.

Today's "captcha": stronger ngorgem

They may be trying to tell me (or you) something.

And on Mantle, I heartily recommend the biography by Jane Leavy, http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Boy-Americas-Childhood/dp/B007K4FD6U>The Last Boy , which covers well the entire trajectory of his awesome (literally) yet ill-fated life.

I wonder how much of dr ngo's experience is universal, and how much is specific to being a specific generation, class and sex. For a professional man until recently, there was often a defined career and life-path, but that is increasingly no longer true for them (and has arguably rarely been true for non-professionals and for women). Many people of my age (late forties) have already been through several different careers, not just jobs. We've had to reinvent ourselves repeatedly in a way that wasn't necessary for full-time career men of the previous generation.

We're still going to have the problems of aging and of finding new purpose at that stage of life, but it won't come as such a novelty to us. Middle-class women, in particular, often have to make substantial changes of career/professional identity at least twice during their pre-retirement lives: when they become mothers and when their children leave home.

And with increasing retirement ages – as I'm in the UK, I won't now get a pension until I'm 68 – we're also all going to have to develop ways of being old and still working in some capacity. Though as one of my friends used to say, he became a historian "because it was an indoor job with no heavy lifting", so we're better placed than some of those around or past the halfway mark.

I'll never make the mistake of being seventy again.

Emerson, commenting on his 70th birthday:

"70? It's the end of youth"

Also, from Warren Zevon, a somewhat NSFW meditation on mortality.

He was a crazy drunken SOB, but he went with his boots on.

My plan, personally, for retirement (should that ever arrive, he said, sporting his Boston area mortgage), is to spend a couple of hours a day on the vibes, and to transcribe all of Miles Davis' solos from the Prestige sessions with his first quintet in '56.

Then, I'll eat a sandwich.

"My Ride is Here" is one of my favorite songs. I'm trying for that attitude: enjoy being, just being, until my ride shows up.

We were out attacking the scotch broom this afternoon on the bluffs overlooking the beach. My job was to reach down and grab the branches, while holding on with one hand to a rope, pull the branches up, and then haul them to the top. I nneeded the rope to keep from falling down the bluff.

It was fun at first. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Nearly sixty and hanging on by one hand to a rope while dragging seven and eight foot branches up a bluff! Not bad!

Well that lasted an hour.

Then I started gettig tired. And hot. And kind of dizzy.

I started woondering how much longer until quitting time.

My thigh muscles were giving out from the climbing.

I began to feel like a slave being worked to death on a Roman estate. (I've been reading Will Durant).

I only lasted two hours.

I think I have reached a milestone: I am no longer athletic, only spry for my age.

"{My Ride is Here" --my favorite Warren Zevon song.

But this tune by Richard Thompson is apropo:

Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

You can go with the crazy people in the Crooked House
You can fly away on the Rocket or spin in the Mouse
The Tunnel Of Love might amuse you
Noah's Ark might confuse you
But let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

On the Wall Of Death all the world is far from me
On the Wall Of Death it's the nearest to being free


For most of my life I have imagined that I would always Play A Train Song.

My body gives out faster each year and, much to my dismay, me mind is as good once as it ever was, but does occasionally go for a walk by itself.

So I find myself quietly standing in the shade.

Which is all to say, I have lived well, had great success, have no bucket list, and wonder what the heck I would do for 30 more years. My expectation is that modern medicine may chain me to this mortal coil long after I have any desire to be here.

But not yet. I have another birthday coming and I'm not out of money yet. So who knows, maybe I will always have just enough to do tomorrow to make me want to get there.

And leave my boots on.

There's a Sports Illustrated piece on Mickey Mantle that was published the year before he died here. Sort of a deathbed conversion thing.

The comments about lack of goals during retirement are interesting, they remind me of what I thought about life when I was 10 years old or so - "if you are just an animal and there is no way around death then what is the point of it all? The grave is the goal".

But for now the goal is clear. As Robert Creeley said, "Mr. Ocean, Mr. Sky's got the biggest blue eyes in creation -- here comes the sun! While we can, let's do it, let's have fun".

I am 61.

When I read those two words and that number together in one statement of brutal facticity in reference to the me who kids himself that he is highly immature for his age, it does not compute.

I do not recognize.

Yesterday, in my baseball league, I hit a single, double, and legged out a triple, drove in a couple of runs and from left field threw out a guy trying to take an extra base.

Then I took a two and half hour nap and my knee hurt, my throwing arm was sore, and there was a new, unidentifiable pain which seemed to shift its position every time I tried to zero in.

But I can still do it and I'm elated.

Next week I'll have a ho hum or nothing game and I'll be very calmly morose for about a day and half as I try to gauge gravity's subtly increasing pull to the Earth's deep core where the sun don't shine.

I play in some fantasy baseball leagues on the internet as well and I can tell the fantasy leagues are becoming more real and the real(ity) baseball league I play in edges toward "I coulda been a contenda" fantasia territory.

I figure the glove I bought and broke in several years ago, only the third one I've owned and used in the past 35 years, will be my last.

I could always run faster than just about anyone my age, and the nice thing is, knock on dugout wood, is the guys my age are really losing speed, so by comparison I look faster than I did years ago.

When the legs go, I've got my books and other pleasures.

Maybe I'll take up senior track, if i don't have the big one rounding third someday.

What's Shakespeare, Stengel, and Zevon, without a little Berra:

"The future ain't what it used to be."

Or maybe, Paddy Chayefsky's words through William Holden's lips (as Max Schumacher in "Network", to the soulless Diana Christianson (Faye Dunaway) -- "Death is a perceptible thing to me, with definable features."

I wonder if it's too late to make a sandwich.

Nah. I'll take some sauerkraut on mine.

I think what magistra says is important, about your experience being to some extent specific to your class and gender, and to the fact that much of your life was structured around goalposts.

I only have a minute to comment right now, I'll come back later. But my dad was also a college professor, and he and my mother are 86 and 88, respectively. They are the least retired retired people you ever met.

Part of this is good genes and never having been smokers -- tobacco is an invariably fatal addiction on both sides. But most of it, I think, is that their lives were always structured more around *people* than achievements. And you never run out of people.

They have (historical-critical) Bible study once a week, book club once a week -- they've cut back from when they had two a week. They maintain a garden that gives Giverny a run for its money. My mother is writing up a history of her family, which everyone is involved with.

They keep tabs on other old people, mostly younger than themselves. They take a house-bound neighbor out at least once a week, and often out for doctors' appointments.

They go to services at the Catholic and the Episcopal Church. They go out to dinner around three times a week, usually to restaurants where they've become friends with the owners.

*People* last, occupations don't.

I don't want to dismiss the blessings your parents have, but to my mind, dr ngo's situation, rather than class or gender, is what is applicable here.

As he makes it clear, he's just found a place that provides him the amenities he values and allows him to live the life he wants to lead. How is this different from the decisions the retiree makes in the US? The only difference is that dr ngo is moving from overseas.

Imagine, you spend your adult life in an alien culture, creating networks, adapting, making linkages. You get older and you don't have to energy or time to keep refreshing and renewing those networks. Yet when those networks fade, what is behind them is not the comforting fiction that everyone is speaking the same language and sharing the same basic beliefs, but the void, really. You might, like dr ngo, chose to return 'home' but it is a very strained notion of the word.

I suppose that class and gender do enter into it, in that in the relatively recent past, only men would have considered moving abroad, and only those who have access to a level of education and perhaps ability to be supported by family could consider doing what dr ngo has done. But to say that your parents can help others, make it to doctors appointments (sadly a particularly revealing tidbit in US society), eat out 3 times a week and make friends with the owners suggests the similar advantages of the same class, so I don't see how dr ngo's class tells us something about his problems, but your parent's apparently similar class status is part of the solution.

There is a vibe that I sometimes get, when these frustrations come out and I am talking to people back 'home', of 'well, it was your choice to move away'. How much of that is from the person I'm talking to vs them reflecting my own inner doubts, I have no idea. Yet what my experience tells me is that control over one's life is illusory. You make decisions and hope for the best, you look back and see possible forks where you realize everything would have been different.

dr ngo was, in that particularly inapplicable turn of phrase, an 'ex pat', which has as its comforting fictional foundation the idea that one has a home that one can return to. We all know that isn't true, don't we? Friends and family move on, or pass on, new networks of people with new experiences and shared beliefs take their place and if we notice it, we realize that the world has moved on. If we are lucky, we are rebuilding these networks and refreshing them so they don't catch us out. But the change happens to everyone, but some people are fortunate enough not to notice it, others gradually realize it and for people like dr ngo and I, it slaps us in the face. But at it's root, it is the same for everyone, it is just whether one notices it or not.

Dr S, you parents sound like my mom. A 90, her calendar could still make me and my siblings tired just reading it. I think the critical part of that was -- staying interested. She was always reading something, learning something new, etc.

When she broke her hip (in her late 80s) her two biggest complaints about the nursing home where she was for rehab:
1) No Internet access. She had piles of books to read, but was frustrated at not being able to research things she came across reading them.
2) All of the "old people" there. Most of whom, be it noted, were born a couple of decades afer she was. But they were just waiting to die, while she was still engaged with the world.
The staff, it must be said, were in something of a state of shock the whole time she was there.

I didn't intend to come across as morose - as I hope my next post will explain - nor to set myself up as the subject of group therapy here, however gentle. A number of people make good points about how my situation, and my reaction to it, are not the automatic default for all those of my age, which I would certainly acknowledge.

I wrote this because I was surprised by what retirement, accompanied by return to the USA, revealed about myself. It's not bad, just different from what I expected. I'm not exactly who I thought I was.

I have long understood that people who say, "I would never do this or that [shoot someone in battle, cheat on my spouse, etc.]," without having been tested or tempted are basically posing - making a vow, or symbolically signalling intent - rather than telling the "truth" about themselves. They simply don't know what they might do, and can't/won't until the situation arises.

I just didn't think it would happen to me over retirement and relocation. And I'm not complaining - honestly! - just alerting you to the possibility it might happen to you someday.

I have never understood those who are unable to generate deep interest in more than one skill set during their life. I retired from physician work (board certified in both general surgery and family practice) at age 58. I did so because I could afford to and because I had always wanted to do carpentry (since age 5) but could not do so as a surgeon. Since then, I have extensively renovated two homes including installing electrical appliances, plumbing fixtures, finish carpentry, deck constructions, screen room, and other projects. I have also built several pieces of furniture customized for the homes. I have worked in construction of eight Habitat houses (our local group builds one a year).
Beyond all that, my grandson convinced me that I could run again without the knee pain that had led to my quitting if I would wear minimalist shoes. He was right and I now am running up to four miles at a time wearing Xero shoes (modeled after the Tarahamaru indian Huaraches). I hope to make ten K by the end of this summer.
Humans are capable of many skills. Our brain is not readily constrained by specialization. To do so is to give up part of what makes us human. Retirement makes possible following one's interests. If you find that an interest is boring, give it up and pursue a different one. Whatever else, do what is fun and brings joy that will cause you to get up in the morning and get to "work." Almost all of my professional life, I got up in the morning anticipating a great day. In retirement, I find the same still applies. I even still have time to stay current in health care literature so that I can answer questions from family and friends when they are perplexed by their health care. I suppose I would get bored if I had time for it.

I have never understood how people with plenty of money don't understand how others don't really have the financial stability to spend their retirement buying tools and supplies to completely renovate a home.

As tacky as that statement may seem, it is meant to underscore that all retirements are not created equal. Choosing to "retire" at 58 because you can is a much different financial and emotional experience from being "retired" by circumstance at 58, or 61.

I renovated two houses in my lifetime,scraping together the money and time, because it was the only way to get it done. It was necessary work. Not to be repeated if avoidable.

I am thrilled when people have their health in their retirement, I am hoping to not be retired and can't run around the block, or walk mine holes.

As for those least retired folks, well dr Ngo may look busy to his kids, editing and writing books, etc.

That doesn't necessarily reflect how they feel. Or how they feel all the time. My Mom quilts, sews, has an active social calendar but reminds me occasionally that some weeks she doesn't leave the house for days. If I forgot to ask I wouldn't know when she had a down week.

I suspect I will deal with much of what dr Ngo has when I decide to call myself retired. I'm hoping for a few more working years before that.

"I am thrilled when people have their health in their retirement, I am hoping to not be retired and can't run around the block, or walk mine holes."

This was two paragraphs I can't bring myself to rewrite

dr ngo,
apologies for the unsolicited therapy, which, as it is with most therapy, tends to address the giver's situation rather than the receiver's.

I've been interested in the barefoot shoes thing, but haven't jumped on the bandwagon. This link has some food for thought

wj: "I think the critical part of that was -- staying interested. She was always reading something, learning something new, etc."

Sincerely, good for her, etc. It's totally good that people try ...

But bullshit on the fact that "the critical part of that was..."

I know people wh have been incredibly interesting, interested people. But their bodies (brains) gave out with strokes, or they had Alzheimer's, or they had a physical disability. Their bodies betrayed them.

Kudos to everyone who works very hard at staying healthy, staying young, staying alive, staying "with it". But mortality is not a morality issue. Lots of good people (interested, caring, vibrant, etc. people) have not made it to 90 with their cognition intact.

I wrote this because I was surprised by what retirement, accompanied by return to the USA, revealed about myself. It's not bad, just different from what I expected. I'm not exactly who I thought I was.

I read that as more surprised than morose. Perhaps a touch of dismay or two.

It gave me something to think about, but I don't have any plans to continue doing e.g. aided navigation analysis into my retirement. I'm thinking more like gardening and the like, which is enough to keep me moving around and full of purpose.

But life is full of surprises, and possibly I will wind up on a different path.

Lots of good people (interested, caring, vibrant, etc. people) have not made it to 90 with their cognition intact.

What is necessary is not always sufficient.

Gee, Marty, I guess I didn't make myself very clear. I chose to renovate the two homes because of my love of improving something and the pride I have in doing so. My "wealth" was achieved by 80 to 100 hour work weeks and, at age 58, I found I could not continue to carry out that schedule and could not see myself practicing medicine any other way. Since I refuse to be constrained by only one interest, I find every day to be exciting. Today, I learned more about how to wire a house for electricity in our Habitat house. Tomorrow will be another something new. At age 71, I find every day more exciting than the last.

I think I mentioned that my father, arguably in his late 70s, has got a nascent sheep, pig, and turkey (and soon: chickens) farm in southern Indiana.

But he has his health. He's actually in quite a bit better shape than I was, z.b. 6 or 7 years ago. Despite having been a 2-pack-a-day guy for most of his life. Good genes, maybe, or luck, or both.

Find something you like to do and do it. If it keeps you in food, so much the better.

Find a new hobby or project and focus on it. The transition period from full time working to quasi-retirement can be a little overwhelming, but try to focus more on the positive aspects of it. You now have so much potential to do new things. Find something that makes you happy and get on it!

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